Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thrasymachus Must Be Answered

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I've been pondering these lines and the question of what makes things right and other things wrong.  We establish government to secure our unalienable rights granted to us by our Creator.  But what if there is no Creator, no God?  Does the theory of Natural Law still stand if there is no Natural Law Giver?  It can be said that Natural Law is the Best Positive Law that we can create...but the best for whom?  

At the beginning of our Republic, these principles were generally (though obviously not absolutely) held by the public, that the life, liberty, and property of others were sacrosanct, that they are granted by a Higher Power.  These values have largely been replaced in society with the idea that the wealth of others may be deemed unfairly gained without a reference to what fairness is, that liberty can be enhanced by the dictates of government.  In most aspects, people lack any guiding principles apart from personal gain, regardless of means.  In fact, most people consider the means of government appropriating and redistributing wealth gives the action moral credibility. 

The ideal of Life, Liberty, and Property as fundamental Natural Rights has been usurped for Might Equals Right.  Most will not be comfortable putting it so bluntly, but the idea that government actions are legitimate because it is a democratic government that took them is arguing that having the power of the majority makes an action right.  Of course, the same people that support government intrusion on the rights of others become indignant the second they become part of the minority, the abused class.  And sadly, many that denounce the abuses of government do so because they wish to be sucking at the tit of government instead.  It is not the abuse of government powers, but the recipient of the benefits that angers these people (the Occupy movement is a great example of this).  For so many people in this country, what is right equals what is good for me.  

The threat of an afterlife, the Myth of Er, may have been false but it certainly had its uses.  In a world without a Higher Power (and I am an agnostic myself), the whole question of right and wrong is often thrown overboard; there is no disincentive to do wrong, and often a great reward. 

Can a society survive if it embraces the philosophy of Thrasymachus?  Perhaps so, perhaps not.  But will such a society be happier than a free society based on respect for life, liberty, and property?  For a small group, yes; for the rest, no. 

And that's where I find myself.  I'm an agnostic.  I don't believe there is a Creator that particularly cares if our Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness are upheld or violently raped.  I do believe that a free society, with positive laws upholding Jefferson and Locke's ideals, is the happiest of societies for most within it.  But I also know that those same political tools used to create positive laws will almost inevitably be employed to destroy what they are supposed to protect; politicians will forever bribe some people with the wealth of others.  Perhaps liberty is such a fragile thing that its existence cannot be maintained.  Like a silver coin passed around too many hands, perhaps we can't prevent its tarnishing and eventual ruin. 

But I intend to keep throwing objections at Thrasymachus, even if he isn't listening.  The political tools used to abuse our economic machine have taken that machine to its breaking point.  Europe may have passed that point already and we are definitely moving in that direction.  When the breakdown occurs, Thrasymachus will not be content to watch the world (and his privileged position) blow up into a billion pieces.  No, he'll have a new political system to mitigate the impact of the next economic implosion.  This one won't be democratic, though I can easily see it being demanded by the people. 

"You never want a serious crisis go to waste."  They won't miss their opportunity. 

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