Meaning comes from moral responsibility. Moral responsibility comes from the demand by the Other upon me. The Other’s demand rests solely on that Other’s confrontation of me, her announcement, by her mere presence to me, that I am obliged to her. She brings that demand to me, thus making me responsible, and thus making me meaningful.

Politics, the management of the community, rests upon this responsibility. I am unconditionally obliged to each and every human being that presents herself to me. This is precisely the meaning of the American ideal stated in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that each is endowed by its creator with certain unalienable rights…” Our obligation to recognize the unalienable rights of each and every human being is self-evident, that is to say, established without doubt or question. To hold to that ideal is what it means to be an American.

Since I am confronted by more than one person, I have necessarily to husband my limited assets to most effectively serve the multiplicity of unconditional demands upon them by this community of people. In a community, this husbanding is the purpose of politics. Politics exist in service to the unalienable rights of the members of the human community
When politics forgets this purpose, when politics operates for itself rather than for the people, it necessarily becomes a tyranny, a rule of the community in complete disregard of the people it was invented to serve. It operates in secret, so as to deliberately ignore the needs of the people. It operates to limit, rather than protect and expand, the rights of the people.

These are the marks of political tyranny: secrecy, disregard of the voice of the people, and limitation of the people’s rights. Political tyranny would call for the restriction of the right to vote, restriction of access to education, medical care and the other elements vital to the protection and growth of the people’s rights.
This is precisely what we are seeing today in America as the result of a political climate ruled by power and wealth. The demand for voter i.d.’s clearly prevents vast numbers of people from voting, or at least makes it sufficiently difficult to assure that vast numbers of people will not vote. Anti-union laws make it difficult, and in some instances impossible, for working men and women to have the bargaining power necessary to achieve a living wage. Reductions in funding for education and medical care are a direct assault on the inherent right of the people to those necessities. Huge and thoroughly unnecessary tax breaks given almost entirely to the already wealthy assure a concentration of power in the hands of a few to the detriment of the vast majority of the community.

Politics, left to itself, does not moderate the quest for power. It must, and it will, finally assert absolute power over the entire community. That is the definition of tyranny. Sadly, throughout history, with only the rarest of exceptions, the response of that community has been violent revolution. Politics makes the unfortunate assumption that it will be always equal to that violence, and so responds to objections to its power with that violence. We have seen it in America over and over, from the trampling of Hooverville by the MacArthur-led military to such anti-union massacres as those of Ludlow, Lattimore, Butte and Hazelton.

When this suppression of the fundamental American ideal happens, as it is happening now, the sole question is whether it can be stopped before the people rise up to violently oppose it. It can be stopped peacefully, by the vote. That is why those who exercise this power politics restrict the vote and pack the courts with judges and justices willing to perpetuate the tyranny. The single great hope was best put in the aphorism attributed to Abraham Lincoln: you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

So we will get it right eventually. We will, eventually, return to service to the American ideal. My prayer is that we will be able to do so peacefully

Puttin’ up with Putin

There is an ominous resonance between the conduct of Russia’s czar Putin and the rhetoric of certain conservatives, particularly Senator John McCain.  Like Putin, McCain seems to think that the solution to pretty much everything is violence.  Like Putin, McCain openly scoffs at attempts at peaceful resolution or sanctions.  Finally, like Putin, McCain takes every opportunity and uses every movement in the world as grounds for condemning those whom he sees as enemies, i.e., everybody who does not agree with him.

     What is most particularly foreboding about this resonance is that Czar Putin has developed support for his usurpations by drumming up nationalistic fervor among his people, and then he has used that support to justify all kinds of oppression, even oppression of those very supporters.  So, for instance, he has instituted censorship of the press.  He has blocked access to the appearance of opposition thought on the internet.  He has persecuted opposition politicians.  In Ukraine, he has only thinly veiled his seizure of the lands of his neighboring sovereign nation by sending thugs to do violence even to his own people and then sending Russian military forces to “protect” them. 

     That is the way of dictatorship —  ridicule and demonize your opposition, suppress dissent and centralize power.  Oh, and all along the way, deny that you are doing it.  Now, look at conservative attacks on the President of the United States, and look at what those conservatives are doing wherever they are in power.  Ridicule and demonize everything and anything the President does, regardless of the ill effects of your conduct on the national and international consciousness.  Limit the right to vote, and limit access to basic needs, education and health care.  Finally, limit the powers of local governments (and, where possible, federal government) and put as many decisions as you can in the hands of the central government.

     This is what Nero did.  This is what Caligula did.  This is what Peter the Great did.  This is what Henry VIII did.  This is what Hitler did.  This is what Stalin did.  To put it succinctly, this way lies dictatorship, whose ruling principle is power.  And, in the end, this way lies revolution, violence, mass destruction. 

     Lest we forget.  Lest we ever, ever, for one moment, forget.

Oh the Humanity

     On a recent PBS newshour, there was an interview of a representative of the conservative Heritage Foundation and a representative of an organization providing food to the poor.  The moderator was asking about a recent cut in food stamps.  The Heritage foundation rep confidently declared that it was really no big deal because it represented only a fraction of one percent of the assistance available to the poor.  The food bank rep stared in disbelief.  Poor families, she replied, would, because of this cut, be unable to feed their children for the better part of a week.  Millions of children, she said, would go hungry because of this cut.

     This exchange perfectly illustrates the disconnect in the arguments between right and left in the United States.  They are two trains passing in the night, neither one asking the same question, neither one answering the other’s concerns.  The food bank rep was addressing the question how we can, as we must, make sure that every American has enough food to eat.  The Heritage Foundation rep was asking the question how we resolve the issue of the government’s massive debt.

     It is very easy for me as a liberal to mock the Heritage Foundtion rep as a heartless beast (he was a big fat white male, which makes it even easier).  How, I might say, could one be so heartless to try to solve our debt on the backs of starving children while insisting on letting the rich continue to get richer?  It is just as easy, however, for a Heritage fan to mock the seeming humane generosity of the left by arguing that we cannot continue to spend money we don’t have because if we do then we will all end up starving.

     These are examples of what I call arational speech, that is, speech grounded not in reason but in rhetoric, propoganda.  We keep talking past each other, and our response to the speech of the other side, rather than reason, becomes argument from force.  That way lies the insanity of violence.  If you don’t believe it, look up the two-part history of the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile that was recently run on Turner Classic Movies. 

     The one thing that both sides seem to agree on is that we are headed for disaster.  The right says that disaster will lie in national bankruptcy.  The left says that disaster will lie in the destruction of the middles class and the impoverishment of the least advantaged among us.  Both are correct, but each for the wrong reason.  The real disaster lies in creating a rift between two factions in the United States that, as a matter of policy, refuse to address each other’s concerns in a rational fashion.  Why do they refuse?  Pick your own reason.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that, without rational discourse, the factions will have no other recourse than violence.  And we are far closer to that than anyone might think.