Confronting the Need for Laws, Research Time, 27/01/2017

Here's a less intense – but still nicely humming – problem of modern politics. Dealing with libertarians. When I write Utopias, this will be a tough problem I tackle. Because libertarians and radical democrats should be perfect allies, despite their differences.

But the radical divergence comes over the question of governance. The libertarian ideal is to have literally no government – a society of autonomous individuals binding themselves as people through voluntary contracts.

The only true positive content to any utopia that wouldn't directly
collapse into terror: an imperative, "Be excellent to each other!"
Which is quite appealing, but doesn’t work out all that well when actually applied to real economies where there are massive inequalities.

Yet there is one common point that every democrat (radical or not) shares with every libertarian – A deep distrust of government as a constant danger to ordinary people, through oppression or corruption. Libertarians focus on the oppression. Democrats focus on the corruption.

Libertarian thinking presumes that government is inherently coercive, and so a vector for oppression. The historical fact that many governments have and do oppress people in different ways lends them some credibility.

But democracy is founded on the notion that government can be perfected – If the problem of real governments is their corruption, then you’re presumed that there can be a non-corrupt government. You know that it’s at least possible to imagine a functional, entirely benevolent government.

And if you can imagine it, you can at least work your hardest to inch progressively closer to that ideal.

Dig back a couple of centuries, and an overlooked Moses Mendelssohn offers an ideal for governance and political leadership that can overcome libertarian distrust of the state. A moral value at the heart of good governance.

No, Helen, there will be no Happiness Patrol.

The most excellent form of government is the most benevolent – a government that provides the perfect conditions of social harmony, happiness, and peace. But this doesn’t come from the coercion of law. This isn’t the Happiness Patrol.

Mendelssohn describes a population so perfectly educated and enlightened that we’re simply kind and peaceful to each other. All of this would come from the proper education.

In the 1780s, this kind of naïveté was more than a century away from dying out. So you could imagine that a government could provide universal moral education alongside universal science and humanities education.

But consider the ideal of what education is supposed to be – It’s any process of human maturity. Growing up as a person, you’re supposed to become a better person.

Mendelssohn sincerely postulates, at the heart of his political thinking, the notion that humanity can become perfect. That we’ll all constitute a society where each of us will do the best for each other. The job of a good – no, an excellent – government is to encourage each of us to approach that moral and ethical virtue.

How we should lead out lives as people – to make the world a better place than when you found it – is how we should lead our governments. In such a world of angels, the police and law enforcement would be unnecessary. Even law itself wouldn’t be needed. People would naturally be good to each other.

If we can imagine that, and push ourselves in that direction as we grow older. Maybe be good enough parents and elders in your community that the young people around you are on the whole more virtuous than the old folks.

Belief in humanity’s perfectibility is the foundation of a positive utopia. As long as that vision of perfection is a society where we’re all excellent to each other.

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