I hate to have to be the one to say it—especially given the paper I work for--but people who call business-friendly Republicans hypocrites for seeking more regulation over the booze business need a little schooling in Political Philosophy 101.
Which is my way of warning you that the following blog post is about to wax philosophic. You’ve been warned.
The thing that strikes me as disconcerting is that too often people look at conservative legislators who actively seek to regulate the booze business or abortion clinics to within an inch of their economic lives and then call them hypocrites. They say the actions of these legislators stand in stark contrast to their voting and attitudes toward all other business ventures from oil and gas development to the hawking of nutritional supplements. And they’re right, but what they’re wrong about is the idea that these actions are hypocritical on their part. The reality is that our legislators aren’t strict Libertarians who would fight any move by government to stifle business and individual freedoms. Whether these legislators realize it or not, they are more likely to be Conservative Communitarians.
So a matter of definition--Communitarianism is a political philosophy that’s really hard to pin down. I remember as a University of Utah student taking a class from Communitarian Luke Garrott, before he joined the Salt Lake City Council, being asked, along with the rest of the students, about what I wanted to obtain from the class. My response was that I wanted to know what the hell Communitarianism was because I had only ever heard it described in the slipperiest of terms.
The definition I like has to deal with the school of thought being almost a response to another set of ideas presented by John Rawls in his Theory of Justice. Rawls’s 1971 work helped lay a foundation for much of the social welfare policies that emerged in the decades following the release of his work.
In it, he coins a number of nifty terms, one being “maximin,” which refers to maximizing the minimum, or making a choice that raises the bar for advantages for those in the least well off position in society. Rawls creates a device he calls the “Original Position” as a way of justifying this policy. I’m going to take liberties with this idea just to get the point across, so Rawls-lovers out there please forgive this analogy.
So the Original Position is like being up in heaven let’s say. So you’re looking down from your cloud at Earth saying “Boy, I sure hope I don’t land on earth as the guy that has to clean out port-a-potties after Juggalo concerts. Damn, look at that schmuck.” And then a benevolent head Angel says alright then let’s do this. From here let’s allocate who in society gets the payoffs—advantages, opportunities, etc… But while we set those levels for society, we’re not allowed to know when we get down to Earth if we’ll wind up as the port-a-potty guy or if we’ll be Paris Hilton.
Rawls then argues that from this position people would seek a maximin allocation of advantages to people at the bottom rung. It’s not socialism. It’s not equal distribution; it’s just an acknowledgment of a deserved bump for people currently in the bottom brackets of life’s lottery. Now here’s where Communitarians come in. They are the people who in part have become defined by saying that it is damaging to disregard the actual community a person is born into.
They argue you just can’t re-engineer life’s lottery, that in fact the community is a sacred place that needs to develop and evolve organically. It doesn’t need Ivory Tower dictates on how to operate. It just needs to be. As Communitarian thinker Alasdair Macintyre (pictured) wrote once “[T]he best type of human life, that in which the tradition of the virtues is most adequately embodied, is lived by those engaged in constructing and sustaining forms of community…”
Obviously, there’s a lot more to Communitarianism than that. A lot more. But with this simple lens we can really appreciate that many of Utah’s elected representatives, do just as they should. They represent their constituents.
Most of those constituents if you weren’t aware happen to be LDS, conservative and business friendly—but not to all businesses. They don’t like alcohol consumption and they don’t like bars and they also don’t like drunk drivers. They also happen to lump all of these things together, often in contradiction to actual trends between looser liquor laws and public safety. But that’s their right as constituents. And, arguably it’s their representatives’ duty to represent those beliefs, for better and worse, because they represent those communities.
Take for example what Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem recently told me in regards to Utah’s quota system and a recent lawsuit filed to challenge it and other aspects of a law passed this last session that also did away with daily beer specials.
“We’ve stayed with quotas because we wanted an environment that didn’t encourage [alcohol] consumption but allowed it,” Valentine says. “We’ve kept that same philosophy, and I don’t see us changing it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m none too pleased that I can’t get a $3 schooner of beer anymore at O’Shucks, but its not “[EXPLETIVE] hypocrites,” that I mutter into my drink.