Why Democrats and Republicans?

My interest is not so much in the details of how candidates present themselves or what political parties believe to be true, I want to derive some basic principles about politics that would apply to most if not all situtations. No pundit has asked me to express an opinion of the upcoming US election from a Canadian perspective, but I will add my preference in any case: If you want to US to survive the current financialand moral crisis, vote for Obama and Biden. Reduce the Republican party to a small minority in Congress.

I wanted to share my acount of party politics from Surviving Human Nature. This is an account designed to inform a visitor from another planet:

Politics in modern democracies have revealed basic human tendencies that require deep understanding. The question is: “Why are their democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives?” Why doesn’t everyone have the same preference and come to the same conclusions, given most of the facts? Why isn't everybody nice?

A conventional view of political opinion recognizes as spread of political preference using the metaphor left to right. The moderate left is equated with liberal and socialist and the moderate right is equated with “free-enterprise” and conservative. Liberal-Socialist describes a tendency to share and conservative expresses a tendency to self-serving policies and hoarding.

The extreme left is considered to be communism and the extreme right is fascism. In practice, communism and fascism end up in the same place – dictatorships. In Britain, Canada and the USA, right and left political parties dominated political contests and have tended toward the center as time has past.

In Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and a Quebec separatist party offered options. Although NDP parties elected governments in a few Canadian provinces they were never able to beat the conservative and liberal parties in federal elections. Each political party has members who are right or left, but moderates prevail, as they should. The extremes are populated by authoritarian humans who tend to use intimidation, coercion and punishment to achieve domination. They want to become dictators if they achieve political power.

Moderates tend to be more conciliatory and will use the threat of force but avoid combat unless attacked. This tendency toward the center represents, hopefully, an evolution in political processes.

In Canada, the federal Conservative Party was obliterated after forming an unpopular government, leaving the country with a choice of a Liberal Government or voting for one of the minority parties. This would be equivalent to the Republican party in the US being reduced to a few seats in the Senate. After many years, an unstable coalition of more right wing parties revived a conservative party.

Clearly, traditional political polarization is unstable and new approaches to democratic government may be possible and desirable. In the both the USA and Canada reform parties have emerged to offer an alternative to a dichotic political choice. "Reform" refers to any point of view that does not fit comfortably in the neatly divided liberal-conservative camps.

The main arguments between the left-socialist and right-conservative are about the distribution of resources, the use of force and the regulation of individual activity. The dialectic can be traced back to root group dynamics and the ever-changing balance between self-interest and group interest, between belligerence and peaceful negotiation. In the USA in early 2004,similar differences were described as “cultural” and political rivalry was renamed ‘culture wars.”

Primate groups all tend toward the center, but food scarcity and threats from the outside are stresses that disturb the status quo. There is a mixture of group and individual mandates and a healthy primate group is flexible, rearranging priorities and ideology as circumstances demand. Groups are larger and more egalitarian when resources are abundant. Larger groups divide into smaller groups and become edgy and competitive when resources are scarce. Groups always compete with one another, but temporary truces and coalitions keep the peace most of the time.

Political theories, especially the revolutionary ones have always been wrong. Marx was trying to solve the problems of poor workers oppressed by authoritarian, industrial leaders and governments. But the application of Marxism in Russia was ignorant of human nature. His theories were untested and arbitrary. We now know what happens when you violently overthrow an unjust but working system and replace it with an ideology that intends to redistribute wealth and make everyone equal. You get a political and economic system that does not work and you get tyranny, cruelty and poverty.

Humans have innate tendencies that will not change. Any political-economic theory that proposes to fundamentally change the way humans operate will fail.

The only lasting way to change political and economic systems is to allow them to become more congruent with human nature. Successful political systems must work with and not oppose human nature to become stable over a long-term measured in thousands of years and not four-year terms of office. Stability will require a high degree of autonomy for local groups and tolerance for diversity among these groups.

Meaningful political changes emerge slowly and are built from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down. Citizens of the 21st century can be quite sure that top-down solutions will not work and the tendency toward centralized political and economic control will need to be modified or abandoned.

Each citizen of a democracy does have a responsibility to protect his or her freedom and right to life by insisting on bottom-up solutions to problems. This means that the local community decides what is in its best interests; not a distant and autocratic authority.

See Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason