Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Overriding Significance of Political Fortitude

Although most Americans don't call themselves liberal, they like most liberal policies.  When polled about policies without the label “liberal” attached, they support greater income equality, higher taxes for the rich, controlling the banks, and strong Social Security, Medicare, and education. They even support more foreign aid than we currently give (although they don’t know it), and they think it is time our wars should come to an end.  Despite these policy preferences, many people buy into conservative rhetoric and liberal-bashing because that's all they ever hear - and that's all they ever hear because the center-left establishment doesn't display the fortitude to vocally stand up for its purported beliefs.  In the end, all we really have to do is confidently argue for our principles, repeatedly and effectively, until they sink in.  Democracy has the strength of numbers, when it has the stamina to remain united against propaganda and internal division.
Political fortitude in the public debate is critically important because it is ultimately necessary to making and keeping the world fit for human habitation, socially, politically, and environmentally.  How our side conducts itself determines, in the long run, whether it wins or loses the ideological struggle.  It determines the shape of the political conditions in which workaday political battles are fought, and determines whether tactical wins accumulate into strategic victory or whether we keep winning battles but lose the war.  In the long run, the side with the most political fortitude wins.  And the winning side gets to determine what policies are enshrined into law and put into practice, and that in turn determines who gets rich and who gets poor, who has power and has none, and even who gets to live and who has to die.  I am not being hyperbolic: whether grandma continues to get her Social Security check, whether a sick father gets life-saving medical care, whether regular people prosper or struggle, whether bloody wars of choice are fought or not, even whether civilization survives climate change, all depend on how long and hard and courageously we are willing to fight, politically, for our principles.  Political calculation can achieve none of it.  Whether the Left develops strength and sterness or whether it continues to appease, capitulate, and cede ground is going to determine to a great degree the kind of world we and our children will live in.
The main barriers to achieving social justice are the Right's resistance and our own lack of political will.  Political fortitude - political strength and stamina - will help to overcome both barriers.  If the Left does not develop this virtue, then it will continue to lose, I guarantee it. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comment: What is Public Should Stay Public

With the tidal wave of privatization over the last 30 years, a great many tasks, programs, and processes that were once taken for granted as public functions have been given over to private individuals and corporations to perform -- with all the corrupting conflicts of interest that entails, and all the funneling of public moneys to privates purposes.  If there is one function that is considered to be inherently public across the political spectrum, it is the military -- even conservatives argue that it is the first job of government to protect public safety.  I would add security generally and intelligence to this, not just the uniformed military services.  Yet in the last decade we have seen a massive privatization of the military-industrial-intelligence complex.  Robert Greenwald discusses here how some of the richest of the rich are not bankers but war profiteers, who have put themselves into the 1% (actually, as Greenwald shows, the 0.01%) essentially by exploiting the war system to diverting the public funds of the 99% to themselves.  This is a horrifying threat to democracy -- think of the social power that is being concentrated: the economic power of near-limitless wealth is being combined with the secrecy and knowledge powers of modern intelligence, and with the power of naked military might.  Such a combination and concentration of power is obviously a grave threat to democratic self-government by the people who do not have such powers.
A healthy democracy implies that a public sphere exists that is common to all -- the word “republic,” in Latin res publica, means “public thing” or public business.”  There are many things in life that are the common concern of everyone, from the state of the environment, to whether we go to war, to the general health of the economy and distribution of the fruits of our common labors.  These things impact everyone, and therefore are rightly and legitimately matters that the public can make law about.  To be sure, we protect certain individual rights such as freedom of speech and association, because we value individuality and personal freedom.  But even the protection of these rights is done by the public together as a whole, they are exercised in public spaces, and there are many areas of life outside of basic rights where the common interest and public policy trump the rights-claims of individuals.  Private property is one example: as Jefferson observed, the rules of property are social creations, not natural phenomena, and can be altered by society when necessary to increase the public well-being or to eliminate potential or actual harm to the public. 
To exercise any political virtue pre-supposes the existence of a public sphere, separate and superior to private interests, that serves public needs.  In the future on this blog I will discuss at length what I believe economic democracy is and what should be done to create a truly democratic and prosperous political economy.  Some will instinctively react that private markets are always more efficient and less wasteful than government, such have our political assumptions become so infused with conservative talking points.  This claim is not true, as a simple comparison of the bloated defense and failed finance sectors to efficient public programs like Social Security and Medicare shows.  There are plenty of efficient public programs and inefficient private companies, it’s mainly a matter of whether accountability is maximized inside large institutions or not.  But efficiency is not even the main point; there are some functions that are inherently public, because they impact all of us who make up the public, and so we by right and by law must determine how those social functions are carried out.  There is much that has been privatized that should be public, and we are going to have to get over our fear of nationalization, for we will eventually have to go through several rounds of de-privatization of key industries.  There are many industries that impact all of us, and if I had my way I would make public industries or utilities out of banking, finance and energy, and have a much stronger public element to the communications, media, and transportation sectors.  Those are all debatable, and some will disagree, and there is much more to say about the details.  But we all seem to agree that the military and national security are critical public functions and they should be treated as such.  Enough already with the contractors and with private defense manufacturers; these things should be made fully public, lest they continue to concentrate too much unaccountable power and wealth in the hands of a few. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Virtue of Political Fortitude

I wish to discuss with you, and commend to you, an ancient civic virtue needed to develop strength and confidence to stride to a brighter future.  That is the civic virtue of political fortitude, by which I mean courageously, vigilantly, relentlessly, and audaciously standing up for proven political principles of justice, equality, freedom, and democracy, even when apparent short-term interest or political calculations deem otherwise.  Political fortitude means having the stamina, steadfastness, loyalty, optimism, and faith to stand and fight for - and vote for - proven principles.  (I will go into the details of this definition in another post).  Democracy requires bravery and determination, and I want to call you to the courage of your convictions. 

The Left sorely lacks political fortitude, as the Washington DC liberal establishment’s repeated capitulations have demonstrated.  That is why they are always on the defensive, always hanging on by the skin of their teeth, always losing on policy even when they manage to eke out an election win.  This has been a terrible problem for fully two decades now.  Its absence is devastating, because without courage and stamina our politicians fail to advance liberal social and economic policy -- and that ultimately impoverishes real lives and leaves democracy itself vulnerable to plutocratic and militarist attack.  If the Left doesn't develop its political fortitude muscles soon, then in another decade or so the conservative Right will have consolidated near-complete power, America will become fully and permanently a militarist plutocracy, and we will quite likely will go through an ugly authoritarian period.  We don't have much time to find our strength.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Navigating the Seas Ahead

Greetings and welcome to my blog of political philosophy, Stars Through the Storm.  I gave it that hopeful title because I want to help chart a way out of the Sargasso sea of political paralysis and failure that the Left has been mired in for decades, and thus help steer the ship of our civilization away from the destructive storms and near-certain foundering toward which it is currently headed.  The ultimate result I envision is a political victory that installs a populist, deliberative, truly democratic government; re-organizes the economy to support democracy, community, and the well-being of all; establishes an ethic of social and environmental interconnectedness; ends the war system and creates a just and peaceful international order; and puts human civilization into a sustainable relationship with the biosphere of the Earth.  The aim is to achieve this not in some distant future that the current generation won't live to see, but within a handful of years at best, or a couple decades at most.  That can be done; we can start today, if we choose to.  The Occupy Wall Street protests are a twinkling light peering through dark and troubled storm-clouds, the first truly hopeful sign in years that people are ready for real changes. These protests, and whatever they achieve, should inspire everyone to both be ready for political action and to be open-minded about future possibilities. 

I am not a politically powerful person but only a concerned citizen of the Earth.  I recognize the ambition of the aims I asserted above, and realize the possibility of the Left’s failure; many will dismiss all this as utopian.  In future posts I will explain why it is not, and will also lay out the details of my political philosophy.  Real policy change that saves our society and the Earth is eminently achievable, although certainly not easy.  We already mostly know what to do, and in fact, solutions are lying all over the place; we just lack the political will to implement them. I will not merely offer social and political commentary, but as importantly I will prescribe and guide one way out of our political paralysis, a way that focuses on how to find our political will and unity.  Of course, I don't think I have all the answers, and I certainly believe that we ought to rely much more on the wisdom of crowds.  But as a political theorist who has given our current predicaments a lot of thought, and as someone who has some life-experience to boot, I want to contribute to turning this ship around. In so doing, I hope to help the Left find hope and confidence and fully recover from its formerly demoralized state.

If you despair for the current state of the world, take heart; this can be done, if we find the courage and political will to steer our ship in a new direction.