The Freeman's Burden:

To defend the principles of human liberty; to educate; to be vigilant against the ever expanding power of the state.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The illusion of left & right

It occurs to me that the political philosophies that have guided party politics in America for more than 200 years have become so confused by the tendencies of statism and authoritarianism that have crept into our institutions of government, that the names ascribed to them have grown less useful and more misleading with time. The "liberal" of today's political universe could hardly be recognized by those that have traditionally assumed that mantle for the principles and philosophy for which it was named. The same can surely be said of today's "conservatives". The current debate on Social Security offers a prime example. The very notion of a program that seeks to redistribute wealth by coercion would be an anathema to classical liberals who would not only take exception with the state assuming for itself an obligation to the private welfare of sovereign individuals, but also the compulsion by the state to surrender privately earned means to the achievement of that end. Today's "liberal" party has not only made peace with this common violation of the legitimate role of federal power, but also seeks to maintain, unchanged, this system in spite of its coercive nature. The maintenance of the status quo has traditionally been considered "conservativism", but is now co-opted by the left. It is the modern "conservatives" that seek sweeping changes to the system, a position rightly described as liberal. Hence the logical consistency of the parties core principles must be called into question. If the maintenance of liberty is at the root of the American left, then it is logically inconsistent to use the power of the state to that end. For liberty and statism are opposing and conflicting political objectives. The same inconsistency dogs the American right. How can a party stand for Locke on property and Smith on capital and, at the same time, ignore there intellectual counterparts on matters of personal liberty? The answer, I think, lies in a truth more fundamental than any structure of cultural or political organization, human ambition. The principles of left and right have simply crumbled in the face of the corrupting influence of power. For it is the desire for, and pretensions of, political power that drive those that wish to exercise personal control over the mechanisms of government rather then any principled philosophy. In this reality lies the historical tendency of the state to grow larger and more oppressive with time. The Democrats are then compromised by their desire to socialize and regulate just as the Republicans are compromised by a desire to moralize and traditionalize. Both see the mechanisms of the state as the means to achieve their ends and whatever coercion is brought to bear for any end, liberty is the inevitable victim. Philosophical inconsistency undermines the credibility of those that choose to lead, eroding public trust and making coercion more necessary to the achievement of political goals. Hence the cycle perpetuates and accelerates the growing power of the state and, at the same time, the oppression of the individual. The cycle has, traditionally, only been ended by revolution (usually bloody) and the dissolution of the state. A new weaker state then emerges and the process begins anew. Jefferson certainly understood this and fretted that the republic would need to be renewed by blood every twenty years. The fact that our union has endured for over 200 years is a testament to the wisdom of those men that sought to form a more perfect union. But now, I fear and hope, the time has grown short as the whims of man's ambition have continued to subvert the interests of liberty and our shackles have tightened around our necks. It is no longer a question of if, but rather when, the desire to live free will outweigh the hope of security at any cost. I submit to you that believing that being shackled to the Democratic or Republican party will imbue one with a righteousness of cause has overlooked the fatal flaw and dangerous conceit of party politics. Both parties have their hands on the rudder and are steering the ship of state into oblivion. None will be spared the wreckage of liberty lost.


Blogger Mark said...

Best arguement I've ever heard you make. I don't think Jefferson would be happy with what our Nation has become. We've let wealth and political power corrupt our leaders, but eventually people will wake up and in a violent or non-violent manner take back the own freedom.

We may disagree with what the root causes are, but I think we kind of see eye to eye on this one.

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with some of your arguments. If Americans ever come to realize that their democratic ability to change government has been taken away, there will be some violent change. Not the "wreckage of liberty lost" you are predicting, though. Americans usually carry out their revolutionary acts alone or in small groups. A bomb, a shootout...that's enough to scare Americans back into their houses. As long as we have our bread and circuses we don't care about statism. On the other hand, what if we had a nation without a government? coercive taxation, no meddling regulations, just the freedom to watch out for yourself. Oh wait, that is Somalia, isn't it?

9:47 PM  
Blogger Free2Smooze said...

It was Hobbes that said that government, no matter how oppressive, was far preferable to life in a state of nature where existintance would be brutal and short. Just ask the Somalis. That was over 300 years ago and, thankfully, our political thinking has evloved just a tad since then. Of course, anarchy or bottom up social organization offers it's own set of vexing problems, but anarchy is an extreme that relies on the complete breakdown of social structure, or the complete rejection of it. To equate this essay with a call for anarchy really misses the point. The brilliance of the constitutional system is to delay the point at which government begins exercising excessive and extra-legal coersion to achieve its ends. The effort of this essay is to insire some reflection on the question of when that point is reached. For my part, I believe we have far exceeded it and the response to 9.11 has reflected a government that no longer sees itself as bound to a set of guiding principles, the very principles that have made the American system unique and successful. I want to advance the idea that statism and liberty will always be in a tug of war and the momentum will always favor statism and the consolidation of power. Vigilence and activism may delay this process, but this process has been part of the character of human nature since the first time a man threatened another will a sharp rock. Closing your eyes to this historic trend will not change the fact. Nor will it change the fact that attempting to use the coercive power of the state to serve a good or noble end, as Democrats often attempt, has produced far more misery and oppression then the exercise of personal liberty ever has. I look to the illustration of famine. Study of human prehistory has shown that early hunter-gatherers were relatively well buffered from starvation. Sure there is a chance of getting snowed in all winter unprepared or having your food stores eated by animals, but there is no evidence of mass starvation predating the rise of the nation-state. Simply put, nature doesn't cause famine, government does. The same is certainly true of war as well. Whenever you look into the mass killing, suffering or oppressing of human beings, at the heart of it is the abuse of power by some person or people, often for worthy cause, in a position of excessive power over others.

1:45 PM  

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