Monday, August 22, 2016

Public Power and Private Power

A question that has been on my mind, as someone who has written in favor of non-conformism, is, “Can conformity pressures ever be for good?”

I respond to it with a slightly different question. Can government totalitarianism ever be for good?

There are some people who think that it can be. They are called Communists. My grandmother was a Communist, but she possessed qualities claimed by American conservatives: The qualities of strong ethics, responsibility, hard work and family values. She, like them, was also heavy-handed and authoritarian. The ideology was different; the character was the same.

My personal experience of the Soviet Union was not a bad one, but I've also heard many horror stories. I've also heard horror stories from people from Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Australia and DC. The difference is that while in one case the perpetrator was the government, in the other case the perpetrators were fathers, husbands, neighbors, religious organizations, KKK, gangsters, mafia, or corrupt professionals in law and medicine.

I ask this: Is either one better – or worse – than the other?

In one case we have official power; in the other case we have unofficial power. Is either one better or worse?

Certainly nothing compares to Stalin's atrocities. But the Russian Mafia is not much better, and Stalin's legacy was rejected even by Soviet hardliners in the end.

To hear some Christians say it, the human nature has been corrupted by the “original sin” and ugliness in the world is a given. I refuse to believe this; I have seen excellent personal qualities in many people who did not name Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When I, as a student at a Christian school in America, was talking to my mother about “common human nature,” she said that I was wrong and that she herself never wanted to hurt anyone. I realized that she was right. We are going to have people with all sorts of different natures; and some would be better than others.

To go back to the original question. Which one is better or worse: Official power or unofficial power? In America, official power is visible, elected, accountable, checked and balanced. Jehovah's Witnesses, Russian and Italian mafia, KKK, gangs, corrupt networks in law and medicine, Texas Oil and Westboro Baptists are not. This gives them license to violate people to a far greater extent than is allowed the federal government. In Soviet Union the government was the abuser; in America these – and a number of other - private entities are.

There are different problems in different places, and in each place the villains are different and for different reasons.

In both America and the Soviet Union, the baby boomers saw the wrongs in each place and rebelled against it. Americans misguidedly flocked to Communism, and Soviets wanted to immigrate to the United States. Both were regarded by their parents as traitors, narcissists and spoiled children. I have had extensive dealings with baby boomers from both countries. From my experience I can't tell if either one is better or worse than the other characterologically; I have seen the good and the bad in each.

When facing wrongs and excesses of government power, it is understandable to want to move to a place with less government. And when facing wrongs and excesses of private economic, religious or communitarian power, it is understandable to seek a “big liberal government” as a counter-balance. The position of the baby boomers in both countries is understandable, and neither deserve the labels that they have been given of narcissism or worse.

One thing is for sure: The people who compare American liberalism or Dutch democratic socialism to Lenin and Stalin do not know what they are talking about. Neither one has built labor camps or imprisoned millions of people for their political views. Indeed, in America, I see government as a counter-balance to abuses of unofficial power; and if I were to choose between the Obama government and Russian mafia, Texas Oil or Jehovah's Witnesses, I would choose the Obama government any day.

Is government totalitarianism the solution? No. But neither is totalitarianism of the Texas Oil. The American government is elected, official, accountable, checked and balanced; private power isn't. And if libertarians and conservatives really espouse the ideal of liberty, they will be fighting corruption and tyranny by private entities as readily as they are willing to do with politicians and bureaucrats in DC.


Post a Comment

<< Home