Archives for category: Political Theory
This is not the motto, today, of very many people who call themselves “democrats.”

…as answered on Quora…

The question should be formed in the past tense: when was democracy overthrown?

OK, that’s a bit snarky. And not at all accurate, since the United States was neither designed to be nor ever became a democracy.

Unless, as I have written elsewhere on Quora, one starts fiddling with the meaning of the term “democracy.” Which is fair game, I guess, and is part of a long tradition. Alexis de Tocqueville meant something different by the word in the Jacksonian era than did the founding fathers of these benighted states.

It is pointless for me to repeat all I have written on this in the past. So, for the remainder of my answer, I will accept arguendo that democracy is a good thing, that we once had it, and that it either no longer exists or is in peril.

So who is responsible for the anti-democratic influences? People in power.

I find it weird that Democrats think Republicans are democracy’s threat, and Republicans deem Democrats the threat. Both are threats. Obviously.

Take the big marker: initiative and referendum rights. Those are democratic, after all. No controversy about that. So, all around the country, in state after state, Democratic Party political machines work to squelch the ability of voters to check legislatures — which are, after all, concentrations of political power, especially when incumbency accrues advantages on sitting politicians by seniority and sheer persistence — using the ballot box on an issue-by-issue creation and repeal of constitutional amendments and statutes.

Except in Florida. In Florida it is the Republicans who work to squelch initiative activity, through the usual sneaky political means, by regulating the petition process for ballot access.

Usually, it depends upon who is in and out of power. Truth is, politicians out of power tend to favor democracy, for their best hope into power is to ride a groundswell of citizen unrest. Where, once in power, they tend to lust to squelch the competition.

Democracy is a means to manage competition for political power. That’s one definition anyway. And any group in power tends to be against democracy.

It is one of the basic rules of politics.

But let us look more broadly at the institutions of citizen control of the government. Are we really sure we have it? Are we sure we do not live in a mixed system with heavy elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mobocracy as well as star-chamber Deep State machinations?

After all, way back in the late 1930s, Garet Garrett understood that revolutions need not be overt:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.

There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, “Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don’t watch out.”

These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when “one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state.”

The key thing about citizen control of government is that government must be small enough, limited enough, for citizens to practically control. At the time of the founding, the ratio of Representatives to citizens was comparatively balanced — a normal person was apt to know his Rep. Today, to keep up anything like that ratio, our House of Representatives would have to number not 435 but in the many thousands. This means that the federal union that is supposedly the United States may be less democratic today than it was two centuries ago . . . when it was explicitly not democratic!

But Americans, when they hear this, usually just shrug.

I think it is pretty obvious that people do not want democracy. Government is something we get activated about when we fret about a particular issue. But most people have the sense to shove most questions of governance off their proverbial front burners and onto that of experts. Who have their own special interests.

The consequences of this, of course, is not democracy but rule by the most vociferous and greedy factions. The revolution of the 20th century — away from constitutional constraints and a decent balance between “the people” and “the government” and to the establishment of a vast administrative state with its bureaucracy and vast transfer programs and regulations placing unequal burdens upon society, for the benefit of some and not others — is the result of the activism of some and the “inactivism” of the many.

Is that democracy? Hardly. But the metamorphosis did not require much bloodshed, as Garrett explained:

Revolution in the modern case is no longer an uncouth business. The ancient demagogic art, like every other art, has, as we say, advanced. It has become in fact a science — the science of political dynamics. And your scientific revolutionary in spectacles regards force in a cold, impartial manner. It may or may not be necessary. If not, so much the better; to employ it wantonly, or for the love of it, when it is not necessary, is vulgar, unintelligent and wasteful. Destruction is not the aim. The more you destroy the less there is to take over. Always the single end in view is a transfer of power.

I find it funny that there are people who think they are “for democracy” but really just demand more power for their faction.

My laughter is not exactly mirthful, I admit.

twv

Democratic socialism may be all the rage.
But its most famous proponent is no sage.

The art of defining a term can be undertaken in good faith or bad faith. I am fascinated by this art. I am tempted to call the good faith version The Dialectic, but that, alas, would be a designation rather peculiar to me — it being my takeaway of what is wrong and right in Plato’s dialogues, and what I remember after reading Aristotle’s dreadful* book, The Topics. The bad faith version is vulgar propaganda, I suppose, but isn’t the p-word too nice for it?

Definitional arguments underlie so much substantive argument, so my interest in distinguishing proffered good-faith from bad-faith definitions is ongoing, persistent. Take the problem of defining “socialism.”

An important topic. There are a few plausible definitions for the term, and quite distinct ones at that. There are also some technical characterizations that can unify a few of those different approaches, which I have advanced here and elsewhere.

But a definition of socialism you often hear among rather bright people online is not correct, and it is worth showing why. That definition?

“worker ownership of the means of production”

How is socialism as worker ownership of the means of production not a good faith definition?

There exist, today, many economies** that qualify under that definition, but which no socialist I have ever encountered promotes, and which most of the leading socialist theoreticians and proponents look upon with utter disdain, even wishing to squelch. And what are these economies? Sole proprietorships and partnerships that have no employees. These professionals provide goods and services to others by contract. They most certainly labor at their work and thus qualify as “workers” and “laborers” under any commonsense definition of the terms. But these are not what socialists have historically meant by worker and laborer.

Indeed, actual socialists in the past have organized by the thousands to murder millions of workers precisely like this: think of the kulaks’ fate under Stalin.

Further, one can imagine a whole vast catallaxy of market institutions in which all of the businesses are owned and operated by workers democratically — yet no living, breathing socialist I have encountered has any interest in it, despite its near-term viability. What is this astounding institution? Corporations with majority stockholders made up of worker pension funds and other saved funds invested by individual laborers. Robert Nozick suggested this as a possibility; Peter Drucker was its prophet. When Gene Epstein offered this as a decent alternative to state socialism in a recent debate, his socialist interlocutor was just flummoxed. This isn’t political; no force and bullying required — where’s the fun in that?

And there we see why the worker-ownership definition of socialism is a bad-faith definition: it is a lie that masks what socialists really want.

They want power, especially to expropriate the rich and bully people they disagree with. So, though I usually trot out technical definitions of the s-word that make a lot of sense, a nastier definition serves, and it is, despite its nastiness, not in bad faith:

Socialism is the ideology promoting systems of total state power as wielded by people who call themselves socialists.

A bit circular? Well, there are crucial non-circular elements to it, and, besides, there is nothing quite so taut as a tautology.

And it leads to a working definition of a competitive ideology:

Fascism is any ideology promoting systems of total state power wielded by people whom socialists call fascist.

Leftists’ habit of calling nearly everyone they disagree with “fascist” is no more worthy of emulation than is their raising aloft the banner of “democratic socialism.” If they actually wanted a truly democratic socialism, they would defend and advance the liberal, minimal state order — maybe going so far as libertarianism — while working in the voluntary sector, in business, to bring about a worker-owned order.

But what, if you are a socialist, would be the fun of that?

Integral to socialist agitation is the politics of opposition to private property and free markets along with the promotion of state power. Both of these corrupt even the most earnest souls. Whatever good, charitable thoughts that may begin their political quest, and nudge them to prefix socialism with that eulogistic term democratic, erode quickly, replaced by a terrifying changeling: tyranny.


*Oh, and I do mean really, really badly written and mostly unconvincing. Aristotle was a great thinker but not a great writer, and The Topics is one of his very worst treatises.
** I am using “economy” in the manner suggested by F. A. Hayek, in contradistinction to “catallaxy” that I use in the next paragraph. I do not remember where Hayek suggests these two terms of art. I am reshelving my economics section of my library this week, so maybe I will dip into the Hayek volumes mid-course, and come back here to give the proper citation. Until then. . . .

Philosopher Jan Lester offers what he says is a new paradigm for libertarianism. Though old hands at the philosophy may raise an eyebrow at the daring of such a claim — and I am, by this time, one of those old hands — it is not as if libertarian social philosophy were all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Looking at his essay “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians,” I found myself not at all shocked by his alleged novelty — though novelty there is. From a perspective of critical rationalism (via Popper, Lakatos, Bartlett, and others), Mr. Lester advances three alternatives to most libertarian ideology and rhetoric:

  • Instead of “justificationism” and the eternal search for the Foundations of Ethics and Politics, Lester insists that we stick to the more humble and honest task of offering conjectures about which we are open to debate.
  • Instead of characterizing our normative theories in terms of “deontological” or “consequentialist” terms, recognize that they are “more like two sides of the same coin.”
  • Instead of waffling and arguing in a circular fashion, develop an explicit, sufficient and necessary “theory of freedom.”

This last point points to the most obvious need, but it is not one that many libertarians recognize as an actual problem. There is an awful lot vagueness and hand-waving among libertarian theorists. And some concepts get jumbled together, like “self-ownership” and “negative freedom” and so forth. Hearkening back to classical liberal days, Lester focuses on non-interference — Henry Sidgwick would have understood this — and develops it as a prohibition of “proactive constraint.” I have not adequately confronted this understanding of liberty, so as I prepare to read his book, Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism, I will try to keep an open mind.

I am sympathetic to his general perspective, and, so far, seem to agree on quite a lot. I do have a different way of looking at freedom than many libertarians — and this has been one reason for my odd position in the libertarian movement: I am a member of no faction, and hail not from the School of Rand or School of Rothbard, but, instead, from the School of Nozick . . . without having ever been a Nozickian.

Odd man out, I.

So, before I lash out at Lester’s paradigm, or drop mine, I will put them to the test, which would also mean essaying to discover whether the two might be compatible.

As far as the deontic/consequentialist debate goes, anyway, we are on the same side. I found this “controversy” very interesting in my early 20s, since it was a major feature of libertarian intellectual discussion in the 1980s. I soon decided, however, that most discussions of this were hopelessly muddled or, at the very least, red herrings. My late boss R. W. Bradford, writing as Ethan O. Waters, did not exactly make the issue clearer, in the pages of Liberty magazine in its first year. I went a different direction, taking consequentialism chiefly as a meta-ethics.

Regarding Lester’s anti-justificationism, well, this strikes me as a terminological issue. He denies this. I am more in line with C. S. Peirce than Karl Popper, so I see all this “critical rationalist” talk as just another form of fallibilism, whereas he regards it (I think) as quite distinct. I may have read both Popper and Lakatos, I confess to having devoured their work only in small doses: this is not an area of anything but a passing familiarity for me. So, I should practice caution. Still, I will drop a hint: Jan Lester believes that philosophy is not about words, it is about the world. That is certainly a nifty slogan. It reminds me of Husserl’s “to the things themselves!” I think philosophy cannot help but be about words — and definitions, too — because words are our chief tool for engaging with concepts. He calls them theories and conjectures, and that is fine, except it seems a long way around to say something fairly obvious.

But I could be wrong. Indeed, all this jumps the gun of reading his book.

So, if I have not read this book, and the cited essay is brief, how do I know what Mr. Lester holds to? Well, a year-and-a-half ago a friend of mine and I interviewed Mr. Lester at length. And this week I finally turned the Skype session into a video, which is now up as a series on YouTube:

Where Libertarians Go Wrong:

  1. Introduction: Why “Critical Rationalism
  2. Error One: Seeking a foundation or justification
  3. Error Two: Taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism
  4. Error Three: Lacking an explicit, necessary & sufficient theory of freedom

By the way, I had intended to do this all last year. But the best laid plans of mice and men, the gang’s all here in the glee club, and all that.


Jan Lester’s Escape from Leviathan. And me.
Definition of a word most people are not familiar with, from the Century Dictionary.

Variants of the following question seem common enough. I have almost certainly answered one or two previous ones before. Because it is common, and because previous historical instantiation is a reliable indication of possibility, the question has some importance today. But, as I try to make clear, being new is not a sure sign of impossibility or undesirability. But more will needs be said.

as answered on Quora:

Why has there never seem[ed] to have been a nation whose approach to government was Libertarianism?

Simple answer: because libertarianism is a fairly recent refinement of a long tradition in social innovation.

More complex answer: many, many societies have demonstrated libertarian elements, and it is worth remembering that until the modern period, most societies did not even sport states. Libertarianism arose in response to the abuse of state power, and to rescue a sense of morality in law from the general run of state power that almost invariably corrupts legal practice.

Further, states tend to form around high capital areas, by capture (high capital regions make easy marks), and — if not run by murderous psychopaths or morons — also encourage the accumulation of more capital. By encouraging capital and commandeering capital, they often produce lasting markers that we can track, as history. Freer societies in ancient times tended not to leave big monuments or be known for their conquests. So they tend not to leave historical mileposts. If there were free societies in the tribal, upland, and margins-of-civilizations societies, we probably would not know much about them.

But it is worth remembering that the basic libertarian stance is very old, and can be seen in writings as various as the Hebrews’ I Samuel 8-15 and the Chinese Tao te Ching.

That being said, libertarianism is a workaround to a problem arising from our hierarchical natures and the path dependence set in place by relying upon the most valiantly coercive: accommodation to power, legitimation of the powerful, Authority . . . and the eternal problem of in-group solidarity and out-group antagonism. Libertarianism is an attempt to regulate these volatile mixes — regulate by law. Other attempts at such regulation have included timocracy, democracy, and republicanism. Libertarianism is the latest, and if it seems familiar, no wonder, for libertarianism is a lexarchy. The fact that we almost never hear that term suggests to me that libertarianism, despite its august lineage from rule-of-law traditions, is very young, and that today’s libertarian challenge has not been met in the general culture. Not even libertarians themselves really understand what it is that they are trying to accomplish — they might boil it down to “rights,” for instance, or The Individual . . . without contextualizing what a universal right to liberty would actually accomplish.

So, the past is something of a red herring. It is not for nothing that the major libertarian (as opposed to myth-making liberal) theorists have looked to the future, not the past. Henry David Thoreau wrote of a future with radically less political governance, but he noted that it requires a culture and a general character to match it: “when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” This notion of a cultural context of resistance to mere power and position was carried on a few years later, in another early classic of libertarian advocacy, Social Statics: or, The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness and the First of Them Developed, by Herbert Spencer. Speaking of the novelty of the most extreme elements of his doctrine — which most libertarians today would assent to — he wrote that “There are many changes yet to be passed through before [libertarianism] can begin to exercise much influence.” At about the same time as Thoreau and Spencer were formulating their rather radical doctrines — of law as regulated by explicit contract — a young Belgian economist put the idea to its most precise formulation in an essay entitled “De la production de la sécurité.” This Gustave de Molinari’s last full book, and the only one to be translated into English, was titled The Society of To-morrow. In that he explained why what we would now call libertarian ideas were so late in developing. But why he had hope for a later instantiation.

Now, I confess: I am not fully convinced that libertarian proposals are even possible fully to implement in a society of baboonish hominids, I mean, humans. But if they are, it would be the result of some sweeping changes, not only institutionally but also culturally.

And, I readily concede, it is not as if such radical changes have not happened, even in our lifetimes.

But most relevantly, consider the cultural, intellectual support for two institutions, democracy and slavery.

If in 1492, the year that I believe marks the beginning of the modern period, you had asked all educated men on the planet at that time, whether some day the word “democracy” would not only inform the politics of the nation states of more than half the world, it would even play as piety on the lips of even the most brutal of tyrants, not one man would not laugh, chortling in derision at the preposterous nature of your question. Yet “democracy” has become the byword of politics.

And, perhaps more astoundingly, throughout history slavery was a civilizational norm — even many pre-civilized tribes and chiefdoms practiced this brutal form of tyranny. Yet, in recent modern history Christians in England and elsewhere began liberating slaves and abolishing the institution, making it illegal. Now, it is so anathematized that no civilized person can even conceive of bringing it back.

If democracy — once universally condemned — can become normalized nearly everywhere, and slavery — once universally practiced — made taboo, then it is not altogether incomprehensible that liberty rigorously conceived might someday also become the norm.

But that would make libertarianism definitely a future, not a historic, development.

twv

Currently back to reading this book.

Democracy was the State’s way to ape the market. Democratic socialism is the belief that aping the market in a limited political realm provides proof of concept enough for the State to replace all market activity with its own machinations.

What democratic socialists do not understand is that the aping of the market in democratic action cannot be maintained when there is no market left to ape — in no small part because the replacement of markets with politics and bureaucratization is, transactionally, anti-market, and cannot allow even the mimicry of trade.

The “socialism” part of democratic socialism must trump the “democracy” part, transforming what may begin by voting and “voice” into the paradigmatic socialistic activity: statist fiat. Compulsion. Command. Totalitarianism.

The democratic socialist is the kind of person who has tricked himself, conned himself, not realizing that some inkling of intent cannot override the reality of the means chosen. Socialism is control. And its form of control must always destroy the weak shadow of freedom retained in democratic action.

Democracy mimics the market’s myriad of two-way transactions — where each side can refuse to coöperate (demonstrating “exit”) and where a proposed scheme will fail if it cannot find willing collaborators, willing traders — with an orchestrated expression of “voice” without any possible exit or right of refusal. And this lack of “exit” — the lack of an ability to decline the results of a vote — ends up with a prohibition of failure. Democracy cripples the learning inherent in failure, allowing the State to carry this to the extreme by almost never allowing a failed program to cease: instead failure gets rewarded with more resources.

Thus building up failure into the very warp and woof of the socialist enterprise.

Along with forceful control.

twv

There is a sort of progress to be identified in civilization, an incline that can be seen in the graded, increasing limits on the demands the state may be allowed to place upon us. It goes something like this:

  • Death
  • Slavery
  • Corvée labor
  • Property confiscation
  • Taxation

Generally, civilized societies emphasize taxation as preferable to confiscation — but naked confiscation exists in America: just look at the practice of civil asset forfeiture.

America’s founding fathers placed an important limit upon confiscatory practices: the Takings Clause of the Bill of Rights. Their idea was that there be allowed no confiscation of property without a valid public use, and not without “just compensation,” either. Unfortunately, state functionaries are not the only ones with designs on others property, and both limits have been repeatedly undermined over the years, indeed flouted. The Keto case being only the most famous. And we now must endure a president who has used the “public takings” procedures of “eminent domain” for his own quite private ends. Who knows where this limit upon state power will go because of Donald Trump?

It is a mark of civilization that intermittant required labor (corvée) is preferable to outright slavery . . . but note that military conscription is a form of corvée labor that looks an awful lot like slavery, and one that often leads to death.

The State often brings back that initial demand upon subjects: the cessation of their very lives.

It is also the case that taxation is yet another form of slavery, just removed from personal control to more alienable commandeering of property. And remember the tale of Genghis Khan, who wanted to raze Manchuria (in the process slaughtering all of the conquered Manchurians) to . . . raise horses. An advisor, the story goes, mentioned to him the principle of the Laffer Curve — though not of course by name — saying that a living population could provide wealth to the Khanate via taxation, while as The Dead they could provide nothing. So, the Great Khan allowed the Manchurians to live, taxing them, thereby enabling his Golden Horde to further spread death and slavery throughout the world, into Persia and the Arab world, through Russia and even as far as Vienna.

Who says government doesn’t work!

Yet I prefer to push back on all forms of conscript service — all the way back to taxation. And then cut taxes. The love of taxation, often expressed these days, is sometimes said to express “caring” for the less well off. I just think of Manchuria. And its people, seen by their Mongol rulers as a mere one small step up from the equine beast.

twv

Facebook post by online philosopher Stefan Molyneux.

This is interesting. The religion of our age is statism, and its proponents are dangerous because dependent upon (and thus prone to) violence. Since statists and ultra-statists demand that state violence be marshaled to serve their causes, no wonder that they engage in threats and terrorism. Their philosophy is one of threats and terror.

And the scope of state action is immanent, part of the warp and woof of the secular world, so always a live option for acolytes.

Christianity, on the other hand, is a transcendent religion, not immanentist. So the religion’s forcible element is seen as taking place outside of the secular sphere. This allows its practitioners a sacred space apart from the world of hustle and bustle, thus encouraging them not to over-invest in everyday politics. It even allows them some skepticism and resistance to state power.

This is probably why statists have made such a strong, sustained attack upon Christendom for the past century, the last few decades especially: the State is a jealous god.

“God is dead, and we have killed him!” —F. W. Nietzsche
Don’t tread on . . .

Is an individual more important than a group, why or why not?

…as answered on Quora

I think the question frames the problem of the individual vis-à-vis the collective in a somewhat skewed way. We do not, in a theory of justice, weigh individuals against groups. Not really. Sure, it is a kind of short-hand heuristic to prevent tyranny and mob chaos, but the pertinent issue is this: by focusing on individuals’ specific actions rather than group membership we become able to regulate in-group/out-group antagonisms. And thus keep barbarism at bay.

That is, by applying the same standard to all individuals, up and down and in and out the institutional matrix, we prevent the worst abuses of collectivist thinking and behavior.

And what is collectivist thinking? Not just communism and socialism. It is far more common than that; it is ubiquitous.

Groups tend to form because they are extremely useful and because we are a social species, requiring others’ company just to retain our humanity. But once a group is formed, our biases take over and we tend to favor our in-groups over out-groups and independents (unaffiliated persons). To prevent war, witch hunts, railroading, mass exploitation, persecution, and so much more, we focus the standard provided by the rule of law on individuals, not organizations.

Of course, our current civilization has many exceptions to this liberal idea. But we are no longer a liberal society. Progressives today seem to be turning their back on individual liberty, in the cause of their “intersectionalist” rubric of group identification and positioning; conservatives . . . well, conservatives hate “liberals,” and when they discover themselves thinking liberally, they too often just slow down and question themselves. Both groups hate each other in a grand example of in-group/out-group antagonism.

So, to repeat, I do not think it is a matter of “individuals” being more or less “important” than “groups,” but that group behavior must be regulated along the same lines as independent individual behavior: applying a standard of justice evenly, regardless of group membership, and holding individuals within groups accountable — as much as possible — as individuals rather than as subjects to group privilege, given cover under the umbrella of some anointed collective.

What I have sketched, above, is standard liberalism, of course. It should seem familiar to both conservatives and progressives. But it is, in our time, something that libertarians apply the most rigorously.

Of course, libertarians do usually conceive of the problem as The Individual vs. the State and The Individual vs. the Group. But that is — I hazard — distracting. Because, though individuals are regularly ground down by groups, the greatest crimes of humanity go out of whack group by group. Individualism — the standard I discuss above — protects groups as well as individuals, and it does so by not making any single group’s values a standard, but applying, instead, a set of formal rules to individuals. It’s a way out of the collectivist trap.

And this trap is not a question of the Universal Humanity against other groups and against individuals. For there is no organizable “Univeral Humanity.” That’s an illusion. The universality of humanity may be conceived of as a category, but it cannot be organized. Any attempt to make an umbrella group and its values as the standard to regulate human behavior devolves quickly into smaller groups, and their conflicts.

Thus the need for individualism.

It’s not a question of which is more “important” — for, in a sense, groups are “more important,” for it is in groups that most work gets done. To repeat, by focusing on individual action — and transactions — we can make sure group antagonisms do not spin out of control. Individualism is not “against society” in any meaningful sense. Indeed, it is a theory of — and best practice for — sociality.

twv

Herbert Spencer, leading individualist philosopher of the 19th century.

Why isn’t corporatism talked about as an alternative to capitalism and socialism?

…an answer on Quora by Ethan Lee:

‘Corporatism’ is not an alternative to capitalism, it is capitalism. Albeit not free market capitalism, it is capitalism none the less. Calling X corporatist is just a cop out to avoid admitting that is in fact capitalism.

Capitalism = Private ownership over the means of production

Socialism = Worker ownership over the means of production

Is that exactly right? Workers can own the means of production in capitalism. 

I own my small business. There do exist workers’ cooperatives. And laborers’ pensions often own stock in companies, though most often not majority stock in any one company, and not in their own — which, since they invest at their own discretion, suggests that workers, generally, do not want to own the means of production. Only a few exceptional people do.

And, interestingly, under several of the socialist societies that have existed — the most prominent one, anyway, that called itself socialist, explicitly — small business was not exactly tolerated, was it? And workers did not own their factories, etc., the State did. And, further, it was industrial workers that were focused on: agricultural workers were despised, expropriated, and killed en masse. For “workers” owning “the means of production” was not the point of socialism, historically. Not really. It was “everybody” owning the means of production through a central planning office, through the State. Which in practice just means tyranny.

And I note that the socialists I know personally, and the ones I see on TV, do not seem much interested in workers as such, or the means of production as such. They are concerned with consumers, making sure that everyone can consume about the same amount of goods: equal access to healthcare, equal access to housing, equal access to iPhones, complete financial security for all, etc. Which suggests, once again, that “workers” is the reddest of red herrings. Socialism always comes back to a form of consumerism. State-supported and -enabled consumerism.

What “corporatism” means is not always clear, either. We have a lot of publicly* traded stockholders’ corporations in these United States, and they sure look like market institutions, and not a few are even basically operating within something like a free market. But many — though, once again, certainly not all — of the most successful are dependent for their success on government contracts (some of the biggest corporations are those within the ambit of the military-industrial complex) and, when the biggest fail (most recently in the financial sector) they are bailed out, at taxpayer expense. Further they are regulated in such a way that “just so happens” to protect established businesses from upstart competitors. This system is certainly not laissez faire, as stated in the answer, above. But its capitalist nature, while being there, is certainly open to some interrogation. What it looks like to me might best be called “producerism.” A form of it. Producerist arguments were dominant in 19th century support for protective tariffs, and they now dominate the government practice of regulation and bailouts.

Which should indicate my approach to free-market capitalism: it is consumerist-producerist . . . both. We produce to consumer, sure, but no consumer and no producer should really be given special favors. “Workers” and “business” do not compete so much as cooperate, and foisting a class narrative on their relations is a bad idea. They are just two special interests, and our rule of law should serve the general interest, not any specifically identified class or group. Neither consumer-oriented socialism nor worker-oriented socialism make sense, and corporatisms that focus on bolstering up specific industries for the sake of stability are not much better.

============

* Note that we call publicly traded stock companies “private” — our nomenclature sure must confuse the young.

Democracy, explained Karl Popper, is valuable not because it expresses a “general will” — it does not and cannot — but because it allows citizens to remove officeholders from power peacefully.

The problem that democracy does not solve is the problem of the populace. Voters have power — not individually, but en masse, in interest groups. And when they become corrupt, democracy provides no way to remove them from power.

For they still have votes.

They can learn, or change their minds — but so can tyrants. We cannot rely upon education for voters corrupted by power, dreams of power, and patterns of dominance and submission. 

This is the main problem of democracy. Once corrupted by the power democracy provides, a people tends to remain corrupted.

Democracy‘s power base in the populace cannot even be term limited. 

Only the deaths of the corrupted provide a way out — with the tiny hope that younger people will see corruption and avoid it. Trouble is, the institutions of governance and politics tend to suck every generation further into folly.

And injustice.