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The End-Points of Ideology

And why liberty is to be favored over equality.


by James Leroy Wilson
January 20, 2003

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The End-Points of Ideology_James Leroy Wilson-And why liberty is to be favored over equality. At self-gov.org, the "World's Smallest Politcal Quiz" is available. After taking it, you would find, based on your answers, your ideology placed on a chart - often called the "Nolan chart" after David Nolan, its creator. It is a sqare formation standing on an angle.

I am writing not about the quiz, but about the chart itself. It reveals more than just "Left-liberal" and "right-conservative," it also includes "libertarian" at the top and "authoritarian" at the bottom. In the middle, there's an area for "centrists."

These are useful distinctions to make. While Left and Right is divided by the idea of equality, the "top" (libertarian) and "bottom," (authoritarian) is divided by the idea of liberty. Whereas the quiz answers put those favoring personal liberty and restrictions on economic liberty on the Left, and vice-versa on the Right, those favoring liberty in all areas are classifed as libertarian and those favoring government control in all areas as authoritarian.

Each extreme point of these four ideologies dances around a distinct ideal which even their most enthusiastic supporters realize can never be actually implemented.. For the Left, it is a utopia in which each person is free to do "his or her own thing," but in which economic calculation and distribution would be decided democratically and in a fashion so that each gets according to his or her need. People could do what they want without suffering any negative consequences.

For the Right, the ideal is a social condition of harmonious, hierarchical order. People inherit their rank, their station, their priveleges, and their obligations. Peace and happiness for all is attained through tradition and the teachings of ancient wisdom. Institutions and governments are decentralized, but are checks against each other to prevent abuses and exploitation, and the talented may elevate themselves through exceptional accomplishments in academics, the arts, the military, or organized religion.

For the authoritarian, life is a jungle, and a strong centralized State brings safety and order to it. The government is totalitarian, but is so only for the good of the people. Deviants whose behaviors and ideas are corrupting to others are swiftly punished; the "common good" whether it is defined as nationalist racism or worldwide socialism, is the highest good.

For the libertarian, the ideal is spontaneous order and voluntary government - as close to anarchy as is possible. Each individual's person, property, and liberty are held inviolable, and government is a natural, organic outgrowth of a common desire to define and guarantee each person's property in law. Government, to the extent that it exists at all, would be focused on the protection of individual liberty and private property.

Because each endpoint reflects an unachieveable ideal, there is frequent crossing of the lines in the real world. The libertarians are divided on the vertical "equality" line. To the left of that line are individualists who seek the protection of individual rights as an end in itself, even if it requires a single institution, like the Supreme Court, to protect them. The more rights individuals assert against more kinds of governmental institutions, state-sponsored organizations, and, ultimately, private clubs and businesses, the less individuals are actually libertarian, and become modern liberals. Liberals rely on a strong national government to protect individuals from every conceivable form of unfairness and injustice.

And libertarians who are to the right of the equality line are federalists. They believe in preserving all aspects of the written Constitution, including states' rights and limited federal government, as the best available and realistic means to limit the growth of the national government. Whereas to the individualist both the national War on Drugs and state laws against sodomy ought to be overturned by the Supreme Court for violating individual rights, the federalist sees the Supreme Court as just another branch of the federal government seeking not increased liberty for individuals, but only more power for itself. The selective, seemingly arbitary, and rare Supreme Court decisions that supposedly do protect indiviudal rights serve only one purpose: to deceive the people into thinking that the Court alone, not Congress, not the President, and certainly not the people, is responsible for interpreting what the Constitution actually says, and for defending our rights.

For the federalist libertarian, it isn't so much that states ought to have laws against sodomy or similar "crimes", or even that the Constitution or the "will of the people" authorizes the states to have such laws. It is, rather, that such laws, and infringements on federalism such as the War on Drugs, should be repealed democratically and politically, not by unelected, lifetime-tenured national judges who can make the Constitution mean whatever they want it to mean. Such power by the courts, according to the federalist, strengthens the national government's role in our lives and communities, when it ought to be reduced. If the Supreme Court is American society's only and sole interpreter and protector of the Constitution, the Congress and the President are tempted to take as much power for themselves as they can. Just as the offensive lineman holds on every play, knowing he won't get penalized every time, so do Congresses and Presidents know that only some of the time, not all of the time, will their attempts at more and more unconstitutional power be ruled unconstitutional.

It is when the federalist, who takes such radical ideas as the Ninth and Tenth Amendments seriously, starts to actually endorse state and local violations of indiviudal liberty for some greater "common good" that he is no longer a federalist, but becomes a conservative. Just as the liberal increasingly tries to justify legally what reason negates - freedom without responsibility, the conservative tries to impose traditional hierarchy without reason. "Order" or "peace" is somehow achieved through using force or the threat of force to keep some people down, for the utilitarian benefit of the majority or for "society" as a whole. But the use of force against peaceful people is neither evidence of order nor of peace. The use of force against peaceful activity is a rebelliion against reason.

Even so, with all of their errors and contradictions, what all of these groups: indiviudalists and liberals to the left, federalists and conservatives on the right, have in common is that they are all above the horizontal "liberty line" in Nolan's chart. Genuine liberals, who rely on a strong national government, and genuine conservatives, who believe in strong state and local governments, both at least agree on the principle of limited government, that not everything should be subject to permission or regulation by national or local government.

Modern Democrats and Republicans, however, are anti-liberty. Liberals want limited governmental means to achieve leftist ends, but progressives - most modern Democrats - want unlimited governmental means to achieve leftist ends. On the right, the same applies: conservatives want limited government to achieve rightist ends, but tories - most modern Republicans - want unlimited government to achieve the same ends.

It is becoming more and more clear that the traditional Left vs. Right division is outmoded and historically unjustifiable. The Left is at war with human nature itself: every decision in human life has economic consequences in that it affects time, material resouces, money, or all three, and economics can not be separated from free human choices, no matter how much European-style "social democracies" want them to be. There is no human equality in anything. Equality is a mathematical term, and the one and only means in which it can be applied in law is to refuse to treat any human being as greater or lesser than any other human being. The law is to judge only what one human being has done to another, not how much property or money any one of them has compared to the other. The Leftist utopia is a mirage.

Not that very many people see it. Approximations of the Leftist ideal in history gave us only social democracies like modern Sweden or Canada who could pay for their social programs only by both tolerating and taxing a limited market economy, plus the benefits of free trade with freer, larger market-oriented countries. The so-called successes of such examples have been an inspiration to Leftists everywhere.

Approximations of the Right, however, lasted for a thousand years, in the Middle Age of feudalism, where life for most was brutal, nasty, and short.

The real battleground is between those who believe in limited government, oriented toward an admittedly impossible-to-achieve ideal of no human government at all, vs. totalitarianism, which has actually been achieved in human history in both communism (authoritarianism of the left) and fascism (authoritarianism on the right). Totalitarianism led to tens of millions of premature deaths in China and the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Pol Pot's Cambodia, and several other places in the 20th century alone.

We live in a world of nation-states, in which governments are recognized by the United Nations for, in effect, owning land that natural justice suggests belongs to the individuals who actually live in and work on the land. In one form or another, this exercise of "dominion" by a group of individuals, based only on their ability to monopolize violent force over a piece of land and the people living on it, is the story of human history.

And capitalism and freedom - the top of the Nolan chart - have never fully existed in any of that history. (Except, arguably, in Iceland ca 1000-1200 AD). Rather, it is only to the extent that people were allowed to be free, that they actually found ways to improve themselves, their communites, and their world. Inventions and innovations may have been created by necessity, or only by discoveries born by curiosity, but they exist only because the inventors and innovators knew that they would be free enough to benefit, to profit, from their creativity.

Too often, I think, we condemn profit-making as "greed," to be condemned in and of itself, though we don't imagine condemning a marriage as two people giving in to "lust." In other words, the impulse to better ourselves and our communities is too often punished by the State, for fear of the risks involved, or the possibility of abuse. But the same errors and foibles which individuals have are the very same ones that bureaucrats of the State have; their judgment can neither be more enlightened or ennobled by virtue of being a crony of a democratically-appointed legislator, or even by passing a civil-service exam. And no fool suddenly became wise by voting in a booth, or by speaking out in a public assembly.

Everyone is trying to get by, trying to grow in contentment, in happiness. The people whose beliefs are below the "liberty" line believe that one's own happiness, or the happiness of the "people," the "nation," or the "proletariat" must come at the unwilling expense of other people - the elitists, the foreigners, the wealthy, the kooks, the extremists, whoever is least like themselves..

Those on the upper side of the liberty divide, however, recognize in their hearts or minds some sort of concept of the uniqueness and dignity of each individual, and would defend the rights of the individual, in some way, somehow, against the encroachments of the State. That, at least theoretically or ideally, an individual has worth and should not be treated as a tool or "means" to somebody else's "end" or goal. Never having been a parent myself, I still can't fathom how anyone who has become a mother or father hasn't become the most radical of individualists.

I am not writing this as a lament that the United States is being seduced by authoritarianism, even though I recognize President George W. Bush and his Attorney General John Ashcroft have lived down to all of the lowest expectations of their harshest and most biased critics in terms of civil liberties. I am not writing this to recognize an inevitable trend in the course of historical events. I am not suggesting that we've reached some climax of power and will crumble, just like every other empire or civilization, due to our own overextension, imperialism, corruption, and hostility to freedom.

Rather, I write this to ask everyone who favors liberty over statism to stand up and reverse these trends. In the means and manner they best know how. And without condemning allies for "going too far." Going too far in what? People who conscientiously respect life and liberty may differ greatly as to the best means and ends to achieve greater liberty in the here and now. But if friends of liberty won't speak up for what they believe, for fear of losing "influence" among the progressives and tories who dominate the two major parties, I am the last one to sympathize with any one of them whose tactics backfire in their own face.

When all is said and done, a paraphrase of the very same President who's caused most of our worries may say it best "If you're not for liberty, you're against liberty."

If you vote the Democratic or Republican line, or mix between the two and you're not in Ron Paul's (R-TX) congressional district, then the government you have is exactly the government you deserve. If you freely choose to worship the government, and then are shocked that the government proves to be just as poisonous as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, don't come to me for sympathy.

But even if you voted for one or both of the power parties, and now feel regret and decide that you indeed want real liberty, and not just some magical society in which everyone else conforms to your own personal wishes, then I'll let you know that my e-mail line is always open. Freedom is never free, but it ought to be.

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