Overview and Purpose

After years of neglect, the political situation in the United States is approaching that of a crisis. The reason for this crisis, I believe, is fundamentally a failure to define and implement what must be the appropriate role of government. Both major political parties, while contending that they offer differing, and even opposing points of view, have failed us in providing a definition for government’s role that is appropriate either to reasoned arguments for its functions or for adherence to the concepts in our founding documents. The purpose of this work will be to change some minds—minds of voters and potential voters who call themselves moderates, centrists, or are what the polls call the politically undecided. It also addresses certain of you who have a so-called “conservative” orientation, but who, as I see it, lack the explicitly defined political principles necessary to the solution of our crisis by being too narrowly focused on social issues, too strong an emphasis on “traditional” values, or who may have a strong authoritarian bent.

This work is particularly addressed to reasonably well-educated people who, in the author’s experience, conduct their personal lives using reason, common sense, and prudence, yet when it comes to political orientation and public policy, adhere to ideas which, I hope to show, are in direct conflict with a reasoned and sensible approach to governance, and whose moral basis for such policies relies on faulty thinking. Members of this group frequently come to their political beliefs, not through reasoned adoption, but from mother’s milk, or from the inability to divorce themselves from a social matrix which conditions social acceptance upon adherence to certain political norms.

So,  it is my conviction that nothing changes until, and unless, public opinion changes. No opinion ever changes in the absence of some outside input. It will be my limited effort in this blog to provide that input.

The core of my belief is that, for any given political question, there is really only one “correct” answer; there are initial premises which must be accepted or rejected, but having been accepted, there is a predictable, orderly sequence of logic which leads to a valid alternative. I do not subscribe to the notion that “nothing is black and white” or that “most things are shades of gray”. My belief is that the Aristotelian dictate that something cannot be both A and not-A simultaneously combines with a set of facts whose truth can be ascertained to result in arguments whose structure and content can be evaluated for their validity. I have no interest in philosophical worlds where facts and logic do not hold sway.

Moreover, I think it is essential that the fabric of one’s political ideas and values be of a whole cloth, i.e. that each part, each issue, each principle be part of an internally consistent and coherent body of ideas.

Should the reader decide to come to grips with the concepts in this work, my fondest hope is that it will result in changes in behavior, in particular, voting behavior, since that is, in the last analysis one of the few ways in which the individual can influence political events. Possibly, some readers may become engaged by these new ideas to such an extent that they become “activists” in attempting to influence others, even if this is simply being an informed advocate at informal gatherings when politics is up for discussion.

Underlying most issues of a political nature are questions of right and wrong. We talk about what is just and unjust, fair and unfair. And it is in this arena that those who would defend a concept of individual liberty have fallen down on the job and have either refused to deal with fundamental concepts or have acquiesced to concepts propounded by those who are, frankly, unfriendly to liberty. So, I will start out discussing selected moral theories of justice and fairness and attacking head-on notions which both American political parties have not adequately dealt with on an intellectual level. I also hope to assist the reader in confronting the fact that not all moral rules should be subject to social enforcement, and to refine their own arguments as to where the line separating them is to be drawn.

If anything is central to my thesis, it is the question of the proper role of government, and it is the two major parties’ failure to define matters in terms of this question that has resulted in the present crisis. The players feel restricted to discussing things as if they were individual, compartmentalized “issues” which have little or no context, socially or otherwise. For instance, I maintain that any legislator, when proposing any new law,  is obligated to consider first and foremost —does this new law pass the test of being appropriate to government’s proper role?  Opponents of liberty frequently find that there is no law which runs afoul of this test; these are the people whom we wish to expose in this work.

I will speak to the issue, which statists blithely dismiss, of whether government is necessary at all, and to the various historical ideas which have gradually led us to the current nation-state, including the notion of a Social Contract. Having likely accepted that some government is justified,  the concept of what its proper scope should be is worked out. The most notable recent experiment in government is, of course, the American one. It turns out to be an exercise in limiting the ability of government to negatively influence the life of the individual while providing some level of protection to his scope of action.

The most important aspect of the American approach to government is the effort, upon its founding, to define limitations on its powers, to enact restraints on the very real potential for abuse of discretion. The implements of this policy are two: constitutionalism, and the rule of law.

A written constitution sets forth a set of powers allowed to the governors, and defines or delimits the areas in which additional legislation may be contemplated. Only certain powers may be exercised and there are whole realms where legislation is forbidden. The essence of the American document is restraint, limitation, minimization, and I will show that, despite appeals by statists and others to the contrary, there is no legitimate alternative interpretation. Also revealed in some detail is the unfortunate history of judicial review which has enervated the American constitution and ripped out the strictures and controls with which it was  crafted.

Co-equal with a written constitution is the concept of the rule of law. There is near universal agreement that humans living in a social setting require rules to live by; we note, however, that such rules are not commands, but rather abstractions which must be made to apply to all persons and situations equally. These abstract rules, i.e. the set of laws, will be seen to require creation by one entity and enforcement or interpretation by others; this is part and parcel of the preservation of liberty under the rule of law, and is generally expressed constitutionally by an explicitly stated concept of the separation of powers. It is because laws are not simply commands that men can obey and still be free.

I will spend considerable time untangling the confusion, fostered by statists, concerning the need for the overall co-ordination of human activities by a central intelligence, for, as F. A. Hayek has said “ the enemies of liberty have always based their arguments on the contention that order in human affairs requires that some should give orders [ i.e. ‘commands’], and others obey.”

Although our Founders strove to set up a plan to establish and preserve a limited form of government under the rule of law, in well under a hundred years forces opposing the fundamental concepts incorporated in the Constitution, and in the understanding of the people,  had coalesced into a movement to undermine and replace the basic concept of freedom under the law with an alternative set of doctrines; the movement was Progressivism, a philosophy erroneously  influenced by the rise of science and technology to the point that its adherents came to feel that all human problems were of a deterministic and mechanistic nature and hence always admitted of some solution by man’s intervention, i.e. a philosophy of human and societal perfectibility. The most damaging exponents of Progressivism were members of the federal judiciary. I will endeavor to show where and how constitutional concepts were ignored, denied, or re-defined by judicial doctrines and decisions. Second to the judiciary was a near plurality of U.S. presidents from Lincoln onward, including some of the most highly regarded, whose actions favored the Progressive cause to the detriment of the Constitution and of liberty.

The most fertile ground for finding and exposing misconceptions which plague the body politic is in the arena of economics and the understanding of how markets work. I will try to briefly survey the historical and current state of economics as a discipline with an eye to convincing the reader that there is indeed but one basic approach which stands out above all others from both a moral and practical viewpoint. I will compare and contrast capitalism and socialism, emphasizing the wealth of misconceptions surrounding these familiar economic (actually moral/economic) systems. Great emphasis will be placed on understanding capitalism and free markets as first and foremost among a family of what Hayek and others have characterized as “spontaneous orders”. I will highlight the concepts of personal and local knowledge and other characteristics which run counter to the centralized, command-and-control mentality which socialized solutions requires

The entire effort described above  is really nothing more than an elaborate justification for the author’s preferred set of institutional changes, reforms and revisions which I have called my Three Plank Platform, and is designed to be adopted by political players who are serious about solutions, who abjure lip service in favor of real and substantial action.  I will explore these proposed changes in great detail, and demonstrate the extent to which a whole panoply of societal problems can be addressed by a simply stated, three-pronged approach of sufficient synergy, even though it appears superficially to be concerned only with matters economic.

The Platform features three facets: (1) revising the way we tax, (2) exerting real control over governmental spending, and (3) moving towards eliminating the ability of government to manipulate the supply of money for policy purposes. For each of these facets, I develop a strong explanation of how it implements one or more moral principles as well as having strongly beneficial practical effects, emphasizing the absolute necessity that solutions must be simultaneously both moral and practical.

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One Response to Overview and Purpose

  1. Jeff Ackerman

    Beautifully done! I plan to follow your progress.