December 16, 2017

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

Where_Do_Conservativ_Cover_for_Kindle

CONTENTS

Chapter One: Something is Wrong with the World

Chapter Two: Where Do Conservatives Come From?

Chapter Three: Where Do Liberals Come From?

Chapter Four: Where Did the Founding Fathers Come From?

Chapter Five: Defending the Creed The Conservative Tide

Notes

Chapter One:

Something is Wrong with the World (excerpt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results are going to surprise you.

 

Chapter Two:

Where Do Conservatives Come From? (full chapter)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservatives on the nature of man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservatives on the purpose of government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservatives on the extent of government power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservatives on the form of government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservative economic policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservative foreign policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ii] Burke, Reflections pg. 33

[iii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 113

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

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

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

[vii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 114

[viii] Kirk Leviathan, I pg. 5

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

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

[xi] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 121

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

[xiii] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 739

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

[xv] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 1821

[xvi] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 140

[xvii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 114

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

End of Excerpt

Get the Kindle version here.

Get the Paperback here.

 


Notes

Chapter Two Where Do Conservatives Come From?

[xii] Bolt, Robert A Man for All Seasons

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

[xiv] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 74

[xv] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 75

[xvi] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 76

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

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

[xix] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 80

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

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

[xxii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 106

What does the word “liberal” mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I in the ball park?

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

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.

What’s So Hard to Understand About Ron Paul?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make Obama Watch Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters_coverIt’s now clear the indisputable facts of economics and history are not sufficient to prevent our government from embarking on another expensive, disastrous program. While debate on government destruction of the health care industry continues in the Senate, President Obama prepares to make a trip to Copenhagen. There, he and other elite “experts” will cook up a new assault on free enterprise – under the tired pretense of “saving the environment.” Since intellectual, scholarly attempts to convince our rulers of the error of their ways have failed, I humbly suggest a simpler solution: make President Obama and the U.S. Senate watch the 80’s classic, Ghostbusters. Everything they need to know about government’s role in the environment is there. It is presented simply enough that even a career politician can understand it.

The Ghostbusters story begins with three university professors who decide to try their hand in the private sector. They start a going concern with their own money to investigate paranormal activity. They face hard times early on, spending “the last of the petty cash” on Chinese food. They have a dearth of customers and face the same fate as the majority of new businesses in their first year: bankruptcy. There is no suggestion the government will bail them out. The market has seemingly determined there was not sufficient need for their services and they will have to figure out some other product to offer in order to make a living.

At that moment, a disturbance occurs in a local hotel and their first paying customer places an order. The Ghostbusters successfully capture the offending spirit and collect their fee. The incident results in some publicity for the young firm and business booms. Soon, the Ghostbusters are running their own commercials and have more business than they can handle. They bring on a fourth Ghostbuster to keep up with the demand.

So far, the story has been a happy one for all parties concerned. The Ghostbusters have achieved success and have become enriched. Why? They have earned their money by making New York City safer (more “ghost-free”) and have created jobs in the process. Most importantly, all of this has occurred through private, voluntary exchange. Customers pay their fees happily because the Ghostbusters offer them a service they deem worthy of the price.

But a story without a major conflict is no story at all. Ghostbusters is a superior story in that it correctly recognizes the source of all human conflict: government. Instead of the rather mundane epilogue the story would have had at this point, where competing firms enter the ghostbusting market, prices fall, and soon all of society can afford to have a paranormal housecleaning, the government rears its ugly head. A representative of the EPA knocks on the Ghostbusters’ door. What happens next couldn’t be more analogous to the real world.

The EPA agent Walter Peck is played to perfection by vastly underrated William Atherton. What is abundantly clear from his limited time onscreen is that, as a low-level federal agent, his primary motivation is not protecting the environment, but rather lording it over any individual or business that fails to immediately submit to his absolute authority. Under the pretense of protecting the environment, he attacks a private enterprise that has harmed no one, has helped the community, and has created jobs.

Having obtained legal authority to invade the Ghostbusters’ facility, despite the lack of evidence of any crime, Peck discovers what he deems to be a threat to the environment in the Ghostbusters’ ghost storage equipment. Of course, sophisticated equipment that could pose a threat to the environment is ubiquitous in a developed, industrial nation. But thus far in the story, the Ghostbusters have managed their equipment safely and responsibly. They have done so both out of respect for their own safety and the safety of others and because their livelihood would be jeopardized if the ghosts they had captured were to escape and return to re-haunt the premises of their customers.

Despite pleas from the Ghostbusters, the EPA agent shuts off their ghost storage machine and chaos ensues. Remember that up until this point, no environmental disaster had occurred. But by violating the liberty and property rights of the Ghostbusters under the pretense of a false threat to the environment, the government has created a real environmental disaster that now threatens everyone’s lives. In fact, the entire world is now threatened because of this government intervention.

Consider how closely this story recreates the real world, ghosts and goblins notwithstanding. The government’s record on protecting the environment has followed this pattern  since the moment activists got the idea the government could save the world. Among the sparkling achievements of government environmentalism has been the banning of DDT, a safe and effective insecticide that was vilified and ultimately banned because of its supposed threat to the environment. Subsequently, farmers were forced to employ less effective insecticides that really do harm the environment, while a later study showed DDT could actually be eaten by humans over an extended period of time with no adverse health effects.

In another historic blunder, the government decided to employ its ability to coercively override private decisions in order to encourage the production and distribution of ethanol, the fuel additive made from corn. This had the unintended consequence of causing food shortages and skyrocketing prices while failing to significantly affect America’s dependence on fossil fuels. The crowning achievement of this boondoggle was the revelation that the production of ethanol actually consumes more fossil fuel than it produces and is a net positive in carbon emissions. Had property rights been protected, instead of destroyed by the government, none of this would have happened.

Most recently, the government decided it would address two problems at once by “stimulating the economy” with its Cash for Clunkers program. Not only would this supposedly help the economy, but because those trading in their clunkers would have to buy “greener” cars (with other people’s money), it would also help the environment. Of course, the result was perfectly good used cars were destroyed while their owners took out loans for new ones, resulting in a decrease in wealth and an increase in debt for society as whole. In addition, it turned out the owners of the clunkers had previously been limiting their driving due to either concerns about breakdowns or the general lack of pleasure inherent in driving their clunkers. Once provided with new cars by the government, they began driving far more than they previously had, producing more exhaust and consuming more fossil fuels. Another government disaster funded by legal plunder.

As in the movie, every attempt by government to use its coercive power to protect the environment not only fails, but actually creates the very problems it purports to try to solve. In most cases, the problem does not even exist until the government undertakes to solve it. What is the government’s solution? Always it is to attack private property and free enterprise.

It never ceases to amaze me that the American public at large exhibits absolutely no skepticism towards the politically connected segment of the environmental movement. For 100 years, members of a certain political movement claimed private property and free enterprise would destroy society. The 20th century proved them absolutely wrong. Those societies which did away with private property and free enterprise were destroyed themselves, while those which (for the most part) retained property rights flourished. Subsequently, the members of this same political movement suddenly became activists for the environment, studied the problem, and concluded there was only one way to save the earth from environmental disaster: by abolishing private property and free enterprise. Does no one find this conclusion – by these people – an odd coincidence? Does no one even suspect their motives? Are we a nation of fools?

President Obama, please watch the movie. Appoint a “Ghostbusters Czar” to ensure every legislator in the federal government watches it as well. When you have had time to reflect upon its profound message, please declare the environmental war on private property over. If you are looking for wise stewards of the land, you will not find them within the ten square miles you presently inhabit. However, there are some 300 million people who can do a better job just outside of town.

*This article originally appeared on the Campaign for Liberty website.

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

>The Bursting of the Socialism Bubble

>In the midst of what “debate” there has been about the eventual bailout of the financial sector, it is clear that even most of those opposed to the bailout do not understand what is happening. The unfortunate aspect of some of the commentary is that there is a faction arguing that without the bailout, the stock market will not crash. Thus, the debate is shifted to “which course of action can best protect stock market values?” They cannot be protected. The government argues that the credit squeeze could result in unemployment, while the other side argues that unemployment will not necessarily result if the bailout is not passed. Another position blames the crisis on too little regulation. All of these positions are wrong. There will be a painful adjustment in the stock market and massive unemployment, whether the government bails out the financials or not. The only question is how long it will last. That is reality when any bubble deflates.

The most unfortunate result of all of this misunderstanding would be for the American people to reverse their position and support the bailout just because there are severe market losses if it does not pass. Their initial instinct was correct, whether for the right reasons or not. The losses that these companies suffered due to massive malinvestment are real, and that must eventually be reflected in the value of their stocks.

Similarly, it will be unfortunate if the American people are convinced that more regulation is needed to prevent this from happening again. More regulation will not prevent a problem that was in part caused by too much regulation.

We have heard about the “tech bubble,” the “housing bubble,” and even the “dollar bubble.” All of these are real. The dollar bubble is about to burst, with global catastrophic consequences, but even that is not the biggest bubble that is out there. The biggest bubble, which has been building literally for the past century, is what I will call “the socialism bubble.”

What is the socialism bubble? Let’s define “bubble” first. The term “bubble” is used in economics to describe a large misallocation of resources (malinvestment). Anyone with even a passing familiarity with economics knows the basics: the central bank artificially infuses money and credit into the economy, that money flows toward projects that appear to be profitable under the artificially created conditions, but aren’t, and those projects ultimately fail, causing the bursting of the bubble. The worst part of the bursting of a bubble is that the greatest misallocation of resources has been human resources, and those people now have to find new jobs. They have to be reemployed elsewhere, in more profitable ventures, just like the capital goods that were misallocated to the projects. That is why unemployment accompanies recessions.

Like any other bubble, the socialism bubble is also a misallocation of resources. It has just taken longer to form and is much huger in scope. The principles behind it are the same, however. It represents government intervening into the economy to create artificial conditions that misallocate resources. Under these artificial conditions, the entire economy appears to be profitable, but isn’t. When the inevitable bubble bursts, all of the resources, including human resources, that were misallocated, become unemployed. We are about to experience the massive correction following this socialism bubble.

How did it happen? One must look back to before it started to understand it completely. It started at the turn of the last century. The United States of the 19th century had the closest thing to laissez faire capitalism ever achieved in history, arguably followed next by Great Britain. The defining principle of laissez faire capitalism is VOLUNTARY EXCHANGE. With everyone acting in their rational self interest, the minds of all participants were leveraged by the system to consistently produce optimal results.

In the laissez faire marketplace of the 19th century, wages generally declined over time. A pitiable lack of understanding of economics caused social reformers to condemn the free market for this.[1] They ignored the fact that the general price level fell faster than wages, making workers richer in real terms. They attempted to improve on the results that laissez faire capitalism had produced with government policy.

However, there is only one alternative to voluntary exchange: INVOLUNTARY EXCHANGE. Government economic policies FORCE economic agents to make choices that they otherwise would not make. No matter how one tries to euphemize socialism, that is what it is. By attacking voluntary exchange, socialism attacks the mechanism that creates wealth. That is the true root of the problem.

One way in which this manifests itself is in the cost of production. Government cannot come to a company that makes automobiles and force them to pay their employees more, provide them healthcare or pensions, pile one regulation on top of the next in terms of how the company operates its business, and then expect the company’s cost of making that automobile not to rise. As the cost of production rises, the company must find a way to keep the cost of producing their product below the market retail price. They might decide to manufacture SUV’s, which have larger margins, even though a spike in gasoline prices could put them out of business. See General Motors. The truth is that none of the American auto manufacturers are able to produce an automobile that is competitive in the market. Government will come up with a host of villains to blame for this, but look at the balance sheets of the Big Three and you will see why they are not viable. Concessions to labor unions (mandated by government) have made it too expensive for them to operate.

Similar government intervention is behind virtually all of America’s loss of manufacturing infrastructure. It is simply not economically viable to manufacture anything in the United States anymore. This is not a natural result of free markets. As previously noted, wages and other costs of production fell under the laissez faire system. Falling prices are a natural result of economic growth and innovation. Only the artificial conditions created by government intervention – the use of force to coerce economic agents – have made it more expensive to make things in America.

The cost of production is not the only pressure that socialism has put on the American economy. The welfare programs currently consume 11% of GDP. Keynesians would say that this is ok, because the recipients spend that money and increase demand. Hopefully, the coming calamity will discredit this economic school of charlatans once and for all. Wealth is created by production, not consumption. This redistribution destroys voluntary savings and ultimately capital. It also eliminates the other conditions that accompany a period of voluntary savings that facilitate natural expansion of the productive structure.

In any case, increasing socialism has put artificial pressures on the American economy for almost a century, and those pressures have accumulated to make America profoundly less productive. Like the communist countries, we have lived in a dream world in which government could use coercion to change economic reality. We have pretended that a business venture can spend more than it takes in and continue to survive. For a time, the free market aspects of America’s “mixed economy” allowed her to overcome these negative pressures, but that time has passed. Economic reality is about to assert itself in devastating fashion.

For at least two decades now, America has been producing far less than she consumes. All things being equal, this would not have gone on for long. However, all things have not been equal. The United States has a central bank, and the privilege of printing the world’s reserve currency. This is why the socialism bubble has been become so enormous.

Instead of a drop in consumption and a rise in unemployment[2] as its manufacturing sector migrated overseas, America went right on consuming, and those employees found new jobs in the “service economy.” With the Federal Reserve providing an unlimited supply of fiat currency, and with the ability to ultimately export that inflation overseas by importing foreign goods in exchange for U.S. dollars, America has been able to maintain the same standard of living as it enjoyed in its productive days. As long as foreigners accepted U.S. dollars, the dream world could persist. The bubble continued to inflate.

The ominous part of this is that today a large percentage of the American labor force is now misallocated by this bubble. There are tens of millions of American workers that are employed in ventures that will cease to exist once the socialism bubble bursts. We have seen the beginning of this with the failures of large retailers and restaurant chains, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Worse yet, unlike previous recessions, there are no manufacturing jobs for these displaced workers to redeploy to. The productive structure must be rebuilt, and that doesn’t happen overnight.

Therefore, Americans must realize that a stock market crash[3] and mass unemployment are inevitable, whether government intervenes or not. The only question now is how long those undesirable conditions will last. There is no “solution,” government or otherwise, that will allow us to avoid this correction. If the government does not intervene, the stock markets will crash faster and the layoffs will begin sooner, but the total period of adjustment will be far shorter. If the government intervenes, no matter how they do it (including by allowing the Federal Reserve to massively inflate the currency), the adjustment period will be stretched out, with continued new malinvestment even as liquidation of current malinvestment occurs. That was the story of the Great Depression.

The only course of action that can speed up the recovery is a return to the laissez faire capitalism that made America great in the first place. This would include eliminating unnecessary regulation, abolishing the central bank and restoring sound money, eliminating minimum wages and other artificial price controls, capping and eventually phasing out the entitlement programs, eliminating other massive government spending like military welfare for other countries and unnecessary war, and restoring protections of property rights. In other words, Freedom. Don’t you think it’s time we tried it again?

[1] The lack of understanding of “real wages” was certainly not the only misconception of the social reformers, but it was a major misconception and representative of others.
[2] The European mixed economies have already experienced this adjustment, debased their currencies, regrouped under the European Union and an new currency, and are presently pursuing the same failed ideology to destroy this new economy as well.
[3] It is conceivable that the Federal Reserve could inflate the currency so much that the stock market remains at $11,000. However, if $11,000 only buys 10 loaves of bread at that point, it would still represent the same devaluation as a crash.

Home

The Future of a Destructive Species

Nature is often characterized as a delicate balance of plant and animal, predator and prey, land and waterway, forest and plain. While our world is probably more accurately viewed as an evolving environment, marked by constant change rather than balance, and certainly has periods of violent disruption (ice ages, etc.), for the most part, there are many long millennia between these disruptions during which Nature provides an environment of plenty for her creatures. The lion hunts the antelope, catching the slowest and weakest, and therefore culling the herd to make it stronger. The deer take what they need from the forest, leaving the forest intact to house the millions of other species which depend on its shelter. Even the lowly worm plays a part, consuming the very earth itself, and leaving behind nutrients that replenish the soil and make possible new life.

Of all of the species that have evolved on this planet, the mammals are among the most intelligent and most resourceful. While they enjoy many advantages over other species, they also have found their place in the great scheme of things, neither multiplying beyond the number their environment can support nor harming that environment in living out their lives and raising their families.

However, there is one mammal for whom this is not true. This species has developed an industriousness far beyond that of the others. Since its earliest history, this species of mammal has disrupted its environment and displaced other species, often wiping them out completely wherever it has made its home. It has destroyed forests both for the timber to build its homes and as collateral damage resulting from the expanse of its communities. It has destroyed the nesting habitats of countless endangered species of birds, interrupted the course of deer runs vital to the health of the herd, displaced fox, wolf, and squirrel, and destroyed countless ecosystems without hesitation, merely to expand its never-ending quest to subdue Nature herself in its own selfish interests.

It is long past the time to try to bring this species under some control before it succeeds in disrupting the environment any further. Its relentless need to widen its own habitat at the expense of every other species it shares a given locale with must be curbed before the earth as we know it becomes barren forever.

While some would argue that education or behavior modification could be successful in changing the habits of this ambitious species, the problem is now too urgent to wait several decades for such remedies to have an effect. A direct intervention is needed to prevent catastrophic consequences to the environment, including further deforestation, pollution of the water, and destruction of countless more ecosystems. Only the force of law can justly protect what we have left of the world we were born into.

Despite the urgent need of legislation and the immediate need to change the behavior of this species, it should be remembered that this species also has a right to exist, as long as it does not have any effect on its environment. Therefore, this new legislation must consist of just laws that will promote both the long-term sustainability of the environment and the long-term health of this species within it. Unlike so many failed efforts in the past, these laws should not amount to volumes of minute regulations that are difficult to enforce and impossible to fully understand. These new laws must represent a new way for this species to think about itself and its part in the world, and must be written so that obeying them is the only logical conclusion that a species not bent on suicide can come to. We must finally have laws written in words that this species can understand and accept.

We will need someone that can translate English into beaver.

 

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

>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