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April 10, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Faith in Politics : Political Philosophy as Belief

The difference between the belief in a higher power, and squabbling over member proportionality is stark. Beliefs are the opinions that govern your life, and, if you’re gaining these from on high, politics might not be nearly as important to you as it is to others—but philosophical belief and a belief in a just way to govern society may not be so different.

While politics often involves theological and philosophical thought, it is rarely thought of as affecting people’s relationships and interactions with each other in quite the same way. But, as a series of beliefs, is it not as important in defining how you think about the world, and what sort of governing system you would wish for? How do politics affect people’s interactions, and how do we come about these political beliefs? Salient found four ‘political types’ and asked them how it is that they are how they are.

How did you come to your political beliefs or party?

Lewis Van Den Berg-Shaw (Socialist): Losing my job. I felt this was due to my union involvement. Short of some Chomsky and the documentary Free To Choose, I’d never really examined my beliefs in detail. That’s not to say I just read The Communist Manifesto in a haze of cannabis smoke set to Rage Against the Machine. My grounding was likely provided by my parents who shared general leftist leanings. My mum’s a long-standing unionist, and has been a workplace delegate before. I’d also been involved with several environmental groups, so my transformation to a full-fledged pinko was assured.

Peter McCaffrey (Libertarian): I was in my seventh form in 2005 and was just old enough to vote in my first election. I read all the parties’ websites and ACT’s policies seemed to make the most sense. At the election I voted for ACT, but I didn’t do anything else political until I got to university the following year and joined ACT on Campus during Clubs day. What really convinced me to get involved was when I realised that I could work out what ACT’s policy on an issue would be from the philosophical principles, rather than having to look them up or check what the politicians felt like on the day.

Sam Bonner (Libertarian-Seasteader): I got interested in politics through studying History at High School. I read biographies of former political leaders, and became more interested in the political philosophy behind this. The concept that ideas could shape the way the country was run was something that deeply interested me, especially as it seemed to be something most people held little interest in.

I read few important political/philosophical books while I was at school like Free To Choose, Atlas Shrugged, 1984, and Brave New World which obviously shaped the way I viewed the individual and the state. I also read a number of ACT party books, most specifically Richard Prebble’s I’ve Been Thinking and part of Sir Roger’s Unfinished Business and through this joined ACT and became actively involved in the party when I came university. I guess my instincts had always been towards scepticism of the state and a dislike of intrusive government which made me sympathetic to the ideas within the books I read.

Haimona Gray (Anarcho-Pragmatist): I grew up in a very political environment, which forced to me to question the philosophy underpinning of political groups and their intentions, but I never really thought much of it until I became interested in the idea of the social contract and what binds us together as a society.

From there it was on to actual policy and how the ends can ever justify the means—idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.

Have you ever had moments of doubt during your political maturation?

SB: My ideas have definitely developed, I have questioned my existing beliefs, but that has tended to lead more of a radicalising of my ideas rather than a move to a different set of beliefs. Being able to think critically is something I consider to be very important and something I try to work on, I dislike the way partisan politics tends to suppress this which probably leads to a lot of the political outcomes we see in modern politics and the decisions voters make.

I have come to view politics, the state and democracy as it exists now with a degree of cynicism which I certainly didn’t have when I first became active within politics so to that extent my ideas have changed significantly and my confidence in being able to achieve significant change within the system as it exists now has decreased significantly.

PM: As I got more involved in politics, watching how politicians and journalists work only reinforced to me just how broken the system is.

The first time I saw the media cover an event that I had inside knowledge of, I was shocked by how different the media reports were to what actually happened. This was a real eye-opener and a great reminder to always investigate things for myself.

Once I turned this skepticism to government programme and looked at whether they worked—their outcomes rather than their intentions—I saw just how ineffective they are and started looking for alternatives. We should always judge policies and ideas by what they actually do, not what politicians say they will do.

Lvd B-S: When I do, I read more. There’s a wealth of material on basically every subject fathomable online. I find very it valuable to try to apply opposing modes of political thinking to a question or problem to better understand the rationale behind them. “Political maturation” should be a constant, ongoing intellectual struggle.

HG: The great part of political philosophy is that it is, by its nature, theoretical. So evolving and adapting your ideas doesn’t cost you anything.

Voting (or not, as there is a good case to be made for not voting) can be useful, because when you have to ‘put up or shut up’ and verify your beliefs, this changes how you think about politics.

How do you think your political beliefs affect your social interactions?

PM: I think it has made me a more tolerant of other people beliefs, choices and lifestyles. Libertarians believe that people should be free to make their own decisions and do whatever they want, as long as they aren’t harming someone else.

I might not always agree with the choices that other people make but that’s not the same as thinking that the government should step in and force them to do something else.

SB: I don’t tend to enjoy politicising the relationships I have, especially with friends who don’t have a huge interest in politics or who I know hold opposing ideas. Certainly I’m interested in discussing political ideas and philosophy, I’m less interested in getting into partisan arguments over policy or parties and according this much lower priority in the greater scheme of things.

Lvd B-S: Most of the people I associate with are left-leaning. My ideology isn’t generally different enough to affect my friendships in any meaningful way. I enjoy sparking political conversation, but only if I know I wouldn’t be soap-boxing.

HG: Drastically. The truth is that many people you’ll meet in a university setting aren’t going to share your politics no matter what, that’s the beauty of university, but some people will not accept others who aren’t into their flavour of Kool Aid. I have no problem discussing my beliefs, just so long as it is on policy and actual beliefs, not fighting others’ preconceptions.

How do your political beliefs fit in with your other (philosophical or theological) beliefs?

PM: I think it’s an unfortunate misconception that collectivists are seen as caring and kind while libertarians are seen as greedy and selfish. In reality those who support a big and powerful government tend to do so because they agree with a Hobbesian interpretation of human nature where life is a “war of every man against every man— solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. They think the government must tell people what to do and how to live their lives because without that direction the wrong decision would make. Should you be allowed to choose to smoke, take drugs, eat unhealthy food, etc, or should the government decide for you?

By contrast, myself and libertarians would follow more of a Lockean view that “no-one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions”—that people have reason and are generally good-natured. We trust people to live their own lives, to make their own decisions, and even to sometimes get it wrong and learn from mistakes.

Lvd B-S: I’m an atheist, so was Marx. Marxism is a system of social philosophy in itself.

SB: The fundamental concepts for me which I try to use to govern my life (and my beliefs) are the principles of self ownership and the non-intervention of force. These principles seem to me fundamental to freedom and peaceful interaction. I guess I’m basically optimistic about humanity in general and its ability to look after itself but very sceptical about state directed collectivism or compulsion. Consent seems essential to me and while I don’t object to the concept of a modest state, I have major issues with the compulsion and lack of choice that comes with it.

To that end, seasteading appeals to me as offering competitive experimental forms of government and ideas as well as the ability for each citizen to actually give consent to be governed by those laws. Seasteading seems to be the only real solution to the issue of compulsion by the state and also offers me the most hope for a future where libertarian ideas and society could be experimented with.

HG: I don’t know if we ever do reconcile these questions of ethics with the practical functions of government, but I guess we should at least try.

Seasteading appeals to me a lot, as coercion is a frightening concept, as does a world where those in need can’t get a reprieve from hard times, trying to fix the world we have have now before it becomes a necessity to sail off to our own worlds.

The truth is most forms of rule hamstring one group for the sake of another—even anarchy would punish the physically weak who could not defend themselves from a lawless state. This leaves politics as a balancing act. Is there a right answer? Probably not, but just so long as I get my medicare, my guns, and my pornography, we’ll all be fine.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Hyena-Swine says:

    boring.. and what’s with the seasteading?

  2. Castor Troy says:

    Hey Hyena-Swine,

    “what’s with the seasteading?” – You’re on the Internet, you figure it out.

    But yeah boring, where’s the explosions and sex… wait, an article called ‘Faith in Politics : Political Philosophy as Belief’ doesn’t have any explosions in it? Well I guess I should shut the fuck up then.

    Why don’t we try this together new friend.

  3. Hyena-Swine says:

    my point is are these people serious? seasteading? as in founding new independent civilizations at sea? as in waterworld? haha

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