At last, the fourth in Whittle's superb series on the core concepts of Tea Party-style Conservatism. As usual, Bill states his case in a cool, rational, amiably non-confrontational manner, articulating these eminently sensible ideas in a gently persuasive style which befits their profound reasonableness. As with previous entries, it clocks in just under ten minutes, and is well worth every second:
Now, as someone well-steeped in Post-Modern academic thought, with its hermeneutic approach to texts (broadly defined), I'm disposed to be wary of appeals to "Natural Law." This is not a skepticism which I am inclined to repudiate fully. As a non-theist, it would be bad faith for me to posit some transcendent ontological status for even the most "self-evident" of epistemological constructs. If there is no Divine Firewall behind our concepts, they are, in the final analysis, all relative.
That being said, however, there are legitimate areas in which it is sensible to behave --as mindfully and humbly and self-critically as possible-- as though there were bedrock under our feet. For example, yes I am free to abandon my family and take off across the country to Find Myself. For me to sit here and say that I cannot do this would be bad faith. However, my liberty, my personal freedom as a choice-making agent is but one of the variables that enters into this decision. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I don't want to do this (because I am deliriously happy with my family, and far luckier than I have any right to expect that I have it), the simple fact is that such an exercise of my freedom bumps up against the needs and feelings of others, and thus would bring about consequences which I deem adverse out of proportion to the advantages I might glean from such a self-serving journey of discovery. So, I choose to act as though this choice were not on the menu. Indeed, the very notion of contemplating such a step feels absurd. Although, in the strictest sense, this position is a conclusion, it is sensible to behave as though it were a premise.
Similarly, when Whittle makes reference to those "Truths" which we "hold to be self-evident," there is a part of me which cannot help but respond with a hearty "Who says?" After all, I don't fall into the "endowed by their Creator" camp. But let's look at a couple of the truths he is talking about: The rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," are construed as emanating not from the State, but from the intrinsic nature of humanity. Further, it is the role of the State to protect these rights, and not within the power of the State to bestow (or abridge) them. The right is similarly posited as being self-evident to freely enter into contracts, within the bounds of laws which protect the liberty and property of others, and without the fear that those contracts will be abnegated by political fiat. It is eminently sensible to depict these rights as transcendent and true, even though history is replete with examples (many still extant!) of the freedom of humans to behave otherwise. The advantages which derive from treating these "truths [as] self-evident" far outstrip those of leaving them on the deconstruction block.
The concept espoused by the Tea Parties that individuals are free to pursue their interests within a free-market system, and that the State's power to intervene in this marketplace should be robustly curtailed is frequently mischaracterized as "greed" and "selfishness." This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, it is the converse view (i.e., that it is within the power of the State to declare something --like, say, health care-- a "Right," and to forcibly extract the energy of the marketplace to fulfill that right) which smacks more of vampirism than altruism, however high-minded the intent behind it.
Whittle makes reference to the fact that corporations are currently sitting on immense cash reserves, rather than investing them and using them to create jobs. This is an observation which is not-infrequently used by critics of free-market capitalism to indict that system, and to posit the need for the State to step in and create and enforce mechanisms for the "equitable" distribution of those resources (e.g., via taxation). It's a fair-ish argument, but too narrow a view. For it would be very much in the interests of businesses to plow their cash reserves back into the operations of their enterprises, and to grow and add value to them (and, in effect, to the economy as a whole)...if they could be confident that their efforts would not stand to be thwarted by the operations of a State which could, by the exercise of political (that is, force-backed) power, act to tap into that value for the sake of the "Right" du jour (and de jure).
The conclusion/premise of the Tea Parties is that the energy which is currently being held off-line is trapped by an all-too rational fear of the overreaching expansion of the public sphere --via political power-- into the arena in which that energy might be liberated...if only the "Natural Law" of individual liberty and the relatively unfettered operation of the marketplace were allowed to hold sway. It is the unpredictability of political processes which creates an environment in which the most rational choice is to hoard capital, rather than unleash it. By contrast, it is the predictability of contract law and a constrained and frugal State which creates incentives to take financial risks for the sake of potentially rich rewards. In the final analysis, it is within the power of private enterprise to throw such caution to the winds, and take its chances that its investments will not be deemed low-hanging fruit for the fulfillment of the State's hunger for energy. They are free to do so, and it would be bad faith to say otherwise. But then they would have to look their stockholders in the face when their balance sheets were raided by those who deem them public property.
As Bill would say, "That's why we have a Tea Party."