Friday, August 11, 2006

"Are you a monarchist?!?"

Here is where I answered the question the first time on this blog.

I am not someone who advocates monarchy as the best form of government for all peoples at all times. Just as I do not advocate "democracy" as the best form of government for all peoples at all times. (Nor would I claim that democracy is the only legitimate form of government.)

Contemporary Jacobites, supporters of the Stuarts, are quaint, and I am guessing they take seriously the claim of Duke Francis of Bavaria to the throne of England. However, they do take seriously a certain view of the role of the monarchy and the origin of its authority.

I follow Aristotle in advocating rule by the one divinely virtuous man who surpasses all others (monarchy) or by a group (aristocracy--the number of which tends to be small, given the scarcity of real virtue) or by many, in the case of a polity. The first two are ideal, but the constitution which is best suited for a particular people will depend on the historical circumstances, customs, and so on. Who is qualified to rule? The virtuous. Any constitution that deviates from that is, well, a deviation. Can we really say that the virtuous rule in our country? And do current arrangements allow for the virtuous to assume office? Or is "the process" manipulated by other powers. (What those powers may be I will leave unidentified.)

The form of government does not concern me as much as the size of the community. The modern nation-state has the same problems due to size as a real empire. "Empire" is often associated with expansion and the subjugation of peoples not sharing the same language and/or culture. Here I use empire to refer to a political community of vast size and population.

I should read what Max Weber has to say about bureaucracy; I am familiar with MacIntyre's comments in After Virtue. While empire is not new, it seems to me that the degree of centralization of power in European nation-states may be, as they were able to make use of certain technological advancements improving communication.

I have not read much about the Persian Empire; micromanagement was not a feature of the Chinese empire--much power was delegated to the provincial governors and magistrate-officials at the county level. iirc, the same was true of the Roman Empire. There was more exercise of subsidiarity in those two historical entities than is now here in the United States? Why? Because, among other things, we have enabled corporations and individuals to amass great economic power across state lines, and to ruin local economies, which is necessary for self-sufficient political communities, and hence autonomy. How? By giving corporations (legal) personhood and powers associated therewith--and a near-absolute right to accumulate property and wealth. It might be possible to give an association some form of legal personhood but limited 'rights'--ultimately its our basic understanding of justice that determines what the possible outcomes will be.

The other side is the accumulation of power by the Federal government.

Btw, we don't have a real polity [~democracy] here in the United States, not as Aristotle defined it. All the talk about us having the "ideal" Aristotelian or Thomistic mixed constitution is mostly nonsense.

I don't foresee much improvement happening through government, state or Federal--if anything the present crisis should make it clear to us that our priority is to witness to Christ in our own lives, to bring others to Him, and to exercise charity in all things (which includes doing what we can to protect and foster the local community).

References to the 28 August issue of American Conservative, "What is Left? What is Right? Doest it Matter?" are popping all over the place on paleoconservative blogs--I'll add another. Clink on the link to see individual articles, or go here for all of them.

*A discussion of personhood here. It is ok, but I would not accept everything in there, especially the attempt to distinguish moral personhood from natural personhood.

16 comments:

James said...

What kind of monarchy are we talking about, limited, absolute???

There are certain advantages to a monarchy that cannot be found in a mixed government. Certainly, efficiency is one, as decisions can be made without having to be filtered through other arms of government, such as a legislature like Congress or parliament. My principle concern with a monarchy lies in human nature itself. How likely is it that one virtuous ruler will succeed another for a prolonged period of time? Certainly, history can provide us with many examples of virtuous rulers and the not-so-virtuous. Things for the nation will run smoothly so long as the wise philosopher king runs the show, but inevitably Commodus will follow, or worse. Then, with little or no constitutional checks on his power, who or what can stop him?

It seems to me that, in light of human nature's fallen state and following Lord Acton's wise observation that "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" (at least in terms of human beings), it is wiser and safer to implement, as did our founders, a mixed government, which Aristotle himself defends as a good combination of the rule of the one, the few and the many. Going by the interpretation of our Founders (Lord knows we have fallen far from their original designs) our system seems to incorporate just what Aristotle prescribes. A strong executive, a legislature divided in two houses and a judiciary. Congress is an interesting element, as its composition of a Senate, originally elected not by the people but by the state legislatures and the House elected directly by the people, are an appropriate blend of aristocracy and democracy. Of course, the judiciary has become a power unto itself over the course of the past century and a good case can be made that it outweighs all other branches by a long shot in terms of power. The Founders perhaps could have done more to clarify and define its powers a little more in the Constitution. But I think they made the right choice in settling on a mixed government, more cumbersome, no doubt, but a better safeguard against what they were all too familiar with, tyrannical monarchs overstepping their bounds.

As to the virtuous and the preference for their rule. The Founders were unanimous that virtue was a prerequisite for anyone who would serve in any position of authority. Volumes could be filled with citations from all the main players as to the necessity for morality and religion in the public square. The Founders were not moral relativists. For all their errors as individuals in terms of theology, they were serious about natural law's place in the new nation. Adams went so far as to suggest that our Constitution is only suitable for a religious and moral society and that without these two "pillars" the Constitution is meaningless. It seems to me that it could be fairly argued that the Founders never anticipated the birth of positivism and the progressive era and the subsequent influence of both on American society in the 19th century and up until today. It would have been inconceivable to the founders that any society or nation-state could be built upon the moral relativism we see so often today.

As for our form of government, I believe it the best one ever constructed and that the founding generation was the most politically astute of any prior era. Our founders were raised on the classics of Greece and Rome, many were perfectly capable of reading the documents in the original Latin or Greek, and they were well familiar with recent European history as well. They were, at the Constitutional Convention, "standing on the shoulders of giants" as they built the new nation on the pillars of ancient Western traditions. Compare this to the truly revolutionary nature of France in the 1790s. It makes more sense to refer to what happened in the colonies as the American War for Independence, rather then a Revolution because "revolution" implies a sort of societal upheaval and leveling. If anything, ours was more about a restoration and preservation. My problem with monarchy is that it assumes certain things about human nature that just are not true or at the very least are unrealistic.

Another interesting point of discussion is what is a democracy? And is it necessarily a good thing? Hamilton, in one of his last letters, said that "our (the USA's) real disease is DEMOCRACY." Hardly a flattering assessment. Democracy, if understood as a mob-rule a la French Revolution, is certainly worth suspicion and I believe this is what Hamilton was referring to in his letter. But democracy, understood as a means that allows for some form of participatory engagement by the people, perhaps filtered through the minds of wise and virtuous rulers, is something to seek and encourage.

papabear said...

Aristotle is not endorsing "divine right" as understood in the late 16th century and afterwards--with the rise of the nation-state one has a totally different beast. It was easier to have checks and balances when the authority of subordinate vassals was recognized, than when kings started consolidating power, leading to the creation of the nation-state.

Secondly, a monarchy does not have to be hereditary--this was a practice inherited from more primitive stages, when government was tied to the leadership of the family or tribe, and so on.

Like I said in the post, we don't have a mixed government. It's oligrachy through and through, now, if not initially. Perhaps the only real check and balance was the relative autonomy of the states, but we all know what happened to that.

Aristotle' polis was limited in size--in accordance with reason. What we have goes against reason and is ultimately unmanageable. One can talk about how the Founders thought virtue was important (and it is undoubtedly true for at least some of them), but the fact of the matter is, as Aristotle pointed out, a political community cannot exceed a certain size if we are to know the characters of our fellow-citizens.

papabear said...

Note: One should read Aristotle as not advocating monarchy as the strictly ideal--it is only ideal if one man surpasses the others in virtue, and is god-like. When there are many who are virtuous, all of them should have some share in government, if not in strict justice then because it is fitting.

James said...

Regarding your comments on the size of a particular polis and Aristotle's remarks on the matter; although our country is immense in terms of its physical size, it could be argued that we live in a smaller world as ever before due to advances in communication. Could Aristotle, or Jefferson (who also favored small communities) have ever imagined the internet, emails, airplanes, and the like? All of which serve to make our world, despite its size, smaller? I think Aristotle's analysis is somewhat narrow but understandable because, in his time, it took days, weeks or months to communicate with other villages or countries. Today the scene is totally different. I could travel to China in a day, or I could write to someone or talk to someone instantaneously. The question of "size" is somewhat relative and I don't think it can be fixed to something Aristotle said thousands of years ago, if, by size you mean a relationship to communication and contact with the "other."

Our government, as it is etched out in the Constitution, is indeed a mixed form. It is true what you say about the oligarchic leanings of our current government, something of a perversion of the original document's structure, but maybe I wouldn't go as far as you. I would like to hold that shreds of our original structure remains intact. As long as there are open elections, is it really fair to say "through and through" that our system is oligarchic? The control of this or that party or leader can be lost overnight, their hold on power is not with an iron grip. Representation still matters. Then what are your thoughts on the original structure?

As to size; Madison, in Federalist 10 actually argues that the larger the size of a republic (representative government as opposed to democracy) the better for the nation because the larger size will serve as a counter weight to mitigate the effects of innumerable factions fighting each other for power. The citation below is helpful for understanding Publius' argument.

"The fact that a republic can encompass larger areas and populations is a strength of that form of government. Madison believes that larger societies will have a greater variety of diverse parties and interest groups, which in competition will be less likely to yield a majority faction. This is a general application of the checks and balances principle, which is central to the American constitutional system. In conclusion, Madison emphasizes that the greater size of the Union will allow for more effective governments than were the states to remain more independent."

Thoughts...?

papabear said...

James writes:

Regarding your comments on the size of a particular polis and Aristotle's remarks on the matter; although our country is immense in terms of its physical size, it could be argued that we live in a smaller world as ever before due to advances in communication. Could Aristotle, or Jefferson (who also favored small communities) have ever imagined the internet, emails, airplanes, and the like? All of which serve to make our world, despite its size, smaller? I think Aristotle's analysis is somewhat narrow but understandable because, in his time, it took days, weeks or months to communicate with other villages or countries. Today the scene is totally different. I could travel to China in a day, or I could write to someone or talk to someone instantaneously. The question of "size" is somewhat relative and I don't think it can be fixed to something Aristotle said thousands of years ago, if, by size you mean a relationship to communication and contact with the "other."

#1 Within a community in excess of 1,000,000 participation by all who are qualified within government is impossible, whether it be the exercise of legislation capacity or the other offices. This is the first problem, since those who are qualified are deprived of office.

#2 That just leaves us with the selection of those who are to hold office -- Electronic communication does not substitute for personal observation of the behavior of others--this is what is required for the selection of those who are to hold office.

As for the other weaknesses, one only needs to look at the power of corporations vis-a-vis local economies.

Talk is cheap. Living with the consequences of one's decisions is what matters, and it is easy for those who rule today to have no contact with reality, despite 'easy' communication, nor do they have to pay for their mistakes. The members of the local community do.

James said...

TC writes:

"#1 Within a community in excess of 1,000,000 participation by all who are qualified within government is impossible, whether it be the exercise of legislation capacity or the other offices. This is the first problem, since those who are qualified are deprived of office.

#2 That just leaves us with the selection of those who are to hold office -- Electronic communication does not substitute for personal observation of the behavior of others--this is what is required for the selection of those who are to hold office.

As for the other weaknesses, one only needs to look at the power of corporations vis-a-vis local economies.

Talk is cheap. Living with the consequences of one's decisions is what matters, and it is easy for those who rule today to have no contact with reality, despite 'easy' communication, nor do they have to pay for their mistakes. The members of the local community do."

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't understand what you are trying to say in #1. Who is being "deprived" from office? There are countless stories of people who are now in office who started from ground zero. They move from local to state to national, up the ladder to the top. Granted many of them have a lot of money to start off with, but that's not the point.

I think electronic communication, and observation, makes public scrutiny of public officials all the more possible and powerful than it was before. Look at the Nixon tapes that brought down a presidency, the Drudge Report that exposed the Clinton affair, etc. Electronic communication actually enhances personal observation of others! In fact, one of the most frequent complaints about running for public office is that the public scrutiny is almost too intense. Nothing is secret or private. Reporters will drag out all the skeletons, if any, from the closet for the world to see. One of the chief reasons why many believe that Hillary Clinton could never get elected is that she has too much baggage in her past. She could never survive the investigations into her questionable dealings during her Arkansas days as a lawyer, not to mention other misdeads.

There is a very high standard for big corporations today. It is true that many people see them as the boogie man of modern society, but the fact is, as we saw with Enron, and some would saw, Martha Stewart, there are heavy consequences for the rich and powerful if they are caught in the act or cooking the books, or whatever the case may be. And is there anything intrinsically wrong with big corporations? I think not. Even these started off small and as a result of people's free choice to shop there due to lower prices, etc., they grew and grew and in the process hired thousands of people. Many inner-city slums and ghettos have been transformed because big corporations move in and provide for a host of new employment. Perhaps we are getting off the original point. My main argument with regard to corporations is that they are nothing but the result of the people's decision to frequent them. To punish the corporation is to indirectly punish the free choice of the people who originally decided to go there in the first place.

James said...

correction: of course, that should read, "misdeeds"

papabear said...

"The fact that a republic can encompass larger areas and populations is a strength of that form of government. Madison believes that larger societies will have a greater variety of diverse parties and interest groups, which in competition will be less likely to yield a majority faction."

And how long did diversity last in the first decades of the Republic?
Starting a successful political party is not something just anyone can do--one needs leisure and money, and guess who has abundance of both? Not the poor.

How can elections be successful if because of the number of parties and candidates, no candidate garners a majority vote?

Eventually the field must narrow, and parties either consolidate or they are forced out of existence. Then you end up with a few big parties.

As for Madison's original assumption about interests increasing as population increases, I find it questionable. Factionalism is easier to resolve when the community is smaller and rule is properly shared among all who are qualified.

papabear said...

Our government, as it is etched out in the Constitution, is indeed a mixed form.

If it is mixed as Aristotle understands it, it is not due to the separation/division of powers, but because the constitution enables all classes to share in power, with the middle dominating. Is this the case now? Was it ever the case? While it may true at state and local levels, it is because of the size of the community involved, which can serve to offset any advantages that the wealthy may have. The same cannot be said about the Federal level, again because of the consequences of size.

It's not mixed as Aquinas understands it as what Aquinas calls mixed (ST I II 105, 1)--the monarch is at the head of all, there is no separation of powers. There are others who share in ruling, but they do so as subordinates to the monarch.

papabear said...

There are countless stories of people who are now in office who started from ground zero. They move from local to state to national, up the ladder to the top. Granted many of them have a lot of money to start off with, but that's not the point.

Running a campaign is an expensive affair--either one has money or one can easily borrow some, or one needs to find supporters who are willing to donate. But those who have money to start the war chest certainly have an advantage.

As for having a share in government--when was the last time all of your relatives rotated through office? This is what I am talking about. Being able to be elected to office despite being of a modest background is not having a share of government, since it affects only the one elected--what of the rest who are equally qualified?

I think electronic communication, and observation, makes public scrutiny of public officials all the more possible and powerful than it was before. Look at the Nixon tapes that brought down a presidency, the Drudge Report that exposed the Clinton affair, etc.

#1 Newspapers can only catch those who leave evidence to be caught.

#2 This is to grant too much power to the "Fourth Estate"--you want to get your information from a third party? How do you know your third party doesn't have a hidden agenda? And even if someone has done something in the past, how do you know if he's changed or still the same?

And is there anything intrinsically wrong with big corporations? I think not. No but there is something intrinsically wrong with giving them a near-absolute right to acquire property and wealth.

Just because a choice is free doesn't mean it's right. Corporations have plenty of advantages that enable them to force smaller businesses out. As a result: local economies are destroyed.

Many inner-city slums and ghettos have been transformed because big corporations move in and provide for a host of new employment.
Who caused the impoverishment of slums and ghettos in the first place? Hard to find work if you're being made obsolete and you don't own the tools of a trade.

James said...

"And how long did diversity last in the first decades of the Republic?
Starting a successful political party is not something just anyone can do--one needs leisure and money, and guess who has abundance of both? Not the poor."

This diversity lasted for quite a while. Some may say it ended with the Civil War and the triumph over State's rights. To imply that leisure and money are the sole ingredients to concocting a political party is a bit off, I must say. Good ideas and a practical plan of action must come first and if the idea is seen as good and practical by others, the money will come and people who can afford the time (leisure) will give it or make room for it. I may be optimistic, but I think anyone who really wants to get involved in politics, at some level, can. As you admitted, this may be limited to state and local offices and campaigns, but isn't that what your all about anyway, State and local community involvement? Then you have to take into account the trickle-down effect. Big name politicians will realize the importance of these local and state elections and do important work on their behalf. Example: Bush was just in Green Bay, WI, (hardly a city with the political weight as a Boston or Chicago) campaigning for some no-name politician just the other day.

"How can elections be successful if because of the number of parties and candidates, no candidate garners a majority vote?"

Bush actually did get a majority of votes in the last election. Granted, many presidents for previous elections failed to garner a majority vote, but this can be blamed more on voter apathy than any intrinsic problem with "the system." If participation in the electoral process is a responsibility, as the Church teaches, it's up to us to get involved. Isn't it taking the easy way out to blame "the system," This smaks of victim-speak to me.

"Eventually the field must narrow, and parties either consolidate or they are forced out of existence. Then you end up with a few big parties."

This is the reality of the world we live in and it seems to be a natural process. In our everyday lives, we make decisions, cut our losses, consolidate, etc. Are you frustrated that America has only 2 viable parties? I think it is a good thing. Historian Joseph Ellis believes that the beauty of the two-party system is that it organizes an almost innumerable array of diverse opinions on a wide spectrum of subject matter into two far more practical categories that actually allows for easier choices and decisions to be made and things actually get done. Is it ideal? No, but it works pretty well. In Italy there are hundreds of rediculous political parties, it's a circus and nothing ever gets done there.

"As for Madison's original assumption about interests increasing as population increases, I find it questionable. Factionalism is easier to resolve when the community is smaller and rule is properly shared among all who are qualified."

As for this small community stuff; when have there ever been, for a prolonged period of time, these ideal "small communities" we keep talking about? It sounds a bit unrealistic to me, in light of human experience. Small communities usually end up growing and then becoming large communities, or they shrivel up because the people see that there are better opportunities and leave elsewhere. Even in ancient Greece, the small polis was not very successful in the long term and they were constantly squabbling with each other.

"If it is mixed as Aristotle understands it, it is not due to the separation/division of powers, but because the constitution enables all classes to share in power, with the middle dominating. Is this the case now? Was it ever the case? While it may true at state and local levels, it is because of the size of the community involved, which can serve to offset any advantages that the wealthy may have. The same cannot be said about the Federal level, again because of the consequences of size."

This seems to be somewhat unfair to those who are indeed wealthy. While I would agree that money plays a huge role in modern politics, a lot of money that politicians receive come from relatively small donations from thousands of people, and this adds up over time. Something like 80% or even more, of today's wealthy are first generation wealthy, meaning that they earned it through hard work and wise choices, it was not merely inherited or passed along. To be honest, these are the kind of shrewd people I think make good leaders; those who are used to making tough decisions under pressure. Steve Forbes, for example, is a millionare who I would love to see elected. He has a great knowledge of economics and would cut taxes, which would result in more money in the pockets of Americans and a better standard of living for all. It is all too common for people to cast aspersions on the wealthy simply for being wealthy. If they obey the rule of law, who cares about whether or not they are wealthy? The fact is, we have a large country and it is true that the federal government is too powerful. I would advocate, as a remedy, the return to the election of senators by the state legislature of each state. This would give states more pull and representation and would also serve to check the federal government's power.

"It's not mixed as Aquinas understands it as what Aquinas calls mixed (ST I II 105, 1)--the monarch is at the head of all, there is no separation of powers. There are others who share in ruling, but they do so as subordinates to the monarch."

Is this really a good system in light of contemporary developments and history? Aquinas was speaking in a time when Europe was largely homogenous, not just religiously but also in other cultural ways as well. The world has become so much more intermixed that following such a prescription seems a bit unrealistic and utopian. Any government without some form of a separation of powers is troublesome to me. Just look at the history of the 20th century. Saint Thomas is brilliant in virtually everything, but he was not a political theorist and again, he was speaking in a completely different world where the concept of monarchy was more widely accepted. I think we need to read this in particular with a grain of historical salt.

"Running a campaign is an expensive affair--either one has money or one can easily borrow some, or one needs to find supporters who are willing to donate. But those who have money to start the war chest certainly have an advantage."

That's just the nature of the game. It sounds flippant, but money has always been one of the principle keys to getting positions of power in any age. As long as it's done ethically, what's the problem? Even Bush goes to the little fundraisers. Leaders would be foolish to dismiss the power of smaller donations from those who aren't wealthy since they are so numerous. A lot of it has to do with organizational skills to. Those with the most money usually started sooner and had the better plan, as mentioned above.

"As for having a share in government--when was the last time all of your relatives rotated through office? This is what I am talking about. Being able to be elected to office despite being of a modest background is not having a share of government, since it affects only the one elected--what of the rest who are equally qualified? "

Not everyone is going to serve at the national level, but there is the chance of running for local offices. Isn't this good enough for you? If you are claiming to be holding up the virtues of the little towns and communities, what's wrong with serving on a local committee or city hall? I know parents of friends from grade school who were certainly not rich, but ran successfully for local-level positions. They had the drive and desire and did it. It's not as impossible as you make it seem.

"#1 Newspapers can only catch those who leave evidence to be caught.

#2 This is to grant too much power to the "Fourth Estate"--you want to get your information from a third party? How do you know your third party doesn't have a hidden agenda? And even if someone has done something in the past, how do you know if he's changed or still the same?"

Because the fear of having a repeat offence would be too humiliating. What could be worse that being exposed again at the national level. Usually, people, if only out of fear of having it happen all over again, will change their ways. That is, unless they are not thrown out of office because of voter disgust. Nowadays, there are so many options as to where you want to go to get your news and the competition is so high, that standards for news are going up. Look at what happened to Dan Rather. He was disgraced and now the networks are a lot more cautious about the news the report being accurate.

"Just because a choice is free doesn't mean it's right. Corporations have plenty of advantages that enable them to force smaller businesses out. As a result: local economies are destroyed."

But you admitted that the corporations are not intrinsically wrong in themselves, so the burden of proof is on you to prove that the choice of the people to shop there is wrong. I would be willing to bet that a local economy is one-hundred times stronger with a Wal-Mart in town instead of a smaller store with similar products. First of all, far more people will be employed (several hundred as opposed to 10), they will pump their money back into the local economy which will benefit everyone, they will have better benefits, the Wal-Mart will attract other businesses and the cycle will continue.

"Who caused the impoverishment of slums and ghettos in the first place? Hard to find work if you're being made obsolete and you don't own the tools of a trade."

Impoverishment of the slums and ghettos comes from the breakdown of the family, the black family in particular. THis is quite obvious. There's blame to pass around on this one, the welfare state to be sure has done its part in replacing the father figure, rewarding women with checks for the number of children they have with however many number of different fathers. This has been a problem underway since the 60s, if not sooner. Big corporations have nothing to do with this, I'm afraid.

papabear said...

This diversity lasted for quite a while.

Not really.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_the_United_States#First_Party_System_.28before_1824.29

Just because a party is listed on a ballot doesn't mean it's a major player. At the Federal level they were mostly inconsequential.

To imply that leisure and money are the sole ingredients to concocting a political party is a bit off, I must say.
Didn't say they were sufficient--only that they were necessary.

but I think anyone who really wants to get involved in politics, at some level, can.
No, unless the town happens to have town meetings still.

State and local community involvement? Then you have to take into account the trickle-down effect. Big name politicians will realize the importance of these local and state elections and do important work on their behalf. Example: Bush was just in Green Bay, WI, (hardly a city with the political weight as a Boston or Chicago) campaigning for some no-name politician just the other day.
Not sure what point you're addressing here. So what if major players try to influence local elections? What motive do you think they have other than preserving party control? Certainly it's not to protect the local community. In most areas subsidiarity is dead.

Bush actually did get a majority of votes in the last election. Granted, many presidents for previous elections failed to garner a majority vote, but this can be blamed more on voter apathy than any intrinsic problem with "the system." If participation in the electoral process is a responsibility, as the Church teaches, it's up to us to get involved. Isn't it taking the easy way out to blame "the system," This smaks of victim-speak to me.
You missed my point--if there were 20 parties, each with substantial s support, no candidate would get a majority vote.

This is the reality of the world we live in and it seems to be a natural process. In our everyday lives, we make decisions, cut our losses, consolidate, etc. Are you frustrated that America has only 2 viable parties?
It wasn't a critique of the hold of the 2 parties, but a continuation of the response to Madison.

I think it is a good thing. Historian Joseph Ellis believes that the beauty of the two-party system is that it organizes an almost innumerable array of diverse opinions on a wide spectrum of subject matter into two far more practical categories that actually allows for easier choices and decisions to be made and things actually get done.
You're missing the point--when the two parties such have a hold and are not interested in doing anything about protecting local communities, it just becomes a game of 'politics as usual'--no great improvement will take place, and all the talk of substantive differences on important issues pales in comparison to the agreement between the two parties on preserving the status quo.

Is it ideal? No, but it works pretty well. In Italy there are hundreds of rediculous political parties, it's a circus and nothing ever gets done there.
Using Italy as a counter-example doesn't really work, because the attempt to build a modern nation-state was a disaster to begin with. Politics in Italy would be better if independent republics and city-states (whether Papal or not) still existed. It just proves my point that amalgamation is wrong-headed. (And we have the usual suspects to blame for the effort to "unify" Italy in the 19th century.)

As for this small community stuff; when have there ever been, for a prolonged period of time, these ideal "small communities" we keep talking about? It sounds a bit unrealistic to me, in light of human experience. Small communities usually end up growing and then becoming large communities, or they shrivel up because the people see that there are better opportunities and leave elsewhere. Even in ancient Greece, the small polis was not very successful in the long term and they were constantly squabbling with each other.

Small communities, as in city-states? Try Greece, and medieval Europe. The cantons of Switzerland can be considered small communities as well. The problem is that fallen man loves to build great polities. When did large communities come to exist except through conquest. (And the Civil War can be seen as a war of conquest.) The small polises were quite successful in Greece; unless you define success as the absence of strife, in which case, the Soviet Union should be a success according to your criteria. There are worse things than conflict, and losing one's independence and autonomy is one of them.

to be continued

papabear said...

This seems to be somewhat unfair to those who are indeed wealthy. While I would agree that money plays a huge role in modern politics, a lot of money that politicians receive come from relatively small donations from thousands of people, and this adds up over time. Something like 80% or even more, of today's wealthy are first generation wealthy, meaning that they earned it through hard work and wise choices, it was not merely inherited or passed along. To be honest, these are the kind of shrewd people I think make good leaders; those who are used to making tough decisions under pressure.

For someone who claims to be suspicious of human beings, you're awfully trusting of the rich. At least Aristotle (and Plato) had realistic assessments of what should be expected.

He has a great knowledge of economics and would cut taxes, which would result in more money in the pockets of Americans and a better standard of living for all. It is all too common for people to cast aspersions on the wealthy simply for being wealthy.

If they obey the rule of law, who cares about whether or not they are wealthy?
An empty tautology if the law is made in their favor. If legal justice is that those who absolutize the acquisition of property then they may not be breaking laws, but their justice isn't true justice.

Just look at the history of the 20th century.
What about it. The disasters of the 20th century are a result of the centralization and conglomeration of power that began in the Middle Ages--it has nothing to do with separation of powers. At best you can claim that the separation of powers prevents a nation-state from becoming a tryanny, which is questionable if the problem is not tyranny but oligarchy, but a better solution that would prevent both would be decentralization and dissociation. You cry "separation of powers," I stand behind authentic subsidiarity, which for the most part does not exist in this country.

As for Aquinas, his mixed regime is actually not the same as the typical Northern European monarchy--dismissing him outright on this point without addressing why he thinks there should be one at the top doesn't really do much. You can claim that there without separation of powers bad things will happen, but I would say that with separation of powers, bad things still have happened and continue to happen.

It sounds flippant, but money has always been one of the principle keys to getting positions of power in any age. As long as it's done ethically, what's the problem?
Not in all places nor at all times. Besides, you've missed the point in that a candidate who has a lot of money of his own has an advantage over one who doesn't.

Not everyone is going to serve at the national level, but there is the chance of running for local offices. Isn't this good enough for you? If you are claiming to be holding up the virtues of the little towns and communities, what's wrong with serving on a local committee or city hall? I know parents of friends from grade school who were certainly not rich, but ran successfully for local-level positions. They had the drive and desire and did it. It's not as impossible as you make it seem.

As I said above, local communities don't really exist in most areas, particular those with the greatest population. There is virtually nothing one can do to secure economic self-sufficiency and independence on a permanent basis, though some have done so temporarily through zoning laws.

papabear said...

Impoverishment of the slums and ghettos comes from the breakdown of the family, the black family in particular. THis is quite obvious. There's blame to pass around on this one, the welfare state to be sure has done its part in replacing the father figure, rewarding women with checks for the number of children they have with however many number of different fathers. This has been a problem underway since the 60s, if not sooner. Big corporations have nothing to do with this, I'm afraid.

In order to deny that there are economic structural causes of poverty, you've only assert that there are moral causes of poverty. This is not an either-or. There can be both kinds of causes.

papabear said...

Two addenda because I had to leave the CTRC, which was closing, and didn't have time to add to the responses before I posted them:

1. Big corporations have nothing to do with this, I'm afraid.

I wasn't pointing to corporations alone, although it may seem to be implied by my question. What I am alluding to are the changes in American cities during the last half of the 19th century and the 20th century, and to decisions of all the people involved which lead to those changes, which ultimately resulted in economic freedom (as this term is understood by Belloc) being lost and those people who do not have economic freedom being left at the mercy of those with economic power.

2. I wrote, "As I said above, local communities don't really exist in most areas, particular those with the greatest population." To answer your point fully--is the chance to run for office enough? It may be, in some cases, depending on how many people are actually qualified to hold office. If there aren't may, then it is good that the opportunity is rather limited. If there are many who are qualified, they should have a greater share than that probably have at the present moment. But even if they do have a greater share, it is for naught in most areas, since the decisions thay can make will be limited--their political freedom has been curtailed.

But you admitted that the corporations are not intrinsically wrong in themselves, so the burden of proof is on you to prove that the choice of the people to shop there is wrong. I would be willing to bet that a local economy is one-hundred times stronger with a Wal-Mart in town instead of a smaller store with similar products. First of all, far more people will be employed (several hundred as opposed to 10), they will pump their money back into the local economy which will benefit everyone, they will have better benefits, the Wal-Mart will attract other businesses and the cycle will continue.
Why would you wish to use the example of Wal-Mart, which is admittedly one of the worst offenders against justice? There is a reason why they can sell crap for cheap, and a reason why they've decided to increase wages. Shopping at a bix box store, if it further decreases economic opportunities for members of the community, is wrong. One can do plenty of poking around on the Internet to see what sort of advantages Walmart (and other corporations) have when entering a market.

If a Walmart store is able to employ a greater number of people, it is because the national economy is shifting away from production towards service. I'd rather have individuals earning their living by having a trade and their own small business than Walmart giving them jobs.

btw, without cheap oil, the exploitation by big box companies of people working in overseas manufacturers would not be taking place. Money staying within the local company? Not all of it--just that which pays the natives working in the store; the rest of it gets kicked above to pay those who are in upper positions and as profit, to pay off other expenses incurred here and in transit, i.e. for transportation, and overseas.

As for journalism--you should agree that they're meeting a need for information which cannot be fulfilled by individuals on their own in a large political community.

At best you're arguing that the role of journalists serves to compensate for the consequences of a large political community. But saying that there are journalists doe not justify the existence of such a large community in the first place.

Nonetheless, while there are outlets of free press here and there, the major companies should be suspect--it's not a question of being caught intentionally deceiving the author, but of either not providing enough information, or a slanted view on things.

James said...

This could go on ad infinitum, but perhaps it would help to underline certain areas of agreement. I always have been a strong advocate of the principle of subsidiarity. It's of of the Acton Institute's major causes. In addition, I would like to see a greater appreciation of state's rights in the ante bellum fashion. I've always harbored some Southern sympathies and it is for precisely this reason. Perhaps you would be in agreement that such an arrangement of the union (pre-civil war) was more idea than the mammoth government we have today. I would agree. It's interesting to note that even Madison predicted that the Union would last until the 1850s, before breaking up into regional confederations. The notion of a perpetual union is misleading.

You say, "When did large communities come to exist except through conquest. (And the Civil War can be seen as a war of conquest.)" The US in the 1790s and early 1800s was indeed a large community without having really conquered anything. The Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the size of the nation with Jefferson's signature and no bloodshed. There was no "conquest" involved here.

Of course money in politics is "necessary." When is money not necessary? And most towns do in fact still have town meetings. Go to any local public library or community center and you'll see them.

Again, you claim, "So what if major players try to influence local elections? What motive do you think they have other than preserving party control? Certainly it's not to protect the local community. In most areas subsidiarity is dead." Party politics is relevant at the local and national level. Of course we want to preserve party control, from the bottom up. The Party platforms, of both parties, have ramifications for local, state and national interests. I'm not sure I understand what your point is. What is your solution here?

You say, "when the two parties such have a hold and are not interested in doing anything about protecting local communities, it just becomes a game of 'politics as usual'--no great improvement will take place, and all the talk of substantive differences on important issues pales in comparison to the agreement between the two parties on preserving the status quo." What do you mean, "not interested in doing anything about protecting local communities."? To what extent? How are local communities not being protected and what do we mean by protection? If I vote for a Conservative who cuts taxes, for example, this will have a ripple effect down to the local communities because everyone in them will have more cash, to do with it what they please within the community.

"An empty tautology if the law is made in their favor. If legal justice is that those who absolutize the acquisition of property then they may not be breaking laws, but their justice isn't true justice."

How is the law tailored in favor of the rich? You've begun with a premise that I don't readily accept. We do still live in a rule of law society. Who is above the law in the United States? This isn't Cuba. You make quite a good number of assertions and axioms without providing any concrete examples of either, in this case.

I would like to think that separation of powers and subsidiarity go hand in hand. They compliment each other.

Your comments on Walmart are very interesting. How is Wal-Mart the worst offenders against justice and how are they "further decreasing economic opportunities for members of the community." I would say it's precisely the opposite. Have we reached an insurmountable impass? Perhaps. Again, you've made these broad brush assertions without any real example to back it up. With regard to profit, the overwhelming majority of an industry's profit is actually reinvested into the business to increase production levels, wages, hire new people, etc. Many people seem to think that profits are stored in the backroom of the company or horded by some greedy CEO, but this is not the case. Money is continually flowing in and back into the company. For a tour de force defense of walmart, I recommend the following article from the Mises Institute.

http://www.mises.org/story/2219

It touches on the usual accusations levied against Wal-Mart that you appear to support. I will highlight a good passage and leave the rest to speak for itself. It also gives a good review of common misunderstandings about economic concepts such as prices, cost, wages, etc.

"Many of Wal-Mart's critics are socialists who probably resent the fact that Wal-Mart provides an increasingly clear example of how capitalism can shower abundance on its entire population, as their socialist utopias never could. Many of the critics seem to be motivated by fear of change and fear of economic progress. They have a deep distrust of economic freedom and see doom and gloom around every corner as an economy is advancing. In the past, people like this denounced innovations like the assembly line and mass production for many of the same reasons that they denounce Wal-Mart today. They said that these new methods of production would reduce us all to miserable cogs in a machine enslaved to our employers. It is ironic that their intellectual descendants now panic at the thought of losing assembly-line manufacturing jobs overseas because of Wal-Mart. The next generation of ignorant critics will probably complain about the loss of Wal-Mart jobs to more efficient producers.
The truth about Wal-Mart's critics is that they aren't really interested in economics at all, but they know that in order to be taken seriously they have to pretend to be addressing the issue from a rational point of view. Economic science is complicated and poorly understood by most people, so propagandists often use it as a tool to lend credibility to their arguments. By misusing economic concepts, terminology, and statistics, Wal-Mart's critics have been able to give many people the impression that they are on the side of science. I hope this essay has demonstrated the utter fallaciousness of that impression."

Of course, I'm not calling you, TC, a Socialist, I know you're not, but a lot of the arguments you mentioned, and a lot of Catholics sign onto them to as well, ring familiar. I would hadly use Belloc as a sound economic theorist. Many of his theories are more or less socialist witha a Catholic gloss. This is not to disparage his other writings that cover theology, which are wonderful, but a problem I see over and over again is that many Catholics latch on to these utopian ecnomic theories like distributism, with little or no knowledge of their implications.