Liberalism and Violence - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity



Tolerance & Bigotry

Liberalism and Violence


Over the last couple of years, and especially in the last few months, we're seeing violence and rioting in many Western countries. France, Greece, and Britain have all seen serious violence. Here in the U.S. we have not seen rioting on the scale of these countries, but there have been a number of incidents.

I have heard many people express shock and surprise over this violence. But surely this violence is the inevitable result of liberal social policies. Liberalism inevitably leads to violence. Isn't that obvious? Perhaps I should explain.

By "liberal" here I mean a society where the government takes an active role in the economy and society, providing benefits for the poor, funding education, providing jobs, managing the economy, etc. By "conservative" I mean a society where these things are primarily done by individuals and private organizations.

By those definitions, in a conservative society the only practical way to achieve your goals is by working for them directly yourself or in co-operation with people you know. If you want money, you have to get a job or start a business. If you want more money, you have to work harder or more creatively. If you want an education, you have to work to pay for it. If you want to help the poor, you have to donate your own money or join with others to open a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or whatever. Etc.

In a liberal society, the most effective way to achieve your goals is to persuade the government to change its policies. If you want money, you have to convince the government to provide welfare or enact a jobs program. If you want more money, you have to lobby the government to give tax breaks or subsidies to your employer. If you want an education, you have to get the government to increase spending on schools. If you want to help the poor, you have to persuade the government to fund anti-poverty programs. Etc.

Note that this difference is not dependent on how fair or just either society is.

In a conservative society, people who are born to rich families often get more success for a given amount of effort than people who are born to poor families. Members of unpopular minorities may face extra challenges. But it isn't necessary for everyone to get the same result per unit work for people to have an incentive to work. As long as work produces positive results, people have an incentive. If Al makes $10 per hour while Bob makes $20 per hour, it may be that Bob has an unfair advantage. But Al still has every incentive to work. Even if he gets less than Bob, he still gets something.

Likewise, in a liberal society people who are born to politically influential families get more sucess for a given amount of effort than people who are born to non-influential families. Members of unpopular minorities may face extra challenges. But it isn't necessary for everyone to get the same result per unit of politicking to have an incentive to be involved in politics. As long as lobbying and protests produces positive results, people have an incentive.

So where does this lead?

In any society, people's desires or demands may increase. They may have difficulty achieving their goals, either because of their own personal failings or because of large-scale problems, like recession or discrimination.

In a conservative society, if you are not achieving your goals, you must work harder. Or work smarter, as the slogan goes. This is the only practical thing to do.

In a liberal society, if you are not achieving your goals, you must increase the pressure on the government. If you have money, you can give bigger campaign contributions. But mostly, you have to make your appeals louder. You have to mobilize more people. You have to organize bigger rallies. If the government still doesn't pay attention, you have to make your protests louder and louder until you finally force them to pay attention. Loud protests almost inevitably mean emotional, probably angry, people. Even if the organizers' goal is a peaceful protest, sooner or later there will be some people in the crowd who will resort to escalating violence: vandalism, rock-throwing, and assault. Of course if the organizers' goal is violence, then the level of violence will be even greater, and we will quickly have a riot.

In a conservative society, violence is generally unproductive. No one is going to hire you because you vandalized his store or give you charity because you punched him in the face. Just the opposite. But in a liberal society, violence is often the most effective way to achieve your goals.

© 2011 by Jay Johansen


Comments

Roberto Jul 23, 2014

Yes, and he needs top remind his sueptroprs that it is they - not he - who will have to create the change.As for myself, I have always believed this. I have long since given up hoping for any sort of change to come from politicians. After all, they are the ones for whom the system has worked, and is now in the process of making rich. They will not create change. Only we can make change.

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