July 20, 2019

>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 Certainly this is the work of our adversaries, in an attempt to make our ideas sound old, outdated, and irrelevant.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)


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?


>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?