Thursday, April 26, 2012

Red Hat, Blue Hat, Which Hat, No Hat

There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern.
They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.

Daniel Webster

Another of those infamous political discussions at the premier writer's site, Absolute Write, forced me to spend some time thinking about the differences between political groups, particularly those here in the US.

The political narrative in the US is between the left and the right, liberals (or progressives) and conservatives, or as I prefer to put it, the nanny state and the daddy state.

One group supports the state taking care of everybody, keeping them out of trouble, making them eat their veggies, and tolerating everyone's differing opinions -- except those of conservatives. The other group supports the state enforcing law and order, their version of moral behavior and independence -- even to the extent of enforcing their particular morality and their concept of law and order at the point of a gun in countries half-a-world away. And it seems their particular morality excludes a lot of behaviors (and people) that other people consider perfectly legitimate -- including most progressives.

What they both have in common is that they support the state. They believe it's legitimate for some group to claim that all the people in the land have granted them the power to rule their lives through some nebulous "social contract" that nobody has ever seen a copy of and nobody even pretends they have voluntarily signed.

Those are the options our political system recognizes. Pick a red hat, or pick a blue hat, but you're gonna wear a hat even if we have to staple it to your ears. And we've got the social contract to prove you gave us permission to do the stapling.

No hat for me, thank you very much.

Robert A. Heinlein, the Dean of Science Fiction and one of the most individualistic of authors, had this to say.
Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.
All of those firmly entrenched on the left-right political spectrum, every single one of them, falls into the first of Heinlein's two political divides; those who want people to be controlled. The primary difference is the color of the party hat they're wearing; which groups of people they want to control to the advantage of which other groups of people.

Granted, there is a difference in goals, in who they define as Peter (to be robbed) and Paul (to be paid). But their means, robbing Peter to pay Paul, are the same. Rather amusingly from the perspective of the second of Heinlein's political divides, the wearers of blue party hats and red party hats both claim that their selection of Peter and Paul make their cause righteous, and can't see that the other hat-wearers consider their causes just as virtuous.

I know this because at various times in my past I wore both blue and red hats. Then one day I looked in the mirror and realized how silly I looked wearing somebody else's party hat. Perhaps funny hair, grease paint and a bright red clown nose is necessary to pull off the party hat look, by imbuing it with a level of seriousness appropriate to the attire.

Those who fall into Heinlein's second political divide, those who have no desire to see people controlled, may be loosely termed libertarians for purposes of this discussion. For those of that latter mindset, these two quotes from Thomas Jefferson succinctly express their worldview.
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add "within the limits of the law" because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
Those two quotes are profoundly Jeffersonian in their worldview. Every schoolchild is familiar with another, more revered restatement of that worldview.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
As I explained in Malum in se, Malum Prohibitum, libertarian support for the state generally extends no farther than the protection of "rightful liberty" as Jefferson defined it; "unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."
The general concensus within civilized society in support of malum in se protection and the non-aggression principle suggests that a state that effectively protected its citizens from aggression, both from within and without, would find widespread support among its citizenry.

On the other hand, the current configuration of the modern state, with the assumption of unlimited power, its tendency to benefit the politically connected, resistance to criticism or change, lack of integrity, inability to accurately predict the outcome of its activities, tendency to repeat the same errors, economic malfeasance and outright incompetence, incessant growth, marginalization or criminalization of alternative viewpoints, tendency toward secrecy, and willingness to project itself into any issue, combined with the impracticality of the citizenry maintaining tight control, has led to the perpetuation of a monstrous system that pleases few and imperils everyone.

One branch of libertarian philosophy, known as minarchism (minimal state proponents) argues that the operation and maintenance of a nightwatchman state apparatus is the proper role for government. A nightwatchman state would be be responsible only for the police, the military, and the court and prison system.
The modern American state, composed of warring factions, both of which are convinced of their righteousness and both of which are willing to use the coercive power of the state to bring about their concept of appropriate social order, is proving to be nothing more than the validation of the statement "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

A call for a libertarian society is not a call for an uncivilized society. To the contrary, a society that limited government to guaranteeing every citizen's right to "unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others" strikes this Tireless Agorist as the epitome of civilization, an expression of the yet-unrealized ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.

...and that's all I have to say about that.


  1. This is excellent! Can we print it out and stick in every mailbox in America? lol

    I'd like to say to every hat-wearer in the country: your beliefs and desires do have merit. But if you want to enact change according to those beliefs and desires, go out and DO SOMETHING. Don't ask other people to do something. Don't ask the government to do something. YOU do something.

    If everyone lived according to this motto: "If it is to be, it is up to me," then good things would happen. Go out and take "unobstructed action according to your will within the limits drawn around you by the equal rights of others," and change your world.

    Write a book. Help your neighbor. Smile at someone on the street. Thank a teacher. Take up a charitable cause you believe in. Live YOUR life. Conduct YOUR OWN affairs. Live without critcism toward others. Live with tolerance. Live free.

    Thanks for this blog post, Don, you've inspired me, as usual.

  2. " a society that limited government to guaranteeing every citizen's right to "unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others" "

    How do you propose to do that? Who defines the "rights of others?" Some folks have absolutely decided that they have every right to rob the rest of us for "health care" and "a living wage," ad nausea.

    How do you propose to get people to abandon "women's rights," and all of the other special privilege categories now called "rights."

    How in the world can rights, ANY rights, possibly be "guaranteed" by anything, much less imperfect human beings? There are precious few guarantees in life at all, and none in human interactions.

    In order for any "government" to attempt to provide this "guarantee," even if actual "rights" can be identified... it must first have power over those to whom it would guarantee them. This is the crux of the problem.

    When some people are given ANY power over other people, tyranny is the inevitable result. Always has been... always will be.

    Self ownership, personal responsibility, non-aggression... in voluntary association and cooperation with like minded others. Self and mutual defense against those who believe they should have the power to decide... whether "official" or individual opportunist.

    Not no rules... no rulers and no slaves.

  3. @Robert: lol. I love that chart.

    @MamaLiberty: So well said. Bravo.

  4. @Chrissy: Spread it as far and wide as you care to. I agree that personal action means a lot more than petitions and voting.

    @Robert: yeah, I've heard that before, but you've not yet delivered on your concept of a three-dimensional political spectrum. I'd still love to see it.

    @MamaLiberty: nicely said. My only defense is that in Jefferson's day, "rights" specifically meant negative rights; the right to be secure in one's person and property. I'm not a minarchist myself, but it's an easier sell to those who have not yet been completely weaned from the teat of the state. The private provision of security and justice is an advanced topic I haven't tackled in essay form... yet. But from the title of the blog, I'm sure you can tell it's coming.