Monday, January 31, 2011

The Left to Right Fallacy and the Great Chasm

A lot has happened since I last posted on the Grange. The United States economy however still flounders and people are still out of work. My state’s economy is starting to grow, but most of the country languishes with a real unemployment rate far above what is officially recognized.

An article appearing in the July-August edition of The American Spectator dramatically changed my views of the current state of American politics. Angelo M. Codevilla’s article entitled America’s Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolutions reminded me that, in the end, we the people need to oversee the “Ruling Class” not the other way around. We need to manage their ambitions and keep them accountable. For far too long we have sat on the sidelines, trusting what they tell us, letting them frame the debate, and believing that it was far too complicated for us to understand.

The result of our negligence is precarious danger. We stand on the edge of a vast chasm filled with chaos and tyranny. We’re not the first to stand here and are currently not alone. The so called socialist democracies of Europe are our companions and stand a little closer to the edge. The bottom of this great crevasse is littered with the bodies of the Weimar Republic, the Soviets, Eastern Europe, ancient Greek city states, and the robed figure of Rome and despite the fact that we inch ever closer we tell ourselves that it will never happen in America. Even as the modern Greek state jumped off before our living eyes, we denied the possibility here.

Don’t get me wrong, our plunge into the dark isn’t fated yet, but we must learn to think differently. We must begin now to pay more attention, not deny the threat of economic collapse, and hold politicians accountable for the results of their policies not their intentions.

For decades (perhaps longer) we have viewed politicians in a left to right circular spectrum with those on the extreme left differentiated from the extreme right only in form. We saw Soviet and German versions of tyranny as polar opposites with similar affects. This paradigm is useful if the danger inherent in government is extremism and the goal a thoughtful pragmatic middle ground that may drift with the needs of the day as long as it evades the precarious extremes. Such a view of politics engenders the sentiment expressed by Candy Crowly as she described Bill Clinton in the heyday of CNN as “post ideological.” That is, he was more concerned with the necessity of the moment than some kind of outdated value system that wouldn’t allow him to meet the challenges of his time.

The nature of the American republic is anathema to such a view of politics and the law. This country was founded on a document that was designed to be inviolate, an immovable bulwark guarding freedom from the seas of government’s ever escalating need for power. The founding fathers set up this country to not evolve, but rather be held to a standard or value system as documented in the Constitution. In other words, you can not be an elected politician that is “post ideological” without becoming a threat to the republic. Just as amoral employees are only held from stealing from a company by the threat of being caught, such a politician is only held from becoming a dictator by the willingness of the populace to vote him out of office or, in the end, rise in revolt.

Thus by definition it is wrong to think of the politics in terms of left to right. We must learn to think of politics as the founding fathers did. That is in terms of complete chaos and no government on one end and complete totalitarianism on the other. The size, scope, authority, power and vigor of government should dictate the location along the spectrum a politician occupies. Under this standard the scale is absolute, doesn’t shift, and isn’t relativistic (as opposed to the accusation “he’s more extreme than I am, therefore vote for me”). It also helps highlight divergence from the Constitution and the Freedoms it protects. In this light, the politician who says we should slide along the spectrum to whatever is most expedient in the moment is easily seen as someone willing to accept tyranny if it suits what they perceive as the needs of the day.

If the purpose of Government is to preserve the freedom of the people (…to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”), the only way to evaluate it and the men and women that populate it and give movement to it is evaluate their efforts on a spectrum that measures that result. When an employee is hired, the owner of the company does so to further the interests of the company not the employee hired and good employers dispassionately evaluate all employees on the outcome of their work not on, say, the color of their skin. When we hire politicians to run our government, we should therefore evaluate them on how they furthered the main goal of government and thus on where they sit on our authority scale.

It is time we stop thinking in terms of party and where each party sits on a meaningless left and right scale, and start thinking in terms of what policies do in authorizing government to encroach on our freedoms. We are only ever one generation from servitude and tyranny and its time we remembered that.

I’m optimistic that enough of us have seen the chasm for what it is that we’re beginning to change course, but to keep our progress we need to think differently.

Thank you, Angelo Codevilla. You’ve reminded me of exactly how we got into this mess and the remedy, and a new definition of politics is the required starting point.

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