Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 04, 2008

On Holding Impractical Opinions

When we first moved out to the San Fernando Valley, my Dad re-registered to vote in our new district via a voter signup booth being run by a local Republican group. When asked for his political affiliation, he told them, "Tory". When his voter registration arrived in the mail a few weeks later, it listed him as "Republican". Opinion was divided on whether the booth worker had known that the conservatives in Britain are called Tories and figured that Republican was the closest equivalent, or if she was simply trying to sign up as many Republicans as possible.

I grew up among a set of people who read a great deal, and so I was used to a wide range of sometimes quixotic political beliefs being expressed. The father of my best friend growing up proclaimed himself a monarchist. One of the set insisted he was a marxist -- though others sometimes appended the modifier "high-school" to that appellation. Others were known to give kind words to agrarianism, distributism, or the suggestion that little worthwhile had happened since 1500. All of this could make for a lot of interesting conversation, and occasionally encouraged people to talk about moving out to some sort of rural homeland, or make minor lifestyle changes like milling all their own flour from grain. Still, in general it was a congenial group, and people's intellectual eccentricities helped provide them with a healthy distance from their own place and time.

However, I'd always taken these sorts of beliefs to universally be, as they were in the set that I grew up around, more a set of intellectual affinities than beliefs which were, to use the business buzzword, actionable. What does it mean to be a monarchist in the modern US and to prefer a generally feudal civic order?

It seemed to me, personally and from early experience, that the answer was clearly that feudal convictions might form how one thought about family property, how one treated any employees, etc. There is, short of a complete societal breakdown and reconstruction, simply no way for the US or parts of it to become feudal. So however much one might think that feudalism represented a desirable set of civic relationships. Thus, I would expect to see a "feudalist" espousing certain solutions that were "feudal-ish" to societal or political problems, but not really expecting to see a feudal monarchy springing up here any time soon.

However, such calm reason is not universally found among those holding unusual political/economic beliefs. A while back, I read someone demand of his virtual audience, "What are you personally doing to bring an end to capitalism?"

Leaving aside any jokes about how the holder of such convictions is likely to be contributing towards his goal via under-employment and lack of possessions, what exactly does such a demand mean? Admittedly, there any man who believe outrage itself to be an action, and so perhaps feel that by railing against "capitalism" they are doing something to end it. The owning of property/capital by private institutions is something so vast (which developed so gradually) that I am unclear how exactly one works to end it.

Or to take something I actually have a certain, though limited, affinity for: One of the main things that I appreciate about medieval feudalism is that it developed organically, as a system of duties and privileges which, when it worked well, tied all members of society together in an interconnected net of obligation. And yet, precisely this quality means that one could not simply enact a feudal society. Enacting it would violate all the better aspects of its nature.

Similarly, one may recognize the sense of reality which comes with the direct connection between work and product in a craftsman or agricultural society, yet at the same time recognize that our modern culture and technology simply cannot be pushed into the mold of a society made of up farmers and craftsmen.

Perhaps it is in part due to my temperamental conservatism, but while I see great value in appreciating the good points of cultures and polities other than that of our current time and place, I have a great distrust of any suggestion that society or polity be suddenly and radically restructured. Not only do I find it unlikely to happen, but it seems to me that the attempt could be highly destructive in ways that no one could imagine before hand.

This often puts me in the odd position of distrusting figures who advocate doing things that I, in principle, support. For instance, I find Huckabee's suggestion that the IRS be abolished in favor of a national consumption tax a simpler and more egalitarian approach to taxation. And yet, I find his suggestion that this be done in one fell swoop a mark against him.

9 comments:

Karie, the Regular Guy's Extraordinary Wife said...

I suspect he says that to get a nice sound bite. Trying to give it the attention it deserves, but when it comes down to brass tacks, I suspect what would really happen is a gradual demolition of the income tax along with the implementation of the sales tax. I doubt the politicians in government would have it any other way.

Rebekka said...

"One of the main things that I appreciate about medieval feudalism is that it developed organically, as a system of duties and privileges which, when it worked well, tied all members of society together in an interconnected net of obligation. And yet, precisely this quality means that one could not simply enact a feudal society. Enacting it would violate all the better aspects of its nature."

I think this is why the SCA always bugs me, although I could never really put it into words before...

Donald R. McClarey said...

"A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution."

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Jennifer F. said...

Others were known to give kind words to agrarianism, distributism, or the suggestion that little worthwhile had happened since 1500.

Didn't your parents ever just sit around and watch Dallas? Or was that just us? :)

CMinor said...

Amen on the Fair Tax--I'd like to see some states float it first. I'm also suspicious of the "pre-bate" thing, especially as food and meds could be easily exempted from tax at the cash register.

A taste for monarchy seems to crop up in some traditionalist Catholics, and I'm not sure why. My daughter, a theology student, related that one of her "rad trad" fellows declared himself a monarchist in class. The prof, an elderly, soft-spoken little man, replied, "You know, I think you should change your major to political science, so you would learn some political science!"

Darwin said...

CMinor,

Yeah, I'm not crazy about a plan (however much of a simplification of the current state) that involves everyone receiving a check from the government every month. I don't like the message that sends.

The monarchist I knew growing up was Protestant, but I've observed what you refer to about some very traditional Catholics being very into monarchy. Sometimes I wonder if a part of this is stems from an inability to deal with the moral implications of democracy, and want to have a "Caesar" which can be rendered unto without feeling like what Caesar orders is in any way your fault. The rest is often straight-up old world nostalgia.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

You'd make Burke proud, Darwin.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

On the subject of top-down change....

"A man convinced against his will is of his own opinion still."

Something my mom told me when I while I was battering down those who disagreed with facts and logic. *grin*

No matter if you're right or wrong-- you have get folks to be on your side to do anything big.

Tony said...

Interesting thing is some economic systems work exceptionally well in a small, homogeneous group, but break down as the group gets larger.

I remember telling my children, after bickering about some economic unfair in our family, that we live in a benign communist dictatorship. And we are the dictators. Sometimes distribution of wealth may not be fair and equitable, but in the end, our job is to meet the needs of the family members first.

If you have a group like a 60's commune, it can work well also when the members join voluntarily, love each other and work hard to support each other.

Communism and socialism do not work in large, heterogeneous groups whose members have desires and goals which are at odds with each other.