Virtue and the State

Virtue and the State

Or "The Personal is Political"

If you're not sure where you've heard it, it's a leftist catch phrase popularized a while back along with "think global, act local" to enforce that every little personal decision has political ramifications. That no personal decision you made was outside of the scope of your political/ideological beliefs.

That everything was Caesar's and nothing was owed to God or yourself.

In a way, it leveraged a truth - that every choice you make reflects what you actually believe - but corrupted it because if there are no boundaries between you - the personal - and the political, then every aspect of your life was subject to the totalitarian all-encompassing state, or the supposedly stateless society that nevertheless you had to be a proper part of that was supposed to follow. I'm sure we could dig up some Mussolini and Hitler quotes about that as well as the usual Communist cant.

I bring this up because over at Kairos, Brian Neimeier brings up a point I almost entirely agree with - It's not the size of the government.

The refusal of Republican lawmakers to act against the systematic censoring of their constituents in the name of the free market has become a tired meme. Likewise facile boilerplate from Libertarians admonishing us to build our own multinational trillion-dollar tech companies.


American Conservatives' and Libertarians' obsession with the size of government has been a fatal mistake. It's not the size of government that matters. It's whether a government pursues the good of its people.

We don't need to reduce the size of government. We need to finish taking total control of it and use it to crush the enemies of civilization. Or do you still think the free market will punish Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon?

He brings up an important point here. Conservative, Inc. has fixated on how "big" the government is. Leftist cant in response to "it's too big" is that "size doesn't matter if it's good government" - and I don't think that is what Brian is saying here either in the leftist sense, especially as the leftist application is the usual doublespeak of appearing to say something good which, when unpacked, is utterly evil.

It's because of their definition of "good" government.

I've said before that size isn't just how many people, or how many dollars, or how many offices. It's also the scope of power. In some cases the scope is beyond the power of the town, county, etc. to affect outside of itself - national defense and international treaties - or because dictating a choice at the national level is not in the best overall interests of the municipalities, as neither they nor the people in them are equal. Skin in the game, and the ability to even know what is actually best put practical upper and lower bounds on what scope of power should be exercised at any level before one is making choices for which others suffer the consequences but not oneself. Nevermind the attraction unlimited power over others holds to psychopaths.

There's also a deeper moral level though.

Virtue is something we must choose for ourselves. We are not generous when we vote for the state to take other's money and give it to the poor. Yes, some of it is our money, our time, as well, but we lose a little of the choice, and we take that choice away from others. Does that mean absolutely no safety nets? No - but it does mean that every law that is passed that takes virtue away from people renders unto Caesar that which should be Gods, or in a secular sense, takes away moral agency.

Yet government operates at a moral level as well, because all of the choices made for others have implications and make it easier for people to do good or evil. Those choices can protect people or place them in harm's way. I don't have the knee-jerk response that "vigilante justice" - especially when self defense is misnamed such - is "bad" because I also don't believe the police should be everywhere, even if they could be. It's a symptom - and if there's too much of it, that means that government is failing in its job of protecting the people by removing and restricting those who commit crimes. Who steal, murder, etc.

Why the governments job?

Because if we are to take the recent accusations of Ms Ford at the Kavanaugh hearings as gospel truth, as justification to ruin a man's life, than all a psychopath must do to be free to kill is level an accusation, to claim they believe the other person deserved it.

A trial before one's peers is less to satisfy law, than for the community to use the law - agreed upon measures of right and wrong - to determine if a man is actually guilty of a crime severe enough to require punishment, and if that punishment is just. It is as much about helping to ensure justice by punishing transgressors as preventing false accusations from causing injustice. Yes, it can be abused to prevent punishment as well, no system is perfect.

It doesn't have to be our current mechanics - it could be town elders, formal or informal - but any system put in place with teeth to arbitrate disputes between parties and ensure justice against unwilling members or outsiders in accordance with agreed morals becomes de facto "state".

It's why I laugh at the LOLbertarian concept of "governmentless" dispute resolution organizations.

And it is the promise of justice that is offered that is important. Consistent standards that can be assumed to exist and to change fairly slowly so that plans can be made. That those who cheat or murder will be censured and punished so that we don't have to live in armed encampments with constant feuds, grudges held for generations, real and imagined. Without it, you cannot have civilization.

Practical and moral matters, as well as limiting the potential power of psychopaths, are all reasons why there are upper bounds on that power, and the good of society in the end, "government" by another name always forming, even if it's just strongmen, puts a lower bound on the size of government if we are to put limits on warlords and psychopaths and have civilization.

But any size government can be abused and do evil for it is made of people. Even bureaucrats with petty power can love to fuck over the people that need their stamp or paperwork approved.

Insufficient or overwhelming power will lead a government to evil, but if it is not composed of reasonably honest people, compelled by their own conscience or by consequences to do well for those they are granted power over, who are willing to drive out the psychopaths and cut them off when they seek to gain power over others for evil ends, then it will take every bit of power it has, and not only hurt people with it, but restructure itself and the laws to gain more power, and entrench themselves.

The job of the government is to protect the people. The mechanics matter. Some are better than others overall, some are better for certain cultural mores and thus also different times, people, and places, than others, but in the end, they're just a methodology toward a goal. The goal is what matters.

The constitution, the original document as written, is a system. A tool. Like all tools, it is morally neutral, and it is actually the Bill of Rights that provides moral boundaries, or guiding principles to it, while the earlier Declaration in a way provides aspirational inspiration. Even in it’s time the framers of the Constitution believed that their system of government would not last the ages, and was only suitable for a christian, moral people.

So when some on the alt-right mock the conservative fixation on “muh constitution” – it bothers me, I value it – but I get it.

It’s just a system, a set of habits, methods, algorithms. There are other ones. Some are “better”, some are worse, and in a number of ways that valuation depends on what kind of people the system is helping -for lack of a better word – govern, and their temperament. Just like developing new habits, we can put new systems in place. The choices made will increase or reduce administrative and bureaucratic friction, encourage or discourage entrepreneurs, and make treaty decisions and foreign relationships more stable or not. In the end, it’s a methodology – just like solving a word problem. There may be an easy way and a hard way, ways that are better matches for your priorities, but as long as you reach the truth, or the correct answer, they are morally irrelevant.

If the government does not concern itself with protecting its people, its culture, from outside invaders and criminals, they will have fewer and fewer options to be virtuous themselves without overthrowing said government. They will have life, liberty, and the sweat of their labor taken from them unjustly.

And there is a guideline to when it is justified to shut something down. What Taleb in "skin in the Game" would call the "silver rule" as the common understanding of the golden rule doesn't unpack to reciprocity or match game theory - though as I've pointed out the Christian variant actually does.

Those who refuse to play by the accepted rules, for whom it is all about petty thuggery and power, about who, whom,, have declared their a-civilizational standards. Do unto them as they demonstrate they would do unto you.

About Last Redoubt

Ex nuke mechanic, jack of all trades.