December 13, 2017

The Irony Everyone’s Missing in the Hamilton-Pence Controversy

hamilton-penceFour days after Mike Pence was lectured by the cast of the hit musical Hamiltonand booed by its audience, the controversy rages on. President-elect Trump sent out the expected angry tweet demanding an apology. The left melodramatically gasped, “freedom of speech,” even though no one has suggested government action against the actors. And, suddenly, the right is more offended than an SJW at an Ann Coulter lecture. Even Trump whined about the theater being a “safe space.”

The only person who doesn’t have a strong opinion on this is Mike Pence. He handledthe situation with uncommon grace, shrugging off the boos from the crowd with a line for the ages: “That is what freedom sounds like.”

All of this pales in comparison to the supreme irony everyone is missing in this whole overblown controversy. Here we have the cast of a musical that holds Alexander Hamilton in an admiring light expressing deep anxiety about a president who just won a stunning upset victory after running his campaign largely based on the political ideas of – wait for it – Alexander Hamilton.

Read the rest at the Foundation for Economic Freedom…

Trump confirms he’s a Hamiltonian; invokes Lincoln’s protectionist fallacies

GOP-2016-Trump_sham1-725x483Is Donald Trump reading this blog? If so, he’s not grasping that Trump Isn’t Hitler; He’s Hamilton and Reality Check: Trump’s Platform is Identical to Lincoln’s weren’t meant to be supportive of his mercantilist economic ideas. Maybe that’s on me, the writer.

Regardless, Trump invoked both Hamilton and Lincoln, starting at about the 10:30 mark, during a speech yesterday. He quotes Lincoln saying, “The abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people.”

Like all protectionists, Trump seems to have no idea about the concept of opportunity cost. He posits that tariffs on foreign imports will bring back manufacturing jobs, which he says “the nation” desperately needs. But it never occurs to him that when millions of Americans buy sneakers made in China for $100 instead of sneakers made in America for $200.00, they create other jobs with the $100 they save.

Trump’s speech confirms several of the arguments I make in my latest book. One can draw a virtually straight line from the Federalists, through the Whigs, to the Republicans. Obviously, there are nuances over such a long period, but the core tenets of protectionism, crony capitalism and central banking never cease to be the foundation this house is built on.

More importantly, these are the core tenets of true conservatism in the British-American tradition, since  before the dawn of the industrial revolution. You can call Trump a lot of things, but “not a real conservative” just doesn’t hold water. Free markets, individual liberty and limited government are classical liberal ideas that have only resided within the conservative movement recently and have never been very welcome. That’s because they are all anathema to the conservative worldview that any change, from within or without, threatens to break the barriers between society and man’s dark nature.

The creative destruction of the market, the free movement of labor, capital and goods, and Jefferson’s libertarian principle that the government should be limited to “restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement” is the opposite of conservatism. That’s why Hamilton feared and loathed Jefferson; that’s why Trump fears and loathes the free market. He’s a true conservative, like Hamilton, Lincoln, Coolidge, Hoover and the rest.

 

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.

We Need to Really Gut the Military

cracked-american-flag-jpgU.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told the Harvard Kennedy School Tuesday that Americans will be grappling with violent extremism for generations to come. If that feels like déjà vu, you’re not imagining things. Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark O. Schisslersaid the same thing – in 2006.

Schissler was expressing concern at the time over wavering public support for a war that had already lasted longer than WWII. His concern was warranted. The Republican Party had just suffered a shellacking in the mid-term elections, largely due to public dissatisfaction with “neoconservative” foreign policy. They would lose the White House two years later for largely the same reasons.

American voters may have believed they “threw the bums out,” as Carroll Quigley might put it, but the foreign policy never changed. The Obama administration may have used different tactics, but it’s been even more interventionist than Bush’s. It’s certainly intervened in more countries.

Bush and the 2000s Republicans were called neoconservatives, but they weren’t. Their way of seeing the world is classic conservatism, straight out of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes not only saw all individuals, but all nations, in a de facto state of war with each other, in the absence of some overwhelming external force “keeping them in awe.”

This was the inspiration for the British Empire, which sought to “civilize” the world by force of arms. It eventually bled itself dry, its biggest failures occurring on precisely the same ground the United States is bleeding on now.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post…

 

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.

Republicans as wrong as Democrats on Sandy Relief

TAMPA, January 5, 2013 – There is yet another faux debate raging in Congress. According to Fox News, the House and Senate have passed a $9.7 billion aid package for Sandy victims. Most Democrats and Republicans are calling for an additional $51 billion.

Some Republicans are dragging their feet.

It would be encouraging if even a single Republican articulated the principle at issue here, but none have. Republicans in Congress couldn’t find a principle if it were slid under their doors with envelopes full of lobbyist cash.

For the record, the principle is this: Citizens in Wyoming shouldn’t be taxed to rebuild the houses of other people in Wyoming, much less New York or New Jersey. This is another bedrock American principle that has completely vanished from the minds of most Americans.

Instead, Republicans object on the grounds that not all of the proposed funding is necessary for immediate relief. In fact, there is some considerable pork built into both the House and Senate versions of the bill, including “$150 million for fishery disasters in a range of states — including Alaska and Mississippi” and “nearly $45 million was included for work on NOAA’s hurricane reconnaissance aircraft.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp voted against it, saying, “We have to talk seriously about offsets,” he said. “We can’t take $60 billion off budget, that’s my problem with it.”

The common sense and acknowledgement of reality are refreshing, but Huelskamp still avoids the main issue.

Property is a right, just like free speech. It was recognition of the right of each individual to keep the fruits of his own labor and dispose of them as he saw fit that made the United States the richest nation in the world, relatively overnight.

While the immediate cause for the outbreak of hostilities during the American Revolution was the British attempt to disarm the colonists, the long term cause was the British threat against property rights.

American schoolchildren are taught that the colonists’ only grievance was “taxation without representation.” That’s convenient for big government progressives on both sides of the aisle, because they can then say, “You are represented, so we can tax you however we please.”

Those schoolchildren are not taught that the colonists also did not want representation in the British Parliament. Jefferson said so in his Summary View of the Rights of British America. Benjamin Franklin was strictly instructed not to accept any deal with the British that involved colonial representation in Parliament.

The colonists wanted no part of any political system whereby they could be taxed and the money spent for the benefit of other parts of the empire. Representation in a Parliament where they were hopelessly outnumbered would only add the veneer of legitimacy to this armed theft.

Read the rest of the article…

The Founding Fathers Were Anti-War

The 2012 presidential election cycle is underway. With the Democratic candidate a foregone conclusion, there is not much uncertainty about where the Democratic Party is going. For better or worse, Democrats will likely continue to “dance with who brung them,” meaning Barack Obama and his brand of 21st century liberalism.

Not so on the Republican side. After historic defeats and victories in the past two elections, respectively, the Republican Party has yet to define itself for the future. It must come to grips with the fact that its miraculous comeback in 2010, after crushing defeats in the presidential and congressional elections of 2008, was due in large part to the Tea Party. However, with that victory came a large group of new Republican lawmakers, many of whom were not ready to fall in line with the Republican leadership. The most striking example, of course, is Rand Paul, who has constantly challenged mainstream Republican positions that do not jibe with his libertarian-leaning constitutional conservativsm.

Critics dismiss the Tea Party as simply a Republican Party publicity campaign rather than a grassroots movement that truly seeks change in Washington. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the Tea Party did indeed challenge the Republican establishment and defeated many establishment Republicans in primary elections – which means they obviously cared about far more than simply defeating Democrats. So, if not simply a front group for the Republican mainstream, what does the Tea Party stand for?

If you ask them, they would answer that they stand for smaller, more fiscally responsible government and a return to America’s founding principles. They wish to reign in the federal government and restore the limits placed upon it by the U.S. Constitution. This is why you can find Sarah Palin touring 18th century historical landmarks and Michelle Bachmann evoking the shot heard round the world at Lexington and Concord (Concord, Massachussetts, that is, after clarifying her original statement).

It is easy to throw stones at the Tea Party for gaffs such as Bachmann’s. However, it is wrong to attribute the shortcomings of politicians trying to acquire political capital out of the Tea Party to the grassroots members themselves. Just because Michelle Bachmann might not know exactly where the American Revolution began doesn’ t mean that the Tea Partiers themselves don’t understand the American Revolution or the principles which inspired it. Indeed, the legislation that galvanized the Tea Party in 2010 – Obamacare – fundamentally violates those founding principles for exactly the reasons that the Tea Party opposes it.

Where the Tea Party departs from founding principles is on the subject of war and the military. At any Tea Party rally, a large percentage of the comments by the speakers, content of the signs and banners, and general atmosphere of the event amount to glorification of the military.  Over and over, attendees are reminded that they should be grateful to the military for their freedom and should remember that “someone paid for it.”  In addition to enthusiastic support for the gargantuan military establishment itself, unqualified support is given for every overseas war or occupation that the U.S. military is involved in. Whatever the president orders the military to do, it must not only be right but also essential to the freedom of every American.

This couldn’t be farther from the ideas of most of the founders. The Constitution reveals their suspicion of any permanent military establishment. The Congress is given the power to raise an army, but only for two years. This ensures that the people can disband the army during every Congressional election, as the House representatives are elected at the same intervals. The power to declare war is kept away from the president and given to Congress, where two separate bodies have to vote on it.

It is apparent from the document itself and the statements of many of its framers that they were very aware of the dangers to liberty that accompanied prolonged warfare or a standing army in peacetime. Contrary to what most Tea Partiers apparently believe, the founders were anti-war.

Remember that the colonists were reluctant to fight with the British right from the beginning. The colonial militia at Concord held their fire even after the British had fired upon them, killing two Americans. It was only when one of their commanding officers yelled “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!” that they fired upon the British. Three months later they sent the Olive Branch Petition to King George in an attempt to avoid all-out war.

Once the Constitution was ratified, the administrations of the first three U.S. presidents were dominated by efforts to avoid going to war. During Washington’s administration, pro-France Jeffersonians urged the president to take France’s side in its conflict with England. Instead, Washington approved the Jay Treaty, which normalized trade relations with Great Britain.

Largely because of this treaty, John Adams spent most of his presidency dealing with a hostile France, which considered the new American nation extremely ungrateful after France’s support of it during its revolution. Avoiding war with France was the dominant issue of Adams’ presidency, this time under pressure from his own party to take Great Britain’s side. In fact, while Adams maintained a commitment to enlarge the navy to provide “wooden walls” for the young nation, he steadfastly refused to grant Hamilton the standing army he wanted, despite the fact that Adams was fighting the “Quasi War” with France. Adams eventually achieved peace, possibly at the cost of a second term as president due to the dissention it caused within the Federalist Party.  However, Adams considered peace the crowning achievement of his presidency, saying “I desire no other inscription over my gravestone than: ‘Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France in the year 1800.”[i]

Not to be outdone, Thomas Jefferson went even further in repudiating militarism. Having no standing army to disband, Jefferson went to work on the U.S. navy, decreasing it by roughly 95%. This allowed him to eliminate virtually all internal taxation in the republic, leaving only the tariffs to provide federal revenue. Jefferson refused to use ground troops in his clashes with the Barbary pirates until the Pasha of Tripoli actually declared war upon the United States. Later, in yet another effort to stay out of the wars in Europe, Jefferson signed into law the Embargo Act. While he was rightly denounced for this legislation, which was almost as hostile to liberty as the Alien and Sedition Acts, it did demonstrate the lengths to which Jefferson was willing to go to keep his country out of war.

It is Jefferson who is most quoted in Tea Party signs and by Tea Party candidates, and rightly so. If one is consulting the founders for the purest version of the American philosophy of liberty, it can be found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. However, Jefferson was also the most staunchly anti-war, cutting all military spending not absolutely necessary to defend the American borders. This was no accident. War is the natural destroyer of liberty. As James Madison put it:

“Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”[ii]

If the Tea Party truly wishes to reestablish America’s founding principles, then part of their platform should be to disband the U.S. Army. They would be in good company. Founding fathers from both major political parties in the 18th and early 19th centuries opposed a standing army, most adamantly Tea Party icon Thomas Jefferson. Only Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson’s political arch enemy, differed from the rest on this point. Hamilton’s militarism was part and parcel of his imperial political philosophy, which also included a controlled economy, a central bank, and a national debt that would further tie corporations to the government – all policies that the Tea Party rejects.

While embracing militarism and championing liberty are philosophically inconsistent, there is also a very practical reason to disband the army. It has outlived its usefulness. With the U.S. government’s nuclear arsenal and dominant naval and air forces, there is no conceivable reason that an army of ground troops is necessary to protect the United States. Think for a moment how hard it has been for the U.S. to conquer a few backwaters in the Middle East. Now imagine a foreign army trying to land in Maryland or Georgia, against all of that air, sea, and missile power. It is inconceivable. Furthermore, even the government’s own military “experts” for the most part admit that a conventional army is ineffective in fighting terrorism. Given these realities, the vast federal spending, deficits, and debt –core issues for the Tea Party – that result from the existence of a standing army cannot be justified in the 21st century United States.

The Tea Party broke almost four decades of relative apathy by American citizens in the face of unchecked expansion of federal government power. Not since the Viet Nam war had Americans taken to the streets as they did during the 2010 elections. During the 1960’s and 70’s, the left wing-dominated anti-war movement brought with it socialist domestic policies that were as hostile to liberty as the war itself. Now, the right wing-dominated Tea Party embraces a foreign policy as anti-liberty as the domestic policies that it opposes. It is past time for a movement that promotes liberty and opposes leviathan government consistently on all fronts. Embrace America’s founding principles. Restore the republic. Disband the army.


[i] McCullough, David John Adams Simon & Schuster Paperbacks 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 2001 pg. 567

[ii] Madison, James Political Observations 1795 from Letters and Other Writings of James Madison J.P. Lippincott & Co. Philadelphia, PA 1865 Vol. IV pgs. 491-492

What is Limited Government?

It is certainly encouraging to see a massive grassroots movement demanding that government cease its exponential growth. The Tea Party movement has already flexed its muscles in some high-profile elections, and there is widespread consensus that it will be a factor in the 2010 elections. For the first time in over a century, there is a critical mass of people actually demanding limited government.

However, there is one very important question that must be answered. What is limited government?

The answer supplied by Republicans for the past several decades has been “lower taxes, balanced budgets, and less government spending.” These are all wonderful ideas, although Republicans have hardly put them into practice when given the reins of power. Afterwards, their supporters have chastised them for “not being true conservatives,” although I’m not sure that the conservative movement has ever really been about “small government.” In any case, the fundamental assumption underlying conservative rhetoric is that the limits of government are quantitative. One is led to believe that if the government would only spend less on health care, education, stimulus packages, and other programs (excluding the military, of course), that freedom, peace, and prosperity would be just around the corner.

However, limited government has nothing to do with how much money government spends, but rather what government is allowed to spend money on. Restoring freedom and constitutional government depends not just upon cutting taxes, but redefining what services government can legitimately tax its citizens to underwrite. At one time in America, there was a clear and unambiguous answer to that question: taxation was limited to underwriting the defense of life, liberty, and property.

Politicians have to mince words in order to keep fragile constituencies together, so they rarely make unambiguous statements. When one faction among their supporters opposes a new government health care program, they cannot agree on principle and say that government should have no role in providing health care. This would alienate another faction among their supporters that are currently benefitting from an already well-established government health care program. So, the politician uses words like “sensible” and “market-driven” in order to attack his opponent’s program without acknowledging the principle that it violates whether administered “sensibly” or not.

Truly limited government can only mean one thing: enforcing the non-aggression principle, known to our founders as “the law of nature.” Jefferson said that no man has the right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and that is all from which the law ought to restrain him. As government is merely the societal use of force, its limits are no different than the limits on the use of force by an individual. An individual may use force only in defense against aggression and under no other circumstances. He may never initiate force. The words “sensible,” “lower,” and “smaller” do not apply. The limits on government are absolute.

The argument that needs to be made against the current health care program is that it violates the law of nature. By forcing some people to pay for health care services that are provided to others and by forcing everyone to purchase health insurance regardless of their consent, government exceeds the natural limits of its power. It initiates force and thereby commits aggression against every individual in society. The initiation of aggression results in the state of war. It is for this reason that the new health care program should be repealed. Once the argument is diverted to one simply about cost or the practical means to fund the program, the principle of limited government has been abandoned.

While this is a relatively simple answer, as are all answers to questions of justice, it is a double-edged sword for conservatives. Once the true limits of government power are acknowledged, then a large swath of the conservative platform is called into question. Most obviously, garnering support from older Americans in opposing “Obamacare” on the grounds that it will necessitate cuts in Medicare contradicts the principle of limited government. The flimsy distinction between the new health care program and the old has been that Medicare recipients have “paid into the system all of their lives.” While this is undoubtedly true, everyone knows that those payments all went to underwrite previous beneficiaries and not into some magical trust fund. Medicare is no less a redistribution program than Obamacare. It just benefits a different special interest group.

While support for Medicare may merely be a political necessity for conservative politicians, truly limited government is also at odds with what has become the bedrock of modern conservatism: support for the worldwide U.S. military establishment. This is not to say that limited government means no military establishment at all. However, it does mean that the government has no legitimate authority to maintain standing armies overseas, to fight wars to protect one nation from another, or to protect a foreign people from a despotic government. The natural limit of government military action is to defend its own citizens against aggression by a foreign nation. Beyond this, it is initiating force and exceeding that natural limit.

One might argue that every individual has a right and a duty to protect a fellow human being from aggression by a third party, and that therefore the U.S. government’s military interventions around the world are justified. This was the basis for the (second) argument for the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein was oppressing his people and the United States had a duty to protect them from him. However, no individual has a right to force someone else to defend a third party against aggression. Every American had the right to send money to support Hussein’s opponents or even to go and fight in a revolution to overthrow him. However, no American had the right to force his neighbor to do so. The natural limit on military spending is that which is necessary to protect those taxed to support it. Humanitarian aid in any form must be voluntary.

Liberals constantly use the term “fair share” when justifying the egregious taxation and redistribution system that the U.S. government has become. Of course, this begs the question, “What is my fair share of services that I don’t use and that I actively oppose?” The only rational answer to this question is “zero.” However, once you come to this inescapable conclusion, virtually all government social and economic programs must be eliminated, as they are all based upon taxing one person in order to provide benefits to another.

Limited government does require each individual to pay his fair share, which is the cost to protect his own life, liberty, and property and that of his dependents. It is limited to what is necessary to “secure these rights.” While everyone may not have an equal amount of property, everyone has equal rights and thus an equal stake in providing for their defense. An examination of the U.S. government’s budget reveals that the cost of providing this defense of individual rights is orders of magnitude less than what is spent now. A government operating within its natural limits would not require an income tax, a value added tax, or a “fair tax.” American history has already proven this.

While it may be justified in a theoretical sense, America’s massive redistribution state cannot be abolished with the stroke of a pen. Not even the staunchest libertarian really wants to see Social Security, Medicare, or public welfare turned off tomorrow, with the poor and elderly left to fend for themselves. However, to be committed to limited government means to be committed to working towards eliminating these programs, not reforming them. This may take generations to accomplish, but we must first at least acknowledge that they have to go.

What we can do right now is end our worldwide military empire. Unlike the social programs, this would not mean short-term hardship in exchange for long-term gain. Getting our soldiers out of the 130 countries that they are stationed in would provide an immediate benefit both to the United States and the rest of the world. Proponents of the empire would argue that a sudden withdrawal of our troops would “destabilize” the regions that they are stationed in, but this is absurd. The presence of troops does not provide stability. It inspires resentment and provokes the inhabitants to retaliate. Without a troop presence in the Middle East, the motivation for terrorism would quickly fade. It is much easier to recruit suicide bombers when you can show your recruits armed troops in their own neighborhood than it is trying to convince them to give their lives to stop women in some far off land from wearing mini-skirts. Does anyone really believe that this is why they want to kill us?

A little simple arithmetic will demonstrate that even eliminating all military spending would not allow us to pay for our welfare state. The total military budget is around $700 billion, while Social Security and Medicare alone are over $1 trillion, with Medicaid adding $400 billion more. This does not even take into consideration all of the smaller programs for housing, education, medical research, “infrastructure,” energy, agriculture – all of these programs violate the principle of limited government for the same reason that Obamacare does. Added together, the vast majority of non-military federal spending is some type of wealth redistribution. It would seem that there is no equitable way out.

The answer lies in revisiting the “fair share” idea. Unlike taxation, there is no such thing as a fair share of benefits derived from other people’s money. We must recognize that in order to undo the century of damage we have done to our society, some people are going to have to pay out more than they receive in benefits. We could certainly come up with a plan whereby people my age, in their mid-40’s, would only be guaranteed catastrophic coverage through Medicare and reduced payments from Social Security, both payable only with a demonstrated need rather than as an entitlement. This would allow new workers to get out of the system altogether and finally restore limited government and true social justice. Would it be fair? No. Neither is the status quo. However, it would lead to prosperity and justice for our children. The status quo will lead us to our destruction.

This is only one strategy and I am sure that smart people could come up with others. As the old saying goes, the first step in solving our problem is admitting that we have one. If we want limited government, we must recognize that it is far more than Obamacare or welfare for the poor that is violating the law of nature. Let us continue to oppose Obamacare, but let us also acknowledge the vast amount of work to do even after this new incursion into our liberty is vanquished.

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

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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?