Private Property as a Principle of Social Terrorism

James Radcliffe offers a UK perspective on Trump’s presidential candidacy. I offered this context.


There’s an aspect of the American political trajectory that is perhaps worth highlighting to those outside the country, because it is developing steam in other places.

Fundamentally, government is concerned with negotiating the rules that control the distribution of power in a society. For all of human history, it has been either at odds with or coopted by the concept of “private property,” which most often is allocated arbitrarily from the commons, and held by force even when mismanagement of resources leads to preventable social suffering.

What has happened in America is that, since the ’80s, the conservative branch of our political system has adopted an extremist view of this conflict supported by the economic proposition that the only legitimate means for redistributing power is the free market. That actual markets, with their privileged knowledge and contractual Arcana, are by no means “free” in the theoretical sense has not impeded the propagation of policies, laws and political planks that uphold this principle as the foremost goal of all governmental action.

They are blind to the contradictions of their program: the use of government to supplant government with the free market. Karl Rove, conservative talk radio, the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist are the political terrorists driving the implementation of this program. The consequence is that conservative candidates for president have become progressively less qualified to run the government. Their understanding of government has become atrophied because they actually question its legitimacy.

Trump is simply the inevitable consequence of this divorce from reality.

Aggression

What do you do about a disease that affects the entire human race? Testosterone is linked to aggression in both men and women.

When I was growing up, aggression was the measure by which girls were considered to be “defective boys”.  Although the tide has shifted in educational circles, I wish that I could report that things have changed, but the focus seems to have shifted from physical aggression to psychological aggression. My son got F’s on his first few science labs in eighth grade because his female lab partners simply froze him out of the discussion.

But to say that aggression is wrong because it hurts people does not do justice to the damage it wreaks. Aggression manifests the attitude that the energy invested in creating something does not confer ownership. Value is determined only by the aggressor’s need: “How can I benefit by consuming this thing?” That the creative community is impoverished or even destroyed by the reallocation is immaterial.

This is the problem of the commons described in Adam Smith’s theory of capitalism. The socialist prescriptions of his later writings are not heralded by the neo-conservatives that subscribe to the magic of “The Invisible Hand”. Smith’s prescriptions includes intervention by government in labor relations to ensure that families are not ruined when, after spending his life tailoring his skills to the specific practices of a corporation, the employee is made redundant by advancing technology or a decline in demand.

Unfortunately, government as a counterbalance simply defers the crisis: There is no institution in existence that can claim to be immune to the defects of aggression in its leadership. By their very nature, institutions concentrate power, making them obvious plums for those that seek power. Worse, institutional infrastructure provides terribly effective tools for propagating rapacity.

Modern libertarianism and nihilism is a manifestation of the inevitability of institutional corruption. The attitude is that large institutions should be avoided, and where they cannot be avoided, they should be made to go away through political practices. Of course, this is delusional: Institutions will come into existence, because they serve a useful purpose in allowing people to coordinate productive activity. By failing to subscribe to the challenges of managing institutional power, the nihilist simply abandons the field to the aggressors.

It is time, then, to consider the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. They held that the only protection against tyranny was in a balance of powers, and they recognized that the only way to maintain stability in the distribution of power (as in engineering) was to establish a triangle.

So what should we hold up, as the third leg of the stool? I would propose that religion is ideally suited to the task.