Thursday, April 27, 2006

We Need a Third Party

Some recent thoughts about why it is best to be neither Liberal nor Conservative:

The Republican and Democratic parties have a permanent stranglehold on our government. They decide who runs in elections. They draw all congressional districts. They (with minimal input from the citizens of New Hampshire and Iowa) decide the two people from whom we get to choose a president.

The two-party division of political thought is both annoying and destructive to public discourse. America and the world seem to have permanently divided into Left and Right, and no longer even acknowledge the possibility of other approaches to the organization of society. Generally those who don't ally themselves with one side or another are either uninterested in, or disillusioned with politics.

Although "third parties" have existed, they tend to either be either more Left than the Democrats, more Right than the Republicans, or ideologically nebulous groups based around some leader's personality. Since the two ruling parties already have enough Liberalism, Conservativism, and personality cults to keep us bothered, it is no surprise these 3rd parties never take off.

This Right vs. Left division of civil discourse first struck me as absurd when I was voting in my first presidential election after college. I was tired of studying for my Anatomy finals and decided I would sit down and write out my political opinions and beliefs. I was surprised to find that I could neither be a Conservative or a Liberal. Neither party would want me. I'm no opinionless or compromising "centrist." I have strong beliefs, but they just don't fit into Left or Right molds. On my views on environment or poverty are so "left" people think I'm a socialist, but my views on abortion or constitutional interpretation are so "right" as to make me sound like Regan.

It was so liberating to find myself unaffiliated and step off of the Right/Left spectrum. It has opened my eyes to the absurdity of status quo American politics. Without an "us" to identify with, the us vs. them debates in congress and news shows begins to look more and more like the squabbling of self-important gangs of children. It often seems the Democrats and Republicans have little ideology at all but to thwart the agenda of the other party.

It is a bit lonely being partyless but still caring passionately that our society is run well. Everyone seems more interested in figuring out what side you are on than in listening to ideas. Generally Conservatives and Liberals need to recognize an idea as coming from the Left or Right before they are able to agree with or argue against it. Everyone wants to label you even if your political ideas don't fit the label. I find interesting that most of my conservative friends think me very liberal, and my liberal friends think me very conservative.

Conservativism and Liberalism are at least somewhat useful as they have developed two opposite theories on how society should be run, but it strikes me that neither approach is correct, and that there are plenty of better approaches to democracy we could create if we weren’t so obsesses with upholding these two outdated Enlightenment models.

So in a political world without options, I end up stuck choosing between the lesser of two evils. Voting on individual issues for Republicans or Democrats that I don't like or respect. Hopefully, someday we will have a better system free from the hegemony imposed on us by the two-party system. Until then I get to rant on my blog and hope that enough people will read this that someday we might have more choices.


This site is an excellent example of a movement that couldn't be classified as Liberal or Conservative: Seamless Garment I would gladly vote for a political party like this over any Democrat or Republican. It is a novel and consistent approach based on an ethic that most people could accept. I fear such movements could never get off the ground because we refuse to leave our worn-out political parties.


Chris said...

Welcome to the blogosphere.

I looked around at the now renamed Seamless Garment site. And I'm afraid they've got what a Christian should regard as a major problem. They regard war and capital punnishment as inherently evil -- and they hold that a position of respect for life must, to be consistent, do likewise.

There is, of course, debate within Christendom about the legitimacy of war and capital punnishment for us and our governments circa AD 2000. But it is simply unavoidable that in a previous dispensation, God commanded both. So, if God wishes us to respect life, he is (or used to be) inconsistent, given Seamless Garment's understanding of consistency.

On the contrary, I believe God commanded capital punnishment precisely because he respects life. And because the value of human life derives from the ultimate worth of God's transcendent life, God has the authority to dispense justice, and to give human governments a mandate to do so as well. If they have no mandate from God, they have no right to send anyone to prison (on the grounds that 12 persons, who have no divine mandate to render such judgment, believe him to be guilty of a transgressing a "law" passed by a legislature with no divine mandate to legislate), nor would they have a right to take anyone's property by force, or threat of force, which is what taxation, at bottom, is.

Political pacifism (as opposed to the apolitical pacifism of the Menonites et al.) seems to me to be just as much a descendent of the Enlightenment as contemporary political liberalism and conservativism (=classic liberalism) are.

By rejecting the idea of a divine mandate to govern, and yet pinning their hopes on a just earthly society, Enlightenment thinkers were forced to develop an understanding of civil authority as deriving from human nature, and inherent human rights. Government power was, for them, either a human artifact, justified by the positive consequences of its existence (on an ends-justify-the-means ethic) or an outgrowth of the natural dignity of man -- in which the individual right to use force in self-defense somehow "adds up to" a collective authority to do what no individual can.

The political pacifist is following out the line of Enlightenment hopes for "Perpetual Peace" (see Kant's treatise of that name) grounded in a government whose authority cannot go beyond what could be derived from human dignity. They quite rightly see that on such a basis, no entity can have the right to premeditate violence. They nevertheless insist on the use of force because without government use of force, there can be no perpetual peace.

This and all other properly modern movements stand over and against not only the Christian view but the view held by most non-modern societies: that the authority of rulers derives from something beyond the human. The Confucians, for instance, speak of the "mandate of heaven".

After writing all those paragraphs, it seems a bit abrupt to end without a "conclusion". But it's late and I think I've spilled enough ink onto your virtual gridbook for now.

JD said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Chris. Excellent points.

While I tend towards pacifism (although likely more of the apolitical sort) and opposition of capital punishment, I am not trying to say these are the necessary features of a better democracy. I was pointing out "Seamless Garment" particularly to illustrate a Political Philosophy that doesn't fit into our Left/Right paradigm. While I am still unsure if you can create a society without at least the option of a just war, I was pointing out that I would share more in common with a member or this movement than just about every Republican or Democrat I can think of.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered the Libertarian party (

JD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JD said...

The Libertarian party in my mind is one of the parties that is “more Right than the Republicans.” The Libertarians are probably more thorough in their application of Classical Liberalism (terms get confusing when discussing liberalism and conservativism) than Republicans. You ask a Republican what he means by “conservativism” and usually you get a description of Liberatrianism. “The role of government should be to prevent us from harming each other, and otherwise it should stay out of our individual liberties.” Then you mention logical conclusions of such ideals to a Republican such as legalizing drugs or ending public education and the Republican balks and says he doesn’t want to go that far.

I would compare the Liberatarians to Socialists or Communists on the other side of the Democrats. They are still firmly based in Right/Left political thought.

JD said...

On a lighter note, you might really enjoy this satirical article on party politics: