This post is named after Scipio Aemilianus, adopted grandson of Scipio Africanus (who, in turn, was Cornelia Africana’s father) and husband to Sempronia (Cornelia’s daughter and sister to the Gracchi.) The “Scipionic Circle” was a coterie of sorts which comprised of Aemilianus as well as his philosopher friends. (If you haven’t already noticed, my major political work, the Sempronian Manifesto, and its component parts, are named after the various members of the Sempronian family.) The cover image for this post is an artist’s depiction of the fall of Carthage, a protracted siege led by Scipio Aemilianus.
In the past, I’ve shared my honest position within America’s partisan divide and provided an outline for how I believe our Constitution should be adjusted to meet the problems of a 21st Century society. It may not be wise to do so, but I think it’s only fair to my readers that, if I’m going to discuss political issues, be it directly through speech/debate reactions or indirectly via weighing in on social problems, you know exactly what my biases and preferences are. I’ve laid out an extensive glossary of political science terms, organized into various “Spectrums” to illustrate the way they relate to each other, but I never really pointed out where I stand on them. In the interests of transparency, I’d like to briefly do so now. I don’t claim to have anything particularly unique to say in defense of my positions but this is where I fall and why…
In the previous entry of this series, I described my feelings on constitutional and republican foundations. This time around I will focus on domestic and foreign policy.
My Place on the Domestic and Foreign Policy Spectrums
First of all, I’ll just say that in terms of “Left vs Right” I am fervently left-wing in the sense that I’m a believer in egalitarianism. I understand that some roles in society must carry more authority and privilege than others, but these must be based on meritocracy as much as possible. No hierarchy should ever by granted by virtue of innate qualities, such as race, sex, orientation, class or creed; it should be given to whoever possesses the academic or experiential qualities which make them best qualified to perform the desired role. At the same time, I believe in equal opportunity not necessarily equal outcome, which in practice means no outside force (like the government) gets to play favorites to “settle the score” for past injustices or set arbitrary ratios of one group against another. Once society has progressed enough so everyone has the resources and ability to succeed, it should then be up to each individual to define their own potential. (I would argue we’re not there yet, and establishing such a paradigm ought to be our top priority.)
Generally speaking, when it comes to economics, I range somewhere between “Centrist” and “Option C.” While I can certainly concede that Capitalism has its merits–creating unprecedented wealth, inspiring innovative new ideas, allowing people to rise above their station in life…it has significant problems too. A lot of that wealth goes to the rich, incentivizes pollution and the already-rich can game the system to their advantage. (My right-leaning friends use this point to argue that the fault lies not with Capitalism but Crony Capitalism and/or government interference, but I’ll address that in a minute.) On the other side, I believe Karl Marx had a lot of thoughtful criticisms of Capitalism in terms of its detrimental effects on many of the workers who make it possible. However, his solution with Communism is, in my opinion, a naive ideal which would be impossible to implement successfully and, like other forms of anarchism, would descend into mob rule or might-makes-right by a despot who fills the power vacuum. (My left-leaning friends would argue that the USSR/China/Cuba etc were never Communist but State Capitalist. But that’s my point, in implementing a Communist society there will always be corrupt actors who won’t cede back power as intended.)
The mainstream opinion of so many on the right-wing today, that the “free market” is some kind of infallible, omniscient force which will magically fix all our problems if we just blindly let it run everything, scare me. So do the more fringe left-wing people I know who unironically post sickle and hammer iconography online, call for a dictatorship of the proletariat without having a clue how specifically such a thing will function in practice, much less how to transition to a stateless, classless, moneyless society. (But they are just convinced that this time it’ll work, somehow.) In my opinion, blind faith in any one ideology, individual or institution to be perfect, while shutting out even the possibility that an alternate model may have some good ideas is foolishness. Fanaticism, extremism and dogmatism will get us nowhere–but a thoughtful balance might. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to consider that maybe, just maybe, capitalism isn’t the answer to all life’s troubles and we could address some of Marx’s critiques without descending into all-out Stalinism.
I’m going to zoom out a bit now and bring the second dimension into this conversation. The Political Compass and the Domestic Spectrum of my own Political Atlas are comprised of an X-Axis measuring economic strategy as well as a Y-Axis measuring a top-down “statism” vs a bottom-up “humanism” structure. Generally speaking, you can think of Right-Statism (aka Right-Authoritarianism in the PC) as the implementation of Capitalism by and in conjunction with a strong government. Right-Humanism (aka Right-Libertarianism in the PC) would be to keep Capitalism as the prevailing method of economic production but removing (or at least limiting and/or localizing) government as much as possible.
By the same categorization method, Left-Statism is the implementation of socialism (where workers, not investors/capitalists, own the means of production) through the use of a strong central government. (Sometimes this descends into government controlling economic enterprises in the interests of the people–or that’s how the ruling party justifies it to their citizens anyway.) Finally that leaves Left-Humanism (aka Left-Libertarianism in the PC) as socialism in a grassroots fashion, usually implemented through partial or complete democratic control of individual firms by the workers without direct interference from government, or a transition from investor-controlled corporations to worker’s collectives. In this way, the laborers directly control the means of production without the government acting as an intermediary. Some forms of Left-Humanism, like their Right-wing counterparts, seek to remove government entirely in addition to the establishment of this new economic structure.
Of course, I’m greatly simplifying the four quadrants for the purposes of this essay, but these brief descriptions should give you a general idea of their differences.
Now, despite being diametrically opposed to one another, my problem with the more extreme forms of Left-Statism and Right-Humanism are the same. Each one, again in their more dogmatic incarnations, want to remove one of the two seats of power in society: the private sector and the public sector, respectively. That may sound like progress, but I believe in practice that clears the way for the other center of power to have free reign and become tyrannical without anything to hold them back. We’ve recently seen firsthand the troubles of Left-Statism, including economic inefficiencies, stifled innovation and crimes against the individual man, with the USSR and North Korea. A central bureaucracy simply cannot manage such a complex tapestry that is a nation’s economy; which is why centralized planning and/or Authoritarian Socialism have never and will never work in practice.
I would argue that extreme Right-Humanism, in practice, would function as neo-feudalism. Anrcho-capitalism (or any similarly lopsided system) would quickly mirror the Western world after the decline and fall of the Roman government. Dignified citizens of a formerly lawful (however flawed) government would gradually descend to poor masses selling themselves as servants to rich aristocrats (and possibly corporations) in order to secure protection and a meager living. Same with any other form of anarchism, in the absence of a stable government, scores of tinpot despots (in this case, the rich, who were not stripped of their power in turn) will always fill the power vacuum and become the new de facto government. They would not be accountable towards the rights and liberties of the individual, nor even the norms and consistency of the former system they’d supplant. The sparkling utopia of the free market which many pro laissez faire capitalists envision, where every entrepreneur is empowered to start their business, every consumer can just avoid bad corporate practices and monopolies can never form…it’s a pipe dream. The only way such a system could ever work would be if it started with a redistribution of wealth so everyone starts off on equal footing. Otherwise, the already-wealthy will just immediately game the system the same way they do now, and it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for the poor to rise up of their own talent and hard work, since the oligarchs could just pay pennies on the dollar and buy up the competition. (If you’re Right-Humanist, chances are good you’re opposed to the concept of wealth reallocation, making this condition a non-starter.)
In contrast, Right-Statism and Left-Humanism, while also diametrically opposed, at least have some semblance of balance in theory. Again, in its more extreme variations, Left-Humanists seek to cripple or destroy central government and rich private plutocrats as much as possible. The question of “what do we replace it with” depends on the exact ideology, but in all cases, there’s a danger of the group which is instituting these radical societal changes (whether they be revolutionary militias, labor unions or a vanguard party) refusing to peacefully relinquish their power once they’ve driven out the old institutions. (Remember that the totalitarian dystopia of the Soviets started off as a well-meaning endeavor to create the stateless, classless, moneyless society envisioned by Karl Marx.) Even in less oppressive instances, like Revolutionary Catalonia, the Free Territory of the Ukraine or the Paris Commune, there is the real threat of outside intervention derailing the delicate process. To completely replace the governmental and economic magistrates of old is a hard transition which requires replacing many bureaucratic institutions and/or constitutional norms simultaneously to prevent being snuffed out by supporters of the old system. This makes Left-Humanist societies very unstable and vulnerable, especially as their new foundations are being planted. There’s a reason so few have ever existed and those that have did not last very long.
This leaves us finally with Right-Statism, by far the most prevalent among the many nations of the world. In theory, this social paradigm could still ensure individual liberty by playing the government and private sector against each other–I would argue though, that in practice the latter often corrupts the former. (And in some circumstances, like the government demanding back-doors into encryption, that corruption also goes the other way around.) In my experience, this adversarial relationship, which could theoretically hold the two in check is unbalanced by the comparative lack of internal checks and balances within the private sector itself. The private sector has been allowed to reign largely unfettered and the financial power of the owner/managerial “class” has been unhindered to buy off politicians to stifle the interests of the poor and middle class. Meanwhile, the public sector is itself divided in three and bound by constitutional law. This is why I propose that a Right-Statism model cannot properly maintain the welfare of its citizens without a system of enshrined protections for labor and customers against the plutocrats and 1%. The same way we divide political power between a legislature, executive and judiciary, so too must we balance economic power between the interests of investors, workers and consumers. I will propose specific suggestions for how this might be achieved in a later essay.
Any one of the four quadrants could produce a desirable civilization if we follow their more moderate iterations and allow for balance. I, personally, am a humanist/libertarian in the sense that I believe in maximizing individual liberty and local government as much as possible. However, I also feel that “top-down” government can fill a legitimate role in the world under the correct circumstances, with proper constitutional limits and civilian oversight. In addition, I believe the radical changes required to follow any extreme course would make society too unstable to ensure the intended outline survives the transitional period, so it’s best we keep such societal redesigns to a minimum and work within established institutions wherever possible. Once again, I plan to offer more detailed solutions for how to do so in a future blog entry. Since Right-Statism is by far the prevailing structural paradigm in America today, many of these ideas will come from Left-Humanist schools of thought in order to restore balance. (Put simply, we’re in the far edge of the top-right corner, so we need to be pulled towards the bottom-left just a little to get closer to the actual center.)
So, to quickly summarize, I’m a Left-Humanist in the sense that I believe those ideals are what we need to restore balance to our country. (Which as it stands is crony capitalist as well as plutocratic, now teetering on the brink of outright fascism.) That said, my ultimate goal is not ideological purity in that direction; I just want a neutral, balanced, objectively centrist society. (As opposed to the centrism of the Clinton Democrats, constantly chasing the Republicans to meet in the new middle everytime they pivot further to the right.) When I say “both sides are wrong” it’s in the sense that dogmatic fundamentalism towards Capitalism or Marxism alone are due to failure. And when I say “Option C” it’s in the sense that Distributism and Mutualism fall outside the traditional Capitalist/Socialist binary and we could stand to learn from them too. This concept will also be explored further in a future essay.
As far as my position on the foreign policy spectrum goes, at the risk of sounding like an “enlightened centrist” at this point, I believe balance is the key. In an ideal world, a liberal “Wilsonian” strategy would be great, but we do have to acknowledge that in the real world not every country has the world’s best interests at heart. We should be cautiously optimistic, willing to pool resources and intelligence for the common good of humanity, but not get caught with our proverbial pants down. I feel, as most Americans seem to after the Bush years, that our wars in the name of foreign influence, “police actions,” and being the self-appointed global enforcers of justice need to stop. But at the same time, we can’t follow Washington’s pro-isolationist suggestions wholesale anymore either. In a time where planes and digital communication have made the world much smaller, where nuclear bombs and climate change demand widespread cooperation, where economists have shown that tariffs and trade embargoes hurt everyone involved, it’s no longer sound policy to turn one’s back on the world completely. If I had to put an exact label on it, I’d call myself a cautious, restrained internationalist operating under the rationalist school of thought in international relations.
Major Sources of Inspiration
These are the people and ideologies which most significantly influenced my political worldview in case anyone is interested. Again, this particular series is all about sharing my positions, preferences and biases to my readers.
Political Candidates (In No Particular Order): George McGovern, Robert Kennedy, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Bernie Sanders, Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, Ross Perot, Robert La Follette, Ralph Nader, Jerry Brown, Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, Bruce Babbit, Larry Agran, Bob Kerrey, Carol Moseley Braun, Howard Dean, Mike Gravel, John Anderson, Lenora Fulani, Lincoln Chafee. And to a lesser extent: Eugene Debs, Huey Long, Daniel De Leon, Norman Thomas, James B Weaver, Henry Wallace, Ron Paul, Rocky Anderson and even to a certain degree, Michael Levinson.
Just because a person’s name is listed here does not mean I agree with them on all or even most issues, nor does it mean that I support their actions post-campaign. It just means they had a position or two during their campaign which resonated me during my research into past elections. That’s it. I can dislike a man personally but still acknowledge when they’re right about something. Just because LBJ escalated the Vietnam War doesn’t mean he didn’t also have some good domestic policy ideas for example.
Party Platforms (At Least, the Ones I Read In-Full): 1972 Democratic Party Platform, 2000 Green Party Platform, 1912 Progressive Party Platform, 1924 Progressive Party Platform, 1912 Socialist Party Platform, 1896 Populist Party Platform, 1896 Socialist Labor Party Platform, 1988 Libertarian Party Platform & 1940 Republican Party Platform.
Why these specifically? Either because it’s when my favorite candidate in that respective party got the nomination, or because it was the only platform of that particular party I could find. In any case, I tried to read one platform per party which I had some kind of agreement with.
Political Philosophies: Generally, I’m a Left-Libertarian, so my ideas stem from those philosophies on the spectrum. I particularly appreciated Mutualism, Distributism, workplace democracy/Democratic Socialism, Georgism, Syndicalism and the Situationist International.
Other Sources: Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Richard D. Wolff, Chris Hedges, Christopher Hitchens, Chalmers Johnson, Hunter S Thompson, George Carlin, Robert Anton Wilson, The Century of the Self, Hypernormalisation, We’re Not Broke, Inequality for All, The War on Kids, Zeitgeist 3, Money for Nothing, United States of Secrets, No End in Sight. (There’s probably two dozen others I’m forgetting right now.) And, oddly enough, Walt Disney for his original vision of EPCOT as a futuristic metropolis, a prototype of the new city.