November 24, 2017

Rand Paul’s Campaign Proved Libertarianism and Conservatism Are Antithetical to Each Other

1024px-Rand_Paul_by_Gage_Skidmore_7Google Rand Paul today and you’ll find stories about him suspending his presidential campaign under “Breaking News.” In one way it is; in another it isn’t. It’s really an old story, but those who don’t know history have been doomed (again) to repeat it.

Since William F. Buckley started National Review in the 1950s, libertarianism has been viewed as a subset of conservatism. Reagan affirmed this view in the 1970s, before rising to the presidency selling that same theory.

But what caused Reagan to fail to shrink the federal government (it doubled in size during his presidency) is the same problem that doomed Rand Paul’s presidential campaign. Libertarianism and conservatism are antithetical philosophies and any attempt to combine them will fail.

It is important to understand the philosophical differences here, because they do indeed dictate political positions today. I’ve written an entire book about this, but the crucial difference between libertarians and conservatives is this: true conservatives don’t believe man keeps his natural rights when he enters society. Understood properly, they don’t even believe they exist in nature at all.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post…

 

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.

Five reasons Donald Trump is a true conservative

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_3Republican politicians as disparate as Jeb Bush and Rand Paul have long decried Donald Trump as a fake conservative, who doesn’t truly believe in the movement’s first principles. National Review recently published an entire issue “Against Trump,” making the same argument.

They’re all wrong. Trump is the only true conservative running for the Republican nomination, outside of long shot Rick Santorum.

Since the Democratic Party abandoned classical liberalism for progressivism at the turn of the 20th century, the classical liberal ideas of laissez faire free markets, personal liberty and a noninterventionist foreign policy have needed a new home. Due to the outright hostility towards them in the progressive-liberal movement, they’ve largely resided within the conservative movement.

This is a very unnatural marriage between worldviews that are for the most part antithetical to each other. American history during the 19th century was very much a war between classical liberal and conservative ideas, with the former dominating the first half of the century and the latter the second half. But after Woodrow Wilson, classical liberalism had nowhere else to go. As a result, classical liberal ideas have become jumbled together with classical conservative ones.

For example, the natural consistency in supporting a laissez faire (i.e., “noninterventionist”) economy and a noninterventionist foreign policy has disappeared. Today, one finds rabid supporters of free markets also supporting a highly interventionist foreign policy. They’ve selected positions they like without understanding the philosophical basis for either, resulting in a confused, self-contradictory worldview.

This is why so many on the right have decried Trump as an inauthentic conservative. They don’t understand the difference between the classic conservative worldview that informs Trump’s positions and the classical liberal worldview that has found a dubious home within the conservative movement. In an attempt to sort this out, here are five reasons Trump is, indeed, an authentic conservative:

  1. He’s a protectionist. British and American Conservatives from Edmund Burke (outside the British Empire) to Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Lincoln to Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush have all been protectionists. It’s the natural economic expression of their worldview.
  2. He’s a nationalist. Conservatism can be split between Hobbesian centralizers and Burkean constitutionalists. Trump is a classic example of the former, placing “national greatness,” as fellow conservative centralizer Alexander Hamilton put it, above the rights of the individual. That all rights, including liberty and property, are revocable by the sovereign power in the interests of preserving the commonwealth are inherent conservative principles. Trump’s enthusiastic support for eminent domain is just one example.
  3. He’s a militarist. Trump has expressed skepticism about the Iraq War (it turns out he only opposed it a year after the invasion), but he’s also said the U.S. should invade Iran and take their oil. Like all conservatives in British and American history, he believes only a worldwide military empire can ensure the “greatness” he wants to restore to the nation.
  4. He’s a nativist. Distrust of foreigners is another foundational conservative principle. Conservatives believe any disruption of longstanding traditions is a threat to all of society. Immigrants naturally bring with them different perspectives, worldviews and skill sets. They not only represent competition for domestic employment (see #1), but threaten to introduce new sensibilities to the population, which is a threat to societal order.
  5. He’s a Police Stater. Trump’s suggestions to “shut down parts of the internet” and his denigration of freedom of speech are classic conservative tendencies. Conservatives have always promoted unlimited power for law enforcement. That’s because they see law enforcement as the only thing that stands between a peaceful society and the “war of everyone against everyone” Hobbes asserted was man’s natural state. The Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act of 2006 and Trump’s ideas about the internet are all classic conservative responses to perceived threats.

Trump is horrifying those on the right and the left because he represents a return to pure conservatism. Ironically, what attracts most everyday people to the conservative movement isn’t true conservatism at all. It’s the classical liberal ideas tenuously residing within conservatism which more naturally belong to today’s libertarians.

I’ve tried to sort all of this out in my latest book. You can read a free excerpt here.

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.

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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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

We Need to Really Gut the Military

cracked-american-flag-jpgU.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told the Harvard Kennedy School Tuesday that Americans will be grappling with violent extremism for generations to come. If that feels like déjà vu, you’re not imagining things. Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark O. Schisslersaid the same thing – in 2006.

Schissler was expressing concern at the time over wavering public support for a war that had already lasted longer than WWII. His concern was warranted. The Republican Party had just suffered a shellacking in the mid-term elections, largely due to public dissatisfaction with “neoconservative” foreign policy. They would lose the White House two years later for largely the same reasons.

American voters may have believed they “threw the bums out,” as Carroll Quigley might put it, but the foreign policy never changed. The Obama administration may have used different tactics, but it’s been even more interventionist than Bush’s. It’s certainly intervened in more countries.

Bush and the 2000s Republicans were called neoconservatives, but they weren’t. Their way of seeing the world is classic conservatism, straight out of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes not only saw all individuals, but all nations, in a de facto state of war with each other, in the absence of some overwhelming external force “keeping them in awe.”

This was the inspiration for the British Empire, which sought to “civilize” the world by force of arms. It eventually bled itself dry, its biggest failures occurring on precisely the same ground the United States is bleeding on now.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post…

 

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.

Libertarians vs. Conservatives on the welfare state

TAMPA, October 26, 2012 – Many people think of libertarianism as a subset of conservatism, but that’s not true. Libertarianism and conservatism are completely separate philosophies with distinct and separate philosophical traditions. The philosophical differences result in very different positions on issues, from domestic to foreign policy. Their differences on the welfare state provide a perfect example.

Most Americans believe that President Obama and the liberals believe in wealth redistribution and that Republicans/conservatives are against it. That just doesn’t line up with the facts.

While Republicans make general statements against the welfare state, they actually support 95% of the actual spending. A key plank of the Romney/Ryan campaign is “preserving and protecting Social Security and Medicare.” That’s more than half of welfare spending alone. They also support government subsidization of housing, agriculture, energy and other “job-creating” programs. They are willing to support corporate welfare if they believe it will be good for the overall economy.

The only criticisms Republicans generally make are for social safety nets like TANF. This illustrates a key difference between conservatives and libertarians on welfare.

Libertarians object to the welfare state on this basis: Any taxes collected from citizens are collected under a threat of violence. You pay or you get kidnapped at best, killed resisting at worst. Therefore, libertarians object to using the taxing power to take money from one person or group and give it to another. When individuals do this, it is called “armed robbery.” For libertarians, it is no different when the government does it. It is the crime itself that libertarians object to.

Conservatives see it differently. They don’t object to the crime itself. Rather, they formulate their positions based upon who will receive the benefits. Redistribution to certain types of people is acceptable, to others it is not. That is why they will excoriate the “welfare queen,” whose impact upon the budget is minimal, while fully supporting Social Security and Medicare, which will eventually bankrupt the entire government.

Continue at Communities@ Washington Times…

What is Your Fair Share?

“For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest…”

– Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

There were not many surprises in President Obama’s 2012 state of the union address on Tuesday. He touted what he claims are the accomplishments of his administration and pushed his left-leaning economic agenda. For the president, all economic growth has its roots in some sort of government intervention, including “help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers,” giving “community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers,” or trying to “spur energy innovation with new incentives.” Of course, further expanding a government that already spends about 50% more than it collects in taxes can only be accomplished one way – by collecting a lot more taxes.

To this end, the president resorted to the perennial liberal/progressive mantra that everyone “pay their fair share.” Obama used this term three times during the speech in regard to taxes. As even many of the Republican presidential candidates seem to buy into it, the president was also unable to resist the urge to promote the latest left-wing myth that millionaires like Mitt Romney pay less in taxes than their secretaries. This is complete nonsense, of course, but it is effective in eliciting the appropriate outrage from people who don’t stop to do either some simple math or even a little critical thinking.

For the president, there doesn’t seem to be a ceiling on what anyone’s fair share might be. However, he does have a clearly defined floor. “If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.” Exactly why that number is “fair” or even the millionaire’s “share” is somewhat difficult to determine. Neither does Obama answer the question that should logically follow. If you make under $1 million per year, what is your fair share in taxes?

Now, in any other situation where a group of people agrees to pool its money to buy something, this is a very easy question to answer. If you and three friends decide to go in on a large pizza, each of you will pay 1/4 of the cost. Assuming it is a typical pie, it will be cut into eight pieces and each of you will eat two. Thus, everyone has received an equal amount of the pizza and each has paid his fair share of the cost.

Of course, before anyone determines your fair share of the cost, you would be asked if you want pizza in the first place. In all such arrangements between human beings, other than government, you have a choice of whether you want to buy or not. Perhaps you’d like to eat something else. Perhaps you’re not hungry. You can always allow the other three to buy pizza and provide for your own meal yourself.

Not so with government. Not only can the other three take a vote and force you to buy part of this pizza, but they add insult to injury by proclaiming that their vote represented your consent to buy it. With this dubious consent in hand, they then decide what your fair share of the cost of the pizza will be, regardless of how the slices are distributed. If you have acquired too much wealth, even honestly, then you might find yourself paying for 3/4 of the pizza and only getting one slice in return. Once voluntary consent is eliminated and force is put in its place, it becomes difficult to use words like “fair” and “equitable” without committing grave offenses against the language.

Putting that aside for the moment, let’s assume that 315 million people have actually all agreed to constitute a government and pool their money to pay for its services. Before determining what anyone’s fair share of the cost would be, we first have to determine what services the government can offer. It would not make any sense for the government to offer services that only benefit one or two people, because all 315 million are paying. No, the only legitimate services that the government could offer would be those that contributed to the “general welfare.”

This widely abused term is not anywhere near as mysterious as it is made out to be. Promoting the general welfare is offering only those services that benefit every member of society equally. For example, if the government devotes resources to a military establishment to protect the nation’s borders, it is promoting the general welfare. Regardless of how effective the service might be, every member of society within the borders is benefitting equally from it. From the Wall Street financier to the general contractor to the grocery clerk to the homeless man, all are receiving equal protection from foreign invaders. Thus, a defensive military establishment is a service that promotes the general welfare and therefore could be offered fairly under such an arrangement.

Similarly, a system of law enforcement and courts would also promote the general welfare. If the person or property of one member of society were invaded by another, then employees of this agency would investigate the incident, determine if a tort or crime had been committed, and make a determination on what penalty or restitution should be paid by the defendant. This, too, would benefit all members of the society equally. Whether you were a Wall Street financier whose partner had embezzled millions or a taxi driver whose modest home had been burglarized, you are equally protected by laws against theft.

Notice also that the cost of providing these services is the same for each member of society. Obviously, it costs no more for an army to defend the financier from an invading army than it does to defend the taxi driver. The army defends against the invader for all within the borders at one cost. Similarly, it costs no more to provide a police officer, a judge, a jury, etc. for the financier than it does for the taxi driver. The only exception is defense attorney, which is provided for a defendant who cannot afford one, but this is a minute percentage of the entire cost.

In short, any defense of life, liberty, and property, whether from foreign invasion or aggression by another member of society, is a service that benefits the general welfare. It benefits all members of society equally and costs relatively the same to provide to all members of society.

Let us now consider some services that the government offers that do not promote the general welfare. Healthcare is obviously one. First, all members of society do not benefit equally when the govenrment provides healthcare. For example, Medicare only benefits people over 65 yeras of age and disabled people under 65. Not only does the program not benefit all members of society equally, but it actually does not benefit those paying for it at all, while those receiving the benefits (those over 65 and the disabled) do not pay at all. Recall the pizza example. Imagine if you had to pay for a whole pizza that your three friends ate, and then had to pay additional monies to provide for your own meal. Medicare, Medicaid, or other government programs for specific groups are really no different.

In addition, government medical care can never cost the same to provide to all members of society, as security services do. Some people will be sicker than others, either through misfortune or their own lifestyle choices. Some will need surgeries or chemotherapy or other expensive care. Some will need relatively little care. It is not an exaggeration to say that there may be 315 million different costs to provide healthcare to 315 million different people.

Education is another service that does not promote the general welfare. When the govenrment provides education, it is of absolutely no benefit to anyone that is not in school or does not have children in school. Neither does it benefit parents who homeschool their children or enroll them in private schools or childless adults who all must pay for government education. Some of the people who benefit do pay part of the expense, but obviously this does not constitute “fairness.” It is no different than if four friends all paid for 1/4 of the pizza, but two of them ate it all. Certainly, the other two had no “fair share” for any of the pizza at all. As with healthcare, the cost of education is also going to be different for different people. An education in medicine has a different cost than an education in engineering or art.

In looking at the federal government’s budget, one can see that the overwhelming majority of the money spent is not spent for the general welfare. Almost all of it is collected from one group of people and spent for the benefit of others. The only services provided by the federal government that truly promote the general welfare are those that concern defense of the borders and defense of person and property related to interstate commerce. At the state level, only defense of person and property within the state promotes the general welfare. All other services represent a forced redistribution of wealth from one person or group to another. When anyone other than the government engages in a “forced redistribution of wealth,” we call it “armed robbery.”

It should also be noted that even the “Defense” portion of the federal budget largely does not promote the general welfare. Only that portion necessary to defend U.S. citizens from aggression by foreign nations does. Those expenditures related to defending people in other countries or which are unnecessary for security not only do not promote the general welfare, they do not benefit anyone within the United States at all – except for those military contractors and financiers that are fortunate enough to profit from these activities.

There is also frequent confusion about government services commonly referred to as “infrastructure.” It is argued by some that if the government builds a road that is accessible to everyone, it promotes the general welfare. However, this argument does not hold up to scrutiny. If federal money is used to build a light rail system in Florida, it is going to benefit people who live or travel frequently in Florida much more than people who do not. Certainly, a citizen in California or Montana is unlikely to ever even see that railroad, much less benefit from it equally. Who would not agree that his fair share of this railroad is zero?

Even at the local level, a road or a bridge does not benefit every member of society equally. The local businessman whose products are more cheaply transported is going to benefit far more than the occasional traveler that might use the road for convenience. Yet, when the government builds the road, both are forced to pay equally. Furthermore, since the businessman is running heavier vehicles over the road with much greater frequency than the occasional traveler, it costs more in maintenance to provide this service to the businessman than to others. Obviously, the road or bridge does not promote the general welfare even at the local level.

So, what is your fair share in taxes? The answer is that you owe an equal share of those services provided by the government that promote the general welfare. Those services benefit you and everyone else equally. However, examination of any government budget, at the federal, state, or local level demonstrates that these services are now a tiny fraction of overall spending. A quick look at Florida’s budget summary reveals that about 8.7% of government spending promotes the general welfare. That $4.9 million in expense should be born by every citizen of Florida equally. The other $51.4 million does not promote the general welfare and should not be provided by the government at all.

An examination of the federal government’s budget for 2012 yields similar results. Once you subtract services that do no promote the general welfare, like education, healthcare, social security, and that part of the defense budget that is devoted to purposes other than protecting U.S. citizens from foreign aggression, you are left with a tiny fraction of overall spending.

For services that promote the general welfare, there is a finite cost. It does not vary depending upon how productive you are, so your fair share of that cost certainly can’t be a percentage of your income. Logically, the way to determine your fair share is to divide the total cost of services that promote the general welfare by the total population. If you have no dependents, then the quotient is your fair share. If you have dependents, then you simply multiply that quotient by the sum of your dependents and you. When you do the math, you’ll find that your fair share in taxes is a very small amount. As Thomas Paine pointed out, it is that tiny portion of your property necessary “to furnish means for the protection of the rest.” It would be easily paid by even a person of modest income. It would not require an income tax, as history before 1913 demonstrates.

For those services that the government provides to other people, your fair share is zero. However, the government routinely forces some people to pay more than their fair share and allows others to pay nothing at all. It generally collects the most in taxes from people who receive the least in benefits, which is the predictable result of offering services that do not promote the general welfare. Now, President Obama wants some people to pay even more. He and the Congress have the power, but that does not make it right. And please, President Obama, don’t insult our intelligence by calling it “fair.”

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

Earth to Rick Santorum: Libertarians Founded the United States

Andrew Napolitano recently showed a clip in which Rick Santorum explained his views on libertarianism. His comments are also instructive in understanding his animosity (politically) towards Ron Paul. Santorum said:

“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.”

As David Boaz pointed out in the interview with Napolitano, Santorum seems to oppose a basic American principle- the right to the pursuit of happiness. I agree with him on this, but there is something even more fundamental here than that. It has to do with the conservative philosophy itself. One of the statements that Santorum makes is true. “That is not how traditional conservatives view the world.”

There is a great disconnect between average Americans who refer to themselves as “conservatives” and the small group of politicians and politically-connected businessman who call themselves likewise. The members of the former group believe in the founding principles of the United States, including the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They believe that these rights are endowed by their Creator. In other words, they preexist the government. They are not created by the government. It is the government’s one and only job to protect those rights and when the government fails to protect them and instead violates them, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish the government.

These inalienable rights are also referred to as “natural rights,” meaning that man possesses them even in the state of nature (the state without government). For Jefferson, whose philosophy was inspired by Locke, the reason that men formed governments was to protect these rights better than they could be protected otherwise.

Locke viewed man as capable of both good and evil. For Locke, man’s natural state was a state of reason, which meant that he respected the rights of other men and observed the natural law of non-aggression. “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

For Locke and his philosophical heir Jefferson, this natural law of non-aggression was the basis of government power. By prohibiting aggression by one person or group against another, the government would preserve the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Importantly, repelling aggression was also the limit of government power, for when the government exercised power for any other reason it was committing aggression itself and invading the rights it was meant to protect.

That this was Jefferson’s guiding political principle is clear from his many statements to that effect. In his first inaugural, he argued for,

“…a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”

In a letter to Francis Walker Gilmer in 1816, he wrote, “Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

Even on religious freedom, Jefferson based his position on the non-aggression principle. ““The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The non-aggression principle defines liberty itself as Jefferson understood it. For him, as well as for the likeminded libertarians that led the secession from Great Britain, the word “liberty” as used in the Declaration of Independence had a specific definition. It meant the right to do what one pleases as long as one does not invade the life, liberty, or property of another human being. In other words, each individual was beyond the reach of government power so long as he committed no aggression against anyone else.

These are not conservative ideas. They are libertarian ideas. While Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and the others who espoused this theory may not have called themselves by that name, the basic tenets of their philosophy were the same. Today, the non-aggression axiom remains the fundamental basis for libertarian theory. Ron Paul bases his positions on it, as he said (about the 3:30 mark) when running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988.

Just as this non-aggression principle serves as the foundation and limit of government power between individuals within society, it is the foundation and limit of government power with respect to other nations. As all nations exist in a state of nature with each other, the natural law of non-aggression is the only one that governs them. As I’ve stated before, the non-aggression principle is the basis for the Declaration of War Power. The purpose of that power is for Congress to debate whether or not the nation in question has actually committed aggression against the United States. If it has, then a state of war exists and military action is justified. If it hasn’t, there is no state of war, no declaration, and no military action is justified. The use of military force in the absence of a state of war (previous aggression by another nation) violates the natural law.

The conservative philosophy rejects all of these ideas. There were conservatives in the 18th century just as there are today and their philosophy hasn’t fundamentally changed, either. The writer that most modern conservatives trace their philosophical ideas to was Edmund Burke. He has this to say about inalienable rights.

“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. This can only be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. But as the liberties and the restrictions vary with times and circumstances and admit to infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.”

While modern conservatives like Russell Kirk have pointed to Burke as their philosophical inspiration, one can clearly see that Burke is here merely restating ideas from the true father of modern conservatism, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes asserted that in the state of nature man had “a right to everything,” even a right to one another’s bodies. Hobbes asserted, as Burke implies here, that man’s passions would always overcome his reason and because of this the state of nature was a state of war of “everyone against everyone.” For Hobbes, as for true conservatives today, man has to give up his natural rights upon entering society and accept those privileges to liberty and property that the government grants him.

For Hobbes, not only did man give up his natural rights upon entering society, but he also had to grant the “sovereign” absolute and undivided power. This was necessary in order to completely dominate man’s natural impulses, which would always lead him to harm his neighbor if they were not checked. This power must literally keep each individual “in awe,” to make him fearful of committing any unlawful act. To secure this absolute power, the sovereign needed control over the economy, which he consolidated through a privileged, wealthy elite. He also needed control over education and even the religious beliefs of the people. No individual could ever be allowed to follow the dictates of his own will, as it would inevitably lead him to harm his neighbor or the commonwealth in general.

On foreign policy, Hobbes also viewed all nations as existing in a state of nature. However, since he viewed the state of nature as equivalent to the state of war, he viewed all nations not under control of the sovereign as de facto enemies. In reading Leviathan, one can almost hear George W. Bush’s famous remark, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” This is why conservatives support the deployment of troops all over the world. Like Hobbes, they believe that we are in constant danger from any nation that we are not completely dominating with the threat of force.

The reason that conservatism seeks to “conserve” the status quo is because its adherents do not believe that natural rights are inalienable. Upon entering society, man has to give up all of his natural rights, so the only rights that man has in society are those he has been given by government in the past. Thus, if you get rid of the past, you get rid of the rights. While the status quo might not be optimal, the conservative believes that to get rid of the status quo means returning to the awful state of nature, and necessitates reconstructing man’s rights – via government – all over again. Conservatives are always fearful that rights can be lost and never regained – as opposed to libertarians who believe that rights are inalienable.

The conservative tradition in America does not trace back to Thomas Jefferson or the Declaration of Independence. Its tenets are completely incompatible with the basic libertarian philosophy that informed Jefferson and that document. The conservative tradition in America traces back to Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who were the conservatives of their day. Hamilton sought to preserve the status quo, which was a central government with absolute power, along with its mercantilist economic system. The only change he sought was that the system be run by Americans rather than the British.

Hamilton was a Hobbesian on every issue, which is why he clashed so stridently with Jefferson. Hamilton also believed that the power of the federal government had to be absolute. Otherwise, the separate states would be in the state of nature with each other and inevitably at war. He often spoke of the “want of power in Congress” leading to the states “being at each other’s throats.” Economically, he wanted a central bank, high protectionist tariffs to enrich domestic manufacturer’s at taxpayer expense, and “internal improvements,” which meant the government using taxpayer money to build what we would today call “infrastructure.” While all of these policies were anti-free market, they served the agenda of securing the loyalty of a wealthy elite to the government. Hamilton went so far as to call the national debt “a national blessing” for the same reason. On foreign policy, Hamilton was an unqualified militarist who sought to lead an army in conquering an American empire, starting with the Western Hemisphere possessions of Spain.

He felt justified in all of these invasions of individual rights and violations of non-aggresion because he believed that what he called “national greatness” (today conservatives call it “American Exceptionalism”) trumped the rights of individuals. For Hamilton, as for conservatives throughout human history, the individual lived to serve the commonwealth, as opposed to the libertarian belief that the commonwealth only existed to serve the individual.

This conservative tradition can be traced throughout American history from the Federalists to the Whigs to the Republican Pary. The Republican Party was born as the party of big government, centralized power, and a mercantilist economy. Ironically, all that history remembers of the Republican Party at its birth in the 1850’s is its opposition to slavery – its one libertarian position – while ignoring its Hobbesian conservatism on all other matters. However, with slavery abolished, the Republican Party retained the rest of its philosophy through the next century and right up to the present day. One can hear it rehashed in any 2012 Republican presidential primary debate.

Today, conservative American voters wonder why the Republican politicians that they elect never seem to make the government smaller or less intrusive. They refer to elected Republicans who consistently grow the size and power of the government as “RINOS” (Republicans In Name Only). They believe these politicians are not “true conservatives,” because while they may belong to the Republican Party, they do not adhere to the principles of an underlying conservative philosophy that they imagine to exist. They are wrong. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, George Bush, and the rest of the establishment Republicans are the true conservatives. The American voters identifying themselves as conservatives are really libertarians  – they just don’t know it yet.

Go to any Tea Party rally. This is where you will supposedly find “radical conservatives,” but you won’t find them carrying any signs quoting Alexander Hamilton. You won’t find speakers extolling the virtues of government spending on infrastructure. Instead, you see signs quoting Thomas Jefferson and speakers mocking the many “bridges to nowhere” that have resulted from attempting to put Hamilton’s conservative ideas into practice.

The one inconsistency is the Tea Party’s support of the U.S. government’s military empire. This false note in the otherwise libertarian movement is the result of cultural confusion. These conservatives don’t yet realize that they aren’t really conservatives. They are libertarians, and the warfare state is inconsistent with the rest of their philosophy. They support it because they have been told all of their lives that it is the conservative position, which it is. However, limited government, inalienable rights, free markets, and individual liberty are not.

Contrary to Rick Santorum’s assertion that no society based upon radical individualism has ever succeeded, the libertarian, radically individualist principles upon which the United States was founded were precisely why it succeeded so spectacularly. It was libertarianism that made America different from any society before or since – what made it the “shining city on the hill” as Santorum calls it. It was the collectivist conservative philosophy that helped bring it down – with a lot of help from a third philosophical movement called Progressivism. Neither more conservatism nor more progressivism – nor any combination of the two – can solve the problems that America faces today. If Americans want to see liberty and prosperity restored in the United States, then restoring libertarianism is their only hope.

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

What’s So Hard to Understand About Ron Paul?

Ron-PaulThis time things are going to be different for Ron Paul’s presidential run. After correctly predicting the collapse of the housing bubble and the resulting financial and economic crisis, Paul has become a mainstay on business talk shows, especially on the conservatively-oriented Fox News. One can almost sense the resignation in the voices of talk show hosts and reporters as they acknowledge that Paul will not be ignored by the media this time around – which is ironic because it is these same people who ignored him in 2008.

However, while supporters will rejoice at the increased quantity of coverage of Paul’s campaign, they should be realistic about the quality of the coverage. Namely, supporters should expect that conservatives will agree with him on most of his economic positions, including cutting down the welfare state and rolling back government regulations, but disagree with him on foreign policy.

Similarly, supporters should expect that liberals will agree with Paul on foreign policy (although somewhat reservedly while there is a Democrat running the empire) and civil liberties, but disagree with him on economic policy, especially when it comes to Paul’s positions on responsibly ending Social Security and Medicare.

Watching Paul’s appearance on The View, one could already see this dynamic in action. While the ladies on the show were very gracious to the congressman, Whoopi Goldberg took the lead in asking some policy questions and demonstrated the liberal take on Paul perfectly. She first stated that she agreed that she would like to see the wars end, but wanted to know how Paul could get us out of them (a concern that never would have arisen with a Republican running the empire). After Paul gave his customary answer, “we marched right in there, we can march right out,” Goldberg then challenged Paul on his position that healthcare is not a right. She truly looked baffled that any politician could be both anti-war and anti-entitlement.

On the conservative side, media figures have been doing the opposite routine with Ron Paul for years. Glenn Beck (pre-blackboard) routinely had Paul on during the economic crisis and always emphasized his agreement with Ron Paul’s economic positions and  his disagreement on foreign policy. Ann Coulter has also weighed in on Paul in this way, as have countless other media figures.

Neither conservatives nor liberals agree with Ron Paul that the Federal Reserve should be abolished.

Conservatives believe that along with what they would call “free market capitalism” (their version including privileges and subsidies for big business), one must support a large military establishment and an aggressive foreign policy. For conservatives, it is just inconceivable that anyone could support one and not the other. This is not a position that can be supported by reason. Rather, it is closer to an article of faith to which conservatives have developed a deep emotional attachment. The conservative philosophy still has its roots in the “ancien regime,” whereby the king/executive and a wealthy elite control commerce and support a large, active military establishment, both for the aggrandizement of the empire.

Liberals believe this, too. They share the mistaken perception of conservatives that free market capitalism is dependent upon an imperialistic foreign policy. However, instead of wholly supporting it, they wholly oppose it, confusing the state capitalism supported by conservatives with a truly free market.  Therefore, liberals oppose imperialism and free markets as if one cannot exist without the other and cannot conceive of anyone who could disagree. As with conservatives, their positions are not reasonable. They are likewise articles of faith, rooted in the ideals of ancient democracies in which the majority had unlimited power over the life and property of individuals, taken to new extremes by Marx and other socialists in the modern era.

Ron Paul’s positions do not fit into either one of these belief systems, nor does he seem to “compromise” between the two. Conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. Liberals accuse him of being too conservative. For both groups, many of his positions seem completely unexplainable.

To his supporters, Paul’s positions are so obviously consistent that they often attribute genuine confusion about them to some sort of media conspiracy. Paul bases all of his positions on what we today call “the non-aggression axiom,” which Thomas Jefferson and his supporters called “the law of nature.” This is a very simple principle which states that because we are all created equal, no one individual or group has the right to initiate force against another. Consistently applied, this principle prohibits the government from running welfare programs, regulating commerce beyond prohibiting aggression, or waging war unless the nation is actually attacked.

Paul insists that the military only be used after a declaration of war because in order for Congress to issue this declaration, the president has to cite the overt acts of war committed by the other nation against the United States. The Congress then deliberates and votes to determine whether or not a state of war already exists. That process binds the government’s use of the military to the law of nature. That is the way the declaration of war power has been exercised in every case in American history.

The main reason that conservatives and liberals do not understand Paul’s reasoning is that they have never heard of the non-aggression axiom. Despite the fact that it was the founding principle of the United States, it is not taught in schools. It is not discussed in the media. Instead, 100% of political debate revolves around results. “If the government does A, will B or C be the result?” Conservatives argue B, liberals C. Neither discusses the rights of the parties involved. Paul bases all of his positions upon these rights, which is how all political decisions should be made.

On May 5, Paul will participate in the first debate among candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president. One should not expect the objections to his positions to be substantively different than they were in 2008. While he may get more respect and stage time from the media, conservatives will still try to attack Paul’s foreign policy positions. The most that supporters should expect is the grudging admission that he may be right on economic policy, but that his foreign policy would be some sort of disaster. This follows logically from the fact that conservatives apply the tenets of their political faith and Paul follows the law of nature. He may be right, but don’t expect most conservatives or liberals to have caught up with him yet.

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

Conservatism Is Not What We Need

conservative-liberal-road-sign-cropped-proto-custom_28If you are going to listen to Washington politicians at all, it is always best to listen to the party that is currently out of power. After each election, it is the job of the losers to try to attack the winners in any way they can. Often, they inadvertently advocate genuine principles of liberty in the process.

During the 8-year nightmare that was the Bush administration, it was the Democrats that stumbled upon these principles in their efforts to regain the throne. It was they who pointed out that the government should not be spying on its own citizens, that the president was assuming un-delegated powers through executive order, and that it was neither morally justified nor prudent to invade a third world nation that had committed no acts of aggression against the United States and lacked any reasonable means to do so. Their hysterical mouthpiece, Keith Olbermann, even went so far as to cite a long-forgotten document, the U.S. Constitution.

Of course, it is now abundantly clear that these arguments were made simply out of expediency. With the Democrats in power, it is now the Republicans’ turn to “fight City Hall,” and they have rolled out their usual rhetoric about small government, free markets, and traditional family values. Moreover, they, too, have rolled out the U.S. Constitution and waived it around in opposition to the Democrats’ plans to “spread the wealth around.”

Let’s take note that the Republicans are now correct in opposing the main tenets of the Democratic agenda, including expansion of government involvement in health care, “Cap and Trade,” and other wealth redistribution schemes. Amidst all of the usual noise coming from Washington and its media pundit class, it is only the Republicans that are making any sense at all.

Unfortunately, this is shaping up to produce familiar results. There is a growing movement for “change” that promises to “throw the bums out” in the next two elections. However, those who are part of this movement do not stop to consider what the Republicans’ true agenda will be once they regain power. As they have for over 100 years now, Americans are dashing to the other side in their perennial political game of “pickle in the middle.” They still haven’t learned that the pickle never wins.

The Republicans are having remarkable success in painting President Obama’s agenda as socialist and their “conservatism” as its antithesis. Most average Americans who identify themselves as conservatives accept this argument. If socialism redistributes wealth through the force of government, then conservatism, being its opposite, must oppose such redistribution of wealth. If socialism means that the economy will be centrally planned by government “experts,” then conservatism, being its opposite, must leave those decisions with private citizens. If socialism results in big government, conservatism, being its opposite, must result in small government. These are the assumptions that inform the political decisions of most conservative American voters.

There is only one problem. None of them are true.

The conservative-liberal dichotomy is as old as politics itself. It was present at the founding of the American republic. However, despite the Republicans’ claim to represent America’s founding principles, America was actually founded upon radically liberal ideas. The secession from the British Empire was in essence a complete rejection of conservatism.

Most Americans today believe that the primary motivation for the American Revolution was a separation from the British government. However, the revolutionaries only acquiesced to the necessity of complete separation as a last resort. Even after Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, the colonists were still making attempts to settle their differences with the British king and remain in the British Empire. The primary objection of the colonists was not the British king being their executive, but the conservative, mercantilist economic system that the British government enforced. The colonists objected to the policies of corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs, a central bank, militarism, and the taxes levied upon them to support these and other aspects of the worldwide British Empire. Had the British not imposed this system upon them, they would have been content to remain British citizens.

As soon as the Revolutionary War was won, the exact same debate erupted within the new American political system. Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists wished to replicate the British mercantilist system under an American government that would closely mirror the constitutional monarchy of Great Britain. The Federalists were the party of big government, national debt, corporate welfare, militarism, and central bank inflation.[1]

They wished to preserve the status quo insofar as the role of government and the nature of civil society was concerned, which benefitted a privileged, wealthy elite. They were the conservatives.

Socially, this party was the less tolerant of dissenters and tended to promote religion as useful in informing public policy. During Adams’ presidency and with the Federalists in control of Congress, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed, making it illegal to criticize the government. These also are core conservative principles.

Their opponents, Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans, promoted exactly the opposite ideas. They wished to radically change the role of government in society to one that was strictly limited to enforcing the non-aggression principle of liberty, most importantly economic liberty. They were opposed to corporate welfare or any other government redistribution of wealth, railed against the dangers and injustice of standing armies and the national debt, and opposed the central bank. Over and over again when asked about the role of government, Jefferson consistently applied the non-aggression principle to arrive at an unambiguous answer. Always his answer supported each individual’s right to do as he pleased as long as he did not violate the rights of others, and to keep the fruits of his labor.

Jefferson and his followers insisted upon a “wall of separation” between church and state and denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts. They advocated free speech, civil liberties, and tolerance. These are core liberal principles.

While the conservatives gained the early lead due to George Washington’s election as president and subsequent appointment of Hamilton as treasury secretary, it was not a decisive victory. Washington, who along with Vice President John Adams was certainly a more moderate Federalist, also appointed Jefferson to his cabinet as secretary of state. This set the stage for an epic battle between the two ideologies after Washington departed from politics. Adams eventually broke with Hamilton and his party, costing him the 1800 election, and resulting in a decisive liberal victory by Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans. For the next 60 years, it was the liberal ideology of individual liberty, limited government, and economic freedom that dominated federal politics.

During this time, the conservatives constantly fought to establish bigger government, the central bank, and the other tenets of mercantilism that defined American conservatism. After the Federalist Party disbanded, they were replaced by the Whigs, a party made up of the same people and advocating the same principles as the Federalists. By this time, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans had also had a split, and had emerged as the Democrats.

The Whigs were never successful in achieving their goals, and eventually disbanded. However, as before, the same people and the same principles of big government were back again in 1860, this time calling themselves “Republicans.” They finally won a decisive victory in electing Abraham Lincoln to the presidency and a majority in Congress. Immediately, the Republicans began implementing their agenda of corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs, and higher taxes. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it was this economic agenda (particularly the tariff) that motivated the southern states’ secession from the Union, not a disagreement over slavery.

It is vital to understand that the Republican Party was born as the party of big government, inheriting traditional, conservative big government principles from its conservative philosophical ancestors, the Whigs and Federalists. For most of its history, it has remained true to these principles, up to and including the Bush II adminstration. Barry Goldwater’s more libertarian platform during the 1960’s was a divisive anomaly in the conservative movement. Its popularity was later exploited by Ronald Reagan’s administration to implement the usual conservative philosophy of bigger government, militarism, and debt.

The problem for Americans today is that there is no longer an opposition party that represents a true antithesis of these principles. By the dawn of the 20th century, the Democrats had completely abandoned their core principles of individual liberty and economic freedom and adopted a socialist, democratic ideology of popular wealth redistribution. Where the Republicans continued to promote a system which plundered the many for the benefit of the privileged few, the Democrats no longer objected to government as an instrument of plunder and now merely fought to divide up the loot differently. They were no longer truly liberal, although they perverted that word in popular culture to mean exactly the opposite of what it really means. Since then, Americans have had to choose between two parties whose ideologies are fundamentally hostile to liberty.

One week ago, Congressman Ron Paul gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that both mainstream Republicans and Democrats disagree with. Of course they do. It was an eloquent articulation of America’s founding principles of individual liberty and limited government. Like Jefferson, Paul consistently applied the non-aggression principle of liberty to every aspect of government, concluding that we must end our worldwide military empire, end the welfare state (both corporate and popular), and get rid of the plundering Federal Reserve.

Socially, he advocated tolerance, civil liberties, and the right of every American to express his or her opinion, even if those opinions contradicted Paul’s own most preciously-held beliefs. Despite being likely the most truly Christian person in any branch of the federal government, he never once made any allusion to religion during his entire speech, except for a purely philosophical reference to Thomas Aquinas’ principle of the just war (he alluded to this as part of his anti-war argument). Young Americans for Liberty, an affiliate of Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, invited a gay pride group to the conference, invoking a bigoted outburst from one of the younger conservative speakers just before Paul took the stage. Paul’s followers roundly booed him out of the auditorium.

Ron Paul pitched his ideas as “conservative,” but they are not. During one point in the speech, libertarian radio commentator and publisher of Liberty Pulse, Kurt Wallace, turned to me and exclaimed delightedly, “Ron Paul is a radical!” He is. Like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and the rest of the most pro-liberty founders of the United States, Ron Paul is a radical liberal (in the true sense of the word “liberal”). He is also an extremist, in the true sense of that word. He refuses to compromise his principles regardless of the political consequences.

Average Americans elect Republicans because they believe that Republicans will give them small government, low taxes, and economic freedom. They are mistaken. What they are yearning for has nothing to do with the Republican Party or the more general ideology called “conservatism.” What they really want is radical change. They demonstrated this in giving Ron Paul a victory in the CPAC straw poll. They also proved once again that they are wiser than the political class in Washington. At this critical juncture in American history, there is only one thing that can bring America back from the brink of social, economic, and political collapse: radical, anti-conservative change from leviathan government to extreme liberty.

[1] Thomas Dilorenzo’s books, Hamilton’s Curse and The Real Lincoln document the true roots and history of American conservatism superbly.

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?

>Collectivist Republicans Losing Their Fight

>For eight years, the only reasonable commentary on government policy came from the left. While George W. Bush was president, supporters of the Democratic Party correctly protested the evil war of aggression in Iraq, the abominable use of torture by our military and intelligence agencies, and the sinister aspect of our own government listening to our phone calls, reading our e-mails, and infiltrating our peaceful clubs and organizations as part of the tyrannical War on Terror. Regardless of their motivation, all of these criticisms from the left were valid. The Bush administration, especially while enjoying the support of a Republican majority in Congress, was one of the most damaging administrations to our liberty of any in recent memory.

Of course, these persistent attacks by the Democrats were not really motivated out of a love of liberty. They simply represented a rival gang appealing to the American public’s dissatisfaction with the Bush administration for their own political ends. If anyone doubts this, simply put your ear to the ground and listen for a moment. While the Obama administration marches forward in expanding the War on Terror, fights in court to solidify the government’s right to spy on its own citizens, and has actually confirmed the government’s right to torture under the guise of prohibiting it (as long as said torture is called by another name), all protests from the left against these abominable practices have stopped (kudos to Rachel Maddow and Glen Greenwald who are both notable exceptions).

Since it is apparent that the Democrats are not going to reverse any of these Bush-era incursions against liberty, we can see what President Obama really meant by “change.” While breaking every promise he made to his supporters regarding war, torture, and domestic spying, he has launched an all-out assault on what is left in America of the individual rights to property and free enterprise. His American Recovery and Reinvestment Act handout to existing welfare programs instead of to the “shovel-ready projects” that he claimed the bill would fund, his health care “reform” initiative that will merely attempt to implement programs that have already failed in Europe and Canada, and his destruction of contract law in stiffing secured creditors in the GM bankruptcy are only the beginning.

While all of this might seem gloomy, it should at least represent a political opportunity for the Republicans. Finally, the Republicans have a chance to start making sense and appealing to the natural sense of justice inside each American that was the reason for their political demise in the first place. However, while it might appear on the surface that they are taking advantage of this opportunity, they are not. While railing against what they call Obama’s socialism, they fail to recognize the reason that they will fail in opposing him: their arguments are as collectivist as Obama’s.

Consider their arguments against “Obamacare.” They argue that a government-run program would be inefficient, would eliminate competition through artificially low prices subsidized by tax revenues, and would result in lower quality care and rationing. All of these things are true.

Regarding the government’s takeover of the automobile industry, they argue that the government doesn’t know how to make cars, that forcing the American manufacturers to try to make “greener cars” will only raise their costs and make them less competitive, and that without eliminating the labor union contracts that brought down the American automakers in the first place, they can never compete with foreign automakers, not even those operating in the United States. All of this is true as well.

As just one more example, the Republicans criticize President Obama’s call to expand public works projects, including adding 275,000 jobs under Americorps. They argue that these are not “real jobs,” that once the projects are completed the jobs will go away, and that government cannot create real, sustainable economic growth. Only the private sector can create jobs that last. Again, all true.

While all of these arguments are valid, they are share the same flaw: they are all made based upon what they believe will achieve the best aggregate economic results. Their arguments amount to “the beehive will make more money under our system than theirs.” Like the Democrats, their positions all proceed from the belief that the “needs of society” or the “greater good” outweigh the rights of the individual. If anyone doubts this, then they should take a few moments to read a transcript of John McCain’s acceptance speech upon receiving the Republican nomination for president last year.

The correct argument against all of President Obama’s programs is that they violate the individual rights that government is supposed to protect. Government is an institution of justice, not economics. It exists solely to protect the life, liberty, and property of its constituents. The minute that government attempts to achieve anything beyond this, it must necessarily destroy those rights in the process. As Thomas Jefferson said,

To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association–‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”[1]

When government protects life, liberty, and property, enforces the sanctity of contracts, and punishes only violence or fraud, the “free market” that results does produce higher economic productivity and a more equitable distribution of wealth. The beehive does in fact make more honey when the individual rights of the bees are respected. However, when those rights are violated in an attempt to manage the results, the wealth-generating mechanism is destroyed. There is no conflict between individual rights and the needs of society. Securing the rights of every member of society is society’s greatest need.

These are supposed to be the central principles of the Republican Party. Their name itself should be an enormous public relations advantage for them over the Democrats, as our Constitution guarantees us a republican form of government – not a democratic one. Yet what word did we hear from George Bush to describe our nation and its philosophy for all eight years of his presidency? “Democracy.” There is a good reason for that.

Despite their talk about free markets, capitalism, and smaller government, the Republicans have rarely practiced these principles over the past century. The closest they came to fielding a presidential candidate that intended to govern by them was Barry Goldwater, and we the people handed him the most one-sided defeat in American history. After that, Republicans have decided to “talk like libertarians but govern like European social democrats,” as Thomas Dilorenzo so eloquently put it.

After giving the greatest inaugural address of the 20th century (and yes, I am counting John Kennedy’s), Ronald Reagan went on to save Social Security. He had his chance to make a stand and point out that nothing with the word “social” in it was likely to work, besides it being abhorrent to liberty, yet he contradicted everything he said in that wonderful first speech and raised taxes to perpetuate American socialism for another generation. He also ran deficits that exploded the national debt, started the Rex 84 program (the dreaded FEMA camps), and launched the War on Drugs. So much for the “Goldwater Republican.”

George Bush similarly came into office talking about “smaller government,” and “free markets (not to mention his “humble foreign policy”), yet he expanded federal entitlements more than any president since LBJ and cheered on Clinton’s “ownership society,” whereby people who couldn’t afford houses got loans for them anyway because they got to use other people’s money as collateral. Like so many of his Republican predecessors, George Bush’s idea of “free markets” was merely that his friends on Wall Street and in corporate America made as much money as possible, regardless of the fact that they did so because of artificial market conditions created by the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, and the spider web of regulations that are now written by the very corporations that they are supposed to govern. All of these institutions represent government interference with the free market, fundamentally violating property rights and insulating government-favored corporations from competition. If that is “capitalism,” then Stalin and Mussolini were history’s greatest capitalists.

That brings us to newcomer Sarah Palin. Somehow, she seems to have acquired immunity from criticism of her economic policies despite being the most overt Republican socialist alive. As governor, she put a windfall tax on oil companies operating in Alaska and redistributed their profits to Alaskan citizens. She says that the oil in the ground under Alaska belongs to “the people of Alaska,” instead of to those who risk and spend their own capital to drill for it. When Hugo Chavez did that, it was socialism. When a Republican governor did it, it was “standing up to big oil.”

So, the Republicans are out for now and the Democrats are presently in a position of unchecked power. The minute that they gained the advantage, they began proposing monstrous programs that could truly destroy the last vestiges of our republic. As a result, it is tempting for many to think that the Republicans can be “reformed” or “infiltrated.” Perhaps their decisive defeat has “scared them straight” and will force them to adhere to their supposed principles. One might say to oneself, “At least their rhetoric invokes some of our founding principles. If only we could redirect them while they are rudderless, perhaps we could use their political infrastructure to champion liberty.”

The Democrats have never tried to hide what they are about, least of all during this past election cycle. They sold us socialism and they are going to deliver. We may have to learn the hard way how evil and destructive that system is.

On the other hand, the Republicans have continually sold us free markets, smaller government, individual liberty, and then delivered…socialism. One could make a compelling argument that the misconception that capitalism causes the problems in our mixed economy while socialism provides the solutions is due in large part to people mistaking the economic policies of the Republican Party as “capitalism.” It is not. It is corporatism at best, and fascism at worst – if indeed there is a difference between the two. They combine that with at least as much support for the mammoth entitlement programs as the Democrats. Reagan said that FDR was the U.S. president that he admired most. That really says it all.

The prospect of the present Democratic regime left unchallenged should horrify every sane person with any desire at all to live his own life and have any control over his future. For over a century, our conditioned response in times like these has been to run from one gang of thieves to the other. The Republicans are now on deck, warming up with the familiar big government program of military deficit spending, “compassionate conservative” welfarism, and their hypocritical pandering to the “Chrisitan Coalition.” Four years of misery under the Democrats may be just enough to allow 51 percent of Americans to forget how bad the Bush years really were.

What if this time it were different? Instead of doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result, what if we let the Republicans die? They are gasping for air now, without a viable candidate for president and without a prayer of making up ground in the Congress. Their demise would be nothing unprecedented – political parties have come and gone in America for most of our history. The Federalists, the Whigs, the Democratic-Republicans – all of these put presidents into office but eventually went away. The demise of a political party in the United States is long overdue. Imagine if the libertarian wing of the Republican Party abandoned it, making it impossible for them to gain either the White House or a majority in Congress for the foreseeable future? That would spell the beginning of the end of the bipartisan tyranny that we have lived under for the past century.

There is no danger of an indefinite Democratic reign within our government. President Obama and his Democrats are not just going to fail. They are going to fail spectacularly. Hopefully that will be apparent by the next presidential election. If not, then certainly by 2014 or 2016 it will be obvious to the whole world that Obama’s brand of socialism not only should not continue, but cannot continue. Socialism is unsustainable and America has practiced it for far too long. Its inevitable self-destruction is at hand. The present Democratic platform merely steps on the gas pedal as the vehicle approaches the cliff. We are going over the edge sooner than most people think.

When that happens, there is going to be a political backlash against the Democrats that will make the last Republican defeat look like a split decision. What if at that time there was no Republican Party left to bring in more of the same? Imagine the coalition that might be formed to fill that void. Libertarian Republicans, disenfranchised Democrats who truly supported Obama’s anti-war, anti-torture, anti-spying head fake, and all of those independents that presently vote for the “lesser of two evils” could come together. Who knows who else might come out of the woodwork and vote if there truly were something different on the table?

Only when at least one of these criminal gangs is dismembered will there ever be any “change” in Washington. With the Republicans out of the way and the Democrats completely discredited, the chance for a true revolution in Washington couldn’t be better. You may say I’m a dreamer, but life without Republicans should at least be considered. With the taste of Bush and Cheney fresh on our tongues, what do we have to lose?

[1] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Joseph Milligan April 6, 1816 (regarding Destutt de Tracy‘s Treatise on Political Economy) from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 14 edited by Albert Ellery Bergh and Andrew A. Lipscomb The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association 1904 pg. 466

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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