(last updated: Mar 15, 2008)

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The thesis here is that politics is about deciding the balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility. The political space is divided into three spheres: personal, economic and international.

The commonly accepted division between "left" and "right", or liberal and conservative, is of very little use for understanding what our choices really are. As can be seen from the table below, the left and right take positions from both sides of the freedom / responsibility dichotomy. Even worse, they exchange some of these positions over time. For example, at one time the left was for free trade and military intervention, now these are considered as right wing positions.

A more consistent characteristic of the left and right is the social classes that support those viewpoints. It is not rich versus poor, as the Marxists would have it. The "vanguard of the proletariat" (ie. labor leaders) are left leaning, but many blue collar workers have conservative viewpoints. The liberal left has the support of intellectuals and those who work for large organisations, especially governments. The conservative right has the support of those who work for themselves, or at least believe they do.

Individual Freedom
Collective Responsibility
Personal Personal liberty Collective Security
Civil rights, protect the innocent Law and order, punish the guilty
Secular free choice
Religious or moral restrictions on behavior
Women's and gay rights Family responsibilities
Risk Insurance
Economic Consumption / Industrial development Environmental protection
Unlimited technical progress Technical restraint
Reward for merit Social equality, redistribution of wealth
Market Economy Govenment regulation / ownership
Free trade Protectionism
National /
Isolationism Intervention
Unilateral action Multilateral, United Nations
Ethnic, racial, national divisions
Equality, internationalism
Pacifism Militarism
Areas where justification is on both sides
Suicide is clearly a matter of personal choice. Almost every society and religion prohibits suicide because losing able bodied people undermines the social order.
Abortion and Euthenasia are matter of personal choice, not the business of the state. They are a choice made about someone else, ie. murder. Social cohesion is undermined if we violate the sanctity of life and permit murder.
The sanctity of life must be respected. Preventing unwanted children benefits the mother and society as a whole.
Immigration People have a right to live where they want. A country must control its borders to survive as a nation.
Immigration leads to growth and prosperity. We must restrain growth to protect the environment.
Multiculturism and pluralism are good. People with values opposed to ours undermine social cohesion and create crime and violence.

The Contradictions of Civilization

The thesis here is that a civilization requires certain conditions in order to come into existence, but that civilization then creates an environment in which those conditions are no longer need to be met. In other words, a civilization begins to take its existence for granted, and forgets where it came from. This may be fine during periods of prosperity, but could be a problem in a time of crisis.

Requirement for Civilization How it is lost
Civilizations were created by conquering territory to permit enough division of labour to support an advanced economy. And civilization needs to be defended against external enemies who seek to loot or destroy it. A successful civilization may subdue its enemies to the point where war is no longer necessary. It may then come to view the capability of warfare as unnecessary and undesirable, and lose the ability to fight a new enemy that comes along.
Civilization requires an educated citizenry. Formal education replaces knowledge gained from experience with abstract learning. This can lead to a detachment from reality. Excessive idealism can lead to destructive behavior (eg. pacifism as described above, or an ideology such as Fascism or Communism).
Civilization flourishes with a growing economy. The drive for growth may lead to conflict with other civilizations, which may be fine unless you are on the losing side. Economic growth within a fixed land area can lead to environmental degredation.
A civilization needs to produce children in order to continue to exist. A culture based on personal gratification may decide that families and children are too much trouble. But a stagnant or declining populationleads to an aging population, more non-workers for each worker to support, less social mobility for younger people, a generally less creative and dynamic population.
Free enterprise creates the wealth that keeps civilization strong. A focus on wealth may undermine collective values and responsibility.

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