A couple of weeks ago, I looked at political societies and ways of organizing them. Today, I’ll take another slice from the same piece of wood, but along a different grain. I’ll look at the ideologies which have guided, and continue to guide, the tone and flavour of political societies.
The nation state
To re-cap what I said about the nation state in my earlier essay. The system was devised in the 16th century by a monarchist Frenchman called Jean Bodin. In this system, a “sovereign” or a ruling élite has privileges over the “subjects” or people. Among much else, it can make taxes, it can make wars, and it can make laws to bind the people. Further, it isn’t itself bound by the laws it makes. And it bears no responsibility for the consequences of what it does; also known as “the king can do no wrong.”
Today’s establishment, of course, will tell you that it isn’t like that any more. But it sure as hell is! Political governments still have the power to oppress, steal from and murder people, if they want to. And most of them will do just that, as long as they think they can get away with it.
The 17th century was the time of the “divine right of kings” par excellence. Buttressed by Bodin’s ideas, the norm back then was that a king or prince, along with his élites, ruled over a state essentially as he wished. Not surprisingly, people who weren’t part of the establishment weren’t happy with this at all. The results? War, revolution, and in time – Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th centuries affected primarily the European Christian cultures, and those derived from them. Though it spread to the Jews within a few decades, and its knock-on effects reached places like Japan and much of the Islamic world during the 19th century. However, its values set the tone for most political societies for more than two centuries.
What the Enlightenment did was free human minds from shackles, both religious and political. Here’s a brief list of some of its values. The use of human reason, and the pursuit of science. Greater tolerance in religion. Freedom of thought and action. Natural rights, natural equality of all human beings, and human dignity. The idea that society exists for the individual, not the individual for society. The idea of a social contract, to enable people to live together in a civil society and to protect their rights. Government for the benefit of, and with the consent of, the governed. The rule of law. A desire for progress, and a rational optimism for the future.
Liberalism and conservatism
In Enlightenment times, there were just two political ideologies. In England these were represented, in broad terms, by two factions: Whigs and Tories. Not all Whigs were always liberal; and not all Tories were always conservative. But these two factions tended to support the two opposing ideologies, of liberalism and conservatism.
Liberals – or what we might now call classical liberals – were the progressives of their times. They promoted the new Enlightenment ideas, such as reason, tolerance and natural rights. They wanted maximum freedom for every individual, consistent with a civilized society. And they saw societies, including political ones, as being for the benefit of each individual in them.
Conservatives, on the other hand, supported the state and its powerful élites – such as kings, nobles and church leaders. They saw these élites as possessing both rightful authority, and immunity from being held to account. And they resisted change. They sought to preserve the existing order both religious and political, and their own privileged positions in it.
Socialism and anarchism
In the early 19th century, a new ideology appeared: socialism. One of the difficulties in discussing socialism is that there’s no clear, widely accepted definition of it. For some, it means collective ownership and control over the means of producing, distributing and exchanging goods. For others, it means a social organization with an egalitarian distribution of wealth, and no such thing as private property. My 1928 dictionary calls it the “principle that individual liberty should be completely subordinated to the interests of the community with the deductions that can be drawn from it, e.g. the State ownership of land and capital.”
To be fair to them, the earliest socialists weren’t all bad guys. Often, they sought to create model communities, bound together by shared ideology. Robert Owen’s community at New Harmony, Indiana was an example. Of course, most – if not all – of these communities failed. And so, socialism started on its long slide down towards a militant collectivism, in which Society and the socialist agenda are paramount, and the individual is of no significance. Far from its intended purpose as a new and better form of liberalism, socialism became illiberal.
Another ideology, which began to grow at much the same time as socialism, was anarchism. The distinguishing feature of anarchism is its opposition to the state and to political government. But, just as socialism had done, anarchism began to degenerate. By the late 19th century, the anarchists had become little more than terrorist gangs.
Marxism and communism
Next came Marxism, and the communism it spawned. Marxism, so its adherents claimed, was scientific socialism; an attempt to apply the scientific method to social and political ideas. But Marxists saw capitalism – that is, ownership of property and of the means of production by individuals and by voluntarily formed groups – as leading, not to prosperity, but to inequality and instability. So, they fanned class war between working people and the classes they called “capitalists” and “bourgeoisie.”
The Marxists predicted that, once their system was in place, the political state would wither away. And yet, they set out to capture the state, and to use it to achieve their objectives! No wonder, then, that the result – communism – turned out so evil. Its results? Oppressions, famines, massacres and mass deportations; leading to nearly a hundred million unnecessary deaths. As to the economy, as one wag put it: “The problem of queues will be solved when we reach full Communism. How come? There will be nothing left to queue up for.”
Then came fascism. In some ways, it’s hard to separate fascism from communism. Both shared an attachment to dictatorial power, extinguishing individual freedom, forcible suppression of opposition, social indoctrination and a lack of ethical restraints on the state. But in some respects, fascists went further. They were racists. They sought to make unpopular groups of people into scapegoats, and to purge those they considered inferior, such as Jews. But above all, fascists glorified violence and war. With predictable results.
In the course of the 20th century, other evil ideologies have also been established in various parts of the world. Notable among them have been racism, as in apartheid South Africa and Idi Amin’s Uganda; theocracy, as in Iran; and dictatorship, as in North Korea. In the West, however, we have been subjected to the unholy trinity of welfarism, warfarism and environmentalism.
The ideology of welfarism, also known as nanny-statism, has led the ruling class to try to bribe people into believing that the state is a benefit to them. They have set up elaborate, re-distributory schemes for welfare, health, education and the like; and commandeered resources to implement those schemes. But these resources don’t go directly from the payers to the recipients. Nor do the payers receive any thanks at all in return. Instead, everything is filtered through the bureaucracy that maladministers the system, and the politically connected cronies that feed off it.
Welfarism has had two main effects. First, it has dragged down into dependence on the state many who, if allowed the chance, would have been able to prosper through their own efforts. Second, it has taken away from productive people the resources they should have been able to use to safeguard their own futures. Welfarism, to use a metaphor, is like breaking people’s legs then giving them crutches – and expecting them to thank you for it.
A recent development of welfarism is what I call social engineering fever. Those affected by this ailment seem to think that they have a right to interfere in others’ lives, for no better purpose than their own social goals. These zealots like nothing better than to seek to change other people’s behaviour – for example, in their diet or means of transport. And they are adept at using state dominated education and politically correct media to promote their nefarious schemes.
Then there are warfarism and its comrade, the security state. Warfarism is the ideology of the school bully. (It’s also very profitable, for those on the right side of it). Warfarists instigate “war on drugs,” “war on terror” and the like. They seek any excuse to use police or military force. Often, while decrying terrorism, they encourage – and even carry out – terrorist acts. At the same time, they pry into people’s lives, and monitor and record our actions in ever increasing detail.
Environmentalism, the third of the unholy trinity, is a large subject. So much so, that it demands a whole essay in itself. Here, I will only point out that, like welfarism and warfarism, environmentalism provides huge opportunities for cronies of the state to make themselves rich.
Democracy isn’t, in the technical sense, an ideology. However, many in politics act as if it was. They present themselves as “democrats” of one kind or another; perhaps “social” or “liberal.” So, I’ll add here to what I said about democracy in my earlier essay. It’s my view that democracy, once implemented, will inevitably decay. I see it as going through four phases, each worse than the previous one.
Democracy-1 is the honeymoon period. People believe that they have a real say in what the government does. But it isn’t long before there emerge political factions, looking to take advantage of the situation; as James Madison warned way back in 1787.
In the next stage, democracy-2, two factions (or, rarely, three or more) attract cores of support, and promote policies designed to favour their own supporters. People start to divide along party lines. Those who don’t like any of the main parties will tend to vote for whichever seems less evil at the time. So, power tends to swing from one side to the other and back again. The social fabric becomes more and more stretched, and the tone of politics nastier and nastier.
In democracy-3, the main political parties and their respective cronies align with each other, and against the interests of the people. Here, different factions may spout different rhetoric; and their policies may, perhaps, be a little different around the edges. But their ideologies are essentially the same. Under democracy-3, policies are not made in the interests of the people, but to benefit the political class and their hangers-on, and to satisfy the agendas of special interest groups. And elections become largely irrelevant; for each time, the new king is much the same as the old one.
Democracy-4 is a terminal social illness; already into some countries, like Greece. The political state reaches a critical mass. Those dependent on the state, either for work or for benefits, become an absolute majority. Thus under democracy-4, a single interest bloc can forever outvote, and so oppress, everyone else. There’s no way out of this, short of exit or revolution.
The decay of politics
Except for Enlightenment liberalism, all the ideologies I’ve listed above are anti-Enlightenment, anti-individual and anti-human. In fact, it’s worse than that. Corruption and decay seem to be built in to all political ideologies. I already mentioned the negative changes that took place in both socialism and anarchism. And the word “liberal,” particularly in the USA, has been corrupted in its meaning; so that I find many of today’s self proclaimed “liberals” no more than vaguely socialist illiberals.
Some conservatives, on the other hand, have moved in a better direction. No longer are they merely supporters of the status quo. Some of them, indeed, have come to uphold the values of the Enlightenment! But there are also many far less benign conservatives, who want to forcibly return us all to a mythical past, when Gahd was in his heaven and all was right with the world. And many of them are warfarists, too.
Now, a radical question. Why should anyone have to suffer under someone else’s ideology? Why, for example, should conservatives have to suffer under socialism, or vice versa? Come to that, why should those of us, who hate politics of all stripes, have to suffer under any ideology at all? Why don’t we simply de-politicize life? Why don’t we set up a framework that maintains peace and supplies objective, non-politicized justice, and in which groups of like-minded people can get together and follow their own ideologies as they choose?
I think that all true liberals and the more benign conservatives – at least – could quite easily be accommodated in such a scheme. And those of us who don’t want politics at all can simply be ourselves, and make friends with whomever we damn well wish. Even socialists, racists and theocrats could have their own communes, as long as they behave civilly when outside them. Fascists and warfarists would, of course, have to be banned.
To sum up
We’re still living under a political system devised in the 16th century. In this system, anyone that can acquire enough political power can make taxes, wars and bad laws as they please. And they can force whatever political ideology they want on to everyone around them. Most of the ideologies that are extant today are evil. And democracy, far from fixing the problem, actually tends to make things worse.
This really isn’t good enough. That a species, which has developed nuclear weapons, is still using a political system from the age of the musket, is crazy. And scary. It’s got to change.