Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Contradiction In Terms

If it sometimes seems like everything having to do with politics is confusing, that might have something to do with the fact that it is.  Oh sure, often the problem is that politicians and pundits are simply trying to obfuscate (Go ahead and look it up, I'm not going to help you.), but there are times when even the snake-oil peddlers are not at fault.  You see, many of the terms used in association with politics do not mean what they appear to.

Federalism, which seems to imply a strong Federal government, in fact means much the opposite.  Those of the Founding Fathers who believed in federalism believed that were different levels of government which co-existed or shared in power on an equal footing, along with the power that the people themselves retained.  In the Federalist Papers (No.28) one of the strongest supporters of a strong central government, Alexander Hamilton, conceded: "Power being almost always the rival of power, the general (Federal) government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have the same disposition towards the general government."

Of course this didn't stop those considered Federalists (like Hamilton) from attempting to take things too far and gather too much power under central government.  Opposition to this perversion of the concept led to the creation of the Anti-Federalists (Jefferson & Madison) who fought Federalism by espousing its original intent.  (Confused yet?)

Statism, which one would assume based on its appearance to mean place power in the hands of the States rather than a central government, in fact means what you probably thought that Federalism did.  Instead of being defined as dispersing power to the various states, in fact this terms implies that all power will be held by a strong central government.  Statism is the governmental process by which such a central government intervenes (interferes) with all aspects of society, such as the regulation of the economy, the control of markets, and the disposition of property ownership and distribution.  (I know, I know.  Don't even get me started on this or I'll have to start taking my blood pressure medicine again.  But I'll bet you're even more confused now!)

But wait, it gets better!  Now for those of you who haven't been keeping up with Just Blowing Smoke, should pay close attention and keep the duct tape handy.
Liberalism is not what you thought it was either,  In fact, it is the belief in liberty and individual rights, a philosophy that grew in the 17th Century (1600's), rejecting previous theories of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings in favor of the Rights of the Common Man.  Philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes were some of its first proponents and a source of inspiration for the Founding Fathers of this country. As developed, it came to simply mean a life in which the individual was free from interference from the State.  

The term was co-opted in the 19th Century however, and shifted from what we now considered the political right to what's currently the left, leaving little of its original definition behind but the term 'classical liberalism'. An early form of political correctness had injected itself into the discussion, and we were given the concepts of positive and negative liberty.  As so often happens when intellectuals get their hands on the terminology, what this also meant is that no matter which kind of liberty you were determined to have, you would now had less of it than you had before, and government would be playing a role in how much and what kind of liberty you would be permitted.  

By the time that President Teddy Roosevelt picked up the ball and ran with it (1901-09), the original meaning was all but lost.  By the time that Woodrow Wilson (1913-21) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45) had their way with it, it would not have been recognized by those who originated the concepts.  (Feeling a little woozy yet?)

Conservatism in a similar fashion, was first defined as maintaining the status quo (which at that time was a monarchy or limited parliamentarian government).  Instead of seeking personal freedom and limited government, it was a politics that sought little more than keeping things the way that they were.  Often credited to such luminaries as Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (a man, not a meat) and Irishman Edmund Burke, this became Toryism when it emerged in Great Britain.  If this term sounds familiar to you, it might be because the American Revolution in those 13 colonies fought against not only British troops brought over from what was then the motherland, but local Tories who remained loyal to the status quo of King George. (Don't worry, just breathe ...)

If all of this seems a little 'Inside Baseball', it probably is; but pointing out the misconception of so many about so much is a necessary part of the process of reversing it.  Listing the obscure and as well as the obvious is the only way we're going to recognize how badly we're getting screwed by governments and elected officials hell bent on treating us like mushrooms (buried in shit and kept in the dark)

A pretty smart guy that I trade words with from time to time in Toledo, WSPD radio's Brian Wilson, often says that politicians wake up every morning, counting on the poor recollection, aggressive ignorance, and mind-numbed complacency of their constituents.  I would have to concede every point; but plead that while there's no excuse for it, there are definitely reasons.  It's no easier to decipher the confusion, nonsense, and absolute bullshit handed out as fact on a daily basis when the words used for any intelligent discussion on the subject of politics are little more than a contradiction of terms.

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