The Politics of Avarice and Belief

There are many ways to define or categorize politics, whether by tactics, structure, customary practices, or other means. One of those other means is categorizing the politics of a system by the basic purpose of such politics. The noted military theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted, “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” But what is often missed in that definition is Clausewitz tacitly assumes politics is a form of conflict short of war… and that, in my experience, is certainly true.

While there are many purposes behind political conflict, those that are most basic, at least from what I have observed, are the politics of economic conflict, which one might call the politics of avarice, and ideological conflict, or the politics of belief. Historically, these two conflicts have usually been intertwined to some degree, in that economic systems reflect the beliefs of those in control of the economy and that belief systems cannot persist without economic support.

History has shown that when the politics of belief take control of a society and explicitly dictate who may hold power, or even survive, based on their adherence to a particular system of belief, that’s usually when politics get really nasty, and life gets unpleasant, if not fatal, for those who do not share the beliefs of those in control, as witness Spain under the Inquisition, the Taliban, ISIS, Germany during the Third Reich, and other political systems dominated by a requirement for absolute adherence to a belief.

One might claim that it’s just as bad when pure economics reign, but I’d contend that, while an unfettered market system will invariably create great income inequality, the privations created by that inequality generally don’t create the systemic executions, torture, and oppression regularly imposed by the tyranny of political systems that require adherence to a specific belief structure.

That may be why I have great concerns about those individuals, even those with the best of intentions, who wish to use politics as a means to legally impose belief structures on individuals. A true believer, even with the best of intentions, still poses a danger to all society, while a pure free market advocate poses a danger to the poor and disenfranchised.

Both need to be curtailed, but the danger posed to society by not curtailing the true believers is far greater, something that the Founding Fathers felt most strongly, and that was why they insisted on the separation of church and state, something that today’s true believers would have us forget or ignore.

6 thoughts on “The Politics of Avarice and Belief”

  1. darcherd says:

    A good analysis, especially in the way you call out that belief and avarice are usually mixed in a political system. (Which makes sense, since most humans are themselves motivated by a mix of these two, though one might add “loyalty” whether to family, friends or nation as a somewhat distinct motivation than “belief” and one that often factors into political decision-making.)

    But you are quite correct that a political system where the pendulum has swung hard over to the Belief side of the spectrum is likely to be a really unpleasant place for everyone who is not fully committed to the belief system currently in power. This is because in a power structure committed to belief, there is no such concept as a “loyal opposition”. All those who do not agree with your belief system are thus not merely wrong and to be opposed politically, but are evil and in league with the Devil, and thus must be utterly eradicated. Once one has decided they are doing God’s work by destroying everyone who does not share their beliefs, any amount of horrific and inhumane treatment becomes not only allowed, but requisite.

    “Peace is an extension of war by political means. Plenty of elbowroom is pleasanter–and much safer.” – Robert Heinlein

    1. Daze says:

      Not much elbowroom left on this planet. Nevermind, maybe we’ll find another so we can screw that up, too.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Aren’t there beliefs concerning how the economy should be run (or perhaps NOT run, but simply left alone, save perhaps for the few most egregious abuses) that are no less ideological than any religion?

    If I could lawfully obtain a license to hunt down socialists, I would be sorely tempted to use it.

  3. darcherd says:

    R. Hamilton, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Socialism, per se. All societies are built upon some sort of dynamic balance between the good of the individual and the good of collective society. Socialists are apparently further along on the “collective good of society” spectrum than you’re comfortable with, but a society that goes too far into the “good of the individual” end of the spectrum has its own set of problems. One only has to look at present-day Somalia to see what happens when there is no government to enforce the collective good of society. A balance is always necessary…but we can have endless and entertaining discussions around exactly where that balance point should be.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      I prefer the wild west as a model. A few robber barons, sure. But mostly, you’re either real polite, or you’re a good enough shot to demand that everyone else is. 🙂

      1. darcherd says:

        True, but that model has at its heart “Might makes right”. I’m not at all comfortable with someone else being allowed to impose their will on me just because they’re a better shot.

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