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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ethics, Politics, and The Impotence of The Republican Party

In my previous post The First Hippies, I claimed that the combination of the ethics of altruism and moral relativism explains the lack of outrage displayed against the Clinton's transgressions as compared to the raging hostility routinely directed at the right. There is an important implication to this observation.

To start, recall that many on the left advocate giving free needles to heroin addicts. I submit that the advocates of this policy represent the ideal of the left: the non-judgmental altruist. The needle givers do not blame the addict for their predicament. That would require judgment. They do not try and reform the addict. That would imply that non-addiction is better than their current life of destitution and dependency on narcotics. The sacrifice of their time and other people's money (not their own, of course) to pay for the needles represents altruism. These attributes immediately qualify needle advocates for liberal sainthood.

As we have seen with the Clinton's, if one is considered to be a non-judgmental altruist or liberal saint, one is less likely to be censured publicly in a scandal. On the other hand, if one is judgmental but hypocritical one is at risk and therefore must hide his behaviour. For example, if a public figure is effusively pious and then subsequently caught with a hooker it results in a nationwide media frenzy whereas Clinton can rape his secretary and be celebrated as a "suave ladies' man".

Less obvious but more important is the example of Christian conservatives who uphold "self-sacrifice" and "brotherly love" as virtuous and at the same time attempt to defend capitalism, a system which entails selfishness and the profit motive. These conservatives are trapped in a contradiction. (Recall Bush's attempt to reconcile this contradiction with his ridiculous campaign slogan: "compassionate conservatism.") One might ask: how can Bush preach "turn the other cheek" and then launch war on Iraq? How can Bush preach self-sacrifice and charity and then advocate a tax cut for the wealthy? The fact that their philosophy is hypocritical leads them to conceal their true motives which I claim leads to the popular caricature of Republicans as "conspiratorial schemers plotting in dark smoky rooms ". (For example, on the TV show "The Simpson's", the Springfield republican party meets in an underground dungeon. This is typical.)

This observation is important in explaining why the Republicans are impotent as a political party and why America is drifting rudderless towards statism. Note that amidst their rhetoric upholding limited government and free enterprise, we have endured the biggest government expansion in the nation's history under Republican administrations. Republicans can not properly defend capitalism and freedom because to do so would necessitate a repudiation of Christian ethics in favor of rational egoism.

Why is it that ethics necessarily leads to politics?

Take, for example, The Declaration of Independence which asserts that man has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The ethical concept that human happiness is a value has profound consequences politically. In order to pursue one's happiness and given that man uses reason to survive, one must be free to think. He must be free to produce that which will sustain his life. He must be free to trade his products with others which leads to the division of labor resulting in massive improvements in quality of life. In other words, political freedom is necessitated by man's nature as a reasoning being pursuing his own happiness and material well-being. In other words, in order to be happy, man's rights must be protected by the government. If the government protects life and property, the resulting economic system is capitalism.

On the other hand, what if you accepted the ethics of Islam or any other major religion? Islam teaches that the purpose of life is total submission to God (in fact, the word Islam means "submission"). At one time, Christianity preached this doctrine too although it has been watered down in the West. Such submission entails subjugation of your independent judgment in deference to sacred scriptures (as interpreted by anointed "experts"). The purpose of life is therefore not "happiness" but service to God in exchange for salvation and an eternal afterlife. Under this view, duty to God is the utmost virtue and any form of selfishness is derided as base pleasures of the "flesh". Given that the precepts of any religion have no basis in reason they must be taken on faith. The doctrines of any one religion are as arbitrary as another and may or may not lead to success in living. In fact, this is what gives rise to the moral-practical dichotomy. Since religious precepts are arbitrary and not related to the facts of man's nature, they are often in direct contradiction with the requirements of his survival. Therefore, a religionist is faced with a moral-practical dichotomy, i.e., do I be moral and follow the Bible or act selfishly-practically and be happy? (In fact, Genesis starts with this problem almost on page one. )But this is not really important to a religionist. Deference to a higher power is paramount, not one's material well-being. What type of government is entailed under such a philosophy? Fortunately, we don't have to imagine it. We have thousands of years of history to reference.

A classic example is the Dark Ages where the rise of Christianity led to the downfall of Rome and to the loss of the vibrant intellectual traditions of antiquity. Entire libraries containing a thousand years of writings on philosophy, law, science and mathematics were burned to the ground under the premise that the Holy Bible was the only text required. The Holy Roman Church dominated Europe and it led to a thousand years of stagnation, misery, and barbarism. Today, the Middle East is mired in a modern Dark Age as theocratic governments dominated by Islamic fundamentalists recognize no distinction between the church and state.

Note that in Ancient Greece, where the Western intellectual tradition began, respect for the reasoning mind led to the foundation of Athenian democracy and these ideas in turn influenced the foundation and expansion of the Roman republic. Where independent thought and human happiness are revered, we see movements towards political freedom. Conversely, when the independent mind is regarded as unimportant or even a hindrance to the alleged purpose of life whether it be service to god, service to the state, or service to mother earth, we see movements towards dictatorship and political repression.

When one abandons his mind, he must turn to the group, the tribe, or the gang in order to survive. And the leader of the gang is usually the one with the most guns and the most willing to use them.

The association of the Religious Right with capitalism is accidental. They accept and claim to uphold capitalism but not on principle. They accept it simply because it is America's tradition. Protestants were historically loyal to America because of their own experiences with religious persecution elsewhere and/or the mistaken belief that America represented a god-fearing Christian nation against the atheistic political systems of Europe, viz. the Communists or the "barbarous" religions of the Middle and Far East.

This is not to say the the liberals are any better. On the contrary, they are almost worse. Rather than justify altruism dogmatically by reference to a supernatural deity and sacred scriptures, they uphold it by default. They embrace relativism and have no philosophy. The difference between conservatives and liberals can be summarized in the following quote from Ayn Rand:

The conservatives want freedom to act in the material realm; they tend to oppose government control of production, of industry, of trade, of business, of physical goods, of material wealth. But they advocate government control of man’s spirit, i.e., man’s consciousness; they advocate the State’s right to impose censorship, to determine moral values, to create and enforce a governmental establishment of morality, to rule the intellect. The liberals want freedom to act in the spiritual realm; they oppose censorship, they oppose government control of ideas, of the arts, of the press, of education (note their concern with “academic freedom”). But they advocate government control of material production, of business, of employment, of wages, of profits, of all physical property—they advocate it all the way down to total expropriation.

The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories—with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals see man as a soul freewheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe—but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread.

Today, these distinctions barely even hold as Republicans advocate for government intervention into the economy (see Sarbanes-Oxley among others) and Democrats embrace speech codes and even religion (see Pastor Wright). Therefore, today, more than ever, Republicans and Democrats represent a false alternative, and, in the meantime, our country is being slowly destroyed. Unfortunately, there is no political party today that consistently defends individual rights and capitalism from a moral perspective. For such a party to emerge, it will require a philosophic revolution where a politician could proudly proclaim that the purpose of each individuals life is their own happiness and that the purpose of government is to protect that pursuit (and actually mean it). Until then, we must endure the spectacle of politicians like Hillary, Obama, and McCain fighting over which aspects of our lives need more of their control.

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