Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Ideological Divide of the 21st Century

  • Is the human race fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? 
  • Are humans generally altruistic or self-interested? 
Think about these questions. Don't just read them -- work through them in your own mind, because how you answer them will shape the way you approach politics, business, and your religious beliefs. 

There are two clear ideologies in contemporary politics, and they manifest themselves not only within the United States, but fundamentally across the developed (and at times the developing) world. Some would label the division in ideology the divide between modern Liberalism and Conservatism- and there are reasons for these labels. I, however, believe that this is a rather inaccurate labeling for the actual ideologies that influence the world, because conservatism and neo-liberalism are not truly the root ideology - they are two responses to the core issue. The real divide is over how individuals interpret the first question, I listed above. Now, I recognize this might be a bit ambiguous, so I reframe the question with the second one listed (they are two different questions, but I don't have time to get into the theological/metaphysical implications of the first question - practically they state the same question). My question is this - If there were no tradition, "Strong Man", or rational-legal framework restraining individual people - how would they behave? Would they go out of there way to help those around them - SIMPLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF HELPING OTHERS or would they look to preserve their own safety and happiness? 

The answer to this question, I believe, explains the divide between traditional Republican ideology and Democratic ideology. Interestingly, though, it also explains the seemingly odd division between conservative republicans and libertarians - who share many beliefs in regard to the role of government and society. 

In my opinion - liberal/democratic and libertarian ideology share a common belief in the general decency, goodness, and altruism of man, while conservative Republicans/Federalists believe that man is inherently self-interested, bad, and power-hungry.




This is the fundamental ideological divide that I see in America today. This is what concerns me about the strong shift in fiscal conservatives toward "libertarianism." Please, though, don't mistake this a merely a "rose-colored glasses" view of the GOP - Trust me, the Republican Party is corrupt, election-focused, and totally out of touch with a large portion of its electorate. The elite within the party have hijacked traditional conservative values into a sound-bite opposition to the Democratic/progressive party in the hopes of offering alternatives, but in reality simply distancing themselves from real credibility in their own base of support. 

But I still remain a firm, resolute Republican for one reason - I have yet to see a noteworthy political party that represents the Hobbesian view of man - corrupt, self-interested and greedy. I suppose I should also clarify this - I'm not pessimistic about life in general - I love my country, I love my state, I love my county - I think that the American system of government outlined within the Constitution remains the greatest, most effective, and ideal system of government for protecting the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of its citizens. 

But the success of the American experiment did not come from a random shot-in-the-dark approach to government - it was rooted closely in an understanding of man's natural inclination to pursue his/her own individual welfare and happiness. In Federalist 51, James Madison explained his concern in regard to establishing a system of government:
The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
This line of reasoning is what led our founders to the need for the checks and balances provided by a separation of powers - both between Federal and State governments and the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of said governments. 

This divide in ideology is also influences the way we view politics and public policy because it frames our
view of the world. If you view humans as good, you will be more willing to accept policies that advocate for internationalism, multiculturalism, and social justice. Or, on the flip side, you might view the system as the problem - since humans are basically good. This view would cause skepticism and a push for man to be left alone to do whatever he pleases. And, if this view of human nature is correct - you are absolutely right to take these approaches because human ingenuity and international cooperation could yield unimaginable benefits for society and individual welfare and happiness - and each man looking out for himself would be able to get along with other individuals living the same way. 

However, If you view humans as self-interested and corrupt, then you will be more inclined toward cautious policies of national defense, power politics, and a balance of power in world affairs. Domestically, you will be more concerned about tried-and-true fiscal policies, and traditional values in social issues - such as traditional marriage, strong families, restrictions on mind-altering substances, and other community-preserving policies. Just as with the alternative perspective - if this view of human nature is correct - then these policies at the very least are logical conclusions for the protection of an ideal society. It doesn't mean that diplomacy and
innovative policies should be rejected, by any means. It just means that there must be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the proposal will actually work.  it just means that there is an element of skepticism in the way a holder of this worldview looks at the promises and hopes of promises and experimental policies. One might even be willing to go so far as to argue that due to the American system's checks and balances - we have a moral imperative to take a leadership role in world affairs, to point other countries toward a system that is effective at curbing man's corruption - in government and the electorate. Not all hold this view, but the line of reasoning at the very least, is understandable.
So once again, I ask you -- do you believe that man is basically good or basically bad? 

I myself, as you have probably guessed, look at the world more through a realism/federalist perspective. I say "more" deliberately, because there are always other factors that play into any political decision and to TOTALLY reduce political differences to these ideologies is a bit naive, as well. Generally, though, I hold more to the conservative/federalist view of human nature - because I believe that it has been demonstrated throughout history. I also believe that conservative/republican politics aligns with the Christian view of human nature as inherently sinful and fallen - in need of redemption and renewal (see Romans 3:10). I don't believe that humans are totally incapable of good and altruistic acts - but I believe that for the most part, man is capable of serious harm toward his fellow man. 

Now - to draw this back to an element of positivity - I believe that the values that the Republican party [claims] to uphold recognize this view of human nature - and therefore play man's self-interest against itself to achieve a positive result. This is the basis of our separation of powers - every group fights for the greatest benefit for itself - forcing a compromise that mutually benefits all branches. It also can be applied toward economics - if businessmen seek their own profit - the demand for higher quality goods, better workers wages/conditions, and lower prices will cause businessmen to supply these demands with their product and production process. Capitalism works because not only does the producer gain, but so does the consumer. However, a [good] Republican/Conservative also recognizes that there is a need for government at times - to uphold justice and protect individual rights, settle disputes,  provide military defense, prevent excessive monopolies in the market, and occasionally rise in resistance to threats to our national interests abroad. I think that libertarianism is a significant improvement over neo-liberalism, because it recognizes half of the problem - it sees government as an infringement on the rights of the people - and rightly so. It also respects the value of the free market to check individual self-interest for a common good. The problem is that it fails to recognize the nature of man as the reason why government is so corrupt - and believes that removing the structures that preserve and defend our society will cause the good and natural man to flourish in peace and cooperation. I respectfully disagree. 

In my view - Conservative/Federalist/Republican ideology offers the economic benefits of libertarian/Austrian economics while preserving a healthy distrust in the benevolence of the average man - whether he be in government or the street. This is why I remain - firmly - a Conservative Republican. 
- Evan Gillespie 


  1. You had to know a Tilford would comment on this, right? ;)

    But honestly, it's interesting to hear your perspective laid out like this. I have to say, it is a bit shocking to see your conclusions. Your assumptions about our beliefs on the nature of man are in direct opposition to everything I've seen, studied, and experienced in regards to the libertarian movement/Libertarian Party/Austrian Economics. The corrupt/evil nature of man is the crux of the libertarian philosophy.

    Okay, now that I got my initial statement of shock out of the way, I want to say-- I'd really love to sit down and talk sometime. I know you and Jay and I can go round and round in online debates, and I'd much rather hang out and have a good old fashioned discussion face to face. You are someone who I respect when it comes to philosophical thinking. And while, obviously, we disagree on quite a lot, I believe we also agree on some of the most important fundamental principles. Anyway, think about it-- if you have free time to go to coffee and chat, I'd love to get into all of this a bit deeper. :)

  2. Yes, I anticipated it :)
    I would definitely be up for meeting up sometime - but free time is kind of a foreign concept at the moment, with school wrapping up. Maybe down the road a bit.

    Let me explain my reasoning a bit further with a short story - I think it will help you see where I'm coming from when I say that libertarians view man as basically good, because I definitely understand what you mean. It seems counter- intuitive, which I was I posted this in the first place :)

    Suppose we have a state of nature - no government, no law - just people pursuing their own rational self-interest. Each individual does his own job to manage his own property. Some men, I believe, will consider the property of others to be valuable enough to risk stealing it. The robbed man, now, has a choice. He can let it go and acquire new property, or he can retaliate. But he certainly will prepare in case he is robbed again. Now, he gets his friends and they agree to support each other and prevent thieves from robbing each other. This helps all of them. Now we have the basis of government - individuals contracting together for mutual gain.

    There are problems, though, that I see now, from a libertarian view - assuming that you hold to a desire for voluntarism in government. One - the thieves are now denied their own pursuit of self-interest. A government has formed that they did not agree to - but it holds the ability to force compliance. Some may consent, and give up their pursuit of self interest - but I ABSOLUTELY believe that there are many who would resent this new system - and fight against it at any cost. Others will resentfully leave.

    Now - the thieves move away and find other people - and they gradually form their own little society. Here we have a new problem. Now, we have a group of people talking over how they were forced out of the other "country" - they talk and talk, and gradually get themselves fired up. Eventually, someone in this new society decides that they want to get back at the first country - or someone else decides that they really would like the resources that Country #1 has. Regardless, at some point in the future, Country #2 attacks Country #1. Country #1 may push them back. Country #2 finds country #3 and convinces them to form an alliance to attack Country #1, and split the profit. Country #1 sees this, and gets country #4 & #5 to join their cause.

    Now - what does this look like?
    - Is this the original voluntarism that libertarianism favors? I would say no - It looks a lot more like a balance of power system under a political realist/pragmatist model. But which step along the path from the state of nature do you think would NEVER come about?

    I believe - the voluntary society that started this analogy cannot sustain itself - nor can it ever be fully returned to while preserving itself. I think that Libertarians do not understand this - because they believe that a voluntary society can be reestablished in the United States - despite 200 years of balance of power developments in the world. Thus, if you truly believe that voluntarism is a realistic model in today's world - the only way you can sustain this belief is to refute man's natural depravity - even if its simply through cognitive dissonance.

    In my opinion - Balance of Power politics, Pragmatism, and Escalation is INEVITABLE regardless of what your society starts as. I accept this. I believe that countries and governments should have constitutional frameworks that limit government size and power - and pit self interests against each other - but I also recognize that escalation in all of these areas will occur regardless. This is why I am a Republican, and not a libertarian. I believe that libertarians fail to consider the real threats in the world - and forget that man is self-interested - even men outside of America are self-interested. I think the delicate balance is preserving liberty while also defending against 21st century threats, which are VERY real.

    1. pardon the grammar - I typed WAY too fast... :)

  3. :) I understand about not having much free time. The life of college students!

    For the sake of clarity and to narrow down the arguments, I am going to approach this topic from the stance of the Libertarian party.

    1. The Libertarian party believes in localized, constitutionally limited government. Not a total absence of government. From the LP Platform: “The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights -- life, liberty, and justly acquired property --against aggression.” In your example, yes, of course the aggressor forfeits his right to pursue self-interest, because he chose to infringe on his neighbor’s property by acquiring it unjustly. We aren’t talking about creating a society void of law. Government and law are not equal, law exists weather government exists or not. Government is only legitimate when it obeys the law. Any government legislation that violates natural law is not morally binding.

    * Important definition to consider: What is a right? A right is a just claim; legal title; ownership; the legal power of exclusive possession and enjoyment, insofar as it does not interfere with someone else’s justly acquired property. Do you have a just claim on your life, is your life your property?

    2. On the nature of man: Both Republicans and Libertarians recognize man’s tendency towards selfishness and corruption. I don’t see how an argument to the contrary can be made. Although, Republicans tend to contradict or override their belief when they support more government and more powerful leaders (somehow these people with the power in their hands are supposed to be more moral and less selfish than you and me). I think there is an important distinction to be made: There’s a difference between someone forfeiting their rights by committing an act of aggression versus their rights being preemptively taken away by an outside force under the pretense that they are likely to commit said act of aggression. The Libertarian philosophy acknowledges that man is selfish and prone to corruption, and promotes readiness to defend against aggression. The Republican philosophy tends towards a system that preemptively infringes on the rights of the innocent, to protect them against a supposed threat (ironically in doing so, they are themselves becoming the aggressor).

    Okay, I'm not even sure that I said everything I intended to, or fully explained myself (I'm a bit tired). But hopefully that will at least begin to explain why I disagree with your analysis. Thank you for hosting the discussion. :)

    1. I understand. I disagree, but I understand. :) But you still haven't addressed the core of my argument:

      The way the world exists, today, it is impossible - not necessarily undesirable, mind you - but impossible to return to system of voluntarism and non-intervention. Doing so would cause America's enemies to amass and destroy us.

      1. Either this is acceptable (maybe you agree it is, and if you do, then I'll accept your line of reasoning)

      2. Or we take the actions we need to defend ourselves and our national interests (because directly attacking ourselves is not the only way to bring the US down - by restricting trade, manipulating currency, all of these factors can weaken to US to a future millitary or economic attack).

      I think that Republicans look to the smallest government possible (at least in their core ideology, though I agree, this is not always reflected in policy) while recognizing a need to protect our national sustainability. More simply - Republicans are for realistic approaches to limited government, rather than idealized views of how we wish the world was.

    2. I think the past several years of discussion have sufficiently proven that the three of us will never convince each other.

      But I would like to say this:

      I appreciate the concern that Libertarians have about the expansion of government - I agree, the US government is ABSURDLY large and needs MASSIVE reduction in regulations, bureaucracy, and entitlement spending. I also think that much of the Supreme Court's case law has strayed heavily from the original meaning of the Constitution, and it needs to be drawn back to the core of the document. I also think that we need to seriously diminish our foreign aid, because it is being used against us, while weakening our own domestic economy.

      But most of all, I think these changes must be made realistically and carefully. I think the *way* we reduce government is the biggest real-world difference that Republicans and Libertarians have.

  4. Forgot part of a sentence up there: " protect them against a supposed threat, or to prevent them from committing a possible crime"