Political Division and Dysfunction: The Illiberalization of the Right and Left Toward Libertarianism and Libertinism
Bad government, e.g. unresponsive, special-interest governance, in the United States, as well as elsewhere, is fueled by political division and dysfunction. Not only do the political parties and ideological extremes of the American political system pressure elected officials to cater to their interests with untenable public policies, they impede the representation of the majority in middle. Those on the far Right and the far Left have the right to have their views and interests represented in government and addressed by government, but their representatives do not have a right to deny others representation by hijacking the political process and the legislative process.
In theory, the majority of any democratic society should select a majority of government representatives, thus the views of those on the extremes of all issues should always be moderated with those of moderates. This is not the case inside the United States. When the US government is not paralyzed by a growing number of stalemates, it either acts on the increasingly “conservative” agenda of Republicans or acts on the increasingly “liberal” agenda of Democrats. To be honest, even when the US government has been able to forge compromise, that compromise has often come in the form of a “solution” that tries to cram incompatible ideas from both extremes into one dysfunctional package. To use language generally reserved for foreign policy discussions, the US is becoming more and more of an illiberal, ill-democratic society.
The United States was founded as a liberal democracy. Obviously, a democracy is a society with a form of government that is directly, or indirectly via representation, controlled by the People. Because most people encounter the word liberal in the context of liberal versus conservative politics, the term can be misleading. Despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans embrace stances that align with the aspirations of a liberal society, the concept of a liberal society can easily be confounded with the relative concept of politically liberal, which describes one extreme of the political spectrum. A liberal society places a higher priority on the rights and freedoms of individuals than the cultural rights of communities and the power of government to act against individuals.
Consequently, an ill-democratic society is a society ruled by a government that does not truly represent or respond to the needs of the People. An illiberal society is a society that fails to honor and protect the rights of all individuals. Given the manner in which candidates are chosen by political elites for US elections and the low participation rates in US elections, it is fairly easy to see the ill-democratic tendencies of the United States. The illiberal tendencies, in contrast, can be less apparent. For those on the Left, it easy to dismiss conservatives, who embrace more traditional views that often favor established social conventions and institutions over civil liberties, as more than just illiberal. For those on the Right, the liberal reliance on government to enforce the civil rights of minorities and support government spending with taxes makes the Left illiberal.
The truth, however, is that both the Right and the Left are becoming increasingly illiberal in diametrically opposing ways. The illiberalism of Republicans and Democrats can be summarized with the terms “libertarian” and “libertine.” Once a fringe political movement, the Republican Party has increasingly gravitated toward a libertarian agenda. Promoting a minimalist government, libertarian values promote a liberal society that is free of government constraint and oppression. Libertarians are highly motivated by economic factors, but the implications of their views on government extend far beyond economic issues. An ideal libertarian society is slightly more organized than an anarchy. In an anarchy, “government” is not strong enough to protect the lives and freedoms of individuals. The strong have boundless freedom, but the weak become slaves to the whims of the strong.
In other words, power is transferred from powerful governments to powerful individuals, but there is truly no freedom in anarchy or near-anarchies. Government punishes wrongdoing to ensure citizens enjoy the freedom of a secure society. This is an essential role of government. In fact, it is the primary reason people tolerate and accept governmental authority. Unfortunately, it is when government stops providing protection from the threat of criminal elements and becomes the threat that people fear government. Proper governance is always about achieving balance between anarchy and tyranny. No government will ever reach a perfect balance all the time while no government will sustain the necessary balance forever. Civil liberties and responsiveness allows government to step back from oppressive action.
With that in mind, the “Left” suffers from a difficult symptom of illiberalism. Where the Right caters to its special interest groups, refusing to change with shifting cultural views, the Left caters to social minorities. This is not necessarily a negative, but the Left shows little respect for established social conventions and institutions. Social liberals, for example, abuse the legal system, as well as terms like “acceptance,” “tolerance,” and “judgement free,” to force society to assimilate minority factions, views, and lifestyles. They have no respect for the cultural rights, including religious rights, and identities of groups that disagree with their views. They thoughtless tear down any and all social boundaries, which include moral boundaries. The “libertine” term has fallen out of favor in the US, so the political Left is offended by the use of it, but it increasingly applies to American liberalism.
In truth, most American liberals do have their own ethics and morals. They tend to areligious versus amoral. The groups represented by the political Left want to replace existing social conventions and institutions with their own. By embracing and representing the interests of minorities, the Left is promoting a liberal society. The problem with the Left is that it has no respect for the cultural rights of more traditional, more conservative factions, which tends to be the majority. By focusing solely on individual identities, rights, and freedoms, liberals ignore the need to protect and respect the cultural identities of people. They also encourage people to act solely on their own whims and interests, thus they encourage people to neglect community interests. This means the weak lose the protections and benefits afforded to them by social conventions and community. This includes “peer pressure,” which helps keep the strong in check.
On the surface, the libertine direction of the Left appears to foster the establishment of a liberal society. By loosening what is socially acceptable and unacceptable, however, they change the social environment in which people make decisions. Because people adapt to their environment, their decisions are impacted by their new environment. A libertine society is a society where the egocentric and short-sighted tendencies of people, which generally undermine social cohesion, are cultivated. The libertine term tends to have a sexual connotation due to the lack of moral boundaries and impulsiveness the lifestyle promotes. As the Hollywood Sex Revelations demonstrate, libertine attitudes empower the strong to legally victimize the weak. Moreover, it is the libertarian and libertine direction of conservatives and liberals that is fueling government dysfunction and undermining balanced, responsive government.
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