November 22, 2017

Free Excerpt: Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Where_Do_Conservativ_Cover_for_Kindle

CONTENTS

Chapter One: Something is Wrong with the World

Chapter Two: Where Do Conservatives Come From?

Chapter Three: Where Do Liberals Come From?

Chapter Four: Where Did the Founding Fathers Come From?

Chapter Five: Defending the Creed The Conservative Tide

Notes

Chapter One:

Something is Wrong with the World (excerpt)

There are a few basic principles that virtually all Americans still claim to believe in. They are summarized in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

There are few, if any, Americans who would disavow that short passage. It is so universally accepted that we’ll call it the American Creed.

Jefferson had a gift for conveying enormous ideas in very few words. This was one of his finest moments. In those one hundred thirty-four words, he captured all of the elements of the political treatises of his time. It’s worthwhile to take a moment and break it down.

First, the Creed talks about what philosophers back then called “the state of nature.” The state of nature is the condition man would find himself in if there were no government. Critics sometimes mistake this to mean some ancient time when we all wore fig leaves and ate only what we could find on the ground or club over the head. They misunderstand the term “state of nature” to mean a time before government ever existed anywhere on earth. That’s not correct.

The state of nature can occur anywhere and anytime, wherever and whenever there is no effective government to enforce law and order. Think “Lord of the Flies.” But it doesn’t have to be on a desert island, either. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke observed that all princes existed in a state of nature relative to each other, because there was no government over them.

The Creed says that in the state of nature we are all equal and have certain rights. These rights come from our Creator and are inherent. They aren’t granted to us by any government. These rights are also “unalienable,” meaning they cannot be taken away. Neither can we surrender them ourselves. Unalienable rights are as much a part of us as our own skins.

The Creed then tells us the purpose of government: to secure these unalienable rights. That’s a very limited purpose that necessarily precludes other things some people believe governments are supposed to do. But the Creed is unambiguous. Government’s purpose is to secure these rights, period.

The Creed concludes by reminding us that whenever the government becomes “destructive of these ends,” meaning it fails to protect or itself violates our unalienable rights, we have the right to alter or abolish the government and construct a new one.

Both liberals and conservatives claim their philosophies are the true basis for the American Creed. In the chapters ahead, we’re going to examine the foundational conservative and liberal philosophers to try to confirm or deny those claims.

Along the way, we’re going to meet some interesting people, like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. But don’t worry. We’re not going to spend hours analyzing the categorical imperative or rubbing our chins and asking “Why am I here?”

We are going to revisit what these writers and thinkers said about the nature of man, the purpose of government, and the extent of the government’s power and compare their ideas to the American Creed.

In other words, we’re not just going to rehash what conservative and liberal politicians have said and done. We’re going to try to figure out why they said and did those things. We’re going to try to figure out how they think.

The results are going to surprise you.

 

Chapter Two:

Where Do Conservatives Come From? (full chapter)

This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s, and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!””

–          Attributed to Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt[xii]

 

Conservatives get their name from their desire to “conserve” the socio-political structure as it is. If change must occur, it should be gradual and as undisruptive as possible. Rather than “liberal,” the true opposite of conservative is really “radical,” as in “radical change.” That more than any specific policy is what the conservative fears most.

American conservatives are divided into two groups, as were their British forebears. They generally agree on most things. They share the same vision of the nature of man, the purpose of government, and the extent of the power invested in government. They disagree on the form of government or how that power should be distributed.

We’ll call the first group “centralizers,” because they seek to centralize government power, both in a national government and in the executive branch. That’s something liberals accused George Bush of trying to do with executive orders, signing statements, and other “unilateral” executive policies.

We’ll call the second group “constitutionalists,” because they seek to divide power between national, state and local governments and between separate branches within those governments. These would be more like “Old Right” conservatives Robert Taft or Barry Goldwater. A resurgence of Old Right conservatism is emerging today out of the Tea Party movement, with its emphasis on constitutional checks and balances.

While these two groups of conservatives have fought some epic internal battles over the course of American history, they have also worked together just as often. As they agree on most things, they tend to close ranks to resist perceived threats to their shared principles.

The literary traditions of British and American conservatism are rich. One could name hundreds of works as important in understanding conservatism. However, there are two men who are very much foundational: Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke.

Hobbes plays the larger role in developing the philosophy of conservatism. Living a century before Burke, he develops the tenets of conservatism from “the ground up,” articulating conservative ideas that Burke would echo later. Their chief differences are on the form of government. Hobbes was a centralizer and Burke a constitutionalist.

Conservatives on the nature of man

All conservatives agree on man’s nature. In a word, we’re bad. Very bad. So bad that life without government is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[xiii]

Hobbes lays out this view in his massive work, Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, generally referred to simply as Leviathan.

First, he discusses man’s condition in the state of nature:

“Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.”[xiv]

That sentence was written over three hundred years ago. We’re going to be looking at passages like this from time to time to demonstrate just how long some of these ideas have been around. Don’t let the “haths” and “thereupons” throw you. We’ll provide translations in 21st century English wherever necessary.

In this passage, Hobbes is just saying “all men are created equal,” just like in the American Creed. But then he says this:

“From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies, and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy or subdue one another.”[xv]

Where the American Creed says that man’s natural equality is the source of our rights, Hobbes says it is the source of all human conflict. Talk about a glass half empty kind of guy! It gets worse:

“Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man.”[xvi]

Hobbes actually believes that man’s natural state – meaning his condition in the absence of any government (whether twenty thousand years ago or tomorrow) – is a state of war. That’s pretty grim, but it is the basis for all conservative thinking. Not only does man need a government, but one powerful enough to “keep him in awe.” Otherwise, he is in a de facto state of war with every other man.

This isn’t just a 17th century idea. If you’ve seen the movie Apocalypse Now, it conveys the same message. It was based on a book called Heart of Darkness by lifelong conservative Joseph Conrad. Conrad’s novel was set in colonial Africa, while Francis Ford Coppola resets the story in the Viet Nam War, but the message of both is identical. As the main character, Marlowe, travels farther up the river and into the unsettled interior, he gets farther from the confines of society and government. The farther from these confines he gets, the more savage and insane the people become. The journey ends with Kurtz, who embodies man’s true nature when unrestrained by government. Man literally has a “heart of darkness.”

Whether you agree or not, both the movie and the book convey the idea brilliantly. Coppola also weaves in the insanity of war as a theme, without losing Conrad’s original message.

Burke and the constitutionalists are in lockstep with Hobbes on the nature of man. Russell Kirk, the 20th century intellectual leader of Burkean conservatism, says this in his own introduction to Leviathan:

“What must strike the reader with especial force, in this cold and relentless book, is the almost diabolical truth in Hobbes’ interpretation of human nature.”[xvii]

He also presents Burke’s view of man’s nature as indistinguishable from Hobbes’:

“Burke knew that just under the skin of modern man stirs the savage, the brute, the demon. Millennia of bitter experience have taught man how to hold his wilder nature in a precarious restraint; that dread knowledge is expressed in myth, ritual, usage, instinct, prejudice.”[xviii]

Now that you’re really feeling good about yourself, let’s go a bit further. We’ve established that man is bad and that it’s unfortunate that we are all created equal, because it brings out even more badness in us. What about those “inalienable rights?” Are we endowed by our Creator with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Not quite.

“And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone (in which case everyone is governed by his own reason and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies), it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body.”[xix]

Hobbes takes a completely different approach to the concept of rights than does the American Creed. Where the Creed describes rights as moral principles, Hobbes is more mechanistic. Forget “what ought to be,” Hobbes is only concerned with what goes down when the rubber hits the road. And what really goes down is killing, looting, pillaging, cars turned over and burning…You get the picture.

Again, Burke agrees here with Hobbes. He quotes Hobbes directly in Reflections on the Revolution in France,

“Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it; and exist in much greater clearness, and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection: but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection.”[xx]

The idea that man has “a right to everything” in the state of nature completely contradicts the American Creed. The Creed assumes rights are negative. They describe what other people should not do to you.

For example, the right to life is not the positive right to live under any circumstances. When someone is killed in an earthquake, we feel bad about it, but we do not say his right to life was violated. The right to life is specifically the right not to be killed by another human being.

Similarly, the right to liberty is the right not to have someone forcibly interfere with your peaceful actions. You might want to fly. That you can’t does not violate your right to liberty. Only violent interference by other people constitutes a violation of your right to liberty.

Implicit in the American Creed is the existence of these rights in the state of nature. They are not endowed by government, but by our Creator. That governments are created “to secure these rights” confirms that they must exist before government.

But conservatives don’t believe that. They believe that man has a right to everything in the state of nature, even to one another’s bodies, meaning there can be no rights to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness in this state. Since these rights do not exist without government, then the purpose of government must be something other than what the Creed says it is.

Hobbes goes on to say that none of the benefits of civil society are possible in this state, because man’s entire life is dominated by the constant fear of violent death. Without a government “to keep them in awe,” men cannot acquire property or benefit from the division of labor, because other men will immediately attack them and steal whatever they produce.

He goes so far as to say that death of natural causes is rare in the state of nature. Yikes!

So, as far as the state of nature goes, both Hobbes and Burke reject the tenets of the American Creed, as do the schools of thought they founded within conservatism. Russell Kirk sums up the conservative position on the Creed when discussing John Randolph:

“John Randolph of Roanoke wholly repudiated the common interpretation of the Declaration of Independence, denounced Jefferson as a Pied Piper, and turned his back upon political abstractions to seek security in prescription and in an unbroken vigilance over personal and local rights.”[xxi]

Conservatives on the purpose of government

Burke summed up well what conservatives see as the purpose of government. Government exists to “thwart” man’s natural inclinations and to take him out of the state of war and into a state of relative peace.

Burke gets this idea from Hobbes as well, who said that men form government for the purpose of “getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war, which is necessarily consequent (as hath been shown [ch.xiii]) to the natural passion of men, when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants and observation of those laws of nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters.”[xxii]

This idea that only the awesome power of government can keep our dark nature at bay explains quite a bit about the way conservatives react to the world today. While non-conservatives have a natural instinct to resist what they think is a bad law, even to practice civil disobedience, this scares the living daylights out of conservatives. They believe it’s better to follow a bad law until it is changed than to undermine the authority of the government in any way. Once the idea of resisting a law is introduced, we’re on our way back to the state of nature, which is a state of war.

It also explains why conservatives generally support law enforcement officers no matter what the circumstances. Rarely will you see conservatives side with an alleged victim of police brutality. Their first instinct is always to side with the police officer. That’s because they see the “thin blue line” as more than just functionaries who enforce the law. To conservatives, they are literally all that stands between civilization and the inherent state of war that exists wherever there is an absence of government force.

There’s a scene in the classic film Gone with the Wind which captures this idea beautifully. As Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara try to escape Atlanta ahead of the Yankees, the retreating Confederate Army momentarily blocks their way. Scarlett remarks, “Dear, I wish they’d hurry,” to which Butler replies,

“I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to see them go, if I were you, my dear. With them goes the last semblance of law and order.”

Before the soldiers are even out of view, a bench is thrown through a shop window and the looting and pillaging begins. It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is made. The minute government force is not present, man reverts to his natural, savage state.

This reasoning also explains conservative support of the war on drugs, even when confronted by its obvious failure. Conservatives see the use of recreational drugs as a departure from the kind of lifestyle that helps ensure an orderly, peaceful society. Like the concept of “gateway drugs,” conservatives see any departure from tradition as “gateway behavior” that will lead to other breakdowns of the laws and traditions which protect us from ourselves.

Conservatives on the extent of government power

As Hobbes says repeatedly throughout his treatise, the power of government must keep men “in awe.” Since man has no rights in the state of nature, he carries nothing with him into society. He transfers all of his individual authority over to the sovereign power, whose power is absolute and inalienable.

A government of absolute power is incompatible with the idea of “inalienable rights,” which conservatives do not believe in. Again, this is not only a conservative tenet from hundreds of years ago. Kirk confirms this as late as the 1950s:

“And natural rights do not exist independent of circumstances; what may be a right on one occasion and for one man, may be unjust folly for another man at a different time. Prudence is the test of actual right. Society may deny men prerogatives because they are unfit to exercise them.”[i]

It’s important to remember the difference between the powers vested in a government and the particular form government takes. Hobbes and Burke both believe the government should have absolute and inalienable power, but differ on how that power is distributed throughout the government.

This is very relevant to 21st century America. Today, Americans typically think of “democracy” as the type of government that provides freedom, while dictatorships or monarchies provide less freedom or no freedom at all.

However, it is not the form of government that determines the freedom of the people, but the power that government is allowed to wield. A dictator could theoretically provide more freedom than a democracy, if the dictator’s powers were limited and the democracy’s powers were not.

Hobbes takes pains to remind us of this distinction throughout Leviathan. When he speaks of the sovereign power, he often includes the parenthetical qualification “whether a monarch or an assembly.”

The inalienability of government power also contradicts the American Creed. Hobbes argues that once a commonwealth is formed and sovereign power invested in the government, the subjects can never change the form of that government. This completely contradicts the Creed’s assertion that the people have the right to alter or abolish their government and replace it with another.

Burke for the most part agrees in principle, if not in degree. He bases his criticism of the French Revolution on the Hobbesian idea that once the social contract made, it binds not only the people who made it, but all of their descendants. In Burke’s own words,

“The law by which this royal family is specifically destined to succession, is the act of the 12th and 13th of King William. The terms of this act bind ‘us and our heirs, and our posterity, to them, their heirs, and their posterity,’ being Protestants, to the end of time, in the same words as the declaration of right had bound us to the heirs of King William and Queen Mary.”[ii]

For Burke, the only circumstances under which the people are ever justified in dissolving the government and forming a new one are those where the king has committed such heinous acts against the people that he has fundamentally violated the social contract made between the monarchy and the people’s ancestors. Outside of that, the people are permanently bound by the contract made by their ancestors.

This would seem to contradict Burke’s support of the American Revolution, but it does not. Burke’s support of the Americans was based upon his opinion that the sovereign power had broken the social contract. He sees the attempt by Parliament to impose new taxes on the colonies and legislate in areas they hadn’t before as “innovations,” or breaks with the established contract between people and sovereign.

Burke’s position on the revolution is completely consistent with conservatism and explains one reason the American Revolution was successful: both conservatives and their opponents found common ground to unite in opposition to the mother country. Conservatives supported the revolution based on Burke’s argument. Non-conservatives supported the revolution for their own reasons.

The assumption that the subjects of a commonwealth must invest absolute and inalienable power in the government leads Hobbes to conclusions that would seem shocking to most modern Americans. Hobbes asserts that the sovereign is above the law and cannot be punished by his subjects.

The sovereign must even determine what teachings, both secular and religious, are proper for the people to have access to, as the sovereign must be “judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse, and what conducing, to peace.”[iii]

This explains the importance of religion in politics for conservatives. For Hobbes, people must have the proper religious beliefs or they will be tempted to undermine the sovereign power, which must never be challenged. Therefore, the head of state should also be the highest religious authority, as the King of England was head of the Church of England.

Burke also believed that a state religion should be a government institution. As Kirk puts it,

“To inculcate this veneration among men, to consecrate public office, Burke believed that the church must be interwoven with the fabric of the nation…’Religion is so far, in my opinion, from being out of the province of a Christian magistrate,’ Burke wrote, ‘that it is, and it ought to be, not only his care, but the principal thing in his care; and its object the supreme good, the ultimate end and object of man himself.”[iv]

Both Burke and Kirk go so far as to say that the state itself is ordained by God to restrain the evil impulses of mankind. Even public policy they oppose vehemently is chalked up to the will of God if it overcomes their opposition and becomes firmly established legal tradition.

Opponents of conservatism today tend to see conservatives as seeking to impose their religious beliefs on other people out of petty tyranny. Whether you agree with Hobbes and Burke or not, examining their positions should at least inspire a little sympathy for conservatives on this point. They don’t promote the influence of religion in government just to impose their beliefs on other people. They truly believe society will break down without it.

Since the rights to life and liberty are not inalienable and carried into society, conservatives see them as privileges granted by the government. The government determines the bounds of liberty within society.

Rick Santorum was widely criticized for expressing this basic conservative principle during a 2012 Republican primary debate while responding to fellow candidate Ron Paul. Immediately afterwards, Santorum’s earlier comments in a 2005 NPR interview were all over the media:

“One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a Libertarianish right. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. That is not how traditional conservatives view the world. There is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.”[v]

Libertarians went apoplectic at this statement. David Boaz of the Cato Institute told Judge Andrew Napolitano the he didn’t “know of any other politician, other than Rick Santorum and Hillary Clinton, who have directly attacked the idea of the pursuit of happiness. It’s in the Declaration. It’s the fundamental idea of America.”[vi]

Boaz was wrong about there not being other politicians who agree with Santorum. Whether you agree with him or not, Santorum’s is right about one thing. Traditional conservatives do not see the world the way libertarians do. In fact, they don’t really believe there are inalienable rights, including to the pursuit of happiness. They may say they do, but the when it comes to applying that principle to policy, they consistently react as Santorum did here.

That government defines the amount of liberty people can enjoy is another old conservative idea. As Hobbes argues,

“Seventhly, is annexed to the sovereignty the whole power of prescribing the rules whereby every man may know what goods he many enjoy, and what actions he may do, without being molested by any of his fellow-subjects; and this is it men call propriety.”[vii]

In addition to liberty, Hobbes says the government also determines what right its constituents have to the ownership of property. This is also a departure from the Creed, as property rights are implicit in the pursuit of happiness. We’ll see in a later chapter that the natural right to acquire property and dispose of it as you wish is inextricably tied to the American Creed. It’s essential to pursuing happiness in the real world.

That’s not to say that happiness is solely determined by the accumulation of material wealth. Far from it. But the freedom to acquire property and dispose of it as one sees fit is necessary to be able to pursue one’s dreams, whether they are material, intellectual or spiritual. If you want to quit working and devote the rest of your life to study or prayer, you’re going to need material means to keep yourself alive in order to do it. That’s not being overly materialistic, just realistic.

Conservatives certainly defend private property rights, but not as a natural right. Rather, they are privileges bestowed by the government to individuals for the betterment of society as a whole, just like liberty. This has serious implications for their economic policy.

Kirk argues that Burke and the constitutional conservatives depart from Hobbes in that they rely not only on government power, but also on “the old motives to integrity, the old religious disciplines, and all those tender elements of free and local association[viii] to restrain man’s passions [emphasis added].

For Burke, our rights are the result of these longstanding traditions, rather than merely what liberty and property the government allows us to enjoy. He calls these “prescriptive rights,” meaning rights based upon longstanding custom. Kirk constantly refers back to these throughout his Conservative Mind as essential to preserving a free society.

His characterization of these traditions as free associations might lead one to believe that Burkeans believe rights are more than just government-granted privileges.

But this is disingenuous. The institutions Kirk refers to may be local, but they are hardly free. One cannot refer to a state religion with a tax subsidized clergy and legally mandated participation as a “free association” without grossly abusing the English language.

Whether religion, inheritance laws, local regulation of tradesman or a dozen other institutions, both Kirk’s and Burke’s objections to “destruction” of longstanding customs amount to resistance to removing legal mandates and subsidies. Put bluntly, these institutions only became longstanding because people were forced to continue them by the government, whether local or central. How is this different from Hobbes?

For example, Kirk decries “the levelling agrarian republicanism of which Jefferson’s was the chief representative, zealous to abolish entail, primogeniture, church establishments, and all the vestiges of aristocracy…”[ix]

The word “levelling” is misleading, as it suggests positive government redistribution of wealth, which Jefferson consistently denounced. Kirk conflates removing existing government power with granting it new power. This is by no means the only occasion.

Abolishing primogeniture actually enhanced property rights. Primogeniture required fathers to bequeath all of their estates to their first born sons, regardless of the father’s wishes. Abolishing primogeniture didn’t prohibit the father bequeathing to the first born son; it merely gave the father the freedom to do otherwise if he wished. The right to dispose of one’s property as one sees fit is an essential element of owning property at all.

Similarly, Jefferson didn’t attempt to abolish churches. He merely proposed that churches no longer be subsidized. Before the revolution, Virginia subsidized the Anglican Church, but not others. After abolition of the subsidy, Virginians were still able to and still did attend church, including the Anglican Church. They were simply no longer forced to subsidize the sovereign’s church.

Conservatives are so reluctant to change established legal traditions that they typically defend institutions they previously opposed if they’re around long enough. When the New Deal was first proposed, conservatives passionately opposed it as destroying the foundation of American society. They were correct that it was a fundamental, constitutional change.

Fifty years later, Ronald Reagan raised taxes to allow Social Security to continue, saying the bill “demonstrates for all time our nation’s ironclad commitment to Social Security.”

During the 2012 elections, “fiscal hawk” Paul Ryan excoriated President Obama because his Affordable Care Act threatened the stability of Social Security and Medicare.

Libertarian author Tom Woods expresses frustration with this tendency, writing “Someday, Conservatives Will Defend Obamacare.”

“What were once fought tooth and nail as wealth redistribution and obvious violations of the Constitution are now ‘conservative New Deal principles.’ The word ‘entitlement’ is used favorably as well. Defending such things has become conservative, now that enough time has passed. We just want to administer the programs of liberalism more efficiently, and call it conservatism.”[x]

The reasoning here isn’t mysterious. When the New Deal was first proposed by FDR, it was a break with established legal tradition. It was therefore a threat to societal order, for all of the reasons previously stated. Now that it has been in place for decades, conservatives view it as the established legal tradition and vehemently defend it.

This is all consistent with Hobbes’ original premise that to challenge the sovereign power, regardless of how objectionably it is wielded, is to endanger all of civil society. It is better to suffer under bad laws than to risk civil war or chaos by changing them.

There really is no disagreement between Hobbesian centralizers and Burkean constitutionalists on the extent of the powers of government. Conservatives from Hobbes to Burke to Rick Santorum believe government power should regulate all areas of life. It is on how this power should be organized and distributed that conservatives are divided.

Conservatives on the form of government

For Hobbes and the centralizers, all power is invested in a sovereign and is indivisible. Hobbes is against any mixed form of government because it de facto results in a separation of powers. He acknowledges the many dangers of putting absolute power into the hands of one man, but argues that any government by an assembly, either elected or aristocratic, suffers from the same “inconveniences” while offering none of the security a monarchy can provide. He acknowledges that indivisible sovereign power can be invested in an assembly, but believes absolute monarchy is preferable.

“Fifthly, that in monarchy there is this inconvenience: that any subject, by the power of one man, for the enriching of a favourite or flatterer, may be deprived of all he possesseth; which I confess is a great and inevitable inconvenience. But the same may as well happen where the sovereign power is in an assembly; for their power is the same, and they are as subject to evil counsel, and to be seduced by orators, as a monarch by flatterers; and becoming one another’s flatterers, serve one another’s covetousness and ambition by turns.”[xi]

Hobbes would have been completely against the U.S. Constitution, particularly the idea that the different branches of government should retain their own independent powers and check each other. He didn’t necessarily oppose the existence of the British Parliament, as long as it rubber stamped the wishes of the king. But the sovereign power should never be divided. That only weakens it and increases the danger of returning to the state of nature or civil war.

This reasoning also informs Hobbes’ assertion that the secular and ecclesiastical authority must be united. As the scriptures are open to interpretation, it is up to the sovereign to decide which interpretations will be accepted by his subjects. The subjects must be educated according to the wishes of the sovereign and in such a way that they will not question the sovereign power nor the form of government they live under. Therefore, the sovereign dictates the form and content of education and even appoints the pastors of churches.

God forbid any subject of the sovereign entertain a religious idea that even questions the dictates of the monarch. From any individual right of conscience comes dissolution of the sovereign power, civil war, and eventual decline into the miserable state of nature. It is far better for the monarch to tell people what to believe, regardless of their opinions.

Hobbes conscientiously practices what he preaches in this respect. For, although he spends over 250 pages undertaking the monumental task of interpreting all of the Christian bible, he says he would be willing to change his interpretation if his monarch so ordered him!

Burke and the constitutionalists mostly agree with Hobbes on the marriage between religious and political power; they just don’t believe it should be centralized. When Burkean constitutional conservative John Adams drafted the first Massachusetts constitution, it allowed the legislature to pass laws making religious instruction mandatory. However, it stipulated that the local towns and parishes retained the right of electing the teachers. It read,

“To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.

And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subject an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.

Provided, notwithstanding, That the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic, or religious societies, shall at all times have the exclusive right and electing their public teachers and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance.”[xii]

This same argument continues today regarding both religion and education. Hobbesian centralizers supported George Bush’s initiatives to subsidize (and thereby control) “faith-based organizations” to perform some government social services and “No Child Left Behind” to subsidize (and thereby control) public education.

Constitutional conservatives don’t necessarily believe public money shouldn’t be spent on either of these functions, but they believe it should be local or state governments who do the subsidizing and controlling, not the federal government.

This is really the way Burke and the constitutionalists think on all issues. Their one substantive departure from Hobbes is their unwillingness to centralize all power in one place. Both Hobbes and Burke recognized the potential for abuse, but Hobbes said the abuses of an absolute monarch were worth the price to ensure that the government remained powerful enough to do what it has to do.

Burke and the conservatives in his tradition disagree. They see the king or the legislature as made up of the same fallen creatures that make up the assembly. Dividing the power of government between executive and legislature and federal, state and local governments provides powers to keep the politicians “in awe” and ensure their dark natures are not allowed to roam free and create havoc.

But even though the constitutionalists want power divided, it still extends to all areas of life. If the federal government isn’t going to regulate a particular area, they want the state government to regulate it. If not the state government, then the municipal. Or the town. Or your local school board. Nothing remains unregulated. The country remains “planted thick with laws.”

Conservative economic policy

Today, conservatives constantly profess their belief in free markets, but that doesn’t jibe with any of the policy they enact. It may surprise self-identified conservative voters, but conservative politicians have traditionally been the opponents of free markets throughout British and American history. We’ll get to that in a later chapter.

Conservatives do vigorously defend private property, but for different reasons than true free market proponents. While free markets place power with the individual, both Hobbesian and Burkean conservatives are more concerned with the health of the collective.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear this when conservatives talk about economic issues. They consistently promote policies that they say will “build a strong economy” or “promote economic growth.” Their arguments are based upon what is best for what Hobbes calls “the commonwealth.” Rarely will you hear traditional conservatives promoting an economic policy based upon the property rights of the individual. Their concern is what will make the commonwealth strong as a whole. The collective must remain strong to keep the nature of man at bay.

Kirk continually laments that individualism is destroying society. That’s an old conservative idea, too. He writes,

“Burke dreaded a consuming individualism; habit and prejudice induce that conformity without which society cannot endure.”[xiii]

Kirk also looks negatively in general on the industrial revolution. While recognizing its inevitability, he sees is as destroying the old foundations of society where landed aristocrats governed counties and each member of society lived out their lives at the same social level. He repeatedly criticizes self-made men as not being as valuable to society as the old aristocrats.

While Hobbes did not develop his economic ideas extensively, his philosophy forms the basis for mercantilism.

Mercantilism proceeds from the idea that independent nations are all economic rivals, economically mirroring the political state of war Hobbes assumed they exist in. Seeing all economic activity as a “zero sum game,” whereby any gain by one economic actor must necessarily come at the expense of another, the mercantilist nation seeks to maintain a positive trade balance, especially concerning the inflows and outflows of gold.

The specific policies of mercantilism include subsidies to favored domestic corporations, protective tariffs and regulations, and other government interventions into the marketplace that tend to protect established firms from new competition.

These policies all help support a wealthy class of aristocrats at the expense of the rest of society. The entrenched elite are both dependent upon government privilege and reciprocally loyal to the sovereign power.

This is the foundation for what we today call “crony capitalism,” or “corporatism.” Capital is privately owned and commerce is competitive, but heavily regulated. Regulations under the pretense of public safety or protectionism create barriers to entry into the market. This tends to limit the amount of new competition established corporations face at any given time. Exxon may compete with BP or Shell, but not the thousands of other potential competitors it would face if free entry into the market were permitted.

So, when liberals complain about conservatives “supporting the 1% at the expense of the 99%,” they aren’t completely wrong. In fact, an essential component of conservative theory is the need for an aristocracy.

Even centralist Hobbes wanted his absolute monarch to have the power ‘to confer honors and titles.” The existence of an elite class of “betters” helps maintain stability and keeps the passions of the mob at bay.

Kirk writes extensively on the need for an aristocracy. He also recognizes this as an essential part of Burke’s constitutional worldview:

“Physical and moral anarchy is prevented by general acquiescence in social distinctions of duty and privilege. If a natural aristocracy is not recognized among men, the sycophant and the brute exercise its abandoned functions in the name of a faceless “people.”[xiv]

The mercantilist economy is completely consistent with this. It establishes controlled competition, with the main economic players familiar and their behavior predictable. During the classical mercantilist period, kings would simply grant a monopoly to certain companies for certain products, as George III did for the East India Tea Company.

In today’s economy, regulation, subsidies and other government privileges to otherwise privately held firms accomplishes the same goal. There may not be one oil company or media company, but there are a small, comfortable number, both constrained by and dependent upon the government to maintain their position. This protects society from the dramatic change or “creative destruction” that results from laissez faire markets.

Conservatives recognize the need for a market economy with some competition, but they want to control outcomes to some degree so they are not too disruptive to the existing order. Their fear of radical change constantly motivates them to regulate in the original sense of the word, meaning “keep regular.”

That’s why conservatives rarely try to repeal regulations once in power. Instead, they talk about “more sensible regulation.” But when confronted with economic crises, virtually always caused by previous government interventions, conservatives consistently respond with more regulation.

That didn’t start with George Bush and Sarbanes-Oxley. Remember, it was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by executive fiat. He didn’t even ask Congress. He also instituted wage and price controls by executive order. Nixon was a classic Hobbesian in terms of how he achieved those ends, but regulation in general is a bedrock conservative principle.

Looking even farther back, Kirk laments the failure of conservatives to regulate with protectionist policies for English farmers. He sees the industrial revolution as a negative.

“Britain became the most thoroughly industrialized country of the world, perilously overpopulated, saddeningly decayed in taste and beauty; more and more, the national tone was set by the Black Country and the swollen seaports, rather than by the rural parishes and tight little towns that had nourished English political stability, English literature, and English charm.”[xv]

This is just more application of the central conservative theory. The government must control inheritance, commerce and even religious life to preserve the status quo, lest “innovation” threaten to break down these safeguards against man’s savage nature. Burke and Kirk aren’t opposing legal prohibitions against longstanding voluntary institutions, because no one was suggesting them. They opposed the removal of legal mandates forcing people to participate.

Economically, Kirk suggests that intangibles like “national tone” and “English charm” are essential enough to force English citizens to pay higher prices for food, rather than have access to less expensive imports. He views England naturally moving toward its comparative advantage in manufacturing over farming, the result of the free choices of English market players, as regrettable.

Better that the awesome power of the government was employed to override all of these choices to maintain longstanding custom, despite the hardship in England and devastation in Ireland wrought by protectionism.

Along with subsidies to domestic corporations and high tariffs to protect them from foreign competition, the mercantilist system usually depends upon a central bank to supply the needed liquidity when real savings are not to be found.

This “inflation” of the currency really redistributes wealth from society in general to whomever receives the loans. Again, liberals would say it redistributes wealth from the 99% to the 1%. They’re right; it does.

But they’re wrong to characterize this as a failure of free markets. Central banking is another departure from the free market that conservatives believe makes the collective stronger, by “creating jobs” or “stimulating economic growth.”

In fairness, central banking is more a Hobbesian centralist conservative institution than Burkean constitutionalist. Many Burkean constitutionalists, such as Barry Goldwater in the 1960’s or Rand Paul today are sharply critical of the Federal Reserve and its inflationary policies.

In conclusion, conservative economic theory grows naturally out of their general theory of the nature of man and the purpose of government. Rather than peaceful trade to mutual benefit, conservatives see the economy as a war, with winners and losers. They want to allow enough freedom for competition, but they also want to make sure the right people win.

The strength of the society as a whole trumps any individual rights to liberty or property, because it is that collective strength which protects us all from ourselves.

Conservative foreign policy

Most of the enlightenment philosophers viewed foreign policy similarly in one regard. They all viewed the relationship of nations to each other as analogous to the relationships between individuals within society. Thus, all separate political entities exist in a state of nature with each other.

One shouldn’t be surprised by what Hobbes says about the relationship of the various nations to each other. As they are in a state of nature, they are therefore in a de facto state of war.

“For as amongst masterless men, there is perpetual war of every man against his neighbor, no inheritance to transmit to the son nor to expect from the father, no propriety of goods or lands, no security, but a full and absolute liberty in every particular man, so in states and commonwealths not dependent on one another every commonwealth (not every man) has an absolute liberty to do what it shall judge  (that is to say, what that man or assembly that representeth it shall judge) most conducing to their benefit. But withal, they live in the conditions of a perpetual war and upon the confines of battle, with their frontiers armed and cannons planted against their neighbours round about.”[xvi]

Hobbes does not lay out a detailed foreign policy, but it isn’t difficult to infer what kind of foreign policy naturally follows. As all nations exist in a de facto state of war with each other, no nation is safe unless one dominates all the rest, becoming the equivalent among nations of the absolute monarch within the commonwealth.

Along with the mercantilist idea that new markets for a nation’s goods can be “opened” militarily, the Hobbesian view of the natural relationship between nations is the primary motivation for empire.

You can hear Hobbes every day in neoconservative rhetoric about the dangers to national security posed by instability in third world countries thousands of miles away. When George Bush said we had to “fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them over here,” he was being perfectly consistent with this longstanding Hobbesian view of the world. It also inspired the Korean and Viet Nam wars. The so-called “domino theory” was deeply rooted in Hobbesian conservatism.

During the 2012 presidential primaries, Ron Paul suggested that the U.S. should not only withdraw from the Middle East, but bring its troops home from Japan, Korea and Germany. His Republican opponents responded by calling his foreign policy ideas “dangerous.”

Rationally, it’s hard to substantiate any danger to U.S. citizens from removing U.S. troops from Germany, seventy years after the end of WWII and over twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union. But it’s consistent with the Hobbesian view that all nations are in a state of war with one another, absent domination by one of them. Those troops are needed everywhere to keep other nations “in awe.”

From this comes the argument for “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States as the lone superpower should play the role, if not of world sovereign, at least of world policeman.

While its proponents are called “neoconservatives,” there is really nothing new about them or this idea. The British thought in much the same way in expanding their empire, as did early American centralizers like Alexander Hamilton who sought to copy the British Empire in America.

Hobbes invests the sovereign “the right of making war and peace with other nations and commonwealths, that is to say, of judging when it is for the public good.”[xvii] As the sovereign for Hobbes is preferably a monarch, he is empowering one man to take the nation to war. American centralizers seek to invest this power in the president, while constitutionalists point to Congress’ sole authority in declaring war.

Burkean conservative Robert Taft’s vote against NATO was based partially on his objection to investing the president with the power to take the United States to war:

“Under the Monroe Doctrine we could change our policy at any time. We could judge whether perhaps one of the countries had given cause for the attack. Only Congress could declare a war in pursuance of the doctrine. Under the new pact the President can take us into war without Congress.”[xviii]

Constitutional conservatives are also more reluctant to go to war in general. They may not reject the Hobbesian view of the relationship between nations out of hand, but their aversion to centralization of power within the commonwealth translates to a reluctance to expand the commonwealth’s authority across national borders.

American constitutional conservatives have traditionally opposed wars, especially in the 20th century when Democratic administrations sought to commit the United States to war for high ideals like “making the world safe for democracy,” rather than for some tangible and compelling national interest. Called “isolationists” by their opponents, constitutional conservatives opposed entry into WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Viet Nam War.

However, they do not object to military interventionism on principle. Burke himself was a supporter of the British Empire. He just objected to the way it was administered at certain times and places, particularly in India.

Similarly today, constitutional conservatives like Rand Paul do not object to U.S. military interventions on principle, but are more reluctant to resort to them and insist they are conducted constitutionally, with a declaration of war by Congress.

Conclusion

The conservative philosophy is inconsistent with the American Creed. Both Hobbesian centralizers and Burkean constitutionalists reject the Creed’s assertions that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. They believe that in the state of nature man has no rights and exists in a perpetual state of war.

Based on this assumption, they do not agree that governments are instituted to secure these rights. Instead, they believe the purpose of government is to restrain man’s natural, savage instincts. They believe liberty and property are privileges bestowed by government, not natural rights which government is tasked with protecting.

Finally, they do not believe the Creed’s assertion that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government if it fails to protect or violates the rights of the people. Conservatives believe the social contract can be broken only in the case of extreme violations by the sovereign power.

Based on their rejection of the American Creed, conservatives generally support a mercantilist or controlled private property economy over the laissez faire free markets implicit in the Creed. Their foreign policy also departs from the non-aggressive policy implicit in the Creed, although centralist and constitutional conservatives disagree on how and why the nation should go to war.

Obviously, we haven’t found the source of the American Creed anywhere within conservatism, neither in its philosophical traditions nor in the application of its principles by politicians. Are the liberals closer to the principles of the Creed?

We’ll examine the philosophical basis for liberalism in the next chapter.

[i] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 888 0f 6718

[ii] Burke, Reflections pg. 33

[iii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 113

[iv] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 661 of 6718

[v] Santorum, Rick from Rick Santorum ‘It Takes a Family” interview on National Public Radio http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4784905

[vi] Boaz, David from Freedom Watch (Fox Business) January 4, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTDAu6ENPVE

[vii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 114

[viii] Kirk Leviathan, I pg. 5

[ix] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 1111 of 6718

[x] Woods, Tom http://tomwoods.com/blog/someday-conservatives-will-defend-obamacare/

[xi] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 121

[xii] Massachusetts Constitution of 1780  http://www.nhinet.org/ccs/docs/ma-1780.htm

[xiii] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 739

[xiv] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 1062-1066

[xv] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 1821

[xvi] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 140

[xvii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 114

[xviii] Taft, Robert Speech on the North Atlantic Treaty July 26, 1949 http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/speech-on-the-north-atlantic-treaty/

End of Excerpt

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Get the Paperback here.

 


Notes

Chapter Two Where Do Conservatives Come From?

[xii] Bolt, Robert A Man for All Seasons

[xiii] Hobbes, Thomas Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil Hackett Publishing Company Indianapolis, IN 1994 pg. 76

[xiv] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 74

[xv] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 75

[xvi] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 76

[xvii] Kirk, Leviathan, I, pg. 5

[xviii] Kirk, Russell The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot Regnery Publishing; Seventh Edition (November 30, 1953) Kindle Edition Location 707 of 6718

[xix] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 80

[xx] Burke, Edmund Reflections on the Revolution in France Second Edition London Printed for J. Dodsley, in Pall-Mall 1790 pgs.88-89

[xxi] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 2144-2148

[xxii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 106

Why Progressives Should Let Republicans Repeal Obamacare and Close the Borders

obamacareLast week, Senate Republicans were given bad news by Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough. She doesn’t believe Republicans can bypass cloture and repeal Obamacare with a simple majority by attaching its repeal to a spending bill.

As a libertarian, I’m glad to hear it. No, I do not like Obamacare any more than I like most other government programs, especially those that further enrich multi-billion dollar corporations on my dime. But I’m glad it’s still difficult to get things through the Senate. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

But progressives should feel differently. The should want to see at least two bills pass both houses, one repealing Obamacare and one blocking the president’s immigration policies. Progressives profess a belief in democracy and the Republicans have been democratically elected to both houses. Whether you agree with them or not, there’s no question repealing Obamacare and reversing the president’s immigration agenda were two of their strongest mandates.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post…

 

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

 

What does the word “liberal” mean?

government_approvedI’m trying to figure out what the word “liberal” (derived from the same Latin root as “liberty”) means when used in a political context. The best definition I can come up with is the belief that individuals should be allowed to make absolutely no decisions themselves regarding any aspect of their lives.

Instead, they will eat and drink only food the government allows them to, in packages labeled as the government directs, in portions the government deems healthy.

They will work only for compensation the government deems “fair,” neither lower nor higher than what is allowed, and they will keep only that portion of said compensation the government doesn’t require for distribution to someone else.

They will live in houses built to the government’s regulatory specifications, including the light bulbs they use, the safety devices they employ and the amount of water in their toilets.

They will raise and educate their children as the government directs, in schools they are forced to pay for whether they use them or not, studying only subjects the government approves and taught the way the government says they should be taught, regardless of how idiotic the government’s teaching methods are.

They will treat illnesses only as the government prescribes and only from caregivers the government “licenses,” including preventative treatments, whether they want them or not. They will pay for that treatment with an insurance program they are required to purchase.

They are mandated to associate with whomever the government directs them to, with legal penalties if they don’t.

While living this completely directed life, they are not to say or even think anything the government deems offensive.

If they fail to comply with any of the above, uniformed, armed men will come and drag them away and lock them in a cage.

If I understand correctly, there is another, related word to describe this destruction of personal choice over time. We call that “progress,” from which we get the word “progressive.”

Am I in the ball park?

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Even libertarians wrong on Monsanto Protection Act

TAMPA, April 3, 2013 ― While the high priests in black robes were hearing arguments on gay marriage, President Obama quietly signed the continuing resolutions act that keeps the federal government operating in the absence of a budget. Buried inside the bill was language that has become notoriously known as “the Monsanto Protection Act.” The blogosphere exploded with cries of conspiracy, crony capitalism and corruption.

Liberals oppose the provision for the usual reasons: It lets a big corporation “run wild” without appropriate government oversight, free to (gasp!) make bigger profits on food. More thoughtful liberal arguments have suggested it may threaten the separation of powers by allowing the executive branch to override a decision by the judicial.

The lunatic fringe believes that Monsanto will control the world’s food supply through intellectual property laws and enslave us all, like the evil corporation did with oxygen in Total Recall. Of course, let’s not forget that old saying. “Just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”

The liberal reaction to this bill and Monsanto’s activities in general is not surprising. It’s the libertarian reaction that’s surprising and disappointing. Even the Ron Paul crowd sounds like New Deal Democrats when it comes to this corporate farming giant.

They say that regardless of how much he supports the free market, everyone has that one issue that he is hopelessly socialist on. For some, it’s roads and so-called “infrastructure.” For others, it’s intellectual property. For Thomas Jefferson, it was education. Apparently, for libertarians it’s farming.

Now, if libertarians want to argue that corporations shouldn’t exist at all, that the privilege of limited liability violates individual rights and leads to market distortions, that regulating the markets only insulates large corporations from competition, that’s one thing. I’ve been there, written that.

But that’s not what libertarians are suggesting. Believe it or not, even supporters of Ron Paul are suggesting that new government regulations be passed requiring Monsanto to label its packaging to indicate whether there are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) among the contents. This is as unlibertarian as it gets.

There are legitimate concerns about whether GMOs represent a danger to the public. Certainly, each person has a right to refuse to consume them, but they don’t have a right to force Monsanto’s shareholders to label their own property. Neither do they have a right to interfere with consumers who voluntarily purchase that property from Monsanto without a label on it.

The libertarian answer is for those concerned about GMOs to refuse to purchase food that is not labeled to their satisfaction. The market already provides those alternatives. There is no substantive difference between the possible safety risks in Monsanto’s GMO food and those inherent in any other technology that legitimizes government regulation of voluntary activity. Either libertarians believe in the market or they don’t.

We’ve been told that the “Monsanto Protection Act” allows the executive branch to set aside court rulings, with the implication that the president or his Secretary of Agriculture can allow growers like Monsanto to keep growing and selling a particular product even after a judge orders them to stop. We’re led to believe that this would apply in a scenario where GMOs have been ruled to have caused death or illness and a court has ordered the grower to cease and desist to protect the public. But that’s not what the language says.

“SEC. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements …”

Section 411 of the Plant Protection Act deals with the regulation of “plant pests,” which are widely defined in the bill to include protozoans, bacteria, fungi, animals, and generic categories like “infectious agent or other pathogen.”

So, what are we really talking about here? A court case to determine if a regulation that shouldn’t even exist can be used to disrupt the otherwise legal operations of a company whose product has been identified by someone as a “plant pest.” Who would bring such a charge? Most likely a competitor or a left wing group that opposes and seeks to disrupt all for-profit activity. It’s Standard Oil and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act all over again.

Libertarians are usually good at separating their opposition to crony capitalism from their support of the free market. That’s why you’ll find them attacking large corporations one day and defending them the next.

That means that when corporations use the government for illegitimate advantages, as Monsanto has in seeking intellectual property rights in its GMOs, the libertarian response is to oppose intellectual property rights. It is not to empower the government to further regulate the market and violate property rights. If it is, then why was FDR and the New Deal wrong?

 
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

 

Black robed high priests to rule on gay marriage

TAMPA, March 26, 2013 – No satire could approach reality when it comes to the federal government. While its two “polar opposite” political parties continue their standoff over whether the federal budget should increase $2.5 trillion or $2.4 trillion over the next ten years, its supposedly apolitical arm will begin deliberating over who is allowed to get married.

After that, they will take up the question of which end of the egg Americans may break.

Only a full century of government mayhem could have led to this. The court will consider two laws that together make up such a tangled mess that it’s fitting that the body that found Obamacare to be “a tax” should be assigned to sort it out.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is the federal law that stipulates that no state is required to recognize a same sex marriage from another state. It also defines marriage as being between a man and a woman for all “federal purposes,” meaning any benefits normally paid to spouses in a federal retirement or entitlement program.

DOMA itself is a quagmire. Proponents of federalism have read the interstate portion as a protection of states’ rights, but is it? If this is an area that is beyond the power of the federal government, then why does Congress have to pass a law to say so? Why are they allowed to pass such a law at all?

Read the rest of the article on Liberty Pulse…

Every law is a threat of violence

TAMPA, December 29, 2012 – The new U.S. Congress will convene on January 3rd with two high profile issues to consider. There is zero chance that they will get either one of them right. The debates on both are already framed into a lose-lose proposition for the American people, as are virtually all “debates” on Capitol Hill.

One issue is “How should the right to keep and bear arms be further infringed?” The other is “How much less of their own money should Americans be allowed to keep?”

With a more enlightened populace, there is always some chance that pressure on the legislators could produce a more positive result. However, the gullible American public has already taken the bait that “something must be done” on both issues. “Something” means Congress passing a law, which means the perceived problem will be solved with violence.

Every law is a threat of violence. Americans used to understand that. In their present condition, they are aware of little beyond football on Sunday and Dancing with the Stars during the week. Fat, progressive and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

Government itself is an institution of violence. That’s not an opinion. That’s what it is. That’s all it is. Governments are constituted for the express purpose of pooling the capacity for violence of every member of the community.

Every law promulgates human behavior that is mandated under the threat of violence. It either prohibits certain activity or requires certain activity. Failure to behave as the law proscribes results in violence against the transgressor. He is kidnapped at best, killed resisting at worst.

Putting aside the question of whether this power should ever be invested in a regional monopoly, every society must first answer the question of whether this power should be exercised by anyone at all. Is violence ever justified?

In a free society, there is only one circumstance under which it is. Violence is only justified as a reaction to aggression committed in the past. Murder, assault, and theft are all examples. These justify the use of force against the perpetrator. Consider this statement.

“You are prohibited from committing murder against your fellow citizen. If you do, we will kidnap you at best, kill you while resisting at worst.”

Sounds perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? Substitute “theft” for “murder” and that doesn’t change. The use of force is morally justifiable as a reaction to aggression. This proceeds logically from each individual’s right to defend himself. Self-preservation is the first law of nature.

Now, consider this statement.

“If you do not pay the medical bills of perfect strangers whom you have never met and never contracted any financial liability to, we will kidnap you at best, kill you while resisting at worst.”

That doesn’t quite work, does it? In fact, once the veneer of legitimacy is removed, it is apparent to any lucid person that the lawmaker in this case is committing one of the chief crimes he was given his power to prohibit. It is no less armed robbery if you substitute the words “education,” “housing,” or “food” for “medical.”

Since it is an absurdity that inaction can amount to aggression, no just law can mandate human behavior. Only laws prohibiting certain behavior are justifiable, that behavior being limited to aggression against others.

That’s why Thomas Jefferson said, “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the law ought to restrain him.”

That even this minimal government activity requires finances is the reason that Thomas Paine called government “a necessary evil.” Many libertarians believe he was only half right.

The Bill of Rights was an attempt to limit, interfere with and retard the government’s ability to do the only thing it is capable of doing: commit violence. Those amendments do not grant any rights. They prohibit government violence, regardless of the wishes of the majority. “Congress shall make no law…”

That’s also the purpose of all of the supposed “checks and balances” in the Constitution itself. The framers attempted to construct a government that was incapable of doing anything unless violence was truly justified.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights were written to protect us from democracy.

These ideas have completely vanished from the modern American ethos. Instead of viewing government as a last resort, to be utilized only against an aggressor who refuses to interact peacefully with his neighbors, it is viewed as the first solution to every societal problem, most of which were caused by government in the first place.

That most insipid of all clichés, “There oughta be a law” is properly translated as “We ought to solve this problem with violence.”

That is American society today. A century of “progressivism” has reduced the average American to an unthinking, violent brute. He is both tyrant and slave at the same time. He can conceive of no other happiness than the satisfaction of his appetites and infantile amusement from base entertainment. He reacts to any interruption of this passive existence by calling on the government to commit violence on his behalf.

In the name of freedom, he not only acquiesces to but demands his chains.

 

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

 

Feinstein’s assault weapons ban would abolish the 2nd Amendment

TAMPA, December 18, 2012 –U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has vowed to introduce a bill to ban assault weapons nationwide, similar to existing legislation in California. In doing so, she will effectively abolish yet another of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

To many, Feinstein’s argument might sound very reasonable. She isn’t looking to ban all guns. “The purpose of this bill is to get just what Mayor Bloomberg said, weapons of war off the streets of our cities,” the senator told Meet the Press.

Having weapons of war on the streets is the whole point of the 2nd Amendment. The amendment wasn’t drafted to ensure that Americans could hunt. It wasn’t drafted so that Americans could protect themselves, although the natural right to defend one’s life was never as compromised as it is in the modern gun control era.

Like most of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, the 2nd Amendment was drafted to prevent an abuse of power that American colonists had suffered under the British. The 4th Amendment was passed with Writs of Assistance in mind. Lexington and Concord inspired the 2nd.

The left loves to reduce the American Revolution to one issue: taxation without representation. That works for well for their agenda, because they can then say, “Well, you’re represented, so now we can tax the living daylights out of you.”

It wasn’t that simple, of course. There were many long term and short term causes for the American secession from Great Britain. But the straw that broke the camel’s back, the most immediate cause for armed resistance, was the British attempt to disarm the colonists.

That’s why the British marched to Concord. That’s the only reason the colonists cared where they were marching.

Read the rest of the article…

Libertarian themes pervade The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Tampa 8 December 2012 – “And it came to pass that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, everyone to his own city, for to disobey the Roman emperor meant certain death.”

The message in the opening lines of The Little Drummer Boy (1968) is as rich and pleasing to the ear as Greer Garson’s euphonious narration.

First, that Bethlehem was so crowded and there was “no room at the inn” for Joseph and Mary was not at all a natural occurrence. It was caused by the government, like virtually all human misery. Second, that all taxation occurs under the threat of violence, for to refuse to pay would result in “certain death.”

This is all within the first 30 seconds of the film. A libertarian couldn’t ask for a better start.

Taxation is repeatedly denounced throughout the story. Garson continues by noting that, “There were good people who could ill afford the cruel tax.” Even the film’s chief villain, Ben Haramad (voice by Jose Ferrer), who kidnaps Aaron in order to compel him to perform in his traveling show, addresses his audience as “fellow taxpayers,” indicating that as bad as he might be, he is one with his audience in suffering under a much more cruel and malicious oppressor.

I couldn’t have been happier that my seven-year-old daughter was exposed to all of this, along with a very age appropriate introduction to the gospel stories. With the central lesson of Thanksgiving – that communism is lethal and private property essential to human survival – effectively erased from popular consciousness, it was refreshing to see these foundational libertarian ideas surviving in a classic Christmas special.

Next, we queued up another oldie from the same DVD compilationSanta Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). This one didn’t disappoint, either.  Again, the general misery within the aptly named “Sombertown” has the same source: government. One cannot help but see the parallels between Burgermeister Meisterburger’s idiotic law against toys and the U.S. government’s War on Drugs. All of the familiar characteristics are there.

First, the law is completely ineffective in stopping the children of Sombertown from playing with toys, aided by a young, energetic Kris Kringle. When the government confiscates the toys, Kringle brings more. When the government starts searching houses, Kringle hides the toys in stockings hanging by the fire.

Of course, each government failure to prevent human beings from engaging in activity that is harmless to others results in ever more oppressive measures. As they do in the “land of the free” today, the government finally resorts to “no knock raids,” with armed men breaking down the doors of innocent and guilty alike. Parents and children huddle together in fear.

Meisterberger demonstrates government hypocrisy when he breaks his own law by playing with a yo-yo given to him by Kringle. What an effective analogy for the government’s own involvement in drug trafficking, both by street cops “gone bad” and by the CIA in its vast covert operations.

Meisterburger further emulates the U.S. government with ridiculous overreach in enforcing his unjust law, arresting not only Kris Kringle, but his whole family, his future wife Jessica and even the reformed Winter Warlock. All are charged with “conspiracy,” a tactic utilized by the government to circumvent the rules of evidence in court and put over 2 million people in prison.

The story also features a useful idiot in Jessica, who at first blindly supports the law, until Kringle gives her a china doll. Realizing how harmless to others her own enjoyment of the doll is, she finally begins to question the wisdom of prohibition.

Kringle escapes the dungeon with the help of the Winter Warlock’s flying reindeer and remains an outlaw for many years afterwards. However, the story ends happily as the libertarians outlast the oppressive Meisterbergers, who eventually “died off and fell out of power.” As narrator Fred Astaire relates,

“By and by, the good people realized how silly the Meisterberger laws were. Well, everybody had a wonderful laugh and then forgot all about them.”

If only the good people of the United States would attain similar wisdom.

Within this pleasant little Christmas story, youngsters couldn’t be taught a more radical libertarian lesson.  The government is evil. Its edicts are often unjust and result in needless misery. The hero of the story is an outlaw who practices civil disobedience to bring a little happiness to his fellow man. Regardless of your feelings on drug prohibition, there are a thousand other parallels to real world government oppression.

Conservatives often complain that modern Christmas specials have scrubbed Jesus Christ out of the holiday, turning it into a secular celebration of gift giving and merrymaking. That’s not hard to understand coming out of “progressive” modern Hollywood, whose animosity towards Christianity rivals its animosity towards free enterprise. It also explains why these wonderfully libertarian themes have disappeared from today’s politically correct holiday fluff.

Whatever your religious beliefs, even if you have none at all, you can’t go wrong watching these classic Christmas specials with your children. Not only will they learn the true meaning of Christmas, but they will be exposed at a young age to the founding American principle that government is evil.

God bless us, everyone.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

U.S. Foreign Policy: 100 Years of Failure

TAMPA, November 19, 2012 — An Iraqi diplomat has called upon other Arab oil producers to “use oil as a weapon” against the United States. Fox News reports this as if it should come as a surprise.

“The shocking statement from a democratic government in power only after the U.S. and allies ousted murderous dictator Saddam Hussein in a costly and bloody war laid bare the Middle Eastern nation’s true allegiance,” reports Fox.

The detachment from reality exhibited by news organizations like Fox and Americans in general is stunning. Americans actually believe that Iraqis should be grateful that the United States invaded their country, destroyed their infrastructure, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and made homeless refugees of millions more.

They also believe that after deposing a relatively westernized dictator and putting the Shia majority in power, the resulting government would not seek to retaliate against U.S. support for Israel.

This is by no means an isolated incident. It is a recurring theme. Contrary to official myth, U.S. foreign policy has been a failure for the past 100 years, virtually without exception.

We’re constantly told that the United States has a “special role” in the world, due to its status as sole superpower and the role it has played over the past century “defending freedom.” This is pure delusion.

A small percentage of Americans are vaguely aware that Osama bin Laden did not create Al Qaeda (Arabic for “the base”). It was started in Pakistan by Sheik Abdullah Azzam with CIA support. According to veteran reporter Eric Margolis,

“I know this because I interviewed Azzam numerous times at al-Qaida HQ in Peshawar while covering the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. Azzam set up al-Qaida, which means “the base” in Arabic, to help CIA and Saudi-financed Arab volunteers going to fight in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. In those days, the west hailed them as “freedom fighters,” writes Margolis.

Continue at Communities@ Washington Times…

Election 2012: Was Obama the lesser of two evils?

TAMPA, November 8, 2012 – “We’re all socialists now.”

If all of the pre-election hype about the presidential election being a choice between socialism and capitalism was true, then that statement must be true.

I doubt most Americans believe it.

In fact, Obama is no more a socialist than Romney is a capitalist. Obama has not called for state ownership of the means of production. Romney has not called for a laissez faire economy. Absent the rhetoric, they would both be most accurately described as European social democrats.

For libertarians, the choice between them was “heads the government wins, tails libertarians lose.” It is generally assumed that libertarians would consider Romney the “lesser of two evils.” I don’t think that’s true.

Romney’s rhetoric employed buzz words that both libertarians and conservatives respond to, like “free markets,” “small government” and “less taxes.” Obama’s rhetoric employed universally recognized code words for wealth redistribution like “fairness,” “fair share” and “investment.”

However, when you strip all of that away, the policy platforms of the two men were virtually identical.

Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to help balance the federal budget. Romney does not disagree. Romney stated – over and over again in the first debate – that his plan to lower the income tax rates while simultaneously “closing loopholes” (translation: eliminate deductions) was aimed at getting the wealthy to pay more while giving small business and the middle class a tax break.

When Obama says it, he’s a socialist. When Romney says it, crickets.

Continue at Communities@ Washington Times…