"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Political Philosophy–Our Votes Tell More About Us Than Just Our Electoral Choices

Many political analysts have observed that America is a divided country, perhaps more divided than any time in our history.  The lines between races, sexes, geographical regions are rarely crossed.  Compromise is tantamount to capitulation.  Confrontation is considered a show of strength, a further way of consolidating case-hardened group identity, and fighting for not only a slice of the pie but the pie itself.

Identity politics, diversity, and inclusiveness rather than encourage an atmosphere of tolerance and accommodation, have discarded former notions of racial and social integration have promoted separatism and the rancor, suspicion, and animosity that are always part of the package.

One of the first thing that diversity program facilitators ask participants to do is to choose the group that best defines them – white, black, gay, straight, male, female, or transgender.  Since the purpose of these sensitivity training sessions is to teach straight, white people lessons of tolerance and the generous acceptance of minorities, it is no surprise that choices do not include  intellectual interest, artistic sensitivity, athletic ability, or especially political philosophy.

Political philosophy – the  canon of principles on the basis of which one judges the world and makes personal, electoral, and economic decisions – is in fact who we are; and if ‘diversity’ were taken seriously, we should be sorted as such.  

Liberals and conservatives do not simply differ on economic, social, or international policies; but on the values that underlie them.  Liberals believe in progress towards a more ideal, equitable, and just world; and trust the state, as representative of the people and authorized to act in their behalf, to be the only institution capable of accelerated such progress.

Conservatives believe no such thing.  Human nature – self-interested, territorial, acquisitive, and aggressively defensive and offensive – is a given, a hardwired, permanent, ineluctable, and powerful engine of human activity.  Society may ‘progress’, but it has little do do with externalities and the the arbitrary interventions of the state than it does with individual competition.  It has always been the clash of civilizations and their armies which has resulted in cultural winnowing.  Empires were created and extended, tribes have always been at war to secure and expand resources and territory, and families scramble for status and prestige.

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When a conservative votes for the dismantling or disassembling of government, the promotion of the private sector, he is voting less for the abolition of social programs and a restoration of free market competition than for the integrity of the individual.

Intense competition between individuals and groups will always result in the survival of the fittest – the best genes and the creation of institutions led by the strongest - and the culling of those weaker individuals, groups, or nations.  No such philosophical conservative will ever argue that the victor will always create a Persepolis, Athens, or Rome.  History is not a record of social progress but the cultural change and benefits which – for better or worse – which result from conflict.

When a progressive argues for expanded social programs, a more extensive safety net for the poor, increases in spending on public education, or a a more generous and less confrontational foreign policy, he is arguing on the basis of philosophical principle.  Individuals count less than than any collective. grouping.  Communalism is always  better than individualism.  Negotiation always trumps war.  Human beings are basically good, progressives say, and only through the nurturing and encouragement of that goodness, can the world evolve to a  better place.

Everything boils down to political philosophy.  A philosophical conservative will assume that marriage is no more than any other social contract, bound to come apart at the seams.  Husbands and wives may talk of a harmonious marriage, but if true, it has come about through the same territorial imperatives which determine the behavior of tigers and wolves.  Marital equilibrium does not come about because of a fundamental belief in equality, but according to the principle of countervailing force.  There is nothing wrong with this at all, says the conservative.  The goal sis a reasonably stable and civil relationship, and idealistic sense of romance should not get in the way.

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Family fortunes are never protected and guaranteed because of love, trust, and respect.  The canny pater familias understands that children always fight over their inheritance, and will take measures that even surprise them to secure it.  Poor relatives will always show up to fight for few crumbs; and unless the treasury is absolutely secure, the money will be wasted, spent, and lost.  Progressives believe that while such greed and venality might occur, it can be avoided through mutual respect, concern, compassion, and a sense of the right and just.

Evangelical Christians believe in the personal relationship between the believer and Jesus Christ.  While church and pastor may help mediate the relationship, it is only through individual faith in the Savior and a belief in his grace that one can attain salvation.  The Puritan settlers of New England brought the same fundamental beliefs with them from Europe.  America’s famous frontier  individualism had its origin in religious belief.   Only the individual was responsible for his salvation.  Government had little to do with either one’s spiritual journey or economic trajectory.  At best it provided the laws and regulative framework to facilitate individual enterprise.

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It is no surprise then that many of not most evangelicals are political conservatives.  Their world view is comprehensive and complete.  If the most important element of life – spiritual salvation – is an affair  between the individual and his Maker, then why should individual enterprise be subsumed within any larger social context?  While evangelicism may be represented by individual confessions and churches, it is still only a collection of individuals striving for grace.  While some churches and denominations have become political and have aggressively promoted their own conservative social agendas, in reality they are still individuals grouped under one aegis or another for identity, status, and recognition.

Progressives by and large are secular, humanists, intellectuals, and idealists.  We may have many of the survival traits of our early ancestors, they say, but our intelligence, enhanced human sensibilities, and ability to reform the world despite human nature make us far different from them.  The individual is not only less important than the groups to which he belongs, but denial of this fact is detrimental to everyone.

Progressives dismiss genetic determinism and refuse to accept inequality as an inevitable fact of life.  Their support of the state in its programs to encourage self-esteem, respect for multiple intelligences, and absolute social, cultural, and intellectual equality is a logical expression of a fundamental political philosophy which devalues the individual and redirects investment to the collective state.

Progressives do not accept the fundamental nature of human conflict; and believe that despite the bloody history of the 20th Century, see hope for a more peaceful world.   The way to international peace is not through confrontation but conversation.  If only we are persuasive enough about the rightness of democracy and civil rights, we can convince even the likes of Kim Jong Un, the Grand Ayatollah of Iran, and Vladimir Putin.

To defect to the conservative camp – i.e. to adopt the most aggressive, militaristic, and win-at-all-costs foreign policy – would not be so much a change based on current events and recent history; it would be a moral defection.

Can two people with radically opposed political philosophies ever be good friends?  Unlikely unless the friendship began before social and moral convictions were formed and hardened.  If two men have known each other since the age of 12 – a time when personality matters more than character – then the answer is yes. Children like each other for reasons that have nothing to do with individualism or collective socialism.  They find each other engaging, funny, spirited, quiet, thoughtful, or any one of a hundred more reasons to like someone.  They can know each other on a primal level.  The way you are at age 12 is a product of genes and family.  If you are relaxed, at ease, nervous, afraid, happy, or withdrawn, you come by it naturally; and friendship is a matter of spontaneous, unexplained reactions.

Yet few people know each other for so long nor have they based a friendship on such unspoken, unarticulated feelings.  Adult friendship is a function of the intersection of political philosophy.  In a few cases opposites attract; in most they do not, and likes tend to group together.

For the most part, then, political philosophy will determine not only votes but friendships and relationships with others and communities.

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