Raise your hand if you think our country is politically divided. Now put your hand down, people are staring. Why are we so divided? At the most basic level, it comes down to a lack of communication. Western societies are consistently in a struggle between the idea of a social contract (politically progressive) and the idea of individual liberty (politically conservative). But this isn’t the debate that we ever get to have. Instead, we see two parties throwing cheap shots and slander towards the other. This isn’t surprising. The longest-lasting political strategy is to make your opponent seem worse than you. This is especially true if you can’t run on your own merits.
Unfortunately, this is the situation our country finds itself in. And it only seems to get uglier every year. Politicians need to get back to the basics and start running for something rather than against something. This is why Ronald Reagan was so successful. Despite what you think of his political views, it is very hard to argue that Ronald Reagan didn’t articulate a positive message. His speeches were always pro-America and pro-liberty. This is why he is so revered as a conservative icon. Many of his policies weren’t what today’s right would consider conservative, but his message was the best of modern history. He made the case for individual liberty.
In this piece, we will be discussing the basic goals of government, the basics of a social contract and individual liberty, and where I stand in the debate. This is not meant to be an in-depth analysis. At the bottom of this post, I will recommend a book or two if you want to go more in-depth.
Goals of Government
Although human history has an extremely long history of oppression and power struggles, the overarching theme is how the government can protect the sovereignty of its people while also taking care of the weakest among us: children, elderly, and other vulnerable individuals. Even fallen aristocracies had these tenants at its core when you look past the social prejudices which were ingrained in the societies.
In an ideal world, everything the government does hopes to achieve these goals. National defense is there to protect these interests. Social programs are designed to help those most vulnerable. Laws are established to limit the amount of damage one citizen can do to another. While the ends remain mostly constant, the means to achieve this vary wildly across the political spectrum.
Social Contract and Individual Liberty
The idea of a social contract is the idea that we as individuals agree to submit some our power and/or property to improve the condition of the whole. It is the idea that we all have a duty to take care of each other and that the best way to do this is through a government given the authority to level the results. It creates a floor that no one’s living standard can fall below.
Individual liberty, as a governing principle, is the belief that the only person who truly knows what is best for you is you. It believes that humans have great potential and that there should be minimal interference between them and that potential for achievement. Individual liberty is the reason behind wanting a limited government. The less power the government has over an individual, the more power that individual has and can better pursue their own purpose.
Why Individual Liberty Prevails
I am of the opinion that individual liberty trumps a social contract. Liberty treats everyone equal, rather than trying to make everyone equal in results. Calvin Coolidge’s famous quote of “don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong” is as important today as it was hundreds of years ago during the framing of our nation. I spoke about Reagan in the opening paragraph and Calvin Coolidge here. Please do not mistake this for me being a blind partisan. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All of us have issues with different representatives for different reasons. It is all but impossible to meet anyone who believes exactly as you do. This exact reason is why individual liberty is more effective.
Imagine trying to get 320 million people to all agree to a single contract with Washington, D.C. It would be near impossible. There are too many differences in interest, ambitions, geographic issues and mindsets of individuals. The only way for an individual to succeed is to let them. Get out of the way and that person will make the best of their own situation.
Most people on this planet are good people. Most of our co-workers are good individuals. They have their quirks and things that annoy us. Hell, we may even have personal quarrels with them. But even those individuals are mostly good people. I trust that there is more good than evil in the human population. And the amount that someone can achieve knows no limits. We may not be able to fly with our bodies, so we created airplanes. We can fly around the world in a single day.
Every single challenge humans have faced we have overcome. Let the genius of the individual reign above all else and it is truly incredible what we accomplish.
If you are interested in further reading about politics and specifically the differences between left and right (in theory), check out The Great Debate by Yuval Levin. The Amazon link is below and I receive a small commission for every sale. The price remains the same for you.