From Jen Sorensen.
The fundamental principles of political discourse are not freedom, right, choice or equality. As I’ve previously discussed, these terms actually have three different levels of meaning, which fluctuate depending on the person using them. So for instance there are three kinds of freedom, following the three kinds of power:
1. Freedom- from condign power (force).
2. Freedom- from compensatory power (money).
3. Freedom- from conditioned power (indoctrination).
Based on this nomenclature, we may call the “freedom” discussed by voluntaryists and Libertarians freedom1, because it only takes into account condign power. Your standard socialist may be closer to freedom1,2. As for your run-of-the-mill statists who talk about freedom while accepting all forms of power, we can talk about non-freedom or perhaps freedom0.
If our concept of power underlies every use of those other concepts, then it must be more fundamental. What differentiates political ideologies, then, must be their conception of power?
Although I can’t say I know the answer to this question, I haven’t yet found a political issue or question which does not revolve around identifying power, because all arguments around freedom or rights ultimately are about power.
Take the issue of abortion, for example. Anti-abortion proponents argue that abortion is murder and that a fetus has a “right to life”; this reasoning can only make sense if one has already assumed that a pregnant woman is using condign power on another human being, therefore they must redefine fetuses as human beings. So their view of abortion is that of a woman having power over, and murdering, another human being.
The narratives people use to illustrate their political positions serve to reinforce the patterns of power and privilege they assume exist in society. So for instance we have the narrative that women are going around getting abortions as a form of birth control, that they are uncaring, callous, and so on, reinforcing the murderer image.
But if abortion is murder in itself, then why would we need to emphasize the perpetrator’s callousness? You’d think that murder in itself would be more than enough indictment. Obviously the goal is to make us believe in the power of the pregnant woman over the fetus. The fact that women treat fetuses callously “proves” that they are superior on some hierarchy, since we know superiors treat inferiors callously (as all our institutions demonstrate).
Of course the real root of the error about abortion is religio-cultural, centered around genderism (see this entry), not political. People are not anti-abortion on the basis of failing at identifying power and privilege correctly. But inevitably their beliefs about abortion, once formulated, will reflect this logical failure.
Now take the example of social safety nets. Neo-liberalist opponents of safety nets correctly identify condign power as the ultimate basis of government, and rightly oppose this, but they refuse to identify compensatory power and its profound effects on society. Not only do they support a corporate and neo-liberalist apparatus that is more powerful than most world governments, but said apparatus also depends on the very condign power of government and the safety nets that they decry (except they call them “bailouts” instead of “welfare”).
Their stance on power is a direct contradiction, which can only lead to a muddled ideology (here is one example). They believe that social safety nets are “entitlement.” They assume that our current property scheme and distribution scheme are not only the way things should be, but the “natural” way for things to be (as demonstrated by the invalid term “property rights“), and this is how they convince people to ignore corporate power and condign power used in its support.
Another example is genderism (traditional genderism and trans genderism both), which is based on the bizarre notion that women have privilege just by virtue of being women, despite a history of five thousand years of Patriarchy.
The common thread between all these errors is a complete denial of any greater historical or scientific context, which leads to errors about the power and privilege that exists. I have talked about this phenomenon at an individual level (the atomistic mindset), and there’s no great difference between that and applying it at the social level; all you have to do is apply the same concept of actions existing in a vacuum to an entire group of people. The more you simplify a situation, the more you can apply linear logic to it, but the more disconnected from reality your conclusion will be.
Obviously statists are highly motivated to misunderstand the scope of power, because their preferred paradigm (whether religious, political or philosophical) support some form of power. Like theology, whose arguments serve a pre-existing conclusion, their beliefs about power serve a pre-existing ideology.
Okay, now consider a different tack to this question. Stating existing property relations as justification cannot be valid because our property relations exist solely because of a specific property scheme, and the property schemes we use in Western societies are not universal or logically necessary.
So we have giant megacorporations that produce most of what we eat, what we interact with, what the government fights with, and so on. Those giant megacorporations exist because of a legal and cultural framework where capitalist work contracts, corporate personhood, corporate welfare, and so on, are seen as valid (if seen as objectionable by some). So one cannot then turn around and argue that megacorporations are the “natural” order of a large-scale economy; there is nothing “natural” about it, it’s entirely socially constructed.
Now consider the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). The principle that one should not initiate force seems superficially noble (and similar to my Prime Directive, with one crucial difference), but in practice it is meaningless because what one defines as “aggression” depends entirely on what one considers human rights and property.
So let’s take taxation as an example, because it’s a common application of the NAP. Again, neo-liberalists correctly identify taxation as ultimately backed by the force of arms, like all forms of State action. They also posit that taxation is aggression, more specifically theft, based on the NAP, which is where we run into trouble; taxation can only be aggression if we presume that the money belonged to the taxpayer in the first place and that no one has any obligation to their society.
It may be argued that such a view is dictatorial, which is really besides the point; but let’s suppose we set up the same kind of scenario, but this time comparing a socialist ownership scheme with our current property scheme: workers taking over an abandoned factory in Argentina and using it for their own self-managed labour.
Under any legal system which does not function on the basis of self-management, such an act is a highly illegal form of squatting on valuable means of production, and is typically met with beatings and arrests. Under this view, the workers are the aggressors. But under a socialist ownership scheme, such an action is perfectly warranted and just: the workers do own their means of production and are perfectly within their rights to commandeer them. Under this view, the capitalist owners are the aggressors.
My point is not that all property schemes are equally valid (as a socialist, I obviously think the workers are in the right in that last scenario). My point is that determining who is an aggressor and who is a victim cannot be done without starting from a specific conception of property and human rights. Proponents of the NAP, being mostly capitalists, would say that the workers are the aggressors; the correct reply is to point out that this evaluation is based on the unjustified assumption that capitalist property schemes are just and natural.
To come back to the first example, the most obvious problem with taxation is not that it is theft; our taxation system is no more or less theft than our property scheme, and the latter is enforced with a far more extensive use of power than the former. The real problem with taxation is that the money is managed by the State, which has little to no interest in fulfilling its own obligations to society, let alone support our obligations to each other.
The same general problem applies to the term “non-initiation of force.” We can only determine who initiated force by having a prior conception of the situations where it is appropriate and not appropriate to act on other human beings, that is to say a conception of human rights.
You may complain that it is very easy to figure out when someone initiates force: your rights end where my nose begins, and so on. Well this is a very narrow definition of force; consider, for example, a boxing match, or the pollution of someone’s property. In the former, people’s noses are very much invaded but there is no force involved because both parties have consented to the match, while in the latter, no one’s nose is necessarily being invaded but the pollution is an initiation of force against the person, again because of lack of consent. As I’ve said before, consent is not a sufficient standard, but it is a necessary one.
So let’s go back to the example with the workers again. Who initiated force? Let us assume that the owner did not use force in firing the workers. The workers likewise did not initiate any force by taking over the means of production. Neither action usually involves any violence. So it seems that, in that scenario, the initiation of force lies with the apparatus which is tasked with defending property and its owners’ interests (the cops, the courts and the State as a whole), thereby demonstrating again that any property scheme is necessarily backed by force.
Replying that the workers initiated force by using what was not theirs would simply make my point that the conception of force depends on how we define ownership (what is “theirs” and “not theirs”).
I think I’ve made my point sufficiently clear. Force and aggression are not fundamental concepts, because they depend on one’s conception of rights and property; but in parallel with that, all property schemes and conceptions of rights depend on aggression and force in order to exist. Property can most concretely be expressed as a relation between one individual (the owner) and the rest of society: if you take “my” stuff (for any definition of “my”), violence may be used against you.
All politics by definition is violence, so non-violence, NAP and all other such ideologies are not an option (non-violence is at most a luxury). Politicians have to occult this fact because they must maintain the pretense that they are fulfilling a sacred duty to the people, guarding freedom, and so on and so forth. The real question, to anyone who cares about the truth, is: to what ends should we apply violence?
Obviously there are situations where we want to tell other people what to do, and to use force if necessary: we don’t want innocent people to be killed, physically harmed or threatened of such, we don’t want people to be deprived of their life or livelihood, we don’t want people to be deprived of their freedom without at least an excellent reason. Their importance is why we call these things “rights.” Rights are those things we think violence must be used to protect because they are that important.
From a libsoc standpoint, hierarchy is property, therefore the debate revolves around freedom/equality on the one hand, and property/hierarchy on the other. Freedom/equality/non-property ownership/non-hierarchical society necessarily entail no government and no capitalism. Power and violence should both be minimized, because they are unjust and unrealiable tools of governance; when they are to be used at all, they should be distributed as equitably as possible and hopefully used to further the aims of social cooperation, instead of hindering it.