While it might seem that the political division in the United States is between Democrats and Republicans, underlying these designations are social philosophies. The real division is between two competing notions of culture. The perspectives of political parties are only an outgrowth of differing ways to imagine society.
On one hand is the concept that society is a collection of individuals whose only responsibility is to the self. The role of government, and every other societal institution, is to keep out of the way. This ideology is derived from a deeply embedded notion called Social Darwinism, which posits as its primary axiom the survival of the fittest.
The naturally strong are those fit to inherit the earth. Their genetic equipment is backed up with personal drive. These are people who have the genetic substance and will allowing for progress, and they guarantee the survival of the next generation. This radical libertarianism was probably in the minds of some of our nation’s founders prior to the generation of the Constitution. Driven by a more egalitarian motif, that document sought a compromise between individualism and an interdependent society.
In modern times, Social Darwinism has taken shape in the objectivism of Ayn Rand. She spelled it out in 1962 newspaper article:
“Every man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”
Her novels, “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” describe the struggle of the individual against both governments and other agencies which seek to control personal power. Many of the hard right-wing causes and persons in the United States believe in the centrality of objectivism as the genius undergirding democracy. While Social Darwinism has long since been refuted in much of the world, it still enjoys currency here.
The opposite understanding of culture lies in the notion of an interdependent community. While individual rights are not discounted, they lie embedded in a social fabric. We are all partners of one another and have a responsibility for one another, particularly for the weak. No one is an island entirely to himself. Every person is connected to every other person. It is the only way society can survive. The implications of this notion run all the way from the establishment of a defense force to food stamps.
While we are not a Christian nation, much of the notion of mutuality flows from the religious roots which have guided much of American history. If one is honored, all are honored. If one suffers, all suffer. You probably are familiar with the texts. Interdependence lies at the core of religious ethics.
Beyond that, our Constitution defines a government of mutual concern and support. It begins, “We the people,” and goes on to detail what the people are going to do together through their elected officials. Nowhere does the Constitution suggest that we are no more than a collection of isolated individuals.
These two very different notions of society’s nature undergird very different political philosophies, platforms and candidates. My suggestion is that instead of looking at slick 30 second TV ads or listening to robo calls, you decide which of these underlying positions is yours, and then find the candidates who most nearly match it.