The Fabric Of Society

What makes a prosperous, first-world, liberal society tick? How did America become the world’s great superpower? What is the fabric that keeps this together? Below are the answers as I see them, from the three main American schools of political thought.

The Progressive

The progressive believes that the fabric of society is government. He does not necessarily believe in state ownership of the means of production, but rather that the environment of strong institutions (educational/social/legal) are the underpinnings of great societies. He believes that humanity is best self-actualized when working within a regulated framework where “fairness” and “equality of opportunity” is enforced from above to at least a necessary degree. He may or may not be envious of the rich, but his desire for progressive taxation is more due to the fact that he sees society as having a big role in creating the conditions for the rich to obtain their wealth, and that it is their duty and moral responsibility to give some of that wealth back to the system to ensure that the same conditions exist for others.

To the progressive, the fabric of society tears when we shed our collective institutions for the messy profit-driven market. The market’s goal is not the common good. The progressive doesn’t believe that the market will adequately supply what the progressive defines as public goods, such as education, infrastructure, care for those who are not valuable to the market (old/disabled/etc), and a fair regulatory system protecting “tragedy of the commons” like the environment. Thus, without strong institutions to restrain the influence of the market and channel societal output in socially-responsible ways, society will be unable to achieve its peak.

The Conservative

The conservative believes that the fabric of society is the shared social and cultural norms of society. Whether or not he claims that America was founded as a Christian nation, he remembers that America was founded, by and large, by Christians who instilled in their offspring the moral framework to exist within a society. To the conservative, humans are naturally weak and prone to temptation, and the moral, social, and cultural rules that society follows are necessary to keep people on the right path. To a conservative, the power of America is borne out of the traditions of economic freedom as defined by the Constitution and the morality inherited from the Puritans who first populated America. He believes that to continue America’s greatness, we should revere and continue following those traditions as part of our shared cultural identity.

To the conservative, the fabric of society tears when those social norms are lightly disregarded. Gay marriage becomes a threat to a society based upon traditional marriage and nuclear families. Immigration becomes a threat not because immigrants are other races, but rather because they come from weaker nations without the rich tradition and morality of America, and thus may try to import their former country’s weaknesses into ours. Removing religion from the public sphere is a threat because society rests on continuance — if not of Christianity on a personal level — of the social morality underpinning that Christian faith, and thus godless hedonism calls into question the very underpinnings of society. People casting off traditions may unknowingly cast off traditions that are important to the future of society, and the world may not know it has occurred until the damage is already done.

The Libertarian

The libertarian believes that the fabric of society is freedom. He believes that humans are naturally strong yet cooperative individuals, who will work together towards shared goals when it is in their interest and will be tolerant of others’ goals so long as they don’t infringe upon him. He knows that some people are not content to leave people alone, and sees that the role of government in society to enforce negative rights from those who would meddle in freedom. He believes in the “emergent order” and the “invisible hand”, and that if people are largely left to their own devices to work for their own ends, the end result will be a common benefit to all. He sees America as a nation founded on a “light touch” of government, and attributes America’s success to letting people live, work, and earn freely.

To the libertarian, the fabric of society tears when people — rather than freely choosing cooperation — are forced into cooperation by government. He sees forced virtue as a tool to create resentment and acrimony between people who would normally be tolerant of each other, and sees income redistribution as legitimized theft. He believes that government should expand protection negative rights to those most in danger of oppression by the majority, but believes that when government creates positive rights for minorities it creates jealousy and destroys the common bonds of humanity. He believes that as the government grows more powerful, it becomes more profitable to attempt to control the government than to create value which improves the society in general. When government takes over, he sees all struggles become man vs. man, rather than humanity working individually and/or cooperatively towards improving standards of living.

  • CJS

    This is an excellent and fair description of the various positions.

  • Michael O. Powell

    This is some of your best work, Brad. Absolutely brilliant. I think The Liberty Papers may be the best analysis available on the internet. I’m honored to be here.

    The libertarian illustration is obviously my favorite and the best but I have to question a few elements in the conservative case, especially the part about “godless hedonism.” Even for conservatives, that seems like a bit of an outmoded term.

    Good job all around though. =D