L.A. Liberty

A Libertarian in Leftywood

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pol102:

nature.com

A fun­da­men­tal ques­tion for democ­ra­cy is what should be sub­mit­ted to the demo­c­ra­t­ic process. The laws of physics are pre­sum­ably immune. But should pub­lic opin­ion help to decide which areas of sci­ence are stud­ied or fund­ed?

An excellent essay (from the science journal, Nature) about the recent push by some legislators to cut funding for political science.

Is this a joke?

The editorial begins thusly:

A fundamental question for democracy is what should be submitted to the democratic process. The laws of physics are presumably immune. But should public opinion help to decide which areas of science are studied or funded?

I’ve previously discussed the illegitimacy of democracy, but of course this is not a principled understanding of the sovereignty of the individual over his own life.

Take this strained conception of “democracy” (which throughout they seem to take as a synonym for a “properly functioning society”):

The proper function of democracy is to establish impartial bodies of experts and leave it to them.

This is a ridiculous new definition for “democracy” that precludes all inconvenient constructs of democratic will. “Leaving” decisions to others is the crux of the problem in the first place since “experts” are either politically appointed or democratically decided by the same “public opinion” nature abhors. There is no such thing as impartiality when the state and its monopoly on force is involved. Nature claims to be a science journal but is instead clutching tightly to fairy tales of unbiased government agencies filled with experts who know better than the rest of us and are capable of steering individuals and their property better than they can manage themselves. This is why Mencken referred to democracy as a theological concept.

In truth, this editorial-cum-screed is nonsense parading as intelligensia’s response to the political maneuvers of “right-wingers” (yes, the science journal’s editorial used the phrase “right-wingers”). See, the point here is that they insist on funding their studies through tax-payers, but they want the simple masses to keep their uninformed noses away from how their money is being spent.

The editorial later notes:

The idea that politicians should decide what is worthy of research is perilous.

What does one expect to happen when research is funneled through the political sausage factory? (And especially, as is the case in what this editorial is responding to, research for “political science”?!) 

It’s really quite simple: if you, like me, resent the politicization of how research is funded, then you must advocate an end to the government’s involvement in research. Otherwise, you can expect those who pay into it to want to have a say in how it is run. Further, though not touched upon in the editorial, if you resent politicians and bureaucrats selfishly siphoning funds away from good research into some lesser research simply because some group or corporation gave to their political campaigns or because they’re buying votes by funding the firm that provides jobs in their districts, then the solution is still to end the government’s involvement in research.

So, “should public opinion help to decide which areas of science are studied or funded”? What is necessary, and I’m sure everyone in nature would agree, is to have those with the most pertinent knowledge have the most say - instead of turning delicate decision-making over to the uninformed and uninterested. Government funding is lucrative irrespective of the success or relevance of its subsequent studies. This is because the revenue is sourced at the point of a gun (taxation, ultimately, is paid by threat of violence), and the inherent bureaucratic and corporatist cesspool of government makes the funding itself the ends instead of the means to further successful research. Scarce resources are thus not conserved or put to their greatest utility. When research and studies are conducted on a private (voluntary) basis, however, it’s the most relevant, important, and promising ones that tend to be funded. After all, future funding is not guaranteed as there is no legitimized and institutionalized violent coercion sourcing it.

If free people participate in consensual exchange, the resultant emergent order would most efficiently distribute knowledge among the relevant actors. The natural economic calculation of this process would make funding available to the most relevant, promising, and demanded studies. No threats of violence necessary, and no politicians or voting to muck things up.

politicalprof:

So there’s been a group of people running around the United States for 30 years or so who call themselves Constitutionalists, among other things. They have — shall we say —quirky ideas about the rule of the law, the nature of the US constitution and of citizens’ rights within it.

My personal favorite of their claims is that — in their claiming, not mine — that I (meaning Politicalprof and people like me) are “sovereign citizens.” What this means in practice is that since people like me — white, male and property owning — were legally entitled to be citizens of the US before the US Constitution was created, we are “sovereign” — e.g., superior — to the Constitution. This means that I — meaning Politicalprof and people like me — have the personal right to reject or nullify laws that seem to us to intrude on our freedom since, obviously, we would never have consented to such laws in 1787. I am sovereign over the federal government, which cannot take away my rights as I define them.

Now, many of my sharp and sophisticated readers will be have their brows in a knot, going, “but, Politicalprof, what if you’re NOT a white male property owner? What if you’re a woman? Or a minority? Or an immigrant?” No worries: you are what is known as a “14th Amendment citizen.” That is, you are a citizen, but not a sovereign citizen. (Again, this is their argument, not mine.) Rather, you were granted citizenship by the 14th Amendment.

The distinction here is important: I was a citizen (allegedly) who could have made the Constitution, so my rights and liberties exist independent of the Constitution. Everyone else is a citizen as a result of the Constitution, and is bound therefore by its rules and limitations. In addition, we can take your citizenship and rights away through Constitutional changes, but we can never take mine away — as I define them — because people like me defined them in 1787.

Simple, huh? In any case, such persons are on the loose again. The anti-government fervor of the last years, mixed with the rise of a legalistic strain of libertarianism, has combined to make nonsense sound like Constitutional reasoning.

To wit, the post below. A group calling itself the “Republic for the united States of America” (the lowercase “u” matters) has decided that the United States you and I think of is not the real united States. More, they’ve decided they’ve recreated the real the united States. I am posting their words in full, cause hey: you need the full crazy.

Have fun! …

Can’t seem to find anything on their site about being “white, male, and land-owning.” Normally I’d think that would be beneath you but our past conversations have shown you perfectly willing to use dishonest rhetoric to make appeals to emotion.

Though even if that were the case (which, given their focus on the Constitution, may be true - though it’s not even implied as far as I can tell), that would make them completely opposed to most people who adopt the label of “sovereign individual.” (The group is already pretty obscure: their facebook page has fewer likes than Cannibalism. Will people eating other people be your next post of grave concern?) Also antithetical to the idea of being a sovereign individual is apologizing for the misdeeds of others, which they do in their credo. 

The idea of the “sovereign individual,” contrary to your [possibly contrived] explanation above, is not presupposed by race, gender, or owning land; nor is it, contrary to the group’s claims above, founded on Constitutional principles. In fact, most people who declare themselves to be “sovereign individuals” would find it conflicting to replace one state with another. 

The idea is that each of us is the ultimate authority over our lives and that we are all free to do - borrowing Leonard Read’s phrase - anything that’s peaceful. It is self-ownership: We own our lives, we own the ability to decide what we do with our lives (that which we voluntarily choose to do without aggressing others, or liberty), and we own the product of our lives (that which we traded our time and talents for, or property). It is about the principle of non-aggression - to not initiate violence against others - and the justice, peace, and prosperity that naturally flows from it. 

But we’ve had this dance before. You have repeatedly disregarded the primacy of consent (here, here, and here). Because you believe that aggressively forced obligations are fundamental to a safe and functional society, and thus the individual does not necessarily have final say over his or her life, I can understand why people claiming to be “sovereign individuals” could ruffle your feathers.

Sadly, you wear your shackles too proudly to ever acknowledge the barbarity of your stance.

politicalprof:

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

James Madison, “Federalist #51”

And yet who composes “government” but those very same men who are not angels?

The solution to the understanding that men aren’t angels is not to give some of those non-angels tyrannical power over all others. This merely makes a bad situation (being surrounded by non-angels) worse (being surrounded by non-angels, some with a monopoly on force). And as history has shown, the worst, most power-hungry, and repressive non-angels would gravitate to the state’s power, wreaking more havoc to mankind than they would otherwise be able to. The list of history’s worst despots and mass murderers, after all, is filled with heads of state.

holeycynicism:

politicalprof:

So the blogger who (partially) inspired my post yesterday has responded. You can read his piece for yourself here. You, of course, will draw whatever conclusions you will. For my part, his claim that things like clean water, clean air and clean food are only “supposed” goods not necessarily worth making cross-generational commitments to ensure pretty much exposes the uselessness of libertarianism as an actual plan for social action, as opposed to a tool of social and political criticism.

Just fyi—

I’ve read this whole thread…starting with the post that inspired your initial response. After taking it all in, it’s pretty clear that, in this argument, you’re losing badly and know it. I can’t think of any other way to explain the blatant misdirection and dishonesty.

From your use of exceptions (infants and psychopaths) to disprove the rule (sound-minded adults) of the inviolability of self-ownership, to your quoting of the word “supposed” above (a word which doesn’t even appear in LA Liberty’s response), you refused on all counts to engage with his ideas.

You suggest that because he believes no one should be forced into cross-generational commitments, that he is against them in principle; that he believes that “commitment[s] beyond…one-to-one agreement” are unnecessary. You ignored the responses to your argument and decide instead to disparage him for something he didn’t even say.

Also, I can’t help but point out that shortly after saying that “a blanket statement ‘never’ is, well, silly,” you say that you’ve “never, ever heard a libertarian even vaguely hint at an” alternative to coerced cross-generational participation. [ LA Liberty note: the word ‘never’ didn’t even appear in my original post, nor any subsequent one. ]  An assertion that is both silly and shocking, since I, in the course of my varied careers in food service, ministry, graphic design, and web development, have encountered a number of specific and general alternatives; how is it that in the course of your study and teaching of Politics and Government you haven’t?

It seems politicalprof has doubled down on yesterday’s irrelevant conclusion with yet another dishonest deflection.

At no point did I ever hint, much less outright “claim that things like clean water, clean air and clean food are only “supposed” goods not necessarily worth making cross-generational commitments to ensure.” I didn’t say they were only “supposed” goods at all, whatever that means. I didn’t discuss cross-generational commitments outside of noting that a father’s oath is not automatically applied to the son, and that the actions of a previous generation do not lock in decisions for subsequent generations, even if the subsequent generations benefitted from the explicitly unrequested actions. In other words, my argument was consistently one regarding consent. (Private property, by the way, can span many generations through natural mechanisms of trade and inheritance.)

Further, I offered a number of entire volumes dedicated to discussing how goods normally seen as “common” or “public” are made available in a voluntary society without the need to preclude consent. 

Professor: that we disagree is abundantly clear. I believe that no peaceful individual should be forced into any obligation that he or she did not consent to, that the individual is the ultimate authority over his or her life. You, in contrast, believe aggressively forced obligations to be fundamental to a safe and functional society, that the individual does not necessarily have final say over his or her life. The only reason I can come up with as to why you persist on misrepresenting our point of disagreement is that you’ve realized the barbarity of your position when presented it in plain language.

politicalprof:

Well, it finally happened: I finally read a libertarian post so silly I couldn’t resist a response.

Yet you could resist directly responding… (thanks to huskerred for bringing this post to my attention).

To simplify, the libertarian in question claimed that no decision was legitimate unless he had consented to it, and that no prior decision could compel his compliance as he had not consented to it.

As quite obviously the “silly” libertarian in question, I’d like to clarify that what I “claimed” was two-fold: 1. “I believe people should be able to peacefully associate with others in any way all parties voluntarily agree to.” And related to the first, 2. “Someone cannot make an agreement for me,” or as the title of my post read, “Self-ownership is not conditional on the agreements of past generations.” (How foolish of me to consider such thoughts so uncontroversial!)

But your summation is sufficient if we slightly alter it to read: “no decision [affecting his self-ownership, or regarding his life, liberty, or property] was legitimate unless he had consented to it, and that no prior decision could compel his compliance as he had not consented to it.”

There are at least three profound things wrong with this argument: it’s wrong on its face; it’s wrong on social institutions; and it has no promise for building a real world social order. Let me take each in turn.

First, as to the premise: it’s just wrong. For example, I have an 8 1/2 month old son, and I make decisions for him all the time that are entirely legitimate and (probably) appropriate. Likewise, we generally don’t advocate letting crazy people kill themselves, or allowing gunmen to walk into crowded rooms and open fire. There are all kinds of circumstances in which one legitimately has one’s right to make a specific decision taken away, and in which one’s freedom to consent to an act (such as your incarceration) is denied. A blanket statement “never” is, well, silly.

Irrespective of your forthcoming anticipation of the objection, the objection still remains. You say “it’s wrong” and you do not elaborate or explain, simply offer examples of an infant, a “crazy” suicidal person, and a dangerous criminal. Therefore your argument is that my premise is wrong because infants, crazies, and villains exist? Seeing as how my example, in the post that caused an irresistible response, was about a non-crazy, non-criminal adult - this seems to be an irrelevant conclusion.

Now, anticipating the objection that what the person meant to say—but didn’t, even in a follow up post—was that all RATIONAL people should have absolute freedom of choice, let me state that the politics of determining who is and isn’t “rational” are fraught with bias. Ask any woman in history who was denied the right to vote on the grounds that they were “emotional” not “rational,” or any ex-slave who was deemed (by their former masters) to be too “child-like” to be a full member of society. “Rational” is a lovely word. It’s also a tool of repression. 

I agree with your last few points here: determining rationality is often fraught with bias and certainly can be (indeed, often has been) a tool of repression.

The fact remains, however, that in every “system,” people and cultures and communities find different ways to determine whether a child has reached the mental capacity to offer “rational consent.” (In most countries and territories, an arbitrary age is used which ultimately has little bearing on an individual’s ability to reason or self-govern.) In every “system,” people find different ways to determine whether an individual merits intervention that would otherwise violate the non-aggression principle due to said individual’s mental instability.

This is, without question, a controversial topic that merits thoughtful deliberation: how does one make these determinations in the most fair, just, and humane way possible? In fact, in libertarian and anarchist circles, fervent debate is made of this very difficult question (particularly with regards to children and the role of their parents/guardians). Some examples of anarcho-capitalist view(s) may be found here, here, here, here, and here - though minarchist libertarians may have other ideas. As a father of two young daughters, this is a question that I have pondered many a time.

My view is that in essentially all cases, self-asserting individuals should be treated as self-owners with full rights over their lives, liberty, and property. Yours - as your examples seem to imply - is to view all individuals as potentially irrational (in a self-asserted, mentally-capable sense), so there must exist an entity to place us all as equals in subservience to counter that irrationality - that we are all effectively repressed.

Perhaps I misunderstood where you stand… but whatever the determination, it is wholly irrelevant to my original post. In that post, I was discussing an unambiguous property owner and a clearly rational self-owner. Your first “profound thing” is both unsubstantiated and immaterial to the idea you wished to refute. 

Second, as to the way social institutions work, the simple fact is that by the time my son is of an age where he might choose to be, god help us, a libertarian, he will have benefitted from a vast array of social goods and services that depended on inter-generational commitments of time and labor and money. He will have drunk, bathed and played in untold gallons of safe water. He will have breathed safe air and eaten food that (basically) was safe. He will have not been electrocuted each time he turned on a light switch—which delivered power across an array of regulated mechanisms over large spaces of territory. And he will have enjoyed much, much more. Here’s the thing, though: all of it—ALL OF IT—will have been organized and paid for at least by his parents’ taxes and fees, his grandparents’ and fees, and his great-grandparents’ taxes and fees. 

You’re arguing in circles. Is the fact that someone before you paid taxes and fees that they never consented to justification for you to pay taxes and fees that you never consented to?

And that one receives an unrequested benefit does not behold one to whatever demands and reciprocity the benefactor claims to be entitled to. If you arrive home from work tonight and your neighbor has mowed your lawn without any prompting from you, you are not required to pay whatever bill your neighbor leaves in your mailbox.

Furthermore, you offer the implicit (and ridiculous) assumption that safe water, clean air, wholesome food, and regulated electrical power would be non-existant without a loving state extracting fees and taxes to provide them. Funny, that

The simple fact is that if you wish to have any kind of structure, institution or practice that lasts more than the time it takes two people to exchange whatever good or service they are exchanging, then a commitment beyond a one-to-one agreement is necessary. This need only grows more significant and more complex and social organizations expand in size and scope. Of course, as an adult one can choose to live outside these social orders: go and become a hermit. But if you wish to enjoy the benefits of society, you have to pay some of the costs of society. At least in a democracy you (ideally) get to have some say over those costs.

Again, you’re saying a whole lot of nothing baked into a cake of saccharine statism. We need the state and its monopoly on force to compel people to do things they do not consent to, otherwise we’d be dead in ditches from razor blades in our unregulated oatmeal. 

That most regulation actually helps the larger corporations (and connected politicians, bureaucrats, plutocrats, et al) within an industry and typically shields them from wrongdoing is, I’m sure, a necessary evil. It’s merely an unfortunate side-effect that every area in which the state has inserted itself - education, health, nutrition, transportation, etc. - it is a giant, bureaucratic, expensive, dangerous, corporatist mess.

Third, on what should we do instead, let me say that I have never, ever heard a libertarian even vaguely hint at an answer to this. I have seen an endless number of “the government sucks” posts from libertarians but not a single answer to the question: how do I get electricity in a libertarian world? Where everyone has to consent to everything all the time? How do I get safe water? How do I make NASA and a national park and, yes, how do I make sure that actual enemies don’t attack? 

Well, this is the big one isn’t it? You trot out this sanctimonious refrain regularly (here and here): “where oh where are the smart libertarians who actually offer solutions?!”

You’ve “never, ever heard a libertarian even vaguely hint an answer… [as to] what [we should] do instead.” You “have never seen a libertarian do this in even a vaguely compelling, real world way.” You claim that “[m]ost of the libertarian posts that come up on [your] dashboard are little more than ideological screeds.” You are “still seeking libertarian blogs that [explain] the alternative [to the state].” But then you add “Don’t offer me fantasies. Offer me an argument, preferably one grounded in historical experience” - so that just like the slave owners not so many years ago who dismissed the idea of abolishing slavery, you can shrug off an argument, not on its ethics or merits, but on whether it has successfully been implemented somewhere.

Of course, reality is that if you’ve “never, ever heard a libertarian even vaguely hint an answer… [as to] what [we should] do instead,” then the problem lies squarely with you. Because most of the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist blogs, sites, books, economists, historians, philosophers, educators, and thinkers I read seem to fairly regularly discuss alternatives. 

But, of course, you only offer this straw man objection to feign good faith that you’re willing to consider the counter-argument - despite the fact that counter-arguments abound. Indeed, this is such a broad objection that there is no single link I could offer to cover it all. Instead, I offer you what - to a formidable professor such as yourself - likely amounts to little more than light summer reading on not just the libertarian alternative, but the more “extreme” anarcho-capitalist alternative: Chaos TheoryPower and Market, The Machinery of Freedom, Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to 10 Objections, The Private Production of Defense, The Privatization of Roads and HighwaysPractical AnarchySociety without Coercion

Ultimately, however, offering practical alternatives is secondary to recognizing that, as I stated in the post you found so silly, 1. “People should be able to peacefully associate with others in any way all parties voluntarily agree to.” 2. “Someone cannot make an agreement for me.”

A wife being beaten by her husband need not offer a “practical alternative” to declare his violently aggressive treatment of her wrong and a violation of her self-ownership (much less consider what benefits she gains in return), especially if the husband reserves the right to determine if the alternative is a “fantasy.” Indeed, she’d need only say (to borrow your phrase): “just stop.”

As I’ve previously noted:

"[E]very argument usually ends up becoming a defense of what’s possible when government is not there to provide a good or perform a service (poorly and inefficiently).

But the salient point in my consistent position against government overreach is: no one could really know how something may best be done once free people are able to utilize the market’s ingenuity-incentivizing system of supply, demand, competition, cooperation, and comparative advantage to create efficient alternatives.

The mutually beneficial trade of a free, decentralized market is far superior to central planning, and … the results of which are essentially unknowable for two fundamental reasons. First, to paraphrase Hayek, there’s no way to imagine what can be designed by millions of people acting freely; and second, to paraphrase Mises, it would be impossible to implement any scheme properly or efficiently even if planned by intelligent, well-meaning angels.”

It’s one thing to critique the way the US does these things now. Indeed, I do it all the time. But it’s quite another to think through an alternative. And I have never seen a libertarian do this in even a vaguely compelling, real world way. Until you can answer these questions, and address my first two points with more than a mocking tone and a fantastical story, please, libertarians, I beg you:

stop claiming no decision or action taken by anyone else can ever be legitimate over you in any way. Just stop.  

So to recap, your three ”profound things” countering my assertion that people are not obliged to participate in activities they do not consent to are:

  1. Infants, crazies, and villains exist, therefore believing people can’t be compelled to agreements against their will is “just wrong.”
  2. Compelling people against their will is acceptable because people [arguably] benefit from others being compelled against their will. Also, compelling people against their will is fundamental to preventing society from descending into a dangerous spiral of death and destruction. And the only way “inter-generational agreements and commitments” can be made is by force.
  3. Compelling people against their will is acceptable because it’s the best idea we can think of.

An enthralling argument.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time you have fundamentally disregarded consent.

politicalprof:

…. “and he quit smoking.” Priceless.
h/t: AM

This is chock-full of hilarity:
"3,000,000 new private sector jobs"? So Obama can take credit for private sector jobs (“saved” or “created,” which are strictly speaking not things a government can actually do), but the continued and elevated unemployment that is grossly counter to his projections and the fact that there are fewer people in the labor force must not be blamed on him?
"Smaller Government"? In what way is the costliest empire in the history of this hemisphere considered “Smaller Government”? $12.4 trillion in expenditures in four years is not smaller to anything no matter what metrics you use.
How does he take credit for "End[ing] the war in Iraq" when Obama actually wanted to remain in Iraq and was only forced to leave because the Iraqi leadership insisted on sticking to Bush's Status of Forces Agreement timetable? In fact, despite ostensibly “ending the war,” he’s keeping a number of troops and other private forces in Iraq past the SOFA date.
"More deportations per year than Bush"? This is actually true. But is it something worth praising?
"Fewer regulations than Bush" But I thought Bush was the great deregulator who created the deregulation nightmare that caused the financial crisis? (For the truth on the causes, see here and here.)
"Unified the world against Iran"? In other words, he used saber-rattling and fear-mongering to agitate other countries into supporting pre-emptive acts of war against an as-yet non-aggressor. If Iran was the bad guy, why would he need to “unify the world” to recognize this? 
"All "bailout money" returned, with interest" Actually, only just over half has been “returned,” and most of that with other borrowed funds from The Treasury or The Fed.
"Three new trade agreements" should instead read “three new ways politicians and corporate interests colluded with foreign governments to set up barriers for free people to trade and associate,” which is what all trade agreements amount to.
"Support’s (sic) states’ rights (sic) on medical marijuana" Putting aside the fact that states have no rights, this is simply false (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here)?
Related: Obama Apologetics

politicalprof:

…. “and he quit smoking.” Priceless.

h/t: AM

This is chock-full of hilarity:

Related: Obama Apologetics

politicalprof:

… Grow up, America. There’s no free lunch. The government way is taxes; the libertarian way is fees: in either case, you pay. 

You are absolutely right.

However, you are missing a key concept: consent

Those fees would be paid only by those willing to pay to those willing to provide. No coercion, no force - just mutually beneficial exchanges with consenting individuals bearing the responsibility and the risk (while reaping the rewards) for their endeavors. Individuals making value judgements about what priorities to set in their own lives… imagine that. 

Oh, and this respect for liberty isn’t just morally superior, it also nurtures rational decision-making and fosters efficiency and prosperity for all

politicalprof:

“The airlines are responsible for carrying their cargo and their passengers. Why should we assume that a bureaucracy can do better?”

Ron Paul, during the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan library.

I know I blogged this the other day, but I just ran across something that I forgot to mention:

  • On 9/11, airport security in the United States was performed by private companies hired by the airlines. 

If only Brian Williams had thought to follow up on that.

Sorry to fracture your convenient narrative, but no non-private airport security at the time could have the prevented 9/11 hijackings either. 

As I’ve written previously:

"[T]he major [security] problems stemmed from government agencies not sharing information, government not acting on already acquired intelligence, government bureaucracies being inherently inefficient and not updating watch lists, pilots who were disarmed by the government, and the fact that up until that point, plane hijackings were for negotiating terms, typically a prisoner exchange, not to use the plane as a missile. If you notice, four of the five major problems listed were the government’s fault - and the fifth was unavoidable."

Also, your comment presumes that current non-private security is somehow superior - which the above link demonstrates it is definitely not - and perhaps that lost civil liberties are worthy trade-offs for granting a greater role for the bureaucratic force-monopolizer known as government.

politicalprof:

Last week, I posted on the inherent silliness of so many of the pledges that conservative candidates are being asked—and are agreeing—to sign these days: on protecting marriage, on never raising taxes, and so on. As I pointed, these pledges are in fact meaningless: the way to demonstrate you believe something is to do it, not to say you believe in something.

I completely agree! No question.

… I want to suggest that there are two reasons for such pledge-taking. The first is the politics of bumper stickers. The second is the problem of celebrity.

On the first point, it seems clear that for conservative candidates—or any candidate taking a pledge, for that matter—signing one’s name to a promise written by a third group amounts to a kind of brand labeling. It’s a marker that others can use to determine if Candidate A is “like” me or not.

… It’s a label others can choose to rally around or shun.

OK. I see nothing wrong with that in and of itself. Just like there was nothing wrong with Bush Sr’s “Read my lips” promise. It’s the response to the pledger’s follow-through (or lack thereof) that should matter.

My second point derives from my first: why, one might ask, do candidates need to label themselves in such inherently garish ways? This, it seems to me, is the result of the lack of either strong parties or intimate knowledge of candidates’ lives.

Today, we know our candidates as well as we know our celebrities: too much, and too little. Every aspect of a candidate’s life is plastered across the media; each word and each visit is taken as if it is a revelation of deep meaning. Yet none of us know the inner lives of these candidates. We don’t “know” them.

Notably, this “knowing” problem is partially solved in countries which have strong political parties: in which membership in a party requires at least some fealty to the party’s platform and out of which you can be thrown if you transgress the party’s norms. In the US, however, no such party discipline exists, which is why Obama’s biggest hurdle in getting his health care plan passed wasn’t the Republicans, it was conservative Democrats.

This is actually a problem for a democracy. In the end, you and I are supposed to be able to vote for people we think are likely to represent us in office, and while all but the most brainless amongst us realize this representation won’t be perfect, we still hope that the people we elect will reflect our norms and ideals in office. …

So you want people to pledge absolute fealty to a political party or platform - and any deviation would constitute expulsion from the party.

Let’s consider the implications of your suggestion.

First, there may necessarily be more than two parties, as you have yourself delineated between Democrats and conservative Democrats. As someone who generally is considered part of a “third party,” I don’t have a problem with this. 

Second, the political parties and platforms will stagnate. Without any ideological wiggle-room or capacity for individuality, the candidates would be robots beholden to static ideas. This, again, is not necessarily a bad thing per se. Libertarians and anarcho-capitalists are staunch - some might say intransigent - believers in self-ownership and non-aggression. Ownership of my life, liberty, and justly-acquired property is absolute. No wiggle-room.

So with these two points in mind, would additional parties with more limited scopes emerge? To ask is to answer since parties - and the electorate - already have the ability to boot a politician as a platform standard-bearer.

So why doesn’t it happen?

For starters, there is power in the existing two-party system, power that the two main parties are not likely willing to give up. Why would one party expel a group of mostly like-minded individuals and risk losing the power of majority?

Additionally, having fixed ideological markers means that the national party is less capable of catering candidates to certain regions. For example, a Republican senator in a leftist state will likely be more socially liberal than one in a conservative state. If there were static positions that party members had to adhere to, the party would lose ground in a number of regions, opening the door for those aforementioned third parties. Ergo, loss of power. 

As a big-party supporter, you’re not against using government force for what you view as beneficent ends. So perhaps you would be in favor of implementing this by legislation? If so, how would this practically take place without violating people’s fundamental rights to free association? I would offer that any government involvement in speech or association is violative of our natural rights.

But let’s say it does happen. I think it will only serve to illustrate the lack of variance between the two major political parties.

After all, President Obama has not only continued Bush’s wars, but extended and expanded them. He’s started new wars. He’s signed the extension of the Patriot Act. He’s continued to send away money to foreign despots and funded both sides of conflicts. He’s escalated the war on drugs. He maintains opposition to gay marriage. Yes, he pushed for the most expensive expansion of medical welfare - but only since Bush passed Medicare Part D. Yes, he’s pushed for greater national educational standards - but so did Bush with No Child Left Behind. Despite reports to the contrary, regulatory agencies expanded under Bush. Obama is a hero to environmentalists, but Bush passed the light bulb ban and the Clean Skies Act. Bush may have been extremely cozy with corporations and other cronies, but Obama has been more of the same. Even more so than Bush, Obama’s signed on to protectionist measures and subsidies for favored industries. Both believe in the power of a central bank. Both favored raising the debt ceiling when in power. Both were in favor of stimulus and TARP. 

So you see, the difference between the parties is merely a matter of degrees. Unless you believe that neither of these are really members of their respective parties and both should be expunged to third parties - in which case any ideological checklist might simply expose the reality that we may only have one big political party in this country.

The bottom line is this: you are looking at a fringe issue instead of the actual problem. The problem is the power the politicians hold. For example, how much harm can a candidate who is against gay marriage do to any of us (whether or not they signed a pledge) if the government doesn’t have the power to decide who can or cannot be married in the first place? We need to take the coercive power away from the state and return sovereignty and responsibility back to the individuals.

Minimize the damage by minimizing the state.

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