Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two Ideological Perspectives on the Use of Coercive Political Power

The current political malaise in the United States can be best understood in terms of two conflicting ideological perspectives on the the nature and use of political power. On the far left we have the progressives, on the far right we have the libertarians. There is a lot of variation within both ideologies. However, in the United States progressives usually lean toward the far left of the Democratic Party, the libertarians usually lean toward the far right of the Republican Party. However, neither progressives nor libertarians dominate their respective parties. The progressive-libertarian debate is a very old and important debate, therefore it's still worth reviewing those two ideologies.

Progressives are idealists that believe that political entities (cities, states, and nations) must deploy the coercive of power of government in order to serve the public good. Progressive government requires that altruistic, impartial, objective leaders that will exercise political power in pursuit of the "public good." Good government, therefore, requires that political entities seek out these "good leaders." When government fails to serve the public good it is because the political system has become infested with self-serving leaders that use their political power to enrich themselves, their families, and friends at the expense of the public good: call it cronyism. Therefore, the key to progressive government is to devise a political system that selects these "good leaders." Plato believed that in order to maintain a sufficient supply of "good leaders," the state must develop selective breeding programs and specialtized education programs. Contemporary American progressives reject selective breeding, but place invest heavily in law degrees earned at elite private schools, most notably Yale and Harvard. Coercive force is exercised in the form of a "progressive" tax code, which provides the funds to serve the public good. In the United States, progressives tend to equate serving the public good to implimenting government programs that serve the unmet needs of the "least advantaged," the poor, workers, consumers, elderly, sick, racial minorities, and women. This agenda requires large numbers of workers employed by tax-funded government agencies. For most progressives, knowledge of the "public good" and knowledge of how to achieve it usually relegated to empowered social scientists. On foreign policy, many progressives support the use of U.S. military power to advance the "public good."        

Libertarians are idealists that believe that coercive power is always wrong, either because it violates the property rights of others or because it leads to bad comsequences. Taxation is regarded as problematic because it resembles theft; that is the involutary appropriation of another person's property. Libertarians also argue that knowledge of the public good and how to achieve it is elusive, if not impossible. Social scientists routinely identify the "public good" with the good of the social scientists themselves, or their cronies in government that empowered them. Libertarians are especially wary of the rise of cronyism, where government serves the good of specific interest groups, especially: corportations, labor unions, churches, and the military. All libertarians are against the use of military power unless we're actually invaded by a foreign nation. Therefore, according to libertarians, the secret to good government is to either eliminate the coercive power of government (anarchism) or limit the coercive power of government (minarchy).

Anarchists reject government outright, and idealistically believe that if individuals (and groups of cooperating individuals) are left to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions, human society would thrive. Anarchists argue that because progressive governments "spend other people's money," they tend to be overly-generous to the least advantaged and public employees, and less concerned with "bang for the buck" efficiency. Moreover, anarchists observe that over time, collectivized power tends to corrupt even the most altruistic, and impartial leaders. Social science is similarly corrupted. Therefore, progressive governments tend to collapse under the weight of military adventurism coupled with the high levels of taxation needed to serve the bureaucracies that serve the "military-industrial complex" and the ever-growing ranks of "least advantaged." Anarchists argue that eventually everyone becomes either a soldier or "least advantaged." Thus, under anarchy all collective functions are met by non-governmental entities, including the: military, police force, criminal justice system, and social welfare.

Minarchists embrace limited government; that is government that is limited to using tax money to provide a defensive military, police force, and judiciary. Some minarchists, like myself, are also willing to include a "basic safety net" to protect the "least advantaged." Anarchists, however, insist that minarchy is unsustainable and that, over time, minarchism becomes progressivism. Altruistic politicians and social scientists are eventually corrupted by power. Progressives argue that the limited power of minarchism, inevitably leads to under-funded military, police, judiciary, and safety nets.

Today, the idealists on the far left (progressives) and the far right (anarchists) are unwilling to compromise and therefore the U.S. government now mired in gridlock. Since minarchists draw criticism from both the far left and the far right, they now occupy the centrist position in U.S. Politics. I would argue that the future of the United States lies in the formation of a coalition of progressives and libertarians that are willing to limit the exercise of concentrated political power, but not necessarily eliminate it. Politically, this might result in the formation of a political alliance between Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich.                                        

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