In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, I often feel like a “man without a country.” I’m at odds with much of American culture, and am strongly opposed to much of American politics. Front Porch Republic – a website founded by the excellent writer, and fellow Gore Vidal admirer, Bill Kauffman – is the closest thing I have to a political and philosophical home. Their “about” page summarizes their mission and position well:
The economic crisis that emerged in late 2008 and the predictable responses it elicited from those in power has served to highlight the extent to which concepts such as human scale, the distribution of power, and our responsibility to the future have been eliminated from the public conversation. It also threatens to worsen the political and economic centralization and atomization that have accompanied the century-long unholy marriage between consumer capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state. We live in a world characterized by a flattened culture and increasingly meaningless freedoms. Little regard is paid to the necessity for those overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing. We’re in a bad way, and the spokesmen and spokeswomen of both our Left and our Right are, for the most part, seriously misguided in their attempts to provide diagnoses, let alone solutions.
Though there is plenty we disagree about, and each contributor can be expected to stand by the words of only his or her own posts, the folks gathered here more or less agree with the above assertions. We come from different backgrounds, live in different places, and have divergent interests, but we’re convinced that scale, place, self-government, sustainability, limits, and variety are key terms with which any fruitful debate about our corporate future must contend.
Most of the Front Porch Republicans are more conservative than I am on a bevy of issues, but we all share a fundamental distrust in centralized power. A philosophical cousin of the Front Porch Republican movement is the Catholic subsidiarity theory of governance, which Robert Barron explains well in this video:
A regular reader of mine once asked me in an email to give a succinct statement of political philosophy. Although, it is not perfect, I answered back with this: I have a Christian concentration on the neighbor and the stranger. I oppose large, unaccountable entities, such as big government and big business, that are forms of concentrated and centralized power, which rob from the individual and community, dignity and autonomy.
I believe the federal government and Welfare State have a helpful and important role to play in the creation of a fair and just society. Like Robert Barron, I believe that local control, neighborhood action, and individual autonomy are the ideals, but that some tasks are so large and complex that governmental intervention is necessary. Health care is an instructive example here. It seems obvious that the most efficient and most humane way to distribute medicinal resources and services across a sizable population is with federal government involvement. Even with all of its flaws, senior citizens prefer Medicare to the private insurance scheme. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama’s ongoing wrestling match to emerge as the champion of Medicare indicates as much.
That being said, I reject the popular political distinction between big government and big business. They are flipsides of the same coin. Bureaucrats and billionaires are aligned in the destruction of human scale community. The useless Democratic and Republican debate, along with the antiquated liberal and conservative divide, obfuscates this reality, and it is the central reality of American life.
I make this point in my new essay for Front Porch Republic called “The Dangerous Alliance of Big Government and Big Business.” The essay – my fifth for Front Porch – largely wraps up my political philosophy, undresses both political parties as equal offenders, and includes a reference to a properly functioning and benevolent institution – The Rolling Stones (the underrated populist anthem, “Salt of the Earth”):
To illustrate my indictment of big government and big business collusion, I use the examples of eminent domain, the bailouts for “too big to fail” banks, the Prison-Industrial Complex, and the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). I also refer to the “export of big government and big business collusion” that comes in the form of defense contractors, private army firms, and massive Pentagon funding. I could have added student loans to the list. What else could anyone call them? Colleges charge burglarizing rates for admission, requiring students to incur staggering amounts of debt from student loans. After universities get their money, the students not only pay the government, but must do so with interest. If they fail to comply, the government will destroy their credit and garnish their wages.
Most political conversations – whether they take place on the equally nauseating networks of Fox or MSNBC – have little relevance or meaning for the average American. With my new essay, I attempt to contribute to the creation of a real conversation. Front Porch Republic is committed to this cause, and I’m proud to be part of it.