The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 26, Number 3
Llewellyn H. Rockwell
In the ten years between 1994 and 2004, a dramatic turn took place within the Republican Party. The themes of the 1994 election weren’t just about cutting government, though that was the central campaign promise of that generation of elected officials sent to Washington. The core was more revolutionary than that: it was a dogged commitment to full freedom philosophy forged in opposition to all the works of the central state.
Of course you could dismiss this movement as a partisan reaction to Bill Clinton’s presidency, and that surely accounts for much of the libertarian spirit of that time. Even so, public opinion had turned decidedly in the direction of a consistently pro-freedom position. There was growing public skepticism about Clinton’s wars, with Republicans leading the charge against foreign intervention. The HillaryCare debacle had turned public opinion against government management of enterprise. There was a growing clamor for radical decentralization and against high taxes.
The timing itself was interesting: only a few years after the end of a Cold War that had provided the government its primary raison d’etre. With the Russian threat out of the way, and the horrors of the Waco and Ruby Ridge events fresh in the public mind, radical questions were being asked about why we permit this far-away institution to grab and redistribute 40 percent of the national income, why we allow unelected bureaucracies to manage our businesses, why we give people we have never met the right to dictate our kids’ educations, and why we grant more authority to federal commissars than the Constitution allows them to have.
How that revolution against government came to be subverted from within and diverted from without is another story, let us now see what guides the same "red state" voters and the Republican Party. Judging by the polls, the publications, and the practices of the Republican regime, the guiding light is no longer liberty for Americans but power for the government.
In four years, George W. Bush has nationalized airport security, created the largest bureaucracy in history in the form of Homeland Security, tossed our constitutional protections we used to take for granted, enacted the largest expansion of welfare in three generations with the prescription drug benefit, intruded into local schools as never before with No Child Left Behind, brought many industries under protectionist regulation, hammered corporate upstarts with antitrust law, and undertaken two major wars that have cost hundreds of billions and left only destruction and chaos in their wake. Clinton increased spending 13.4 percent in his first term and 16 percent in his second, but Bush’s first-term spending soared +29.
That is just in the first term. The second term could likely bring a new forced savings act, a revival of the idea of national service, more welfare programs for the middle class, more intervention in enterprise to fix the problems created by the previous interventions, and probably a few more wars.
Where are the cries of betrayal? They exist among libertarian intellectuals and thoughtful people all over the country but the impulse among the pundit class, think tanks, and the party rank-and-file has been to cheer every step down this road to serfdom. Had Clinton done half as much damage to the cause of limited government, there would be loud outcries for his scalp, and rightly so. But Bush has gotten away with this by invoking party loyalty, fear of a worse opposition, and because of the needs of national security in the post 9–11 era.
This huge shift has not been noticed among mainstream punditry because very few are even alert to its meaning. The mainstream left, of course, is only unhappy about these developments because they are the ones behind it. Otherwise they support the spending, regulating, and nationalization. But why hasn’t the right protested? How is it that the right is so passionate in its defense of this administration?
There are echoes of Nixon and Reagan here, both of whom expanded the state but paid no political price. With Bush, however, there is a deeper ideological root to the problem. The "leave us alone" coalition of the 1990s had been gradually transformed into an anti-Clinton movement by the end of the decade. The right in this country began to define itself not as pro-freedom, as it had in 1994 but simply as anti-leftist, as it does today.
There are many good reasons to be anti-leftist but let us revisit what Mises said in 1956 concerning the anti-socialists of his day. He pointed out that many of these people had a purely negative agenda, to crush the leftists and their bohemian ways and their intellectual pretension. He warned that this is not a program for freedom. It was a program of hatred that can only degenerate into statism.
A positive agenda of liberty is the only way we might have been spared the blizzard of government controls that were fastened on this country after Bush used the events of 9–11 to increase central planning. The very people who once proclaimed hatred of government now advocate its use against dissidents of all sorts, especially against those who would dare call for curbs in the totalitarian bureaucracy of the military or suggest that Bush is something less than infallible in his foreign-policy decisions.
The lesson here is that it is always a mistake to advocate government action, for there is no way you can fully anticipate how government will be used. Nor can you ever count on a slice of the population to be moral in its advocacy of the uses of the police power.
In 1994, the central state was seen by the bourgeoisie as the main threat to the family; in 2004 it is seen as the main tool for keeping the family together and assuring its ascendancy. In 1994, the state was seen as the enemy of education; today, the same people view the state as the means of raising standards and purging education of its left-wing influences. In 1994, Christians widely saw that Leviathan was the main enemy of the faith; today, they see Leviathan as the tool by which they will guarantee that their faith will have an impact on the country and the world.
Let us never forget that there are two dangers to liberty, not only the socialism of the left but also the fascism of the right. Why fascist? Because it is not leftist in the sense of egalitarian or redistributionist. It has no fundamental objection to business, doesn’t sympathize with the downtrodden, labor, or the poor. It is for all the core institutions of bourgeois life in America: family, faith, and flag. But it sees the state as the central organizing principle of society, views public institutions as the most essential means by which all these institutions are protected and advanced, and adores the head of state as a godlike figure who knows better than anyone else what the country and world needs and has a special connection to the creator that permits him to discern the best means to bring it about.
For a very long time, we’ve tended to see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other which comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the latter threat, but its reality is only now coming home to hit us fully.
There is a clear and present danger to freedom that comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world.
Ten years ago, those who saw the interests of liberty as being well served by the proxies of free enterprise alone, family alone, faith alone, law and order alone, were profoundly mistaken. There is no proxy for liberty, no cause that serves as a viable substitute, and no movement by any name whose success can yield freedom in our time other than the movement of freedom itself. We need to embrace liberty and liberty only, and not be fooled by groups or parties or movements that only desire a temporary liberty to advance their pet interests.
There has never in my lifetime been a more urgent need for the party of liberty to completely secede from conventional thought and established institutions, especially those associated with all aspects of government, and undertake radical intellectual action on behalf of a third way that rejects the socialism of the left and the fascism of the right. .FM
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute (Rockwell@mises.org).