April 21, 2019

Conservatism Is Not What We Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Next They’ll Have Us Salivating

“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

– Frank Sinatra as Major Bennett Marco in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

For anyone who has seen the film classic, The Manchurian Candidate, the quote in the prologue should bring back the subtle horror of the premise of the film. Using experimental methods of operant and classical conditioning, the villains of the film – the intelligence community from the eastern communist bloc – were not only able to control the actions of their subjects, but their thoughts and feelings as well. While the most horrific scenes in the film are those in which Raymond Shaw is forced to kill people he loves or respects, the control exerted over the other members of Shaw’s unit is equally disturbing and much more relevant to our political discourse today.

For those who have not had the opportunity to see the film, Marco and the other characters who repeat the adoring words about Raymond Shaw only do so because they are conditioned to for the purpose of covering up the massive plot that constitutes the story line of the movie. Marco later says, “It’s not that Raymond Shaw is hard to like. He’s impossible to like!” He tells his superior officer that while praising Shaw he really believed what he was saying, even though deep down he knew it wasn’t true. He had been trained to respond emotionally in a way that contradicted his reason. A more appropriate metaphor for American politics is hard to imagine.

The United States of America was born during the Age of Reason. Its founders believed that reason was the law of nature itself, and that the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were logical conclusions based upon observable facts. Further, they believed that reason was a duty and a prerequisite of those rights – one could only be entitled to liberty if one followed the law of nature, which requires non-aggression in return for the natural right to do as one pleases. This is why children do not have a natural right to liberty. They must first develop their reason sufficiently to be able to responsibly claim that right. As Locke said,

“The power, then, that parents have over their children, arises from that duty which is incumbent on them, to take care of their off-spring, during the imperfect state of childhood. To inform the mind, and govern the actions of their yet ignorant nonage, till reason shall take its place, and ease them of that trouble, is what the children want, and the parents are bound to: for God having given man an understanding to direct his actions, has allowed him a freedom of will, and liberty of acting, as properly belonging thereunto, within the bounds of that law he is under. But whilst he is in an estate, wherein he has not understanding of his own to direct his will, he is not to have any will of his own to follow: he that understands for him, must will for him too; he must prescribe to his will, and regulate his actions; but when he comes to the estate that made his father a freeman, the son is a freeman too.”[1]

So, it is not surprising that an absence of reason has accompanied the loss of liberty, for it is only the former that makes possible the latter. No one would logically conclude they would benefit by placing their life, liberty, or property under the arbitrary power of anyone else, for to do so is profoundly illogical. Yet, every generation, Americans have surrendered more of their rights to a government that has grown into the most pervasive institution of power that has ever existed in human history. They have done so for the most part because they have allowed their passions to replace their reason. Until we recognize this, every “change” we make is going to be for the worse.

Third parties and other tiny constituencies aside, American political discourse is dominated by our two major political parties. Their primary goal in any debate is not to reach the truth, but to enlarge their voting base. Having discovered long ago that appealing to the voters’ feelings is more effective than appealing to their reason, there is little more to most political dialogue coming out of politicians and activists than ad hominem attacks against their opponents and empty jingoism that similarly appeals to conditioned emotional responses rather than any rational position or argument (and once in a while, they cry). Perhaps this has always been true in politics; perhaps it will never change.

However, what is truly frightening is how successfully these parties have been able to train average Americans to think and act as they do, and ultimately to cast their votes likewise. For anyone that has given their allegiance to either of the major parties, no dissent or even discussion of that party’s platform is permissible.

If you are talking with someone who identifies him or herself as a Republican or a “conservative,” the mere suggestion that the United States government should consider decreasing military spending or changing their nation-building foreign policy results in a vitriolic, ad hominem assault of the most vicious nature. Often, the response will reference positions that you not only did not take but were not remotely related to the discussion you were having before you questioned party dogma. You may criticize the war in Iraq and find yourself attacked as “godless” or an atheist or even a traitor, while your subject goes on to tell you why you are so wrong about supporting amnesty for illegal aliens, regardless of the fact that the subject of illegal aliens was never heretofore mentioned and you happen to oppose amnesty for illegal aliens.

Similarly, when talking with someone who identifies him or herself as a Democrat or a “liberal,” any mention of support for a free market will elicit a similar attack. You may be called a racist, a fascist, selfish, or greedy amidst a blustering diatribe about the importance of the separation of church and state and religious tolerance, which are likewise subjects that heretofore were not part of your conversation and which you may well agree with wholeheartedly.

One must recognize at this point that you are not engaged in a debate. The person you are talking to is no longer reasoning, but instead giving conditioned responses to words he or she has been trained to react to with abhorrence and intolerance. In most cases, you can expect no chance to redirect the person back to the discussion you were having nor any chance to make a further point, as your opponent will likely continue to cut you off and ultimately withdraw from the conversation, having heard nothing beyond the trigger word(s) that set the absurd reaction in motion.

If the whole encounter seems bizarre, consider the associations that were likely revealed during it. Anti-war equals godlessness (is God pro-war?). Free market equals racism. Property equals greed. Neither Orwell nor Burgess could have imagined a victory over reason so complete. Soon, like the iconic Dr. Pavlov, our masters will need to do no more than ring a bell to direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Without reason, there can be no liberty. Reason – the law of nature – is what allows us to discover the natural, non-aggression limit to human action. It is what defines liberty and distinguishes it from the state of war. It is doubtful that any one of us has not been guilty of abandoning reason at one time or another, although there are some that are certainly guiltier than others. It is also clear that there are those who would go on exhorting our passions in order to cloud our reason and therefore rob us of our liberty, for their own gain at our expense.

There is only one way that we can regain our freedom. We must “pull out the wires,” as Major Marco said to Raymond Shaw. We must break the links that we have allowed others to implant within our minds and begin to listen to one another again, even when we disagree. Pacifism is not communism, freedom is not racism, and property is not greed. These associations are as insane as “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”[2] We should be disgusted with our political class for manipulating us this way and ashamed of ourselves for allowing them to train us like dogs.

Until we break free from this irrational partisanship, we are like the children that Locke describes above, without the understanding that qualifies us for liberty. There are plenty in our political class that prefer us this way, so that they may “will for us” in regard to every aspect of our lives. However, unlike wise and loving parents, they have demonstrated throughout all of history that they will teach us nothing but nonsense and guide us nowhere but to war and economic destruction. Even a small child will stop touching the stove after he has burned his hand a time or two. Are we not even as intelligent as this?

There are a few simple things to keep in mind as you attempt to fight the good fight. If you are conscientiously arguing a position that you believe in but find yourself being called a racist, a satanist, a right-wing extremist, or a traitor, keep doing what you are doing. You are very likely winning. On the other hand, if it is you that is resorting to calling your opponent names, ask yourself, “Why am I attacking my opponent? Am I unable to refute his argument?” Maybe it is time to consider the other side.

If you find yourself saying anything that you heard a politician or any of the politicians’ lapdog media hounds say, think very carefully about whether you really agree with it or not.  It is likely that further thought will change your mind.

Finally, if you hear a bell ring and find your mouth starting to fill up with water, be aware that there is something very, very wrong.

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[1] Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Co. Indianapolis, IN (1980) pg. 32

[2] Orwell, George 1984 New American Library (Penguin Group) New York, NY (1961) pg. 4

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