framing a belief system (part 2) 11.07.2005

Is there an absolute moral system? If we start with the assumption that individuals are special and unique, and all are deserving to find their own way in life, and if we presume that by virtue of our creation we have certain needs and desires--such as the desire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--then we must conclude that there is indeed an absolute moral system.

Let me be clear. I'm not talking about the "moral system" that most Christians advocate, where selected passages from Deuteronomy are used to justify the sins of homosexuality. I'm not talking about the "moral system" of Muslims who consider non-Muslims as second-class citizens who only deserve Dimmitude. I'm talking about the basic observation that if we assume that human beings are special, then we must conclude some fundamental values are indeed absolute.

For example, we can easily conclude that the arbitrary and deliberate murder in cold blood of people who have done nothing to deserve their death is bad.

What else can we conclude if we start with the presumption of an absolute moral system based on the assumption that individuals are special and unique and deserving of life? This, indeed, is the hook on which all of my other political beliefs hang.

Let me note as an aside that this assumption has not always been made in history. For example, it has been assumed in the past that there is a single special individual (a king or ruler) who by virtue of birth was more deserving than others. That is, through most of history, there has been an assumption that there are special individuals who were "closer to God", and the rest of the population was deserving of life or the pursuit of happiness only at the whim of this ruler who expressed the Will of God or the Will of The State.

The moment you suggest that individuals are all unique and special and equally deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness irrespective of any "right of birth" (but fully acknowledging that individuals are not equally capable of these pursuits), you have moved into the absolute moral framework that is the foundation of classic "liberalism."

First, if we assume the supremacy of the individual, you must conclude first and foremost that the "divine right of kings" is bunk. There may be individuals who are superior by their birth--they may be born smarter or prettier or able to run faster--but there is no intrinsic "right" to superiority irrespective of any sort of meritocracy. This implies that however such a society which lives by the moral absolute of the supremacy of the individual will use some sort of competition or meritocratic screening process in order to select it's leaders.

In all of the history of the world, even meritocracies have been imperfect: eventually there must be an "umpire" who selects the winner of whatever competition is used to select a leader. And often these "umpires" have been a single figure from which all other power flows: a King or an Emperor who was above the rules--and for whom the rules did not apply, but who created the rules by divine or royal edict. This is not a meritocracy but simply a more efficient way to manage slaves.

The only "umpire" that has ever existed in the history of the world which has bypassed this fundamental problem of hierarchies is a representative democratic Republic, where the people themselves--the base of voters--were the ultimate "umpire" who choose whom they considered the more deserving of temporary rulership by running fair and equitable elections.

This cyclic presumption: that the people are over the rulers who rule them by virtue of fair elections--that fair elections are kept fair by oversight of the people who establish the rules--that rulers are selected from the people they rule through a competition--is the foundation of the notion of "checks and balances." No one person is permanently and absolutely above any other, but only temporarily installed in order to assure the stability of the government.

Second, if we assume the supremacy of the individual, then the State must necessarily serve (via the aforementioned elections) the People, and not the other way around. This means that the State must assure the absolute moral framework of individuality, supremacy through fair meritocracy rather than unfair "rigging" to preserve the "rights" of a handful of "elites", and ultimately preserve the fundamental rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This means that ultimately it is the State's responsibility, for example, to preserve the security of the people in that state--but not to the point of prohibiting failure. In any meritocratic system, there will always be winners and losers--and while it is right to make sure losers don't starve to death, the danger is that too much a safety net takes away the rights of the winners to pursue their own agenda.

Which means, by the way, that it is reasonable to embrace the winners in a meritocratic contest rather than denounce them through playing the "class card"--though it is also right to protest the boorish behavior that many "winners" engage in.

Which is why I'm ultimately a believer in a democratic Republic form of government.

Next time: Why multi-culturalism is dead and why it's reasonable to war against illiberal states.

posted by William Woody at 10:51 AM

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A moderate conservative living in the left coast, surrounded by the sureal, wonders if there is a sane life living amongst those who have lost touch with reality.

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