Sunday, May 30, 2010

Social Democracy is Hard; Libertarian Paradise, Not So Much

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The Euro-presence in this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave is largely predicated on the notion that Liberation means getting away from the Authority of whatever the Power Center happens to be.

Liberation means going it alone into the trackless wilderness, fighting for your share -- and whatever else you can grab -- against all others. Murder, pillage, rape, genocide, who cares? You do what you have to to get what's rightfully yours, and once you have it, you fight off any one or any Authority that would try to either take it from you or skim off just a bit for the "common good." It's yours, goddammit, you stole it fair and square by any and all means necessary. There is no such thing as "common good."

You fight and you hunker down. Until the big-bellied sheriff comes with his shotgun and his dog and a warrant and you either go out in a blaze of glory or you surrender in ignominious defeat.

These days, someone with that overweening belief in their independence and arrogance doesn't have to venture very far into the trackless wilderness to acquire a decent sized plot of land that they can fortify against outsiders and become squires of their domains. People do it all the time. These days, given the collapse of the real estate market, good-sized parcels, sometimes with habitable structures on them, can be picked up for a relative song. There is nothing to stop Libertarians from making their Paradise right here and right now. It is ridiculously easy. Just get yourself some land, build a hut or a castle, plant a garden, do something creative, and there you are. With a little foresight, work, and some skill, you can live as free as you want to, avoid most if not all taxes, and enter into all the voluntary markets and associations with others of your ilk as you please, and almost nobody from the Government will even ask what you're doing.

There have been endless Utopian schemes in this country since day one of European settlement, and they continue. So why don't Libertarians do it? It's so easy.

Social Democracy is hard. Social Democracy requires some semblance of society -- civilization in a word -- and some concept of Democracy, neither of which are important to Libertarians. Social Democracy requires physical infrastructure -- a city for example -- and a functioning economy of some sort, even if it is not highly developed. It requires a population that understands concepts like "common interest," "public good," "progress for all," "misery for none."

Social Democracy requires citizens and government and the close interaction between them on a premise of Democracy. In a functioning Social Democracy, the People are the Government. But for the People to BE the government takes hard and lasting work by the People, individually and collectively.

Social Democracy requires that the economy function primarily to serve the interests of the People, secondarily to serve individual interests for wealth, power and prestige. The People's interests have to come first, and those interests are found, not by directives from above, but by the active participation of the People in Democratic institutions. In a Social Democracy agreement is sought as broadly as possible through Democratic processes, but as a rule, the Tyranny of the Majority is avoided by making as many allowances for dissent and dissenters as possible consistent with the overall Public Good. Not everyone has to go along with everything. On the other hand, dissent that will damage the Public Good is routinely quarantined. For example, in a Social Democracy, predatory capitalism would be quarantined because it damages the Public Good.

But nothing happens without the informed consent of the People, and nothing is allowed to seriously disrupt the People's ability to govern themselves through Democratic processes and to prosper from an economy founded on Democratic principles.

To accomplish that is extremely hard. The frequently encountered human tendency to cupidity, rebellion, and disruption as well as the typical disinterest most people have in the social, economic and political minutiae of their city or nation make participatory democracy a generally elusive ideal.

But it can be done, and the process of participatory democracy can be streamlined so as to make it somewhat less burdensome than otherwise. There is really no escaping from the citizen's responsibility in a Social Democracy, and it takes real effort and concentration, hopefully inculcated from childhood, for a citizen to be fully engaged and involved in the society, government and economic life of his or her community and nation.

Elements of Social Democracy do exist in the United States, though Social Democratic ideals have no place in our National Government. Locally, however, socially conscious democratic institutions are seen widely, especially in secular university towns, in parts of New England, in the Upper Midwest where Scandinavians settled in large numbers, in "advanced" coastal cities like San Francisco, and so on. Conceptually, Social Democracy is not foreign to Americans on the local level. But it has never been a significant factor in National affairs.

Part of the reason is the nature of our Nation's political institutions as well as the fact that the Constitution formed a Government that is in no way a "collective" or even "participatory" Democracy. And too, the absence of Social Democratic ideals and practices at the National level may well be a matter of scale. Because Social Democracy requires such close interrelationships between the Government and the People, and our national Government doesn't work that way in the first place, and the size of the country and the size of the population are so huge that unless the governing institutions are reformed and expanded many-fold, the Social Democratic ideal will probably never take hold in DC.

But then, maybe it shouldn't. Libertarians and Social Democrats might well agree that the nation is too big to be governed successfully, and it would be better for all concerned to break it up into smaller constituent parts. So there is that potential convergence.

An irony is that Social Democracy can incorporate many of the ideals of Libertarianism, but Libertarianism cannot abide Social Democratic ideals and would seek their destruction.

Social Democracy is just too difficult for Libertarians.

1 comment:

  1. Ché,

    Very well said. This last part is especially true:

    "An irony is that Social Democracy can incorporate many of the ideals of Libertarianism, but Libertarianism cannot abide Social Democratic ideals and would seek their destruction."

    There is a ton of space for libertarianism in a Social Democracy. There is no space for Social Democrats in a Libertarian paradise.

    I've noticed an interesting pattern when I talk about Social Democratic ideas. It really pisses people off. They get very angry. Even friends. Even family. Which I find most strange. As if it's a threat to them, personally. As if I, personally, have the power to enact it.

    Stranger still that a friend of mine, who has struggled his entire life with one failed business after another, constantly needing to borrow money from friends just to keep the debt collectors at bay, often unable to pay rent or utilities, goes ballistic when I talk about Social Democracies. He starts screaming about how when he finally strikes gold, no goddamn government is going to touch his money!!!

    There is something beaten into the American psyche that prevents so many people from divorcing themselves from the dream of wealth. It must be in the water. Rather than organize society around a wish, a hope and a prayer, a lottery's chance in hell, it's flat out common sense to organize it around reality instead. Roughly 97% of the population will never, ever be rich. Roughly 94% of the population won't even make six figures. An actual majority of the population is literally living from paycheck to paycheck, if they're lucky enough to have a job.

    So, of course, it makes sense that we keep fighting amongst ourselves to prevent common sense programs, services and infrastructure that would give everyone a fighting chance to have a decent life. It makes perfect sense to scream "commie!!!" at the mere mention of social justice, egalitarianism and participatory democracy.

    We refuse to come together and make that happen all on the one in a million shot that we, too, will be the next American Idol or the next CEO of Goldman Sachs!!

    I mean, aside from the obvious moral and ethical considerations, aside from the obvious issues of social justice and general decency, aside from the fact that we can't sustain our present rate of consumption much longer due to environmental devastation . . . wouldn't "enlightened self-interest" push us in the direction of "the common good"? Wouldn't enlightened self-interest and just plain awareness of the facts force a realization that the folks who run "the markets" aint gonna do us no favors no how no way?

    That's not their business. That's not their concern. They're thinking about their pot o' gold, and if they have to divvy out more than the minimum to the rest of us, that makes their journey much more difficult. Or so they believe.

    Oh, well. I'm starting to run out of ways of saying the same thing. Ya probably noticed that. :>)

    Not too many folks are listening anyway to anything other than "the voice of freedom" that tells them one thing and then laughs at them behind their backs.

    Hope all is well . . .

    P.S. You have mail.