A Balance of Ideals

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EmancipationConversation welcomes Charlie Fellowman, guest blogger.

In late 2004 or early 2005, Charlie joined the Vedanta Society of Providence. He finally found a congregation where he could fit in and actually agree with what they believed in. Although Charlie now feels that it is best to trust in and rely on God, and that we all get what we deserve due to our karma, the momentum of his political philosophy led him to this presentation.

A Balance of Ideals
by Charlie Fellowman

I am proposing a balance of ideals, which would also lead to a balance of power.

As background, the European enlightenment has three archetypal ideals: liberty, equality, and solidarity (or brotherhood and sisterhood).

The Asian proponents of (mystical) enlightenment see three archetypal vices: greed, anger, and delusion (the belief that we are fundamentally separate, which I am emphasizing in its leading to pride). A fourth archetypal vice sometimes listed is lust, but lust is a problem when connected with greed or anger, so I am considering this problem as part of greed and anger.

So let’s see if there is any relationship between the three virtues and the three vices.

Libertarians, who value predominantly liberty or individual initiative, face the obstacle that some people do not believe completely in free will and want to have social programs that benefit the disadvantaged and/or middle class. Without social programs, libertarians develop a society predominantly based on greed. The perpetual existence of determinists is the main obstacle to a society base purely on liberty.

Communists, who value predominantly equality or classlessness, face the obstacle that some people are going to be, or are going to be perceived as being, counterrevolutionary. The counterrevolutionaries are political opponents who disagree with the proposed version of equality either in its tactics or strategy. In order to oppose the counterrevolutionaries, communists develop a society predominantly based on anger. The perpetual existence of counterrevolutionaries is the main obstacle to a society base purely on equality.

Reactionaries (either religious fundamentalists or xenophobic nationalists), who predominantly value solidarity based on their version of their scripture or their version of their nationality, face the main obstacle that some people are going to be nonconformists. Reactionaries develop a society predominantly based on pride, where the in-group feels superior to the out-groups. This pride can lead to greed and anger being directed toward the nonconformists. The perpetual existence of nonconformists is the main obstacle to a society purely based on solidarity.

Liberty, equality, and solidarity can be paired with greed, anger, and pride. The existence of determinists, counterrevolutionaries, and nonconformists mean that a society purely based solely on liberty, equality, or solidarity faces insurmountable obstacles.. Each of the three political ideals also has the other two vices, though, but to a lesser degree.

In libertarianism, capitalists can get angry at workers, and the public can feel superior to bureaucrats.

In communism, bureaucrats can be richer than the public, and workers can feel superior to capitalists.

In reactionary societies, there can, of course, be anger and greed.

So, what is the solution?

Let’s look at social democracy. Social democracy is the society that, in practice, values liberty, equality, AND solidarity.

Greed is moderated because of progressive taxes, strong unions, and strong social benefits. Social programs are accepted.

Anger is moderated due to bureaucrats and capitalists having to be beholden to the public and workers. Political and economic opposition is accepted.

And pride is moderated, as the bureaucrats and the public; the capitalists and workers; and the different nationalities and religions, live in relative harmony. Political parties and corporations do feel superior to each other, but only to a moderate degree. Nonconformity is accepted.

In social democracy, there is a balance of ideals, as well as a balance of power. Actually existing social democratic societies do not have this ideology to back up what they in fact practice, but they could. A balance of ideals allows for people to be inspired by all the ideals without trampling on the rights of those left out when one ideal is followed exclusively. It is also practical, since social democratic societies can actually practice what they preach.

So I present the balance of ideals.

Now let’s look at one other aspect of things. Let’s compare liberty, equality, and solidarity to the philosophers’ truth, justice, and beauty.

Libertarians emphasize the individual search for truth, communists the class struggle for justice, and reactionaries seek glory, which relates to beauty. Once again, a balance is called for.

The balance of ideals is not only the best way to run a society, but it is also the best way to advocate for change.

The Caste System and the Balance of Ideals

As I said above, the three ideals of the European enlightenment can be stated as liberty, equality and solidarity. And the three flaws seen by the mystical view can be stated as greed, anger, and pride.

Let’s compare these to the Indian caste system.

The priestly caste, when fully enlightened, can do away with greed, anger and pride altogether. So they need no government or corporations to police them. The priestly caste, thus, can be anarchists, with full liberty, equality and solidarity.

The political, ruling and warrior caste seeks to have everyone follow its lead. They want complete solidarity, so their main flaw is pride.

The business and merchant caste want complete liberty, especially of the market, so their main flaw is greed.

The working caste wants equality, at least when they know their class interests, so they can be equal to the other castes. Their main flaw is anger.

We need all four castes in society to balance things out. None of the castes should be privileged over any of the others. Caste need not be hereditary, either. It is simply a way of describing different tendencies in individuals.

On Democracy – Or the Balance of Authority

Anarchists believe in doing away with all authority. Reactionaries (including fascists and fundamentalists) believe in doing away with all challenges to authority. Libertarians believe in challenging political authority (the bureaucrats) but in not challenging economic authority (the capitalists). Communists believe in challenging economic authority (the capitalists) but in not challenging political authority (the bureaucrats who rule under communism).

Believers in democracy believe that authority will always exist, but that all authority can be challenged. This, then, is the solution. Political authority can be challenged by opposition parties and advocacy groups, and economic authority can be challenged by unions and social programs.

Libertarians believe that challenging the economic authority of the market results in compulsion, such as compulsory unions and compulsory programs such as Social Security. Communists believe that challenging their political authority leads to compulsion, in that the capitalist ruling class rules over the workers and others. Reactionaries believe that challenging any of their authority leads to the rule of a conspiracy by a minority group or the devil, etc. Anarchists believe that under anarchism there will be no ambition towards undue authority.

People have competing urges toward ambition and compassion. As a result, society tends to be hierarchical and yet people want to help each other. Wars tend to be a conflict between two visions of the good, rather than a clear-cut case of good vs. evil. The Cold War, for example, was a conflict between visions of liberty vs. equality. World War II was a conflict between solidarity on the one hand, vs. liberty and equality on the other.

Modern slavery and colonialism, including Communist colonialism in Eastern Europe and Tibet, are cases of ignoring society’s central principles, such as liberty and equality. Meat eating is a case of not applying liberty, equality and solidarity to animals. Slavery, colonialism, and meat eating have existed under democracy, showing that democracy can ignore its own principles. Second class status for women, queers, and the disabled have also existed under democracy.

Libertarianism, communism, and reaction tend to believe they have found the objective authority, respectively the market, the working class and either the higher nationality or religion. For example, there are authority of the rational or an all-knowing consumer in libertarianism, scientific socialism and the rationally planned economy in communism, the infallible leader in fascism, and the infallible scripture in fundamentalism. Democrats tend to believe that political views are subjective, and that there is no objective authority. Objective authorities lead to authoritarianism, whereas subjective views lead to the possibility of challenging authority.

Democracy is not perfect, in that it can ignore its own principles. But nothing else is better.

Part II, Towards A Worldwide Living Wage, is here.

Charlie Fellowman published his recovery story on this site, a link to the first chapter, A Quiet Kid, is here.

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