Mark Goodkin of “Conversational Shift”: Why It’s a Bad Idea for Liberals or Conservatives to Monopolize Power
(Find Conversational Shift online HERE.) Liberals and conservatives would each like to control the three branches of the federal government, and if they could, state and local governments. However, such political domination would be unhealthy for the political process and our nation as a whole.
We know that it was a bad idea when kings ruled with absolute authority; it’s a bad idea for one company to monopolize an industry. So, why then, do so many people think that it is a good idea for their political persuasion to control the decision making process of this country?
This article addresses the more polar ends of the political spectrum, which seek control of government, and not so much the moderate views, which are more willing to share power and compromise. While many people in this country consider themselves as moderates, the two extremes have been the most outspoken and controlling of government.
Why Each Side Seeks to Monopolize Power
1) Superior Moral Belief System
Each side believes that its moral belief system is superior to that of its adversary, along with the correct agenda for advancing it. In fact, the belief system of the adversary is not only considered inferior, but unreasonable, immoral and dangerous for the nation and world.
Values and Belief Systems
The belief systems of both sides are largely defined by the values they hold. In fact, both liberals and conservatives share many values. These values include freedom, fairness, equal opportunity, responsibility, obedience to law and authority, and others. However, the two sides only partly agree on the meanings of these values. There is also a significant difference of opinion on other aspects of their meanings. The values and meanings help explain the similarities and differences between the two belief systems.
Let’s take one value, freedom, for example. Freedom is a key value shared by both sides. Our country was founded primarily on freedom. We are free to speak our minds, assemble with whom we want, practice our religion, own property, travel and live when and where we want, and so on – all examples of what is known as negative freedom.
Negative freedom says that each person has a right to survive and flourish, uninhibited by outside interference. However, a line is drawn when one’s freedoms or rights impinges on someone else’s. While both liberals and conservatives agree on negative freedom, liberals have also included a proactive version, known as positive freedom.
Positive freedom is defined as having the power and resources to fulfill one’s own potential (this may include freedom from internal constraints); as opposed to negative freedom, which is freedom from external restraint.
From positive freedom, we get civil rights, voting rights, worker’s rights, public education, public health, consumer protection, environmental protections, redistribution of wealth, and so on. Government has traditionally been the main implementer of positive freedom, through various laws, regulations and programs.
A major issue that conservatives have with positive freedom is that it negates, at least to some degree, negative freedom. For example, Federal programs designed to assist local education may help address internal constraints to minority and poor students, but also curtails some freedom exercised by local school districts to make their own decisions. Liberals accept this tradeoff. However, conservatives are not willing to make such a tradeoff. They favor negative freedom, exclusively.
2) Each Side Doesn’t Want to Compromise Its Values and Beliefs
The Two views Are Incompatible
Both liberals and conservatives believe the two belief systems are largely incompatible and that any compromise would only dilute the results they seek. It is much easier to eliminate the offending view.
Continuing with our example of freedom, the ways each side defines freedom are very different and difficult if not impossible to reconcile. After all, conservatives believe that government regulations interfere with individual freedoms, while liberals believe that such regulations would expand such freedoms. Any attempt at compromise would only water down the full potency of each side’s definition of freedom.
Sacred Values and Beliefs
Not only does each side think its values and beliefs are superior to its adversary’s, but deems them to be sacred. If one side’s beliefs are sacred, it must follow that the other side’s corresponding beliefs are immoral and even evil, since they are in opposition. To compromise one’s sacred values would mean giving into evil, which is unthinkable. Each side, therefore, feels it has an obligation to defend and uphold good and defeat evil. In fact politics has become a form of religion, in which the political arena has become a battleground between good and evil.
Why it’s a Bad Idea to Monopolize Power
1) It Disenfranchises a Large Segment of the Population
If one side controls government, the other side’s views or interests will not get adequately represented. If such political dominance occurs for a long time and perhaps indefinitely, it will disenfranchise many people and voices indefinitely. This flies in the face of our democratic ideals and leads to political extremism and tyranny. That portion of the population, left out of the process, will not sit quietly by. They will find ways to reclaim their power. Consequently, a perpetual power struggle will ensue, without any resolution in sight.
2) Both Sides Have Important Concerns, Which Need Expression
Each side gives voice to certain legitimate concerns. In the example, both positive and negative freedoms raise legitimate concerns, which ought to be addressed.
An important key is that each side can acknowledge and even address the concerns of the other side, without fully agreeing to the methods used to address them. For example, while liberals favor national health care as a solution to addressing the millions of uninsured, conservatives might find other solutions to address the uninsured, which don’t challenge negative freedom.
3) Sacralizing One’s Values and Beliefs
This article does not address the validity of the sacredness of each side’s values and beliefs, but calls out a big negative that can occur when each side does so.
When one side sees its values and beliefs as sacred, it tends to see only the positives, while having a difficult side seeing the negatives. In addition, that side tends to see only the negatives of the other side’s views, while having a difficult time seeing the positives. Sacralizing puts up blinders and can quickly lead to political extremism. Each side is deprived of a more nuanced view, which is important in effective compromise and decisionmaking.
In the example about freedom, each side sacralizes its version of freedom, while only seeing the flaws in the other side’s version.
Liberals are quick to point out all the wrongs of America (though many of them love this country), the abuses of unbridled free markets, limitations of the Constitution, how a blind obedience to authority and tradition can stifle necessary change and evolution.
Meanwhile, they are hard pressed to point out the positives.
On the other hand, Conservatives are quick to point out the abuses and dangers of too much government interference in the affairs of individuals, the free market and business, how government programs restrict freedoms, choose winners and losers in society, give to those who are undeserving, and encourages free riding. Meanwhile, they spend far less time pointing out any positives.
4) Power Corrupts:
Even with good intentions, it is not difficult for people or groups to corrupt power. It’s part of human nature. We are imperfect and prone to make mistakes, to misjudge things, to go to extremes, particularly when we sacralize our values, while demonizing the opponent’s. Again, this article doesn’t call into question the sacredness of either side’s views, but the negative ramifications that can ensue.
This article has shown that it’s a bad idea for either liberals or conservatives to monopolize power. The realities are that both sides will have to make compromises, which is the nature of politics in our country. However, such compromises don‘t have to automatically be straight down the middle, drastically cutting into each side’s values. Neither do they have to be ineffective bandaid measures that serve little value. Compromise can be done creatively and with much thought, so that both sides get their concerns met, while being sensitive to all values. We can begin by sighting examples from the past of effective compromises for guidance and inspiration. We can then agree to act in good faith to work toward effective compromises in the future.
Mark Goodkin is publisher of Conversational Shift, a website devoted to helping people make the shift from polarized political discourse to civil discourse and synergistic solutions. He also publishes San Diego Coast Life, an online guide for locals and visitors to San Diego. He has been a website developer and designer since 1998 and graphic artist since the 1980s. In the late 1980s, he worked as a graphic artist for the Committee for a Free Afghanistan, in Washington DC. and graphic artist and assistant to the Senior Advisor for High Frontier, Inc., in Arlington VA. Mark Goodkin holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Design from the School of Visual Arts in Saint Paul, MN and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.