More politics >

A Liberal Philosophy

This essay is very unfinished, even incoherent in places. It is growing slowly as I dig bit by bit into the philosophical issues it raises. It may be while before it begins to hold together. But that is what this blocki is for.

The basis of society

It is in the nature of all living organisms to improve their lot as best they can by modifying their environment. Cooperation allows greater improvements than mere individual effort can achieve. James Lovelock's studies of the global biosphere, what he calls "Gaia", have shown how all of life cooperates to keep its home as amenable as possible. Individual animals of a given species often join together in some form of cooperative group. So often in fact that we have many names for such a group - a flock, swarm, shoal, herd, pride, pack, nest, colony and so on. When people do so we may call their group a society. All people who wish to improve their lives beyond their individual abilities must form such a society.

The larger, richer and more complex the society, the greater the scope for individual improvements. A society of any complexity needs an organizational structure, with specialists to develop and maintain that structure. This structure may be called its constitution and may be taken to include its various laws and established customs. The specialists who devise and administer the constitution are its government.

Dealing with human nature

Human nature has not changed since the days we were one with the apes. Only the intelligence to apply it has evolved to any great extent. We may hav gained wisdom, patience and other aspects of intellectual maturity, but the old animal emotions such as selfishness, greed, hatred and indifference remain a fundamental aspect of human nature. These animal desires, inherited from the biological process of evolution, still often overwhelm us. Even in the third millennium, the most enlightened of societies must make allowance for the psychology of the ape man.

We cannot escape our baser instincts but, if we do not control them, they will tear society apart or, at best, pervert it into something oppressive and unstable.

If we want to make the most of our lives, both individually and collectively, then we must subdue our baser instincts to the call of reason and mutual respect. Any practical foundation of a fair and sustainable society must be built around the principle of mutual protection.

Protection is not only needed against other members of society, it is needed against other societies too. Any society that focuses too exclusively on mutual cooperation risks invasion and destruction from more primitive and aggressive societies. A peaceful, empathic soldier is no reply to an experienced and dedicated warrior with his victory prize gleaming in his eyes.

Any stable society must somehow balance out the opposing forces of evolution, of cooperation and aggression. Only in this way can it both build cooperation among its members while retaining an aggressive ability to protect itself from attack, both from within and without.

It might seem fortunate, but really must come as no surprise, that these forces have over time evolved a natural balance. The balance may be struck at a different level in each individual and in each society, but the mechanisms of that balance have been bred into all of us, for the very reason that it has ensured our survival. That must give us some hope in coming out of the other end of this review with a tenable solution.

Nevertheless, it is especially important that the politics of hatred or disdain should have no place in the formative workings of an enlightened society. They are bred of division and in turn they breed division. Even dragging down an enemy is no solution, unless you understand with a high order what you are going to put in their place, otherwise it becomes a recipe for disaster. Society must guard against them in others and be able to fall back on them in an emergency, but that is a different thing.

Principles of a fair society

The first and most basic principle of any fair society is to recognise the freedom of all individuals to improve their lot as best they can.

Human nature being what it is we will, whether intentionally or unintentionally, frequently get in each other's way. A second principle must allow individuals to defend themselves against the abuses of their fellow citizens. That is, a citizen may act as they please under the first principle, only provided that in so doing they do not abuse a fellow citizen.

We do not live in isolation and cooperation is what creates society. The first principle dictates that this cooperation should be to our mutual benefit. From this arises a third principle, to enable and encourage the self-improvement of others, and to support those who cannot do so for themselves.

Political realisations

These three principles provide a foundational definition of Liberalism. Socialism is broadly similar but in practice promotes the third principle above the others, subduing personal wellbeing beneath communal directive and thereby defeating its own object. Anarchy enshrines only the first principle, failing to recognise the need for the second. Capitalism similarly recognises the first principle but goes even further than anarchy, in actively denying the second. It leaves the third to the dictates of free markets. Only Liberalism fully enables, protects and nurtures the individual.

Anarchy is an ideology which anticipates a natural wasting away of such animal drives. As people come to discover the benefits of cooperation, their baser motives will simply wither away. It is a nice ideal, one of several which may be encapsulated as, "If we could all learn to be nice to each other, then life would be better for all of us." The ideal, evolved Communist state is in this sense an example of anarchy, in which people voluntarily self-organise in a particular, communal way.

It is not difficult to see how these ideologies have lost touch with reality. They require human nature to change, and that can only be accomplished through the same process of biological evolution that created us. This would need new evolutionary pressures to drive humanity in the right direction. People who show antisocial behaviour, and the overwhelming urges that promote it, would have to be culled through some form of selection. Nature offers no such route, with the aggressive and victorious often spreading thgeir genes the widest. Social efforts at culling require despotic authoritarian regimes and these have invariably been dominated by personalities who are the antithesis of the supposed direction of change. For it is of course these same bloodthirsty despots whom one is aiming to cull.

Capitalism disdains the losers of society, Socialism hates and blindly drags down the rich and powerful, anarchy ignores the necessity for our animal natures, we have to find a better way.

Towards a Liberal constitution

These Three Principles may form the written core of a Liberal constitution, to be written down as a constant reminder and challenge to all. It is perhaps trite to remark that they can be challenged only through a constitutional reform as radical as that which sets them in place.

A constitution is a living thing, comprising not only diktats written or customary, but also all those multifarious individuals and institutions who influence the continued evolution of those diktats. All I can present here is a snapshot of my proposed diktats, along with some small commentary upon them.

The Rule of Law is a principle fundamental to the workings of the UK constitution. It is the Common Law principle that nobody can be molested or disturbed at home without due legal process. This is in effect the same principle which I describe from the other side, as the right to do as you please provided it hurts no-one.

All other aspects of the constitution are concerned with the institutions of government and the manner in which they execute and administer their policies.

Updated 29 Apr 2018