But the reason that I disagree when it comes to gay marriage amendments and the death penalty is because those are instances in which the majority is, to my mind, acting tryannically. They’re attempting to authorize the agents of the state to strip the rights of fellow citizens and to remove any recourse those citizens might have to redress what the harm being done to them. And then I agree when the majority votes to fund the police department because I don’t think the idea of police is inherently problematic or that police officers set out each day to strip people of their rights.
For Munger, though, the majority is always acting tyrannically because it’s always telling someone else what to do … so I suppose he always disagrees with it. He just doesn’t want other people telling him what to do. As I said above, and as I wrote in my previous post on this topic, that’s just not a position I hold because, at bottom, I don’t think that all government is, of necessity, a tyranny.
As always, I recommend a full read of his arguments before proceeding. (Do it for the future, the kids or whatever motivates you to read a few paragraphs of mildly complex argumentation.)
What Dr. Kohen is arguing, I would suppose, is the following: (note: not a quote of any kind. Text has been block quoted for readability)
1) Not everyone in a state of 300 million will always agree. Calling anything you don’t agree with tyrannical (when done legally, of course) is problematic under such circumstances.
2) Government isn’t necessarily an evil entity out to get you.
3) The more excessive problems associated with the state can be nicely ironed out.
One and two make sense to me as a conservative. The third, however, is likely a point of permanent disagreement for us.
So in a sense, the argument is whether a majority of Americans can compel the minority into action.
Dr. Kohen seems to think it’s acceptable as long as such compulsion isn’t favoring one group or clearly causing discrimination. (Correct me if I’m wrong here, Dr. Kohen). Let’s also add to this list that Dr. Kohen believes the state should minimize the imposition of cruelty. (1)
We both agree these are excellent principles. The difference between us is I would add at least one of my own:
The state should have a minimal (if any) role in regulating personal behavior when such behavior doesn’t violate the rights of others.
On the Right, that would mean an end to foolish drug prohibition and some absurd legislation violating civil liberties.
On the Left, it means an end to the nanny state.
Each side argues for that the other’s policies are far more harmful. What both sides fail to recognize is the danger of recognizing this type of action from the state as acceptable.
When those on the Left (2) broadcast that the state should have control over what people put in their bodies as food, they cede the argument to right wing anti-drug warriors.
When those right wing drug fighting heroes argue the state should be able to have a say in drugs, they cede the argument to San Francisco hippies who think they should have the right to ban toys from happy meals.
What both major statist parties (3) show little interest in slowing the steady advance of the state into the private lives of its citizens, that constitutes a very real problem for our society.
So when Dr. Kohen advances the fairly standard liberal line that ending racism and other societal ills will solve our problems, I must side (albeit tentatively) with his interlocutor, Mike Munger.
It’s certainly a problem that police act badly. Racism and related ills definitely contribute to this problem. It sucks that people are the victims of such misbehavior.
It’s just that we should expect little different when we cede so much of our personal autonomy to an impersonal authority. Government may not mean to do bad things or harm people, but when given nearly unlimited authority, what else do we think would happen?
In the end, we’re a democratic state.(4) If a majority can’t advance legislation, what’s the purpose of a legislative branch?
Such a state quickly loses its value when a majority is able to trample on the rights of everyone else. That’s not the type of society we were founded as several hundred years ago. It’s certainly not the one I’d like to live in today. The ability to create meaningful legislation and protecting the rights of political minorities need not be mutually exclusive.
To top it off, wouldn’t this all have been averted if people found the idea of jail for unpaid tickets an unacceptable punishment? Arguing over the strip search seems like accepting the right of the state to create the unjust circumstances for the strip in the first place.
(1) We’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past year discussing Rorty’s ideal of a liberal society. (I guess Dr. Kohen can one day be that liberal college professor I’m linked to by political rivals.)
(2) Straw man alert! It had to be done. Take comfort in knowing I also use one on conservatives.
(3) One of which, the GOP, I am a member
(4) Albeit one with republican institutions. I will never tire of snarkily reminding this fact to people who think 50+1 should give unlimited power to the state.