The political language of our world is full of wordy ideology and absent concepts of governance. To understand the present chaotic political situation one must clarify the real meaning of those words in terms of underlying ethical principles and their political implications in assuring individual rights in a democratic republic.
The current ethical posturing of politicians, intellectuals and the media consists of protesting inequity in the distribution of wealth inside countries and between the industrial and underdeveloped world. The political argument then relates to ethical and not economic principles. It then becomes apparent that legitimate concern for increasing poverty and inequitable distribution of wealth around the world fosters proposals threatening to destroy the very economic system that created real individual freedom, true prosperity and quality of life for the first time in history. America’s free enterprise system.
Most unfortunately, this free enterprise system, which was denominated by Marx as capitalism, is now being ethically disqualified for inequity and exploitation of workers, however defined. No one is standing up to defend our system in ethical terms, ignoring that so-called capitalism is not an economic system, but an ethical and political one.
In essence, it is the defense of individual rights: life, liberty, property and the right of free men and women to pursue their own happiness, and the establishment of limitation of political power. Those are the essential principles of the Rule of Law, and the primary rule is that majorities do not have the right to violate the rights of minorities or individuals. It is the direct opposite of the “reason of the state” in the name of the people that prevails in many countries in Europe and South America.
The right of men to the pursuit of their own happiness is of first importance for the establishment of a free political system. It ethically means that legitimate personal and private interests are not contrary to general public interest. Otherwise, we have accepted the principle of a common good as defined by the ruling government. Consequently, there is no limitation of political power, which is the main base of our freedom. That is why Ayn Rand very wisely said, “The tribal notion of the common good has served as the moral justification of most social systems — and all the tyrannies of history!”
It is the same ethical misconception regarding capitalism presented by Lenin in his “Imperialism the Last Stage of Capitalism.” Hence, the United States appears as the evil empire, which exploits the rest of the world. That ethical approach suits the current domestic demagoguery of politicians around the world in their struggles for political power. Socialism, the name given to this demagoguery, is the ideology that prevails as the way to reach and maintain political power.
The current political environment is hardened by a great divide between right and left. The right is becoming by definition ethically disqualified as representing the interests of the rich against the left, which pretends to represent the interest of the poor. Throughout history, the poor are always more than the rich as observed by Aristotle. It is then obvious that democracy in a country then becomes the reign of majority rule and confused with socialism.
As stated by Tocqueville, “Socialism and the concentration of power are fruits of the same soil.” The consequence is more poverty in the absence of individual rights. And let us remember that when needs become rights, governments then violate the rights of the producers of wealth in popular efforts to satisfy the perceived needs.
Last and perhaps most important, Von Misses wrote in 1912 “the problem with socialism is that even those who oppose it accept its essential ethical premises.” That is the situation we are facing today and why it is so important to tell the people of the wisdom of Thrasimacus when he said of the characteristics of man, “ He is out to get what he wants. But to get what he wants this wolf has to wear the sheep’s clothing of traditional moral values. He must say in the law courts and the assembly what the people want to hear, so they put power into his hands … He must take them by the ear before he takes them by the throat.”
John Clearwater is a Princeton resident.