Modern politics should be better than the contradictory assumptions of the Democrats and Republicans, the shrill rhetoric of the British Left when Tories take office, or the riots over which people have lived on a particular slab of rock longer.
Having tried lots of political systems, economic strategies, and grand sweeping assumptions, humanity should have gathered enough data to conclude what “the answer” to politics is, or at the very least come up with a guiding theory. This post is a summary of what I think could be that theory - a summary of what we (maybe) know so far, or the start of a new scientific political discourse. Of course it’s not new, though, since political centrists have been doing this for centuries.
There are lots of principals supposedly prioritised by politicians of different stripes; with the left it tends to be social justice, the right value prosperity (or rather, economic freedoms which they claim bring prosperity,) and liberals claim freedom is the ultimate goal of political action. There are other notables; the Greens argue that we should place equilibrium with nature above all else, Fascists want to place the rights of one group above that of another, and Anarchists want no laws (although different anarchists claim different economic dynamics will result, market or communist, once law has been abolished…)
While these movements all rally around these goals, they can (and do) still generate policy in a diverse range of areas, and have much more nuanced positions than I have summarised here. What we must do in a generalised, post-partisan political theory is take the union of the valid arguments among these movements, and distill it into a structured set of political priorities that can have broad appeal.
A quick aside on democracy: some states pootle along without elections (or meaningful elections) and don’t seem to be subject to revolution (Russia and China). Others, having put up with dictators ignoring their opinions for decades, are starting to demand democracy (the Arab Spring). I’m not necessarily assuming democracy in the political objectives I’m setting out - although given that it’s a recipe for stable, content nations, I’d say democracy would certainly help. Democracy though, brings its own (probably solvable) problems, and will be the subject of its own post later.
I’ll now set out the five and a half objectives that all politicians should be interested in meeting. This is not much more than a set of definitions; each one deserves a full length explanation, which I’ll be giving in a set of future posts to accompany this one. The order of these priorities is important, at least for the first two and a half.
1) Safety This objective has a domestic and foreign component; it includes protection from internal violence (from drunken brawls to terrorist attacks,) and internal economic harm (theft, extortion, corruption) as well as external violence (war). It concerns the police, armed forces and secret services of a government, and is a prerequisite objective which, until reached, renders all other considerations academic. It is the taming of Hobbes’ Leviathan, anarchy, that would decend without strategic and necessary use of force by governments.
2) Prosperity Now that we have secured peoples’ being, and the fruit of their labour in wealth, we can start putting people to work. Unemployment is correlated with (and probably even causes) an array of physical and mental health issues, and it should be a matter of national urgency to ensure that nobody stays unemployed for too long. Strategies to achieve this differ. Studying, for these purposes, counts as employed, as does choosing to be a full-time parent. Note that while prosperity itself is a goal, the subject of how we get there is complicated.
2.5) Sustainable Prosperity While in the short term (like in a single electoral cycle) sustainability costs more and is annoying, over the long term it safeguards everyone’s interests. Once we have dealt with unemployment, or even as a mechanism for dealing with unemployment, we can look at ways of improving energy efficiency, reducing other resource usage, and coming into equilibrium with our environment in other ways.
The following three points are in no particular order; once safety and prosperity have been achieved, all three carry equal weight as goals of government.
3) Freedom Regimes that have repressed freedom extensively, like the Soviet Union, or more recently Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, have come to their end by popular revolution. Safeguarding what a particular nation sees as important freedoms (the freedoms demanded by a population seem to vary depending on culture and history) is important for maintaining a nation which is not inclined to rebellion. Economic freedoms (and indeed economic restrictions) have already been accounted for under “prosperity” - this is only the social freedoms.
4) Social Justice Neither companies nor government should actively maintain a person or group in poverty, deliberately or accidentally, as this is in nobody’s interests. An additional requirement, I argue, is to ensure that all in society are adequate economic stakeholders, and this requires (in spite of libertarian protests) constant measurement and state action to correct. Social Justice is not the same as income equality, or redistributive tax - those are possible policy outcomes, if they can be shown to advance the above objectives without conflicting with higher priorities (which is an open question at the moment, or at least requires very careful study to answer.)
5) Infrastructure Here we can define infrastructure not by specific examples (like roads and trains) but as any service in wide use in society which requires large capital investment to build and maintain, which is reusable. This covers everything from the roads and trains, water and sewage systems, power generation and distribution that we think of traditionally to more esoteric things like internet access, academic research, open source software, and the arts. These resources do not necessarily require state running - I’ll elaborate more on governments’ responsibilities on infrastructure in a future post.
I believe these five and a half priorities cover pretty much every (legitimate) concern a government has ever had. While Hitler’s and Stalin’s concern with killing much of their own nation was outside legitimate concern, they would no doubt have argued that it fell under one of these categories - probably safety or prosperity. However, since these priorities can be so misused, we must elaborate their scope in greater detail before we are done. This will be the subject of a series of posts to come.