Monday, March 08, 2010

Pol. Ideology 15: Socialism, Conservatism and Liberalism

There are various political ideologies in the country and around the world, but perhaps their philosophical origin can be traced or rooted to 3 important ideologies: socialism, conservatism and liberalism.

Socialism focuses on social justice, forced equality, public ownership and redistribution.

Conservatism focuses on social order, tradition, authority, conservation of social hierarchy.

Liberalism focuses on individual liberty, rule of law, competition and personal responsibility.

I encountered a reading material from the e-academy of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty (FNF) entitled “Political values – a review of basics” by Stefan Melnik. It is one of the reading materials in the international seminar on “Liberalism today – freedom first” sponsored by the FNF, held in Gummersbach, Germany. I attended one of FNF international seminars in Gummersbach, “Local Government and Civil Society” held in late October 2008.

Stefan Melnik summarized these three political values or philosophies in this chart.

Socialism -- Conservatism -- Liberalism

Social justice -- Order -- Freedom/liberty
Material equality -- Duty -- Rule of law
Redistribution -- Tradition -- Choice
"Common good” -- Hierarchy -- Tolerance
Classless society -- Authority -- Entrepreneurship
Solidarity -- Discipline -- Competition
Public ownership -- Honor -- Property
Social responsibility -- Charity -- Individual responsibility

If we are to analyze the various political parties today in the Philippines, and the top politicians or “standard bearers” who lead such political parties, big and small, we will notice a strong leaning towards socialism for many of them. Strong and explicit emphasis on social justice and more government responsibility, income and asset redistribution (like the endless or no-timetable agrarian reform, high and multiple taxes), the common good like price control policies and other forms of government intrusion in business.

The next tendency of some political parties that are not socialist-leaning is conservatism, like the religious groups that enter politics. These include conservative Catholics, Muslims, and “born-again” Christians. There is strong emphasis on social and religious order, charity and morality.

There seems to be nowhere to be found, sadly, a political party that explicitly stands for individual liberty, free market entrepreneurship and capitalism, unbridled competition and more personal responsibility. Liberalism as a political philosophy and as defined above is not attractive to most or all political parties in the country. There is a Liberal Party that is supposed to advance liberal politics and economic policies, but is caught in populist policies that are more socialist leaning, although the party is very explicit in advocating for good governance and in fighting corruption.

Fighting corruption is the central theme of most political parties in the country, both big parties and small party-list groups. This is because of the worsening corruption and non-promulgation of the rule of law in government, especially laws against stealing and plunder, laws against election cheating, and laws against what the Philippine society has deemed “immoral” like gambling, illegal drugs and prostitution. But many of those political parties that call to fight corruption have politician-leaders who themselves were involved in corrupt practices in one way or another, in distant past or recent past.

The fight against corruption has clouded the reality that most political parties and political/pressure groups (that may not be involved with any political party) are socialist-leaning. One fact why I say this is that those groups and parties are not questioning the ever-expanding size of the Philippine government, from local government to national government agencies. They are not questioning the high and multiple taxes and fees that breed corruption in tax agencies and other regulatory bodies. They are not questioning the expanding scope of more “government responsibility” and are silent, some even explicitly opposing, re-asserting individual responsibility in managing personal, household and community affairs.

Perhaps people have become allergic to political labels because most of those labels are indeed confusing if not nauseating. Labels like “neo-liberal”, “fascist/neo- fascist”, “neo-conservative” , “nationalist/ anti-imperialist” , “social/liberal/ Christian/ Muslim democrat”, and so on.

So we can do away with political labels and just focus on political and economic philosophy. Like protection of private property rights, business competition, and consumer choices.

The important thing is to assert and re-assert individual freedom and personal responsibility. But individual freedom is meaningless and impossible if individuals will not take more responsibility in running their own lives, their own households and their own communities.

Last October 05, 2009, I wrote this:

Liberalism and Equality

A friend posted in his facebook status the good performance of the liberal party FDP in Germany, partly because of the leadership of a young German liberal, Guido Westerwelle.

I'm a fan of liberal philosophy, the rather classical liberal definition (or currently termed as "libertarian"). I'm a bit carefully particular in the use of the word "liberal" as applied in politics and political parties. Also, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), the foundation for liberal politics in Germany with global represence, added an emphasis to its name and logo, "fur die friehart" (or "for Liberty") to refer more to emphasize the importance of individual liberty.

Another person commented and asked, "What is a liberal? One is liberal if you follow 3 values - 1) equitable redistribution of the wealth; and 2) support free markets (free trade), and 3) decentralized decision-making."

While I believe that # 2 and 3 are part of liberal philosophy, I doubt that #1 is part of it. That is greatly a part of welfarist or socialist philosophy. That is why, to help clarify things, FNF and the German liberals have added "fur die friehart" the FNF logo in 2008. The German liberals (who fund FNF, in whole or in part) notice that there is high restriction on individual liberty as the German State has taken on a big Nanny function, taking over even those functions that are better left as individual responsibilities.

Another person insisted that redistribution of wealth is part of liberalism. I think that one implication of encouraging more individual freedom is that social inequity will worsen. Not so much because the "poor are getting poorer" but because the very efficient and hard-working people, very ambitious and responsible, will become richer and richer. A group of scientists for instance, who can extract chemicals from ordinary mango or narra leaves to successfully treat AIDS will become super-super rich because their cost of raw materials is practically zero while the value of their invention will be sought worldwide.

When a State or political party advocates forced equality and mandatory redistribution of wealth under such situation, that is not a liberal philosophy, it is socialist. If the super-rich will voluntarily disperse their wealth, say they put up a foundation to tackle certain social problems close to their heart, that is part of liberal philosophy. It respects -- and encourages -- personal responsibility, minimal or zero coercion by the State.

The "super rich will voluntarily disperse their wealth" is a hypothesis, not a theory or statement of fact. Maybe the case of Bill Gates delisting several billion $ from his personal wealth and transferred to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will quality in this hypothesis. Warren Buffet also divested several billion $ of his personal wealth and donated it to the Gates foundation.

One of the top liberal intellectuals in the middle of the last century, Friedrich Hayek, argued that inequality is good for society. All new inventions were experienced by a few first, who enjoyed their benefits, and/or endured their negative effects. It was through trial and error experienced by the few where the majority would later benefit.

See also:

Pol. Ideology 9: Liberty and Choice, Atlanta and HK Conferences, June 09, 2008
Pol. Ideology 10: Joe Stiglitz and the Market, December 16, 2008
Pol. Ideology 11: Liberalism, Democratism & Authoritarianism, January 04, 2009
Pol. Ideology 12: Lao Tzu, Cooperative Individualism, February 07, 2009
Pol. Ideology 13: Liberty and Liberty Forum, the LP, March 19, 2009
Pol. Ideology 14: Liberalism and Democratism, January 18, 2010

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