Do you want a King or do you want to be King? These are two of the primary motivators for political thought, exaggerated for emphasis. People tend to either want the freedom to make their own choices, unrestricted by society or government or they want someone in power to do something about what is wrong in the world. Interestingly, the same person will vaciliate between the two psychological motivations depending on the issue. But people will tend to lean more in one direction than another most of the time and this will then determine their political philosophy. Large groups will swing back and forth between these two motivators from one election to the next, particularly those that don’t have a fully defined political philosophy. This group dynamic explains why the electorate tends to swing between left and right leaning politicians over time.
I’ve heard pundits predict the death of one political philosophy or another based on a sweeping victory of a party many times. Then, a short time later, the seemingly triumphant party falls into disarray and problems emerge and the previously-doomed party emerges victorious. In US Presidential elections, you find the electorate selecting one party for the President and then their opponent for the Legislature. Is this is a well thought through strategy on the part of the electorate to enforce a balancing principle of divided government? Obviously not, since there is not a broad, well-thought-through strategy that the public adheres to when voting. It’s how they feel from one election to the next. Remember that people tend to make decisions based on how they feel and then support those decisions rationally.
Let’s explore a few examples on both the Right and the Left. The Left, generally, wants a larger central authority. This would be the “King” side of the equation. They see the problems in society and the inherent unfairness of life and say “Someone ought to do something”. That sentiment is an appeal to a higher power to correct a real or perceived injustice. This can be seen in issues of equality, real or imagined, for instance. There are indeed objectively verifiable differences in peoples lives and outcomes. And the instinctive cry that we all make, at least when we are children, is “But it’s not fair!”. “Fairness” seems to be a universal desire or need. All of us, to one degree or another, want the scales balanced, want justice to be served, want it “to be right”. The left’s position, then, is that “someone ought to make it fair” and the “someone” with the greatest power on earth is Governments. A logical conclusion, logically arrived at to support the emotional presupposed need for “fairness”.
At this juncture, one must understand that it is insufficient to debate issues just around logic when you do not address the presuppositional belief that the logic is used to support. If you don’t understand or recognize the idea of presuppositions, you really need to. It’s basic in understanding why people believe and act the way they do, especially if what they are doing makes no sense to you. Just “Google” presupposition. Or if you are too lazy to do that, I’ll explain. Everything we all believe and act upon every day is based on a series of fundamental believes that we accept are true. These are our basic presuppositions and are beyond changing, at least without a massive shift in our thinking and feeling. For instance, most of us get up with the idea that we will live another day. We go about our day with the presupposition that it’s not our last. And we presuppose, in most cases, that those around us will live another day. So when a person dies that is close to us, it shakes us to the core because it contradicts something we presuppose to be true.
Let’s take another example to support the idea. For most in the west, it’s nearly impossible to empathize with someone who would blow themselves up to kill someone else and think of it as a righteous act. Yet, we see this daily with islamic terrorism. Many try to explain it away it away as an act of desperation. But in reality, its nothing of the sort. It’s the logical act, logically arrived at from a wholly incomprehensible (to us) presupposition. That presupposition, oversimplified, is that God/Allah requires the entire earth to be subject to a certain version of Islam and therefore any act that can help bring about the elimination of obstacles to that goal is inherently good and just and will be rewarded in unimaginably wonderful ways. Now, lest the reader think I am making an excuse for this idea – I am not. It is a horrific and evil presupposition. It illustrates the point, however, that when one starts with a bad presupposition, then the logically derived actions are likely also to be just as bad. The western response to this is, “how can you horribly murder people and destroy your own life?”. The western response starts with a contrary presupposition to the radical’s. That is, that life and peace are a much higher value and therefor this act that attacks those most basic values is criminal and horrendous. Some in the west would say that the reason they are doing this is because of oppression. This is clearly not true. It’s based on the presupposed worldview that I mentioned above.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program!
Unbridgeable divides in politics happen when you have two sides with contrary presuppositions that they begin from. Then the debate turns into argument when the two sides start from difference places and argue as if the place they started from is a given reality. How does this relate to the question of being a King or wanting a King? The basic presupposition that “someone ought to do something to correct the fundamental unfairness of life” requires – quite logically I would add – that there be a very strong central authority that will use force of almost any kind to correct this basic flaw in life. If you start with that presupposition as being fundamental and immutable, you will have to arrive at a strong central authority. This will put you squarely on the left and you will argue from that position and vote that way and push for that kind of society. You will start with that presupposition as a definition of “rights” as well. Keep this in mind as we move forward.
If, however, you want to be King, you start with the presupposition that a higher, or even highest, value is that people be allowed to make their own choices for good or ill to the extent it does not affect others rights to make their own choices. The most basic right is the right to self-determination, regardless of the outcome. The presupposition is that individuals are of inestimable value. That liberty is worth dying for. As Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death”. That subsequent considerations, such as my condition compared with anothers in terms of fairness, is not as important as whether I can choose my actions. This is the “King” position and tends to be the position of the Right. Not being a King over others, per se. But rather having that basic attributes of Kinds – the ability to make unfettered decisions. In this case, make free choices about what and how we want to live.
No one is absolute in their position on these however. The Left will say that some choices over ride fairness. The Right will say that central authority is necessary to right some wrongs. So for most on the left and right, it’s not a purely held presupposition. And for the public, they will swing back and forth between freedom of choice and central authority depending on circumstances.
The Moral Of The Story
What can take from this theoretical and psychological examination? The most basic point is that to have an understanding of other people sufficient to move society forward, we must have calm discussions of the basic presuppositions that we all start from. If you are to discuss a hot topic, such as abortion, gay marriage, gun control, terrorism or any other controversial topic now or in the future, you cannot constructively start beyond the presupposition. You have to start at a place where you have agreement. In the Big Central Authority vs. Freedom argument, you have to start with the idea of the value of people. Both sides in that argument agree that people overall are incredibly important and therefore we must have a system that supports them. Then you can proceed to how to best do that – with people having more freedom of choice or with government controlling peoples choices more.
You must also analyze and understand your own presuppositions. Most people don’t realize they even HAVE presuppositions. This is how powerful and controlling that psychological reality is. So powerful that it’s controlling us and we assume that it does (or should) control everyone else. Until we admit and understand our presuppositions and analyze them thoughtfully, we will not be able have truly meaningful discussions with those who do not share them. We will also not be able to evaluate many ideas that come our way because we won’t understand how and why we feel the way we do.
If you’ve made it this far in this article, congratulations. It’s a bit of an abstract topic. I’ve attempted to deal with it without forcing my presuppositions. But it’s critical for good discourse and for moving society forward. That’s my presupposition.