2012 & The Prospect For Liberty

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Philosophy

Certainly, the outcome of this month’s presidential election does not suggest good things for American liberty in the coming years. Personally however, I did not share the frustration and disappointment of many of my Republican friends. From all evidence gathered by both of his campaigns for president and his record as Governor of Massachusetts, I am certain that Mitt Romney would be no more a Libertarian president than Obama has been. In fact, I think that an argument could be made that a Romney administration would perhaps have more potential to halt the intellectual momentum that Libertarians have enjoyed in recent years.

Even still, to watch the piercing disappointment of Republicans has been quite sad for me. In the past few weeks a narrative of explanations for the election’s outcome has arisen. Amongst Conservatives, it has been suggested that Romney lost due to the lack of “gifts” and entitlements that were offered to voters. On Fox News, we hear that the “Death of Traditional America” has been landmarked and bypassed, and that the election in fact signified a dramatic ideological shift among all American voters. (Just as it had in 2004 and 2010.) Other opinions have been offered elsewhere, with explanations ranging from their approach to courting Latino voters to the typical nonsensicle “the GOP’s extremist wing lost the election” narrative.

Having divorced myself from mainstream political narratives a long time ago, I am neither suprised by these explanations, nor was I suprised that Romney lost. Practically speaking, Romney was a terrible candidate. Since observing Romey’s campaign in 2008 and the years following, I have never observed another political figure with Romney’s ability to disconnect from voters and to even inspire contempt from them. Although he has improved through the years, an improved terrible candidate is still a terrible candidate.

None of the reasons listed above sufficently explain the GOP’s abysmal bid for the presidency in this campaign. As the self described “conservative” political party in America, the history and philosophy of politics pits itself against the GOP in every election. In his essay, “Egalitarianism As A Revolt Against Nature”, Murray Rothbard argues that those vowing to “stand athwart history” are always fated to long term failure. Rothbard writes, “For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and “idealism” on its side; the Conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the “impracticality” of its ideals”, and that, “Conservatives failed to see is that while short-run gains can indeed be made by appealing to the impracticality of radical departures from the status quo, that by conceding the ethical and the “ideal” to the Left they were doomed to long-run defeat. For if one side is granted ethics and the “ideal” from the start, then that side will be able to effect gradual but sure changes in its own direction; and as these changes accumulate, the stigma of “impracticality” becomes less and less directly relevant.”
Conservatives who are familiar with America’s political history might take offense at the far from unique accusation that they merely “stand against” and never “stand for” anything. Years ago, I myself would have taken offense at this accusation, dismissing the Conservative’s positions as being completely positive when viewed from the right perspective. Unfortunately, all we need to do is look at the development of the Conservative movement in the 20th Century to prove this accusation true. The prominent political commentator and educator Robert LeFevre wrote in 1964 that, “Prior to the apppearance of F.D Roosevelt as president, the term (conservative) was not used with any frequency to designate a particular group of persons, rather, it was employed to signify an attitude, a point of reference which might relate to politics and equally relate to science, religion, business, home life, or a moral outlook.” LeFevre’s point is that prior to the organized political opposition of FDR’s New Deal, the term “Conservative” was not monopolized by any particular political party. Rather, the political system operated from a coalition based system in which the two seperate political parties had both conservative and liberal members who voted more often with their respective ideoligies than with their parties. Once Republicans and Democrats were widely classified as conservative and liberal, the Republicans became more often than not defined by their tendency to “stand against”.

As the political system currently stands, the United States has broadly reverted to the Classical European political conflict of the Conservative versus the revolutionary. One party which claims to be that of progress and humanity, and another which claims proudly to stand for the status quo and tradition. This pendelum effect mixes itself with the other great conflict of liberty versus power.

Conservatives have the historical distinction of defending the old order in particular societies, and therefore being the party to represent the established power structure. Additionally, the classical understanding of the term “liberalism” refers to one who is against centralized power and in favor of the rights of the individual. Unfortunately the current political dynamic is such that the influence of state power has determined that conservatives are those who represent the old order status quo, and liberals are representatives of the validity and growth of the centralized power of the state. The lone value that is lost in this equation is the natural rights of classical liberalism.

Murray Rothbard continues his case in the essay, “Left and Right: The Prospects For Liberty”. He contends that classical liberalism is the only philosophy which “brought to the Western world not only liberty, the prospect of peace, and the rising living standards of an industrial society, but above all, perhaps, it brought hope, a hope in ever-greater progress that lifted the mass of mankind out of its age-old sinkhole of stagnation and despair”.

For those disenfranchised by this months’ election, and by politics in general, I would invite them to answer Bastiat’s call for politics to “end where they should have begun,” in claiming the long term optimism and ending the brief uninspired vacation from history and reason, we should “reject all systems, and try liberty.”

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