Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Showdown Is Here and Always Will Be

Today a friend asked this question:

Do you believe that there is a "showdown" coming between Capitalism and Communism? If so, who is winning at this time ? Will these two economic systems meld together at some future time?

Here is my long-winded answer, should you care to suffer through it:

I see ‘capitalism’ – a somewhat loaded term that I really prefer to avoid – as one outcome of human political liberty. The reason I don’t really like the term is that it is a derisive term from Karl Marx, and it distorts the picture of political liberty to some extent.

If people enjoy political liberty in general, then they will necessarily also enjoy economic liberty. This means that it is impossible to ‘meld’ these two systems. Any form of economic tyranny necessarily requires some degree of destruction of economic liberty.

But there is nothing about economic liberty that necessarily leads to capital (resources directed at production) rather than say, consumption. Economic liberty does not even necessarily lead to ‘big business’ – although I have no problem with companies growing large.

Since we enjoy only a limited amount of economic freedom, it is very difficult to predict how ‘the economy’ might look apart from all governmental, manipulative intervention. Would companies remain large? Would more small business flourish? Would people generally consume more? Or would people tend to save more than they do now and own more capital goods? While some economists try to predict such matters (and I find that kind of prediction interesting and useful to some extent) I must conclude that we really don’t know, nor is it likely that we can know.

But here is something I DO know. Sin has infected human society. Human political liberty requires a large degree of restraint on some human sinful activities. This is very difficult to achieve (and it sounds funny to say it) in a world of sinful human beings. This is not to say that this restraint cannot happen to a degree great enough to increase political liberty. But it will always be an uphill struggle because there will always be those who give themselves over to sin and as one result will attempt to misuse the power of government to impose their will upon others. They will conspire, connive, and plot to do this.

Sometimes this will happen because the power-mongers are misguided ideologues who stupidly believe that their ‘system’ will make the world a wonderful place. But more often they will be those who simply love power and all that comes with it. In the face of all this it requires wisdom, courage, personal strength and a degree of relative moral goodness to implement or preserve political liberty. As you can see, this is just some of the details of ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’

So I must conclude that we are locked in a continuing showdown between political liberty (delicate and difficult to maintain) and all its enemies (state communism is just one), for whom political liberty is just something to kick out of their way as they reach for more and more power. The problem is that when we begin to enjoy a degree of political liberty, we tend to think we can coast. We cannot. The equation is one of an equilibrium which favors the decrease of political liberty. So it requires constant attention and effort to shift that equilibrium toward liberty.

In my lifetime I can now see what happens when those who have some degree of love for liberty become complacent. We can trust no one with liberty. It must be actively guarded at all times, even from ourselves. It is far too easy to lobby for and vote for things that are anti-liberty just because I think they will make my life more immediately comfortable. Just now it appears to me that, due to a recent lack of attention, the anti-liberty forces are predominant: very predominant in the world, and somewhat predominant in our country.

The showdown, the battle for liberty, never ends. That is part of the nature of the current human condition. Our attempts to restrain power (which I distinguish from authority) can never slacken or power will quickly overwhelm us. In the end, God will win – of course. But before that end the struggle for political liberty will not end.

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