Friday, February 23, 2007

Rockwell on the Ds and Rs

I love it when I see articles written in a themed format. Lew Rockwell, one of my favorite writers and commentators, has written a couple of articles lately that really do a great job portraying the nature of the Democrats’ and Republicans’ ideologies. As usual, he cuts right to the chase, and exposes the old, worn out philosophies that steer the people who inhabit these two gangs.

First, he says of the guiding ideology of Democrats:

That ideology is socialism. I know what you are thinking: these guys aren't socialists, for it's been years since any prominent Democrat openly advocated the nationalization of all industry. So triumphant have free markets been that they don't even believe in this stuff anyway.

That's true enough but it sidesteps the reality that there is no economic activity that these people don't favor regulating to the nth degree. They talk of privacy and civil rights, but when it comes to commerce, they recognize no right of privacy and no individual rights. All property is up for grabs to control and meld in the name of national wellbeing.

That's the practice, but what about the underlying theory? Here too, socialism of the old sort is gone. But the socialist theory of society still burns brightly. Their model is that in the state of nature, meaning in a state of freedom, all is conflict and cruelty. Pathology and ugliness are everywhere. The government is necessary to step in at every level of society to resolve these otherwise intractable conflicts and manage our way into the new epoch of human well-being.


You will recognize them. They believe that a deep and intractable rift separates the sexes such that one is always dominating the other, and so legislation and regulation are always needed to even the score and make up for past wrongs. The same is true of the races, and natives and immigrants, and the abled and disabled. None of these people can possibly work out their differences on their own. They need deep institutional change – even social revolution ushered in by elites – in order to bring about dramatic, Hegelian-style advances.

Only this conflict model explains why these people can't imagine, for example, that business and consumers can have a cooperative relationship rather than an antagonistic one. So it is in every area of life. Even the most long-lasting institutions, such as the family, are seen as fundamentally pathological and exploitative. The same is true in international relations: they don't like Republican wars that much, but offer no model of internationalism that can replace the view that it is always and everywhere war by someone against someone, and so the only way to stop war is to wage one.

Such is the view of today's left. They have never come to terms with the great insight of the old liberal revolution, which is that society is self-managing over the long term. People can work out their problems. Human relationships are characterized most often as cooperative rather than antagonistic. People, not bureaucrats, know what is best for their own, and pursuing their self-interest is compatible with, and even enhances, social well-being....

Then… he turns his eye onto the Republicans:
...In the same way, the Republicans imagine that the social order is rife with conflict, but a conflict of a different sort.

Republicans believe that all of society, whether your town, the nation, or the whole world, is divided between those who adhere to the law and those who are inclined to break it. These they define as good guys and bad guys, but it is not always true since the law these days is not the law written on our hearts but rather the rules as laid down by state masters. But this seemingly important point is completely lost on the Republican mind, since they believe that without the state as lawmaker, all of society and all of the world would collapse into a muddle of chaos and darkness.

This view they get from Hobbes. Not that the average buyer of Ann Coulter’s books reads political philosophy. They rather accept a popular version of the fundamental anti-liberal idea: society is a wreck without Leviathan. This is why they celebrate the police more than merchants, why they think that war deserves more credit than trade for world prosperity, why they call drafted killers for the state the "greatest generation," whereas the pioneers of the 19th century are merely historical curiosities.

In short, their meta-understanding of politics bypassed the liberal revolution of the 18th century and embraced the anti-liberal elements of the Enlightenment. Up with Hobbes, down with Locke: that is their implied creed. Liberty is fine but order, ORDER, is much more important, and order comes from the state. They can’t even fathom the truth that liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order. That thought is too complex for the Manichean mind.

Now, it is true that Republicans tend to be better on issues of welfare, environmentalism, social legislation and the like. They reject egalitarianism, more or less, and have no strong beef with business. But none of this matters in the defense of liberty because they are intellectually wedded to the state in the most fundamental way. They believe that it and not voluntary cooperation is the source of order in society, and what they fear more than anything is revolution. Freedom, to them, is not a right but something conferred as a reward for good behavior. (Emphasis added - LJ)

It is a curiosity that these same people tend to herald the Declaration of Independence. This was a revolutionary document that postulated that government was the source of disorder, and imagined that society could be forged in absence of the state. The replacement government under the Articles of Confederation was a government in name only, and like the anarchy that Republicans fear more than anything else.

I once heard a leading Republican intellectual, a respected figure with lots of books on everyone’s shelves, express profound regret when the Soviet Union was falling apart. The problem, from this person’s perspective, is that this led to disorder, and order – meaning control even by the Soviet state – is the fundamental conservative value. That about sums it up. Even communism is to be tolerated so long as it keeps away what they dread more than death: people within their rights doing whatever they want.

But these days we see all around us how liberty generates order and how this order is self-sustaining. We live in private communities. We see the glorious world of the web. We benefit daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, from an order that is not imposed from without but rather generated from within, by that remarkable capacity we have for pursuing self-interest while benefiting the whole. Here are the great mystery and majesty of social order, expressed so well in the act of economic exchange.

Republicans by contrast live intellectually in a world long past, a world of warring states and societies made up of fixed classes that fought over ever-dwindling resources, a world unleavened by enterprise and individual initiative. They imagine themselves to be the class of rulers, the aristocrats, the philosopher kings, the high clerics, the landowners, and to keep that power, they gladly fuel the basest of human instincts: nationalism, jingoism, and hate. Keeping them at bay means keeping the world of their imaginations at bay, and that is a very good and important thing for the sake of civilization.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Libertarians have long asserted that there is very little difference, in principle, between Democrats and Republicans. They are both State-Worshippers. They both view the State as God, who will save us from the bogeyman, and elevate us to a glorious new Garden of Eden. They are both elitist to the core, and have a profound distain for ordinary people in society, who seek to live their lives in their own fashion.

I was just chatting with an old acquaintance of mine the other day – a staunch Democrat – who openly admitted that he is an elitist, thinks most people need to have their lives managed by the State (translation: by him), because most people don’t live up to his expectations of how they should be behaving. What arrogance!

These days, it’s pretty hard to distinguish a D from an R, that’s for sure. They are two slightly different shades of the same collectivist, anti-liberty colors.


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