The Passion of Liberty: Part One - The Soul of Politics

The realm of things political originally refers to the branch of philosophy concerning appropriate boundaries between individuals such as to effect harmonious social relations. It does not have to do with government, per se, nor with laws, voting, courts, a military, or any particular design of boundaries, nor with a particular design's applications (which may or may not include some form of government, representation, police, or courts).

The field of politics is, properly, the field of human boundaries ' how we define them, where we draw them, and how we effect them.

It does not necessarily pertain to the machinery, nor to a power structure. Indeed, if we use the term 'politics' ONLY to signify the machinery of a particular design (of government, or, even, of the fact of government), then we lose the broader field, and, with it, our options for a better design.

Now, there might be better governmental machinery or there might not. There might be ways of effecting boundaries with little or no governmental machinery at all. But as long as we perceive the political field solely in terms of government (of any at all, or only of particular designs and systems), then we are arguing over changing masters, not roads to freedom.

The realm into which 'government' falls, as one possible application, is the realm of politics. The word polity contains the concept of government, thus: 'A form or method of government; or a community existing there-under.'

I extend this definition to cover the original philosophical sense of politics, thus: 'A form or method of effecting boundaries between sovereign individuals such as to effect harmonious social intercourse.'

There are different forms or methods of effecting such boundaries; not all of equal value; not all equally workable. When we look at the second definition, we can see that our present designs of government are 'forms and methods of effecting boundaries,' but that they are ineffectual in regard to securing individual sovereignty and social harmony.

Backing up to consider the broader political field is confounded by conventional and exclusionary definitions and usage of the term 'political,' and by a focus on details that obscures the larger canvas.

In his article, What It Means To Be Human, Spectator columnist Roger Scruton asks the reader to consider the composition of Manet's painting 'Bar at the Folies Berg're':

'From the point of view of chemical science, it is a canvas on which pigments are distributed. From the point of view of the art-lover, it is an image of a woman on whose face the last pale twilight of innocence is fading. You could draw a graph across the picture, and indicate exactly what pigment is to be found at every pair of co-ordinates. This description would not mention the woman, still less her fading innocence or her blank but haunting gaze. Yet it could be a complete description. Somebody who daubed a canvas in the way mapped by the graph would produce an exact copy of Manet's picture. He would do this even if he had not noticed the woman and even if he was entirely blind to pictorial images. From the scientific point of view, therefore, the woman is nothing over and above the pigments in which she is seen.'

This reduction to details is the method of Empiricism, which studies existence only by reference to observable, verifiable, statistical pieces of information. 'Just the facts.' It does not take into consideration ineffable notions of principles, theories, human nature, human souls, human relationships, or the experience of being human, except in the degree to which such things can be taped, measured, and quantified.

In the social sciences the application of Empiricism results in a sense of bureaucratic inhumanity. We become focused on the details, losing sight of the meaning, purpose, and essence of our own humanity . . . and broader canvas of human life.

Funk & Wagnall's encyclopedia notes that:

'The successes achieved in the natural sciences led many political scientists to the belief that in time, if they borrowed the orderly analysis and methodology of physics, chemistry, and biology, and if they, too, developed explanatory theories, the study of government and politics could become as much a scientific endeavor as were the established laboratory sciences.'

This scientific approach to politics began to dominate the field in the mid-20th century, beginning in the academic world, and eventually becoming formalized as 'behavioralism,' which insists 'that objective observation and measurement be applied to the full range of human behavior as it manifests itself in the real world.' [F&W]

Your bureaucratized existence as a number, a detail, a digitized pigment of a larger canvas (that belongs to someone else), is the consequence of this philosophical sleight-of-hand.

Human beings and human boundaries have been shut out of the language through a philosophical conspiracy to eliminate the human soul of politics. And we, the hapless people, have gone along with this transition to Orwell-speak under the tutelage of the authority figures in our lives; most especially the bureaucrats who have, through the years, instituted subtle changes in 'procedures' for paying our property taxes, licensing our vehicles, registering for marriage, or addressing our letters.

Combining the philosophy of Pragmatism ' practicality in the concrete sense of 'whatever works,' regardless of principle ' with empiricism or statistical behavioralism, eviscerates the living human being. This makes it easier to enslave people, since the only referents that remain in the language are phrased in terms of the scientists, the planners, the bureaucrats, and the politicians. The language has been hijacked, such that if you are talking about 'politics,' then you are talking about the dimensions of a power structure (of slavery), because other, fuller meanings have lost their currency.

By habit, through conventional usage, and from traditional expectations, we continue to get snagged on familiar shapes and forms of political design. Elections, licenses, lawyers, taxes, schools, subsidies, presidents, and so forth are all peculiar to a particular design of government; not inherent to the purpose of political boundaries. This familiarity draws our focus, and the empirical presumption of scientism makes it attractive to our modern minds. And, once again, we settle-in to our narrowed concerns of how to make such designs work ' or work 'better.'

This is real-world politics, or realpoliticks, but it's not real. It is fake. It may well be a factual description of the canvas of life, as we have come to perceive it, but it is forcing us to look in one direction only: the direction of chains. It has been contrived to control people and, ultimately, to enslave them. It provides a real-world context in which we live, but it bulldozes political boundaries, and it obliterates our options for a design of 'appropriate boundaries between individuals such as to effect harmonious social relations.'

In turning away from existing designs and systems of government, away from existing and traditional concepts of design and structure, and away from the idea of formal government or power structure of any description, we do not give up the field of boundaries of our individual sovereignty, nor our intention to secure them by other means, nor our desire to effect greater social harmony in consequence.

What we give up is the fruitless and degenerative games of political jockeying within the present designs of government, the governments themselves, and the concept of government, as presently understood, used and applied.

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Richard Rieben's picture
Columns on STR: 14

Richard Rieben was a world traveler, house remodeler, and sometime author and philosopher. The thesis of his manifesto, Reciprocia, is, briefly: “Sovereignty is the base; reciprocity defines how to make it work.” Aside from harping incessantly on the theme of liberty, he led a fairly normal life in middle America, where he scouted for silver-linings. His internet articles are featured at  He passed away sometime after 2005.