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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/3/13

Examining the Beliefs Behind Political Labels

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Follow Me on Twitter     Message Christopher Mandel
Almost all people holding political views, whether ordinary citizens or professional politicians, can be identified by a broad political label: progressive, or liberal; libertarian, or economic conservative; anarchist; or "integral" (the label by which I identify my own political views).

The interesting thing about these labels is that they are often associated with views held on individual issues: for example, abortion, climate change, corporate power, or LGBT rights. Yet, we draw from these individual associations broad generic identities that encompass a range of positions by a single label and bind us to a community of like-minded people. This article offers a broad analysis and comparison of the belief systems that underlie a number of the most prominent labels.

First, progressive, or liberal, sometimes called socialist by detractors.

Government is necessary to protect society from internal and external threats. It is also necessary as the primary investor in shared social assets and benefits, such as infrastructure and land conservation. Finally, government is needed to lead communication and negotiation in the global community.

With a democratic form of government, large numbers of people can engage in collective decision-making by direct voting and representation, thereby setting the course not only of their individual lives but of society as a whole. Democracy gives the people themselves a tool by which they can organize themselves, pool their resources, and combat oppressive forces.

Progressives accept democracy as the best form of government, but often also believe that the capitalist organizations that flourish under it are a great threat both to individuals and the common good. They view capitalist organizations (especially big ones) as committed primarily to the pursuit of short-term economic gains for a relatively small number of people, even if it entails major sacrifices by other people or society at large.
Second, libertarian, or economic conservative

Libertarians see government primarily as an oppressive force. They would trace the lineage of today's republics to the monarchies that dominated most of our written history, and those structures, in turn, to the primal, strength-based hierarchies of ancient humans and many mammals.
In the view of libertarians, capitalism is the answer to this instinctual oppression. Capitalism, they believe, is a newer, emergent human structure, which emphasizes opportunity and freedom, while rewarding creativity and hard work. Furthermore, thanks to the near miraculous natural tendencies of competitive markets to promote innovation and efficiency, capitalism pushes humanity rapidly forward, creating benefits that, though they may help some more quickly than others, eventually trickle down to everyone.
Third, anarchism

Anarchists exhibit the more pessimistic sides of both progressives and libertarians. Like libertarians, they are highly skeptical of government and primarily see it as oppressive. Like progressives, anarchists emphasize the greed and inherent inequalities of capitalism. They actually go further on this point than most progressives, and, similarly to traditional socialists, broadly condemn capitalism itself.
Regrettably for anarchists, their tendency to condemn both representative government and capitalism tends to paint them into a corner. It has led to the misleading stereotype that anarchists promote total chaos, when, in reality, the facts are the opposite. Anarchists put great creativity into developing political structures that dodge the problems of capitalism and representative government, and occasionally even fetishize those systems--just as progressives do representative government and libertarians do capitalism.
Fourth, Integral.

This is the label and political belief system I identify with. Like anarchists, integralists see great potential (hypothetical and based on history) for oppression on the part of both public and private organizations. Despite this view, unlike typical anarchists, integralists do not totally condemn these systems. They are not seen as blights on humanity that must be eradicated, but as out-of-date systems that must either evolve with our emerging needs or be lovingly retired.
Above all else, integralists believe in gradual change, and see both conventional capitalism and today's representative governance as potentially temporary steps in a long (possibly infinite) process of refinement. On this path, all changes will share certain characteristics. They will all make key improvements to systems of the past by adding unique and positive attributes.

There is much to admire in both contemporary capitalism and representative governance. As libertarians point out over and over, capitalism does indeed promote innovation and is far more fair and free than feudalism. Progressives (and socialists) are correct when they say that government, at its best, can protect us from the effects of greed and other corruptions; that it can help us pool our resources to make large, positive investments; and that it can produce great moral advances, such as helping the unfortunate.
But all systems also have their weaknesses, and can be rendered morally corrupt or hopelessly inefficient. These deficiencies serve as motivation in a democracy to keep making improvements--to constantly change our ways in an endless process of collective problem-solving.
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Christopher Mandel is a writer, activist, musician, and Sunday school teacher in Denver, CO. He was a dedicated organizer in the Occupy movement and published his memoirs of that experience as MY OCCUPY: AN ACCOUNT OF ONE PERSON'S ADVENTURES IN THE (more...)
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