Category Archives: Politics

The Unspoken Flaw of Populist Rhetoric, or F–k “the People”

It doesn’t matter where you stand on the right-center-left spectrum of American politics, the fact is that, if you’re running for political office and you want to stand any chance of winning, you will laud and promote your candidacy as being aligned with the spirit of the people.  What exactly is this spirit, and who specifically constitutes being a member of such a vague and loaded category like “the people”?  None of that matters, because the phrase is meant to be a blank sheet, onto which voters can project whatever specific attributes they favor, left over from the sociopolitical legacy of the populist struggle of the 19th & 20th Centuries.

Populism is a broad term within political philosophy, but its basic ideological tenet is one of supporting the interests of the common worker and general public (frequently stylized simply as “the people” in popular speech), against the domination of the affluent elites of society.  In the United States, the populist movement began in the late 19th Century as a mostly rural (farmers, laborers, and small-businessmen) backlash against the growing monopolization of their resources into the control of a group of industrialists and venture capitalists.  Because the latter group had most (if not all) of the political and financial backing from the government, populism (even after its namesake’s fall as a major political player in the early 20th Century) became associated in the public mind with the common good of the lowly citizenry; essentially presented under the image of giving a voice to the hitherto politically voiceless.

As I already mentioned, nowadays the appeal to populist rhetoric transcends political affiliation.  Barack Obama can fail to call for the legal investigation of the individuals and enterprises (indeed, openly refuse any suggestion of it) who contributed to the high risk gambling of public and private funds that helped bring about the financial crisis of 2008 (the economic effect of which we are still feeling on a global level), and he will still promote his policies as prime examples of serving “the people” above the interests of the upper classes (well, I don’t know about you, but when I commit marketing fraud and declare bankruptcy, I don’t see the judicial system putting up its hands and saying, “Meh, shit happens, let’s just move forward.  Oh, by the way, here’s your old job back, too”).  During the 2012 election, Mitt Romney could openly say that his vision for America’s economic system is one in which the richest will be directly favored above the rest (while also privately implying that nearly half the country is made up of social parasites), and he still continued to claim how the goal of his policies is structured to actually work for the common good of “the people” (because somehow making sure that your boss is financial secure, will–without any legal imperative pressuring him to do so–guarantee that he’ll be generous enough to graciously trickle a descent sum of that money down your way, instead of the more likely scenario of him hording it away in his own private funds).  And both sides will get away with this vacuous rhetoric among their voting base, partly because most people are convinced that this is as good as it can get, and partly because they figure that (at the very least) their candidate is still making reference to them–which has got to count for something, right?

The reason people think it counts for something is the notion that somehow, by virtue of some noble force or another, the party, the candidate, the ideology that seems to most support the spirit of the people, is the less corruptible faction in the game.  It rests on the unspoken premise that “the people” are this incorruptible fortress that stands above the decadency of the power-hungry rulers, and therein lies the central flaw of populist rhetoric.  “The People” who make up the Democratic Party are corrupt enough to ignore the ethical trespass of their candidates, for the sake of promoting the handful of pet-issues they care about.  “The People” who make up the Republican Party are corrupt enough to ignore the ethical trespasses of their candidates, for the sake of promoting the handful of pet-issues they care about.  “The People” who make up the ranks of all political, social, ideological movements are corrupt enough to ignore the various faults in their reasoning for the sake of the greater good or the lesser evil they are convinced will benefit society more.  In other words:  I am corrupt enough to care more about my petty, pedantic disagreements with political thought, than to truly consider the possibility that a great deal of people could potentially benefit from my support of one political model over another.

This idea of the immaculate virtue of “the people” is a myth.  It was a myth when it was being promoted by my Southern farmer’s great-great-grandparents on behalf of the populist cause, and it’s a myth in its current incarnation as a bipartisan talking point during every election cycle.  After all, all corrupt individuals, in all identifiable fields of work and thought, are still people, and I’d wager that none of them consider their misdeeds as acts of corruption, as much as circumstantial/vocational necessities.  And everyone is liable to be led astray into morally questionable deeds, if s/he can convince her/himself of the virtue of the “bigger picture” involved.  You and I, no matter how humble and modest of a life we lead, are no exception.

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Is the Free-market Self-regulating?

If you live in the American South, like I do, you will notice that there are few claims around here held as dearly (and uncritically) as the proclaimed ideal of the self-regulatory nature of the free-market.  And, as we enter an election year, the truth of this particular economic gospel is starting to be preached from all corners below the Mason-Dixon Line.  These days I consider myself to be largely apolitical.  I have certain opinions, as they regard to specific issues, which can individually carry political implications (or not).  But I do not try to make my opinions fit into a greater political narrative, and often, I find myself with one camp on one matter, and with the other camp on another.  Thus, my reasons for calling into question the veracity of laissez-faire style free-market economics is not based on a political ideology, but the fact that its supporters consider their personal preferences to be beyond reproach and absolute.

Roughly speaking, the free-market is a market system where prices are determined by supply and demand.  A free-market economy is an economy where all aspects of business are unregulated by any factors other than the market participants (ideally this means no government oversight, either placing restrictions on, or giving favor to, businesses).  When it comes to the Western world, the free-market serves a vital function in the operation of our economies, because it is the primary plane of operation we have erected by which to carry out commerce.  The problem I have with the arguments made by advocates of a complete laissez-faire free-market economy, is that they totally neglect the fact that the free-market does not exist independent of us; it is not a natural phenomenon, it came about through the direct, personal involvement of individuals. It operates through the direct, personal involvement of individuals.  So, in what way does it make sense to say that the system is (or, ideally, needs to be) self-regulating?

This is the primary problem with free-market fundamentalism in a nutshell; the idea that the free-market is some sort of self-correcting, self-sustaining, omniscient force, always able to yield the most egalitarian and utilitarian result.  Many laissez-faire advocates will no doubt object to this generalization, but in reality it is a very apt synopsis of how their ideas come across to outside observers.  If you are convinced that no sort of outside regulation (especially a governmental one), should be permitted to oversee and remedy the workings/progress/abuses of businesses, then you are by default claiming that the businesses, themselves, will always be capable of supervising themselves, as no doubt abuses and corruptions will occasionally occur (and then some).  Here, I have to applaud laissez-faire advocates for the amount of trust they place in faceless conglomerates, while at the same time dismissing the intentions of faceless federal agencies.  But one cannot help but point out the lapse in logic.

To claim that federal regulation can only mess-up the market, and then point to examples of government corruption as evidence for one’s claim, but then further on hold that any corruption seen on the side of private corporations is simply part of the self-regulating process, is a fallacious argument of special pleading.  In the current economic model we reside in, to entirely detach the government from the workings of businesses does not just remove a thorn out of the paw of CEO’s, or limit their money-making capacity, it also removes the provision of the health standard for our foods (which did not exist in the late 19th/early 20th century, nor was it much of a concern for the food conglomerates of the time), and prevent the import of potentially harmful material to enter the country (imagine if during the Chinese Lead Toys Scare, we decided that only the Chinese Company’s own regulators, who allowed the tainted product to enter the market to begin with, can do the proper investigations).  Of course, the government bureaucrats are shady, and constantly on the lookout for profit and self-promotion, but to pretend that business bureaucrats are any more trustworthy–especially when dealing with things that would decide their overall revenue–is plain delusional.  Remember how hard the auto industry fought in the 1960s against fixing a few measly safety hazards in their cars, even though the expense was negligible in light of their yearly intake on the market.  Luckily, they lost that battle, but it wasn’t because the omniscient guidance of the free-market led them to make the right decision.

Fundamentally, what needs to be understood is that the free-market does not have a mind, and it is not alive; it is a man-made system, limited by our capabilities, and directed by our faults.  And within the scope of the laissez-faire mindset, its capacity to correct the shady activities of corporate interests relies entirely on the self-interested corporations themselves.

Now, let me clear up a mistake often made by the political Left when discussing this issue; namely, the false assertion that corporations are evil in some way.  This is not true, corporations are not evil, nor are the people who make up their boards.  Corporations are for-profit institution, by which I mean that they are outlets which provide a service for the sake of gaining a profit.  This is not evil, but it is not—in any way—an ingredient of something that is concerned with promoting the well-being of the individual’s liberties.

Despite what laissez-faire advocates want to claim, there is no history of a business independently implementing much needed regulatory policies on itself, without external pressure.  No tycoon took a stroll through his factory, only to be struck by the urge to extend a reasonable minimum wage to his workers.  At no point did a business take a stand to condemn the use of child labor as a legitimate means to carry on its enterprise before child labor laws were passed.  All of this was brought about through outside pressure; either workers petitioning to local and federal agents, or the federal government itself clamping down on social inequalities in the work place (as slow to the draw as it might have been).  Because that’s what the whole point of a government is, to prove a service and look out for the interests of its citizens, not the corporations.  Too often it fails miserably in this department, but to suggest that the solution to the problem is to completely remove all third-party oversight from the equation is plainly unfounded.

A conglomerate exists to make a profit, if it can cut corners to increase profit, it will.  If it can ignore precautions to maximize revenue–even if it’s only in the short-term with detrimental effects likely to happen as a direct result–it will.  Again, this is not a condemnation; I also believe that for opponents of laissez-faire economics to say that such a thing is evil, while regulatory measures are innately good, would be equally simplistic and stupid.  My argument is about efficiency, and the fact that the laissez-faire stance that the free-market will always find a way to work out its problems by itself has no barring in reality, and seems to rely mainly on the frustration people have towards the incompetency of their government.  All of this is understandable, but what justification lies there in the presupposition that free-market participants will be more efficient in fostering a healthy economy for the rest of us?  Pointing to the inaptitude of one side, does not garner points for yours.

Electoral Amnesia

Politically Active Citizen A:  “You know, I’m sick and tired of all these politicians just lying to us to get elected.  And then when they get into office they completely ignore the campaign promises they made.  The whole political establishment seems to be set up against the interest of the common citizen.”

Politically Active Citizen B:  “Totally, no matter where you stand on politics, we can all agree that the politicians we have in charge now are awful at serving the interests of the people.”

Politically Active Citizen A: “I agree.  Something must be done to bring about true reform in the political system, to let these politicians know we don’t approve of what they’re doing to our country.”

Politically Active Citizen B:  “The problem is that people aren’t doing their part as responsible citizens.  Last election cycle I led a petition that registered millions of new voters to take part in the political process.  I figured that the real problem was apathy on the part of the citizens, and if more people go out to vote political corruption would be eliminated or lessened…somehow.  So we all voted in record numbers, but it didn’t really bring about any vital reform in the government.”

Politically Active Citizen A: “That’s very discouraging.  Maybe this year will be different.”

Politically Active Citizen B:  “It will be, as long as even more people vote.  The only way to defeat a corrupt government is for people to fervently partake in the very process that continuous to validate its existence.”

Politically Active Citizen A: “I’ll start an online petition through Facebook immediately.  I just need a catchy name and logo–maybe a chant or two–this will show them we’re serious.”

My Rendered Counsel 

I have two basic sets of questions to the politically active:

1.  If all these politicians are indifferent about passing legislation to serve the interests of all of you who are already active in voicing your grievances with the government (the people whose political participation they depend on for their continued employment), how exactly will adding more voters (with varying degrees of understanding of political issues) into the mix help reform the situation?  What’s to guarantee that the addition of more average citizens will not be equally ignored in a political process where the size of a contributor’s financial donations ensure greater attention from prospective policymakers?  Also, within a larger group of people, the emergence of dissenting opinions is almost always a given.  So, how will you prevent people from being swayed to vote against their own interest (i.e. your interest) by these sneaky politicians?  Moreover, how do you know you aren’t one of those people yourself?

2.  As hinted in number 1, in a democratic system, the political establishment is sanctioned by citizen participation (in theory).  If people are voting (and, yes, the electors in the electoral college count as legitimate representatives of the people under current law), and the candidate with the most votes wins, then the political order is validated by virtue of the popularly agreed upon system.  So, if you agree with this fundamental aspect of the system, and you have hope in the positive efficacy of this system–and going by the fact that you actively partake in the process that sustains the system (i.e. voting), and encourage others to do so as well–in what way have you not, at least passively, consented to the workings of the current political establishment?  To put it more cryptically, if you disapprove of the game, why are you still playing along with the rules?

My honest goal here is not to discourage people from voting.  (What sort of silly goal would that be?)  My intent is to let those of you who have a tendency to get overly enthusiastic about your political participation understand that the reasons your non-active cohabitants in this country choose to abstain from the election process altogether are, at times, a bit deeper than the convenient apathy/ignorance explanation some of you are eager to attribute to them.  And if you truly want to persuade them to see (what you believe to be) the error of their ways, you might want to avoid sounding preachy about your own convictions.  Because to the unconverted, any preacher’s words will be about as convincing to listen to as static noise.  Just some food for thought, for the next time some political activist wants to put his or her self-righteous flyer in my hands without warning.

John Locke’s Call for the Dissolution of Bad Government, Through Strictly Lawful Means

Part One: Analysis

John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government”, in his Two Treatises of Government, makes a clear point that the people of a commonwealth grant authority to their governing body, and thereby have an inherent right to bring about the dissolution of that body, if it violates the principles upon which it was initially established.  But Locke goes further than to simply condone the overthrow of a bad government.  He examines and rationalizes the tenets and limits to authority of government; what sort of situations would constitute a government that has overstepped the authority designated to it.  And concludes how it is by peaceful, legislative means that the people who constitute the society being governed can dissolve the governing body, which has become alien to their will and interests.

Locke’s view of governing authority is that it should serve the will of the people that make up the commonwealth, because they are the ones who grant legislative authority in exchange for security and protection.  This is stated in Chapter 9, paragraph 131, “And so whosoever has the legislative or supreme power of a commonwealth, is bound to govern by establishing standing laws, promulgated and known to the people / to be directed to no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people.”  Furthermore, since legislative authority ultimately resides with the will of the people, the dissolution of such authority is subsequently reserved by the people as well.

Locke makes a distinction though between the dissolution of government and dissolution of society (TT.II.211).  In regard to the dissolution of society, the union can only be disrupted through the conquest of a foreign force, thus if a government is dissolved, the society it governs can continue to exist and authorize a new legislature.  The dissolution of the government is different however, in that the legislative powers, who have been granted authority to make laws for the good of the people, are themselves subject to the laws they have made (TT.II.143).  Since the governing body is dependent on the people’s will, it can only function as long as the commonwealth of people sees fit to maintain it.  If the actions of the government are counter to the will, or good, of the people, then it is also counter to the laws by which it itself is bound, and thus can be dissolved by the society that has empowered it, because it no longer upholds the interest of the commonwealth (TT.II.202).

On the issue of altering legislation, Locke equates the act similarly to a foreign conquest, which in itself is, “as far from setting up any government, as demolishing a house is from building a new one in the place” (TT.II.175).  And generally dismisses belligerent disobedience against the laws of government, either by ruler or subject, as vile and criminally despicable (TT.II.230).  As far as Locke is concerned the only legitimate law is one that derives from the consent of the people; if a law does not derive from, or stands in opposition to, the original framework consented by the people of the commonwealth, it is a breach in contract and the authority bestowed upon the guilty party is automatically invalid:

By this breach of trust they forfeit the power, the people had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative (such as they shall think fit) provided for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society (TT.II.222).

The function of the government is to serve as a representative to the interest of the commonwealth.  If the government chooses to behave in a self-serving arbitrary manner, neglecting the good of the people, it is breaking the principles upon which it was founded.  The people have a fundamental right to oppose any force that is contrary and harmful to the principles that they have agreed to build their commonwealth on, and if that force happens to be reflected in the actions of their current government, then the government can be opposed by its subjects since that government has ceased to be their government.  Although, this might seem like a defense for revolutionaries, Locke also notes how this revelation does not invite the incessant dissolution of one government for another, because, “People are not so easily got out of their old forms, as some are apt to suggest” (TT.II.223).  He uses Britain as an example, where even through countless government scandals, administrative corruptions, and calls for revolution, the monarchial system of king, lords, commons, has yet to be replaced.

How then can a people, by Locke’s doctrine, rebel against a government that no longer serves their interest?  Not by force, because, as already stated, a violent strike against an existing legislature will produce effects similarly to foreign conquest (TT.II.218).  That is to say, the resulting structure will be rendered as invalid on the grounds that whatever new institution is erected in place of the old is not compatible with the original foundation consented to by the commonwealth.  In truth, Locke views this doctrine, where power is authorized by the people who alone hold the right to dissolve a legislature that is not protecting their property and providing their safety, or is acting in any way contrary to their trust, as the ultimate barrier against rebellion (TT.II.226).  If the people see fit to dissolve the government, because the legislators have altered laws that have been agreed upon by the people, it is the legislators who are the dissenters by rebelling against the government that has been authorized by the people, who alone are the authority on what is to be their society’s ways of governance:

When they, who were set up for the protection, and preservation of the people, their liberties and properties, shall by force invade, and endeavor to take them away; and so they putting themselves into a state of war with those, who made them the protectors and guardians of their peace, are properly, and with the greatest aggravation, rebellantes rebels (TT.II.227).

The people do not need to rebel, because once the actions of the government no longer represent the will of the commonwealth, the people who make up the commonwealth have no obligation to remain subjects of what has now become a de facto foreign power to them.  And if violence does occur when a people consciously rise against a corrupt legislature, the fault cannot lie with the honest man who is trying to preserve his rights and the rights on which his society was formed, but will always fall on the conscience of the invading force, invading his rights and the rights of his neighbors (TT.II.228).

John Locke’s treatise is a proclamation for majority governance, where ruling authority rests with the commonwealth, the people, who have the rights to determine what is best for their society.  As it is their right to establish, for their own good, whichever sort of government they see fit; it is also inherit in their authority to be able to dissolve an existing legislature, when it no longer serves their good, as they are not obligated to be subjects of a government whose priorities are not representative of their own.

Part Two: Critique

As already mentioned, Locke pronounces that the people of the commonwealth grant authority to the legislature and thereby reserve the right to determine whether or not it is legitimate, and if deemed illegitimate by the commonwealth, the governing body relinquishes its legislative powers back to the people who can then install a new sovereign to represent their interests.  All of this sounds sensible, but Locke also mentions that, “acting for the preservation of the community, there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate” (TT.II.149).  This seems to be an implicit contradiction to his appeal for majority governance, in which it is the people who are the sovereigns of the land, and the legislative is an institution through which they protect and preserve their rights.  Locke goes on to say, reconcilably, that, “the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust repose them” (TT.II.149).  This statement appears to have been made by Locke in order to smooth out the discrepancy of his earlier statement and keep his proposed form of government consistent with democratic theory, but despite this attempt the sentence is still a non sequitur.

If Locke wants to identify the legislative body as the supreme power in the commonwealth, then its authority cannot be limited by the people of the commonwealth, because once a power is limited then by definition it is no longer supreme.  Perhaps, Locke meant that the people authorize the legislative with supreme power to institute laws favorable to the general good of the commonwealth, while the commonwealth still retains a certain trait of supreme power giving it the ability to pass judgment over the governing body: a separation of powers.  However, this is still unsatisfactory and only works if one is willing to be charitable to Locke, who did not bother to define his reasoning or assessment of how or why both the people and the legislator can hold supreme power in the commonwealth and in certain passages seems to refute any such claim:

In all cases, whilst the government subsists, the legislative is the supreme power.  For what can give laws to another, must needs be superior to him: and since the legislative is no otherwise legislative of the society, but by the right it has to make laws for all the parts and for every member of the society / and all other powers in any members or parts of the society, derived from and subordinate to it (TT.II.150).

Even if we are charitable towards Locke in this one statement, the fact still remains that the rest of his treatise treats the legislative authority as subordinate to the will of the commonwealth, which is composed of the interests of the people.  His occasional divergence from this point, rather than strengthening his argument, renders it moot.

This also causes a fundamental problem to arise when one looks at Locke’s views on how the people retain a basic right to dissolve the government that they have authorized to begin with.  When you have the ability to depose of an entity, then you do in fact hold some sort of dominion over that entity, making it subordinate to you.  A point Locke himself might reject according to the above quote, but a Lockean would have to accept if he or she follows Locke’s reasoning throughout the treatise.

Locke explicitly states that when a government is destroyed the commonwealth remains in full form (TT.II.211), meaning that supreme power cannot be equally shared between the two (separate or otherwise); for if the roles were balanced, then it would also be true that the government can theoretically dissolve the people just as readily as the people can dissolve the government.  But this is not true, because the people hold ultimate authority on how the government behaves/exists.  The relationship between the two is one in which the legislative body cannot act on its own will (such as deciding to destroy the commonwealth), because that will is dependent on the will of the people, going so far as to be composed solely of the will of the people (TT.II.142).

Locke creates a similar problem when he mentions that the legislative is what combines the commonwealth into one coherent living body, “This is the soul that gives form, life, and unity to the commonwealth: from hence the several members have their mutual influence, sympathy, and connection: and therefore when the legislative is broken, or dissolved, dissolution and death follow” (TT.II.212).  Here, it is implied that as the product of the society’s communal interest, the legislative is the representation (or soul, if one was keen on a more metaphorical prose) of the society’s will.  It is the uniting agent by which the commonwealth expresses its founding principles, operating as a physical embodiment to exercise the people’s collective will, and were it destroyed the resulting conclusion would be the removal of the commonwealths ability to physically exercise that will.

To Locke’s political theory of majority governance, this is disastrous, and the Lockean responds would be swift to counter the reasoning with the following:  First, one could argue that the statement made was Locke’s way of assessing all possible scenarios of the dissolution of government.  Rather than conceding that the destruction of the legislative body leaves the commonwealth without the ability to exercise their will, Locke was applying deductive reasoning to the situation.  This is supported by how in subsequent paragraphs Locke truly does explore varies alternative forms of existing and dissolving governments, the possible approaches that can be taken when they are no longer in line with the people’s will, and what results from each possible approach.  The second defense would be that since Locke ultimately concludes that, “the people have a right to act supreme, and continue the legislative in themselves, or erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good” (TT.II.243).  Thereby, the will of the commonwealth is not entirely tied in with the existence of legislative and the intermediary scenarios are irrelevant to Locke’s ability to reach his wanted outcome; the defense of majority governance.  Now, as fervent as such defenses may be, they do little but try to redirect from the issue at hand.  If it can be supposed that as the representative entity of the commonwealth’s will, the legislative is a needed component in order for that will to be organized in a coherent way, then it goes to show that Locke’s insistence on the readily manner by which the commonwealth can dissolve a governing body is not universally applicable in theory or practice.

The Lockean dismissal of the major faults with Locke’s theory as irrelevant due to its focus on the semantics of Locke’s premises, rather than his conclusions, reveals a great deal about the flaws of John Locke’s argument as a whole.  It is in the ways a philosopher constructs his argument that deems it coherent or not.  Locke’s final conclusion in the Two Treatise of Government, of a governing body that is authorized by the people for its own interest and protection, and who retain the right to judge, mediate, and dissolve said legislative once it no longer serves the will of the people, is an idea that resonance favorably with the masses; not to mention an idea that was quite radical in Locke’s time of monarchial governance.  Nevertheless, as shown here, the manner by which Locke constructs his premises is far from consistent, and nowhere near as articulate as he indeed could have made it.  He sets out to defend the core part of his theory, the need for a limited government preceded in authority by the will of the people of the commonwealth, and fails by breaking from this premise and designating both parties (government and commonwealth) separate but equally supreme in authority (actually maintaining that it is the legislative that is the supreme power, though somehow still limited in authority).  Only to falter again by concluding that it is really the legislative that is dependent on the will of the commonwealth after all, despite stating that this will is correlated to the existence of the legislative.

Bibliography

Locke, John.  1993.  “Second Treatise of Government,” Two Treatises of Government, ed. Mark Goldie.  Churchill College, Cambridge:  Everyman.

The Clinton Conundrum

If it is the case that Hillary Clinton secures the coming Democratic nomination, and subsequently wins the Presidential election thereafter, it will mark a unique turn in the history of this nation.  No, I’m not talking about the fact that for the first time a women will be serving as President of the United States, nor the fascinating tidbit that said President rose from the ranks of former First Ladies (an equally unprecedented feat).  What I’m referring to is that, if Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency in 2016, it will mark the Obama administration as the sole outlier in a 30 year executive roundelay between the Bush/Clinton dynasties.  I can’t be the only one that finds it remarkable that the last three decades of politics in a democratic Republic have been presided over by two competing last names (e.g. Bush and Clinton).

The American Left has a dodgy relationship with the Clintons.  Although Bill Clinton is lucky to have preceded the colossal brain aneurism of an administration that was the Bush presidency (thereby ensuring his impression in history books as the more competent executive my default), his actual track record of liberal accomplishments is lackluster, if not downright antithetical.  Whatever image this man wants to present to the public now, let us not forget that this was the man who signed the Defense of Marriage Act that set back civil rights for gays at the time, butchered social services that his base constituents heralded, repeatedly backed corporate interests over–and to the great devastation of–the environmental issues he campaigned on (one can go on, but the point ought to be clear already).  Bill Clinton may have been out of office for well over a decade, but as long as his legacy continues to be championed by liberals in this country as a score for leftwing policies, these caveats deserve at least a casual mention, never mind an actual defense (or even an apology).

Hillary Clinton has been a political figure in her own right long enough that there’s no need to refer to her husband’s record to assess her stances on any issue.  Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign, its candidate’s own liberal cred is every much as questionable as her husband’s.

In the past decade and a half, she has been foolishly hawkish when she backed the Iraq war for as long as public opinion could stomach it; she currently speaks out against corporate greed, yet seems to forget that she sat in government, not proposing or supporting a single piece of legislation that might have curbed the coming market crash in 2008, or reformed the financial sector in this country in any way whatsoever; she has never given more than passive support for the rights of gays, low-income families, the labor class, or anybody else for that matter, until she was absolutely sure that such stances polled favorably with the electoral public.

In short, the conundrum that faces the Left in this country when it comes to electing Hillary Clinton is similar to the one that faced them in the 90s with the first Clinton.  Namely, the Clintons have no ideology, political or otherwise, to propose, stand, or even fall on: the sole purpose on which any Clinton campaign is fueled by is strictly the unyielding need to get elected.  All other concerns are secondary, if nonexistent to this guiding purpose.  And that is the alpha and the omega underlying this whole façade of a political family.

A Word on Assisted Suicide

The desire to both alleviate suffering and protect life are two ethical principles upon which much of modern society shapes its moral values around.  However, there are several situations that present a clear conflict between the desire to alleviate suffering and the desire to protect life.  The debate over assisted dying is probably the most difficult of these (from a moral standpoint) because it involves a person whose suffering is so great that she or he wishes to just end her/his life as a final recourse to the pain, often even if there exists the possibility that medical attention can either save or prolong her/his life.  The ethical dilemma of whether such a person’s wishes should be respected, or whether the ability to save a life at all costs ought to take precedents is not a simple issue to resolve through purely philosophical musings.

Just about everyone can image a scenario in which an individual’s physical pain is so great that it would seem downright cruel to force her/him to continue to be tormented just to appease our collectively idealized standard over the sanctity of life.  Certainly one could make the case that even a painful life is better than no life at all, but the caveat that cannot be ignored is the question of by what right any one of us can demand for a person to continue to live in agony to preserve our ideals about the greater value of life.

“What if the person’s pain is causing them to speak from hysteria and fear?  What if they would have changed their mind about wanting to die?”  What if is a line of reasoning that though interesting is destined to remain unresolved by virtue of its phrasing.  Case and point, what if the person ends up living only a few months longer, all in agonizing pain, only to die anyway?  You could have spared them these final moments of unspeakable pain, but didn’t.  Does that seem more morally sound than letting them die?

A conflict does arise of whether anyone else’s opinion besides the suffering individual’s should be considered (such as family members not willing to let their loved one die at any cost if it can be avoided).  This is the part of the assisted suicide debate where it becomes difficult to insist on a clear course of action.  It’s redundant to state how almost no one wants to see someone they love suffer.   Now add on the caveat of not just having a loved one die, but to actually assist in the process.  I recognize that this is undoubtedly too great a burden for many to go through, seeing as how I, too, would no doubt be torn to my core if such a decision faced me.  However, I still have to maintain that, as heartbreaking as it is to consider the torment that someone will suffer at losing a loved one, I still don’t see how the alternative is any better (i.e. how much the individual her/himself is currently physically suffering, and how s/he must continue to do so partly because I cannot take the mental anguish or moral burden of assisting in her/his death).

Being a person who does feel a great deal of empathy for his fellow man, I see the many moral difficulties that arise from the debate over assisted dying from both sides of the argument.  I also understand that many such cases will have different circumstances that call for different considerations.  But I simply cannot bring myself to insist that a suffering person (whether their pain has a physical or psychological source) must continue to exist in torment in order to appease any personal moral hangups I have on the topic.  And I find it hard to see an intellectual means to get around this problem without descending into gross oversimplifications on a very sensitive issue.

Nationalism vs Patriotism: A Challenge to George Orwell

In one of his essays, titled “Notes on Nationalism”, George Orwell drew a distinction between nationalism and patriotism by defining the latter as a passive adulation of one’s national/cultural heritage, and the former as an active attempt to enforce the will of one’s national/cultural identity onto others.  In other words, the patriot may look on his country of origin as the greatest place on earth, but he will do so with no interest to convince anyone else of the fact.  In contrast, the nationalist feels compelled not just to convince others of the greatness of his homeland, but to bring about the capitulation of all other nations under its great power.  As much as I respect Orwell as a writer, I find this attempt to conjure up a distinction between underlying mindset characterizing the two concepts unconvincing (to say the least).

If you hold the opinion that the country you happen to be born in (or identify with for other reasons) is the greatest in the world, then by logical extension you have to also hold the opinion of all of the other countries, in which all other persons reside, as simply subpar in comparison to your own.  And if you believe that other countries are substandard to your own, then you must also believe that the nation you identify with possesses something (strength, character, wealth, power, a particular model of governance, etc.) that makes it worthy of reverence.  From here, does it also not logically lead you to infer that whatever it is that makes your nation greater than every other, all the other nations who currently fail to measure up to its greatness would benefit if they too were to possess this particular trait/characteristic/resource/ideal/whatever?  Moreover, in this mode of reasoning, would you–the patriot– not be justified to believe that a great contribution your nation could do for the rest of the world is to bring it as close as possible to the better model under which your superior country operates under?

All else aside, affirmative responses for the above statements and inquiries would still place one merely as a patriot by Orwell’s criteria because one has still not taken an active step to impose one’s national will onto other states; hence, by the writer’s terms it would be incorrect to ascribe to the hypothetical individual the label of a nationalist since, up to this point, he displays no active desire to secure more power (presumably at the expense of other nations).  But to me this seems like a very flimsy distinction to be made, designed primarily to absolve patriotism from the ominous history created by 20th Century nationalism.  Yet, the reality remains that one cannot honestly have nationalism, sans the basic ingredient of patriotism.  And–following the conversation in the preceding paragraph–the factor that would separate a patriot from a nationalist appears to be more situational than ideological (i.e. it’s not the individual worldview that needs to change to lead a person from patriotism to nationalism, just a particular set of environmental circumstances; namely, how passionate, threatened or confident one feels about the current state of one’s country of origin).

If the redeeming distinction between patriotism and nationalism rests on the basis that unlike nationalism, patriotism has no desire to force itself on other people/nations, I have no choice but to protest the very premise on which such an argument is founded, on the grounds that the underlying reasoning in favor of patriotism are largely indistinguishable from the underlying reasoning applied by the nationalist.  The fundamental mentality–“my country is greater than your country”–is the same, and drawing distinctions of passivity vs. aggressiveness seem more aptly as representations of differing modes of expression of the same ideology, rather than opposing sides of differing/contrasting ideologies.  The simply truth (as it seems to me) is that, for the sake of consistency, whatever points one finds praiseworthy about patriotism, these same points can easily be extended to argue in favor of nationalism.  And whatever one finds undesirable about nationalism, one can just as easily extend to a critique of patriotism.  To split hairs between these things, just comes across like special pleading.