Political positions are mostly taken as a priori. Few people bother to examine the source of people’s beliefs on the subject, unless it is a particularly interesting fringe (like Christian right-wing extremists).
I would like to propose a hypothesis on why people adopt the political beliefs they do: I propose that they depends on one’s position on certain fundamental questions of social ethics, and that social ethics informs one’s politics, in the same way that epistemic beliefs (such as skepticism or emotional anti-rationalism) inform one’s position on various issues such as religion or alternative medicine. I would also like to discuss the Market Anarchist perspective on those fundamental questions.
My position is that the way we grow up and are educated, and our early experiences with people, in short our mental attitude towards others, mold our sense of social ethics, and that social ethics determine our political beliefs. Here are the three questions I consider most fundamental to social ethics and most influential on our political beliefs:
1. Can the use of force (murder, theft) be good and in what circumstances? This question goes to the root of the dichotomy between relativism and universal morality. All forms of collectivism support the doctrine of relativism: that moral principles can change depending on the time and place, generally at the whim of people in position of authority. Christianity entails the belief that the absolute moral principles dictated by God only apply to certain people at a certain time, democracy entails the belief that laws are relative to place and time (through voting and ruling class decisions), racism entails that people of different races have different moral standings, and so on.
A person who believes in the relativist doctrine will therefore have no problem in accepting that the ruling class can perform extortion, kidnapping, murder and fraud on everyone else. He will see no moral problem in positing that “we need the law in order to protect rights,” when such law is established and maintained by force. Either “practical expediency” or “might makes right” becomes his guiding principle. Since he cannot accept universal principles, his founding documents (such as the Constitution) become “living documents” whose meaning changes with the times.
To a person who believes in universality, on the other hand, extortion, kidnapping, murder and fraud are not acceptable actions to perform against any individual, regardless of the rationalizations used to justify them. The belief that the ruling class uses these crimes for “the common good” is seen as hypocrisy and indoctrination, since crimes cannot yield any moral gain. There are fixed universal principles that must be followed by all (such as “no initiation of coercion”) in order to have a healthy society.
2. Is man fundamentally malleable, or does he have a basically fixed nature? Do people’s decisions come from themselves, or are they made up of outside influences?
This is, in a sense, relevant to the issue of free will and determinism, in that it demonstrates how people analyze the issue. People associate “decisions coming from yourself” as “free will,” and “decisions made up of outside influences” as “determinism.” This then turns into all sorts of confusions. They ask questions like “if determinism is true, then how can you change your mind?” This question, of course, is a confusion: you can change your mind because your decisions come from who you are and what you think. But because they equate “your decisions come from who you are” with “free will,” and the opposite with determinism, they cannot make that connection.
In reality, “decisions come from yourself” is merely another way of expressing both determinism and free will, and they are both aspects of the same thing. Determinism expresses the causal relation between our mind and our actions, and free will expresses our mental capacity to effect such a relation consciously.
The opposite view is that our decisions are a composite of exterior influences: the media, video games, our parents, our friends, the food we eat, what we wear, what we own, etc. Of course, this creates a little “origin” problem: if our actions originate in those of other people, and so do their actions, then how does anything get started?
Putting aside the major logical problem, this stance is the basic moral justification for social engineering, paternalistic policies, and attacks on civil liberties (especially for teenagers). The left-wing sort of people tend to believe in determinism because they believe that exterior influences are most important, and also tend to believe that man is malleable, and therefore that through the State’s coercion we can make society “better.”
Now, I grant you that, unlike the previous question, there is room for nuances on the answers to this question. One can believe that both positions are viable to a certain extent. The answer would here mostly depend on which position one believes is the most important: whether our actions are mostly our own or the product of exterior influences.
3. Are the vast majority of human beings (excluding psychopaths and the mentally handicapped) fundamentally good or evil?
What I am referring to in this question is specifically the collectivist doctrine of Original Sin, which all collectivist belief systems (including political ones) share. They believe that man is born corrupt, and is too selfish/greedy/sinful/individualistic to live in society without a transcendent authority (God/the Church/the State/transcendent principles) to “lay down the law,” figuratively or literally. In this view, man is born corrupt, and is made good by coercive action.
The opposite position is that man is born innocent and, if left uncoerced and without collectivist indoctrination, will remain good. In this view, transcendent authorities corrupt the individual by taking him away from his own moral standards and imposing alien standards which pursue the interests of hierarchies and beliefs, not of the moral agent. The State and religion corrupt the individual in the name of making him good.
This is what I call the Inner Light doctrine (after the Quaker use of the same term). It is the belief that almost all individuals have a moral “inner light,” an intrinsic moral compass, that comes from biology, growing up, interacting with others, empathy, education, and other areas. The few who don’t (such as most serial killers) are exceptions to the rule.
The Inner Light doctrine sets the table for the moral debate, because it forces the statist to contradict himself. If the doctrine is false, then the State itself is the product of immoral people, and therefore it is itself immoral. If the doctrine is true, then the State is a useless aberration, and its continued existence is immoral.