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Authority, liberty, left, and right

In a recent Slashdot thread, someone asserted that the idea "The State knows best" is a "Far Left" idea. This is my refutation.

Authority ("the Church/State/Boss/Father/Mother knows best") vs. liberty ("I'll decide for myself") is orthogonal to left (the interests of people who do productive work) vs. right (the interests of people who own capital). It is certainly true that there are two main clusters in contemporary American politics; whether our two parties reflect or create this dynamic is an open question. But to understand the issues, we have to see politics as multi-dimensional. (And no, the two dimensional "Nolan Chart" used as a recruiting tool by the so-called "Libertarian Party" is just as much of a distortion.)

The contemporary mainstream American right, which we can more-or-less identify with the Republican Party, is capitalist and authoritarian. It thinks the State knows best what sort of sexual and romantic relationships you ought to be permitted to engage in, believes that the state ought to have the power of life and death over citizens (not just in the death penalty, but in opposing euthanasia laws), and fetishizes the military chain of command, where the individual submits to the moral judgment of the State as to who ought to be shot or bombed.

On economic issues, both the GOP and the "libertarian" right of the "Libertarian Party" want a state that's powerful enough to preserve the privilege of the investment class (i.e., the capitalists). You'll never hear them talk about reducing government's power to enforce and create property "rights". The mouth-noise from the GOP about "smaller government" is marketing; their idea of "smaller government" is about decreasing democratic governance and increasing state-backed private power. (It's government cops who come to evict you from "private" property.)

The contemporary moderate left in the U.S. -- the center of the Democratic Party, to a first order approximation -- is more skeptical of the State dictating "family values" and deciding who should live and die, though there is also an bit of a holdover from the Progressive Era's Prohibitionist tendencies to save people from themselves. (It is sometimes a tricky line to figure out what's "saving people from themselves" and what's "sensible consumer protection against fraud".) This group thinks that the State knows better than corporate oligarchs what's good for the economy -- and given the fact that the economy has historically done better under Democrats than under Republicans, they seem to be correct in that belief.

The far left, though, thinks that rather than regulating them, we shouldn't have corporate oligarchs in the first place. While Marxists believe that the solution is a "dictatorship of the proletariat", the libertarian left understands that corporate charters (and therefore the stock market that trades corporate ownership), reserve banking, all the economic factors that concentrate wealth -- hell, money and property itself -- are either creations of the state or rely directly on it, and that disempowering the state along these lines is a more desirable means to the end of economic justice and liberty.


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