Wednesday, 8 April 2015

On Bottom Up and Top Down Thinking - Parts 12/13

12. Property and sovereignty

The bottom up thinker finds property to be one of the most important of all rights. For property is the expression of our mastery over our surroundings.

The bottom up thinker understands that all justly owned property comes, ultimately, from someone expending time and effort, either to create the property, to improve it, or to earn enough to trade for it. So for the great majority of us, who don’t receive big legacies from rich parents or uncles, all our property comes from our own time and effort, which we have expended in order to gain it. So, property is life. That is why property rights are so important. That’s why they mustn’t be violated. Ever.

The top down thinker, though, envisages a different kind of mastery over our surroundings. That is, sovereignty. In his view, some individual or group – commonly called a sovereign, whether it’s a monarch, a parliament, a politburo, or some other ruling élite – has mastery, not only over a particular area of land, but over the human individuals in that area too.

To him, this ruling élite, the sovereign, is supreme, and it has moral privileges that others do not. All others within its territory are no more than its subjects – literally meaning, “thrown under.” According to the theory of the 16th century Frenchman Jean Bodin, among many other privileges the sovereign is entitled to make laws to bind its subjects. It is entitled to make wars. And it is entitled to tax its subjects.

So, the top down thinker has scant respect for individuals’ property rights. Or, indeed, for any other individual rights or freedoms. At best, he sees them as concessions by the sovereign, which it can take back at any time. And so, he finds it OK to subject people to whatever the ruling élite wishes, however arbitrary or unjust.

13. Government and the state

The bottom up thinker echoes James Madison’s dictum: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” So, he thinks of government as at best a necessary evil. And he wants to restrict its power to the absolute minimum. It must do no more than assure the peace, justice and respect for rights that are necessary for any civilization to be workable.

In his view, government is no more than an institution created by a group of people joining together to defend their security, freedom and property. So, he typically sees the valid functions of government as just three. One, an honest system of civil and criminal law. Two, a means to bring criminals to justice. And three, defence against military attack.

What of the state, as opposed to government? The bottom up thinker understands that the state is the apparatus that enforces the sovereignty or hegemony of the ruling élite in an area. And after consideration, he agrees with Albert Jay Nock’s assessment that the state “invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation.”

Furthermore, he is well aware of the many ways, in which the state gives its officials moral privileges over mere subjects. For example, if you or I extorted money from people like the taxation system does, would it be seen as theft or worse? Or if you or I premeditatedly killed an innocent person like Jean Charles de Menezes, would it be seen as murder?

Thus, the bottom up thinker clearly discerns the huge difference between bottom up government and the top down state.

The top down thinker, on the other hand, makes no great distinction between government and the state. He sees the state – or government – as an end and a good in itself. He wants to see its power expanded and its institutions perpetuated.

Further, most top down thinkers don’t object to state officials having moral privileges over and above the general population. And they like the state to be very active. In particular, they approve of the state making lots of new and stricter laws, and lots of new and more onerous taxes. Many of them are also eager to see the state making war.

And top down thinkers are themselves attracted to seek and to take jobs with the state. Once in those jobs, they will always look to increase the activities and power of the state, and thus their own political power and wealth as individuals. This is one of the main reasons why politicians behave the way they do.

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