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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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Controversial Niall

My father was quite pleased to see Spangler's big book "The Decline of the West" mentioned in a recent article in Vanity Fair. However, the author's perspective on history is more of my generation than my fathers and might confuse or even upset many readers... which is why I like him.

Niall Ferguson is a Harvard history professor who specializes in economics. Nial was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1964. His grandfather, a journalist and author, spent WWII in India and Burma. His father was a doctor and moved the family to Kenya in the 60's to minister to the locals.

In the 70's Niall stayed with an uncle in Alberta, Canada and then went to England and Oxford University. From the beginning Niall's liberal education was at odds with his childhood experience of a "magical time" in the British Empire.

He has spent his early academic years wondering about "what if" scenarios in which the Empire never faded. In recent books he has transferred the title to America and argues for greater international involvement rather than continued isolation.

In his article in Vanity Fair this month he seems to have turned his own paradigm on its head and worries if Spangler was right to predict the decline of the West.

His main fear is similar to Mark Steyn, as repeated by Wretchard at the Belmont Club this month, that the West has lost its vigor. By comparison to the time of the British Empire the West is not in as strong a leadership position today. The West is literally declining, in demographic terms, as well as aging.

I usually balk at Millenarianism. I read Arthur Herman's "The Idea of Decline in Western History" and found his criticism of this idea to be enlightening. Herman notes there has been a long tradition of worrying about the destruction of one's own culture going back probably to the birth of the nation-state. In many ways it is an inherently racist fear and lead directly from French republicanism to German Nazism. So, I am always skeptical when people predict the end of days (for the West or for anyone else).

The truth is a lot more complicated. The United States is not Rome. Western Civilization is not limited to England or the US, or even Europe. Much Westernism found a permanent home in places like India and Brazil. These are two of the largest countries in the world, growing rapidly, and now looking for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Japan has certainly come to appreciate many Western qualities and is tightly entwined with America as both a market and a labor force in automobiles, entertainment, and advertising.

If America is a Colossus, as Niall has most recently designated us, it is certainly not an Empire, as Niall once hoped we would be. As he notes in his VF article our constitution stands in the way of a true empire, as does our own public opinion and sentiment on the concept.

We have mediocre personalities as Presidents who could never cut it as a dictator. We vote with our feet after regular installments of sensationalist media footage from around the world. We are provincial and selfish, we will never invest much money or personnel in the fate of other nations.

We are also not racially homogenous as the British Empire or the Second Reich were. We do not have a sense of racial superiority or a divine mission. And we do not need an empire to sustain our economic model as England and Japan needed theirs.

This is hardly the stuff of a globe trotting super power. And yet, we are not declining as Europe is today. Our population continues to boom (we are the number one destination for immigration and asylum seekers despite the reports of poor global public opinion polls). Our cultural exports continue to impact the local scene in India and China. Hong Kong martial artists, Ballywood actors, and Latin musicians are not considered truly successful until their first big American hit.

What do you think of the model and the worry? Is America an empire and should it be? Is the West doomed to decline or do individual nations experience varying periods of success and failure even as overlapping religions and fads rise and fade around the globe? Niall seems to be pondering these questions with an omnivorous interest and I look forward to his latest book.

Sean: Tuesday, September 26, 2006 [+] |
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