Monday, April 20, 2015

The Political Means

     In Franz Oppenheimer’s seminal 1908 work The State, he drew a sharp partition between two means for gaining sustenance and security. The first of these, the use of labor and ingenuity to produce coupled to voluntary trade with others, he called the economic means. The second, the use of force and intimidation to compel others to surrender their wealth, he called the political means. The State, he proposed, is merely the organization of the political means.

     No one since Oppenheimer has improved on his definitions. Nor can anyone argue coherently with the moral cleavage that accompanies his methodological partition. Over the past century, statists of every ideology have attempted to defeat Oppenheimer’s analysis, without success.

     Contemporary statists emphasize “problems,” which they regard as providing moral cover for their desire to coerce the rest of us. Some of those “problems” have embedded themselves in our political lexicon:

  • “the poor”
  • “inequality”
  • “social justice”
  • “the environment”
  • “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” etc.

     ...and so on. The “problem” is inevitably propounded as established beyond all question and a justification for the immediate and sweeping use of government force, regardless of objective conditions. Those who argue against the statists’ formulation are decried as “heartless,” “callous,” or worse – often much worse.

     This – the drive to insert the political means into an ever-widening sphere of human activities and relations – is what powers the discourse of our time. It’s the tide against which American conservatives and libertarians must battle at every turn.

     If you’re a regular reader of Liberty’s Torch, nothing in the previous segment was unfamiliar to you, except perhaps Oppenheimer as the originator of the definitions of the two mutually exclusive means. What’s most significant to me about it how it bears on the tension in our public discourse: activists screaming at ordinary folks about “problems” that demand “solutions,” while the ordinary folks strain to understand why “inequality” or “the environment” should justify yet more laws, regulations, taxes, and general governmental intrusions upon them.

     The activists insist that their “problem” – in reality, only an evaluation of a condition that might have existed for many years – demands immediate action to “solve” it, no matter the cost in blood, treasure, or lost rights. Thomas Sowell has destroyed many such contentions, often by noting the long history of the condition and the steady way in which time and economic advancement have diminished it. But what’s lacking from the general discourse is the appreciation of the moral inversion involved: the activists’ demand for the use of the inherently immoral political means to achieve their ends. The irony becomes unbearable when one notes the activists’ contention that it’s their concern about those “problems” – often characterized as “compassion” – that elevates them morally over the rest of us.

     Let that sink in for just a moment.

     Many Americans are swayed, sometimes against their will, by the moral pretensions and seeming sincerity of left-liberal activists and the mouthpieces of their mascot-groups. This is natural. We all want to feel that we’re morally sound, which is why we try to rationalize our individual departures from basic moral laws as “necessary” or “for a good cause.” More, we tend to associate moral commitment with passion invested in a cause.

     But moral laws are absolutes. They cannot be finessed. Our cleverest rationalizations are always framed against a backdrop of moral unease. We know we’re trying to justify a conclusion already reached. That’s what our consciences are there to tell us.

     The activist attempts to provide some numbing unguent for our consciences by delegating the immoralities he demands to the State. In effect, he’s distributing the immorality over millions of government agents. He’ll go further: he’ll buttress his position by claiming majority support in the form of election returns. He’ll attempt this even when the elected official never mentioned his intentions before assuming office, or when the official claimed to favor the exact opposite position in his campaign platform, as did FDR.

     Yet such activists invariably claim the moral high ground, and we let them do so.

     A bit of a ramble for a Monday morning, eh? You might well be asking yourselves “Where is he going with this? It’s all previous work.” You’d be right about that. It’s on my mind because of a commercial I saw yesterday evening, during one of the C.S.O.’s interminable crime dramas. The commercial was for an organization that calls itself “Earthjustice.” Its Website characterizes it as about “environmental law,” the most nebulously indefensible set of notions south of “hate crimes” legislation.

     Earthjustice makes all sorts of claims for the benevolence and beneficence of its work. Look over the list of causes it promotes. It’s no worse than most such “environmental protection” scams, but neither is it any better. It uses litigation – that aspect of the political means facilitated by our judicial system – to impede or prohibit just about any productive human activity.

     These are people who claim the moral high ground, despite their systematic interference in the lives of others, in their ability to earn a living, and in their efforts to provide jobs to others yet. And they’re shameless about all of it.

     No one dares to call them on the flagrant immorality of their crusades against the energy industry, against the other extractive industries, even against the use of remediative products to counteract oil spills. They’re clever about framing their causes; for example, they claim to be working for “a healthier environment.” But what chance at health has a child who freezes to death in a Minnesota winter? What chance at health has an involuntarily idled worker who can’t get a job because the price of energy has rendered the expansion of business impossible? Who really has the moral high ground here?

     Yet we never call them on it. We allow them, and hundreds of other activist organizations like them, to claim the moral high ground even as their machinations destroy countless current and future lives. They ruthlessly employ the political means – the use of force and intimidation by the State – to pursue their ends. And somehow they persuade large numbers of people that because “it’s the law,” or “it’s for the environment,” or “if it saves one life (never mind how many others must wither and die) it’s worth it,” they’re on the side of the angels.


     Gandhi got it right:

The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence.

     I had that very much in mind when I wrote the following:

     “Christine, I’m a priest. I have to work from certain postulates. According to those postulates, the soul is the seat of conscience, of an individual’s real and unalterable identity. Creatures without souls are also without moral choice. They act strictly from innate drives, motivations built right into their flesh. You can’t have a moral nature, the ability to know right from wrong, unless you have a soul. You can’t love, or be grateful, or understand loyalty or duty or justice.” [From Shadow Of A Sword]

     The political means – the soulless machine being used to consume us – is near to completing its meal. Yet the activists who exploit it claim to be our moral superiors, and will go on claiming it to the very last bite. And we’re letting them get away with it.

     Have a nice day.


Anonymous said...

"You can’t have ... the ability to know right from wrong ..."

I turn this question over and over in my mind lately:

What significance does this lack of morality have in relation to the story of Adam, Eve and the Forbidden Fruit?

Do the Left somehow think that they achieve their Utopia and return to Eden by vomiting up "The Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil"?

Is there some other real, figurative, or literary analogy to be had here, or is it nothing? Cuz I keep thinking it's not nothing.

tz said...

See the YouTube videos from "CS Lewis Doodle" on the moral law which state the problem clearly.

Basically, we all "know" the moral law like we know 2+2=4, but we all fail to live up to it.

I differ with The second, the use of force and intimidation to compel others to surrender their wealth, he called the political means. only in that "surrendering your wealth" is the least problem. The force and intimidation is now focused on "thought crimes" (e.g. "you don't support gay marriage?"), or other behaviors someone doesn't like (You didn't sign up for Obamacare?).
Force can be met with force, intimidation with calling a bluff.
The "State" can have no authority greather than the citizens that give it such authority, so only because citizens have the right to use violence in very narrow circumstances - to protect life, liberty, property - can the state have authority to do so, and even then it requires warrants, probably cause, due process, etc.

Reg T said...

"Lawfare" (as mentioned in a Post at The Silicon Graybeard's blog today) is a prime example of the use of force by the State, while binding the hands (and muting the voice) of the victim in order to prevent a viable defense, in much the same way as the Patriot Act and the NDAA both do.

It is getting much closer to to the time when that old, recurrent game will be played. No, not Game of Thrones. The one named "Patriots and Tyrants".

Anonymous said...

See, Fran, this post is emblematic of what I'm talking about, it's fantastic food for thought. Something I've read about here, and considered, but never in these terms, and it's eye-opening. Plus then you have the comments, such as "Do the Left somehow think that they achieve their Utopia and return to Eden by vomiting up "The Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil"?" which is perhaps one of the best things I've ever read. I mean that. Simple, to-the-point, shockingly stark, and yet relevant. I will be putting this information to work for us. It won't be revolutionary, but it will hopefully chip away at the faux-morality that we're being pummeled with. Thank you, and keep it up!