When approaching the contemplation and discourse of politics, it is valuable to first consider why to invest thought in the process at all. There are millions of wonderful things in the world that would delight in the pleasure of our attention. Why is it, then, that we select this particular subject as one of the most worthy of our mental investment?
The importance of any subject, at least in the eyes of a society, is the aggregate accumulation of each individual’s personal valuation of that subject. However, such assessments of value are made far from individually; the more people around us gravitate toward a conclusion, the more inclined we are to do so as well—such is the reality of human nature and our need for belonging, and thus such is the importance of our acknowledgment of such a tendency.
Politics, then, is important insofar as it remains the most effective tool for creating an ideal environment in which individuals are free to choose what they value most in this life and what they ought to focus on in pursuit of their own happiness. In any political matter, therefore, it is our first duty as individuals fighting for our personal freedom—and as a result, the freedom of our fellow citizen—to evaluate how any political action, inaction, or reaction might affect the ability of the individuals in a society to exercise their own free will in whatever ways they so choose.
After we have recognized the core principles of liberty and self-determination as the founding bedrock of the practice of politics, we can then proceed to determine what political philosophy best manifests that foundation, and which theory our politics should intend to emulate. Once we have established the ideal path to advance the individual’s freedom to pursue their happiness, we are then free to engage in the practical applications of our selected political theory.
In our modern representative democracy, while it is often more electorally effective and rhetorically attractive to characterize the contest as a dispute of motivations or the moral values upon which the vying political systems are founded, it is often counterproductive to the debate and damaging to the pursuit of the truth. Even when the basis of disagreement is the clash between individualism and collectivism, neither party would spurn the claim that it is the one promoting the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The most common characterization of political disagreement is that which concerns the concrete ideas of how to advance our shared moral values as free citizens. Most generally, this debate manifests itself in the form of big versus small government, often at the expense of the discourse that would result in policies that would best guarantee the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In fact, the debate between big and small government is a dispute that falls under the realm of practical policy making—it originally evolved as the practical sparring of individualism and collectivism, both of which claimed the superior vision of how to establish a society in which people are most free to pursue their unique passions. Even more left-leaning societies, like the Scandinavian nations, value an individual’s freedom to choose how to live their lives. The debate over government size, then, is really more a question of the best generalized policy-making route to ensure an individual’s autonomy. The argument to be had is whether government action can enhance an individual’s freedom—as could be argued the case for public education and the attainment of the tools necessary to achieve financial stability—or if any government action is inherently a violation and reduction of an individual’s freedoms—as could be argued the case that public education decreases the freedom of an individual to apply their education costs to whichever program they deem most appropriate for their life goals.
To quote Churchill, we’ve reached neither the end, nor even the beginning of the end; but we have, perhaps, reached the end of the beginning. The fundamental question that we should be asking as it relates to the formation of public policy is this:
Will the given policy contribute or detract from the individual’s ability to pursue their own happiness?
Here, now, is where the true debate begins.