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Friday, May 22, 2015

Understanding The Conservative Whipping Boy: The State

The Imaginative Conservative blog just posted an article by Joseph Sorban (1946-2010) on what we are obligated to give to the State (click here). In one sense, this article by Joseph Sorban is a followup article on another article that briefly described how democracy has failed because it did not hold the size of government and the state in check (click here for that article).

In this article, Sorban wants to question the credentials of state because, regardless of its form, democratic or otherwise, the state seems to always become like the Hulk. As it grow bigger, it becomes more destructive. And certainly, Sorban does not have to work hard at finding a number of examples where this is true. The state, in way too many cases, abuses its power and, in one way or another, falsely tells us that what it commands us to do are moral mandates.

However, one must realize that Sorban is judging the state from a conservative-libertarian point of view. That view states that the state should take a minimalist approach at how it should govern its people. The conservative-libertarian view states that individual liberty should be king and what prevents individual liberty from harming others is a notion of 'natural order.' Natural order, according to Sorban is a self-evident set of standards that should prevent us from using individual liberty as a license to kill and steal. Some call similar sets of standards 'the created order' while others refer to them as 'natural law.' And though the standards may not be identical, the general result is. That is there exists a moral code that keeps practitioners of individual liberty from reaching a state of mutually insured destruction.

At this point, we should note the first comment posted is my comment. In that comment, I briefly described what I think are the problems of Sorban's position. The first problem is that the state, according to Sorban, is what I call an 'amorphous monolith.' By that I mean that the form of the state is meaningless because he is judging the state solely by its size. Thus, a big government or an intrusive state makes all state or governments look the same.

Now lest one assumes that only conservatives have the problem of using stereotyped scapegoats, my fellow political Leftist do the same to the Rich as conservatives, like Sorban, do to big government (see here). 

My next point regarding Sorban's article is that his emphasis on natural order or law, whatever you want to call it, leads to an elite-centered type of rule. That is because we must have the right group of people who can discern between what is part of the natural order and what isn't. And since not all share the same view of either natural law or order or how it should be implemented today, this right group of people have the duty to lead all others to follow natural law or order regardless of what anyone else has to say.

At this point, we should note that, in reality, a government based on elite-centered rule rather than democratic rule is more than easily distinguishable from those governments that employs democracy. This distinguishability contradicts Sorban's treatment of all big governments as being the same. This is shown by a previous blogpost (click here) that used a 2-dimensional model with one of the dimensions being the degree to which power is distributed. 

When power is dispersed, as should occur in a democracy, then we limit the power of government. However, we should note that a true democracy requires more than just certain political structures. It also requires enough people to hold to a certain cultural and societal ethic that leads people to share society as equals with those who are different. The failure to do so not only keeps a nation with democratic political processes from being a true democracy, it shows that, especially in America's case, its economic values of competition and conquest are counted as being more important than its democratic values of sharing and equality. Otherwise, democratic values would be crossing the border into how our economic system works rather than our capitalists values of competition and conquest have been bleeding into our political structures.

One might be tempted to say that this missing ethic of how to share society could be the reason why some, like Sorban, think democracy has failed. In essence, we've never tried democracy. And that is because, again, democracy requires both political structures and a certain societal ethic that revolves around sharing.

The conservative approach to government is one designed to enable elite-centered power. We should note that the liberal approach to government does the same. The difference between the two groups is that the elites who rule in the conservative scheme tend to be from the private sector while the elites who rule in the liberal scheme tend to be from the public sector. In either case, most of the people are being told what to do and what to either like or tolerate. And was pointed out in my comment attached to the article being reviewed, elite-centered rule will cause power structures to grow. This growth guts Sorban's black-white view of the state.

One final point that was not touched on in my comment to this article. The conservative view of government presupposes that government is an alien being to the people. And in many cases, that has shown itself to be true. But it does not have to be the case. What enables government to be an alien force is for the people to let be that way. And we often let government become an alien force when our pursuit for prosperity and/or distractions rob us of either the time or the desire to be involved with our government and hold it accountable. Of course, since Sorban's criteria for what makes government good is getting government out of the way of the right elites, he could have never appreciated a true democratic society.




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