Sunday, September 11, 2011

First Principles and Politics

In a previous post, I discussed the concept of first principles. It is time to explore the implications of first principles in relation to important ideologies.
There are three major political ideologies competing for the political soul of America: conservatives, libertarians, and liberals. Each of these groups has a different set of first principles – which shape their arguments.
The first principles of these political positions are actually fairly simple.
A libertarian’s first principles are that men should be free of government restraint to the greatest extent possible and that “individuals have the sole right to exercise dominion over their own lives.”
A liberal’s first principles are that human existence can be improved by societal or governmental intervention, that men are malleable, and that truth is unknowable and in flux.
A conservative’s first principles are that government should not interfere in traditional institutions such as the family and religion, that men are prone to error and temptation, that traditional institutions are necessary to properly form men, and that there is knowable and unchanging truth.
(There are many different shades of these political ideologies, which I could not hope to cover in one blog post. I am merely outlining the first principles of the most common political ideologies.)
These first principles color every aspect of political thought. And the policies of these political groups are different because the first principles of these groups are so different. 
This is why debate between different political groups is often rendered impossible. Different political groups hold radically different beliefs about human nature – beliefs which shape every policy they make and every proposal they offer. Their first principles are so deeply held that nothing can shake them. And entrenched belief in these first principles renders understanding of other poltical beliefs impossible.
British political theorist Lord Acton wrote: “Politics come nearer religion with me, a party is more like a Church, error more like heresy, prejudice more like sin.” His words could be said by a great many people today. Politics is the new religion of modern society. The “belief” in government and politics as a quasi-religious force is omnipresent in modern society.
And the “beliefs” of this new religion, the particular first principles of different ideologies, are so deeply rooted in the minds of many that honest debate and thought is rendered impossible, and “debates” devolve into shouting matches and mockery.

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