Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Party Philosophy


My two posts were mighty abstract, so I figured today I’d apply them to some more real world political examples. First, let’s apply the actions vs. outcomes post regarding the two main philosophical perspectives. Which major American political party tends to identify with which framework?

It’s my experience that on domestic issues, liberals are usually more results-oriented, and Republicans are usually more actions oriented. Take for instance the issue of welfare. Liberals usually support or want to increase welfare, because they feel the results of the action are superior than the results of inaction: a more just distribution of wealth, or stimulus to the economy due to the higher probability the money will be spent by a poor person than by a rich one. Republicans usually oppose or want to decrease welfare, because they feel the act of wealth redistribution is immoral: forcibly taking money from someone who’s earned it and giving it to someone who hasn’t is wrong, they say. Of course, both sides also offer arguments on the other perspective (for example, perhaps a conservative will argue that redistribution of wealth decreases the incentive for wealth creation). But it seems the bulk of the conservative argument is about action, and the bulk of the liberal argument is about results.

Another domestic example is the question of abortion. Conservatives are usually pro-life, while liberals are usually pro-choice. From an actions standpoint, one might view the action of abortion itself as wrong. This is the line of argument most social conservatives use; the act itself of taking a developing human life is immoral to many people. By contrast, liberals are much more likely to cite the negative societal effects of illegalizing abortion (back alley abortions, overcrowded orphanages, increased poverty in families, increased crime, increased chance of broken families, increased demand for limited resources, etc.). Once again, each side offers arguments from the opposite perspective (for example, perhaps a liberal would argue that killing a fetus is not immoral because it’s only a few cells and life begins at birth, or that forcibly oppressing a woman’s right to choose is truly the most immoral action), but the primary arguments of each side are from the opposite perspective.

Interestingly, however, it seems to be the opposite on foreign policy issues. Conservatives tend to be more hawkish and war-friendly, while Democrats claim to favor more peace and diplomacy. War itself is full of killing, destruction of property, and other actions that would clearly be immoral in the abstract, but which are orchestrated in order to attain morally superior world outcomes. To support war is to say that the ends pursued by it justify the unfortunate means necessary to attain them; to oppose war is to say that’s not the case. Just as on domestic issues, each side offers arguments from the opposing side too: a conservative might say killing is less immoral when it’s a “bad guy”, while liberals may cite blowback as evidence that war abroad only causes more threats to the ends of security in the long term. But in general, each side predicates their justification or condemnation of the action of killing itself from the opposite of their domestic stance.

What does this observation mean? Nothing, really. One might argue that it illuminates ideological inconsistencies of the two parties, but I wouldn’t go that far; the stances listed are generalizations of the party platform, and I don’t want to cluster all Republicans or all Democrats together under the same labels. That would be collectivism! I just thought it was interesting to view politics from this perspective. It’s amazing to realize how just about every moral debate can be placed into context with one question: do the ends justify the means?

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