Monday, November 5, 2012

At Election Time, Government is Force

I confess I was a little shocked last week scanning the links at  The liberals were all extolling the wonders of government.  Yeah, they said.  You sure need big government when Nature comes calling.

Of course, everyone is in favor of big government where their pet project is concerned.  Conservatives think that, on the view that the job of government is to protect us from enemies foreign and domestic, that the armed forces and the police are a good thing.

Liberals disagree.  They are paranoid about Pentagon generals, and watch local police forces intensely for any sign that they are committing police brutality on the poor and the marginalized.  But they are all in favor of the enforcement of environmental laws.  Because that will save the planet.

So there's real agreement in America.  Everyone is paranoid about the use of government force for things they don't like.

The question is: to what extent are we willing to reduce the use of government force on our pet projects in order to accommodate the fears of our friends in the other party?

Conservatives say that's why we need limited government and the separation of powers.

And I say that's why we need to go beyond that to the Greater Separation of Powers, to keep a separation between the great power sectors of society, the political sector, the economic sector, and the moral/cultural sector.

We already agree that there should be a separation between church and state, between the political and moral/cultural sectors, except that we violate it every day with government schools instructing the young and government support for the arts.  Of course, the truth is that you cannot separate politics from morality and culture, because morality and culture inform the decisions we make in politics.  But we can at least try to get the politicians and the moralists from getting in bed together.

The next great challenge is to separate economy and state: the political and the economic sectors.  This is particularly a pressing issue for the modern age, because government and business have grown from cottage industries into great and powerful systems that threaten to dominate and run over everything in their path.

It was Marx who first made the power of business into a scandal.  He used the tools of the classical economists, their confused ideas of exchange value and use value, to contrast the difference between "social labor" and "abstract labor," of work performed face-to-face and work bought and sold on the labor market.

But it took a new generation of Marxists, the Frankfurt School, to realize that it wasn't just business that threatened the social nature of humans, it was instrumental reason and its systems.  We are talking here about both business systems and government systems and their universal tendency to domination.

Then Juergen Habermas developed the ideas of Husserl and Heidegger into his system-and-lifeworld model.  System is the mechanical world of businesses and governments, of rules and subordination.  In Husserl's conception "The ‘lifeworld’ is a grand theatre of objects variously arranged in space and time relative to perceiving subjects, is already-always there, and is the “ground” for all shared human experience."

The problem for humans is that, unless we restrain the big and powerful systems they will dominate and sterilize the lifeworld.  That's because the systems want to reduce everything to their system.  So we have government, the system of force, and economy, the system of money.  We also have organized religion, the system of faith.  And each of them threatens us with its power.

Conservatives have a parallel view to Habermas and his systems vs. lifeworld view.  We believe in the limitation of powers, that is the restraining of the systems.  And we believe in the protection of "civil society" which is pretty close to the German concept of lifeworld or Lebenswelt.

But here we are, with an momentous election, determining whether we go full tilt towards an uber-systems government with bigger and more powerful systems.  Or whether we start in a different direction, de-privileging the systems and trying to find a new balance between our powerful systems of government and business and our essential humanness?

The thing about systems, of  course, is that they work really well right up until the moment they break.

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