Reason Magazine did an article a year ago profiling John McCain’s ideas and perspectives. It’s a good read and illustrates that John McCain is confused.
John McCain seems to have a strong moral focus, and a strong sense of national duty. He can’t be criticized for that nor his service to his country. John McCain also seems to feel that all of a country’s citizens should have a strong moral focus and a strong sense of national duty. He can’t be criticized for that either. It’s his opinion, for one, and a good opinion at that (in my opinion, of course).
John McCain then concludes that it is right to use force to compel a nation’s citizenry to have a strong moral focus and strong sense of duty. He is to be roundly criticized for this.
Whether it’s McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform or mandated national service, John McCain would seek to employ fascist techniques to limit the freedom of the citizenry in an effort to make them better people. First, compelling a people to be moral neither makes them moral nor can be successful on a large scale (he’s basically talking about a non-military draft for every citizen, the Fourteenth Amendment be damned). It also creates misgivings about the Federal Government such that, if implemented, each successive generation would feel less and less the way John McCain wants them to feel, though his government force brigade would be there to force them to act as if they felt the way he wanted them to.
So, John McCain’s root problem is that he thinks he can force people to think and feel like him. Certainly, when one holds a personal philosophy, one is bound, if he believes in the good of his philosophy, to educate, convince, and encourage others to embrace one’s philosophy (and I just may try to convince you of the virtues of pluralistic deontology in a subsequent essay) as the holder of such beliefs ought to be convinced that such a manner of thinking will maximize societal value. However, when one steps out of the ring of argumentation into that of coercion, he has admitted to losing the argument, and becomes an embodiment of the forces against freedom, the definition of fascist thought, and, one could argue, evil.
So, on the merits, John McCain’s Mandatory Patriotism is bankrupt. But on a practical level it also fails. First, his idea of a national-service draft does not reflect the operating characteristics of society. Why the focus on national government, for one? Because that’s where he wields power? What of state governments, don’t they deserve service? How about community services? NGO’s, non-profits? How about the people who feed the nation? Build the things the nation needs to work? In reality, everybody not involved in criminal enterprise is already working in service of the Nation, otherwise they’d be out of a job. What John McCain does is to conflate government and society (I’ve written about this before) and reverses the priority – the government is supposed to work in service of the society, not the other way around. He’s 180° out of alignment on this issue, and this position belies his disbelief in free markets and capitalism.
His position is best summed up in this quote from the article:
Defending campaign finance reform, McCain said, “I would rather have a clean government than one…where ‘First Amendment rights’ are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice I’d rather have a clean government.”
It’s evident that for John McCain the individual exists for the benefit of the society, and the society holds primacy over the individual. There’s a term for that philosophy: Socialism.
The unfortunate situation for America today is that one of McCain, Clinton, or Obama are likely to be the forty-fourth President of the United States, and each feels compelled to use government force to impose their personal belief systems on the Nation. They each offer slightly different flavors of a Socialist agenda, each with some fleeting facets of merit, completely over-run by fascist implementations. That a free people are free to make mistakes, the wrong choices, is an essential part of being free. If one is not free to fail, one is not really free at all. Would it really be so terrible to have a President who reminds us (paraphrasing the Constitution), “you’re free to do what you wish so long as you’re not harming others” (what if the President spending most of his days on the golf course was a sign of progress, not sloth?) The members of the two dominant political parties in the United States seem to think so, and enough Americans support that system such that we may not have a choice but to be forced to act as if our morals are being changed every four to eight years. Of course, they aren’t, and everybody knows that – perhaps it’s instead time for people to vote what they know to be true rather than voting for the façade-du-jour being managed by the popular media (ironically enough, strongly empowered beyond all other citizens by McCain-Feingold).
Of course, perhaps John McCain’s confusion is one of an unexamined life, an emotional state of existence where logical reduction of philosophy is put aside with principles in favor of strong beliefs, however fleeting and amorphous they might be. If so, would he be the right person for the Presidency? However, if not, if his philosophy is grounded instead in an examined disbelief in the rights of the individual and ardent support of utilitarian collectivism, we’ve got something much worse on our hands than confusion.