Why it’s so difficult to unify modern politics

“The organization we call modern republicanism is based on multiple values and principles that conflict. We can identify at least five basic values of most modern republican political theories:

  1. popular self-governance by the political community
  2. individual liberties from government and social interference
  3. equality
  4. communal or national preservation, and
  5. economic and material modernization

“All of these matter; none can be ignored. But these values conflict. If you consistently emphasise or choose one over the other or pull on that thread, you move toward an exclusive political view of one kind or another.

“For example, if you emphasise self-governance over all other values and are willing to trade the others for more of it, you become a civic republican or a populist or a participatory democrat.

“If it’s individual liberties and rights, you value above everything else, a Libertarian, a neo-liberal, or a Natural Rights theorist.

“If it’s social equality, you become a progressive or social democrat or even a socialist.

“If it’s material progress above all, then you are probably an ethical utilitarian, believing the politic’s aim is to enhance general happiness.

“If it’s preservation of the forms of community life, then you’re a conservative.”

This is excerpted from the first chapter an excellent Great Courses lecture series by Lawrence Cahoon, The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas. (This PDF course guide provides a summary view.) It’s an interesting dimensionalisation of the problem with trying to reconcile politics into some unified theory, as it becomes necessary to optimise across these dimensions, some of which are polar opposites to other goals in a zero-sum relationship.

This series is available on Amazon as well as at Audible at good prices.

An Inconvenient Truth

Ghost in the Machine - Jacob Sutton (Photographer)

It seems to me that the largest or largest complaint people claiming a realist, objective moralist perspective is:

How would it work if morals were not objective?

This is also a common defence by Christians who claim:

If there were no God, then people would just be mindless hedonists.

This is the same line of defence used by statists of all stripes, whether Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Monarchist, Oligarch, or otherwise.

Anarchy can’t work because everything would just be chaos.

It is also the same argument mounted, as Steven Pinker points out in The Blank Slate, against a strong genetic component to human behaviour.

If we believe that, then what will prevent the next Nazi Holocaust?

In the end, because these people cannot fathom how it might work, it is easy to assuage cognitive dissonance through self-delusion. It’s as if the people defending actually know that they are wrong, but that if they deny it loudly enough, then, like religion, others will believe it’s just so, that they’ll follow the deceiving confederate in a psychology experiment.

The problem is that there is no god, there is no objective morality, government is unnecessary, and much behaviour and temperament have significant genetic foundations unaffected by environmental factors.