Against Political Panglossianism

I offer to readers a term of my coinage: polidicy.

I construct it as “theodicy” was constructed, and I do so in the spirit of the copycat. A theodicy is a vindication of divine goodness in the context of the existence of evil. It is an important theological concept, and you will find theodicies embedded in most understandings of Providence, and nearly everyone who believes in a deity has some sort of theodicy in tow.

Polidicy, then, is a vindication of a state or government body in the context of its own obvious crimes. Most people who are loyal to some state and pretend to possess a moral sense, or conscience, have some polidicy in their head, some set of excuses for why the state’s many crimes do not amount to a moral case against the state as such, and how, even, the state can be said to be “basically good.”

The American polidicy rests upon the common story of providential creation and progress. Often, a chief purpose in the teaching American history in our schools is to indoctrinate children into the official polidicy. America was conceived in liberty, but had a flaw at its founding: slavery. The American people could not resolve the problem peacefully, so a great, painful period of national struggle ensued nearly 90 years after the country’s great secession from imperial Britain, and the cause of liberty triumphed. Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, thus ascended a level in our presidential pantheon above George Washington, and thus acts as a sort of martyred saint — or slain deity — watching over the progress that has sense ensued.

The idea of this polidicy is that, for all our problems, America did right, on the whole. The country became what it became, and those who apply a careful and critical moral intelligence to its actions amount to traitors. Indeed, they are heretics to the national religion, the religion of the justification of What Is.

That religion is a polidicy. It should be studied as such.

That it often proves to have no more of the intellectual soundness of many another typically American idiocies, such as Elvis sightings or Tortilla Jesus apocalypses, should not shock the sound of mind. But a polidicy engenders powerful myths, myths of progress in ideas; fables of good guys versus bad guys, where in truth one finds mainly bad guys winning; and a lore that somehow always justifies astounding uses of power.

Most Americans who vote or refer to themselves as “informed” take greatest pride in their polidicies. One might expect that libertarians would be mostly immune to such nonsense, the lens of liberty having burnt away the myths of power from which others cannot extricate themselves, but one would too often be proven wrong.

Most libertarians in America still cling tightly to a sort of Capraesque vision of the American story, and seem unwilling to give up the myths of old. Most commonly, this is in relation to foreign policy. Sometimes, though, you will see Christian libertarians clinging to polidicies that smack directly of a Theodicy, and free marketers descending into the vulgar libertarianism that pretends, against mountains of evidence, that once upon a time America was a laissez faire utopia.

These lapses into folk patriotism and tender-hearted piety are just one area where libertarians prevent their own ideas from succeeding. For, if anything scuttles the radical restructuring that liberty requires, it is the status quo inertia of the belief in the basic goodness of the current State of the Union. And that belief rests on a polidicy.

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