Saturday, March 13, 2010

72 / Politics --> Law --> Government

I think there is a basic progression from "politics," to "law," to "government."

"Politics" is the arena of debate and discussion, controversy and conflict. Since we are not only individuals, but must necessarily live together, and act together to meet challenges and respond to opportunities, we need some mechanism to decide (together) what it is we want to do, and what we think we ought to do.

With apologies to Adam Smith, the idea that some sort of "invisible hand" will allow us to avoid the conflict and controversy is nothing but a fantasy. The "market," another name for that much-desired "invisible hand," is premised on individuals making individual decisions, and these individual actions all adding up to a collective result. Since each individual must necessarily act for himself or herself, it is foolishness to think that the sum of these individual, selfishly-motivated actions, will somehow be the "public good."

The public, which is a collective, can't decide what it thinks is "good" by letting every individual do what he or she determines is best. We need some mechanism to decide what we collectively think is "good," since there are always different ideas, and there is indubitably not one simple "truth," with one thing being "right" and everything else being "wrong." There are, in fact, choices to be made, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, and we need some way (together) to choose what "we" are going to do.

"Politics" is the activity of collective debate, discussion, and decision. It is the way we choose (directly or through representatives) what decisions to make and what directions to take.

"Law" is the written statement of the choices that we make through "politics." Human laws are prescriptive in nature, and provide written instructions on what we have decided, collectively, to do.

"Government" is what results when we follow the directions contained in the "law" that is produced by our "politics." Since human laws are prescriptive, we determine our direction, and chart our collective course, by following the laws produced in our political process.

And the nice (and sometimes infuriating) thing about human laws is that we can change them at our will. This is why, to remind you of a favorite Bob Dylan song, we "live in a political world."

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