Political Systems explained, from communism to capitalism
SECTION TWO : Political Systems
There follows a brief guide to the various political systems available from the menu of human philosophical and political experience. I have divided the systems into two distinct groups reflecting the key differences.
THE SOCIAL ENGINEERS - COLLECTIVISM
This group considers mankind the raw material from which to construct a society. The forms of society differ, the means by which its design is arrived at differs, but what they all have in common is the notion that one/some/many men should rule the others - whether it be king, dictator or majority.
AUTOCRACY / DICTATORSHIP / DESPOTISM
An autocracy is characterised by a supreme, uncontrolled, unlimited authority, or right of governing in a single person, as of an autocrat. It is very similar to a dictatorship. The key here is that the autocrat has absolute power. An autocrat requires a massive amount of force (in an army for instance) to exert control over an unwilling people. A benevolent autocrat is a contradiction in terms. A (rational) benevolent person recognises that benevolence is not something which can, by its nature, be forcibly created. A benevolent leader would seek to undo the social engineering and return the society toward the sovereignty of the individual. Iraq under Hussein is a good example of dictatorship, as was Russia under Stalin.
Strictly speaking, communism means a scheme of equalising the social conditions of life; specifically, a scheme which contemplates the abolition of inequalities in the possession of property, as by distributing all wealth equally to all, or by holding all wealth in common for the equal use and advantage of all. The means to achieve this is by collectivisation of all private property. Although meant to indicate the means of production, to be consistent communism requires that no individual may own anything exclusively, privately. Not the product of his work (thus his mind), nor any personal material benefit he may achieve as a result of it. All material is centralised and distributed by legislators, the intention being to achieve equal utility (of material) by all. Freedom of expression tends also to be mediated by the state for the same reasons and to maintain the 'integrity' of the collective. You can find a Marxist book in a US bookstore but you cant find Ludwig von Mises in a Cuban library
In practice communism fails dismally. The only way it can be achieved is if every single member of a communist society is in absolute agreement with the above arrangement - and that the legislators are not open to corruption in the form of personal acquisition or favour. We have seen in section one that is it proper for man to own the product of his mind, or that acquired by accident of birth. If such is taken in any way other than voluntarily it is robbery.
For a fuller explanation of communism please refer to the communist manifesto and observe the manner in which human beings are to be moulded and shaped according to Marx and Engels' beliefs.
A political philosophy that tends to support the status quo and advocates change only in moderation. Conservatism upholds the value of tradition, and seeks to preserve all that is good about the past. Irishman Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), compared society to a living organism that has taken time to grow and mature, so it should not be suddenly uprooted. Innovation, when necessary (in the states' judgement), should be grafted onto the strong stem of traditional institutions and ways of doing things: "it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society.". Conservatives are usually social engineers by default (status quo).
In many ways this is reflected in the British Conservative Party, which broadly supports the industrial Britain's' free market enterprise and a degree of individual autonomy, but also the expropriation of property to feed both an aristocratic and a welfare status quo. It is a philosophy against radicalism of any sort, regardless of merit. A 'pleasant' system in an already free country, it could be a dangerously rigid one in less free country. Current Conservative party leader William Hague appears to have some classical liberal beliefs which may rejuvenate the party, although not much as happened as yet!
There are two major modes of democracy. 1. Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is retained and directly exercised by the people. 2. Government by popular representation; a form of government in which the supreme power is retained by the people, but is indirectly exercised through a system of representation and delegated authority periodically renewed; a constitutional representative government.
The latter form is that which exists in the UK. The reason I have included democracy as a form of social engineering is because democracy does not limit its power. It is possible (though unlikely) to achieve the same results as a vicious nazi state through democracy. The problems with democracy deserve separate discussion here are that a majority can 'vote away' the freedom of a minority. To use an extreme example imagine that you live in a village of 100 people and 99 of them vote to take your house. Despite the 'landslide' democratic victory there is no change in the morality of the theft they vote for. To a lesser extent this is what happens when one person votes for tax raises. The whim of a majority is no more moral than the whim of a dictator, just less likely to result in an extreme atrocity. The other problem is that it pits one interest group against another. Where the government decides to use one persons' private property to pursue a goal with which he/she does not agree, the two parties oppose. Democracy can rapidly decline to a series of adversarial groups seeking to have the government favour them, at the necessary expense of another. Thus we have young v old, healthy v ill, employed v unemployed, road user v non-road user, county v county, race v race and so forth. where the government serves only as a policeman there can be no such adversariality.
A relative newcomer (1919 - Mussolini) fascism is characterised by elements of pride in the nation, anti-Marxism, the complete rejection of parliamentary democracy, the cultivation of military virtues, strong government, and loyalty to a strong leader. Whereas in communism the individual is second to the society, in fascism the individual is second to the state or race. It is not 'right wing' per-se, but is virtually the same as national socialism (Nazism), it therefore shares much with Marxism in its view of mankind as a collective. We all know what can happen when sufficient people in a state are in eager support of national socialism, hence its widespread repulsion.
The policy that aims at building and maintaining an empire, in which many states and peoples, spread over a wide geographical area, are controlled by one dominant state. Much of the twentieth century history of the Third World, for example, is of the dismantling of the legacy of nineteenth century European imperialism. An imperialist state can also be any other type of collectivist, but not a type of individualist, nation. In Britain the growth of classical liberalism can be said to have contributed to the negation of the belief in imperialism as being 'good'.
Form of rulership whereby a queen or king, empress or emperor holds absolute or limited power, usually inherited. In this century most European monarchies have become constitutional or limited, such as with the British Monarchy. Such monarchies often represent a strong symbol of national identity in (some of) the people's minds (but exist at the expense of all). In some countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia monarchs still continue to hold absolute power. Under these conditions the state is similar to autocracy.
Government carried out by a process of bargaining and compromise between a variety of competing leadership groups (business, labour, government, etc.). Advocates of pluralism claim that it best serves the democratic ideal in a complex modern society, in which individual participation in every act of decision-making is impractical. According to pluralism, individual rights and interests are protected by a sort of extra-constitutional checks and balances: No single group holds the dominant power position, power is always shifting, and individuals can have influence on policy-making through being active in one of these power groups. Some claim that America is such a pluralistic society; other theories say that pluralism is in fact a myth and American society is elitist. Despite this pluralism is not limited, other than by the common sense of its participants. Therefore it is still, in essence, collectivist and adversarial. See Democracy.
Government by the wealthy, or by a government primarily influenced by the wealthy. This system is as open to the social engineers as any other, and is against any principle of individual liberty. One of the criticisms of the US political system is that some wealthy people and organisations exert enormous influence over political power. This is not to be mistaken for a criticism of the free market or of wealth but as a criticism of unlimited political power.
Sharing the same collective view of mankind as communism socialism is a political system in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are mostly owned by the state, and used, at least in theory, on behalf of the people (whose 'good' is decided by the legislator). The idea behind socialism is that the capitalist system is intrinsically unfair, because it concentrates wealth in a few hands and does nothing to safeguard the overall welfare of the majority, we will see later that this is fallacious. Under socialism, the state redistributes the wealth of society in a more equitable way, according to the judgement of the legislator. Socialism as a system is anathema to most Americans, but broadly accepted in Europe - albeit in a much diluted fashion.
Socialism is a system of expropriation of private property (regardless of how this was earned) in order to distribute it to various groups considered (by the legislator) to warrant it, usually the unemployed, ill, young and old and significantly, those with political pull. Since all property must be created before being distributed modern socialists allow some free market enterprise to exist in order to 'feed' from its production. This seems to admit that the free market is the best way to produce wealth. The current British government (Labour) purports to be quasi-socialist but is in practice conservative (non-radical) with additional taxation and state intervention. I believe that genuine socialism has not fared that well in Britain due to a sense of individual sovereignty shared by many Britons, expressed in such sayings as "an Englishman's' home is his castle". http://www.wsws.org/ is an informative site regarding modern socialism. See also communism
A state or government which is run by priests or clergy. A recent example of a theocracy is Iran immediately after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, when the Ayotollah Khomeini gained power. Theocracies are becoming more common as Islamic fundamentalism grows in strength, but its influence is almost non existent in the West, with the exception of the USA where the 'religious right' have some influence. The social engineering is derived from the mythical content of the state religion and could include any number of atrocities against the individual.
A THOUGHT FROM FREDERICK BASTIAT
To end the section on collectivists I would like to quote French Liberal philosopher frederick Bastiat from his superb piece of work "The Law" which is available on the internet;
" if the legislators left persons free to follow their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production and exchange. According to these writers, it is indeed fortunate that Heaven has bestowed upon certain men -- governors and legislators -- the exact opposite inclinations, not only for their own sake but also for the sake of the rest of the world! While mankind tends toward evil, the legislators yearn for good; while mankind advances toward darkness, the legislators aspire for enlightenment; while mankind is drawn toward vice, the legislators are attracted toward virtue. Since they have decided that this is the true state of affairs, they then demand the use of force in order to substitute their own inclinations for those of the human race."
Although I do not share Bastiats' specific religious belief I find his logic and clarity to be superb, basically all social engineers are convinced that they are better suited to run your life than you are.
ANARCHISM / NIHILISM
A doctrine that advocates the abolition of organised authority. Anarchists believe that all government is corrupt and evil. Anarchism was a force in nineteenth century Russia, associated with Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76). Types of anarchism range from pacifism to violent revolution. While most often anti-capitalist (and tending to more collectivist philosophies), there are pro-capitalist strains, depending on the view of private property. The major problem with anarchism is in maintaining the freedom of the individual. Without an organised objective system of law an anarchic society might be at the mercy of the criminal and the powerful, with only personal and communal self defence to rely on. Many questions on anarchism are addressed by this FAQ
A term which has changed its meaning, in the nineteenth century in Europe, the great age of liberalism, the term stood for freedom from church and state authority and the reduction of the power of royalty and aristocracy, free enterprise economics, and the free development of the individual. Liberalism advocated freedom of the press, religious toleration, self-determination for nations. It was liberalism that established parliamentary democracy. The Founding Fathers of the USA might be termed liberals. Liberal 19th century Britain became an industrial power, and a source for much of the worlds' technological innovation, despite the prevalent class structure, due to the freedom and property rights enjoyed by the people. The current Conservative party (in its current leader) retains some classical Liberal ideology, albeit without the apparent philosophical courage to challenge opposing doctrines.
In the twentieth century, liberal parties were caught in between conservatives and socialists, despite being fundamentally different, and their influence declined. Today, liberalism stands for something rather different than it did in the nineteenth century. Now it tends to mean more government rather than less and is characterised by a diluted socialism and/or populism (doing what it believes most people would (or should!) want it to do).
A philosophy of freedom, particularly from any unnecessary restraints imposed (or indeed any restraints) by governmental authority. It is central to America: liberty is one of the inalienable rights described in the constitution ("life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"), and it has always been what America sees itself as standing for, although it can be argued that America has become more of a typical European nation (economically and politically) and has greater freedom simply because it has yet to decline to European standards.
Libertarianism, in detail, is best described by Libertarians; (free-market.net/) (libertarian.org/). There is a libertarian party in Britain, which is active and contains many useful resources. The problem that libertarians need to address (and many do) is that of crime. A national system of Law requires a national government/police, which can pose problems for Libertarians.
Similar in 'appearance' to libertarianism, objectivism is different because it is based upon a specific philosophy of reality as first detailed by Aristotle and further extrapolated in the mid to later part of the 20th century by philosopher Ayn Rand, well known for her best selling fiction novels which encompass her philosophy in dramatic form. Objectivism supports individualism with reference to the nature of reality and this differentiates it from being just another political opinion. It is not an easy philosophy to understand, or for many, to accept.
A controversial philosophy due to its assertive stance it is well explained in this FAQ and in other links at Yahoo
Contrary to popular belief capitalism is not a 'system' as such. It is the consequence of individual liberty and corresponding property rights (the right to own that which you create, or are born owning). Capitalism is readily blamed for various inequalities despite having never been practised in fact, with the closest examples being 19th century USA and to a lesser extent 19th century Britain. A fuller description of capitalism is given in this site
Many people appear to have a very different idea about what is meant by capitalism. It is not a system of force imposed by people. It is a lack of such a system. It is what happens when people are free from the force of other people. In order to have people 'free' of the force of natural conditions something must be done to make those conditions better for mankind. That is exactly what people have been doing with the invention of the wheel, of machines, the production of energy and
everything that followed. All of this is the product of mans mind, without it mankind is returned unprotected to nature. Capitalism itself forces nothing.
Capitalism doesn't aim at equal ends because they do not occur where people are free to choose their own paths. Those better off do have more opportunities (not more freedom), but that in no way gives one person (or group) the right to rob them of these opportunities and give them to another. Life can be very hard for an impoverished man in a desert compared to a rich man in a European landowners family. That does not give anyone the right to rob the European and give to desert dweller.
A republic is a political system whereby poltical power is explicitly is granted with consent of the people and ruled according to law. The purpose of the government is to protect the rights of the people and in discharging that purpose it derives its just power from the consent of the people. Hence the words "we the people". It is not a democracy, nor is it populism or pluralism. Infact it is quite a strictly limited system where the people essentially delegate (note - delegate, not forfeit) the protection of their individual rights to a government of their choosing. The limitations would be made explicit in a constitution and an excellent example is the US constitution, which sadly is largely unknown by the American people and constantly undermined by their governments.
A THOUGHT FROM AYN RAND
To finish the section on Individualism I shall add a quotation from 20th century philosopher Ayn Rand;
"If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labour. Any alleged "right" of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right. No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as "the right to enslave.""
Spot on! Most people will agree wholeheartedly with this, yet at the same time be voting for taxation and social programmes which contradict this. How can that be?
Lets move on to Section 3 - the proper role of government.