Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Which do you value more?

Liberty or equality?

Historically, these two values play a fierce game of tug of war where one recovers the ground the other loses. This has been a stumbling block for political thinkers and institutions as it appears a society can't be completely equal and completely liberated at the same time. Here's how the problem breaks down.

If you answered equality then be sure to take a look at Marx who proposed the state should act like a gigantic Robin Hood by dismantling huge strongholds of wealth and redistributing it equitably throughout the society. Where did these ideas lead? Pol Pot slaughtered Cambodia's middle class, Mao starved his people and Stalin razed dissidents. Although everybody became economically equal their liberty dissipated, and if you want to split hairs they weren't even all that equal when compared to those in power.

But what if you answered liberty? Just as a commitment to equality breeds state socialism a devotion to liberty breeds free market capitalism. Unfortunately, because free markets are stacked like pyramids those on top can buy more liberty than those lifting at the bottom. Reagan believed so much in liberty that he spread it by force to Central America resulting in the mass murder of hundreds of thousands, and George W. Bush went into Iraq with the idea of an entirely privatized corporate Avalon. In the same way as state socialism failed to deliver either liberty or equality so does free market capitalism.

So, what is the answer? It is my belief neither business nor government provide any satisfying answers. The Anarchists of the late 19th century emerged with a solution to this problem. They felt liberty flowed directly from equality, but equality must be enacted voluntarily through mutual alliances between peers. All illegitimate authority could be eradicated. Businesses could be reorganized to fit the needs of the workers, not the bosses. After Argentina's overnight economic collapse it was the workers who returned to their assembly lines and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. This only happened because the principles of pragmatic Anarchism was out in the open and familiar to the common laborer. There was a long tradition of Spanish and Italian Anarchy which enabled the workers to spontaneously mobilize.

The only thing Americans can agree on is they want change. Through the proper amount of education and persuasion even Americans could organize and directly grant themselves both liberty and equality without having to appeal to any higher powers. Don't know where to begin? Start by reminding (or maybe even teaching) people that a better world is possible.

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