For our examination of these several ideologies, we will presuppose the following two basic truths: that objective morality does exist and that human rights, the preeminent of which are life, liberty, and property, do exist.
A brief note must be made regarding presuppositions. It has become popular among some atheistic and skeptical scientists and philosophers to ridicule those who employ presuppositions in their arguments. Some argue that to ground an argument on a presupposition is “blind faith,” a bane to reason. So, how do we answer such criticism?
Making a philosophical argument is, in many ways, like constructing a building. The presuppositions are like the foundation, and, like a foundation, must be tested for their reliability; the subsequent arguments are like the framing, roofing, electrical and plumbing systems, drywall, flooring, and finish work.
In the construction of a building, there are specific methods that must be followed for the various steps of the process. These steps ensure the integrity of the structure. When building the foundation, the soil must be level, the forms must be square, the rebar must be properly laid and tied into the footings, and the concrete must be properly poured and leveled. If any of these steps is changed or ignored, the foundation will be compromised, and the integrity of the entire structure will be endangered; therefore, a trustworthy contractor — one who is known to use the proper methods — must be employed. That being said, when the framing crew arrives to begin constructing the walls and roof, must they demolish the foundation and pour a new one? No! They simply trust that the concrete crew did their job and begin to construct the walls.
So it is with a philosophical argument. When I begin to make an argument regarding the subsequent argument’s conclusions, must I begin by reestablishing previously established truths? No! My point is this: if the presuppositions used in an argument have been tested and corroborated, either empirically or logically (as the arguments used in this article have been), then it is not intellectual cheating to assume that they are true.
(For more information on, and arguments in favor of, the presuppositions used in this article, I would encourage you to utilize the resources included in the references that demonstrate the truth of these presuppositions).
So, without any further adieu, let’s examine four major ideologies that have been tested in the U.S. — communism/socialism, libertarianism, democracy, and constitutional republicanism.
What are socialism and communism? According to Merriam-Webster, socialism is “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods” and, “(in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism.” Communism is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as, “A political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.”
According to Karl Marx, the father of communism, communism is the offspring of socialism. Socialism and communism are both systems of government in which there is no such thing as personal or private property. They can be defined by one simple phrase — “big government.” They also share a common problem — they don’t work.
The only difference between socialism and communism is in their outworking and enforcement. Whereas socialism is often slowly and peacefully established, communism is often much more militant and revolutionary; however, as was mentioned, socialism can be a platform from which communism is peacefully established. All of this said, the raw definitions of socialism and communism, as ideologies, reflect the same basic principles; they both deny individual property rights and require an all-powerful state to support a stifled economy, as we shall shortly see.
It is probably not common knowledge that America began as a socialistic state, nor that some of our history’s most virtuous figures — the pilgrims — actually established it. Having made a couple of thwarted attempts to escape English tyranny, facing spiritual regression in Holland, surviving the harshest of Atlantic storms, and finally settling in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Pilgrims set about to govern themselves. After all that they had experienced, could anything worse happen?
Unfortunately, affairs for the pilgrims soon grew much worse. They weren’t used to governing themselves; now, forced to establish a system of civil government, they were shooting in the dark, so to speak. Their first attempt at civil government was nothing less than socialism. As my friend, Daniel, wrote,
“Their idea of economics was simple: each person contributed to the ‘common pot’ as much as possible and took from it only what was needed. It seemed like a wonderful plan, but it never addressed thievery or laziness. Governor Bradford, the Pilgrim leader, wrote that the young men – who were able to do the most work – disliked that they were supporting “other men’s wives and children.” Instead of working hard to see other people profit, they preferred to work as little as possible and gain from the work of others.”
Unfortunately, for the Pilgrims, this plan produced neither happiness nor prosperity. It so fettered the market that widespread starvation, rather than widespread provision, ensued. The governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, wrote,
”For this community (common ownership) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong or man of parts, had no more division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was through injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, though it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption . . . God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”
As we consider the problems caused by the Pilgrims’ experiment in common ownership, we begin to realize why, regardless of its context or when it has been tried, socialism has so unfailingly failed. While attempting to reconcile economic disparity, socialism inevitably creates even greater disparity, and it always meets with three insuperable roadblocks.
First, socialism is wholly insufficient to remove the differences in ability and need between humans. Those who have both the ability and the need to produce more are forced to give an inordinate amount to those who have neither the need to produce much nor the ability to do so. This breeds discontentment and induces the discontent to laziness or thievery. In a perfect socialistic utopia, there is no room for thievery or dishonesty. This is the glaring mechanical failure of socialism. It does not account for the human desire for material gain, nor for mankind’s proclivity for immorality. If the system experiences even one upset, however small, a domino effect occurs, and the entire economy is thrown into recession, if not failure. Those who have few or no dependents and shirk their responsibility will be supported by the hard work of others, while the hardworking only have to work harder. As we will see, this leads to communism, total governmental control of every area of life.
Second, socialism deprives men of their right to the fruits of their labors. This problem is much more serious, as it deprives human beings of an inherent moral right. According to the Founders, the three most important human rights are life, liberty, and property. John Adams said,
“Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by [the government] in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. . . [N]o part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people of this commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent.”
John Madison, in his “Essay on Property,” wrote,
“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”
Can you see the problem? According to Adams, one of government’s primary functions is to protect private property. Rather than protecting property, a socialistic government actually deprives men of it and redistributes it according to a plan in which the people have no say. Socialism cannot be impartial, because, in distributing to each only what he needs, it must indiscriminately deprive all men of their property rights, giving some more than what they earned and giving others less than what they earned.
Thankfully, as has been noted, this system failed and was abandoned by the Pilgrims; and our current form of government, under the U.S. Constitution, has rejected the idea of community ownership. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states,
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
According to the Fourth Amendment, in America, a person’s property cannot be taken from him, unless his right to it has been forfeited by unlawful behavior; and, even after that, only after the lawful procedure for seizing it has been followed by the interested magistracy. Under the wording of the Fourth Amendment, the most essential part of socialism — community ownership — is rejected.
So, socialism/communism violate our first and second requirements by depriving people of their property rights and the third requirement by violating the first two. Obviously, socialism cannot be responsible for our greatness. It produced poverty rather than exceptional prosperity; inherent in its execution is the abrogation of property rights rather than exceptional liberty; and it led to discontentment, laziness, and thievery rather than exceptional justice and virtue. After its epic failure before the Pilgrims, it was abandoned over one-hundred years before America became a nation and was never used in any of America’s governing documents. If socialism was never used in the formation of American government, then it could not have contributed to American greatness.
Libertarianism is one of the most diversified and varied ideologies in governmental philosophy; therefore, it is difficult to treat the over-arching philosophy with broad generalizations. Strictly defined, libertarianism is “an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens.” The New Oxford American Dictionary further describes libertarianism:
“Its adherents believe that private morality is not the state’s affair, and that therefore activities such as drug use and prostitution that arguably harm no one but the participants should not be illegal. Libertarianism shares elements with anarchism, although it is generally associated more with the political right, chiefly in the US.”
The presence of libertarianism in the U.S. is officially represented by the Libertarian Party, a right-wing political party. A perusal of the Libertarian Party platform will demonstrate that libertarianism in America can be simply characterized by fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. Most American libertarian groups seem to adhere to the non-aggression principle, which essentially states that no one may aggress against another’s life or property.
The non-aggression principle, in and of itself, is not a problem. The problem with libertarianism, in the U.S., is not so much an inherent philosophical problem as it is a philosophical problem with self-described libertarians’ application of their libertarianism.
The philosophical problem with this application of libertarianism is more elusive and difficult to pinpoint, but it will become more evident as we investigate American greatness. For now, the important thing to understand is the barrier libertarianism provides to American greatness. The principle problem is, as it regards American greatness, that it fails to promote exceptional virtue. This leaves the promotion of virtue solely to the individual. In this kind of libertarian view, only those matters that are explicitly mentioned in the Constitution are within the purview of government. It leaves those issues that are popularly defined as “social issues” — issues, such as abortion, that generate widespread controversy — to the “conscientious consideration” of the individual; thus is the door opened to a litany of immoralities. And, according to Benjamin Rush, “Without Virtue there can be no liberty.”
So, libertarianism fails to meet our third requirement. As we have seen, failure to promote virtue will, eventually, lead to the downfall of liberty.
If such horrendous acts as abortion — the taking of innocent human life — can be tolerated under libertarianism, simply by classifying it as a social issue, the question must be begged, “Is libertarianism really compatible with exceptional virtue, an essential component of American greatness?” It seems that it is not.
The issue of democracy in the U.S. is probably more misunderstood and convoluted than any other ideology in America. In order to understand the issue, again, it is necessary to define terms.
Democracy is “A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Certainly, this is one aspect of American government, but it is not the pure whole of American government. Democracy, in its purest form, is nothing more than mob rule. In America, our leaders are elected democratically — that is, they are elected by a majority of the electorate — but there are certain checks and balances in place that ensure that all citizens are represented fairly.
First of all, it is important to note that the democracy of the contemporary Democratic Party bears little resemblance to the democracy of Alexis de Tocqueville. When the Founders spoke favorably of democracy, they were referencing an operational attribute of government, not an all-inclusive form of government; that is, they favored the democratic system of electing governmental representatives, but wholly disapproved of a purely democratic form of government. Consider some of the quotes from American Founding Fathers and luminaries:
“Democracies have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death.” — James Madison
“There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.” — Samuel Adams
Obviously, while the Founders instituted a democratic method of electing governmental leaders, they found the idea of a pure democracy repugnant. Democracy fundamentally violates all of our requirements for government by being at continual risk of derelicting them. We’re probably all familiar with the quote, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” While this quote is often misattributed to Benjamin Franklin, the point is nonetheless valid.
So, we have discovered several ideologies that have not contributed to American greatness; but just one did. We will find out in our next post. Stay tuned!
Blessings in the fight for Liberty!