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Thursday, 21 June 2018 10:53

The True Purpose of Political Association According to Social Credit

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     In my book, Social Credit Economics, I began my reconstruction of Douglas’ economic thought by identifying what Douglas regarded as the true purpose of economic association. That the economy exists “to deliver the goods and services which people need to survive and flourish with the least amount of labour and resource consumption” served as the point of departure for a proper understanding of Douglas’ diagnosis of our economic ills, and it also served as the Archimedean point over and against which any proposals for economic rehabilitation were to be judged.  When it comes to discussing Social Credit political theory, perhaps it would be best to adopt the same method and to return to the beginning, as it were, by identifying the true purpose of political association.[1]

     Political association is, at least from one specific point of view, the association par excellence; it is the association of associations or the association in which all other associations move, live, and have their being. It is concerned with the regulations (laws, etc.) and corporate actions which coercive institutions introduce and undertake in order to determine the overarching parameters within which all other associations within a society are to function. Political association is thus comprised of the relationship between the government and the governed.

     Like any other association, the specific sort of activity which political associations engage in must be carried out for some reason or purpose. No human grouping arises ‘just because’; they all possess a final cause or reason for being, to speak in Aristotelian terms. In order to properly understand the Social Credit diagnosis of the problems with contemporary political associations and the remedial proposals which Douglas presented, it is first necessary to discern what the true purpose of political association actually happens to be.

    Theoretically speaking, there are only three possible ends which a political association can serve. Its activity can be regarded as an end in itself, or it can be viewed as a means to an end. If it is treated as a means to an end, its de facto purpose may coincide with the reason that motivated and continues to motivate individuals to form political associations in the first place, or it may deviate from that end and serve some extraneous goal.

     With respect to this particular set of alternatives, Douglas noted the following: “Either the normal desires of the community when they are capable of realisation, are entitled to recognition and satisfaction, and the whole machinery of government exists to that end, or they are not. If they are not, there presumably exists somewhere an alternative set of desires of which the government is the representative.” [2]  

     On the principle that the true purpose of an association necessarily coincides with its raison d’être, we must conclude that political association is a means to an end and that, in this case, the specific end in view must be the objective which motivates human beings to establish political associations in the first place.

     So what is that objective? Why do people willingly enter into or otherwise acquiesce in this compact between the governed and the government? Clearly, people associate politically in order to gain for their own use the various types of benefits which political associations can deliver with the least amount of cost. But what are those benefits?

     Unfortunately, to my knowledge, Douglas never did provide a suitable definition that would capture the true or correct purpose of political association in the same way that he did when he defined the purpose of economic association as delivering the goods and services, as, when, and where required, with the least amount of trouble to everyone. The closest statement I have been able to locate along these lines is found in one of his later works that was dedicated mainly to political issues, The Brief for the Prosecution. In that book, Douglas introduced the following principle as a sort of central axiom for the political sphere:

“It is a legitimate corollary of the highest conception of the human individual that to the greatest extent possible, the will of individuals shall prevail over their own affairs.”[3]

     Building on this principle, we could say that the true purpose of political association is to ensure that the will of each and every individual will prevail over his own affairs to the extent that this is physically or objectively possible and to do this with the least amount of trouble to everyone. In other words, political associations exist to ensure that an individual’s effective sovereignty (the power to determine and then implement policy) concerning his own affairs might be maximized within the context of human society.

     The achievement of this end is the only justification for coercive institutions. Regulations of various sorts and corporate governmental action can only be justified in virtue of the inherent nature of reality, i.e., only if and insofar as they show themselves to be necessary or otherwise helpful in placing each and every individual (to the extent that this is objectively possible) in a position of effective sovereignty over his own affairs:

“There is only one sane objective of government and that is to make it easier for everybody to do those things that are possible. That is the only justification for government – that by organisation and doing things according to certain rules you can do things more easily and comfortably. To imagine that we are born into the world to be governed by something not inherent in the cosmos is one of the most astonishing pieces of hypnotism that has ever afflicted the world.”[4]

     The preceding statement regarding the true purpose of political association contained four key components: 1) ‘the will of each and every individual will prevail’, 2) ‘over his own affairs’, 3) ‘to the extent that this is physically or objectively possible’, and 4) ‘with the least amount of trouble to everyone’. For the sake of clarity, it will be useful to flesh out the meaning of each of these elements.

     That ‘the will of each and every individual shall prevail’ is an affirmation of effective sovereignty. Effective sovereignty as applied to individuals possesses two distinct aspects: there is the individual’s sovereignty or the power to determine policy and then there is the access to the various sorts of resources which are necessary if the individual is to possess sufficient power with which the policies he has selected might actually be put into effect. The first element might be described as negative liberty (freedom from), or the ability to do what one wishes without being interfered with by political or other external authorities. The second refers to what many thinkers have in mind when they speak of positive liberty (freedom for), or the possession of that raw power (made available to an individual directly or indirectly by his political association) which is needed to actually do what he wishes.[5]

     The recognition of these two aspects permits us to see that while the ultimate end of political association involves the maximization of the effective sovereignty of individuals, the achievement of this objective necessarily presupposes the adequate fulfillment of three penultimate ends: the maximization of security, of freedom (sovereignty or negative liberty), and of access to prosperity in all of their politically deliverable forms: 

“... we want, first of all, security in what we have, freedom of action, thought, and speech, and a more abundant life for all.”[6]

     ‘Freedom of action, thought, and speech’ is constitutive of negative liberty, while ‘security in what we have’ and ‘a more abundant life for all’ represent the sources of positive liberty, without which negative liberty is useless.

     As I have sought to stress in some recent articles, maximizing the effective sovereignty of every individual within the context of a political association actually requires the placement of appropriate limits on both negative and positive liberty. The nature of these limitations is implied by the second phrase which was used in defining the true purpose of political association. ‘Over his own affairs’ is an indication that the exercise of the individual’s effective sovereignty is to be duly restricted to those activities which are compatible with the full flourishing of political association. The individual is to have the maximum effective sovereignty possible over his own affairs, not over the affairs which genuinely belong to others, nor over the bona fide functional necessities of any association.

     Another sort of limitation on the individual’s effective sovereignty is that which is referred to by the third phrase used in the formula, i.e., ‘to the extent that this is physically or objectively possible’. There are, on account of the inherent nature of things, objective limitations on what human beings in association can achieve. It would not be reasonable to expect or demand from a political association that it deliver a kind or degree of effective sovereignty which cannot be metaphysical accessed, either in principle or as a matter of fact, by the individuals composing that association.

      Finally, the fourth phrase, ‘with the least amount of trouble to everyone’, simply means that political associations should achieve their proper end in the most efficient manner possible, i.e., without imposing artificial burdens or unnecessary decrements of association on their individual members.    

     Now perhaps the most important implication of the true purpose of political association as this is might be defined by Social Credit has to do with the fact that this correct end or purpose also constitutes a democratic policy in the truest sense of that word; i.e., it is the policy which any rational human being would choose as the governing policy of the political association in which he is to live if he were forced to choose amongst the various alternatives from behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance.[7] In other words, the decentralization of effective sovereignty to each and every individual to the greatest extent possible (i.e., keeping in mind the objective limitations and the functional necessities of political association) is the one objective upon which we could all agree. This common policy may be succinctly described, if sufficient care is taken to understand the term in its Social Credit, rather than in its libertarian, ‘liberal’, or libertine senses, as the policy of universal ‘freedom’:

“There is only one policy which will obtain the unquestioned acceptance of everyone for himself, and that is comprised in the word ‘freedom’. And it is exactly that policy which, in my opinion at any rate, requires to be made universal.”[8]

     The reader will duly note that the Social Credit vision of a free society as the true purpose of political association is not the vision of a society that is free of all coercive institutions (i.e., anarchism), nor is it the vision of a society that is only concerned with maximizing the negative ‘rights’ of individuals – whether these constitute authentic liberties or not (i.e., libertarianism). A truly free society is one in which both the bona fide negative and positive freedoms of each individual are maximized to the greatest extent possible. This goal can only be reached, however, via organized obedience to the political Canon. In the words of Geoffrey Dobbs, there is a “... real meaning which can be attached to the words: A Free Society. This is not ... a ‘free for all’, in which everyone can do what he likes, irrespective of everyone else, but a Society based upon Natural Law, i.e. upon the nature of things, and particularly of people.”[9]

     It should also be pointed out, in close connection with latter part of Dobb’s statement, that the distribution of real freedom to individuals ought not to be understood as an end in itself but as one of the necessary means for the fulfillment of the proximate or penultimate end of human existence: self-development, and, through self-development, the proper use of freedom is actually a means to the fulfillment of the ultimate end of man. Political systems are justified if they maximize, not some amorphous negative or positive ‘freedom’, nor a lowest common denominator ‘equality’, but the conditions under which man can develop most freely, because the free expansion of individuality is the essential condition of his well-being.[10]

     In summary, government, like political association in general, is a mere means to a transcendent end which represents one manifestation of the common good (distributively defined). The permitting, prohibiting, and organizing functions of government are to serve as a mere function of that proper end, i.e., all governmental activity should effectively aim at maximizing each individual’s effective sovereignty over his own affairs with the least amount of trouble to everyone. From this it follows that political association is not an end in itself, nor is it a means to usurp the unearned increment of political association in the service of oligarchic interests. To treat political association as a tool for forwarding one’s own aims or those of one’s class at the expense of the common good is to pervert its essential nature. Such dysfunction can only result in a general state of dissatisfaction.





[1] As any serious student of Social Credit has discovered, Douglas’ thinking contains a normative dimension that has been largely eschewed by many other post-Humean manifestations of the British intellectual tradition.

[2] C.H. Douglas, The Alberta Experiment (Western Australia: Veritas Publishing Company PTY. LTD., 1984), 54-55.

[3] C.H. Douglas, The Brief for the Prosecution (Liverpool: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1945), 72.

[4] C.H. Douglas, The Approach to Reality (London: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1936), 12.

[5] The essence of positive liberty was described by Douglas in the following terms: “... power to make decisions is freedom for the individual, ...” C.H. Douglas, Credit Power and Democracy (Melbourne: The Social Credit Press, 1933), 6.

[6] C.H. Douglas, The Tragedy of Human Effort (Vancouver: The Institute of Economic Democracy, 1978), 7.

[7] This is a reference to one of the chief conditions of John Rawls’ well known ‘Theory of Justice’.

[8] C.H. Douglas, Security Institutional and Personal (Liverpool: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1945), 19. Cf. C.H. Douglas, The Control and Distribution of Production (London: Cecil Palmer, 1922), 90-91: “There is no possible definition of a policy which is all-embracing in its acceptance other than the word ‘Freedom’. People only unite in wanting what they want.”

[9] Geoffrey Dobbs, Responsible Government in a Free Society (Fitzroy: W. & J. Barr Pty. Ltd., date unknown), 17.

[10] It is not the task of governments or political system to make people happy; they are in no position to guarantee happiness for any one individual or group of people. What they can and ought to do is to use those powers which legitimately fall to them to promote well-being by ensuring that social conditions are most propitious for the establishment and promotion of the life more abundant for every citizen. As we have noted in the main body of the text, those conditions have often been summarized in one word: freedom.




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