Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We're all Liberals

I have always both fully embraced and fully eschewed the word "conservative" as descriptive of my politics. I consider myself an Independent, an eighteenth century Tory, an anti-federalist, a secessionist, a monarchist, and a distributist, not even close to in that order. Only recently has the Situation become Clear as to what the real issue in America is and where my confusing political identity has been leading me. So, let's explore it, shall we?

I'll start at the tail end: I am a distributist first and foremost because of the Catholic social ideals of Subsidiarity and Solidarity. An explanation of these would probably get really long if I tried to do the justice, but I'm sure a short summary will suffice. Look them up somewhere else if this is unsatisfactory. Subsidiarity, simply, is the idea that governance and social ordering should be enacted on the most local level possible so as to connect those who govern to that which they govern as closely as possible. Solidarity is the idea that we foster a relationship with all those in our community and thus grow closer to each other in all our interactions. 

These ideals can really only work in concert with one another. In a globalized world with grand democratic empires trying to vie for control over the world's resources and the market, our "community" becomes the whole world, and relationships of Solidarity fall by the wayside. If we, on the other hand, do not live our lives relationally, even a small, local government can not promote the common good. Distributism is the idea that all members of the community can contribute something, and that our everyday interaction with other members of the community will result in a free exchange of gifts while order is maintained through limited and local governance. Special interest groups would be all but avoided, as the interests of one groups would end up being the interest of another. Doubters may say (and do say) that this is an impractical ideal or that it would be inefficient, or that it would destroy the wealth-making stock market that is so integral to the economy of the world, and perhaps it is, but it begs the question whether these are more important considerations than the very personal and human considerations of distributism.

So why am I a monarchist? It would seem that such a strong figure at the center of governance would immediately lend itself to corruption, oppression, and the death of human flourishing. However, the very principles of distributism makes monarchy the most sensible form of governance on a national level. An elected official will tend to work toward election, and thus to popularity, not according to what is right for the community. The influence of special interest groups becomes greater because of the possibility of a more frequent change in administration. There is, therefore, a certain instability inherent in an elected position which wields great power. A monarch, on the other hand, can act on mere whim, but if regulation of the community happens on the most local level possible, the whims of a monarch can have little to no effect on the day to day activity of the citizens. The monarch is there to represent and execute a set of ethical standards for the communities over which he rules and to unite them in common causes including the defense of the nation. It is easier to follow a person than an ideal of freedom, so if this ideal is symbolized by a person, this solves that problem.

All of this is to say that monarchy makes sense, but only in a very limited capacity because of the inherent limitations on a national government in distributism. The values of a monarch are 1) unity, 2) stability 3) symbolism of nation and values, and 4) no chance of gridlock in matters of national importance. This monarch can be provided with advisors from different communities, or other supporting offices, but ultimately the monarch must be the touchstone for the promotion of the values of the nation.

Even on the level of a community, there will always be levels of hierarchy and a need for a strong executive presence. The American president and the state governors are executives in this way, but because of the strong anti-monarchy sentiment at the founding of the nation, their executive responsibility is limited and rendered impotent especially because of the instability of the office.

One of the things we as Americans are afraid of is obedience, which is one of the reasons why there has been an undercurrent (and sometimes an overcurrent) of anti-Catholic activity throughout the history of the United States. No wonder then that we have disrespect for all authority including our parents, teachers, and those responsible for governing us. Career politicians and an endless look at polls and election results does not give us confidence in or respect for authority, but a strong, personal symbol of the nation or community which is stabilized by either heredity or lifelong term or both can give us that respect and confidence.

And you might think that Secession is the farthest thing from believing in monarchy, and you'd probably be right. I don't believe in uncontrolled acts of individual will power, and I don't believe that people should throw tantrums just because they see some injustice. However, I do believe that authority is only legitimate if it follows a moral and ethical code based on natural law. As Augustine says, an unjust law is no law, and thus secession or civil disobedience is in fact justified and lawful if the authority is unjust or immoral.

If a community, whether it is a city, a state, or a village, based on the distributist ideals with a strong vision, an effective leader and the proper resources wishes to part itself from an unjust authority, not only is it acceptable to do so, it is also the just thing to do for the common good of that community. The other answer, of course, is to work for the reformation of the nation or state so that the unjust law is overturned. In the ideal, the communities should be autonomous in normal everyday activity that "secession" shouldn't really mean much, but in order for this autonomy to be in place, a certain strategic distinction needs to be made between the various communities of the world.

This is not to say that we should divide ourselves and have no interaction with other communities. We are, in fact, members of a global community and as such we have a responsibility no matter how small to that community. However, we have a primary responsibility to our first and most important communities: our families and our neighbors. There is nothing wrong with travelling to other places and providing aid to other communities, but in doing so, you have made that community your primary community...where you live. The anti-federalist in me agrees. First and foremost in America we have a responsibility to our local community, then our states, then the federal community, and the level of governmental responsibility ought to reflect that. For any given issue, the most local government ought to have the greatest involvement. The United States is too large for the federal government to effectively govern the minutiae of every situation in every state. Even in the time of the revolution, the anti-federalists realized the issues involved.

My Tory-ism comes in because of my anglophilia, my monarchism and my insistence that injustice that the Americans were experiencing was solvable through other means, not to mention the fact that the whole Independence movement was based on the faulty premise of classic liberalism. In the minds of the founders, the assertion of the individual and the safeguarding of his rights was the highest good, hence the old adage "he pulled himself up by his bootstraps" as the motto of classic American values. It is a good government that allows those who can do something to do it.

However, this puts the onus on the government to decide what rights belong to whom and which rights to care about. Liberal democracy necessarily creates a weak foundation for this, an unstable system for the protection of rights. But are our individual rights really the basis on which we should found our moral and ethical sense of justice or should there instead be a standard outside of us as individuals which protects all from injustice and does not decide right from wrong based on the whims of an indulgent generation.

And we are indulgent. We have bloated our sense of "rights." Now, the highest of all rights is the right to privacy and control over one's own self. Not only does this reject any sense of authority (oh, that evil word!) it also rejects a sense of community and gives no consideration to a more comprehensive understanding of right and wrong. Those values are all relative, and the government's main job is to protect my right to decide my own morality and live by it. This means that the government must involve itself in an almost infinite number of situations as it must make sure that in every situation I am allowed to make my own decisions according to my beliefs.

And this is why I am Independent. I am not a republican or a democrat. I am not a conservative or a progressive, at any rate not in the American sense. In America, we are all Liberals. I can not easily escape my tendency toward individual-centered thinking and an assertion of my rights. Even my pet causes are couched in terms of "rights" and "liberty." But this is merely a Liberal idea upon which this nation is founded. Even my assertion of my "independence" is itself a liberal idea, as if the world had a responsibility to me to ensure that I would be allowed to rebel. I can not shake the liberalism that I grew up in. However, I do recognize that I do not want to conserve the Founder's original intent founded as it was on liberal tenets. I am not a conservative. But neither do I want to progress further along the liberal path toward an even stronger sense of personal rights and entitlement. I am no progressive.

But in a sense, I am both. I do wish to conserve the ideals of the Catholic Church as they relate to social order and have formed societies in the past and the present. I also want to apply those ideals in new ways to the new global situation in which we find ourselves. I wish to both conserve and progress, but the American system is based on a narrow understanding of both progress and conservation and I can have nothing to do with it. Is it time to secede? To disobey? To speak out? Perhaps, but it is only in community, in a mutual exchange of gifts and talents with a firm moral and ethical foundation and proper symbolic character that any of this can change, and I'm afraid the current of American thought is too strong. We are all liberals, and this means that we will remain in the chains of freedom.

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