Common Ground: Sources

We spend a lot of time in the Hall arguing with each other, and that's good. I've learned a lot that way and enjoyed the back and forth. However, occasionally I get into an argument where, by the end of it, I feel like I understand my interlocutor less than when I started.

So, for a few posts, I'd like to focus on finding and establishing some common ground. For this first one, I'd like to talk about the sources of our beliefs. I assume everyone has been influenced by their experiences, but those are not easily shared. Hence, I'd like to focus on books, essays, articles, movies, songs, anything we can link to or directly share in some way.

For me, John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government has been influential, and the basic ideas of natural rights and social contract are very appealing to me. Embarrassingly, I have to admit I've never read the whole thing, only summaries and commentaries. However, it's not terribly long, so I've made reading it one of my goals for the spring. Wikipedia has a decent treatment, I think.

Another important influence has been Frederic Bastiat's The Law. It's a short read, and the bumper sticker summary might be something like "All Government Is Violence: Vote for Less." ("Vote for the minimum necessary" would be more accurate, but that's getting too long to fit on a bumper sticker readable by anyone but the worst tailgater.)

Finally, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, which I read a couple of decades ago and should read again. Two much more recent books that have influenced me are Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz's A Monetary History of the United States (summarized here on Wikipedia) and Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.

Yeah, it's mostly old stuff. I am an ex-Progressive; there came a point now about 15-20 years ago where I decided I was no longer a Progressive, but didn't know what I was. (I still haven't quite worked that out.) I did admire the Declaration of Independence, so I started with the Revolutionary period and started reading. Those ideas still make the most sense to me.

What have been some important sources of your political beliefs?

20 comments:

Texan99 said...

Those are three good ones, certainly. I've also been heavily influenced by C.S. Lewis's approach, which boils down to the idea that fallen men shouldn't have too much power over each other. I think obedience is a fine voluntary trait in an individual, but a very dangerous thing for any human being to try to impose on any other by force. Given a choice I'll always opt for a system that works only when its participants voluntarily re-affirm their consent and allegiance at frequent intervals--which is why I'm such a nut for free markets, voluntary charity, private institutions, and a constant striving for the minimum government that's consistent with a moderate level of law and order.

Ymar Sakar said...

Ayn Rand. 9/11 vis a vis Islamic JIhad's fanaticism and what it can be used for. Iraq war in terms of civilian culture vs military culture vs politician class traitors.

The media, due to the Iraq and Afghanistan daily casualty lists. Vietnam, although only by second hand or third or fourth hand stories and accounts.

The internet's de-centralized organic community building, which was always an interesting experiment on how to twiddle with human nature to make it produce what would normally only be available on farms.

Several Chinese and Japanese philosophies, martial arts, and histories, along with the Ancient Roman and Greek philosophers. Prioritizing East over West, and modern over ancient.

In no particular order. Mind control, psychological manipulation, psychology, psy warfare, art of propaganda, Weapons of Mass Deception, and Slavery 1.0 to 3.0

Socrates over Aristotle, and Plato over Aristotle, due to the vote, democratic methods, showing its true side vs a vis Socrates, the ultimate inevitable end of that process. Alexander the Great, vis a vis the ancient world and a small glimpse into total warfare, later on Genghis Khan and Islamic Jihd conquests in 630+ AD allowed a little bit more of Total Warfare to be discovered and unveiled. That impacted political beliefs, since it's often politics that get people into wars like that.

It gets much longer than that, but this is short enough for an overview.

Grim said...

Lately I've spent a lot of time with Aristotle's political/ethical works, including the Rhetoric as well as the more obvious ones. But in terms of what formed my political beliefs, there are three sources that matter more than anything else:

1) The Declaration of Independence
2) The Declaration of Arbroath
3) The Magna Carta

All three of those are the products of revolutions, I notice.

Grim said...

By the way, when you're done with the 'common ground' series, remind me to tell you why Locke (and social contract theory generally) strikes me as completely wrong-footed as an approach to politics.

raven said...

When I was about 14, "The Gulag Archipelago" and "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" cured me of any doubts about what the left was all about. That started some awareness of political systems.

Gringo said...

When I was working in Venezuela in the '70s, I purchased a paperback in a cafe titled "Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario" [From the good savage to the good revolutionary], written by the Venezuelan journalist Carlos Rangel. In English translation its title is The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States. Not only movie titles get mangled in translation!

It helped verbalize what I had been observing: the progressive narratives on Latin America did not fit what I observed at ground level.
Rangel's book gives a long-term overview of Latin America, but also includes more recent history, such as the Allende years. Much of what Rangel relates about the Allende years didn't reach the US media. Eduardo Frei, Allende's predecessor as President, supported the coup. The Supreme Court unanimously censured the executive branch for systematically refusing to recognize the decisions of the courts. Carlos Altamirano, the head of the Socialist Party, which was also Allende's party, admitted participation in a failed naval mutiny. His admission came two days before the coup. I don't recall reading about these in US media narratives about the overthrow of the "democratically elected" Allende.
Rangel's book doesn't mention this, but three weeks before the coup, the also "democratically elected" Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution by a 63% majority which accused Allende of systematically violating the laws and Constitution of Chile , and requested that the Armed Forces take appropriate action.

Rangel points out that the Marxist/Third World narrative about agricultural producers being exploited by industrial producers originated with slaveholders or their supporters in the antebellum South of the US.
The book helped turn me from a progressive of the left into an evil right winger.

Gringo said...

raven's comment reminds me of another book source for me. In 9th grade I took an Introduction to Politics course. We read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. The book showed the evil nature of communism. For that class I also wrote a term paper on Soviet agriculture- which showed me the incompetence of the Soviet system- in effect, the trains didn't run on time.


My home area had a disproportionate number of Iron Curtain refugees. While I was a progressive of sorts in college and in my 20s, and at one time attended SDS meetings, the above also meant that I parted ways with SDS when I saw that many SDS people got a tingle in their legs over the likes of Lenin.

Which reminds me of a story that may not fit the narrative. Childhood friends had paternal grandparents who had emigrated before WW1 from the future Yugoslavia. After WW2, my friends' parents and later other family members visited their relatives in Yugoslavia. It took decades of visits before the American relatives found out that during WW2, the husband of one cousin had ordered the execution of two other cousins. The husband went on to a successful career as one of Tito's apparatchiks. Four decades after the executions, my friend's father participated in a reconciliation meeting of the cousins- if one ever can reconcile to that.

It ain't just the US that had a Civil War.

Texan99 said...

I read One Day in the Life of I. D. when I was about that same age.

Your account of Allende reminds me of the appalling coverage we got in this country of what our betters were pleased to call a "coup" in Honduras 6-7 years ago.

E Hines said...

You've got a good list. I've also read the Constitution, de Soto's The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, de Vattel's The Law of Nations, McDougall's Promised Land, Crusader State, Croly's The Promise of American Life, Hayek's Road to Serfdom, Rousseau's Social Contract.

Oh, and Wood's Radicalism of the American Revolution and Pillsbury's Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower.

And, because I'm also thinking about such things, Qiao Wang's Unrestricted Warfare

Finally, because I'm also a smartass, this.

I just have too much time on my hands.

Eric Hines

raven said...

As far as early influences, the novels of Kenneth Roberts played a big part in informing about early American History.

And there was a blog that also started me thinking about some core issues later in life, when mostly I was concerned with trying to make a living- "The other side of Kim", by Kim DuToit. that introduced me to some ideas that, being as I left school quite young, I had never really thought about. That was were I heard of Bastiat, and Nock, and a few others. He does not have a blog anymore, but comment's once in a while on the pj media site. I miss his blog a lot.

Grim said...

He was the sort of writer that a lot of people can't 'hear,' but he was a very thoughtful one if you could. It's one of those things. People who think deeply and speak or write honestly will eventually offend you -- you, personally, but also quite probably everyone else as well. If you can learn to entertain ideas that are offensive, you will be introduced to some deep and profound insights from minds quite unlike your own.

Of course, you'll have to put up with the offensive stuff too. I know an old man who hates the Catholic Church, and says the most vitriolic stuff you can imagine. He's gay, and regards its influence on his life and world as wholly awful. I let all of that slide off without comment, so we can discuss ancient Greek myth -- a subject of his most intense scholarship for decades. He's very brilliant, but I don't see how he'd survive in the contemporary academy in spite of having left-leaning politics and the defense of being a member of a politically protected class. Our loss.

Kim du Toit was a good writer, but he was much more likely to be run off by howling mobs. A white South African with pro-gun opinions and a very deep cynicism about Africa? He must have had hate mail a foot deep in his inbox every morning.

Tom said...

What a great list!

Tex: I've also been heavily influenced by C.S. Lewis's approach, which boils down to the idea that fallen men shouldn't have too much power over each other.

Where does Lewis spell this out? I've only read a few of his books, but they were very well written and I enjoyed them.

Ymar, besides Ayn Rand, Socrates and Plato, could you give some specific books, articles, etc., for the other things you mention? Something others here could read to understand your views better?

Grim, no need to wait for the series to be over. Crank up a post on Locke and we can hash it out there.

I should also add Orwell's 1984 into my list, and Vonnegut's short story, "Harrison Bergeron".

Ymar Sakar said...


For reading body language, it seems there's a wiki about it now. http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Body-Language

Amazing progress on the net. Back in the day, there were only audio/books and maybe some articles that were too abstract to be useful at the time. I wanted the skill, because reading psychology is also called being affected in a way. Using a skill to interrogate and assess results from actual humans, is a different scenario. No middle men corrupting the feed. Just you and them and the space between you and them.


Hrm, what else is there...
http://www.bgtent.com/naturalcma/CMAarticle8.htm
Translated from the original Chinese by the author.

What does this have to do with politics btw? Nothing, and also everything. The lowest unit of a political system is the person, the individual. Changing the individual, also changes everything above the individual. How they see above and around. How others see them from above or around.

If you want something specific Tom, you're going to have to come up with a question. I'm good at isolating down answers and questions. Open ended topics tend to make me go off on tangents eventually.

Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings, Sun Tzu's the Art of War. They became a lot easier to use once I could look around in life and connect them with concrete issues and experiences.

Will reading any of this stuff help people understand my views better? I would have to say no, it wouldn't. It's not pointless, but it is like reading the biography of a person. You haven't lived their life, you don't have their personality and skill set. You didn't grow up during their time period or with their life experiences conditioning their habits. People can read books and then say "that is my idea too" or "I agree with that" or "I disagree with that, here's how to do it better". A person's ability to focus, distill, and reflect the knowledge of the world around them is only ever unique to that person. If it can be copied... it loses its value.

That's why I think reading the Art of War does not confer Sun Tzu's abilities unto me. It's just reading a book about chainsawing a tree down. Doesn't mean I got the skills or experience of it. Now if I wanted to get closer to that, I might do what grim is talking about and use tech to get rid of a tree, then I can say "oh, I know how it works now, just need to 50% transfer it to a chainsaw now".

Texan99 said...

Got to run to church, but a quick Google search for "C.S. Lewis fallen man power" turns up hits in "The Weight of Glory" and a few others. It's all other his essays, really. I doubt you could read any of his books and not find this thread. He's so into the dignity of free will; it's the centerpiece of his theological arguments.

Ymar Sakar said...

The first part of my answer to Tom keeps getting deleted or removed.

Good thing I also put it on my blog.

https://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/what-can-change-the-nature-of-a-man-sources-of-information/

Tom said...

Ymar, thank you for the reply.

If you want something specific Tom, you're going to have to come up with a question. I'm good at isolating down answers and questions. Open ended topics tend to make me go off on tangents eventually.

That's fair. My question would be, what could I read that would help me understand your political beliefs? (But read on.)

Will reading any of this stuff help people understand my views better? I would have to say no, it wouldn't. It's not pointless, but it is like reading the biography of a person. You haven't lived their life, you don't have their personality and skill set ...

If we're talking about full, 100%, complete understanding, then of course there's nothing that will give you that. I don't believe it's possible, for some of the same reasons you give. Even if there were something you could read that would let you completely understand me, by the time you would have finished reading it, I would have changed.

However, I believe understanding is not a binary 0% or 100%, but a range from 0% to 100%. For example:

That's why I think reading the Art of War does not confer Sun Tzu's abilities unto me. It's just reading a book about chainsawing a tree down.

True, but reading the book gives you a starting point. You will gain a rough idea of how to go about it and know some of the errors to avoid. Until you've done it quite a bit, you won't be good at it, but reading the book helped.

I think that's true here as well.

I'll stop here and check out your blog post.

Tom said...

Thanks, Tex. That gives me a starting point.

Tom said...

Eric: Finally, because I'm also a smartass, this.

I'm shocked! Yeah, I suspect there's some of that in all of the regulars, to be honest. Although not me, of course.

Ymar Sakar said...

Tom, if you have any other questions or want me to clarify or elaborate on subject, just ask.

Basically, what I meant is that I like Q and As. From either side.

douglas said...

Didn't think I had anything to contribute to this thread that you all hadn't already mentioned, then I saw my copy of C.S. Lewis "Present Concerns - A Compelling Collection of Timely, Journalistic Essays". I think that's a really good one to give someone you'd like to have some discussions with as a prompt.

Recently also I read "Ten Universal Principles- A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues" by Robert J. Spitzer. An excellent analysis of the basis for arguments against abortion.

While I'm at it, Dennis Prager's "Happiness is a Serious Problem".

My problem is that I'm a synthesizer, not a compiler. By that I mean I tend to absorb new info and apply it to my world view, and don't just file it away as a distinct entity, so later it's tough for me to recount just which works were particularly significant (beyond the rather obvious Bible, Founding documents, etc.)

Love this post.