“Classical liberal” is just a better brand of statist. Here’s to hoping democracy will be the final form of government in history.
In the U.S. corporate media, democracy is revered in holy tones. It is the cure all of any nation’s ills. It is sacred.
The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are great documents of enlightened thought. The achievements of the founding fathers of the United States seem to be unparalleled by history. Revisionist critiques have pointed to the economic interests of the founders as drivers of the Revolution, but that does not take away from the unique rights-based egalitarianism established in the nation. Historical relativism is not a defense for the continued subjugation of women and the monstrous institution of slavery, yet after the conflagration of the Civil War the founders‘ system of government provided for a mostly peaceful transition to better equality under the law over the twentieth century.
Many will argue, that the founding of the United States was a beacon of light in the eighteenth century that led to an overall advancement in human freedom throughout the world. Suppose we take that position as granted: there were no other liberalizing forces in the world in the eighteenth century besides the United States (which is, of course, ridiculous, but let’s avoid getting into the historical arguments over impact of the US on world history; it’s clear the impact was a positive one from the standpoint of human freedom and how much of an impact is a debate for another day). If the US was the sole force for a rights-based government that ensured a wide array of freedoms to its citizenry, does that mean the founding fathers should occupy a supreme position in our moral and political beliefs? Are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and all of the writings of the founders (such as The Federalist Papers) perfect expressions of the values needed in a free society? Are the writings of the liberal philosophers who influenced the founders, like John Locke, also deserving of eternal veneration? For the sake of argument, let’s refer to all of these convictions as adulation for the founding.
Lest anyone think this is a straw man argument, in the US there is ample evidence of adulation for the founding in rhetoric, party platforms, and political treatises. The Tea Party movement appeared fanatical about the founding. Libertarians, Constitutional conservatives, most Republicans and conservative Democrats are often not far from viewing of the founding of the United States as a holy event. This is not to take away from the achievement or the fact the US developed into a great nation. The question is was the nation envisioned by the founders an ideal expression of human freedom?
Chicago Fog contends true advocates of freedom should not be trapped in any system of government, especially one imagined in the eighteenth century. This is where the Objectivist, the Minarchist, and the Anarcho-Capitalist will part ways with the Libertarian, most of whom believe the level of government we had in the nineteenth century was just fine. Yet the US allowed slavery to continue for another 77 years, engaged in a number of foreign wars, and committed a genocide on American Indians. There was never a golden era of freedom, peace and prosperity brought about by a close adherence to the founders’ vision.
Chicago Fog argues adulation of the founding is actually a barrier to human progress. Looking into the past for some ‘golden age’ looks the absolutely wrong way; the concern of ideology should be looking forward towards advancing humanity in a contemporary world.
A religious devotion to the founding fathers is as ignorant as a blind worship of FDR or Reagan. There was never a ‘pure’ time of Libertarian ideals. Outside of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution is a blueprint for a federal government with expansive powers. The “necessary and proper” clause gave carte blanche to the government for all manner of laws. Even a literal reading of the Constitution tells us Congress gets to regulate all commerce over state lines. Leaving aside how the activist Supreme Courts of mid-century used this provision to allow the federal government to regulate virtually everything it wants to regulate (except buying health insurance; that’s just another tax), the freedom-loving founders gave Congress an incredible power to limit the inherent right of individuals to engage in free exchange simply because one person is in Delaware and the other is in New Jersey. Also, consider the provisions on eminent domain allow for a seizure of private property by the government, greatly undermining the legal concept of property ownership. Finally, the Constitution puts government in the business of issuing patent protections restricting the usage of ‘intellectual property’ even though private causes of action under common law would have allowed for disputes involving copyright to be resolved.
The federal government has been an evolving and changing entity, and that process started as soon as the Constitution was ratified in 1788. Marbury v Madison (5 US 137) was decided in 1803, establishing the doctrine of judicial review and clarifying the role of the judicial branch. Political rights in the US expanded over time though new laws, amendments to the Constitution and decisions by the Supreme Court; however, the Supreme Court’s subsequent interpretations of the Constitution allowed for government to have unchecked power over individual economic liberties, concentrated power in a Federal government (at the expense of state and local governments), and an Executive branch wielding the administrative, police and military power of that Federal government with marginal Legislative oversight.
In the 20th century, social justice and equality trumped individual freedoms as the Executive and Legislative branches established by the Constitution created a social welfare state supported by coercive transfer payments, unneeded rules and regulations that tend to discourage entrepreneurship, and a crony capitalist system that encourages rent seeking through political access, perpetuating the wealth and power of elites rather than supporting a free marketplace with a level playing field.
In ordinary discourse, democracy is presented as a cure-all for any nation’s ills, and lack of democracy as the cause of all troubles. Nation building exercises invariably lead to free elections. Chicago Fog will never argue that popularly elected government is not better than all other forms of government seen so far. However, reverence for democracy masks the sins of democratic governments. Chicago Fog argues that the social contract among a nation’s people should be driving at governmental obsolescence.
To maximize freedom, this means someday the Constitution gets put through the paper shredder. Adulation for the founding is a dangerous form of rhetoric because it elevates the Constitution to a holy book. We need to see things for what they are: ultimately, even a strict constructionist approach to the Constitution demonstrates the document’s coercive tools to limit individual freedom. As a social contract, there is no expiration date, no termination clause. The Constitution assumes the permanent necessity of a state, an eternal master of its populace. While going back to a government based upon a strict interpretation of the Constitution would be better than the current state of affairs, it is Chicago Fog’s contention that backwards-looking arguments will never persuade a contemporary citizenry. The better case is made in a forward-looking path that dismantles government in a peaceful, democratic, and legal manner. For this to occur, people need to believe a better civilization will come from a society of a truly free individuals.
The late 20th century saw the beginning of the decay. Democratic governments in the world have swollen with power and influence, both over their people and the people of other nations. When power is concentrated it leads to bad things: extremely bad (if not evil) in the case of a dictatorship. Yet democracies have their share of issues, both historically and in this current age. The latest folly called “the Bush administration” is a perfect example of a government abusing its citizens. A handful of fools have involved the United States in two wars that made the world less stable, more dangerous, and may lead to even more war. We have weapons that can extinguish life on this planet and all because we humans persist on being members of a nation-state.
Forget asteroids, climate change, and viral outbreaks; today, government with unchecked power is the greatest hazard that humanity faces. Like organized mass religion, the idea of government at its origin met a necessary and beneficial need. The collective tribe (or community, or village, or territory) needed to leadership to enforce customs, protect the weak from the strong, and mobilize the people in case of war. With the spread of democracy came the idea that government was “of the people” — which probably was more meaningful in ancient Athens (where few men voted, so exerted real influence), or America at the founding (where voters were white, male owners of property); a modern nation with millions of voters makes representative democracy even more indirect. The citizenry, content with its material comforts, prefers to leave unquestioned that the democracy can only do good. Ask someone, “Why does the US have so much wealth, so much material comfort?” Chicago Fog expects the average American to point toward democracy rather than open markets, relatively low taxes, and relatively less government intervention.
Even at times when the populace becomes more engaged and turns out to vote for a leader they see as change agent, politics conspires against them. For example, President Obama was thought to be a very different kind of leader than President Bush, yet there was little change in US foreign policy direction. Even from the standpoint of domestic policy, President Obama’s signature healthcare legislation is based upon a Republican plan in the mid-90’s. The political debate, played out in media, painted a picture of extremes on both sides: Democrats holding-up the law as some great milestone in social justice (when, in fact, it is both corporate-welfare and an unfair tax on the young people in the country, yet another handout to the Baby Boom generation); Republicans acting as if the healthcare law created a single payer system and nationalized the hospital industry.
Who really benefits from dividing people in these distorted debates? Clearly, it’s a leadership class — a class that typically comes from the upper reaches of our society. Not every politician is rich, not every politician is well-educated at elite schools, and not every politician comes from a family that also served in government; but the majority of career politicians meet two or all three of those descriptors. Just like any professional, career advancement takes both skill and a professional network. In the United States, the two party duopoly, the revolving door from government service to lobbying, and the constant fundraising cycle of elected representatives has resulted in a class of professional influence peddlers. Information asymmetries between the general public and the political class results in a system resembling plutocracy. While some will make the same assessment and scream for more social justice in the form of government redistribution, Chicago Fog sees representative democracy in its current condition suppressing individual freedom and subverting markets through government intervention.
The so-called “right” and “left” popular political parties ultimately support a status quo of large, powerful central government The leftwing parties exploit our human instinct for compassion, perverting our culture’s egalitarian notions that call for equal rights and opportunities into an “equality of outcomes”. What started as social safety nets have evolved into full-blown entitlements that redistribute wealth across income classes and generations — handouts to palliate the voting masses. It is no wonder the Social Security and Medicare programs came out of an era when the US system was contending with totalitarian states with centrally planned economies. Thus created the welfare state: the masses are provided for at the price of their unquestioning devotion to the state in terms of taxes and freedom. Beyond the distortions to the market, the perverse incentives of taxes, and the unintended negative consequences of social welfare programs, there is the horrible injustice in wealth redistribution. The most insidious part of the left’s belief system is that government should deem when to take private property from one person and give it to another. People with guns will come to your house and imprison you if you refuse to pay the taxes that support the payments to your neighbor — or, even more absurd, pay the taxes to service the debt rung-up by past generations that did not want to pay those very taxes.
The rightwing parties exploits citizens’ fear of others, playing the role of the ’tough guys’ who constantly proclaim their love for cops and the military, jingoist and statist to the end. After the inevitable conflict with fascism in World War Two, the US remained in a state of full military mobilization in order to instill an international system of commerce protected by the US and its allies. Even after the dismantlement of the Soviet bloc the US has remained fully mobilized, ready to fight multiple wars at once before having to resort to weapons of mass destruction. The “War on Terror” only ensured that this state of mobilization would continue. So we see this mindset of “security justifies anything, no matter what the cost” in action all the time, and yet we always seem to end up in a world that is less safe. Communists and terrorists are useful tools for fear mongering. While there is no question there are some barbaric regimes on this planet (e.g., North Korea, Iran, Syria), the idea that we need to have standing armies in place forever seems ridiculous. The right sees to it there is no international discussion about disarmament, much less any effort to stop the export of conventional weapons.
For both the right and the left, the common ground is perpetuating strong central governments. Governmental systems with unchecked domestic power will also be assertive militarily. Governments that redistribute income and regulate commerce are prone to intervene in other individual freedoms. The fact that popular elections are held every two years or so simply serves as window dressing. Large political parties with broad platforms and similar ideology do not represent a real choice. While citizens are always free to protest, advocate, organize, fund raise and ultimately elect different leaders, the question remains when we will reach a tipping point where this begins to occur en masse.
Entropy is unavoidable, decay irreversible. Progress in history takes place when the old modes of beliefs — in this case, our benevolent democratic governments — are seen as the thing that plagues us.
We are all going to rue the day we decided not to question, not to argue, and just accept this state of affairs. As developing economies accumulate more wealth and access to resources, what happens when the standard of living in “developed” nations begins to fall? Does the political class respond in a way that advances humanity (i.e., dismantling systems of taxation and social welfare, and disarming itself, so that maximum freedom will thrive) or does it respond to what the mob will call for (protectionism, more handouts, and war)? Put another way, do large national democratically elected governments come to a logical end, or do they fight to the bitter end?
The democratic/welfare/military state will be peacefully dismantled by its citizens, ending with a whimper and not a bang.