An organizing principle that serves to differentiate the several political philosophies in vogue is illuminated by first noting that only total anarchists are totally against efforts by humans to organize communities via government, and then asking each person or group WHICH kinds of government are unacceptable or acceptable?
Myself, being a fan of the US Constitution, I would propose that the key to answer this question systematically and pragmatically is in that document. The basic genius of the constitution was not to say government is bad (the libertarian bent) or that government is good (the liberal bent), but rather, to say that what the various arms of government should be doing is watchdogging the other arms of government.
But I jump to my answer before formulating the problem.
On the “right” of the political spectrum (whether in Alexandria, Virginia or Alexandria, Egypt) the question is mostly dodged. It has been stodgily dodged by the big-gun conservatives like Prez Raygun, and it is being ignorantly dodged by the current crop of hayseed conservatives who eschew all thinking as well as government. But someone should ask (and the liberals seem too dazed formulate the question) WHICH forms and agencies of government are approved by the tea-partyists and the libertarians?
Are they truly anarchists, saying ‘no’ to all interventions by authority in search of social order? If so, then shouldn’t everyone admit that, and use the appropriate label. Those calling for no government should not be called ‘conservatives’, but should be called – accurately – ‘anarchists’. Those who truly believe that private behavior and free markets are capable of regulating social order without government should not be hiding their extremity under superficially noble terms like ‘libertarian’. If you think we can keep up some degree of utopia without government, then admit that you are really an ‘anarchist.’
On the left (if that has meaning), the same question could be revealing. Was the genius of the American constitution expressed in any statement that government was the answer to problems? Was there an eagerness to multiply arms of government to address the multiplying needs of citizens and states?
Therefore, I propose that a more accurate term for what we understand as ‘liberal’ should be ‘governmentist’. A milder and more impractical form is the ‘legalist’. The governmentalist says if we have a problem make more government, and the legalist does not commit to more government but insists that passing laws is the way to go. Of course they are siamese twins.
In the middle lies a position that is not married to government (law) and not married to anarchy. Instead, it states (as any rational reading of the US Constitution will reveal) that government is necessary but can’t be trusted. So the form government should take is watchdogging – resulting in separation of powers, checks and balances.
This suggests a litmus test for a thinking citizen of any chosen philosophy to apply to more proposed government. Will that additional arm of government serve to watchdog those in power, and curtail any centralization of power, or not?
A generalization of this principle of social management, applicable to institutions other than government, would be to ask “Does this institution provide checks and balances against the power of others, and are checks and balances in place against abuse of power by each?”
Without key questions being asked, we will continue to see politics (from Sacramento to Kabul) swirl around in a maelstrom of money with no clear constraints.
So if you are not an anarchist, then what government do you like? Come on. Don’t avoid the question. Fess up.