By What Right?

Quo warranto.

It’s part of obscure legal terminology. Literally, it translates as “by what warrant”. It is a legal formulation that questions authority in ruling over others, acting in an official manner, demanding compliance, claiming ownership, possessing economic benefits, making use of natural resources, declaring rights, etc. More than anything, it’s the last in the list that is most relevant to the modern mind. By what right?

Quo warranto has a specific legal meaning based on almost a millennia of Anglo-American history. But the idea itself is quite basic and intuitive, not to mention more broad and older (such as settling territorial disputes in the ancient world, “Do you not possess that which Chemosh, your god, has given into your possession? And shall we not possess that which our God has given into our possession?”; Judg. 11:24). This question of authority is at the heart of every challenge to anyone who has demanded or denied something to another. It’s an issue of what kinds and what basis of rights, who gets them and who enforces them.

Every teenager implicitly understands this, an age when arbitrary power becomes clear and burdensome. This sense of unfairness is far from limited to teenagers, though. It concerns every person who was ever taxed without representation, enslaved, indentured, debt bondaged, imprisoned, tortured, sentenced to death, had their land taken away, made homeless, put in a reservation or ghetto or camp (concentration camp, internment camp, or refugee camp)—anyone who felt disempowered and disenfranchised, who experienced power that was unjust and abusive, oppressive and overreaching.

Even the powerful sometimes find themselves demanding by what authority something is being done to them or to what they own. Such as governments forced to deal with revolts and revolutions, kings who have been deposed and sometimes beheaded, politicians confronted by mobs and protesters, and company owners having their businesses shut down by strikers. Authority ultimately is enforced by power and power comes in many forms, typically from above but sometimes from below. Of course, in a real or aspiring democracy, the issue of quo warranto takes on new meaning.

In the United States, quo warranto is most well known in its form as states rights. The history of this involves the secession and Civil War, Native American treaties and land theft, the American Revolution and early colonial relations with the British Parliament and Crown. As such, states rights are directly related to charter rights, as the colonies all had official charters and sometimes were operated as corporations. Charter organizations were once a far different kind of political and economic entity.

The later states of the United States were no longer treated as having charters for, in the early US, they were considered the ultimate source of authority as representatives of the people, not the federal government. It was (and still is) the role of states, instead, to give out charters—and, based on past British experience of the sometimes oppressive abuse of charters, the early states were extremely wary about giving out charters and extremely restrictive in the charters they did give. They wanted to be clear by whose authority charters were upheld or revoked.

This is a long way off from the origins of quo warranto. It first became a serious legal precedent in English law with King Edward I. His actions in challenging particular charters inadvertently helped to institutionalize those and other charters, specifically Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest. Initially, his focus was on the charters of boroughs, in their self-governance which at the time meant rule by local aristocracy.

This related to feudalism, the commons, and the rights of commoners—as they developed over the centuries. Feudalism formed the basis of later corporatism that became so important during the colonial era. Also, the notion of rights transformed over time as well. The commoners had their rights in relation to the commons. Once the commons were enclosed and privatized, the commoners became landless serfs. This led to centuries of social upheaval, from the English Civil War to the American Revolution.

When the first colonies were established, they quickly began to grow. England had to come to terms with its developing role as an empire. What were the rights of Englishmen as related to the rights of imperial subjects, Englishmen and otherwise. Many colonists sought to maintain rights of Englishmen while some in power sought to take them away. There was the additional problem that an increasing number of British and colonial citizens were not ethnically English. They were also Welsh, Scottish, and Irish; French, German, and Dutch—not to mention enslaved Africans and native populations.

Empire building is messy and complicated. If you want to rule over people, you have to justify your rule to compel compliance. Empires before had faced this dilemma, such as the Roman Empire, which eventually led a Roman emperor to declare all free inhabitants (no matter ethnicity, religion, or place of birth) to be Roman citizens with the rights thereof.

As Roman republicanism was an inspiration for the American founders, I’m sure this historical detail didn’t pass unnoticed—certainly not by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, a learned man about ancient history. Thomas Paine noted the problem of a multicultural empire; and, using different words, essentially brought up quo warranto: If a large number of colonists weren’t English, then by what right do the English have to rule such a vastly diverse and distant population? Even John Dickinson, no fan of revolution, ultimately defended the right if not the principle of revolution based on the precedence of quo warranto in constraining governmental power.

The colonial aspect is inseparable from that of corporations. Early charters didn’t clearly distinguish between types of official organizations. All charters were creations by the government and supposedly served the purposes of the public good. Chartered organizations were public institutions, having no independent rights other than what a government gave them and those rights necessitated obeisance to law and order, a public duty to country and countrymen, and a set of social obligations with a proscribed reason for existence and only for a set period of time before requiring renewal or forfeit.

Technically, even to this day, corporations as chartered by governments remain public institutions, not private organizations. Corporate charters can be revoked at any time for numerous reasons. But a corporate charter isn’t required to operate a business. A corporate charter simply gives legal and economic protections to a business in exchange for serving or at least being in compliance with the public good. What has changed is that, in corporations gaining power over the government, they’ve declared their own private interests to be primary—so defining public interests according to private interests instead of the other way around as it had been defined for all of previous history.

In early America, the idea of corporate personhood would not only have been an alien and oppressive idea but likely even sacreligious. The American founders and the generations that followed knew the dangers of corporate charters to act as oppressive agents of government or to take power for themselves in co-opting the power of government, even gaining influence over government. They regularly warned against this and wrote laws to protect against it. The acute awareness of this danger continued into the early 20th century, only having been forgotten in recent times.

Finding ourselves in an era of corrupt and oppressive corporatism, of a rigged political system and what at this point appears to be a banana republic, of a distant government disconnected from our lives and our ability to influence, of a militarized police state in endless war, we the people are confronted with questions of legitimacy. These are same questions faced by generations before us, by centuries of protesters and revolutionaries. By what right are we being ruled, if it isn’t by the authority of we the people in governing ourselves? Quo warranto?

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Quo warranto

Quo warranto (Medieval Latin for “by what warrant?”) is a prerogative writ requiring the person to whom it is directed to show what authority they have for exercising some right or power (or “franchise”) they claim to hold. […]

In the United States today, quo warranto usually arises in a civil case as a plaintiff’s claim (and thus a “cause of action” instead of a writ) that some governmental or corporate official was not validly elected to that office or is wrongfully exercising powers beyond (or ultra vires) those authorized by statute or by the corporation’s charter.

REAL Democracy History Calendar July 4-10

King Edward I, first to utilize the “quo warranto” written order
Quo warranto is a Medieval Latin term meaning “by what warrant?” It’s a written order by a governing power (e.g. Kings in the past, legislatures early in U.S. history, and courts in the present) requiring the person to whom it is directed to show what authority they have for exercising a claimed right or power. It originated under King Edward I of England to recover previously lost lands, rights and franchises.

This power was transferred to states following the American Revolution. State legislatures utilized “quo warranto” powers to challenge previously chartered or franchised corporations that acted beyond their original privileges granted by the state. The result was frequent revocation of corporate charters and dissolution of the corporations — in the name of affirming sovereignty/self-governance.

All 50 states still retain elements of quo warranto. The authority concerning the creation and dissolution of corporations was meant to be a legislative power, not judicial.

Real Democracy History Calendar April 4-10

State ex rel. Monnett v. Capital City Dairy Co., 62 OS 350 (1900) – example of corporate charter revocation
It was common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries for state legislatures and courts to revoke the charters or licenses of corporations that violated the terms or conditions of their charters. The legal procedure for this was called “quo warranto” in which the state demanded to know what right the corporation possessed to act beyond the terms of its state-granted charter.

Some states were more active than others in utilizing this democratic tool. Here’s an example of the language from an Ohio State Supreme Court “quo warranto” charter revocation decision:

“Quo warranto” may be invoked to stop corporation’s disregard of laws in conduct of authorized business, and to oust corporation if abuse be flagrant….The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world. In the present case the acts of the defendant have been persistent, defiant and flagrant, and no other course is left to the court than to enter a judgment of ouster and to appoint trustees to wind up the business of the concern.”

A Better Guide than Reason: The Politics of John Dickinson
by M.E. Bradford

Yet still he felt obliged to deny the principle of revolution, even as he maintained the right. As he had done in the Farmer’s Letters. As he had done since his first appearance in public office, as a member of the Delaware assembly in 1760. For, like no other American political thinker, John Dickinson had absorbed into his very bones the precedent of 1688. In abbreviated form, that creed might be abstracted as follows: The English political identity (the Constitution in its largest sense, including certain established procedures, institutions, chartered rights and habits of thought) is a product of a given history, lived by a specific people in a particular place. Executive, judicial, and legislative arms of government are bound by that prescription and must deal with new circumstances in keeping with its letter and its spirit. The same configuration qua Constitution should be available to all Englishmen, according to their worth and place, their deserts. And any man, upon his achievement of a particular condition (freeholder, elector, magistrate, etc.) should find that his rights there are what anyone else similarly situated might expect. Finally all Englishmen are secure against arbitrary rule under this umbrella and have an equal right to insist upon its maintenance. To so insist, even to the point of removing an offending component by force, is loyalty to the sovereign power.[3] To submit to “dreadful novelty” or dangerous innovation,” even if its source is a prince or minister who came rightfully to his position, is treason.[4] For the authority belongs to the total system, not to persons who operate it at a given time. Or rather, to such persons as “stand to their post” and attempt with and through it nothing contrary to the purpose for which it has been developed. It was this historic and legal identity, formed over the course of centuries by so much trial and error and with such cost in turmoil, which was deemed to be worth whatever efforts its preservation might require—given the danger of being called a rebel—because it was the best known to man.[5] And therefore the most “natural” and conformable to reason. To correct any declension from such experienced perfection was thus clearly more than patriotic. Like the Glorious Revolution itself, it could be called an assertion of universal truth.

[3] Dickinson cites Lord Camden and the statute quo warranto 18th of Edward I. See The Political Writings of John Dickinson, 1764-1774 (New York: Da Capo Press, 19701, edited by Paul L. Ford (originally published 1895), p. 485. From Lord Coke to Chatham ran the argument that law bound King and Parliament. See the famous Dr. Bonham’s Case, 8 Coke 118a (1610). Also Herbert Butterfield, The Englishman and His History (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1970).

“Why Process Matters,” By Bruce Frohnen
by Peter Haworth

It is worth noting, here, that we Americans owe our liberty, in no small measure, to a rather obscure set of circumstances going back eight hundred years in England. This set of circumstances arose from the greed and desire for power of a king, which were somewhat ironically channeled in a direction favorable to liberty by the procedural tool he chose in his quest.

First signed in 1215, Magna Carta generally is credited with institutionalizing due process in the English tradition. By committing the king to prosecute subjects only according to “the law of the land,” Magna Carta bound him to abide by procedures already existing throughout his kingdom, solidifying a powerful bulwark against arbitrary arrest and punishment. But the binding nature of law on kings was far from assured by this one document. It was significantly bolstered later in the thirteenth century by a series of events that combined elements of custom, law, and contract and related to the humble English borough.

Medieval English boroughs were relatively important towns with their roots in military encampments. Over time, many of these communities gained charters from the crown giving them significant rights of self-government. Whether awarded to them for special services or monetary donations, or rooted in customary relations from time out of mind, these charters were precious to those who held them. In theory, kings could only revoke such charters for cause, or for failure to exercise their rights. King Edward I (1272-1307) sought to bring boroughs more closely into his power by reviewing all their charters at essentially the same time. To do this he used an old common law writ called “quo warranto.”

Quo Warranto (or “by what right”) was a proceeding by which a person or community claiming a right to do something (say, appoint their own tax collectors or keep goods found on the local beach from a wrecked, unclaimed vessel) was ordered to show by what right they exercised their claimed powers. Before Edward, kings occasionally had revoked borough charters, either under quo warranto or through unilateral action. Edward had a grander scheme, by which he made every borough answer the question of by what right they exercised their powers of local self-government. If the party answered the writ successfully they would keep their rights, but if not the charter would be confiscated or held void. […]

Edward sought, not the elimination of all borough charters (he had not the power to make that kind of scheme succeed over time) but to better define which boroughs had what rights and to establish that a borough could have its charter revoked for abuse or noncompliance with its provisions. […] Perhaps the most important, if unintentional, byproduct of Edward’s aggressive program of quo warranto was institutionalization of Magna Carta. His grand, universal scheme required formal procedures, establishing due process rights that guaranteed, in the formula of the time, “each man’s own liberty, warranted by a charter, upheld in the courts.” […] Under Edward’s general quo warranto investigation, due process went so far as to show that the king, as a person, was not above the law.

Colonial self-government, 1652-1689
by Charles McLean Andrews
p. 17

The king’s interest in his revenues, as well as the demands of commerce and trade, the nation’s jealousy of Holland, and the influence of men like Clarendon and Downing, must be taken into account if we would understand the navigation acts, the founding of new colonies, the establishment of new boards and committees, and the quo warranto proceedings to annul colonial charters between 1660 and 1688. The colonies were the king’s colonies, and his also was the burden of providing money for the expenses of the kingdom.

Since the attempt to cripple the Dutch by the navigation act of 1651 proved a failure, the act of 1660, in repeating the shipping clause of the earlier act, made it more rigorous. Thenceforth ships must not only be owned and manned by English- men (including colonists), but they must also be built by Englishmen, and two-thirds of the seamen must be English subjects. In later acts of 1662 and 1663, provision was made whereby real or pretended misunderstandings of this clause might be prevented ; and one of the most important functions of the later committees of trade and plantations was, by means of rules as to passes, denization and naturalization, and foreign-built ships, to prevent trade from getting into the hands of foreigners.

American History
by Macrius Willson
p. 310

About the close of King Philip’s War, the king’s design of subverting the liberties of New England were revived anew, by the opportunity which the controversy between Massachusetts, and Mason and Gorges, presented for the royal interference, when New Hampshire, contrary to her wishes, was made a distinct province and compelled to receive a royal governor. ‘Massachusetts had neglected the Acts of Navigation— the merchants of England complained against her—she responded by declaring these Acts an invasion of the rights and liberties of the colonists, “they not being represented in parliament,” and when finally the colony refused to send agents to England with full powers to settle disputes by making the required submissions, a writ of quo warranto was issued and English judges decided that Massachusetts had forfeited her charter. Rhode Island and Connecticut had also evaded the Acts of Navigation, yet their conduct was suffered to pass without reprehension. It was probably thought that the issue of the contest with the more obnoxious province of Massachusetts would involve the fate of all the other New England settlements.

Throughout this controversy, the general court of Massachusetts, and the people in their assemblies, repeatedly declared they would never show themselves unworthy of liberty by making a voluntary surrender of it ; asserting, “that it was better to die by other hands than their own.”—The resolute, unbending virtue, with which Massachusetts defended the system of liberty which her early Puritan settlers had established, and guarded with such jealous care, deserves our warmest commendation. The Navigation acts were an indirect mode of taxing the commerce of the colonies for the benefit of England; and the opposition to them was based, mainly, on the illegality and injustice of taxation without representation—a principle on which the colonies afterwards declared and maintained their independence.

pp. 320-1

In his relations with the American colonies, James pursued the policy which had been begun by his brother. The charter of Massachusetts having been declared to be forfeited, James at first appointed a temporary executive government, consisting of a president and council, whose powers were to extend over Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Plymouth; and soon after he established a complete tyranny in New England, by combining the whole legislative and executive authority in the persons of a governor and council to be named by himself. Sir Edmund Andros received the office of governor-general.

It being the purpose of James to consolidate all the British colonies under one government, measures were immediately taken for subverting the charters of Rhode Island and Connecticut, both of which colonies were now charged with making laws repugnant to those of England. Writs of quo warranto were issued against them, but the eagerness of the king to accomplish his object with rapidity caused him to neglect to prosecute the writs to a judicial issue, and the charters were thereby saved from a legal extinction, but Andros arbitrarily dissolved the institutions of these colonies, and by the authority of the royal prerogative alone assumed to himself the exercise of supreme power.

The government of Andros, in obedience to the instructions of his royal master, was exceedingly arbitrary and oppressive, and he often took occasion to remark “that the colonists would find themselves greatly mistaken if they supposed that the privileges of Englishmen followed them to the ends of the earth; and that the only difference between their condition and that of slaves, was, that they were neither bought nor sold.”

In 1688 New York and New Jersey submitted to the jurisdiction of Andros. A writ of quo warranto was issued against the charter of Maryland also, and that of Pennsylvania would doubtless have shared the same fate had not the Revolution in England arrested the tyranny of the monarch. “When some vague intelligence of this event reached New England, the smothered rage of the people broke forth, and a sudden insurrection over threw the government of Andros—sent him prisoner to England—and restored the ancient forms of the charter governments.

The important events in England, of which the new settlement of the crown and the declaration of rights are the closing scenes, are usually designated as the English Revolution, or, the Glorious Revolution of I688. This Revolution gave to England a liberal theory of government, based on the avowed principle that the public good is the great end for which positive laws and governments are instituted. The doctrine of passive obedience to the crown, which the princes of the house of Stuart had ever labored to inculcate—which the crown lawyers and churchmen had so long supported, henceforth became so obnoxious to the altered feeling and sentiments of the people, that succeeding sovereigns scarcely ventured to hear of their hereditary right, and dreaded the cup of flattery that was drugged with poison. This was the great change which the Revolution effected—the crown became the creature of the law;—and it was henceforth conceded that the rights of the monarch emanated from the parliament and the people.

This Revolution forms an important era in American, as well as in English history—intimately connected as the rights and liberties of the colonies then were with the forms and principles of American of government that prevailed in the mother country. From this time, until we approach the period of the American Revolution, the relations between England and her colonies present great uniformity of character, and are marked by no great excesses of royal usurpation, or of popular jealousy and excitement. Hence that portion of our colonial history which dates subsequent to the English Revolution, embracing more than half of our colonial annals; has but a slight connection with the political history of England. The several important wars, however, in which England was engaged during this latter period, extended to America; and an explanation of their causes and results will show a connection between European and American history, that will serve to give more enlarged and accurate views of the later than an exclusive attention to our own annals would furnish.

Moreover, these wars, in connection with the growing importance of colonial commerce, exerted a powerful influence in acquainting the several colonies with each other; thereby developing their mutual interests.—softening the asperities and abating the conflicting jealousies which separated them—and, finally, gathering them in the bonds of one political union. The early portion of our colonial history presents a continuous conflict between liberal and arbitrary principles, and shows why we are a free people:—the latter portion, subsequent to the English Revolution, exhibits the causes which rendered us a united people.


Trust in an age of cynicism

Here is an awesome discussion about an important topic: public trust.

There is an increase of trust combined with gullibility caused by a fragmentation of trust. People trust others like themselves which is a reaction to modern multiculturalism and conflict of identity groups. Also, mistrust has increased because knowledge has increased. The national media informs people of all the bad things all over the world like never before… which has happened simultaneously as local media reporting on communities has decreased.

Many people (especially the older generations) would like to return to the simplicity and ignorance of the past, but the younger generations are more embracing of a complex world. I’ve seen polls that show younger people are less mistrusting of the media and the government. The younger generations are used to dealing with diverse sources of info and used to determining which info is trustworthy.

One possible solution is finding a new shared culture that will allow for social cohesion that will bridge the diversity between cultures, between communities, between generations. Et Cetera.

There was a central factor not brought up by anyone in this video. High wealth disparity correlates to high rates of social problems (including growing mistrust). Wealth disparity has been increasing in the US for decades and is at a high point not seen for a century. Accordingly, the US rate of social problems has increased above other countries with lower wealth disparity.

I just thought of another possible factor: Mean World Syndrome. One example of this is research showing most people (specifically in crowded cities) will walk past someone who is injured or unconscious. People don’t trust others and they realize others don’t trust them. In such mistrust, it’s a major risk to get involved in someone else’s problems or to take responsibility for public problems.

This relates to something brought up in the above video. One of the panelists said that when everyone is seeking to blame the other side neither side is willing to take responsibility.

One last point. Distinctions should be made. Even though the (possible) loss of trust has impacted everyone, it’s impact has been different in kind and degree for various demographics.

Conservative & Liberal Families: Observations & Comparison

This post is a continuation of my thoughts from my previous post.

Social Indebtedness: Strict Father Morality & Hierarchical Authority

I didn’t intend to have a second part, but I wanted to add more context for the ideas in question… which led to further thoughts. Some of the context of my thoughts is personal and I originally decided to leave out the personal for various reasons. Sometimes I prefer discussing ideas on their own merit. Also, I’m usually a bit reluctant to bring up certain personal experiences and observations, especially when they involve others.

The personal context I’m going to discuss relates to various families I’ve known over the years. I’m not, for the most part, going to speak about the details of specific examples and I won’t name specific people (but if you know me well enough, you might be able to guess). I’m going to take these specific examples and combine them so as to characterize similarities and dissimilarities between two general categories of family. These two categories are essentially conservative vs liberal (in the social, not political, sense), but I’m not theoretically generalizing about all conservative families and all liberal families. The examples I’m drawing from are limited to my experience of growing up as a middle class white person and so the families I’m considering are also middle class white families. Another similarity is that all or most of the these families were Christian… which is typical for the US. The main difference is that some of the families are from the South and some from the Midwest (which isn’t what divides the conservative and liberal families).

The main inspiration of my thoughts here is my having read George Lakoff’s book Moral Politics. In it, Lakoff discusses the conservative Strict Father family model and the liberal Nurturant Parent family model. Lakoff extends these models into the political sphere, but I won’t be doing that. As Lakoff points out, some people might use one model for one area of their life and use the other model for another area of life. For my purpose here, it doesn’t matter how respective families may vote or how they may otherwise act outside of the family. In case you’re interested, one of the “liberal” families I’m referencing has lived in the South for generations and so I wouldn’t be surprised if they voted Republican. I consider them liberal in terms of their parenting style (i.e., Lakoff’s Nurturant Parent). If you feel confused by what is meant by Lakoff’s labels, there is plenty of info that can be found on the web describing these parenting models (including some videos of Lakoff explaining it). To give a simplistic explanation, conservative parents emphasize their own authority (and emphasize punishment when their authority isn’t respected/obeyed) and liberal parents emphasize a more informal, egalitarian relationship to their children (and emphasize explaining to a child what they did wrong).

I should add that the types I’m going to describe only indirectly relate to Lakoff’s model. In a sense, I’ll be describing two sub-types (hopefully not stereotypes) that I’m familiar with (which may or may not fit the experience of others). So, there is a definite limitation to my following analysis. Like everyone, I’m biased by my own family experiences (my parents mostly parented according to Strict Father morality but they had some Nurturant Parent tendencies) and my own socio-political preferences (moderate liberalism with leanings towards civil libertarianism, socialism, and anarchism). I’m not claiming to be perfectly objective, but I am striving to gain understanding beyond mere subjective opinion.

For certain, this isn’t a fair comparison, but the unfairness of my making these two specific categories is simply based on what I’ve observed. Life itself is unfair. The two types of family I’m considering are of parents who seem to have had very different experiences themselves growing up. The conservative examples I’m drawing from grew up in what I’d consider (as a liberal) to be marginally dysfunctional families, either severely Strict Father households (with strict punishments) or else broken families (such as divorce). This doesn’t, however, mean these parents considered their own upbringing as having been dysfunctional or that these parents would necessarily see this as the motivating factor of their having used the Strict Father model for their own children. As for my examples of liberal parents, I also can’t comment on their perceptions of how they were treated growing up by their own parents. All that I can say about these two types of parents is that the liberal parents seemed to have maintained a closer relationship with their own parents… which I think is a telling detail.

Let me give further details.

The liberal parents I speak of remained in the same town, community, or region they grew up in. So, extended family lived nearby and were seen regularly by the children of these liberal parents (informal visits, holiday gatherings, family reunions, etc). The liberal parents’ children grew up in a more stable environment. They lived in the same neighborhood their whole life or maybe moved some distance within the same community. They grew up with the same neighbors and the children of neighbors. They grew up in the same school system and knew the same kids their whole lives. They went to the same church from childhood to adulthood.

Once upon a time, almost all families would’ve fit the description of my liberal family examples. Our society, however, has become increasingly mobile. The conservative parents in my sample moved around more… maybe because they didn’t want to remain in the same area that their own parents (and extended families) lived… or maybe because the parents thought it was part of their responsibility to be successful in their careers. Obviously, this led the children of these parents to have a less stable upbringing. I think this is very important since for most of human civilization people didn’t move around much. A mobile society is quite the social experiment. For whatever reason, the conservative parents in my sample were more willing to embrace this social experiment. I really don’t know what to make of this. I don’t see any reason why Strict Father parents might on average be more likely to move around than Nurturant Parent families. I couldn’t say why this pattern exists in the families with which I’m personally familiar (and I understand that my sampling is hardly representative).

I could point out a few possible reasons. In the US, conservative family values are defined in terms of the nuclear family. I was reading something recently (I can’t recall the source) of how these nuclear family values seem to be an extension of American individualism. Conservatives, in particular, believe in individual responsibility and, from the conservative perspective, the nuclear family is an extension of the individual’s responsibility. This focus on the nuclear family has the unintended consequence of undermining the importance of extended family and of community in general. Another possibility is that conservatives are attracted to the ideal of fiscal responsibility (of course, related to individual responsibility) and conservatives seem to have more respect for those who are highly successful in the business world (a sign of individual success and hence moral fitness/superiority). Does this lead to at least a certain type of conservative to be more willing to sacrifice other aspects of their lives (such as extended family and community) for the sake of career? Or could it be that parents with less social stability caused by moving around (meaning less family, friends, and neighbors to rely upon) are more likely to emphasize a stricter parenting style in response? My intuitive sense leans toward the latter.

Let me briefly explain my why I suspect the latter.

I was recently having a discussion with a friend about Lakoff’s book. He reminded me of the book Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff which is a book I’m somewhat familiar with. Liedloff shares her observations of tribal child rearing and it’s very different than what one might expect. Despite all the dangers, tribal parents as described by Liedloff seem fairly tolerant and trusting. It makes sense once you understand. To a tribal child, there are always adults and older children around. Tribal people don’t have jobs to go to. If they have work to do, they either bring their kids with them or leave them with someone else. Children are raised by the entire tribe. There is no need for strict rules about everyday behavior when there are so many people around to supervise. This less strict (i.e., liberal) parenting style is most easily re-created in the modern world with families that have remained in the same community for multiple generations (especially if the community is small and close-knit and/or if extended family has remained nearby). It’s only natural that parents without others to offer daily support will feel a need to rely upon more strict parenting to ensure children behave even when no adults are around.

However, as Lakoff points out, there are many reasons for why parents choose a particular parenting style. Some of these reasons are purely ideological. Also, I definitely think ideological tendencies are based in psychological attitudes that may relate to inheritable genetic predispositions. As for my samples, I can’t know the specific causes and motivations. Anyways, the reasons behind all of this are secondary, for my original intent, to the results. The real measure of liberal vs conservative parenting are the families themselves, specifically in how they relate to each other.

Let me give a specific example.

In one of the conservative families, the parents are critical of those who have personal problems. Such things as poverty and addiction are seen as signs of potential moral inferiority (a typical conservative attitude). Lakoff describes this in terms of the conservative notion of moral essence. Outward behaviors or lifestyles are seen as manifestations of an inherent character that each person possesses (hence, the reason why some conservatives value career so highly). This is the judgment that was behind Reagan’s allegation of poor black women as being “Welfare Queens”. So, one of these conservative parents critcized some other parents (I believe they were part of the extended family) for having let their grown son live at home. This grown son was, as I recall, a schizophrenic and drug addict. From the conservative viewpoint, these other parents were contributing to and supporting the grown son’s immoral behavior. I doubt this conservative was blaming the person for having schizophrenia, but it would seem that this conservative didn’t think the schizophrenic was doing enough to improve his life. If he had been in a drug rehabilitation program, the conservative’s judgment probably would’ve been different. For many conservatives, drug addiction is one of the worst possible sins because it’s both immoral and illegal (meaning all around irresponsible).

Let me compare that to one of the liberal families who has a grown son living at home. This grown son is an alcoholic, but otherwise has no problems and holds down a job. He still lives at home because he often needs to be given rides. His dad worries that if he didn’t live at home he might get in trouble or hurt himself trying to get home after drinking. These liberal parents are very protective and the conservative parents would say that the liberal parents are simply protecting the grown son from the real world consequences of his actions.

This is the part that relates back to the previous post which I linked at the beginning of this post.

The essential difference here seems to be how social indebtedness is perceived. The liberal parents believe family is obligated to each other and that such obligation doesn’t need to be morally earned. The conservative parents believe in necessity of morally earning what are perceived as moral rewards. I pointed out in the other post, h0wever, that hierarchical nature of conservative views on authority translates as this moral earning only working in one direction: from child to parent and not from parent to child. The conservative view is that the child is obligated to the parent without the parent needing to have earned it. I find this odd. The child of conservative parents can’t be sure he can rely upon his own parents to be there if he has personal troubles, in particular if those personal troubles are perceived as somehow failing the parents’ moral standards. The conservative parents would be confused, though, if the grown child later on didn’t act obligingly in taking care of the parents when they need help (such as when they grow old).

The question I wonder is: How many conservative parents would actually follow through on their own ideological values? It’s easy for a conservative parent to criticize the moral failings of other parents. But would they refuse to help their own child even if they perceive their child as having caused his own problems? It’s a genuine conflict. If they did help their child despite their own moral values, their actions would be hypocritical. Or is this hypocritical? Maybe there is a greater value at stake that trumps the conservative’s normal mode of righteous judgment. Maybe some conservative parents could realize, at least in the moment of genuine need, that their own love for their child means more to them than the family values their minister has preached about at church. The significant point is that such a situation is a conflict in the first place for conservative parents. For liberal parents, there is far less sense of conflict between enforcing moral standards and loving their child because the liberal parents are less likely to have as strict of an attitude about morality.

My personal assessment, of course, is that I side with the attitude of the liberal parents. The liberal families I’m thinking of are much closer and they seem more forgiving of each other’s imperfections. Also, they seem more willing to help eachother out on a regular basis. In conservative families, on the other hand, there is more conflict and more grudges. Among these, who wouldn’t want to belong to the liberal families? It’s not that the liberals are perfect, but that the imperfections become less of an issue. One factor that might relate to this is the general attitude towards ideology. The liberal families seem to be less overtly ideological in the sense that they don’t discuss or argue about ideology much. The liberal families spend time together simply enjoying each other’s company: cooking and eating, drinking, playing games, light conversation, etc.

I’m sure that there exists examples of happy and loving conservative families, but I just don’t personally know of them. Even so, I wouldn’t try to separate these families on the basis of measuring which parents are the most loving. I imagine that most parents perceive themselves as loving. There is some factor here, though, that does relate to love or rather the child’s experience of being loved. The conservative parents seem more formal in general. I know that one of the conservative families sat down to eat and pray together which none of the liberal families did. One of the liberal families had such an informal household that it was often chaotic. There usually was no sitting down together except to watch tv. As I recall, all of the liberal parents mostly let their kids do their own thing without a lot of rules and chores. None of the liberal parents were the type to ground their kids for breaking rules as the conservative parents did. I will say that the children of one set of conservative parents were maybe better behaved in some ways, but I can’t say they were overall better and I can’t say they necessarily turned out better when they grew up. The children of the liberal parents all went to college and all have jobs. Generally speaking, the liberal families just seem closer even to this day (more than a decade after their children graduated from high school). I can’t say that means they love each other more, but closeness certainly does seem like a necessary element of familial love.

As I come to my concluding comments, let me point out one of my other biases which isn’t mine alone.

I’m a member of Generation X and I suppose I’m typical in my cynicism about my elders and about my own parents. GenXers are known for having been raised in broken families with absentee parents (but none of the parents in my sample were divorced). In general, the parents of GenXers (Silents and Boomers) have been known for their relaxed parenting style (by which I mean absentee parenting and not necessarilly liberal). GenXers have been called latchkey kids because our parents weren’t around much. The 70s and 80s were not kid-friendly times, but more important was the fact that many parents were, unlike previous generations, strongly focused on their careers to the detriment of family. Many GenX children had both parents working. It was normal for GenX children to come home to empty houses and parents typically didn’t know where their kids were after school. Parents in a two job household are busy and distracted parents. My own parents weren’t horrible parents, but they fit much of the pattern of the parents of my generation. I’m trying to sift through my generation’s childhood and separate the good from the bad.

Interestingly, the liberal families I’ve been discussing only had one parent working (or at least only one parent working a normal job that took them outside of the home). In one of these liberal families, the stay-at-home parent was the complete opposite of strict and also he had some psychological issues which caused him to not be as responsible as he otherwise might have been, but nonetheless he was always around and he spent a lot of time with his children. So, that is a big difference. The children of all these liberal parents grew up with a parent who was usually around and available. This is where I speculate that the conservative families that had two working parents felt a need to be more strict about rules for the very reason they were around less. The question is why did they choose to both work. The liberal families I’m speaking of most definitely weren’t wealthy and I have no doubt they could’ve used a second income. Maybe it’s easier to have only one parent working if you never move from the community (of family, friends, and neighbors) that you were raised in. So, the question then is: Why did the conservative parents choose to leave their childhood communities in order to seek careers that forced them to travel or else why did they choose a lifestyle of moving that required particular types of careers?

I’m of the opinion that Generation X has been more impacted by a less stable upbringing than any generation before. I’d say this impacted the children of both conservative and liberal families, but in the examples I’m familiar with this social instability had greater impact on the children of the conservative parents. Even though society itself was less kid-friendly when GenXers were growing up, the children of these liberal parents maybe had relatively more stability than most GenX children (it helped that none of the families in my sample lived below the poverty line). It’s understandable to an extent that young parents starting out in life don’t realize they are experimenting on their children. When the parents of GenXers themselves were children, they grew up at a time when stable communities were still intact to a large degreee. In the 50s and 60s, many communities were still very healthy and the downtowns were still economically viable. At that time, factories were being put up all over the place. Times were good and society was optimistic. So, these parents can’t easily understand the very different world that GenXers grew up in. This is equally true for conservative as well as liberal parents.

I’m not necessarily arguing that one group is inherently superior in all ways. Neither type of parent could possibly guess the long term results of their lifestyles and their parenting styles. Ultimately, maybe it doesn’t matter. Results are results. As I see it, the liberal parents I know of seem to have had better results. I can’t base any final conclusions on such limited observations, but I do think the comparisons I’ve made do illuminate important differences. In understanding Lakoff’s theory in the context of my personal observations, I feel confident that at least some of these perceived differences are directly correlated to the parenting styles.

On a more personal note, I must admit I feel less forgiving toward the conservative parents. Doing this comparison, I can see failings in all of the parents, whether conservative or liberal. Nonetheless, there is a difference that matters and this difference goes beyond even results. The conservative parents seem more righteous in their family values and more judgmental of the parenting style of others. Because of this, I think that their righteous judgment should be turned back towards their own failings. Even if the results (and failings) were equal, liberal parents invite forgiveness in their having a more forgiving attitude towards others and the conservative parents invite judgment in having a more judgmental attitude towards others. So, if the liberal parents taught their children anything worthy it is this attitude of acceptance and understanding. Even if the conservative parents were somehow absolutely right, how would their righteousness serve their children well and serve society in general well?

My criticisms here are partly self-criticisms. I’m not a parent and I don’t want to be. I can be quite righteously judgmental at times. This tendency in me doesn’t encourage a happy outlook nor happy relationships. For this reason (among others), I’m glad I’m not a parent. I wouldn’t want to pass on to my (hypothetical) children my own failings.

Social Indebtedness: Strict Father Morality & Hierarchical Authority

I had a thought about Lakoff’s idea of conservative Strict Father morality and how it’s related to hierarchical social organization.

A parent or a church has the responsibility to raise a child well according to the values of the model. That makes perfect sense.

However, once raised, that child is considered wholly responsible to himself. And, so, the parents or church are no longer responsible to the child who has become an adult. But the grown child is forever responsible to the parent or church that raised him. It’s a debt the adult can never pay.

It’s the latter part that confuses me. Why doesn’t in particular the parent forever owe the child that the parent forced into the world? Why are all the failings of the raised individual considered entirely to be blamed on the child? And why do conservatives have a tendency to say people they deem as good as having been raised well and hence giving the credit to the parents or church?

It seems that in the hierarchical worldview there is a permanent inequality among social roles. The child’s only hope in gaining the upperhand is to one day take on a position further up in the hierarchy (such as becoming a parent or minister). But the child, even once a parent himself, will never have ultimate hierarchical position until his own parents die. Power is automatically deferred to those high up in social status and those lower in social status have little to no right to challenge that power.

The whole hierarchy is built on an inherent indebtedness. Just by being low on the totem pole, you owe everything to those above. In terms of fundamentalism: God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man, (and, in Catholicism, the Pope is the head of the Church), man is head of the woman, and parents are the head of the child. Those above owe nothing to those below, but everyone ultimately owes everything to God who is at the very top.

What is strange about this is that those on top don’t have to earn the indebtedness that those below owe to them. They inherit the indebtedness simply by taking on a particular social role. Those in positions of authority (parent, husband, minister, etc) deserve unquestioning respect.

Of course, there are less extreme conservatives who moderate this slightly. They might see authority as being more complex in that it includes other social systems such as government and capitalism. They might justify this hierarchy through a rationalization of meritocracy. Those in positions of authority are assumed to have earned their position… and therefore those with less socio-economic status are by definition less deserving. Those with power and wealth have no obligation to help those without power and wealth. In fact, it would be perceived as morally wrong and so would be perceived as undermining the moral order for any exception to be made to this hierarchy of indebtedness.

To someone that lives in this worldview, it boggles their mind that someone of inferior status (child, wife, etc) wouldn’t automatically defer to the authority of their superior status. It just seems wrong that the inferior status person wouldn’t act obligingly. As such, it is automatically assumed the child will take care of his parents when they grow old. The parents morally deserve being taken care of simply by right of having superior status. The parent doesn’t have to earn being taken care of. It doesn’t even matter if the parent didn’t take as good of care of the child as they could have. In the extreme forms of this worldview, the parent is always right.

I find this perplexing. As an individual (whether in my role as child, citizen or whatever else), I’m only willing to do anything for someone who I believe is willing to do anything for me. I don’t feel I automatically owe anyone anything. Those in positions of authority or who otherwise have higher status have to earn my respect. Why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t respect be either mutally given or mutally earned?

 – – –

 * As a side note, there does seem something inherent (genetically or culturally) to this different attitude towards power and authority. I remember a study that showed liberals state more willingness to hit their fathers. I would assume this would be even true if the father hit the child first. Bob Altemeyer has done research that shows those with high Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) have more fear about the world. So, would the conservative (especially the extreme conservative that most strongly correlates with RWA) not challenge authority simply out of fear? As a liberal, I’d say respect isn’t worthy if it’s based on fear.

Democracy: Disinterested Aristocracy vs Educated Public

I have a theory.  It may or may not be true.

If people are informed, they are more likely to make rational decisions that will lead to moral behaviors.  If given the chance, people are able to think for themselves.  In a democracy, public education and a free press theoretically serve the purpose of not only giving people valid information (rather than propaganda/misinformation) but also teaching analytical thinking skills (which would help individuals see past propaganda/misinformation).  It would seem that a democracy can’t function (except as a superficial facade) unless the education system and media effectvely serves this purpose.  To the extent they fail, people aren’t capable of making rational decisions that lead to moral behaviors.

This failure leads to ideological justification by those in power not to inform the public and to actively misinform the public.  Many in power believe it’s outright dangerous to share too much information with the public.  Also, it’s simply in the personal interest of those in power to not encourage the general public towards independent thinking.

So, this is why democracy makes a wonderful ideal but tends not to live up to it’s own idealism.  Despite what some claim, democracy isn’t based on the ideal of enlightened selfishness for in reality what is in the personal interest of those in power is too often not in the best interest of the average person.  Democracy, in reality, can only work if people are willing to sacrifice their personal interest for the greater good.  But this has to be willing because if forced it’s just something like communism (although an authentic democracy could be socialist and I would argue that any authentic democracy inherently has aspects of socialism).  So, what would actually cause politicians to act for the greater good?

The Founding Fathers believed in a disinterested aristocracy (but it should be mentioned that this doesn’t conflict the populist strain within American society; public education existed early in US history and Benjamin Franklin helped start one of the earliest public libaries).  The idea of disinterested aristorcracy was that, by being above the troubles and responsibilities of the common person and by being above the capitalist entanglements of the businessman, the professional politician could be objective about what is truly good for all.  The idea is that being a politician is a social role one plays and not a personal career move.  This attitude of the Founding Fathers was genuine and became established when George Washington refused to become a life-long ruler as many expected (and as some hoped).  George Washington stepping down of his own freewill from the reigns of power was simply unheard of in the world at that time.  Maybe this worked in early America because the Federal government was so small and people had great freedom to make their own decisions.  The aristocracy could remain disinterested because they lacked extensive power.  It’s been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The problem with America is that it couldn’t remain a small agrarian culture forever.

There was one other attribute of Founding Fathers as disinterested aristorcracy. The Founding Fathers were the intellectual elite of American culture. They may have made their money in various professions, but what they’re remembered for is being great thinkers. They were well educated and they saw part of their role as helping educate the public (for example, they started public libraries and published newspapers). Along with being intellectuals, they were also inventors and scientists. Benjamin Franklin became famous and helped America’s cause through his inventions and scientific discoveries. Some of the Founding Fathers embodied the ideal of the Rennaisance man who knows a little bit about everything. This is very different from today. Politicians no longer are considered the intellectual elite of our culture. Most present politicians didn’t start their careers as professors and intellectuals. And science, for sure, doesn’t seem to be of great interest or concern to the majority of politicians these days (except as it applies to military technology).

Modern America still has a disinterested aristocracy but it just no longer is the politician who plays this role.  In their place, scientists and media reporters became the new class from which we expected objective insight and guidance.  During much of the 20th century, Americans idolized scientists and reporters.  These authority figures were fully trusted.

However, now even this has changed because all of society has changed.  In particular, technology has changed.  With the internet, information is now widely and easily accessible by the common person.  We no longer need a disinterested aristocracy to mediate information for us.  In fact, anyone who tries to mediate our information is looked upon with wariness.  At the same time, propaganda and advertising has become increasingly advanced.  Those in power are becoming more subtle in their ability to manipulate people, in their ability to manipulate public opinion.  The government is learning from it’s mistakes, but it’s surprising how little changes in many ways.  Human psychology is the same now as it was a hundred years ago.  The government keeps repeating the same propaganda techniques even as it refines them.

Is the disinterested aristorcracy a dead ideal?  Or will a new group of people take up this role?  In the information age, who will the coming generations trust?

Interestingly, the Millennial Generation seems to trust their own peer group more than adult authority figures… which I suppose is a phenomenon that started with the latchkey kids of Generation X who perfected the attitude of mistrusting authority.  Millennials trust what they hear repeatedly from their friends and from internet buzz.  They’re less likely to trust a single source.  It’s been a long time since the whole nation sat rapt in front of their televisions all listening to Walter Cronkite say “And that’s the way it is.”  Can you imagine people trusting the opinion of a single person so blindly?  Uncle Cronkite said it and so it must be true.

Nowadays, we’re overloaded with viewpoints.  Gen Xers especially learned to always check for opposing views and to look at the data to decide for ourselves… maybe because we’re such a small and under-represented group.  I’m not sure about the generations growing up now, but the very idea of a disinterested aristocracy goes against the whole mood of Generation X.  Rightly or wrongly, we post-Boomers tend to believe we can think for ourselves.  Why should we expect politicians, scientists and reporters to do our thinking for us?  Why shouldn’t authority be questioned?  Even the Founding Fathers understood that freedom requires eternal vigilance.

I have one last thought.  I have noticed that some people still idealize the concept of the disinterested aristocracy.  Mostly, I’ve noticed this with the Boomer Generation but I’m not sure it will die out with them.  The biggest proponent of this is the Boomer Ken Wilber who is a proponent of Integral Theory which borrows heavily from Spiral Dynamics.  A major idea in this Wilber’s worldview is that there are different levels of development and the higher the development the more clear one can see previous stages.  According to the theory, this is a particular distinction between what is called 1st tier and 2nd tier.  Once someone has developed to 2nd tier they can see the whole structure of 1st tier and will thus make the ideal leader.  They can speak to people on all different levels because they’re not attached to any of them.  Essentially, the 2nd tier person is the ultimate disinterested aristocracy.  Only a small percentage of people have developed 2nd tier enough that they can take up this role.  So, it’s up to them to guide the lesser developed general public.

I have no particular opinion about whether this theory is true or false, but I do wonder about it’s implementation.  Even though a 2nd tier person may think they’re perfect material for the disinterested aristocracy, they still have to convince the self-interested lower classes.  Some might find it of interest that a few well known politicians are fans of Wilber’s work.  A notable example is Bill Clinton… yet another Boomer.

I suppose there will always be people who will justify their power as disinterested aristocracy.  That is of little interest to me.  What fascinates me is the view from the crowd.  All political power is based on a social contract whether overt or implied.  What causes people to believe or disbelieve that those in power actually have their best interest in mind and are capable of acting on it?  Do people even care?  Or is there just something in human nature that wants to believe in some wise and good authority figure, be it God or a politician?  Is the only thing that matters is that someone, anyone fills the role? And, if the role is filled even marginally, will people always follow obediently?

Has technology actually changed the game or not?  Even in this age of information, do people actually want the whole truth whatever that might mean?  We’ve all grown up being lied to by so many authority figures that it seems normal.  Even the liar has to convince himself in order to tell a convincing lie.  Deception seems to be normal human behavior.  Would we even recognize the truth if it were offered to us?  What would a society look like that was based on an open sharing of unbiased knowledge?  Is such a thing even imaginable?

Some believe that people have to be saved from themselves.  Some people believe that democracy is in danger of being destroyed by the crowd.  Are these beliefs true?

 * As a note, I’d guess that the idea of disinterested aristocracy originated with Plato’s Philosopher King.  The general idea probably became popular in many cultures during the Axial Age.  As for democracy, it’s interesting how two models influenced Western thought.  Athenian democracy was always romanticized with it’s participatory citizenry and it’s engaged public debate.  This represents the ideal of democracy, but the reality of modern democracy tended to take a different direction.  Western governments have often been more drawn to Spartan democracy with it’s elite governing class who rules by military force but which protects itself from being taken over by a dictator through the division of power.  US democracy, for certain, is closer to Spartan democracy… but maybe the Founding Fathers were originally trying to establish the Athenian model.  However, the pull between the two types of democracy is ever present.  If we become too cynical about the ideal of disinterested democracy, do we risk going too far in the direction of militant democracy?