October 20, 2014

Libertarians vs. Conseratives 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?

This 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.

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

Home

© Thomas Mullen 2011

>Conservatism Is Not What We Need

>If 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.

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

Home

© Thomas Mullen 2010

>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!

Home

>I Want a New Name

>Call it a midlife crisis, but I can tolerate the label “conservative” no longer. Can there possibly be a name that makes a person sound more boring? Certainly this is the work of our adversaries, in an attempt to make our ideas sound old, outdated, and irrelevant. When I hear the word “conservative,” I think of an old guy in a smoking jacket, having a scotch at “the club.” Now, I have nothing against a good single malt, but as for the rest, well…

I’m not sure how this happened. How did the people that are in favor of maximum liberty become “conservative?” How did the people that are in favor of maximum government become “liberal?”

It wasn’t always this way. Most Americans in 2008 don’t remember this, but it was not that long ago that the term “liberal” meant exactly the opposite of what it does today. Locke, Rousseau, and Hume are all considered fathers of the modern “liberal tradition.” Their work directly inspired our founding fathers, who were liberals one and all. As late as the 1940’s, F.A. Hayek was still referring to the concepts of laissez faire capitalism and individual liberty as “liberal.” Even today, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines liberalism as,

“b: a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties”[1]

If that is what liberalism is, one only need look at the campaign platforms of Barack Obama and Ron Paul to see that we have become terribly confused. Somehow, less freedom has become “liberal” and more freedom has become “conservative.” What kind of Orwellian doublespeak is this? What’s next, “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength?”[2]

Actually, over sixty years ago, Hayek warned us about the redefining of important words,

“The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretence that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning.”[3]

Wow. That explains why every time I hear people say the word “liberal” in relation to politics, I feel like Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. I want to say, “You keep on using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It’s time to start beating the pro-tyranny crowd at their own game. First, they changed the meaning of the word “liberal” to mean exactly the opposite of what it used to mean. The “classical liberals” became modern conservatives. If that weren’t bad enough, “conservative” has now been redefined as well. If you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t mean less government and more freedom anymore. We now have “neo-conservatives” that like big government just fine – complete with huge gains in entitlement spending, unnecessary warfare, corporate bailouts, and unmasked socialism. Neither “liberal” nor “conservative” have any liberty left in them. We need a new name.

I suggest that the freedom movement wage a little linguistic warfare itself. From now on, let us call ourselves “neo-liberals.” I know. Half of the people reading this just spit their cheerios all over their computer monitors. Lew Rockwell is organizing a posse. Even mild-mannered Ron Paul is warming up his left jab, unused along with his wrestling moves since 1952. I have to admit, the first time I said it, I had an attack of the heebie jeebies myself. However, it is not even a matter that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”[4] It really is OUR name. It was simply stolen from us, like Charles Manson stole that song from the Beatles. Now, we’re stealing it back.

There is no reason why this couldn’t work. If we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that if you say something over and over enough times, no matter how ridiculous it might be, you can get the majority of people to start believing it. This idea isn’t a bit ridiculous. We have to come to terms with the fact that, whatever we think conservatism means, the rest of America has moved on with the new “neo-conservative” definition. Conservative now means pre-emptive war, police-state security policies, record government spending, and corporate socialism. Liberal now means the politics of envy, higher taxes, record government spending, and democratic socialism. Liberty needs a new word, a word people under seventy can live with.

Neo-liberals. See? You’re getting used to it already.

Tom Mullen

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberalism (the first definition is omitted as it appliesto the word as defined when used in a religious context).
[2] Orwell, George 1984 © 1990 Penguin Books
[3] Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom Routledge Classics 270 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016 Pg. 161
[4] Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Home

>Can Individual Liberty Be Cool?

>While the big decisions about government and how our money is spent are made by the “over thirty crowd,” what is and is not cool belongs to the young. They are the ones that decide what clothes are cool, what music is cool, what movies are cool, and even what ideas are cool. Then they become adults, and before they know it, they have imperceptibly become uncool. Tragically, those who were coolest when they were young are the last to realize this when they are older.

What is cool is always what is new. Rock and roll was cool in the 1950’s, rock in the 1960’s, Disco in the 1970’s, new wave in the 1980’s, and grunge and rap in the 1990’s. What is old is never cool until it is so old that it has been forgotten. Then, it can become new all over again and have a new chance to be cool. Such is the fate of music, clothing, hairstyles, and ideas.

At no time in the past four decades has individual liberty been cool. During the 1960’s, the counterculture started a social revolution that still dominates American society. Some of it was good. The civil rights movement finally won equal rights for blacks and other minorities. Half the nation protested an immoral and terribly destructive war. Both of these movements had overwhelming support from the cool people – the young. The artist class of the time – the rock musicians and movie stars – united in support of these causes. College campuses protested. Anyone not for these programs was “not with it,” or what we would today call totally uncool.
However, the other far-reaching aspect of this revolution was its socialism. Certainly, socialism had been making inroads into American society since Woodrow Wilson, and had taken great strides under FDR. However, at the beginning of the 1960’s, America still held on to many of its values of individual liberty, free markets, self reliance, and property rights. That changed drastically with the advent of the Great Society, bringing in huge federal government spending programs like Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Education, and various programs under “The War on Poverty.”

With the institution of these new social programs, which today combine with the New Deal programs to account for over half of all federal spending, the United States effectively shifted from a constitutional republic based upon individual liberty to a social democracy, devoted to economic equality. This shift was helped immensely by the fact that anyone who was remotely cool was behind it. Those same musicians and celebrities that correctly recognized the gross injustice of violating the civil liberties of blacks and other minorities somehow reconciled themselves with violating the most important civil rights of all – property rights. The same people that condemned the unjustified use of force against the Vietnamese had no problem initiating force against their fellow citizens to pay for the social programs. At least in popular culture, you had to be schizophrenic to be cool.

When I was a teenager in the early 1980’s, there was both a renewed interest in 60’s music and a new style of rock, called New Wave. Like any other teenager, my favorite bands were my heroes, and certainly the coolest people I knew about. While I rediscovered the Beatles, idolized John Lennon, and struggled to learn the guitar riff in “Shakin’ All Over,” I was electrified by the new sounds of R.E.M., U2, the Alarm, and The Housemartins. To the young and naïve, the haughty arrogance with which they contemptuously rebuffed the establishment and rebelled against authority was enough to create the illusion of intellectual superiority. Once someone is cool, you automatically think that they “get it.” Anyone that disagrees with them “doesn’t get it.” This is the message we get from our idols, and it is hard-coded into us by the time we’re old enough to drive. Such has been what is cool for several generations.

I consider myself lucky to have attended Canisius College in Buffalo, NY and had the professors I had in both economics and philosophy. Whatever the rest of the world was being taught then or is being taught today, my economics professors in 1984 were teaching me that Keynsian economics were on the way out, and that, among other things, monetary policy was an idea whose time had passed. At the same time, a philosophy teacher introduced me to John Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government. We spent weeks discussing those essays, dissecting them and discussing their importance to everything that our country was founded upon. I remember being completely enthralled with Locke, his ideas truly “making my heart beat faster.” I’m not sure if it was possible in 1690, but if it was, Locke was way cool.

It certainly didn’t sink in right away, but as I got out into the real world and got a little experience, I began to realize that there were some major problems with the philosophy that the cool people were promoting. Cool or not, their message seemed incompatible with the philosophy of liberty that I had come to believe in so deeply. It certainly came as quite a shock to me, when I finally LISTENED to the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” that the song was actually a call for world communism. Although Michael Stipe has admitted that even HE didn’t know what he was saying on those early R.E.M. records, he is clear enough in his interviews about where he stands on politics. Similarly, “The World’s on Fire” is still one of my all-time favorite songs, but when I became aware of the Housemartins’ political beliefs, I realized that here again was the same socialist message.

Until Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, I had given up on individual liberty. Neither political party was championing it anymore – the Republicans said some nice things in 2000 and then increased entitlement spending more than any administration and Congress in 40 years. In addition, the Republicans had gradually become the pro-war party, contrary to their non-interventionalist stance throughout most of the 20th century. However, the lack of a choice in politics was not what made me abandon hope. It was the fact that for as long as I could remember, anyone that young people considered remotely cool were, for all practical purposes, socialists. With no political party taking a strong stance on individual liberty and the school system deteriorating so that no one seemed to be learning these principles, I had resigned myself that the individual liberty of Locke, the unalienable rights of Jefferson, and the self reliance of Emerson were now relegated to a dusty spot on my bookshelf. Freedom had been forgotten.

However, what was forgotten has become new again. I was quite surprised by the fact that so many college students were electrified by Ron Paul’s message. On no college campus that I can remember has the “cool crowd” ever rallied for individual liberty. Friends told me that Ron Paul’s anti-war message was what attracted young people, but that when they found out that his government was going to stop “giving them things,” that they would turn their backs in a second. I’m not so sure. Dr. Paul has said himself that he was surprised at how many young people focused upon his message about eliminating the Federal Reserve and the income tax, two of the “Ten Planks of the Communist Manifesto.”

As encouraging as that might be, individual liberty is never really going to catch on again until it finds a way to be cool – and let’s face it, all of the cool people are liberals. However, there is now a coalition forming between supporters of Ron Paul and disenfranchised Democrats to oppose civil liberties violations and wars of aggression. If together we can overcome these huge threats to our freedom, that alone will be a great victory. However, I wonder if we can agree that the social programs must go as well? While the wars are immoral and the police state is terrifying, it is the social programs that have destroyed the fabric of our productive society and eaten up all of our wealth. Will the same schizophrenia persist? Will we fight side by side to oppose the initiation of force abroad, but clash over ending it against our own citizens? Will we be united against violations of our rights by law enforcement, but divided when it comes to the most important right of all, the right to the fruits of our labor?

I have hope. Against a common enemy, former rivals often discover that the gulf between them is not that wide. Sometimes, they even find that they like each other. Libertarians agree with liberals on so many issues – war, tolerance, civil rights, free speech, freedom of the press. It is only property rights on which we differ. I humbly make one request of my new allies: consider the idea that voluntary exchange is a better way for us to deal with one another than coercion. I respect your passion to help those in need, but we cannot fund those efforts by force. If we can bridge this one gap, I believe we can form a coalition that will be unstoppable in restoring our republic to peace and freedom. By eliminating legal plunder, we can realize the dream of eliminating poverty and ignorance that seemed within reach a century ago. With the fruits of our labor restored to us, we can revive the private charities that once astonished de Tocqueville and inspired the world. Our nation can again be an engine of prosperity, not for the rich, but for all Americans, rich, poor, and middle class. If we can take this one leap of faith together and believe in freedom once again, there are no bounds to the heights we can reach.

Is that cool?

Home

>Moderation: A Virtue or Tyranny’s Secret Weapon?

>“Don’t go to extremes.” What could be sounder, more reasonable advice? Moderation is extolled everywhere as one of the highest virtues. Drink in moderation. Enjoy good food in moderation. Take an interest in your favorite hobby – in moderation. Too much of a good thing can be just as bad for you as poison, right? “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl chain of all virtues,” said Joseph Hall.

In civics classes, we are taught that “democracy” functions based upon compromise. Compromise brings people together. Compromise is the only way that conflicting interests can exist together peacefully. Moderation is unselfish. It respects the interest of all parties, and is willing to “give and take.” Moderation is fairness.

On the website http://moderaterepublican.net/, Moderate Republicans are described as believing:

“…that government does have a basic social responsibility to help those in need; a belief that the nation does have international responsibilities.”
“Moderate lawmakers are consensus builders. But then again the art of legislating is that of compromise, negotiation, and recognition that other views have merit. This does not mean Moderates compromise core values, but rather they understand the complexities of passing intelligent legislation that benefits the greater good.”
“Moderates were the first internationalists. The nation, they contended, had a critical role to play in advancing democracy in the world.”

I’m not sure how this platform would be considered substantially different than that of Woodrow Wilson’s in 1912. Yet, this is without question the platform of George W. Bush and the present Republican party, their 2000 campaign promises notwithstanding. The so-called “neo-conservatives” are nothing more than moderate Republicans. What could be wrong with that?

The media often describes American politics in 2008 as “extremely polarized.” Yet, any sober analysis of American politics would conclude that the debate is now between centrist, moderate Republicans and ultra-liberal, socialist Democrats. A Republican president and Congress have passed increases in entitlement spending greater than any since the 1960’s. A Democratic congresswoman has threatened to nationalize the oil industry, scarcely eliciting a mention in the media, much less a cry for her censure or impeachment. Individual liberty is so far off the table in political debate that it produces almost no results when searched on major news sites (besides the occasional article on Ron Paul). How did we get here?

I suggest that extolling the virtues of moderation has played a major role. In political debate, we are given the impression that a range of issues constitute moral dilemmas where competing but equally worthy interests must be considered and an equitable compromise reached. How do we enact legislation that supports labor while not constricting economic growth? How do we fight hate crimes while preserving free speech? How do we support Israel without inflaming further hatred among Muslims? How do we ensure healthcare to all Americans while maintaining fiscal responsibility?

None of these dilemmas are real. A government limited to its proper role faces no conflict. The litmus test in any political debate is simple: Whose liberty is being threatened? By whom? The only proper answer for the government is to defend liberty.

Using this standard, all of the so-called dilemmas evaporate. How do we provide healthcare? Government does not. It has no way to provide anything without attacking liberty. How do we support Israel without incurring more terrorism? We don’t. We take no sides and try to be friends with both. If they attack each other, we mind our own business. Our liberty is not threatened by age-old, regional conflicts on the other side of the world. How do we support both labor and management? We do neither. We enforce the sanctity of contracts and otherwise keep government out of it.

When it comes to wine, women, and song, a little moderation is a very healthy thing. When it comes to questions of liberty, I suggest that it is a deadly poison. If liberty is one extreme and slavery the other, how could we ever benefit from a compromise? Reflecting on the choices we’ve been offered over the past 100 years, we have constantly had to choose between giving up a little liberty or giving up a great deal. Government never proposes to get smaller or surrender any control. When a new government program or initiative is proposed, the choices never include more liberty. In the best case scenario, moderation carries the day, a compromise is reached, and only a little liberty is lost. However, the next debate starts from there.

Seen in this light, it is clear why an establishment bent on socialism or more government control would extol the virtues of moderation and compromise. When it comes to issues of liberty, moderation is like the old saying, “heads I win, tails you lose.” Extremism is an easy position to vilify – nobody likes an extremist. Even John McCain’s rhetoric (when he remembers his lines correctly) has shifted imperceptibly from “terrorists” to “extremists” when talking about threats in the Middle East.

I have a friend that is a few years younger than me that has always been a Democrat. Often, when we’ve debated politics, he has argued that the Republicans are crooks, the party of ignorance and religious fundamentalism. Our age difference is small but critical in that he has never known a Republican party that could be described any differently. A few months ago, he called me very excited about a television special he saw about Barry Goldwater. He went on for several minutes telling me what I already knew, that Goldwater was “a real American,” “a true patriot,” and that “there is no one in politics that is anything like him.” My friend does not remember a Republican party that would nominate such a man.

It was the present “neo-con” platform of the moderate Republicans that Goldwater defeated in 1964, although he lost the general election by a landslide. Why did he lose? He was characterized as an extremist, a label he welcomed, saying,

“Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Critics of libertarianism often label the movement “extremist.” The most common obfuscation of the debate is to argue that “liberty doesn’t mean that you can do anything you want,” or that “liberty doesn’t mean no government at all,” as if either of these represented the true positions of libertarians. However, these arguments are effective because they use the buzz word “extremism” and count on a public that will hear that word and accept the rest without critical analysis. They certainly would not consider that perhaps extremism in the defense of liberty is a virtue.

Perhaps the only way to truly ensure liberty is to banish moderation and compromise completely. As crazy as that may sound at first, a little reflection reveals otherwise. If liberty means never to initiate the use of force, what is the moderate position? Initiating a little force? If liberty says that taking the fruits of someone’s labor without their consent is stealing, what is an acceptable compromise? Stealing a little? If liberty says that a person’s life is his own to do with as he wishes, so long as he does not violate the rights of others, what does the moderate say? Is his life only partly his own? Before rejecting extremism in the defense of liberty, revisit these questions and ask yourself this: Do we really want liberty in moderation?

Home