June 19, 2019

Conservatism is More Harmful to Liberty Than Progressive Liberalism

Publication1Following the horrors of the Wilson and FDR presidencies, conservatives made nice with classical liberals and later libertarians as the only way to maintain any relevancy. This was a rather odd fellowship, conservatism being a fundamentally authoritarian philosophy. And because people seem unable to think in terms of anything outside the conservative-liberal spectrum, this has caused many people genuinely interested in a freer society to conflate authoritarian, conservative positions with classical liberal or libertarian ones. Examples:

  • Conflating conservative “pro-business” mercantilism/crony capitalism with free markets
  • Worshiping the enormous standing army rather than being suspicious of and reluctant to pay for it, as any liberty-minded person should be
  • Ditto for the ubiquitous domestic standing army, the police
  • Blaming corporations acting in their best interests in a corrupted business environment, rather than the government that created that environment and made it a business necessity to exploit it, lest their competitors do so first (Amazon, Walmart, etc.). This is how Tucker Carlson finds himself agreeing with Bernie Sanders

The foundation of conservatism, the reason it seeks to “conserve” what is already established by any forceful means necessary, individual rights be damned, is its belief that man’s nature is so fallen, dark, or inherently violent that it must be kept at bay. Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk all agreed that the primary purpose of government was to override men’s natural inclinations by force. For all of them, any freedom man has in society is a privilege granted by the government, not an inalienable right carried into society which the government is charged to defend.

In American history, Hamilton was a true conservative, seeking to conserve mercantilism and empire, the status quo of his day, albeit under American control. Lincoln was a true conservative, seeking to preserve the status quo of the union despite the expressed wishes of the states attempting to leave it peacefully. Today, Trump and the majority of the Republican Party are the true conservatives, pursuing an explicitly Hamiltonian platform, even borrowing Hamilton’s “national greatness” slogan.

Ironically, what attracts well-meaning people to the conservative brand is the libertarian-sounding rhetoric it often employs, despite libertarian ideas being fundamentally antithetical to conservatism. Once they’ve adopted that brand, and seeing that virtually no conservative politicians ever propose anything resembling a move towards laissez faire markets, a less powerful police state or a more peaceful foreign policy, they resort to suggesting the people who run for office under the conservative or Republican banners are not “true conservatives,” or in the case of the Republican Party, are “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only).

When pressed to name some “true conservatives” or “true Republicans,” the only answer one will ever get is Hamiltonian Calvin Coolidge, a conservative who genuinely seemed to hold some classical liberal positions, along with some conservative ones. We’re supposed to believe that in all American history, Coolidge and a few Republicans today like Rand Paul, Justin Amash and Thomas Massie are the true conservatives and/or true Republicans, and virtually everyone else were the “RINOs.”

That should sound ludicrous to any dispassionate observer. Why wouldn’t Coolidge, Paul, Massie and Amash be the RINOs, i.e., the ones who don’t think or act like 99% of the Republican Party throughout its history?

For these reasons, I believe there is a good argument that conservatism is more harmful to the cause of liberty than progressive liberalism. At least proponents of the latter come right out and tell us they’re going to trample our personal and economic liberty “for our own good.” Anyone seeking freedom knows not to vote for them. Not so the conservatives, who occasionally talk like Jefferson but always govern like FDR and Catherine the Great had a love child who won a U.S. election.

The conservative movement’s success in absorbing people with libertarian impulses keeps American politics from breaking out of a narrow range of positions, all statist to the core. This ultimately makes us poorer and less free than we would be if those interested in free markets, peaceful trade and a non-interventionist foreign policy would let go of their emotional attachment to the conservative label and let the Republican Party take its place on the junk heap with its predecessors, the Whig and Federalist parties.

A new movement and party, devoid of authoritarian conservative baggage, may attract a lot of people who currently hold their nose and vote Democrat, but don’t necessarily like the awful far left any more than libertarians do. In other words, what is needed is a radical change in the political landscape, meaning conservatism has to go.

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.

>So Many Rights…

>When looking for wisdom in the wilds of western New York, one might be surprised how often it can be found on the airwaves, listening to the legendary hockey announcer, Rick Jeanerette. Over the years, Buffalo Sabres fans have cheered while Jeanerette has boisterously called their teams triumphs with jingles like “Wowee Housley,” “This building is bedlam!” and the immortal “La-la-la-la Fontaine!” One night, after calling the action during a particularly one-sided fight, Jeanerette dryly remarked of the loser,

“He got hit with so many rights he was begging for a left.”

How prophetic.

After eight years of Republican rule (the barely noticeable change in power in Congress being largely irrelevant), most Americans have been reduced to the same circumstances. They may not love what the Democrats have to offer if they ever really take a moment to think about it, but as long as it’s not more of George Bush’s Republicans, they’ll take it. Like the hapless forward in that forgotten hockey brawl, they too have been hit with so many rights that they are begging for a left.

Left is just what they are going to get, and it’s going to hurt just as much – maybe more.
I don’t think that I’m alone in being astonished at how unabashedly socialist the rhetoric was during the Democratic presidential primary debates earlier this year. While Bill Clinton positioned himself as relatively centrist – sometimes almost Republican – while seeking to succeed what was perceived as relatively successful Republican administrations of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the shift is quite startling now that today’s Democrats smell the blood of a Republican administration with approval ratings down around parking level 3. During the primary season, Democrats have suggested nationalizing the oil industry, nationalizing the healthcare system, and have even promised to “end poverty in one generation.”

Now that the primaries are over and Barack Obama has emerged as the party’s presidential candidate, one would expect that the rhetoric might ease a bit. Normally, candidates appeal more directly to the base during primary contests, but must play to independents and even voters of the opposing party when campaigning for the general election. In a way, Obama’s rhetoric is less inflammatory. However, having taken the time to sit down and listen to his speech in Berlin on July 24, I wasn’t, annoyed, disgusted, or outraged. I was terrified. I was terrified at the things that a man that is presently being cheered wildly by crowds of tens of thousands of Americans at a time was saying. Now, granted, he was speaking to the Germans, who practically invented socialism (no offense, monsieurs). However, the words he spoke were undoubtedly HIS words. Let’s take a close look at some of them.

““…that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world, and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe.”

Well, there is a mouthful. It seems that Europeans now have responsibility for critical parts of the world, which I assume are outside of Europe. They are bearing burdens. Somehow, both of these things seem good to Mr. Obama. Of course, Americans are all too aware of the SACRIFICE they are making. Whether or not that sacrifice is really for “freedom” is very open to debate.

A few moments later, Mr. Obama tells the Germans that “the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.” Not only that, but he warns that “A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more, not less.”

Would it be paranoid to suggest that someone wants us to get used to the idea of “burdens?” Of course, the word “sacrifice” has already appeared one time. It will not be the last.

““True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy, of peace and progress, they require allies that will listen to each other, learn from each other, and most of all, trust each other.”

Now, someone will be bearing burdens AND sacrificing. Mr. Obama goes on to say, ““Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation and strong institutions and shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Ok, Ok, I get it. Burden and sacrifice. Mr. Obama obviously wants us to get used to the idea. Of course, the best way to do that is to say the words over and over again. Once people are used to hearing the words, the ideas behind them are soon to follow. Mr. Obama’s intentions seem quite clear. In HIS 21st century, there are burdens to bear and sacrifices to be made.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines sacrifice as “destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.” I think that it is safe to say that Mr. Obama is not talking here about destroying anything (although that is also part of his 21st century). No, the “sacrifice” that Mr. Obama refers to is definitely more in the “surrender” category, namely more of the fruits of your labor. However, the definition of sacrifice says that the surrender is made “for the sake of something else.” What does Mr. Obama have in mind?

Near the end of the speech, Mr. Obama tells us.

“This is our moment, this is our time. I know my country has not been perfect itself. At times, we struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality of all people.”

Here we finally have it, the age old socialist oxymoron, liberty and equality. Certainly, those producing more than they consume will have to sacrifice quite a bit if equality is to be achieved with all of those consuming more than they produce, not to mention those producing nothing at all (including Mr. Obama – although I suspect he will end up in the “more equal than others” category). However, it need not be pointed out that government cannot try to achieve equality and protect liberty at the same time. Liberty recognizes equal rights, but it NEVER results in equality. That’s one of the great things about liberty.

As the Democrats often claim to be “the party of Jefferson,” I will remind Mr. Obama of the words of his party’s patron,

“…that our wish, as well as theirs, is, that the public efforts may be directed honestly to the public good, that peace be cultivated, civil and religious liberty unassailed, law and order preserved; equality of rights maintained, and that state of property, equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own industry, or that of his fathers.”[1]

For those who might not be getting the point, or think that it will be somehow noble or civic-minded to “bear the burdens” of Mr. Obama’s quest for equality, allow me to point out Merriam-Webster’s definition of “burden.”

“the bearing of a load —usually used in the phrase beast of burden.”

How does it sound now?

I do have a question for Barack Obama. It is this: What sacrifices will you make for liberty and equality in the 21st century, Mr. Obama? What burdens will YOU and YOUR family bear?
That’s what I thought.

I know those rights have hurt over the last eight years, Mr. and Mrs. American, but watch out for that left. It may be the knockout blow.

Tom Mullen

[1] Jefferson, Thomas 2nd Inaugural Address (1805)

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>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)

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