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A de-centralization alliance (progressives are our friends)

June 2, 2011

Tonight, David Cobb, the 2004 Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, presented a lecture about corporate personhood at Ohio University. His views on corporate personhood, however, weren’t terribly interesting. The valuable portion of his lecture centered around the practical structure of the American political system as opposed to the idealistic version endlessly recited and the implications on political activism.

I’ll link a recording (.mp3, 1:43:00) of Cobb’s lecture (and his Q&A, which includes a few questions from libertarians), but I’d rather address a few issues he raises, rather than a summary and analysis. Three reasons:

1)  It’s better to listen to the lecture than read a summary

2) I disagree with many of his assertions and implied policy solutions.*

3) His overall theme appeared more important than specific theses

Throughout Cobb’s lecture, one theme presented itself: De-centralization and localization of power hold paramount importance for the progression of society. No matter the perspective on corporations, American history and an ideal society, Greens/progressives/socialists (hereafter referred to as progressives for simplicity) and libertarians have stronger connections than libertarians and conservatives or libertarians and liberals. The connection isn’t universal, as many progressives will gladly advocate harnessing the political system to centrally dictate policies to achieve their goals. However, where such a connection (alliance?) exists, libertarians and progressives may mutually benefit.

What unites libertarians and progressives is a realization that the largest political divide is not the Left vs. the Right; applying a distinction from the French Revolution lacks utility. The largest political divide is along centralization and de-centralization. Arguments over what kind of society is the Good at which individuals should aim perpetuate; modifications occur of the arguments, but it is doubtful as to whether any resolution will be reached. However, with localized and dispersed power and action, individuals exert greater freedom to pursue their desired society. Any principled individual (be they progressive or libertarian) should reject any action that centralizes and expands power, whether or not the end-goal of such action attempts to foster a more progressive or libertarian society.

However, I do not wish to limit such a de-centralized connection to the political realm. Localized action emerges locally. More than anything, non-political activism involving progressives and libertarians may produce more beneficial results than any protest or ballot initiative. If it is as miniscule as monthly forums to comprehend a different perspective and engage in what the definition of the Good IS, or as considerable as a community charity or improvement project, so be it.

Living liberty may make interesting combinations. However, rejecting an occasionally awkward alignment because “their” ideal society deviates from “ours” lacks acumen when “their” desire is a different prediction from “ours.” Obviously, substantial disagreements exist and must be confronted, but I interpret centralizing conservatives and liberals as a greater threat to liberty and a free, just society than de-centralizing progressives.


*As Cobb didn’t explicitly provide policy solutions, I’d rather not presume his favored policy solutions.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sonja permalink
    June 3, 2011 4:25 pm

    If progressives are to reject any action which results in centralization, even if it leads to a more progressive society, then how can change occur? It seems unlikely that great, sweeping social change will occur in one fell swoop. Until the ideal societal structure is in place, is it really wise to reject an action whose end goal ‘attempts to foster a more progressive or libertarian society’?

    • June 3, 2011 6:42 pm

      I don’t think the ideal societal structure can be achieved without rejecting centralization. Centralization has a tendency to perpetuate the status quo, as the individuals holding power lack an interest in change because it doesn’t improve their situation. Any sort of change (be it small or sweeping) necessarily starts on a localized, grassroots level because individuals need to be convinced before the political system responds to the change in preferences. If progressives fail to reject any action which results in centralization because the means justify the ends, they’re acceding those means as legitimate, or they’re hypocritical. Why can’t conservatives use centralizing actions to achieve their desired ends? Sure, you could invoke that their ends are faulty or illogical, but that still rejects an egalitarian idea that individuals are equal no matter their personal values.

      Furthermore, it’s easier to voluntarily centralize for specific issues when power is de-centralized than to voluntarily de-centralize when power is centralized. Minority groups rarely improve their situation by altering society with centralized power; it’s usually much easier to alter society with de-centralized power. If progressives somehow gain centralized power and use it to develop a more progressive society, it may fail because the legal system is progressive, but the society isn’t, which is part of the problem I see with spreading democracy abroad. Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t functioning democracies because they lack the Western tradition of the rule of law and other ideas necessary for a democratic ethos. If a society isn’t progressive but the laws governing that society are, it’s an antagonizing structure.

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