Thomas Paine's Political & Economic Vision

Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, in my estimation, are the most interesting of the American Founding Fathers. In a previous post, I discussed Thomas Jefferson's Political and Economic Vision. Now I want to discuss Thomas Paine's political and economic vision.

The Form of Government

Thomas Paine, like Jefferson, was a republican. This means that he regarded the purpose of government as securing the public good by maximizing individual liberty. In my post on The Genealogy of Liberty, I explained that the republican tradition―in contrast to the liberal tradition―defined liberty as the absence of domination. The goal of government, as far as republicans were concerned, is to minimize the domination of man over man. You may notice a striking similarity here to Noam Chomsky's definition of anarchism. I have previously noted that the most popular strain of classical anarchism is actually republican in nature. Anarchism, however, entails the firm conviction that the abolition of centralized government is necessary for maximizing human liberty, whereas a republican may or may not agree with that conviction.

"What is called a republic, is not any particular form of government. It is wholly characteristical of the purport, matter, or object for which government ought to be instituted, and on which it is to be employed, RES-PUBLICA, the public affairs, or the public good.... It is a word of a good original, referring to what ought to be the character and business of government; and in this sense it is naturally opposed to the word monarchy, which has a base original signification. It means arbitrary power in an individual person; in the exercise of which, himself, and not the res-publica is the object.
"Every government that does not act on the principle of a Republic, or in other words, that does not make the res-publica its whole and sole object, is not a good government. Republican government is no other than government established and conducted for the interest of the public, as well individually as collectively. It is not necessarily connected with any particular form, but it most naturally associates with the representative form, as being best calculated to secure the end for which a nation is at the expense of supporting it."―Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Part 2, Chapter 3 [in Paine: Collected Writings, Common Sense, The Crisis, Rights of Man, The Age of Reason, Pamphlets, Articles, & Letters]

Wildfires and Mutual Aid

Keeping track of every moment of breaking news is a fool’s game. Even if one could somehow notice every highlight-event, we could never contextualize them all. The last few years - to say nothing of the last few decades - have contained so many new lows, so many record-breaking shames, that things like natural disasters are just shrugged at. We don’t know what to make of them anymore.

Oh, I guess Puerto Rico had a hurricane.

We don’t even act like it’s true. We just assume that the system will take care of itself, that 'this is what we pay taxes for.' We certainly don't think about our safety or what it will mean for the future that some new atrocity has taken place. We don’t change our habits, and within a few days, or even hours, it’s old news.

Oh, I guess there was another mass shooting today.

Still, it’s a testament to the force of American High Weirdness that an entire town of almost thirty-thousand people has been entirely erased from the map, in the richest state in the richest country in the world, and Americans just roll right on.

Oh, I guess Paradise burned down.

Thomas Jefferson's Political and Economic Vision

Thomas Jefferson’s Ward Republic Model

Thomas Jefferson did not see the American system as the best possible system. In his original draft of The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had blamed the British monarch for allowing the institution of slavery to exist:

“[The present king of Great Britain] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere…”—Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence [in Jefferson: Autobiography, Notes on the State of Virginia, Public and Private Papers, Addresses, Letters

While Jefferson was no abolitionist saint—owning slaves himself and having many other failings—he did recognize the injustice of the institution of slavery and desired its abolition. The failure to abolish slavery was one of America's biggest faults.

The American system, enshrined in the current Constitution, was a mess of compromises with the institution of slavery. In order to get the pro-slavery lot on board with the Constitution, the Founding Fathers had to make a series of compromises, giving us the Electoral College, the Senate, the three-fifths clause, and the Executive Branch—all extremely anti-democratic and anti-republican measures. These compromises were mostly made to ensure that the institution of slavery could not be democratically abolished. We ended up not with a true republic, as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson had hoped for, but rather with a mixed-government as envisioned by John Adams. The original constitution, The Articles of Confederation, was a much better one, but it had to be scrapped in order to compromise with fascists and racists because the Founding Fathers knew that the colonies could not successfully stand up to Britain unless they were all united in their opposition to the crown.

Libertarian Social Democracy & Geo-Distributism

What if neoliberalism and socialism are both flawed ideologies? The neoliberal critique of marxism is pretty solid. Hayek and Mises did a good job of demonstrating that central planning is problematic, yet Marx's critique of capitalism is irrefutable. In the debates between capitalism and socialism—between neoliberalism and marxism—both sides have succeeded in demonstrating that the position of their opponents is problematic and that the system their opponents advocate is highly undesirable. What this dialectic demonstrates is that these two systems—capitalism and socialism—are both undesirable.

Third Ways: Beyond Capitalism & Socialism

This suggests that perhaps there is some "third way" alternative between capitalism and socialism. Perhaps neoliberalism and socialism aren't the only options available. In fact, there are other alternatives outside of this false capitalism/socialism (or neoliberalism/marxism) dichotomy. There are, of course, several "third way" approaches, like distributism, georgism, social democracy, and the "small is beautiful" movement. These “third way" approaches are all distinct from one another, but they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to be both a distributist and a georgist. It is also possible to be a distributist and/or georgist and a social democrat.

Matthew Guy's Criminal Lies

Matthew Guy, the conservative opposition leader for the Victorian State election, has made crime his number one issue for the campaign. He has a variety of other policies as well, mostly designed to satisfy the base leadership of religious fundamentalists who have taken over the once more moderate Liberal Party, or to satisfy the wishes of certain industry sectors (he doesn't like renewable energy for example). But crime and punishment is Guy's top priority, which makes it fascinating that he is either utterly wrong or being very deceptive. Both things are possible of course.

Lie: Crime is Out Of Control

One of the great lies being touted by conservative politicians is "crime is out of control". The reality is that there has been almost no change in the number of criminal incidents per 100,000 over the last ten years. There was as jump from 5,837.8 (2015) to 6432.4 (2016) and 6420.0 (2017) but that declined to 5921.9 in 2018, which is pretty much where it's been over the past ten years. If crime is "out of control" now, it was equally "out of control" under Denis Napthine, Ted Baillieu, John Brumby etc. If it is "out of control" in Victoria, then Matthew Guy better have a sharp word to his interstate colleagues - because Victoria has the second lowest rate rate of offending, trailing only the ACT.

One fairly typical statistical lie is to use absolute numbers rather than per capita numbers, such as attempted by the Liberal candidate for Bentleigh. Presumably the candidate knows the difference between absolute and per capita figures, in which case they should acknowledge that they're deliberately deceiving people. Of course, it is possible that they don't know the difference, in which case they are merely stupid rather than malicious. Either way, they're probably not fit to be a state MP.

The Modern American Right

Portrait made by Silanion"...Plato's political programme, far from being morally superior to totalitarianism, is fundamentally identical with it."—Karl Popper (The Open Society & Its Enemies)

There are clear parallels between Plato's politics and Edmund Burke's conservatism. Burke, like Plato and Marx, was a historicist. Unlike Marx, Burke and Plato have a right-wing historicist political ideology. Per Plato, all social change or "progress" is actually degradation, degeneration, and corruption. We must arrest or halt change to keep society from degenerating. This, to Plato, meant that the State must be totalitarian in nature, wielding absolute power in order to prevent social change; individual liberty must be completely abolished. Burke's philosophy of history was essentially identical to Plato's. All social "progress" is really degradation and should be slowed as much as possible. The difference being that Plato wants to stop social change altogether and Burke wants change to be slow and gradual. Thus, Burke's politics is authoritarian but not totalitarian. The similarity is not accidental. Burke was a Christian conservative and Christianity is a form of Platonism.

On the Reformation of Law and Law-Enforcement

Libertarian social democracy, as I conceive it, is neo-republican. Republicanism defines liberty as the absence of domination. This differs from the definition used by most people today. Typically, people conceive liberty as the absence of interference. A man is free to the extent that no one else actively interferes in his actions. This is a conservative conception of liberty, known as negative liberty. Some, however, opt for a slightly more comprehensive form of liberty, seeking freedom to in addition to freedom from. This is known as positive liberty. These folks will say that a person is only free if (a) no one interferes with their actions and (b) they have the capacity to act in accord with their own will. This is typically a more liberal conception of liberty. Negative liberty is a classical liberal, conservative, or "libertarian" conception of liberty. Positive liberty is a modern liberal conception. In contrast to these, libertarian social democracy rests upon republican liberty , which is to say liberty conceived as non-domination. A man is free if no one else has the capacity to arbitrarily interfere with his choices.

Conservatism vs. Progressivism: Towards A Synthesis

In this essay, I use the term "progressive" in a broad sense, indicating political ideologies that are oriented towards rapid social change and that believe social change/progress is either inherently good or else inevitable and consequently worth embracing. I do not here indicate the sort of American progressivism that came with the Progressive Era, as that sort of "progressivism" was considerably more conservative than socialism, which is the most quintessential form of progressivism.

I recently saw something where someone said, "I'm a transhumanist and an anarcho-primitivist." For all the apparent absurdity there, there's also a certain rationality. The person who said this may have been thinking in sophisticated and dialectical terms. He or she may see the value in both perspectives and be attempting to synthesize them. In reality, most sane people are somewhere in the middle between the two extremes or else embrace aspects of both. We all have nostalgia for the primitive, a desire to reconnect with nature, a longing for the freedom enjoyed by our ancient ancestors. At the same time, we long for a future where disease and death are eliminated, scarcity is ended, and technology frees us from the necessity of toil. So, is the affirmation of this contradiction really that incoherent?

Justice, Emotions, and Reason

It is not uncommon for conservatives to claim that they have some sort of special relationship for "reasonable" behaviour, whereas progressives are people driven by emotional responses. Consider this recent assertion by Charlie Kirk:

Inside the Minds of the Syrian Children

Interview by Joanne Roberts, Written by Om Amran

With the massacre looming over Idlib we are lead to believe by the World Leaders and the media that those in Idlib are all terrorists. While the world has this view the lives of one million innocent Syrian children are at stake and everyone remains silent. I recently saw Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett attacking a 6-year-old child named Hala on Twitter from Idlib and it made me realise these children have no way to fight back. This is their chance to do so. This is their chance to show the world that they too are human beings. They are children with hopes and dreams just like our own children and grandchildren. If we put a human face to these children of Syria then perhaps you all may think twice about condemning them. These children have emotions and feel pain. They laugh and they cry and they feel abandoned by the World. Please listen to Om Amran and the reasons why they suffer.

Om Amran has had the pleasure and joy and sadness of working with the Syrian children throughout the opposition-held region. She has listened to their fears, their hopes and their goals for the future. She will give us an inside look into the hearts and minds of this future generation of Syria. She will show us the human face behind the eyes of the Syrian children. What does the future hold for the children of Syria?


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