Democrats & Liberals Archives

Opposition to Tyranny

Ideologues of all varieties often think of themselves as opposed to tyranny. And so they ascribe to opposing ideologies a tendency to produce tyranny. On this point they may be largely correct, while remaining blind to the tendencies of their own ideology to do the same.

Years ago I took on the mantle of liberal, and still I like it as well as any - though arguments can be made that progressive is the better label for the ideals I ascribe to. And so it was that "conservative" philosophy was what supposedly stood in opposition to my ideals. Indeed it has been rare that I could rightly be described as conservative. And yet I have often found individuals who self-label as conservative to be decent folk as genuinely committed to principles founded on moral behavior as many of my liberal colleagues who are quite genuinely committed to principles of equity and opportunity for all.

During my college years I still recall the excitement with which a friend extolled a new ism, which seemed to capture the piece of liberalism which was true and right, but without some of the naivety often ascribed to it. I listened, not fully convinced, to his description of libertarianism which in the late 70s was far less well known than it is today. Certainly the notion of individualistic freedom which was already ingrained into me as an American was appealing. It seems that only a few days or weeks later, that the same friend came back disillusioned, describing these libertarians as nothing more than laissez-faire capitalists minus the puritanical authoritarianism of our caricature of traditional conservatives.

Reagan co-opted the economic piece of libertarianism and branded the Republican party with it, much to my dismay, but undeniably to the political advantage of Republicans who now tapped into a whole new constituency raised in a more permissive generation not likely to go back to the more restrictive brand of conservatism, but amenable to this new animal. But it is this economic libertarianism which I now find more pernicious than the stodgy old-fashioned conservatism, and more in opposition to my own ideals.

But there are pieces of truth in any way of thinking. What we should agree on is that tyranny must be avoided.

Libertarians seek to avoid the tyranny of big government, liberals seek to avoid the tyranny of big business, conservatives the tyranny of permissiveness, et cetera. The ideals always feel principled, but the reality is that mundane concepts like checks and balances remain the best weapon against encroaching tyranny, and at any given time the greatest threat of tyranny lies in the hands of whomever it is that holds the most power. Jack Whelan, at After the Future writes:

in the world we live in the real threat of tyranny comes not from the political sector, but from the economic. For me the fundamental flaw in Libertarian thinking is its failure to recognize this. Tyranny derives from the abuse of power, and so it follows that the greatest threat to freedom comes from those who have the greatest concentrations of power. Look around you. Does that power lie in the hands of Liberal congressmen and professors? Of course not. It lies with those factions within American society which have enormous economic power. And the greatest threat to American democracy lies not in the power of big government if it serves the will of the broad electorate, but in the power of big government if it serves the will of those with enormous economic power.

The Libertarians fixation with freedom and economic prosperity seems to blind them to how their emphasis of them leads to problems with the distribution of power. They seem not to care at all about the dangers associated with the growing concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands. They seem not to realize how that concentration of power is the direct result of their hard work to pull back government power as a counterbalance to economic power. The kind of crony capitalism that we're seeing in Washington now is not caused by a failure of conservatives to live up to their ideals; it is the inevitable result of economic power moving into the territory from which good government has retreated. If the government won't stand as a counterbalance to economic power, it inevitably winds up being co-opted by it. And then neither principled conservatives nor principled Liberals get what they want--they both have to deal with a big, bloated government serving the needs of big pharma, big oil, or the big companies that make their money from military spending.


He also points to an excellent article at Washington Monthly by Alan Wolfe "Why Conservatives Can't Govern"
Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions. . . . A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. . . . [They say the Bush presidency failed] because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. . . . Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.
The brilliance of liberal democracy as conceived by our founding fathers was that it spoke to ideals but relied on the mundane instruments of checks and balances to keep new tyrannies at bay. If it needs any tweaking, that should be based on any new imbalances that may creep in. That's why we need to be concerned about corporate wealth and power, for surely that is the primary clear imbalance in our own country, and by extension to a large degree throughout the world, which of course has plenty of pockets of extreme tyranny of other descriptions which are also to be despised. One tyranny cannot justify itself simply by spending some of its energy in opposition to another tyranny. I suspect Osama bin Laden is genuinely appalled by Western profligacy even as he is blind to the horrific nature of his response to it. We should rightly oppose the tyranny of bin Laden or Saddam or Mugabe or Kim Jong Il, but we needn't therefore champion the growing disparity of power in our own country just because it can be manipulated in opposition to the former -- even if it had been done more competently.

Right now the most important thing we can do as Americans is to preserve our democratic institutions and insure that we retain pluralism, restore trust in our vote counting mechanism, and speak out as citizens. Whether our elected leaders can ever bring real change to the processes which currently funnel power through lobbyists on K street or the boardrooms of the largest multinationals remains to be seen, but we would do well to start asking the right questions. We cannot count on the corporate owned media to do so.

Posted by Walker Willingham at April 25, 2008 2:03 PM
Comments
Comment #251436
liberals seek to avoid the tyranny of big business

Tyranny of Big Business? There’s a small problem with that, IMO…

1. arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority.

2. the government or rule of a tyrant or absolute ruler.

3. a state ruled by a tyrant or absolute ruler.

4. oppressive or unjustly severe government on the part of any ruler.

‘Big Business’ cannot be tyrannical, by definition. They have no power over any individual. No one is forced to purchase any good or service (save legal monopolies which, as a libertarian, I oppose very strongly).

In fact, that is one of the major functions of government, to prevent any abuses by businesses, or individuals, against others either through fraud or force that they are not legally allowed to wield.

How? By using the force that they DO have the legal right to wield. *THIS* is why only governments can by tyrannical, because they are the only organization that CAN use force against an individual…

Which is the main difference between liberal, conservative, and libertarian.

I could easily say that ‘progressives are simply communists without the overt use of fascism’ in describing the motives and views of some progressives. But I don’t think you would agree that is accurately describes the views, values and principles of your philosophy. Which makes me wonder why you think it is ok to label mine in the same way?

Government can, and must, regulate interactions between individuals. In that area, Libertarians disagree as much as Conservatives and Liberals do in many of their platforms as well. However, the basic libertarian view, that Government should have no ability to use their legal use of force against citizens unless they are infringing upon the rights of others to the same, still remains the best way to allow people to live their lives with liberty and without tyranny.

A view that the Democratic party ONCE held.

Posted by: Rhinehold at April 25, 2008 2:54 PM
Comment #251440

“at any given time the greatest threat of tyranny lies in the hands of whomever it is that holds the most power.”

who holds the power to regulate big business, or to confiscate through excessive taxation ? how about the power to control the daily lives of individuals through a maze of complicated rules and regulations ? big business may hold a certain amount of economic power within a market, but it is ultimately the gov’t who sets the rules that regulate that market, and for that reason is far more likely to engage in tyranny

Posted by: dbs at April 25, 2008 3:19 PM
Comment #251444

Monopoies?

Posted by: d.a.n at April 25, 2008 5:25 PM
Comment #251445

CORRECTION: Rhinehold, what about monopoies monopolies?

Posted by: d.a.n at April 25, 2008 5:26 PM
Comment #251446

Rhinehold, Nevermind, I now see you made a strong exception for “monopolies”.

A mixture of common-sense checks and balances is exactly what is needed, which should include transparency and accountability.

Whenever there is insufficient transparency and accountability, corruption grows.

And it is currently a problem in both government and business. That’s why we get the likes of this ilk …
Crooked CEOs, CFO, Presidents, VPs, etc.:
Ken Lay (ENRON)
Bernard Ebbers (WorldCOM)
David Myers (WorldCOM)
Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco)
Mark H. Swartz (Tyco)
John Rigas (Aldelphia)
Timothy Rigas (Aldelphia)
Scott Sullivan (WorldCOM)
Burford Yates (WolrdCOM)
Jeff Skilling (ENRON)
Andrew Fastow (ENRON)
Lea Fastow (ENRON)
Samuel D. Waksal (ImClone Systems)
David Duncan (Arthur Andersen)
E. Kirk Shelton (Cendant)
Ben Glisan Jr. (ENRON)
Dan Boyle (ENRON)
Weston Smith (HealthSouth)
Aaron Beam (HealthSouth)

… and a federal governement that has grown to nightmare proportions.

A lack of transparency and accountability is why these abuses are resuling in economic conditions that have never been worse ever, and/or since the 1930s and 1940s.

Posted by: d.a.n at April 25, 2008 5:33 PM
Comment #251447

Rhinehold,

You can define tyranny as narrowly as you want, but when people feel oppression, that to me is evidence of a tyranny of sorts. My dictionary also shows
5. Extreme harshness or severity
Tyranny of the majority was a coined phrase we all understand well enough, though it does not refer to tyranny in the strict sense.

“[Big business has] no power over any individual.”
Are you kidding me?

Ask the employee who has no redress for their on the job grievances and must put food on the table for their families. Ask the small business which can’t make a go of it because of the complicated rules and regulations WRITTEN BY THE INDUSTRY LEADERS time and time and time and again to favor themselves and make competition tough. Ask those dying due to poisoning of their environments by corporations with the economic power to continue their polluting practices, whether by paying the fines, rewriting the rules, or bribing the enforcers.

RH & dbs,

We live in a real world where power is exercised largely in proportion to one’s material assets.

You can extrapolate about a fantasy where the market works its magic and the fact that some corporations have billions of dollars at their disposal doesn’t corrupt the very market freedom that you think you’re protecting.

Please believe me when I state that I’m very much in favor of libertarian IDEALS. I’m not making the case that the libertarian perspective is not important, but rather that rigid adherence to a set of precepts doesn’t always have the desired consequence.

Rhinehold, I’m sure we’ll often be on the same side when corporate influence reduces the freedom of the market, as you’re aware it often does through subsidies and other government implemented incentives and rules often suggested by industry leaders. After 27 years of administrations all too willing to do the bidding of the big donors, the suggestion that corporations don’t hold the greatest power in our country is nothing short of laughable.

dbs - believe if you want that the gov’t not the corporations does the regulating, but for years industry has played the biggest role, and in the Bush years that tendency has become the norm & often in secrecy.

Libertarian idealist Ron Paul talks about the ill effects of big business writing their own rules here.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at April 25, 2008 5:36 PM
Comment #251448

” They have no power over any individual. No one is forced to purchase any good or service “

They have many powers, if people need the goods or service and they are the principal local provider of those. They have the power to set the price, to raise or lower the price, and to buy or not buy from individuals who sell services to them, based on whatever criterion they choose to select their own suppliers.

Posted by: Rhonegarde at April 25, 2008 5:44 PM
Comment #251449

An extremely harsh or severe life is a hundred times better than a ruled life, and only govt has the power to rule by tyranny.

Posted by: kctim at April 25, 2008 6:04 PM
Comment #251454

Walker

i think we all understand that someone needs to set rules for the game if you will. the problem is that when the players of the game whether they be corporations, labor unions, or trial lawyers for that matter can influence the ones who make the rules, the biggest threat of tyranny is from those who make the rules. power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutly.

Posted by: dbs at April 25, 2008 6:47 PM
Comment #251472

“the biggest threat of tyranny is from those who make the rules.”

As walker previouslty said “dbs - believe if you want that the gov’t not the corporations does the regulating, but for years industry has played the biggest role, and in the Bush years that tendency has become the norm & often in secrecy.”

Either you are not aware of this dbs or you choose to ignore the reality of it but not only are our elected officials paid for by the corporations but the corporations also write the laws for our representatives to pass.

http://www.citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/electricity/energybill/2005/articles.cfm?ID=13980

http://www.freepress.net/news/30036

http://www.paulagordon.com/shows/monks2/

http://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/2002/09/ma_95_01.html

Posted by: j2t2 at April 26, 2008 1:19 AM
Comment #251485

When a lobbyist writes a bill it’s always to increase profit or to stifle competition. Our government will never be right until we get the special interest out of the government. WE NEED AN AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION THAT MAKES ALL CAMPAIGNE ADDS ILLEAGLE.

Posted by: Mike the Cynic at April 26, 2008 11:34 AM
Comment #251488

j2t2

maybe you should re read my second post, or perhaps you didn’t like the fact i included trial lawyers, and big labor. with out the gov’t involvment these laws you claim are written by corporations,( but lets not forget to also include big labor, or trial lawyers ) would never go anywhere.

which of these special interest has the most influence depends on who’s in control, rep, or dem. ultimately it is the gov’t who engages in tyranny to control a political agenda.

Posted by: dbs at April 26, 2008 12:07 PM
Comment #251490

“WE NEED AN AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION THAT MAKES ALL CAMPAIGNE ADDS ILLEAGLE.”

that would also stop you and i from pooling our resources in order to get our messege out. can’t do it, we have this thing called the first amendment. the most important part of that right is political free speech. you want tyranny just itmake illegal to speak out against politicians running for office, especialy incumbent politicians.

Posted by: dbs at April 26, 2008 12:14 PM
Comment #251491

who was it j2, who tried to stack the deck in thier favor on this one ?

http://www.cfif.org/htdocs/freedomline/current/in_our_opinion/Big-Labors-Latest-Target-Secret-Ballot.htm

Posted by: dbs at April 26, 2008 12:31 PM
Comment #251499

dbs from your link:
“As recently as the 1950s, 30% of American employees were unionized. Today, private-sector unionization has declined to approximately 8%.”

The unions have been largely negated the past 20 years by big business. While they may be a part of the problem, the same as the trial lawyers, they are small potatoes compared to the large corporations. If the unions/SIGs were the big problem I would agree with your inclusion of them in the big business tyranny issue. The corporations are the real problem, the unions, lawyers and special interest groups are a smaller part of the problem.

The “ultimately it is the gov’t who engages in tyranny to control a political agenda.” statement is misguided IMHO because government is more the tool of the tyrannist than the tyrannist in this day and age. Its like blaming the gun for shooting you and holding the shooter harmless. Now there was a time where your statement was true but the tyrannist is wearing a different hat today IMHO. In fact I look back, probably rather naively, and think how it was the government that was the problem in the 60’s and 70’s and would like to see those days return. Perhaps we the people wouldnt be so divided on the solutions to the Countries problems.

Posted by: j2t2 at April 26, 2008 2:25 PM
Comment #251505

dbs

What you and other people call “free speech” is extremely expensive! You must be very rich if we could pool our resources and buy a national add. If I pooled my resources with my neighbor or co-worker we could buy a spot add in a newspaper. That would mean not paying the rent this month, but we could do it. The idea of buying an add on national television is a joke. If I took all the money I got through my whole life, I could buy maybe an eighth of one add. No! only corporations and very rich people get free speech, all the rest of us have to remain quiet.

They say Barack got 50 million dollars in one month. That’s not quite right. He was just a way station. The media got it all. If I can’t convince you dbs (a fairly open-minded person) how the unbelievable need for money is corrupting our government . Then my idea won’t stand a chance when billions of dollars worth of TV adds state what a bad idea it is. In the mean time every election costs 10% to 20% more than the one before it. And we have pharmaceutical lobbyists writing our Medicare bills, banking lobbyists writing our bank reforms, and the media deciding it needs to be concentrated in fewer hands.

Somehow we have to get the money out of politics, and I can’t see a better way. AN AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION MAKING ALL CAMPAIGN ADDS ILLEGAL.

Posted by: Mike the Cynic at April 26, 2008 4:38 PM
Comment #251506

Terrific article, Walker. I Agree 100%.

Posted by: Veritas Vincit at April 26, 2008 4:40 PM
Comment #251509

Mike the Cynic

i wasn’t suggesting you and your neighbors could afford a spot on national tv. what my point was that by donating money to like minded groups whether that be the nra, or move on .org you can pool your resources with others who share your goals. outlawing political adds would benefit no one but incumbent politicians. you would stop the issue adds, but you would also shut yourself up at the same time. money would still find ways to influence elections. outlawing free speech, even free speech you disagree with is not the answer.

Posted by: dbs at April 26, 2008 6:09 PM
Comment #251513

I’m not talking about getting rid of all free speech, only the very expensive kind. You can still write blogs send letters, contact people. Talking heads would still talk whether they know anything or not. Speeches, debates, and interviews would still go on. Even issue adds could go on, if they talked about the issues and not the election. The NRA could talk about gun rights, and religious groups could talk about adoption rather than abortion. Only the campaign adds would be outlawed. Most of them are negative and disingenuous if not totally false.

It cost Abraham Lincoln $100,000 to run for president. It cost JFK $9,700,000 a hundred years later. But with mass media forty four years later the election cost one billion dollars. At that rate by the end of the century our elections will cost more than our gross national product.

Money would still find a way into the system, but honest politicians wouldn’t be in an unbelievable need for money. Either way something has to change, or our corporations will be running everything.

Posted by: Mike the Cynic at April 26, 2008 7:06 PM
Comment #251541

Mike the Cynic you have an excellent point- how come if it is free speech it costs so much? We need to alter the fairness doctrine to allow all candidates equal free time on the airwaves. Yes all political ads should be free and should be a requirement to hold the FCC liscense for the frequency. Right now TV and radio are a very selective “free” speech that only the wealthy can use. To think that money is now free speech instead of bribery, it just cannot be the intentions of the founding fathers.
How can we ever be free of tyranny when we allow corporations to control the vote and the message?

Posted by: j2t2 at April 27, 2008 12:07 PM
Comment #251545

j2t2

“how come if it is free speech it costs so much?”

cute, free as in freedom, not free as in no monetary cost. cute though.

“We need to alter the fairness doctrine to allow all candidates equal free time on the airwaves.”

already is j2, if you give one candidate airtime you have to give the other equal air time.

“Yes all political ads should be free and should be a requirement to hold the FCC liscense for the frequency.”

not a bad idea, the only problem is everyone who considered themselves a candidate ( which could include you or i for that matter ) would have to be given free air time. in other words any nut jobs registered to run ( that could be 10s or 100s ) would have to be given free time.

the other thing is with the feds buying back the airwaves, and selling them off as everyone go’s digital it’l probably be obsolete, and cable, and satelite, aren’t regulated by the fairness doctrine ( because they’re not leased from the gov’t ) as far as i know.

now if your talking about talk radio, not the same thing. it only applies if the host allows a candidate on to push his campaign.

“How can we ever be free of tyranny when we allow corporations to control the vote and the message?”

or any other special interest with deep pockets (big labor ) for that matter. has to apply to everyone, regardless of who you think is currently the biggest threat. in california right now it is the labor unions that represent the state employees. they have the deepest pockets, and have never seen a tax they don’t like. just try to cut spending in any area they represent and you’ll find out.

Posted by: dbs at April 27, 2008 1:50 PM
Comment #251547

Mike the Cynic

the solution is educating the voters. while you and i may actually take the time to evaluate our candidates. many people operate on a few sound bites. all the money in the world will not save a political career when the voters are fed up and determined to vote that individual out of office. i don’t believe that most people spend much time researching thier candidates, and that doesn’t bode well for the rest of us when they can nuetralize our informed votes with the pull of a lever.

Posted by: dbs at April 27, 2008 2:02 PM
Comment #251558

“how come if it is free speech it costs so much?”
“cute, free as in freedom, not free as in no monetary cost. cute though.”

But the airwaves are so restricted with regards to access that they are not free to all nor are they cheap. I seems to limit free speech for all Americans. Especially now that the networks are bearing the burden of regulating themselves. It allows for the possibility of unwarrented censorship and exclusion for some/all candidates ability to get their message out to the voting public.

“We need to alter the fairness doctrine to allow all candidates equal free time on the airwaves.”
“already is j2, if you give one candidate airtime you have to give the other equal air time.”

dbs yes they all get equal time but not free equal time currently.

“Yes all political ads should be free and should be a requirement to hold the FCC liscense for the frequency.”
“not a bad idea, the only problem is everyone who considered themselves a candidate ( which could include you or i for that matter ) would have to be given free air time. in other words any nut jobs registered to run ( that could be 10s or 100s ) would have to be given free time.”

Well once are party has us in the running then we should be eligible for equal time. No party no equal time. And no miminum % of votes etc.for parties to meet before they are considered a political party.

“the other thing is with the feds buying back the airwaves, and selling them off as everyone go’s digital it’l probably be obsolete, and cable, and satelite, aren’t regulated by the fairness doctrine ( because they’re not leased from the gov’t ) as far as i know.”

Arent their incoming satellite feeds in a regulated frequency range? I understand their outgoing signal isnt.

“now if your talking about talk radio, not the same thing. it only applies if the host allows a candidate on to push his campaign.”

I think political TV programs and news programs should also be considered the same way.

“How can we ever be free of tyranny when we allow corporations to control the vote and the message?”

“or any other special interest with deep pockets (big labor ) for that matter. has to apply to everyone, regardless of who you think is currently the biggest threat. in california right now it is the labor unions that represent the state employees. they have the deepest pockets, and have never seen a tax they don’t like. just try to cut spending in any area they represent and you’ll find out.:

dbs I waa thinking of the privatized voting machines without a papertaril and the companies that provide them and counting the votes from the hard drives. I was also thinking of the Media as it consolidates into fewer and fewer hands.


Posted by: j2t2 at April 27, 2008 5:45 PM
Comment #251693

Dr Hubert, your comment was entirely off topic. Please comply with our Rules for Participation if you wish to continue to comment here. Link for Rules is at the bottom of this page.

Posted by: Watchblog Managing Editor at April 29, 2008 2:08 PM
Comment #251770

Walker,
How can you say the following?-“…If it needs any tweaking, that should be based on any new imbalances that may creep in. That’s why we need to be concerned about corporate wealth and power, for surely that is the primary clear imbalance in our own country, and by extension to a large degree throughout the world, which of course has plenty of pockets of extreme tyranny of other descriptions which are also to be despised.”

Are you kidding?!? Does big business own our schools? No. Government controls what our children are taught. Who stands to benefit the most from whatever prejudices they are ingrained with? Government. Government, particularly the federal government controls far more property than any other single corporate interest (remembering, of course, that government IS a corporation in the literal sense). The largest coporations on Earth pale badly before the majesty of the unaccountable and inefficient girth of American government.

Does big business have in place ready mechanisms by which it may, at a whim, destroy government? Not in their fondest dreams. Look, on the other hand,at what happened to one of the largest accounting firms on Earth in the fallout from the Enron scandal.

The tyrrany of big business? Just look at every example in which a national government has dissolved the big busineses that provided their most crucial services. Mexico’s Pemex is losing capacity so badly that it is forcast not even to meet MEXICO’S fuel needs in the next five years. Russia’s farms, under communist rule used to produce far more food than the U.S.S.R. needed, but the nation’s transprtation system was so stupidly organized and run that they couldn’t feed themselves without grain from the West.

Are there dangers to the dominance of big business? Of course there are! We have seen them is the example of such giants as Standard Oil. We should never forget those lessons. But we should also never forget that what we are really talking about is just different forms of GOVERNANCE, all of which inherently compete with each other. We are not just fools, but bloody damn fools to forget how, while government is a check against the excesses of business, business is also a check against the heavy, inefficient, smothering hand of government.

Liberals are foolish when they leave government in control of business itself rather than charging government with maintaining the transparency of the markets which are the real check and balance against uncontrolled capitalists.

As we see over and over (…) nothing is more putridly and brutally corrupt than a government in control of all the means of production.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 30, 2008 10:30 AM
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