07 October 2010

If you vote, you're a statist

I began reading a book called Moral Politics last night. (It can be found on Google Books, here.) I plowed through the first two chapters which basically comprise an introduction for the rest of the book relatively quickly. So far, it appears that the author divides politics, and those who participate in them, into two basic camps: conservative and liberal. He then introduces the idea that the nation, the U.S. in particular, is a family (or at least that it is viewed this way by its citizens) with the government acting as a parent and the citizenry as its children. Finally, he lays down his main thesis that people's view of government comes from the moral structure by which they live their own lives. Ultimately, he arrives at the conclusion that conservatives view the government as a "strict father", and liberals view it as a "nurturing mother" (or "parent").

The strict father model holds that the government's job is to give "tough love" to its citizens to prepare them to be self-sufficient. As such, it should be tough on crime and make sure that discipline is swift and decisive. It should also not get involved with "entitlement" programs like social security, health insurance, or unemployment benefits. The strict father view is not heartless. Social programs may have their place for short periods, but the emphasis is always on discipline and self-reliance.

The nurturing parent model holds that the role of government is to support its citizens by understanding their problems and the causes of them and helping them work through them so that they can become self-sufficient. In this role, the government would provide rehabilitation programs to criminals while they "do their time". It would be understanding that people's economic troubles are not necessarily of their own doing and that things like health insurance and unemployment benefits are necessary to help people get "back on their feet" and become self-sufficient. In short, discipline and self-reliance are good things, but the emphasis is always on helping people find their way back to those ideals.

As I read these first two chapters, I couldn't help but feel that I didn't fit into either category. And maybe that's not the point. I think the author's purpose is not to help people fit into one camp or the other but to explain why the two camps think the way they do. Nevertheless, I couldn't help trying to fit myself into some neat little box so that I could then decide how I felt about what the author was saying. Eventually, I realized that my problem with this book (at least so far) is that the author never questions the existence, legitimacy, or authority (moral or otherwise) of the government (or as I like to refer to it in these types of discussions, the State). (I'd like to explore this in later posts.)

In the context of the book, the conservative and liberal labels only apply insofar as they describe political views. As far as I am concerned, conservatives and liberals are the same. While they disagree about the means (strict vs. nurturing) by which to achieve their ends (a disciplined and self-reliant society), they do agree that those means are best carried out by the State. They're statists. I imagine that statism is most closely associated with fascism in many people's minds and therefore typically associated with conservatives and those on the political right. Statism, though is the belief that the State has a major role, economic or otherwise, to play in people's lives. Given this view, statism can be equally associated with socialism which is a commonly associated with liberals and those on the political left.

Now, let me connect the dots between the title of this post and everything I've written up to this point. When a person participates in the electoral system and votes, he legitimizes the system. As such, he agrees to be bound by the outcome, and regardless of which person is put into power or which law is enacted, the result is always the same: the State is legitimized. No matter which person or law a person votes for or against, that person is always voting for the State. The only way to vote against the State is to not vote at all.

If you're still reading, you've probably realized that I don't vote. If you were paying attention, then you'll realize that the old line, "if you don't vote, you can't complain" is exactly backwards. By voting, you agree that the process and the outcome are legitimate and to be bound by them. I, on the other hand, by refusing to vote lend no such legitimacy to the process or the outcome. Therefore, I'm actually the only one who can complain.


  1. Are you suggesting, then, that there is no need for government? Or are you suggesting that government (or the state) needs to be limited to another function?

  2. @Becky: Yes. :)

    I would be happy with a State that did nothing other than enforce property rights. Unfortunately, history has shown that it is impossible to limit the State (any state) over the long term. Even more unfortunately, though, history has also shown that anarchic societies don't last.

    I should add, though, that I don't see any reason that the enforcement of property rights can't be provide by the private sector, and given that, I would agree with the idea that government is not necessary.

  3. How else to you expect the State to stop helicopter parenting us unless you get people into power that can then return that power to the citizens? (While typing I just thought of Russell Crowe's character at the end of The Gladiator...)

  4. @Jenn: Those people don't exist.

  5. Another software engineer in San DiegoNovember 15, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    Anarchic societies don't last, or anarchic societies haven't been attempted?

    S'far as I can tell, civilization evolved directly from "might makes right" to, uh, "even mightier might makes even righter right" (or something) and dared never question the premise that rights are subject to judgement.

    I wouldn't be so eager to acquiesce to the rule of a private entity, any more so than to an all-powerful state. Well, OK, maybe a little bit more so. Problem being, by sanctioning the judgement of a mightier 3rd party you're enlisting exactly the same kind of thuggery you hope (as I do) to presently escape.

    I would suggest humbly that in a stateless culture, if you have a problem of justice, if you demand recourse for some violation of your rights, *you* ought to solve it, yourself. Don't rely on a 3rd party to make it convenient (if you must, at least don't expect such mercenaries to be respectable, or affordable).

    Any attempt to make justice easy and convenient will be accompanied by even greater costs, hidden or otherwise.

  6. Another software engineer in San DiegoNovember 15, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Needless to say I discovered your blog via the recent, ahem, "exposure" and was pleasantly surprised to see in this post that your convictions are based on a consistent philosophy--such a rarity. I'll be around.

  7. "I would be happy with a State that did nothing other than enforce property rights."

    So, you would be happy with a State whose purpose is largely to protect wealthy interests from untouchables? Essentially, the State as a private police force? Tell me, for example, why wouldn't such a state sanction slavery? I assume that you do not support slavery, and so if you wouldn't condone a State that does, this State of yours must have a number of ethical principles. Now, wouldn't these principles be crafted only in the interest of those who are very heavily invested in the existence of such a State (i.e., those most concerned with maintaining their property, the wealthy)?

    "I should add, though, that I don't see any reason that the enforcement of property rights can't be provide by the private sector, and given that, I would agree with the idea that government is not necessary."

    So, does this mean that you reject the notion that such a police force should abide by ethical principles or, at least, should abide by only those that are conducive to returning a financial profit? Tell me, isn't this a case of the "ends justifying the means"? I.e., a case where financial returns justifies any ethical considerations?

  8. What we now have, and have had for most of the past century, is certainly as untenable as you suggest. The problem is that we have not been able to keep in practice the law and government we were given. (Franklin)

    We, by law, have a government of the people, for the people and by the people. THAT nation/government requires a people of character, courage, selflessness, and moral stature. We, having lost those qualities, have inherited the government due us: of, for, and by a populace unworthy of the freedom remaining us.

    I hope there remains enough courage to reclaim it.

  9. @ Jenn

    yes those type of individuals DO exist. Don't let this moron try and sway your ultimate decisions.

  10. I have enjoyed your posts, but this post intrigues me. Some quick questions jump to my mind trying to grasp what you posted. 1.Could you by not voting, be a de facto endorsement of my choices for how the system should work? Our system is determined by who votes. What ever idea or person gets enough votes, becomes the system over time. 2. How is your not voting not any different that the issues you take with Sen. Patrick not sticking with the push on the TSA bill? It seems both of you sense a "futility". 3.Just what type of system do you advocate?

  11. @stevenshytle:

    These posts will probably help to lend some context to my answers:

    1.) Our system does not provide a means by which a person can object to the system itself. (Even if one objects to the system, one is supposed to vote to change it, but as I've written in a number of posts, there are objections to voting itself.) Therefore, those who support the system can and do interpret non-voting in any way that perpetuates (or at least does not denigrate) the system.

    2.) I obviously can't speak for Sen. Patrick, but based on my observations of politics, generally, I believe it safe to say that Sen. Patrick gave up on his bill for political reasons. That is, he no longer had the votes to get the bill passed and felt that he would look foolish or lose political clout by pushing a bill that would eventually be defeated. By pulling his bill, he was simply trying to "save face".

    Patrick obviously believes in the system and its legitimacy. We can infer that from the fact that he ran for office. The system, illegitimate though I may believe it to be, can be used for good by the people who participate in it. Texas HB 1937 would have been a step in that direction: limiting federal authority over the states.

    As I said, I think Patrick gave up because he thought he would harm his political career by continuing not because he thought his efforts were futile. I, on the other hand, believe fixing the system using the system is ultimately futile. Examples like Patrick giving up on liberty to save his own career is a perfect example of why.


    3.) http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe26.1.html


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