Worldview Week 9: A Review of Government and Economics

I’m blogging through a worldview class I’m teaching for our homeschool coop through the next year in this series of posts. Each week I’ll post a class outline and notes.


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Thoughts From this Week’s Class

  • Our understanding of government can be broken down into three simple questions; answer those questions, and you will find you can develop a basic understanding of the system in short order. The three questions are: How many people hold power?; What is the source of the law?; What is the source of the people who form the ruling class?
  • Our understanding of economic systems can similarly be broken down into three questions: Who owns the means of production?; Who controls the processes and results of production?; What is the most asset considered most valuable by the economic system?
  • Governmental and economic systems are mixed together to make a social order. While it’s possible, for instance, to have a socialist republic, some mixtures haven’t existed in history, and others don’t remain stable. For instance, pure democracies don’t last long in the real world, because it’s far too easy to vote money out of other people’s pockets into your own.

Next week, we’ll dive into matching worldviews with governmental and economic systems. The key question to ask in each case is, “what governmental and economic systems will this specific worldview support?” If we can answer this question about each of the five worldviews we’ve discussed, we’ll have a good handle on a lot of the politics that we see surrounding us every day.

One question was asked in class that wasn’t really fully answered: What is the source of human rights?

To answer this question, let’s begin with a single concept, and play it out as both a positive and a negative right, to see where we lead. Let’s begin with this: Every person has a right to life.

Let’s begin by thinking about this in the framework of a negative right — what sort of laws might we make that would protect every person’s right to life against the action of another? We might make up laws about how to drive (consistent traffic laws), to prevent one person from killing another through reckless driving. And you might make a law against murder, because murder is clearly the taking of someone elses’ life. At the same time, you might make a set of laws that allow for self defense, because a person’s life, being a right, is certainly worth defending.

You would, in fact, expect every person in a society to obey these sorts of laws equally, because they are designed to guard against one person taking the life of another person — and each person’s life, no matter their social status or material wealth (or even their worth to society as a whole) is still a life, to which they have a right.

Now it’s clear that negative rights can be taken too far, in that people could, in fact, be treated differently based on their “class” or wealth. For instance, a law might be made that allows rich people to kill their servants, simply because the rich person adds so much more to society. So there is a way in which negative rights can “run off the rails,” and be misused.

Now let’s reverse the picture, and think about this single right, the right to life, in positive terms. If you believe in positive rights, you might say that if a person has a right to life, then they must be given the ability to exercise that right by society at large — a right without the ability to exercise the right is really no right at all. So you might make laws that say everyone must be provided three meals a day of a certain number of calories, etc., because without food, no-one can actually live. Today we call such positive rights “human rights,” because we say, “if you are a human, you have a right to life, and to have the right to life is to have the right to food.” We also call this “social justice.”

Where positive rights run off the rails is by forcing someone else to give up one right (the right to property, or ownership of their time and person), in order to fulfill someone elses’ right to food, or shelter.

Another way to look at this is to say that negative rights can fail by caring too little for the individual, and too much for the stability of society. Positive rights fail by placing too much emphasis on the plight of individuals, hence caring too much for the individual, and too little for the stability of society. In the end, positive rights end where the worst side of negative rights end, as well — in caring little for the individual as an individual, and caring only for the individual as a class (“the oppressed,” or “the poor”).

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