Since my Milton Friedman announcement, (and the official announcement of my new book about the US Presidents), I’ve been asked by a load of you to whittle together a summary of my nutty political philosophy.
In general terms, my personal stance is vey well covered in the flash-media based ‘Philosophy of Liberty’ that you can view online. But if you’d like to know how I got there, well here we go – and I promise to keep this under 2,000 words:
The big mistake people make is that there’s a left/right political spectrum that consists of communism on the left and fascism on the right. The general idea, as best as I can gather, is that the big difference is that fascism is 100% racist and communism is 0% racist. Or something.
Actually, when pushed, most people who state this difference between the ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ really can’t nail down a tangible difference. That’s because they’ve got the spectrum wrong. And even if not, the authoritarian stance between communism and fascism links them together at the top of a circle, and the furthest point on the circle away from them is libertarianism.
So on a left/right scale, you need to analyse something more tangible and concrete. On my left/right scale, I place 100% government control on the left, and 0% government control on the right. Again, there is still a slightly circular notion to this. Once you get to the 0% end of the spectrum, you usually end up going straight to the 100% strain. But I’ll get to that later.
On this left/right scale, you have all those authoritarian ‘isms’ on the left; communism, fascism, Nazism, (as National Socialism), and socialism itself. And on the furthest-most right of the scale, you have anarchy.
From here, we can break down all of the specific political and social theories into 5 groups that cover all of them. Starting from left to right: dictatorship. oligarchy, democracy, republic, and anarchy.
All but two of these aren’t really proper political systems and only one of then can theoretically last indefinitely. First of all, (and this is going to be a tough one to hear for some of you), but there is no such thing as a dictatorship, so we can dismiss it. I know, I know. You’re saying, “But what about Hitler?! Chairman Mao? King Henry VIII?”
But think about it for a second. These tyrants couldn’t rule without a small ‘elite’ giving them power. We call them dictatorships, but really, they are oligarchies. A king can’t rule without his knights. A communist dictator can’t rule without his bureaucrats and army. Hitler couldn’t have risen without his brownshirts causing the chaos and giving his ideology the respect it didn’t deserve.
This brings us to the oligarchy system. All but a small handful of nations in history have been oligarchies to one degree or another. Oligarchies can be authoritarian, (such as the dictatorship of the proletariat communist Russia, or the rise of Hitler’s National Socialism in Germany), or they can be democratic, (like contemporary Britain, France, or Sweden). The communist nations refer to themselves as republics because they have no monarch, but in the technical sense of the word, they are oligarchies.
In the democratic oligarchies, the people vote for political leaders. The leaders (a very small percentage of the population) are elected by a majority and rule over everyone else. They set up policies of ‘social engineering’ to alter the way their societies are run. They usually do so with the very best of intentions, but the consequences of that interference in (what would otherwise be the private decisions) of individuals’ lives are always disastrous.
Oligarchies are ‘proper’ social-economic systems and vary wildly. The ones where the governments interfere the least tend to do much better that their more authoritarian counterparts. Though they can never theoretically last forever, they can last for a very long time, but again how long they last and how (or if) they prosper varies depending on whether they allow more freedom over their citizens or less. The less freedom, the less prosperity, and the quicker their demise.
We can therefore consider oligarchy to be a ‘proper’ political system. But what of the theory of democracy? Stand back, because you’re really not going to like this either: total democracy must be dismissed too. It is not a ‘proper’ political system. It is merely a logistical tool, and one which is vital in a free society. It’s vital in both the more successful oligarchies, and every successful republic. But in its full use, democracy is essentially a tyranny of the majority.
Before I explain this further, let’s look at the political system that I prefer, because it works in both theory and practice, and if the logistical tool of democracy is applied to it correctly, it can’t fail, unless the democracy is used to drive the system to an oligarchy. The system I refer to, is the republic. And keep reading, I’ll tell you why it’s better than an outright democracy.
First, the geeky stuff. When you hear the term ‘republic’, you think of any system of government (American, Chinese, etc) without a monarchy. And while it’s true that under a ‘proper’ republic, there wouldn’t be a king or queen at the helm (that’d be an oligarchy), these systems are radically different. But as I mentioned, any republic set up under the communist ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ isn’t a real republic, it’s an oligarchy, where the few rule over the many.
Therefore the ‘republic’ I speak of, is rather like the one the United States of America is founded on. I guess the term ‘classical republic’ would be more appropriate these days. The term comes from the Latin words ‘Res’, meaning ‘thing’, and ‘Public’, meaning, erm, ‘public’! Put together, this means ‘the one thing that is public’ or more specifically in the original context, ‘the rule of law is the only public thing’.
So you have a free society, where every thing, every means of production, every choice, etc. is made privately, but the democratically-agreed upon law is public, i.e. it is the one collective requirement. Leaders in government are democratically elected, but only for limited periods at a time (a term) and 99.99% of their job is to make sure the laws are enforced. They can change the laws, this is the other 0.01% of their job, but this is never done lightly. In this system, everyone is free to pursue their rational self-interest (their happiness and so on), so long as it doesn’t conflict with the freedoms of others, in a manner prescribed by law.
This political system, the republic, is the only system in the history of the human race that has significantly increased the prosperity, happiness and freedom of those participating in the society while driving down the extent of poverty to those who are less fortunate.
A classic example is the difference between an accused criminal in a republic and a democracy. In the democracy, a band of 21 people get together and track down the man they think has committed a terrible crime. They find him and vote 11-10 in favour of killing him for ‘justice’. And they do so. But do you think that was the right thing to do?
In a republic, this same group may capture the suspect, but only the elected law official (e.g. police officer) can arrest him. The suspect is taken to trial and the evidence is heard in an independent and neutral court of law. A jury, as an independent selection of peers, have to decide whether the suspect is innocent or guilty. And they have to be unanimous in their verdict, because the rule of law supersedes democracy.
Most of us understand this basic principle, as well as the principle of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ (as in the 11-10 vote) in a total democracy. It’s just that many of us don’t think about applying classical liberty-centred republican constitutionality in other everyday applications.
Unfortunately, many in society today who see the problems of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ don’t advocate a classical republican attitude. Some understand that the size of government is to blame, so advocate our last area on the spectrum, the 0% government rule. This is anarchy. No government rule. In fact, no rule at all. The problem with this system is self-evident. If you have to spend all the time protecting your life, liberty and property (because there are no laws and government to do that for you), then you’ll stagnate and decline. As such, anarchy doesn’t last long. Think of the chaos of the communist revolution in Russia, or the Nation Socialist uprising in Germany.
Very soon both of these anarchies turned to authoritarian leaders who’d bring ‘order’ (Lenin, Hitler, Chairman Mao, Castro, etc). So anarchies turn into oligarchies very quickly indeed. And usually, because of the rush to ‘end the chaos’, the oligarchies are usually very authoritarian. So again, anarchy is a system we can dismiss.
So that leaves two systems; the oligarchy and the classical republic. But it is only the republic that guarantees prosperity and freedom. And it is only the republic, if the people choose to hold its libertarian ideals together, that can function positively indefinitely. So that is the system I choose and that is why I want as limited and decentralised government as possible.
However, just one word of caution: when the American Founding Father, Benjamin Franklyn, stepped out of a conference in Philadelphia on the type of government America was to have, he was asked by a woman waiting outside: “Mr. Franklyn, what do you have for us?”. He replied “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.”
It’s the ‘keeping it’ that’s the hard part. Even in America, more and more people are voting for politicians who promise to make things ‘better’ if only they had more power, even though the problems that arise are usually as a result of the governments intervening more and more. This trend is increasing all over the world.
The Roman Republic was a great place to live initially. They had the ‘12 tables of law’ that all were bound by. Laws could be changed, but it was quite difficult and was only done carefully, democratically, and with a significant measure of reason and understanding. During this period of liberty, Rome’s empire didn’t grow that much, but its prosperity did.
However, more and more people in the Republic wanted the government to do more and more for them. Special interest groups and pressure from the electorate made Roman politicians want to show they were ‘doing’ things so that they’d get elected.
The politicians got ever more power over the people, and the more authoritarian ones did much better in the elections. Rome eventually shifted from a classical republic that could have lasted forever, to a total democracy where the majority mob ‘ruled’, to finally an oppressive oligarchy under the Caesars. After that, the only other place to go was destruction.
If we don’t insist on limited government and classical republican principles, our ‘free’ nations today may end up with the same fate.
But that’s just me.