[Long time readers of ShrinkWrapped know that from time to time Jimmy J writes a guest post which consistently offers insightful comments on our uncertain and complicated world. His latest is particularly clear and cogent.
The blog post title is mine. I use "liberal" in its traditional meaning, referring to a political philosophy that privileges freedom and tolerance. This is in contrast to the current devolved use of the word to mean intolerance and illiberality in the service of identity politics and an elitist defined equality of outcome.]
Here then is Jimmy J's manifesto:
I first got the idea of writing down some of the things I think I know/believe from another Navy pilot, Lex, who blogs at Neptunus Lex. He expounded on a long list of his beliefs. Mostly one or two pithy lines. Not surprisingly, I agreed with many of them. I had never seen someone express his personal manifesto in such a fashion. His work stimulated me to take a closer look at my beliefs.
There are many things we are confident we know because they can be demonstrated scientifically or mathematically. Such things as: Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 1+1 = 2, there is a mysterious force called gravity.
However, many things that we know or think we know are not necessarily subject to scientific/mathematical proof. And they may or may not be believed by others. For that reason I have been examining my beliefs and setting them down on paper so I might see if they are consistent and why I hold them. Here are a few of my beliefs about our federal government. I realize one could write a book about the few items I have covered here. This is only intended to be a brief outline of my "manifesto."
Let's get started.
I believe that most people don’t want to be governed, but we need to be. Without some form of government we have anarchy. For most of recorded history humans have been governed by the "Golden Rule." That is, he who had the gold to buy enough muscle, made the rules. Most people didn't like that form of government too well. Those that are still living under this kind of government still don't seem to enjoy it all that much. The ancient Greeks came up with a new idea. The idea was that government should be instituted by agreement among the citizens as to what rules(laws) were necessary to maintain order and peace. Today government in the United States is based on that idea with an agreement (outlined in the Constitution and our various laws) among citizens about rules for the purpose of mutual defense and to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe good government allows people to be secure in their property and person while insuring as much personal and economic freedom as possible. Fortunately, we can compare the results of different governmental systems in use around the world today. Representative government that allows people as much freedom as possible seems to stand out. One way to judge how it stands out is to look at the number of people who are trying to get into countries governed in that fashion versus the number who are leaving.
I believe, like Winston Churchill, that democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others. It's inefficient, expensive, and sometimes chaotic. But it offers the possibility of freedom and dignity to every person. It also offers the opportunity to self correct when mistakes are made. That alone makes it worth all the expense, inefficiency, and messiness. There may be a better form of government, but in my opinion it hasn't yet been devised by the mind of man.
I believe the freedom that comes with democracy requires we citizens to exercise responsibility for our actions. Among the responsibilities we need to accept are to stay informed about government, vote as wisely as possible, treat fellow citizens with respect, and be willing to serve when called on, either in the military or elective office. Representative government requires an informed and interested citizenry or it will be taken over by self-interested charlatans. In some ways I believe our country has travelled some distance down that road. However, I believe one of the great features of democracy is that it is never too late to right things if enough citizens exercise their responsibilities.
I believe the choices we make are important and have consequences. People need to accept that in order to be good citizens. Bad choices affect you and often many others in bad ways. Quitting school, getting hooked on drugs, and having children out of wedlock are some obvious examples of such bad choices. If you didn’t learn this growing up, your parents or teachers or both, didn't do a very good job. Parenting and teaching are two of the most important jobs in a democracy because they have the responsibilty of guiding future citizens toward making good decisions.
I believe that our Federal Government’s primary functions are to defend the nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic; regulate interstate commerce, and conduct diplomacy with other countries. Everything else is pretty much discretionary, open to debate, and subject to revision. At least that's the way I read the Constitution. Obviously, we have strayed quite far from this outline of the Federal Government's duties. As travel and communications have shrunk the country it has enticed the Feds to get involved in all kinds of things such as healthcare, welfare, energy, education, infrastructure, and transportation to name a few. If enough people began to recognize that the states or private enterprise could do many of these things better and more efficiently, maybe the Feds would get out of areas where they are not doing a good job.
I believe that Congress should make law; the judiciary should interpret the constitutionality of laws passed by the Congress; and the executive should be in charge of national defense, regulation of interstate commerce, Federal justice, and foreign relations. This separation of powers as set up by the founders is a very good barrier to dictatorial power residing in any wing of the government. When any of the three branches of government usurps the role of one of the others we have failed in some measure to follow the plan devised by the founders. When judges make law, or Congress tries to control the military, or the President tries to decide what is constitutional we are straying away from that plan and endangering this noble experiment in self goverment.
I believe in the law of unintended consequences. I also believe that, for some reason, Congress does not. If they did they would revise or cancel many of the laws they pass, which have wreaked said unintended consequences.
I believe that government is best which governs least, yet still provides for security, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I also believe that the perfect balance between government interference in people's lives and freedom is impossible to find. The pendulum will always be swinging between too much interference and too much freedom. That's one reason why democracy is an inefficient, messy form of government.
I believe freedom is more important than equality. If it requires a reduction in freedom to increase equality, I'm against it. Human nature being what it is, I believe that social and/or economic equality will always have to be compelled by force. That way lies slavery or despotism. Illustrative of this is the failed Communist experiment in the former Soviet Union. They promised economic and social equality, but what they delivered was equality of misery. (Except for the elite at the top of the Party.)
I believe freedom will always have to be defended. That job is the primary function of our federal government. There will always be people around who would like to control you and take away your freedom if you let them. The freedom we enjoy is a rather recent occurrence and is, whether we like to admit it or not, still quite fragile. I agree with the statement that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
I believe government must have money to operate on and that must come, unfortunately, from the citizens.........but only by their consent. The fact that taxes are necessary should not obscure the fact that they can be evil. Taxes can be evil because, in excess, they can suck the life out of an economy quicker than any other known economic action.
I believe tax systems should be simple, fair, and as minimal as possible. Since the government takes its sustenance from the sweat of our brow, it is the least government can do for us. I would like to see our government make it so.
I believe that our taxation system has to be coercive. It is your money and you have earned it legally (I hope) through your labor. However, if you don’t pay, the government will come and take your money or take you to jail. It's that way because of human nature.............the majority might pay willingly and without coercion, but there are some who will never pay unless coerced. (And, even with coercion, there are still some who try to evade paying.)
I believe citizens of nations have responsibilities to one another, but only those that they collectively choose. There is a social contract in effect but it is worthless if it is not entered into willingly. We do owe every person the opportunity to better their lives. (I call it a level playing field.) But they, in turn, owe it to society to make the effort. Providing help to those unable to improve their circumstances because of health or other legitimate reasons is best done by private charity, religious groups, and individuals, not the government. The Federal Government is too large and impersonal to adequately oversee such efforts. The closer the charity is to the end user, the more likely that it will get to the person who needs it and that it will end when the person no longer needs it.
I believe that a regulated capitalistic economy offers the best opportunity to live a good life to the greatest number of people. The fundamental conditions needed are: A reasonably honest representative government. Ownership of private property backed by courts. Methods of transferring legal title to property from one owner to another. An honest and well funded banking system. As little regulation as necessary to maintain honesty and integrity in the business world. This plan has been tested in several places since the end of WWII. South Korea versus North Korea, West Germany versus East Germany, and Taiwan versus Red China to mention a few. In all cases the regulated capitalistic economies delivered better health, more wealth, and more freedom. If someone has a better idea, please, share it with the world.
Lastly, I believe in separation of church and state. Religion, I believe, is about our personal relationship with God or, if you are an atheist, no God. Government is about the relationships of humans to one another. The constitution states that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are given to all humans by the Creator. We can use that statement and religious ethics to inform our ideas about government, but, because there are many, many different religious sects and some totally unreligious people, mixing religious tenets into government makes it more difficult to create laws that apply to and are acceptable to all people. However, that doesn't mean the government should try to drive religion out of the public square. For most of this country's history Christian symbols and displays have been common in public places and even on government properties. I see nothing wrong with this as long as other religions are accorded the same rights. For atheists to claim that any public display of religious symbols is offensive is a case of a vocal minority claiming to be offended and victimized by such symbols. I believe that is much the same as me claiming I'm offended and victimized by being served in a restaurant by someone with studs in their eyebrows and lips.
I hope this essay will encourage others to think about their beliefs and why they hold them.