Wanted to share this essay written by a colleague of mine. I found it to be a thoughtful and well articulated piece.
The Third Way
The meaning of the current heated debate in modern American political life can be extraordinarily difficult to decipher in light of the myriad conflicting assertions regarding the best direction for the country politically, ideologically, socially and economically. Without a means of comparing and weighing each of these positions and claims, making sense of the debate can be an impossible task.
Fortunately, there is a way of understanding and comparing each of these claims. By reducing all of the competing assertions to their principles, by going to the philosophical foundation of each claim, clarity and an ethical dilemma begins to emerge. This distilling and cutting away brings us to a singular issue underpinning every single one of the various ideologies clamoring for ascendancy. Do we argue that the everyman is incapable of managing his or her own affairs satisfactorily for any one of an infinite variety of reasons and take this as justification for the creation or existence of some sort of a body with the power to make decisions for him and to force compliance with these decisions when necessary? Or, do we acknowledge the right of the everyman to run his own life regardless of of our agreement with his personal decisions, do we recognize the right of each human being to be the absolute authority in the very limited personal sphere of his or her own life, to be free to make his or her own decisions about what direction that life should take, and do we arrange our society along these lines to protect these human rights?
That is the only question that matters. Every political solution is corollary to how one answers this basic question, where one stands on this issue of human nature and human rights.
If you answer affirmative to the first choice, there are a wide variety of flavors to choose from, but every single one rests on the assumption that the everyman is incapable of handling his affairs with adequate vision, understanding, social awareness, competence, environmental concern and so on. The various possibilities here cover a wide variety of forms, including social democracy or overt socialism as well as its crypto-socialist variants such as modern American liberalism or progressivism. It should be noted that modern American liberalism is a coercive ideology that has co-opted its name in an Orwellian twist and is distinct from traditional or Classical liberalism, the original advocates of small state political liberty. Other expressions of statist coercion would include modern "capitalism", which has likewise co-opted its name in an Orwellian manner and is actually technically a form of fascism, corporatism or mercantilism. National socialism, communism or international socialism and the various types of strongman states, dictatorships, authoritarian and totalitarian structures are likewise obviously coercive statist structures. Without exception, every one of these possible social, political or economic systems has a singular defining feature in common. That feature is the existence of some person or body with the power to make decisions for people without their tacit consent and against their will, and to then compel them to submit to these decisions using whatever force is necessary or expedient. Very often this fact is camouflaged by appeals to a proclaimed higher good, such as the need for the creation of the New Soviet Man or the purification of the Aryan Race, or perhaps appeals for social justice, economic equality, a level playing field, social compassion, environmental stewardship, or any one of an endless variety of justifications. Nonetheless, any such justifications aside, we must not lose sight of the crucial fact that any inhabitant in any such society is subject to coercion or violence if necessary in order to bring about his or her compliance with the plans of the extant regime, as opposed to merely being subject to restraint preventing them from harming or damaging another person or that persons property. All such societies necessarily rest on a foundation of threats, force and violence, since they all share the feature of a person or body with compulsory power to make and enforce decisions about the intended direction of society.
Contrast this with a society which is based on the belief that each person should run his or her own life, whether it is because one believes that with the exception of defensive force no person has the moral or ethical right to impose their will on another human being, whether that is because one holds that only the individual is capable of determining subjectively what direction their life should take, perhaps because one has good reason to believe that such a society would be more peaceful and prosperous, or for any other reason. If we conclude that each person should be the ultimate authority over their own life, which necessarily limits their authority to themselves and not their neighbor, then there would be no need and no place for an external body exercising policy making power and coercive powers to execute such decisions. Such a society could properly be called a free society, due to the absence of compulsory force. In such a society, if any venture occurred which involved more than one person, it would necessarily have to be of a voluntarily and cooperative nature given the absence of external compulsory decision making or executive power. With the exception of the ever present possibility in humanity of individual coercive behavior, such a society could also be referred to as a peaceful society, because the foundations of such a society would rest on peaceful, voluntary cooperation as opposed to arbitrary coercion. As a protection against the problem of individual coercive behavior, the people who lived in such a society might find it beneficial to set some ground rules about what sort of behavior is not permitted, and those rules would correctly only restrain behavior which is based on force or fraud.
The society I have just described would be defined as having in the economic realm a free market, because non-defensive force would be prohibited, meaning that any economic association would necessarily be both voluntary and mutually agreeable. Such a society could also be described as being a free society, for the same reasons. This would also technically be referred to as a capitalist society in the original unadulterated meaning of the word, because absent compulsory force, each person would rightly own and could dispose of whatever goods or skills he or she created or traded for, including capital, that is, the tools or means of production. Such a society could only properly exist under the protections afforded by the rule of law, as opposed to the capricious and arbitrary rule of man. It is hard to see how such a society could be said to be exploitative, given that any and all interactions between persons or bodies would have to be voluntary and mutually agreeable, and that legal protections would exist to uphold and protect these individual rights. It is also hard to see how any other arrangement would be desirable, given that it is only in such a society as just described that human dignity, peace, genuine and widespread prosperity arising from free economic cooperation to maximize the benefits of the division of labor, voluntary association, freedom from force and fraud as an institutionalized constant and so on are honored and fully exist.
It is easy to see how a society of the sort described as based on force inevitably lead to all kinds of abuses and exploitation, based as they are on force wielded by a select few against the many. This would include any one of the types of socialist societies as well as capitalist societies in the colloquial sense of the word which should be more accurately referred to as corporatism, fascism or crony capitalism. Essentially, the commonly accepted but little considered tool of political analysis, the venerable left-right continuum, is at best completely inadequate for describing the significant aspects of political realities, and at worst is intentionally misleading. Keep in mind that Soviet Communism would be referred to as far left, with European Social Democracy being merely left. Everybody knows that Fascism and Nazism are extreme right-wing ideologies… but... what does Nazi stand for? National Socialism. So, the intellectually bankrupt device of the left-right continuum actually describes different types of socialist or force based societies and is therefore incapable of making the much more important distinction between coercive and free societies. The left likes to complain about how the excesses of what they call "capitalism" lead to all kinds of corporate abuses of the environment and the common man, that the right wants to create an atmosphere favorable to select corporate interests and to impose various kinds of unwarranted controls over their personal lives. The left is correct in these charges. Conversely, the right likes to complain that the left wants to coercively appropriate private property, to cripple property rights and business activity in order to socially engineer some utopian goal. These charges are correct as well. Proponents of both camps, however, seem to be blind to the reality that their ideologies have a staggeringly important feature in common, that is, the sanction of the use of non-defensive coercive force in order to achieve some desired goal as defined by the ascendant power. In light of this understanding, the fact that different ascendent powers have different goals and methods shrinks to irrelevance. Any such society is by definition a force based society and as such should be rejected by any thinking person who wishes to uphold the ideals of human dignity, in favor of a peaceful and cooperative society based on the prohibition of non-defensive force under the rule of law.
When we move beyond the artificial and dangerously misleading left-right paradigm, we encounter an oft forgotten third way. The way of voluntary cooperation and the prohibition of non-defensive force is not often spoken of in public life today, but this way is the only way that is consonant with all of the things that matter most to human beings, such as the right to be free of political coercion and politically directed violence, the right to direct ones own life and make ones own decisions, the right to spend ones own time as desired, the right to cooperate with others or not as one wishes, in essence, the rights to life, liberty and property. That this ideal is rarely spoken of and even more rarely put into practice is no argument against it. The historical fact that such societies, when tried, have been subverted to the interests of whatever cabal proves capable of wresting power from the individual people and communities is not an indictment of these ideals. This is merely an indication that more effective safeguards need to be created, that greater diligence against such theft of liberty needs to be exercised. Unless a society is based on principles of free, peaceful and voluntary cooperation with guarantees to the rights of life, liberty and property, it is, by definition, a slave society. We must do better than this.
-- Mountain Webfoot
Reminds me of that great quote from Heinlein....
"Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."