A (Positive) Response to Prewitt

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I wrote this as a Response to “Between Scarcity and Abundance”, by Matthew Prewitt, published here in Medium. His truly great essay is a treasure-trove of food for thought for people seriously interested in where Liberal society might advance from where we are today.

In today’s re-reading of it the reference to Locke in it reminded me of a point I thought would be worth mentioning. It is somewhat superficial to the essay’s conceptual core, but I think it is pertinent nonetheless for what it says about ‘what is’ in “capitalist democracies” in the context of the essay.

Locke included in his “Natural Rights” the Right of private property. In the Declaration of Independence of what would be the U.S. that Right was left off, replaced by “the pursuit of Happiness.” To make it possible to get anything accomplished the Continental Congress had been ‘forced’ to agree at the outset to leave the issue of slavery off the table, and mention of a Right to property would have made ignoring slavery that much more difficult.

Beyond that, and more pertinent to the essay, under Locke’s influence all of Western political philosophy since then has sought to justify ‘liberty first’ as the organizing principle of a just society. Yet, a Right to private property clearly trumps liberty in various circumstances in all “capitalist democracies.” How that can be squared with liberty as the predicate of justice and justice as the penultimate societal value is a question that to my knowledge has never been explicitly addressed. I see the above essay as, among other things, an important step in that direction. It focuses on political democracy, but that a necessary relationship exists between liberty and democracy is indisputable.

At the same time, the tension that is presumed to exist between liberty and equality, the other of the ‘twin pillars of justice’ in Liberalism, has become an issue of existential significance for societies with Liberalism as their conceptual foundation. If I may, that issue I do address in “Equality Is All We Need” and “Re-thinking Individualism to Avert the Worst Tragedy in the History of Civilization” (both here in Medium).

I have a sense that Prewitt’s analysis combined Dave Volek’s idea of “Tiered Democratic Governance” along with my own analysis of democracy could point towards an advance in the structure and functioning of a democratic political system.