The Contribution of Unitarian-Universalists to Isocracy

Unitarian-Universalist chalice

Initially I felt some unease when approached to present today's address on 'isocracy'. I do not particularly care for presentations here which are solely dedicated to political issues that do not refer to our liberal religious tradition, least of all by members of the church. If I want strictly social and political discussion there are these organisations called "political parties" where one's contributions are far more useful and effective. But then I was reminded of my very first encounter with Unitarian-Universalism, over twenty years ago through reading a book entitled "Legitimation Crisis" by Jürgen Habermas. This short, dense, carefully researched book of extraordinary scope was first published in 1973 is arguably the most important contributions to social theory in the last fifty years. The author, an extremely well-known as a "public intellectual" in Europe and in the academic world, is the main contemporary representative of a school of thought known as critical theory a body of intellectuals initially centered around the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research in Germany in the 1920s.

Habermas' own contribution is based on philosophical unity of pragmatism with linguistics. His primary social concern is how communication contributes to social development and how class and ideology have distorted the language of public sphere. He posits an ideal speech situation, founded on a strong version of liberal and social democracy. Habermas, like Unitarian-Universalists, as embodied in our principles, shows a unwavering and principled commitment to freedom, democracy, justice, and rationality. It is perhaps therefore not surprising to discover that many of Habermas' numerous books, when translated into the English language, were originally published by the Beacon Press. Inside the front cover of "Legitimation Crisis" is the words, "Beacon Press books are published under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Association". On the back cover is the flaming chalice, the most widely used symbol of Unitarian-Universalists, and the official logo of the Unitarian-Universalist Association. That is how my own interest in Unitarian-Universalism began; that is why I first started coming here some fifteen years ago. This is the first contribution I'll mention today of Unitarian-Universalism to a nascent political ideology called isocracy.

As with so many other terms to represent a form of government, isocracy derives from the ancient Greek, meaning "equal rule" (isos, equal - kracy, rule). It is during this time we encounter the first use of the word in the name of one of the ten famous Attic orators, Isokrates, the most influential rhetorician in his time. Like many people of that period we have an incomplete collection of his works, but we do know that he argued against the sophists in favour of teachings that provided practical application in context, or "kairos" ('the supreme moment'). His school was the first liberal arts institution, teaching oratory, composition, history, citizenship, culture, and moral reasoning. Most remarkably for the time, he expressed a desire for an educated multicultural polis, "Athens ... has caused the name of Hellene to be regarded as no longer a mark of racial origin but of intelligence, so that men are called Hellenes because they have shared our common education rather than that they share in our common ethnic origin."

Following Isokrates there are but a few references to the word in the subsequent two thousand years. In 1796 Robert Southey's life and correspondence speaks of the influence of William Goodwin, the first modern anarchist and an Glasite Unitarian, in Spain referring to "a seditious Spaniard .. preaching Atheism and Isocracy". In 1844 the Anglican Reverand Sydney Smith questioned democrats and asked whether they were really isocrats, who would be prepared to argue that women too would be accorded the right to vote. The next major appearance of the word is by the popular and sometime scandalous author Grant Allen in the founding documents of the Independent Labor Party in 1893, a radical and co-operative socialist British political party which was represented in the Commons until 1947 and still exists today within the British Labour Party as Independent Labour Publications. Allen wanted the ILP to be called the "the Isocratic Party". From there there is but a handful of academic references, most importantly by the reputable Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori in 1957 in his "Democrazia e Definizioni".

In 2004, with knowledge of the word, I registered the domain name, although it was not until late 2008 that any content was added. In 2010 - in this very building the inaugural general meeting of the Isocracy Network was held. Since then we have carefully and quietly expanded to have small branches in Sydney and Adelaide, an very active group in Milan, Italy and Texas, United States, along with regular contributors from South Africa, and Canada, and Spain. We have international affiliations with the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, and the International Luxemburgist Network. I also discovered that a few years ago there was an attempt to set up an Isocracy Party in Canada - some subsequent investigation on my part has revealed that the individual was in their late teenaged years when making this noble attempt. Apart from hosting the inaugural meeting of the group, our inaugural book, "Isocracy: For Liberty and Commonwealth", only initiated this year, is being initially co-authored with three individuals who have had some involvement with Unitarian-Universalism; myself, Dean Edwards, and - a name which people may remember from many years past - Paula Di Angelis. At our last annual general meeting we adopted a ten-point platform. In reviewing these points, it is interesting to see how Unitarian-Universalist figures are recognised as significant contributors to the ideas.

The first item of our platform is the support self-ownership, the full and exclusive right and responsibility over oneself for adults of adult reasoning, and by extension, informed consent. As a result we support the abolition of so-called "victimless crimes". The social philosopher John Locke, recognised as a unitarian in several studies, famously wrote, "every man has a Property in his own Person". A logical extension of such individual freedoms, this radical liberalism, is the equality of political rights, emancipation (especially relevant for women and what is still miscalled 'racial' groups), and education for the democratic management of "res publica", the public sphere. There are of course many Unitarians and Universalists who worked so hard for political emancipation. One, Lucy Stone, an abolitionist and suffragist, is quoted here for combining emancipation of race and sex withi a universal framework: "I expect to plead not for the slave only, but for suffering humanity everywhere. Especially do I mean to labor for the elevation of my sex". Today we may note how Unitarian-Universalist churches have been on the forefront of reproductive rights, marriage equality, and against racist immigration policies. On education, we only need to look at the work of the great and "Unitarian friend", John Dewey, explicitly tied education with democracy: "A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic."

Free and educated individuals in a democratic association can manage public income from a social commonwealth, derived solely from value of resource rents. The Unitarian economist David Ricardo was one of the first who saw the need to abolish the parasitic class of landlords who contribute nothing but extract rents from all; he famously remarked that "the interest of the landlord is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community", a position retained by the Unitarian economist and polymath in the twentieth century, Herbert Simon who argued that it is always clearly preferable to increase public income from land impost rather than by taxing wages. Unitarians like Harriet Martineau claimed that "man holding the surface of the globe" as an "analogous barbarism" as "man holding man" as property. Josiah Wedgwood IV, of the famous Unitarian industrialist family, who served as both a Liberal and Labour parliamentarian, spoke of his "convictions on free trade and the taxation of land values which have been at once my anchorage and my object in politics". Clarence Darrow, the famous civil libertarian and visitor to numerous Unitarian and Universalist congregations, wryly remarked, "The single tax is so simple, so fundamental, and so easy to carry into effect that I have no doubt that it will be about the last land reform the world will ever get. People in this world are not often logical."

As a direct consequence to resource rents the Isocracy platform also speaks to what economists call "externalities" the costs and benefits that have additional value outside of the individuals in the transaction. As examples, a negative externality are effects such as pollution, a positive externality a general health-care system. Again, from Herbert Simon we find the insightul argument that a universal basic income is a positive externality that provides access to social capital. As a combination of both a positive externality and as a matter of contemporary education, the Isocracy platform speaks for the need for free and open source public information, especially in the university research sector and in the development of public software. This is, of course, the 21st century. The most famous contempary Unitarian-Universalist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee (who will be in Australia very shortly) is the inventor of the world wide web; and he draws close parallels to the two systems, based on decentalisation, tolerance, the integration of independent invention, truth, and hope. The comparison has been made by many that Unitarian-Universalism is an open-source faith. Particularly notable is the efforts of the Hungarian Unitarian Church in Hungary and Transylvanian Romania to promote free and open-source software in those countries.

Also following Ricardo's well-known model of comparative advantage we reject the racist arguments for erecting barriers to free and fair international trade, and support the arguments of the Unitarian minister William Batchelder Greene, who proposed mutual and free banking as an antidote to the surplus value expropriated by financial capitalists. Greene argued that the "false organization of credit" was the third great manifestation of inequality, following slavery and nationalism. Breaking up the control of capital is also matched in the production process. The role of mutualism and worker's cooperative is very important to Isocracy. It is a form of socialism which presupposes individual and democratic rights, rather than suppressing it. Socialism absolutely must be founded on democracy, least it become a form of fascism, and democracy absolutely must be founded on liberty, least it become demagoguery. An important contributor to the cooperative movement is Frederick Denison Maurice, son of the Unitarian minister Micheal Maurice. Frederick Maurice was the founder of Christian socialism, the Workmen's College in London, and several worker's cooperatives and, least anyone remind me, was ordained as an Anglican Minister although of the most "broad Church" variety - he was after all sacked from his professorship at King's College for denying the physical existence of hell.

Another significant contributor to this practise of free and democratic socialism is John Stuart Mill, who attended Unitarian churches for many years with his wife of equivalent brilliance Harriet Taylor. Mill, a person of some skill in economic and political matters, argued that the division between "masters and work-people will be gradually superseded by partnership ... perhaps finally in all, association of labourers among themselves". Finally, raised a Unitarian, and certainly would be welcome in a contemporary setting, the philosopher and social activist Bertrand Russell, having reviewed different models of socialism argued in favour of that a federation of worker's cooperatives is "the most practicable" of the "Proposed Roads to Freedom", a book in which he reviewed Guild socialism, anarchism, and Marxist systems. It can be noted positively the existence of the contemporary Unitarian Universalist Community Cooperatives (UUCC), and involvement in the U.S. Federation of Worker's Cooperatives.

The development of mutual federations of free individuals has also led to the objective to abolish standing armies and internal police forces. Such professions exist as an instrument of class rule to either invade other countries or to as a force against internal insurrection. Instead, we advocate the implementation of a well-regulated civilian militia to carry out these duties. Such bodies are excellent at defense, emergency services and civic engagement, but notoriously terrible at invasive war. The early U.S. presidents and Unitarians Thomas Jefferson and John Adams provide some interesting insight to these proposals. Jefferson argued "A standing army has always been used by despots to enforce their rule and to keep their people under subjection. Its existence was therefore considered a great threat to peace and stability in a republic and a danger to the rights of the nation". For his own part Adams considered a militia to be a morally superior form of defense, "although it may cost as more... we shall be in less danger of corruption and violence". The evidence of corruption today is obvious to those who research the political distortions resulting from the military-industrial complex. Whilst advocating defensive forces, we also are supporters of contributions to internationalism, especially the international laws designed to protect civilians against mass atrocities. We can note that the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee, who know something about mass atrocities, resolved in favour of the reinforcement of the Responsibility to Protect in July 2009.

Finally, attention is drawn to the platform item from the Isocracy Network that speaks of freedom from sufferance for all life. Many liberal organisations may include at least nominal concerns for animal welfare and their environment on their periphery. For us, it is part of our core political objectives, deriving from the Unitarian and founder of modern utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham (although Bentham claimed that much came from fellow Unitarian Joseph Priestly). For Bentham, ethical behaviour behaviour is founded on the quantity of pleasure and pain, which he applied directly to the question of animal rights: "The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?". The Franco-German theologian and missionary, Albert Schweitzer, who joined the Unitarians as an honourary member, said "Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life... A boundless ethics which will include the animals also." As a result we are opposed to the horrors of factory farming and live animal exports, and cruel slaughter practises. We are inspired by organisations like the the Unitarian-Universalist Animal Ministry who emphasise the principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every being.

This is, of course, only a summary of the political positions of Isocracy and only a summary of the enormous contribution that Unitarian-Universalists have made to those most honourable social aims of liberty, democracy, and justice through the application of reason and experience. We certainly want to incorporate the experiences of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and especially in remembrance of the millions whose lives were lost unnecessarily, but remain focused on the needs that arise from twenty-first century technologies in a globalised world and especially the application of universal moral reasoning in political rights and political economy. Deriving from the best of anarchism, liberalism, and socialism we are working to incorporate this history into a detailed political system and an active political movement. We certainly include the argument that "anarchism combines a socialist critique of liberalism and a liberal critique of socialism", but also with criticisms of lifestyle anarchism which is divorced from the political processes. As such in preference we do not call ourselves we do not call ourselves liberals, for liberalism often neglects the need for social justice. Nor do we call prefer to call ourselves socialists, for socialism often neglects the need for individual rights. Nor do we prefer to call ourselves anarchists, because anarchism does not care sufficiently about involvement in the political process. We are isocrats, for isocracy includes the very best of all three traditions balanced and combined with each other into a new synthesis which is suited for our times and that of the near future. We urge you to join us.

Presentation to the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church, Sunday, January 20, 2012

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The "tough ecologist" Garrett Hardin, famous for the "Tragedy of the Commons" thesis

... and individual anarchist Lysander Spooner