My Facebook Tagline: The Philosophical Principles that Shape My Standpoint

I am getting questions about the text beneath my name on my Facebook profile. It reads: “Teacher, musician, humanist, democrat, feminist, libertarian, republican, socialist, skeptic, infidel.” I cannot be all those things, people are telling me. I am even being told this by people who are not even my friends on Facebook (people are checking out my Facebook page).

I presume that teacher, musician, humanist, feminist, skeptic, and infidel is not what screws people up. By infidel I mean that I stand outside any religious system. I am an atheist. The rest is clear enough, I think. I will nonetheless discuss my understanding of these terms in a moment. It is the democrat, libertarian, republican, and socialist tags that gets people, so let’s begin with these

Democracy is a political system in which individuals enjoy collective power to determine the things that directly affect them. A democrat is a person who advocates for a substantial degree of political and social equality of people. In ancient Greece, the demos was constituted by the ordinary citizens in a city-state. My democracy advocates for the widest scope of popular sovereignty possible that does not interfere with personal sovereignty.

This is where my libertarianism comes in. A libertarian is a person who advances a political and moral philosophy emphasizing personal sovereignty. The focus is on freedom and autonomy. Libertarians are concerned with defending individualism, choice, and voluntarism. Libertarianism is a political philosophy articulating traditional liberal values: free thought and speech, freedom of association and assembly, and secularism or religious liberty (freedom of and freedom from religion). A libertarian is concerned with principled defense of civil liberties and individual rights. Defending liberty is an important piece of democratic republicanism wherein public and personal rights are balanced in a manner enlarging and deepening freedom and self-actualization. The US Bill of Rights is the paradigm of the libertarian conception of liberty.

A republican is a person who advocates for the establishment and preservation of a republic, that is a representative form of government comprised of citizens (as opposed to absolutism over the subject). The republicanism I advance is democratic and libertarian one: a government founded on a constitution with a bill of rights shaped by the pragmatism of common law. I embrace popular sovereignty for citizens with constitutional protections extended to all persons residing within the juridical boundaries of the republic. A republican rejects inherited authority, such as an hereditary monarch.

I identify as a democratic republican. A democratic republican is a person who believes in popular sovereignty with limited government with respect to individual liberty and protection of civil rights. That I am a humanist follows from this. I am also on this account a liberal and a secularist. I am a feminist because I believe in the equality of individuals.

Please note that the tag is small “d” democrat. It does not refer to Democrat, as in the Democratic Party. If I had meant to indicate that I would have capitalized the word. Same with republican. I am not referring to political parties but to political philosophies. I support neither of the two major parties currently running the United States. The political parties who go by these names do a very poor job of reflecting the political philosophies from which their names are derived. They have become organs of corporatist and globalist forces. They undermine popular sovereignty and work technocratically not democratically. Our democratic-republican system is in danger of being canceled by bureaucratic-corporate power.

I do realize that the socialism part is confusing. This is because of the pervasive character of bourgeois ideology in capitalist societies. Socialism refers to a type of economic system wherein workers and communities have substantial control over and collectively benefit from the means of production. Those who produce goods and services own and control the means of their production for the good of themselves and their families and ultimately their communities. Socialism does not negate democracy (it may in fact enlarge it), republicanism (republic governments can exist with socialist economics), or libertarianism (there is no inherent reason why collective ownership and benefit limit individual freedom—these may actually expand opportunities to be freer).

Of course, socialism can appear with association with a variety of types of government arrangements. It can exist in an authoritarian political and legal framework in which the state controls the means of production. Or it can appear in a democratic-republic wherein the workers enjoy a substantial degree of control over the means of production. Because I am a democrat, my socialism is democratic socialism operating within the framework of a secular republic wherein citizens are empowered to make these determinations. Because I am a humanist, economic decisions citizens make are informed by reason and science. Because I am a libertarian, individuals are free to determine what they will do with their share of the social product with due consideration for the rights of others.

Okay. I said I would define the other terms.

I mentioned this several times. Humanism is a scientific and ethical worldview emphasizing human agency and human rights. Humanism is an epistemological stance eschewing dogma and superstition for evidence and critical thinking. I am also a Marxist and some assert that the mature Marx was an anti-humanist. It is beyond the purpose of this blog to get into this (I address this elsewhere), but I do not agree Marx was anti-humanist. Indeed, Marx’s advocacy for the full emancipation via social revolution of humanity from the alienating conditions of segmented social arrangements is quintessentially humanist in substance; alienation is unfreedom, and therefore a distortion of species being.

Feminism is politics advocating sexual equality and opposing patriarchal organization of communities. A feminist affirms the right of girls and women to exist as autonomous individuals and not subordinates to men or the norms of masculinity. A feminist holds special regard for the unique character of women and for this reason staunchly defends personal sovereignty, bodily integrity, and reproductive freedom.

An infidel is a person who does not believe in religion or who holds a religious view different from the one his accuser holds. I am the first sort, usually defined, given the intensity of my infidelity, as antitheism. An antitheist is more than an atheist—either the type of atheist who has insufficient reason to believe religious claims or the type of atheist who knows the claims of religion are false on reasonable grounds—but rather a person who finds religion objectionable. I tolerate religious belief because I am a libertarian. For the same reason, I oppose the imposition of religion.

Skepticism is a rational attitude towards truth claims, the default position of which is doubting the truth of any significant claim without compelling evidence or reason. Knowledge is verified belief or information. This does not mean that knowledge is fixed and eternal. It means that knowledge is based on facts gathered and studied via rigorous methodology with a readiness to consider contrary evidence (disconfirmation). Skepticism means that discovery and the dialectic informs consciousness; if one encounters facts or argument that cast doubt on what he believes, and if he can no longer sustain his belief using reason (not ideology), then he modifies or abandon that belief. A key aspect of skepticism is charity in argument, that is working through contrary claims with an open mind.

Nothing in my tag line contradicts anything else in my tag line. The confusion represents an inadequate understanding of political theory and, really, a lack of creativity in thinking about political possibility. My mind changes on matters of substance. But the principles identified in my tag line have been my guiding principles for decades.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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