Saturday, February 04, 2006

Some further thoughts on political categories

In a previous post I discussed the effect that one's moral viewpoint had on one's political viewpoint and on one's perception of others. For that discussion I classified political viewpoints by their attitude to institutions that could be seen as sources of authority or embodiments of society. I used a two- way classification rather than a left-right axis.

One of the axes was Utopianism. To what extent can institutions that are seen as embodiments of society and invested with authority be used to radically improve society? (The state can be seen as invested with authority without its being seen as a source of authority.)

The other axis was the degree to which authoritative institutions were seen as sources of part of one's identity or whether they were seen as merely instruments serving certain social purposes. There isn't a one word label for this axis. This is not exactly the degree of authoritarianism but is often associated with it. If one identifies strongly with nation or state then one isn't necessarily authoritarian but one is more likely to be so.

This set of categories usually classifies viewpoints the same way that they would be if you classified on the degree of social liberality and on the degree of economic liberality. The one that I created just focuses on motives rather than on policies.

Briefly conservatives identify strongly with authority wielding institutions but regard them as primarily protective and have little faith in the ability of such institutions to create Utopia. Fascists and related movements identify strongly with authority wielding institutions and believe that they can be used to create a Utopia. Pragmatists, classical liberals or libertarians (whatever you want to call them) regard authority wielding institutions more as protective instruments than as sources of their identities and they do not believe in the ability of the state or the like to create a Utopia. Progressives (Here I include social democrats, socialists, communists and what are usually called liberals nowadays.) tend to regard authority wielding institutions as instruments rather than as sources of identity but they see such institutions as a means to build a better world.

I want to explore the nature of authority wielding institutions a bit and identify a few more of the Utopian groups.

The authority wielding or normative groups that people might identify with fall into two categories. Some are corporate bodies and some are not. Corporate bodies are formal hierarchial institutions that are treated as being persons distinct from their members. Examples are states, professional associations and Christian churches. (A business corporation is a corporate body but is not a source of norms.) Examples of non corporate groups seen as sources of authority that are major parts of many people's identities are nations and the Muslim Ummah. (A nation is a people who consider themselves to be bonded together as a nation. A state is an institution ruling a region. States and nations tend to coincide but do not always do so. When they don't there is usually some trouble.)

The progressive camp is quite a grab bag of groups. They vary widely on the acceptability of violence, the degree of private ownership, the amount of involvement of the state in private morality and attitude towards Nature.

The communists tend to be callous and quite unscrupulous in their dealings with opponents. Fanaticism is common. They want all or nearly all of the productive capacity to be in state hands. They vary widely in how much they want the state to be involved in private morality. Most of them have a very exploitative approach towards Nature. (They are Utopians who focus on economic matters and have a perhaps exaggerated faith in the efficacy of human effort.)

Social democrats tend to be over optimistic about the possibility of avoiding violence. They support highly regulated mixed economies. They generally want the state to stay out of some aspects of private morality and involve itself in others. (I know this sounds cynical but it looks as if they want the state to stay out of their bedrooms and the bedrooms of those that they can feel good by championing but they want it to give them plenty of opportunities for feel-good interference e.g. much of the attempts to suppress smoking and other health related meddling and looking for things that they can interpret as racism and oppose. It's not completely true but I fear that it is too near the truth in many cases. Wish I was wrong.) Nowadays they tend to seek a rather over-idealized relationship with Nature.

Socialists are similar except for wanting a larger proportion of the economy to be publicly owned.

The Greens are mostly an exaggerated form of social democrat.

Most progressives regard political parties as instruments rather than as sources of norms. The communists, at least when in power, can turn the party into a pseudo-religious organization and treat it as a source of norms and sense of identity. Yes this does make them in many respects more like the fascists than like socialists or social democrats.

I can't think of any single word label for the authoritarian Utopians. They are even more of a grab bag than the progressives. They include fascists, extreme nationalists, Islamists, some nominally communist regimes, some Eastern Asian Confucian style regimes and some law-and-order zealots.

The fascists identify to an extreme degree with the nation and/or race. They tend to see violence as a means of self-affirmation. They tend to seek scapegoats to vilify and blame for their problems. They idealize their leaders, turning them into fetishes. The state and or party intrudes into many aspects of private life. (Not so much through prohibiting activities as through having the state or party involved in almost all community activities.) They tend to support extreme versions of traditional sex roles. They support highly regulated mixed economies.

More common nowadays are extreme nationalists. Like fascists they over-identify with nation or race and usually have some but not all of the fascist traits identified above. Examples would be some of the groups which gained power in Serbia and Croatia after the break up of Yugoslavia, Spain under Franco and Peronist Argentina.

I would suggest that some Eastern and South-Eastern Asian regimes such as Singapore could be described as an authoritarian Utopian regime. Confucianism supplies much of the Utopian ideal for Singapore. It is a very authoritarian system with by Western standards a lot of government intrusion into private life and involvement in business and a degree of deference to authority that we would regard as wrong. Even so it is not as brutal or corrupt as fascism and lacks the aggressiveness.

The Chinese Communist Party is not very communist any more. Nationalism and Confucian ideals are stronger now and China is now a mixed economy. While brutal, callous and xenophobic it does not have the bloodlust or scapegoating of fascism. It could well develop into something like Singapore.

In Islam authority is supposed to come directly from God. It is revealed through the Koran and the Hadith and interpreted by the religious legal scholars the Ulema. Islam encourages Muslims to identify with the worldwide Islamic community, the Ummah. It encourages Muslims to identify with the Ummah the way that most of the rest of the World identifies with their nations. In practice nationalism is widespread in Islamic countries. But national loyalties still tend to be weaker than family or tribal loyalties.

Islamism is a caricature of many Muslim tendencies mixed with elements taken from Western totalitarian movements. Loyalty is supposed to be totally focused on God, the Koran and the Ummah. Other loyalties for example to states and other corporate bodies and to nations are seen as somewhat idolatrous. The problem is that it is precisely these loyalties to states, to corporations, to unions, to clubs, to other non-family, non-tribal groups that underlies our ability to deal fairly with those outside our own family by creating a network of bonds across a whole society It is of course a Utopian movement but its Utopia is supposedly a recreation of what they believe existed in the first few generation of Islam. Islamism tries to control most aspects of life. The Koran and Hadiths and custom underlie Sharia Law. It claims that this law comes from God and that humans have no right to create their own laws. The Sharia is of course to be interpreted by the Ulema. Islamism is also highly into scapegoating and religious chauvinism. And it is obsessed with violence and with sex roles.

Some law-and-order types especially drug war fanatics could be best described as authoritarian Utopians. This obsession only affects this single aspect of their belief system but when it comes to drugs they can be very fascist-like. They are often seen as conservatives but in fact they are not. Their authoritarianism and identification with their cause are obvious. Their utopianism shows up in their promises to create a drug-free America or wherever by a certain time. They lack a sense of proportion and blind themselves to the harm that they do. They are obsessed with their cause and will undermine traditional liberties when they clash with their crusade. This seems to be worse in the United States than in other Western countries but there are elements here that would like to take us down that path. They are scapegoaters with drug users and drug suppliers blamed for far too much of what is wrong with their country.

You want proof that they are not really conservatives? One sign of a totalitarian regime is when they laud children who inform on their parents. It happened under the Nazis. It happened under the Soviets. I think it has happened in Iran. And it has happened in the U.S.. Children have been encouraged to dob in their parents for growing marijuana. This is an attack on the family. It is not a conservative's action. While drug war zealots are not totalitarians they behave like totalitarians whenever their obsession is activated.

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