Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:

 

Conservative:

Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.

 

Liberal:

Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.

 

Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.

 

Reactionary:

Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.

 

Radical:

Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.

 

The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.

 

The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.

 

Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income

 

Capitalism:

Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

 

Socialism:

Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

 

Communism:

Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.

 

Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.

 

Democracy:

Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.

 

Republic:

Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.

 

Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President

 

Fascism:

Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

 
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Monday, June 05, 2006

Tiananmen Revisited

Every year June 4th should be remembered around the free world. This is the date of China's crackdown on democracy advocates in Tiananmen Square. The success with which the PRC has managed to suppress even the memory of this great tragedy should give pause to those who think that liberalism and democracy are inevitable; in fact, a sufficiently brutal and successful tyranny can hold [political] modernism at bay for more than half a century.

On May 4th, 1987 around 100,000 students and workers gathered in Beijing's main square to protest government corruption and economic hardships and ask for democratic reforms. The government refused to negotiate, the protest was eventually crushed, and the student leaders arrested.

Two years later in May of 1989 students from several Beijing universities began a hunger strike to protest the government treatment of the student leaders. This protest gained widespread support among the people and grew into marches of many thousands using Tiananmen Square as a staging area for more than a month. The protests culminated in the erection of a 7 meter tall statue of the Goddess of Democracy on May 30th.

On May 20th the PRC ordered the army to end the protests and arrest its leaders. However, the people of Beijing held them off with roadblocks and the army was ordered to withdraw. Afterwards several divisions mutinied, burning their vehicles and joining the students. The protesters held on for another two weeks.

Eventually a loyal army entered the city with heavy armor, tear gas, and flame throwers on June 4th. They set up defensive positions through out the city to ward off any rebellious soldiers and then assaulted the square. The fighting lasted for two days, including the famous non-violent standoff between an unknown man and a column of tanks.

By June 6th The Red Cross reported more than 2600 dead and tens of thousands injured in the crackdown, hundreds and even thousands of students were arrested. However, the violence did not end the protests. Hundreds of thousands marched in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Government suppression continued to dampen the flames of rebellion. Television news coverage by international press such as CNN was blocked and student leaders were intimidated into silence. Today most Chinese do not even know what happened at Tiananmen Square from May until June of 1989 (Google blocks searches of these events inside China).

Although elements within the PRC actually considered accepting the student demands for reform back in 1989, the hardliners won the debate. The violent crackdown was followed by the sidelining of existing reforms and the retrenching of government authority. US and EU diplomatic and economic censure of the PRC has quietly ended. The PRC now enjoys the financial gain of market reforms with out giving up one ounce of power and intimidation over the people.

Today on the cutesy NPR segment "This I Believe" a well-meaning man read his essay on the "Tinkerbell Effect" of the Rule of Law. This fellow believes that people live in ordered and free societies because they want to live that way. He thinks that it is this general feeling of the people that gives him his rights and freedoms.

I used to think this way as well. I grew up post-60's scoffing at the very concept of patriotism and refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance or stand for the National Anthem. We thought the nation state was dead and waited for the internet to usher in the global village.

Although it makes me sad to admit this, we were wrong. It is really the coercive power of the state that holds the world together. That power can be used for good or bad, but the people only retain the power of suggestion.

Today in Turkey the military keeps a tight lid on democracy in order to ensure that Islamist elements cannot take over and then end democracy. In 1991 Russia the people demanded reforms, the government sent in the tanks, the people successfully won the soldiers to their side and reform won. In China in 1989 the government fought a see-saw battle with the people and some soldiers, but eventually the government won and reform lost.

The power of the people... is limited by technological, economic, and military power. This doesn't mean we should give up on protests or doubt democracy. Rather it means that we should not take reform for granted. And we should use the coercive power of our state to push other states along. In 1989 the governments of the free world let the Chinese people down. We should all remember this.

Sean: Monday, June 05, 2006 [+] |
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