Under the Political

Under the Political

Philosophy is drastically under-emphasised in the arena of modern-day politics. It insults our intelligence where it assumes we cannot comprehend the basic principles behind political ideologies such as conservatism and socialism. Politicians' stances are undermined since they rarely refer to the deeper theoretical foundations for their policies. And the direction society is governed towards, the vision for the future, has less integrity as a result of feeble efforts to demonstrate their ideological validation.

Political stances are built on arguments made about the current state of affairs with respect to particular assumptions. Two politicians may share (publicly at least) certain basic assumptions, such as 'fairness is of a high political value', and this will inform their policies. If both agree a particular course of action is 'unfair' they will conclude between them it is a negative approach. Whether or not they agree on what is in actuality the fairest course of action is a matter for debate, but the basic assumption stands. Similarly with other assumptions, many of which pertain to basic human rights that are part of a society's constitution - the irrevocable principles upon which the society is based. A constitution guarantees certain principles are upheld, rights, freedoms, institutions. They are assumptions, and we alter them at the risk of challenging our human rights in practice. If a citizen's freedom of speech were challenged in a particular case, the judicial system would have to look hard at the circumstances of the challenge to determine whether it constituted a breach of that citizen's basic human rights. The freedom of the press is frequently challenged and as such the presses are disposed to refer to freedom of speech as an important right which must be upheld.

The meanings of terms such as 'conservatism', 'socialism', 'nationalism', 'communism', 'liberalism', are ENTIRELY relevant when it comes to understanding a political party's agenda, because they identify and elucidate the roots of their belief-system. The following definitions are rough, traditional interpretations of the above ideologies. Conservatism centralises power in the hands of the few; it does not support high state-involvement in the workings of society; it is pro-capitalism and pro-privatisation, and anti-nationalisation; and it is in favour of individualism (which is similar to economic self-sufficiency). Socialism believes in distributing power in a more regional fashion; it is pro-nationalisation, it is in favour of high levels of interference in society's operation (which is why it is typically thought to involve high taxation), it is anti-privatisation; it believes in a strong welfare system. Nationalism takes conservatism in an (often almost unrecognisably) extreme direction towards centralised power bordering on dictatorship, and individualism distorted to the point of racism. Communism takes socialism to a similarly unrecognisable extreme towards economic equality throughout society (in its ideal), but enforced equality, so a police state may be the result, (not to mention a stifled economy, and a deterioration of freedoms.) Liberalism is concerned with freedoms and tolerance; it might be said to occupy the political 'centre ground'. And it is worth bearing in mind that Britain is commonly considered to be a 'liberal democracy' constitutionally, which means it protects the freedoms of the individual through a representational system of government. The government possesses sovereignty in practice, but the government works for us - the citizens - and we select the government, so technically we are sovereign (that's the theory, roughly speaking.)

The point I'm making is that the political parties do remain more or less true to their ideologies. And if they didn't they would have no foundation for their stances. Foundations are roots; your core principles and assumptions are what feed into your beliefs. Beliefs don't pop out of nowhere. You might believe the national health service doesn't work very well. You might think this is because it is a nationalised institution and as a result it is lazy - it relies on the state to fund it - it has no competition and therefore no incentive to improve - you might believe the money paid in taxation to fund the national health service could be instead saved by the individual to pay for private healthcare. This would imply an ideological standpoint based on principles of individualism and low interference in society - and would point you in the direction of conservatism and capitalism - but it should also make you question the philosophy behind your politics. If you believe in low state-interference why not go one step further (to 'the right') and privatise ALL industries? Or, indeed, one step back and only partially privatise the national health service? It will depend on your deeper assumptions about economics, the political system and human nature.

What if humans are basically selfish? Then surely we need measures in place which protect those who are in a weak position…but then how do we know those who enforce the measures are not self-serving - they must be! So then is it every man for himself? Or is it every family for themselves (to appeal to the conservative leanings)? Or perhaps, and hopefully I might add, we are not all innately selfish to an extreme, and that is why we can rely on some people to protect our rights. Or perhaps the law is sovereign, and as long as we have codified it properly we can refer to it to protect our freedoms in general, or perhaps certain basic needs such as health and freedom from harm are the necessary factors and encapsulated in institutions such as the national health service or police force. What if equality is a basic right to be afforded to everyone, but only equality in certain respects? What if it can be codified in a single document, a written constitution? What if it can't??

The underlying assumptions upon which we build our political beliefs are absolutely significant. Our politicians are aware of the ideological bases for their allegiances, but they rarely put them to the public. They rarely explain their deeper beliefs because they fear they will alienate too many voters in the process. I don't think politicians should state their principles as worded facts, but they should put forward the arguments from commonly held assumptions such as the link between fairness and socialism; economic liveliness and capitalism; they should go out on a limb and risk short term unpopularity for the sake of long-term stability with policies built on explicitly well-founded philosophical principles. Here are a few terms, commonly cited by politicians, which could be explored more fully: equality; tolerance; responsibility; compassion; liberty. What is the political thinking behind these concepts? Why should we accept they are valuable? How do they contribute towards policy decisions at the front line of everyday political issues? Our politicians should be intelligent enough to be able to articulate the link between their fundamental political philosophies and their modern-day political stances.

If we don't tend to the roots of our policies, how can we expect them to flourish into healthy safeguards of our future society?



Hover in the cells to see a range of categories.

  Choose One...

Epistemology/Metaphysics Logic Theology Politics/Ethics Psychology/The Mind Reviews Swat


...or swat the wasp for a chance discourse!