Politics is about power. It’s about influence and ruling, or controlling the lives of other people. It’s often an ugly thing.
Political philosophy is something else. Something beautiful and transcendent by comparison. While there are relationships between the two, they are not the same thing.
This blog—and the whole Spherical Model concept—is political philosophy.
Political philosophy deals with abstract ideas: life, liberty, property, necessity of government, necessary limits to government.
Politics deals with making deals, promises, compromises, and threats to get power and maintain power. In and of itself, it has little virtue. However, as long as we are left with no options but human beings to fill positions of government, politics will be in play.
Politics shows up everywhere—anywhere there is a hierarchy. Maybe anywhere there is an opportunity to use influence to get rules in place that are an advantage to one person/group or another. That’s why we have the term “office politics.” Supporting a person you think might do things the way you prefer in a job is similar to supporting a person who might do things the way you prefer for elected office.
There’s a video lesson in politics, by CGP Grey, that explains this pretty well. He lists these three “Rules for Rulers”:
1. Get the key supporters on your side (mainly the ones who do the work of policing, building, or managing the money).
2. Control the treasure (in order to keep the key supporters on your side).
a. Every penny spent on citizens is money not spent on loyalty, so
3. Minimize key supports.
a. Keys necessary to gain power are not the same as those necessary to keep it, so there will be some purging of the pre-power supporters and some maintaining of the previous regime’s supporters.
He goes through these steps first for dictators, and then for representatives, in a democracy. Either way, he says, these same steps apply. And there’s this sad commentary:
Or you could take the moral path and ignore the big keys. But you’ll fight against those who didn’t. Good luck with that. Corruption is not some kind of petty crime, but rather a tool of power in democracies and dictatorships.
For someone who values the higher ideas, and makes decisions based on principles, I’m not willing to submit to being ruled by someone who is corrupt just because that is how the power mongering game is played.
This is politics, or possibly political science. It’s the question of how to get and maintain power—as if that is the end in itself.
Political philosophy (sometimes called political theory), on the other hand, is about why anyone should have power, and why power should be limited to the absolute necessities of protecting life, liberty, and property. As with other branches of philosophy, there are differing ideas. Some of them are false. Communism, for example, is a philosophy, but it does not do what it claims: equalize, provide, or protect; it is simply a lying cover for power mongers.
|Liberty Bell replica at Union Station|
in Washington, DC
A philosophy is more likely to be true if it is comprehensive of all life, all of society, and recognizes what is naturally true among civilized people. If you have the natural power to do something—like own property, or protect your own life—then you can delegate that power to a government entity for the benefit of all. But since you don’t have the right to take property from one neighbor and give it to another, you don’t have the power to delegate that power to government.
At the Spherical Model, I believe we’re on track with truth, because of our good company: the American founders.
This past Friday the radio discussion between Hugh Hewitt*and Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn was about the Declaration of Independence. I may come back to the whole broadcast closer to the 4th of July, but they referred to the Declaration as a document that is both philosophic and legal. Here’s part of the discussion:
HH: So why is the document (Declaration of Independence), which is an act of state, actually, also an act of political theory?
LA: So, it’s unique, being both those things. Last night at an event here in Georgia, where I am, I introduced the great David McCullough, who’s written beautifully about that. And I—I really love that guy. And he made the point, which John Adams (about whom he’s written a beautiful biography) made first, and that is: we’re going to have a birthday in this country.
Just think for a minute. When was England born? When was France born? You know, it’s lost back in the mists of time when there was a day there was a France and there was a day before when there wasn’t one. But what is that day? And so, we have a birthday, and we have reasons to have the nation. And they’re listed out. It is a formal enactment that makes the country. And some people don’t like that, but there it stands.
Because of the nature of the case, when you think about that for just a second, on what authority would you found a country? What kind of authority would you need? Because, at the moment of the founding, you don’t have any laws.
LA: So where do you get them? And they get them, in one of the most famous phrases in all of political history, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
HH: And we’re going to read that preamble in just a second, but I want to set up a little bit. You mentioned David McCullough. One of his many great books is simply titled 1776. I used to make my law students read it, because they don’t realize what a close run a thing 1776 was. This was not an exercise in a debating society; it wasn’t a congressional shutdown like the Democrats are going to force next week. It isn’t a legislative act. It’s actually a revolutionary act, which also makes it quite different from anything else in our history.
LA: Well, there’s a body count piling up. And so, you know, George Washington has an army in the field. And 1776 was a bitter and difficult year, and only the Declaration of Independence in that year and the Battle of Princeton and Trenton at the end of the year provided any bright spots at all.
And so, these guys, in there, who at the end of the Declaration make their personal pledge of their fortunes, lives, and sacred honor—they have reason to have fear for their lives. A writ has been issued by the commanding general of the British forces in North America for their arrest. Their names are on a list, and if they are found, the charge will be, probably, treason, and they’ll probably be exported to England to face trial for their lives. They all know that…..
LA: The king gave two answers to [the Declaration]. He gave an address from the throne later in the year in which he addressed this situation created by the Declaration of Independence, and refuted many of its main points. And that was wholly ineffective.
Later in the year General Washington’s forces had sieged the British forces in Boston, which were succored by their navy in the harbor, and they’ve got guns up on top, which were captured from Ft. Ticonderoga, and Washington’s army, while the siege was underway, was melting, because their enlistments were up.
And then the king caused his answer to the Declaration of Independence, in his address from the throne, to be distributed across the line, thinking, “This will tell them that I’m their kindly monarch, and they have to do what I say, but I’m going to take care of them,” which is the burden of his argument. And everybody read that, and then the re-enlistments just zoomed. They thought, “Oh, this is what this guy thinks.” So that’s a proof that the army agreed with the Declaration of Independence. That means it’s a philosophic document, but it’s also a war proclamation.
The philosophy in that document includes beautiful phrases like,
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….
This is a historical breakthrough in political theory, or philosophy. The king, they say, doesn’t have an inborn right to rule over them; he is a man, and all men are created equal. And he has no right to take away their God-given rights. Their rights, they are claiming, come from God, not from a monarch who can grant them or take them at his whim.
These are not the usual words of ragtag armies. They are the words of well-educated people of principle.
Their questions are totally different from, “Is this king benevolent enough that we can tolerate his rule over us?” or “Should we revolt because we think we can get better roads or better police if we stage a coup and start anew?” The questions are not pedestrian. They aren’t “who will give us the most stuff” types of questions. They are transcendent, and exemplary for the rest of humanity.
I find political philosophy more valuable and more interesting that politics. There are others who do political discussion well enough. So, while there are occasions when we discuss here the issues in the news, of the current political campaigns, those tend to come up as examples of how the philosophical principles might be playing out in our current affairs.
In terms of the Spherical Model, it’s not very fruitful to discuss which government leader should have power to rule over us in the tyranny zone; we don’t want to be in the tyranny zone. We want to move up to freedom zone, where we can also enjoy prosperity and civilization. We can only do that by following true principles instead of flawed people.
* Hugh Hewitt's archives require a subscription, so the link might not work. The discussions between Hugh Hewitt and Dr. Larry Arnn are eventually archived on the Hillsdale College, but that takes about a week. So, while this one isn't up yet, it will soon be available here without a subscription.