Saturday, July 4, 2015

Schools Of Thought In Modern Politics: Part 1: Defining and understanding the modern schools

A question I have been wondering for a while now is how to defend liberalism in a logical way vs. the two other major modern schools of thought which are fascism and communism. the major schools I am going to analyze are liberalism. socialism/communism, fascism, and mercantilism because all four have substantial influence in modern politics.

First, definitions. I am trying to make these the most basic possible, and each of these schools are very diverse, but each idea has basic tenants in common which unite them, primarily the idea of who the primary actor of society is which is a fundamental assertion of all of these major schools of political thought and an easy way of discerning between competing branches.

Liberalism is going to be understood as being focused on the individual as the primary actor in history and is focused on expanding individual rights. Different liberals will interpret this differently (Mill's utilitarianism and Rawls' Justice as Fairness for example) but they all agree on those basic tenants. Liberal economics proposes a system which emphasizes individual liberty balanced with a role for the state (which almost all liberals from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes base it on to different levels). The solution to economic justice then is a system where people are able to trade freely (with some exceptions) and social justice where you cannot be restrained from doing actions which do not harm others. In this way almost all liberals focus on justice more than freedom. Most liberals also are not primarily opposed to government intervention. Liberals going back as far as Adam Smith advocated for government intervention in the maintenance of monopolies, and 70 years later Mill argued for public education and other public services which were become more important as capital grew in importance and the labor theory of value was insufficient to explain economic growth (as it mostly was during Smith's time). Liberalism is like a ninja (as one of my teachers likes to say) in that it has substantially evolved over time, but liberals continue to agree with who the primary actor of society is and generally that we should work with market forces and have a generally free market.

Marx is focused on economic classes as the primary drivers of history and history is seen by him as being a conflict between the bourgeois and proletariat. The bourgeois take advantage of the proletariat and the solution is for the proletariat to supplant the bourgeois and create a dictatorship of the proletariat. Marxism must be understood as an evolution of the economy through various stages beyond the current form of capitalism.
  1. The economy would be centrally controlled by this dictatorship of the proletariat. the example used by Joseph Weydemeyer is that of Oliver Cromwell in England (who as any Irishman knows was far from benign) and the French leadership which succeeded the French Revolution in 1791 (also known as the Reign of Terror). As a sidenote, next time you are constructing a school of thought, don't use the Reign of Terror as an example of what your theory will recreate, however briefly. The states where the proletariat take over the means of production then should expand their rule to spread the dictatorship of the proletariat to other nations.
  2. As society progresses (according to Marxist thought) the dictatorship will then turn into a society where everyone is completely equal in their ownership of the means of production in what Marx called a socialist society. socialism is a society where the means of production are owned directly through the people jointly or indirectly through a government, where all decisions will ultimately be made by the workers.
  3. As the socialism progresses all people will become equal and then the society will evolve into a communist society. This communist society is where everyone will have equal ownership over the means of production and there will be no government and no social classes. In the countries where the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established it has failed to progress to a completely communist society in all of the places which have attempted it. The transition will now be complete and everyone will be equal.

Fascists view races as the primary drivers of history and history is the struggle between ethnicities. The way to make peace is make your ethnic group the most superior of all which is the philosophical background to the classic fascist states of history. Race is a socially constructed phenomenon based on how power relates to people's heritage. A system where all ethnic groups are equal, such as Bavarians and Berliners are politically equal, would then be of the same race, while a system where Bavarians and Berliners are fighting between each other would have the Bavarian Race and Berliner Race. Race is in this way completely unnatural and a fully social construction. The way we see the history of the Irish in America for instance confirms this interpretation. Any time you hear a politician make an argument against an ethnic group or argue that people from different ethnic groups cannot cooperate their argument has its roots in fascism.

The fourth major school of Economic thought is that of Mercantilism. Mercantilists are all about protecting the businesses of the state from foreign and domestic competition, and believe that trade represents weakness because they argue it makes you vulnerable to invasion from the countries with which you trade. First of all, I must point out there is scant to no evidence the economy actually functions this way, and economists today almost unanimously agree that this is a way to reduce growth and increase inequality and it is really hard to get economists to agree on anything. I include Mercantilism on this list because it is the school of thought which impacts policies regarding agriculture, laws which prohibit imports in an attempt to boost domestic industry (see the protections against foreign auto manufacturers which were scrapped in the early 1990s) and rigorous multivariable research on the impacts of these policies almost universally agrees that these policies end up hurting the economy in the end. I really have nothing good to say about mercantilism, but it continues to pay an important role in economic policy around the world.

For me I am definitely a liberal. The best reason is what is when a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat or Fascist state is established the response then is the class or race which is supplanted to then supplant the new master race (literally meaning the race of masters) or upper class. They lack balance of power which leads to a concentration which breeds corruption. There is no solution ever in these and a constant cycle of one group fighting another. Turning a dictatorship into a democracy is a long and arduous process, and it has never been done overnight.

Liberalism on the other hand doesn't have such a problem. Since we live in a world where nobody is 100% from one continent or another according to DNA evidence there is no biological background to the concept of a race except one that includes all humanities, except as a purely social construction. We are all people, so fascism makes no sense. When it comes to Marxism we see the development of Marxist states such as the Soviet Union and China see only the creation of a new bourgeois class supplanting the old bourgeois class, while most people remain proletariat.  We have no example in history where a dictatorship has ever voluntarily given up its power. There is no solution in Marxism and the classes are not natural nor inevitable.

A truly liberal world would on the other hand recognize the humanity of all people and build a world where everyone has the same political rights as everyone else. More liberal states are closer to such an ideal than others and don't see a contradiction with an upper or lower class compared to Marxist or Fascist states. If someone were to create a society where people would be unequal, they would not be following the basic overarching concept that unites all liberals, and would stop being a liberal. For me this represents a strength of liberalism which the other schools fail to succeed in. Truly liberal states (such as Scandinavia, New Zealand, Post-WWII West Germany, Pre-Thatcher Britain) have had generally liberal economic policies and saw the largest decreases in income inequality the world has ever seen. Countries which tried the central planning approach failed to reach these levels of personal freedom and material well-being which are two major factors in determining quality of life.

The final defense of liberalism must be that the economic policies of Reagan and Thatcher are not liberal. Liberal economics, if we are going to use the term as political theorists use it regards a market where firms can freely enter and exit, the government does not pick winners or losers, and everyone has a level playing field with equality of opportunity. this is what was written by Adam Smith, added onto by John Stuart Mill (who advocated for equality of education and other leveling factors) and then with John Maynard Keynes who of course advocated for government to be involved more heavily in recessions and less in times of expansion in countercyclical policy. All of these three major liberal thinkers agreed however that the government should generally be uninvolved in the day to day operation of the economy besides the basic necessities and natural monopolies, as opposed to the interventionist policies of Marxists and Mercantilists. the policies of Thatcher and Reagan (etc.) led to the reduction in private competition by favoring certain businesses over others, which is opposed to everything that the great liberal economic thinkers proposed. The policies they did which favored some businesses over others (tying into the idea of that the government should not pick winners and losers) led to a less competitive economy and is actually mercantilist, which is exactly the school of though which liberalism was founded in order to oppose. I take their actions more seriously than their words (as I do for every political leader) and given how this was their approach I must say they fit closer to the Mercantilist camp. Their policies to break public organizing is opposed to liberalism (especially the works of Mill) because it was the government intervening in the economy to regulate how workers can and cannot act to protect one class over another which was exactly the picking winners and losers liberals love to hate and mercantilists advocate.

So, in conclusion of this first installment in what has rapidly become a series of three articles, the modern Republican Party and other similar parties across the world is not a liberal party. Also, liberalism is the only major ideology in the world which does not contradict itself in major ways. Because of these reasons, we should base our economic policies on liberal ideas.

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