The Good, and The Good Life

The word good is usually an adjective modifier. Something is “good,” defines a quality of this something. Good can mean useful, advantageous, or beneficial in effect; to be desired or approved of, pleasing and/or welcome, among other possible understandings. The Good referred to here is a little different. Actually, it’s a lot different. It’s not an adjective, but an outcome denoting something specific: the objective of government. We will eventually define the good in a classical utilitarian manner; an objective conception of the good.  But that’s not the only, or perhaps even the primary way of defining it. So, what, generally, is the good?

We start from moral principles. This, unfortunately, gets us into the deep end of the philosophical pool. Here, the good becomes largely a moral and ethical determinant subject to individual determination, to personal ideology. What you believe is good, is, for you, good—under most circumstances—both as it applies to you individually and to your belief of how others should view it as well. The good here is conceived as your belief of “what we ought to do,” morally and ethically. Pursuing this avenue of definition of the good, for public policy considerations, won’t get us very far beyond debate. In fact, it’s largely because of this individualistic ideological approach to viewing matters of a national or societal nature in politics that has handicapped government so badly: conservative versus liberal ideologies, in seemingly never-ending debate.

For our purpose, we need to consider the good from a perspective applicable to public policy, i.e., government. What is the good that government is supposed to provide its people? To answer this, we have to know, or consider, why we have government at all. This may seem overly simplistic, but consider that if you don’t know or understand why you have something, how do you value it? How do you know, or decide, if it’s worth keeping? Today this is just the kind of question many are asking of our political-party system: Is it any good? Is it worth keeping, at least in the form we experience today? This takes us back to the question, why do we have it in the first place?

Let’s start with government.  Why we have government is very clear: America has government “. . . in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, . . .” Any questions here? To me, these seem like pretty sound reasons for government, and sufficient reason to value it. Hence, we should want to keep it.

Why, exactly? Because we just spelled out in no uncertain terms what the good is we receive, or should expect to receive, from government: a more perfect Union + justice + domestic tranquility + a common defence + a general welfare +  liberty for ourselves and our posterity = the (public) good. Within these broad categories you can locate a host of other “sub-goods” that we as citizens just naturally take for granted government will see are provided. Are these collective goods rights? Not really, although we sometimes claim they are. These are, as our Constitution states, “Blessings.” Blessings are a favor, or benefit, which, through government, we can (should) expect to enjoy.

At some issue today is the price we pay for these blessings, as well as the quality of them. To the degree we question these—cost and quality, and in some cases even quantity—we question government. Are we receiving what we should expect in these matters?  Is the cost, or price, for them too high, not only in monetary terms, but in the growing presence and influence of government within our private society and economy? Are the costs and benefits equitably enough distributed? These are fair questions. They need to be asked, continually.  How do or should we determine if the good we expect continues to be available to us, and widespread enough among us for continued support of government we expect to provide it?

For the answer to these questions, we look to our politics. Politics provides the alternatives to governments we choose. Voters may choose between alternatives, but the alternatives are selected by political parties.  Today, all we have to choose between are opposing ideological political options. This takes us right back to our discussion of the good in paragraph two wherein we expressed the view that the good from an individual’s point of view tends to be morally and ethically driven. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. Morality and ethics in government (if regrettably, for many, not in politics) are expected. In fact, it’s hard to see an alternative to such personal ideologies, for personal decision making. But the basis for personal decision making is a poor, or at least inadequate, substitute for finding a broader satisfactory approach to public policy affecting the good; a good that, in effect, can transcend personal or individual ideology. Why?

Because the fact is that there is a wide range of personal or individual ideologies, from the very conservative to the very liberal. The view of the “correct” public policy varies significantly between these extremes. What satisfies one persuasion is generally unacceptable to the other. We see this clearly and continually in politics today, and hence in the divided governments it produces. The result: the endless debates highlighted above between two minority views of the “correct” public policy. And that is the polite way of describing our ideologically divided government. At a very least, our blessing of domestic tranquility suffers.

What’s the solution? Is there a practical alternative to what we have now to choose government from, politically speaking? There certainly better be, if those who authorize it to form that more perfect Union are expected to continue to value it. A basic problem in politics and hence government today is that neither serves the broader American public. Two minority-supported political parties determining the alternatives for governing isn’t working well. During the time of Big-Tent parties, the two were inclusive enough, between them, to represent most of the people. Today, that’s not the case. The result is we have a third shadow political block called political Independents that’s larger than either of the traditional two parties. That says the parties no longer represent most of the people in setting the alternatives for governing. That in turn argues Americans have lost faith in politics, which begs the question not only of trust in government, but of the value of it, as difficult as that might seem to imagine.

We need to consider alternatives to today’s political means of providing for governing, if we are to remain a viable and effective republican democratic society. We need to consider a political alternative, or option, that does not develop its proposal for governing on a highly ideological basis, because today’s ideological alternatives, separately, represent far less than most of the people. What we end up with under today’s choices is minority government primarily focused on governing in the interest of their more ideological supporters. What this seems to be generating beside a decline of political legitimacy and confidence in government is a super-majority of us expressing our belief that America is headed in the wrong direction; that America is on the wrong track. And this is expressed no matter which ideological party is at the helm.  This being the case, and neither party seemingly willing, or able, to make corrections to improve this overall perception of the people, the only other approach is to offer additional political choice to voters. But, to be both meaningful and have any chance to grab voters’ attention, this “additional choice”, this option, needs to represent a real difference from what is  available today, not just an echo of or  different shade of the same political fabric. That wouldn’t represent “change”, and change, or a different outcome, is what is needed.

My candidate for this additional choice would be a political option (or party) that in developing its alternative (platform) for governing looks to a classical utilitarian rather than an ideological approach to decision making. In essence, this is an approach that does not look to traditional Left-Right ideology to determine how it would govern, but to an approach that would (should) provide the greatest good to the most people. In effect, its covenant with the American voter would be, in return for their vote, to represent, at least, most of the people all of the time, and all of the people most of the time in how they govern. This is an impossibility for an ideologically driven political party. It’s questionably even their intent. If they might govern in a manner that provided some good in addition to their own supporters, it would be looked upon as a collateral benefit rather than a deliberate policy.

This is not the place to go into detail on the how, and whys of a classical utilitarian approach to governing. I do that in some detail in my new book, BOOM!, A Revolting Situation. Suffice it for our purposes here in discussing the good to highlight how America might successfully overcome its political failure, and hence the disappointment of ideological governments we endure today.

That’s the big picture.  But, personally, how would I, individually, define the good, or perhaps better said, the good life?  I think in the following manner:

Overall:

Governments that effectively respect the Constitutional mandate at an acceptable price

Personally:

A life with little want

An opportunity to learn and understand

A society of peace rather than strife

The freedom to pursue satisfaction

The tranquility to enjoy it all

(And mincemeat pie during the holidays!)

 

 

Thomas Richard Harry
August 2012

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GOD VERSUS THE IDEA OF GOD is available in soft cover or
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“TR Harry is like the friendly 'prof' who turns classes into light but memorable learning experiences. That’s pretty much the way he writes. In BOOM! (his 3rd book) his theme is political choice, and how to infuse 21st century US party politics with classical utilitarian values such as to loosen government’s shackles of polarizing ideology. TR’s arguments favoring an Independent voter platform as a viable option for the land we love will ring convincingly for readers across the political spectrum.”
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