16 November 2009

On Being A Whig, Continued

My previous post: On Being A Whig, in which I advocate that the freedom of the individual must be the central idea behind the Modern Whigs. I also pointed out that there are some important differences between being a Whig and being what is currently popularly called "conservative":

But there are points of tension when there is and, as we know, in politics it is the points of tension that matter. The points of tension occur when the rights of individuals or minorities come into conflict with existing laws and prevailing social customs.

And so we come back to the essential flaw of conservatism – its ethical relativism. A conservative, no less than a liberal, is horrified by the thought that human beings might be crushed in the name of an abstraction, yet we often find him indifferent, or even an apologist, when human beings are actually being crushed by an existing political system or social order.

Now, I would like to carry the analysis further of the guiding philosophy of the Modern Whigs.

The Modern Whig Party is the inheritor of the entire eighteenth-century Whiggish tradition, and our stated tenants reflect this tradition very closely.

In Modern Whig positions, we can identify four key Whiggish principles — a Modern Whig Agenda around which our future policies are to be formed. These principles are:
  1. favouring the legislature over the executive
  2. favouring the interests of small business over concentrated wealth
  3. favouring toleration of non-conformists
  4. promoting ordered liberty against the arbitrary powers of the State.
In short, the Modern Whig is the champion of the individual and of the underdog.

The founding element of Whig philosophy, and the issue over which the original Whig Party was formed, is the sovereignty of the legislative branch. The original Whigs were formed to oppose the succession of the Catholic despot James II. Whigs favoured Parliament against the King.

Today this issue is very much alive. In place of the current emphasis on executive power found in both the Democratic and the Republican party, or a reliance on the judiciary to sort out social issues, Modern Whigs favor the legislature. In place of an imperial presidency or debilitating dependence on the Supreme Court, Modern Whigs favor a representative assembly as forming the basis of a government which, if people don’t like it, they can vote out of office. This is the crucial issue.

This is what we don’t like about the Supreme Court as a super-legislature, or reliance on federal regulations. All of these things undermine the capacity of the electorate, if they do not like their government, to ‘kick the bums out’. The same can also be said about our emphasis on federalism. Decision making should be moved to the lowest level of government as is possible. There, citizens can participate in the decisions that are made. How can a person of modest means impact a decision made at an international conference?

Second, Whigs are the promoters of free enterprise and free markets. Modern Whigs promote entrepreneurship, opportunity, and the breaking up of monopolies, not vested interests protected by government fiat.

But we do not believe in some ‘law of the jungle’. If might were right then we would favor the big guy over the small. But big is not best, and might is not right. Markets and price mechanisms do not just happen. They need a strong legal framework, secure property rights, and money which retains its value. Modern Whigs believe that what regulation is needed should promote small business, provide for transparency, and prevent markets being undermined by monopolistic abuses, either by the government or by large corporations.

Free markets rewards talent, imagination and innovation. It offers people the liberty to trade to their mutual advantage, and thus creates contentment through co-operation. It promotes efficient operation and undermines racism, sexism, and other ill-founded prejudice. Markets have not happened by chance, but rather because wise governments have created an environment in which they could operate.

Third, we favor tolerance. In any society there are those who choose to live differently from the norm. Sometimes not everyone adheres to the dominant religion. Sometimes people do not have weddings, or prefer sexual partners of the same sex. Sometimes there are those who just wear different clothes and do not support the local sports teams.

Now clearly in some such cases there is no right or wrong way to do things. Equally clearly, in other case there will be. No-one can seriously suggest there is no ethical distinction between Islamic fundamentalism and libertarian atheism. However, for the Modern Whig, provided that non-conformism does not take a form which threatens order we have another principle: Whigs favor toleration of non-conformists.

For the Modern Whig this must mean supporting co-habiting couples, opposing the victimization of homosexuals, and standing up for ethnic minorities. This does not mean that the Modern Whigs do not believe marriage, heterosexual sex, integration, and Christianity are best. To tolerate we need not agree. And to fight injustice against someone is not to say that everything he does is right.

In contrast, Democrats and Republicans oppress the different, although for different reasons. Theirs is the tyranny of the majority. Progressive Democrats are willing to massively intrude into personal or family autonomy in the name of "diversity" and "political correctness". Progressive Democrats do not have a "live and let live" approach towards those that do not support their efforts to alter traditional social norms. Meanwhile, the Republicans are the primary vehicle for those who seek to impose their religious social views.

Our fourth principle is that Modern Whigs promote ordered liberty against the arbitrary powers of the State. Government is a valuable instrument. It guarantees property rights, and offers people security to go about their business without continuous threat from the unscrupulous and the violent. Order is immensely valuable, and anything which threatens order is anathema to a Whig.

However, to create order, we must make the government immensely powerful. With this power comes a danger. The State becomes the largest power, so the State becomes the most potent threat to our liberties. Who could be more oppressed than the man unjustly arrested and imprisoned? Who confiscates more of our property than the taxman? Who can interfere with our livelihood more effectively than the legislator who bans it? Therefore, the Modern Whig belief is that the invasion of our liberties by the government should be restricted to those instances where it is absolutely necessary.

Too often, people in positions of power in government regard liberties as something to be granted, rather than something the government takes away. America has sometimes been far from perfect in this regard. But other systems in other nations have very often been awful.

Now we can clearly see that the common approach of the Democrats and the Republicans share a philosophy that is the Whig's age-old adversary -- the use of government to benefit a select few at the expense of the people. It aims to ensure and improve the welfare of established stakeholders. It is automatically the friend of big business and regulation, because these make its bargaining processes possible. It uses the power of government to restrict entry of new competition, either in ideas, business, and politics.

In contrast, Modern Whigs, favor an open, responsive legislature, free markets, tolerance and liberty. Modern Whigs are the champion of the individual and of the underdog.

In reaching out, as we must, to those that we need in our coalition, if we are to be authentic and true to ourselves, we must respect the Whig philosophy that lies at our core.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having just read, "On being a Whig" parts 1 & 2, I find this 'new' party platform very interesting. On a business level, I often wonder, why is it ok for the 'left' to be wealthy and not the 'right'? Aside from a handful of people like Paris Hilton, who didn't earn their wealth; why are most wealthy Americans villanized for being successful ? Can a Whig be a wealthy business owner & true to the party ? Or rather the party be true to him ?