Monday, July 03, 2017
American Independence Day, 2017
Two hundred forty one years ago, the Declaration of Independence was announced, the first political statement recognizing that all men (human beings) have equal, inherent rights, by nature, and that governments are merely means to the end of protecting people and their rights. It's a most radical statement; it completely inverted the hierarchy that most humans accepted for millenia -- that everyone was obligated to serve powerful rulers (sometimes masquerading as a more powerful entity, "the state"). The Declaration discarded the doctrine of rule by elites, the illiberal system, and substituted for it the liberal system, the system of freedom for the individual. (This is the true meaning of "liberal.") Almost everything that has happened in political theory since then is a battle between defenders of the principles of the Declaration, and various elites trying to undo it. Marxism, Fascism, Progressivism, Distributivism, Nazism, Patrician Conservatism (a.k.a. Hayek's "European Conservatism") Fabian Socialism -- all are attempts to get the genie back in the bottle.
This enterprise will fail. It cannot be done. People know too much -- even the idiots of the radical left, who are the most hostile to individual liberty, still have the ideal of liberty in their heads -- they think they'll be free in their ideal system. They are badly confused, but the point is that they are not sufficiently subservient for the illiberal system. The illiberal system is dead, even if its theoreticians and advocates haven't yet figured it out.
I think the left has lost the war; they just don't know it. But this isn't yet a war where combatants are killed, so there are lots of leftists, angry and hysterical, and the United States are divided politically. Is there any hope at all for common ground and a re-uniting?
Yes, I think so. There are two fundamental reasons for the current divide. One is a difference in understanding how the world works. Some of us understand what Smith called the "system of natural liberty" and how freedom, laissez-faire, generates the happiest and most prosperous society. We differ from the left in this. But we also understand that, more importantly, freedom is in itself a fundamental value. To be subservient to another, to be enslaved or in submission or otherwise unfree is itself an evil. Anyone on the left who agrees has common ground with libertarians and American conservatives (or at least the non-country club non-patrician ones). If one accepts individual liberty as a desirable end itself, then we have plenty of common ground.
Consider these goals: better and cheaper health care, higher incomes for poor people, less violent crime, an end to terrorist attacks, less pollution, clean air and water, better living standards, happier people... obvious objectives of true liberal advocates of the free market, and in my experience many of the "rank-and-file" of the left share these. If they also share a desire for individual freedom, then we have common ground. The primary obstacle is that they've imbibed the kool-aid their leftist leaders mixed up for them. To the left, we're all "deplorables: racist,sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic...irredeemables." In other words, they have no idea what their opponents actually believe. I'm not overly sympathetic to them, but as the left's identity politics gets crazier and crazier (just follow the TERF wars to see what I mean), many will start to move right. And since freedom for the individual (the fundamental true liberal value) means freedom for everyone, they can find they do have common ground. Freedom is itself valuable, and if we can agree on that, then it's simply a matter of understanding how economic and political systems work... something we can discuss and resolve.
Of course, there's another group of people on the left: all, or almost all, of the left's intellectual and political leadership, and a number of their followers, does not hold individual liberty as a value. For them, the freedom of individuals to run their own lives is an obstacle to their schemes for building a utopia and their will to power. One must not say, do, or even think the politically incorrect, as they define it. This is the totalitarian left, the anti-Enlightenment anti-American Revolution anti-rights-of-the-individual left. There's no common ground possible with these people. They are, I hope, the minority on the left.
For the lefties who are redeemable (hah!) here's hoping you soon come to appreciate "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,..."
Happy American Independence Day to All. Defend your Liberty!