Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why Conservatism is Floundering; Also Libertarianism

The bottom line regarding Conservatism's death throes is that it justifies liberty on the grounds that it produces the greatest overall good for society. In other words, conservatism is not grounded in the individual as the justification for life and its consequence, a valid social life, but rather a utilitarian ethic that regards the society or the group as the thing of ultimate value. Thus it advocates one program after another tromping on the rights of one man or group of men justifying it as in the interest of the greater good. This moral grounding means that conservatism is collectivism and political action is all either socialism or socialism-lite.
cartoon by John Cox

A stark example of the conservative position is their view on abortion which turns the woman into the property of the state by saying that a fetus has rights (things attended to by the state) and she cannot abort it even though she is an independent individual adult with a mind and a life of her own. The minute she is pregnant the net effect, according to their view, is that she is a slave to society and must nurture that fetus and deliver the baby to society. Given their views, there is no socialist program that conservatives would not eventually adopt; just make it slower, please.

Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism's grounding, on the other hand, is the individual life and its requirements for living. Essentially this amounts to the requirements for his mind to function and be able to be used as his means of survival. Man needs political freedom to live because his mind is his fundamental tool of survival and a mind cannot be forced. It only works when free to consider the alternatives that it sees, draw conclusions and act from there. From this basic premise, government's purpose is to protect individual rights, which means to protect the individual from other men's violations of those rights. Government's purpose is to render any and all situations back in alignment with individual rights. The is the role of justice.

Libertarianism also fails because it is the attempt to erect a political philosophy on its first premise: If a man's life is sacrosanct then another man cannot initiate force against him. The reason Libertarianism fails is not because it's basic principle is false but because it is not grounded on an ethics and the philosophical principles beneath ethics, namely metaphysical and epistemological principles. Without an ethics it is unable to morally justify its basic social principle. By default, it gets caught in the same moral morass that we are in today and has nothing to offer as a resolution.

Rand has resolved this conundrum and that is why her work is worth considering. Of course all of those unwilling to do the heavy lifting in thinking this through are not going to like her. They just react to her based on their beliefs. That will not get the job done now. With Rand's identifications in existence, the jig's up on all forms dependent upon the sacrifice of the individual to the group.

Watching the corpses of these old justifications twisting in the wind is a spectator sport in itself. Conservatives are desperately trying to find a platform that people will buy into even though their moral base is corrupt. Given that the Democrats are a more consistent example of the conservatives' underlying premises of socialism, the Democrats are in the dominant position so long as the bulk of our society buys those premises. They are dominant because they are more consistent.

Reality does not countenance socialist principles for society organization. It is a proven failure. Thus neither party has a real life unless it is willing to get increasingly bold in its use of physical force against innocent men. And then it only has a life until it is overthrown by the next group that the public thinks has a better idea of effecting the same principles.

For freedom to exist in the United States, it is the moral premises that support socialism/collectivism that must be overthrown - overthrown by reasoning individual minds. And the choice is stark: Black or white, A or non-A. Either you choose life and the form it comes in, the individual human being, as primary or you don't. Either you do not accept slavery or you do. Until then war and rumors of war is our fate, be it on the scale of the global, the continental, within our country or within our separate communities. That fight is always over the most popular idea for determining the greater good.

When people are willing to let go of the greater good as the moral justification for every social action because they see it doesn't work and is a false idea, then there will be a possibility for individuals and thus an authentic, life-serving human society.

Until then and forever:Viva Individualismo!

Thanks to the recordings of Yaron Brook's visit to the Adam Smith Institute in Great Britain for clarifying this distinction for me. His speech is recorded in four parts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. The Q&A which is also also illuminating is recorded in seven parts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII.


principlex said...

Dear Keith,

Sorry for this response to take so long. I have taken your comment and interspersed it with my comments in italics. This is going to take 3 separate comments to complete. SCB

Your comment:

You wrote, "[T]he conservative position...on abortion...turns the woman into the property of the state by saying that a fetus has rights. [T]he net effect, according to their view, is that she is a slave to society." I totally disagree with this characterization. I have rights, and for that reason the law says you cannot kill me; does that therefore mean that you are a slave to society?!? Of course not. The proper role of the state is to protect rights, and if an entity has rights, then the state should protect it.

First of all, I agree that the proper role of the state is to protect rights and if an entity has rights, then they should be protected. I disagree that the fetus has rights except by some arbitrary decree not based on the facts of how life works.

There are two levels of rights. The basic or fundamental level consists of the unalienable rights. These rights are nothing more than an acknowledgement of the things a human being living freely does to live. He pursues ends. He does this by taking the things in nature and creates what he needs from them so that he may continue to live. He thinks, he takes actions and produces results.

If he were on a desert island, this would not be a problem, but when he chooses to live in a society with other men, the rules need to be defined so that each man knows how to operate peacefully in that society. “A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” (Rand, “Man’s Rights,” Virtue of Selfishness, pb 93)

The basic right is the right to one’s life. All the rest follow. This necessitates the right to his property which includes his mind and his body, the right to his freedom to use his property including his mind and his body so long as he doesn’t infringe another’s equal rights, and the right to do anything he wants to pursue his ends to achieve his happiness, again so long as he doesn’t infringe another’s equal right to pursue his happiness.

Another level of rights are consistent with the unalienable rights, but extend them in specific situations. E.g., if I live in a gated community, I have the right to use the swimming pool. That is a right that I gain to use property that isn't mine because of my contract with the owners of the gated community.

If you notice, rights are grounded in individual, independent beings. A fetus is not such a being. It is has a metaphysically dependent existence and does not have an independent existence until it is expelled from the mother’s body. Until it is independent even though the mother’s body is preparing it for independence, it is not an entity, which is something that has an independent existence. It is a self-sufficient, solid thing with a definite boundary. The fetus does not have that metaphysical status until it is born and separate from the mother. At that point it can breathe, take in food through the mouth, and do other things which an independent human being can do. Thus you cannot compare the two. In your paragraph above, you grant the fetus rights without an argument as to why it could have rights. The basic point is that although men can create a law saying that a fetus has rights, it doesn’t meet the metaphysical requirements for a thing to have rights.

principlex said...

Suppose you disagreed with a pregnant woman’s behavior because you said she was harming her fetus. On your theory, in defense of the right of the fetus, you could sue her and get a judgment that she be forced to do what you say is the right way to behave. (Or the health department or someone could.) Granting the fetus rights would then mean that the woman right to her body is null and void. The fetus which has no independent existence from her can be arbitrarily declared at war with her. This is not unlike a society passing a law that the thumb had rights. She would be called to defend herself against her own fetus. Given this, once she becomes pregnant and it is known by others that she is pregnant she necessarily becomes a slave to the state because her behavior regarding the cells of her very own body comprising the fetus is compelled by the state. And this is so even if she has more knowledge than the state about how to raise a healthy fetus but her knowledge is in conflict with the state’s prescriptions.

To arbitrarily create a set of cells, the fetus, which comprise part of the woman’s body as having rights doesn’t work according to the way that nature designed the woman and the fetus. The basic problem with this is that the fetus does not have an independent existence. It is not an entity. It is an aspect of the woman who is the entity.

You also wrote conservatism (I mean the anti-abortionists and conservatism to the extent it is influenced by them SCB) requires that a woman "must nurture that fetus and deliver the baby to society." Do you really believe that a new baby for society is a goal of their position? Can you provide references to show that? How could it be anything else regardless of what they say it is about? If the law requires it and the law is for the purpose of a creating a society of human beings, then what else could it be since the fetus is not an independent entity? It is simply wrong to not give the mother control over her own body. In cases that are determined to be problems, that is ultimately what happens if the anti-abortionists are in control. Anti-abortionists are not believers in individual rights. They hold the society and “God’s” law as the greater good. I do think they are confused about this because of what I think is their motive. See below.

The problem is of course the reason that many conservatives believe fetuses do have rights: i.e. their close ties to religion. Their main argument for such is the Bible's passage where God says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before your birth I made you holy." (Jeremiah 1:5) Since God can have a relationship with a fetus, it must therefore have rights just as man does, and for the same reasons (according to their view). This puts rights on the same arbitrary, non-rational standing as all religion.

The Catholics are the most notorious for their position regarding a mother and soon to be born baby. If there is a conflict between the mother living and the child living at the time of the birth of the child, they advocate saving the child and letting the mother die. This is a hideous rule, I say. If I were the husband of the mother and was in love with her because she was the embodiment of my values, the last thing I would want to lose would be her for some new baby. Of course, the loss of the baby would be tragic, but if I had to choose between the two, there is no question which it would be and my choice would not be according to the Catholic rule.

principlex said...

Therefore, the problem with conservative opposition to abortion is an invalid (mystical) epistemology, not an improper (collectivist) ethics. I do agree that elevating the state above the individual is one problem found in conservatism, but you haven't logically shown that this is the case regarding "rights" of the unborn. This shifts the focus away from the real problem to something untenable.

The conservatives end up giving the state primacy over the individual because they have no one else to go to to carry out their anti-abortion position. They cannot impose their personal behavior standards on another person, so it must become the state's standard for it to be operative. The anti-abortionist unwittingly establish the principle that women do not have the right to their own body which implies that no one has a right to his own body, i.e., unless you are willing to say that men and women are not equal in their basic rights. I call that slavery.

I think the motive for the anti-abortionists and which gives them so much moral fire is that they see the fetus as innocent and helpless and cannot bear that it should be aborted by a person that is not innocent and not helpless. And if they can point the finger at anything they think is wrong with the potential mother, that adds fuel to their fire. I don’t think their motive is rational whatsoever.

If on the other hand a person looks at it from a potential mother’s point of view, then it becomes something else. No matter if she was foolish for getting pregnant, she now is starting to think about what it is going to take to care for and raise that child. She has to make a choice. And there are many things she can do. She can keep the baby and hew her life to what that requires. She can release the child for adoption immediately upon birth. There are so many circumstances and consequent choices involved in this that it has to be up to the mother for the best outcome.

I’m persuadable regarding a law that allows abortion through the first 6 months of pregnancy but not the last 3 months when the fetus is sufficiently formed to be capable of independent existence. I see this as nothing more than a line of demarcation that is possible in a sufficiently advanced society.

Kulero said...

I am aware of all that you wrote in your first response, and I agree with it fundamentally, notably "rights are grounded in individual, independent beings. A fetus is not such a being." Therefore, I believe it is an error to apply the right to life to the unborn (as seen in the last parts of my comment).

I didn't get how applying that error made her a "slave to society." The first part of your second response describes the mechanism by which that occurs. I think I get your point now and can agree that it does.

Regarding your third response, you made clear how collectivism comes into play in the conservatists' stance against abortion, as the means of implementing an invalid
"right". My objection was that your article focused exclusively on collectivism as if it were "the problem." Your responses show you agree with me that the problem's root is more fundamental.

Regarding my objection, "Do you really believe that a new baby for society is a goal of their position?" I didn't think, "How could it be anything else..." was a very well-supported answer. I now see the correct answer is: you didn't say it was a goal; that was my mistake. (I was thrown off by the phrase "according to their view.") You said it was the net effect. Their goal is to follow what they believe is a "higher law;" the net effect resulting from their view is that a fetus must be brought to term.

principlex said...

Thanks for your response. I learned something in working through my response to you so I appreciate your comment. I generally see things in terms of basic principles and it is easy to assert a result of those premises in action without working through how it comes about. Because of my way of thinking about it, it took me a while to get what your real issue was.

I think a lot of the anti-abortionist are actually suspicious of the State in general so I don't think they think they are relinquishing their rights. Since for most of them the basis for their view is religious, I'm sure they see themselves defending their right to their beliefs. The truth is individual rights does not undermine their beliefs. They are completely free to think it is their duty to bring their own babies to term and practice that. If their belief is religiously grounded, then they violate the separation of church and state by having the state enforce their beliefs. In this way they are collectivists because they categorize all women in a group rather than treat them as individuals.

People I know who think that it is the mother's decision as to whether she brings the fetus to term definitely feel the imposition of the anti-abortionists coercion or threat of it which, of course, would be administered through the State.

Culturally it would be back to coat hangers and secret abortions if the anti-abortionists have their way. To me this is such a violation of the woman's right to determine whether or not she should have that baby.

If you want to get into an interesting question, how do you sort out the cases like drug addicted mothers giving birth to drug addicted babies or a boy friend/husband punching a pregnant girl friend/wife in the stomach in order to cause the fetus to die. If a pregnant mother is murdered, are there two murders or one?

My answer to these kinds of questions is to start from the basic principle of the woman's right to her life and her body which includes a fetus, and work it out from there. The more heinous cases can be worked out in the sentencing.