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Posts Tagged ‘Political Philosophy’

Lot & His Daughters by Lucas van Leyden

(VC Note: This piece was written on August 19th, 2013).

Back in 2003, the Supreme Court invalidated a number of state anti-sodomy laws (including Virginia’s) in the case of Lawrence v. Texas.  In this ruling, the Court declared sodomy to be a liberty offered by the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.  Personally, I find this logic to be faulty.  Given that the federal government has no authority under the Constitution to regulate, permit, or disallow any sexual activity, I strongly believe the Supreme Court was in error.

However, be it for better or worse, we now live in a post Lawrence v. Texas world.  Recently, Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli suggested re-criminalizing sodomy in the state.  Personally, as a social conservative, like Cuccinelli, I have an aversion to sodomy.  I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to hear about it, and I certainly don’t want to see someone engaged in it.  As our biblical basis, I’m sure many of us remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where God destroys the two cities as a result of the actions of their residents (hence the word sodomy).  However, in a conversation with my pastor, she added that perhaps the greatest offense of Sodom was their total disregard of hospitality.  Either way, I have considerable concerns about making these kinds of activities illegal once more in Virginia.

Now, obviously there are a multitude of arguments to be made to ban not just sodomy, but all sorts of sexual activity from the public eye.  However, if Virginia were to forbid sodomy again, we come across the troubling question of enforcement.  Do police and lawmakers have a right to enter a person’s property to check for such behaviors?  When it comes to coercion, rape, or the violation of minors, there is a general agreement that, yes, the authorities have this right.  However, when in the area of consenting adults, the issue becomes more difficult.

Again, let me repeat that I am not in favor of sodomy.  However, does that opinion trump the ability of individuals to do what they wish behind closed doors and outside the public eye?  I should think not.  After all, if we remember, it wasn’t too long ago that sexual activity among people of differing races was frowned upon in this state.  In addition, we once gave the state the power to sterilize “undesirables”.  With the reintroduction of anti-sodomy laws, should these practices be dusted off as well?  Admittedly the question is absurd, but still there is a certain bit of truth and danger embedded within.  Are there fellow social conservatives who think when they hear the story of Sodom and Gomorrah that these cities would have been spared if only their government had passed laws to save the citizens from their own immorality?

We must remind ourselves that if we are willing to permit the government entry into our homes and sexual practices in order to make sodomy illegal again, we open ourselves up to all sorts of additional intrusions should the lawmakers or police feel so inclined.  If a person’s home is her castle, shouldn’t she be allowed to run it as she sees fit so long as she doesn’t deprive anyone of his or her life, liberty, or property?  If I don’t want the state in my bedroom, it would not be morally consistent for me to send it into yours.

I’d rather see Virginia as a beacon of liberty among the fifty states where each citizen is free to chart his own destiny, rather than a place where the government spies upon its citizens in some kind of theocratic police state.  Sure, many of us may have a moral revulsion to sodomy and thus, I believe, have a right to keep it out of our personal homes, businesses, and the public sphere, but does this right supercede the rights of my neighbor in the privacy of his house?  The answer, at least to any liberty-minded person, is obvious.

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Last night, I joined about a dozen or more local political activists at a restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg for about two hours.  As the title of this piece implies, the group was a social gathering called Drinking Liberally.

Now, it seems likely that many of you might question why I, the author of a blog entitled “The Virginia Conservative”, would willingly choose to spend any time with a multitude of self-avowed liberals.  After all, aren’t these people our political enemies, a group that should be shunned at every turn?

When I first became embroiled in politics a number of years ago, I held a similar view of political activists across the aisle.  These people are unreasonable, intolerant, and best avoided.  As far as I could tell, they didn’t care much for me, so why should I treat them any differently?

However, in recent times I have come to a somewhat different realization.  For example, prior to attending a number of Libertarian functions many years ago, I held a rather dim view of those sorts of people.  However, the more time that I spent around them, the more I realized that we actually did share a number of common interests, that they were not some radical monolithic group that wanted nothing more than to spend their day smoking pot and abolishing all forms of government.  Perhaps the best aspect of all was the friendships that came about as a result of our time together, including one that I treasured more than all of the rest combined.

Now, I admit that I don’t share much, if any, political ground with most liberals these days.  Issues that might normally unite us, like a concern for the erosion of our civil liberties and a rejection of an interventionist foreign policy seem less likely given that President Obama has been promoting policies that stand in stark contrast to these views.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean, nor should it mean, that each and every self-identified liberal endorses this course of action simply because a Democratic president does as well.  Just a handful of conservatives (not enough in my mind) opposed these same big government policies of Republican George W. Bush.

It is natural for people to band together into like-minded camps such a liberals, conservatives, libertarians, statists, and the like.  However, the sickness in American politics is that there is very little communication between these groups these days, in part, because we are constantly bombarded with an “us against them” mentality promoted by the talking heads on radio and television.

However, I believe that this widening gap is a situation that can and ought to be remedied, which is why I attended this gathering last night.  Now, I didn’t, of course, either literally or figuratively enter the group wearing a sign proclaiming my conservatism; doing so would likely would have created an air of hostility and suspicion from the onset.  Rather, I sat down with a number of folks and spoke to them one on one about issues, current events, and predictions for the future.  Yes, believe it or not, the other side isn’t some collection of political monsters.

As some of you may know, I am currently in talks with a local radio station to craft a new radio program about state and local politics that explores a multitude of political opinions.  Ideally, I hope to showcase the entire political spectrum, not to degrade these other viewpoints, but to create an atmosphere where discussion and rational thought is encouraged rather than simply shouted down.

Although I am not a liberal, nor do I have any plans to become one, I still enjoyed my time with the Harrisonburg and Rockingham liberals last night.  Despite our differences, it is my hope that we can expand this interpolitical dialogue so that each of us can express our viewpoints without fear of rejection or immediate condemnation.  That, I believe, is the hallmark of a classically liberal society, an ideal that we should all strive to achieve.

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Or, more appropriately titled, Life in the State of War Poor.

The great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes had quite a lot to say about many subjects.  In his work, Leviathan, he tackles desires, relationships, nature, power, religion and the government, just to name a few.  However, I believe that there is rather an interesting parallel between today’s Occupy Wall Street movement and Hobbes’ state of war.  Delving in to Chapter 13 of his book, we find such comparisons.

First of all, Hobbes makes the claim that all men are by nature equal.  Now, he recognizes that some people are stronger, some are faster, some are smarter, and so on and so forth.  However, no one person possesses such extraordinary abilities that another person or group of persons taken collectively cannot best him.  Hobbes then writes, “From equality proceeds diffidence.  From this equality of ability, ariseth equality of hope in attaining our end.  And therefore if an two men desire the same thing, which they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy, or subdue another.”

Presumably, both those who work on Wall Street as well as those occupying desire the same goal, prosperity for oneself and one’s family.  For example, according to OccupyWallSt.org, “The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.”  As the Wall Street workers have achieved this economic end while the occupiers have not, this difference in situation creates a tension between them.

Perhaps the most important argument regarding this whole affair is whether the workers have achieved their riches through hard work or exploitation and whether the occupy force is simply a lazy mass demanding wealth that they have not earned or a down trodden and oppressed people.  This article will not delve into this topic, but merely seeks to point out the driving force behind each side.  Also, for the sake of this discussion, we will assume that the Occupy movement is a group of disaffected citizens and not a mob organized and paid by left-wing organizations as some have suggested.

Although there is not currently widespread violence (thankfully), one group desires what the other holds and therefore will seek to deprive them of a portion or all of their wealth if given the opportunity.  Thus, according to Hobbes, Wall Street and its occupiers are in a state of war with each other; inequality and poverty give way to class warfare.

Digging deeper in to chapter 13 of Leviathan, what do we find as a result of the state of war?  “In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit therefore is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth…no account of time; no arts no letters; no society.”  If this present state continues in the current form, Hobbes warns in his most famous lines, “and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

So, assuming we are plunging headlong into this horrid condition where violence between the haves and the have-nots is merely one spark away, what is the proper remedy?  Interestingly, both Hobbes and the Occupy movement seem to seek the same solution, a strong central government.  Surely centralized power can right these income disparities!  Surely our lives, liberty, and property are best protected by a state of increasingly limitless power!

If we rely upon the federal government to correct this wealth gap as some in the Occupy movement desire, then what is the end result?  Where will the authority of the government end and, with a totalitarian state, can we still question its actions?  In chapter 18, Hobbes informs us that we cannot.  “Because every subject is by this institution author of all the actions…whatsoever he doth, it can be no injury to any of his subjects; nor ought he to be by any of them accused of injustice.”  Furthermore, “no man that hath sovereign power can…in any manner by his subjects be punished.”

Is the prospect of some financial gain worth sacrificing our political freedom?  Fortunately, when reacting to the abuses of the British, our founding fathers chose to model our nation upon the principles of limited government advocated by philosophers like John Locke than the totalitarian ones espoused by Thomas Hobbes.

Another major political protest group, the tea party movement offers a different solution to this problem.  As Gerald Ford famously stated in 1974, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” Although I will freely admit that there are injustices in our society, I predict that expanding government power will only exacerbate the existing crisis.  After all, haven’t subsides, tax loopholes, and excessively meddlesome regulation through our existing government helped give birth to many of the woes that the Occupy movement seek to improve?

Just about everyone would like to see an upswing in the economy.  Living in poverty, not knowing how or where one will live one week or month to the next is not a situation that one can stomach for long.  It is easy to fall into the trap of base desires, jealously coveting the treasures of neighbors, but these passions only lead us into hate.  I know that it is tempting, but, unlike Hobbes and the Occupy movement, don’t give into the lure of expanding  government power for a remedy.  Doing so will not create either liberty or long-term prosperity, but rather more widespread and equalized misery as all of us are further shackled in the bonds of economic slavery.

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As part of my study of political philosophy while at William & Mary, we read a few of the works of Niccolo Machiavelli.  Although The Prince is his best-known treatise, you should know that Machiavelli was a man of many talents; he was also a poet and a playwright.  Sunday evening, I reread his play Mandragola.  Much like his philosophical work, Mandragola is infused with deeper meanings and revelations about mankind.

Unfortunately Mandragola is a depressing tale.  None of the characters in his play are moral; each is scheming for some personal gain at the expense of his or her neighbors or relatives.  For example, the main character, Callimaco lusts after the wife of an older man of Florence.  In order to achieve his goal, he devises an elaborate scheme to trick Nicia, the old fellow, into willingly opening his bedchamber to Callimaco’s interloping.  Nicia, who desires offspring more than anything else, assumes he is sacrificing the life of an innocent bystander in order to gain a child.  Timoteo, a priest of the city, goes along with any devious plan if at the end of it he will make financial gains.  Lucrezia, Nicia’s wife, while originally seeming virtuous, secretly breaks her marriage vows for the sake of her new lover.  Although each character puts forth a seemingly honorable face with the best of intentions toward those they are trying to deceive, we, as the audience who have heard their inner thoughts, know their true wickedness.

As I believe was the case with The Prince, Machiavelli weaves this tale not to say this is necessarily how people should act, but rather, when left to their own devices, this is how people will act.  Another common thread with The Prince is the underlying theme that fortune favors the bold.  Consider again the character Callimaco.  Rather than sit around moping about the love that can never be his, he instead acts quickly and decisively to acquire the object of his affection.  Thus, those who are daring are far more likely to achieve their objectives than those who act timidly.  Obviously, as a social conservative, I cannot condone his actions, but they do serve some practical value mostly as a warning.  One should never simply assume that humans would always act in the spirit of charity, honesty, and virtue.  To blindly assume nobility of your comrades and associates is a recipe for your own disaster.

Although all areas of human interaction can fall prey to this callous dishonesty, they are typically most frequent and recognizable in the areas of politics and religion, which I believe Machiavelli knew all too well.  This work plumbs the dark recesses of the human soul.  Personally, I have witnessed many cases of one person crushing another beneath his or her feet in order to achieve wealth, status, power, or the attentions of another.  The temptation is always present, always gnawing at the corners of your soul.  I wonder how many folks, while in midstep, look down and recoil in horror at the act which they have willing committed, the person on whom they have trampled in the quest for personal glory.  I suppose each step that one takes makes the following one that much easier.

Mandragola can be viewed in many differing lights.  It can be a grim caution against deception, a manual on how to succeed no matter the cost, or a woeful tale of the greed and corruption of society and the church.  Read the play and decide for yourself.  Although compared to the works of Shakespeare, it is exceedingly brief, but a careful reader can draw much from its pages.  No doubt that The Prince is a far more valuable work in terms of political philosophy; nevertheless, for all of the reasons stated above, once you have exhausted that text, I encourage you to take the hour or so needed to explore Machiavelli’s Mandragola.

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