Inspired by the strange, Eastern European philosophy of Leo Strauss, the neoconservatives who now control the Republican Party (and hence, the federal government) have repudiated conservatism’s limited government philosophy in their quest for world empire (or, in Bill Kristol’s words, "National Greatness"). On their agenda is a twenty-year "occupation" of Iraq (Kristol’s idea), with the same policy to eventually be applied to all the other Arab countries of the Middle East — and perhaps North Korea as well. They say they want to "democratize" and "rebuild" these countries — at the barrel of a gun.
In embracing Woodrow Wilson’s disastrous, hyper-interventionist foreign policy the conservative movement is no longer conservative in any meaningful sense. Apart from Paul Gottfried, Murray Rothbard, and various other writers on LewRockwell.com, only Don Devine of the American Conservative Union, of all the other conservatives in Washington, has dared to point this out.
The neocons hunger for political power for the sake of political power, period. They couldn’t care less if government is used to secure rights to life, liberty and property, the original American ideal. There is no better example of this than Bill Kristol himself. When socialism finally collapsed throughout the world in 1990 even the socialist economist Robert Heilbroner admitted in a New Yorker magazine article that the battle between socialism and capitalism was over, and capitalism had won. Any conservatives who were familiar with the work of Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, and other anti-socialist economists understood perfectly that socialism never did produce a rational economy in any sense. That’s why it was such an outrage that, just three years later, President Bill Clinton’s top priority was to attempt to socialize some 14 percent of the U.S. economy with his scheme for government-run, centrally planned health care.
One of the fiercest opponents of Clinton’s health care socialism was Bill Kristol, who wrote daily memos to conservatives all over America on strategies to defeat the Clinton health plan. He authored numerous articles in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere on the subject and, with the help of many others, the Clinton plan for health care socialism was defeated.
But as soon as the Republican Party regained the White House, with an administration crawling with Straussian neocons, all of a sudden there was no principled opposition at all to big government. Indeed, once in power these "National Greatness Conservatives" began agitating for worldwide central planning, the beginnings of which we are observing today in Iraq. This is far, far worse, and a bigger threat to our liberty and prosperity, than any socialistic ideas that Clinton ever proposed.
Worldwide central planning by the American empire will fail for the very same reasons socialism and central planning has failed in all other countries, from tiny Albania to the former Soviet Union. Reason number one is that military intervention and central planning by the occupying military, with the help of the World Bank and IMF bureaucracies, could not possibly "rebuild" any economy anywhere. For an economy to succeed what is required is private property, free markets, and minimal government, if any. Commerce, not war and bureaucracy, is the lifeblood of civilization. The allocation of resources must be guided by a free-market pricing system. Otherwise, it is all guesswork and economic chaos will be the inevitable result, as we saw in socialist country after socialist country during the twentieth century. But peaceful commerce requires no role for central planning by "National Greatness Conservatives" and is therefore not a part of the neocon plan for the Middle East or anywhere else.
Most conservatives used to be worshipful of the ideas of Nobel laureate Freidrich Hayek, Mises’s student. What he was most known for was his analysis of "the pretense of knowledge," the title of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that was published in the American Economic Review in May of 1975. In order for civilization to prosper economically, what is required is to make use of the vast quantity of "information of time and place," all the localized or decentralized knowledge that is in the minds of the millions of market participants. Only the free market, guided by the price system, can accommodate the rational use of all this decentralized information. It is inconceivable that any one mind, or group of minds with the biggest computer imaginable, could handle it. Yet, it is this pretense that lies behind all the neocon schemes to rebuild the world (supposedly in the name of "democracy") in their (or, perhaps, in Leo Strauss’s) image.
One of the tenets of Straussianism is to hold politics up as the most noble of occupations, in direct contradiction to the opinions of the American founding fathers, who saw politics as a necessary evil, at best. That’s why they go on and on about what it takes to be a "great statesman" and constantly invoke their two most adored heroes, Lincoln and Churchill. Before the invasion of Iraq the Web site of the Straussian neocon Claremont Institute was filled with editorials imploring President to be "Lincolnesque" in launching a massive military invasion of Iraq, supposedly for the cause of democracy. The phrase, "Like Lincoln before him, President Bush . . . bla, bla, bla" has appeared so many times in Claremont Institute and other neocon publications that it has become hysterically funny and cartoonish.
Following Strauss, the contemporary neocons see themselves as "philosopher kings" or advisors to a "strong executive" (a.k.a., dictator), which repudiates another old tenet of conservatism: an understanding that politics is always and everywhere guided by self-interest, as with all other human behavior. Consequently, government acts "in the public interest" only by accident or coincidence. No amount of preaching to "be like Lincoln," or Churchill, or whomever, can change this essential fact of human nature.
Conservativism used to be powerfully influenced by the thinking of the public choice school of economics, which my former professor and colleague James M. Buchanan, another Nobel laureate, has often said is nothing more than the limited government political thinking of Madison and Jefferson reinterpreted in the language of modern economics. Nobel laureates George Stigler and Gary Becker are also known for their pioneering work in public choice and their work, too, was once well known by Washington, D.C. conservatives. It no longer is, apparently.
What public choice theory added to the conservative critique of interventionism is a systematic explanation of why interventionism inevitably fails, and usually makes things worse rather than better. It was a counter to all the "market failure" theories in economics in that it established a body of literature on "government failure."
Rational, self-interested politicians will always do what is most conducive to enhancing their own re-election, which may or may not be in the public’s interest. Thus, when we see such bad policies as deficit spending, price controls, paying farmers for not planting crops or raising livestock, regulations that impose huge cost burdens but seem to benefit no one, etc., etc., it is not because politicians are economically ignorant. It is because each of these policies uses the power of the state to reward a relatively small but politically influential special-interest group at the expense of the rest of society. The benefits of the programs are concentrated and well defined, whereas the costs are hidden and widely dispersed. The beneficiaries know who to thank — and to vote for and shower with campaign contributions — whereas the victims (taxpayers) are left in a fog, for the most part.
This same dynamic operates in foreign policy as well as domestic. Any "nation building" programs adopted by the National Greatness Conservatives will inevitably be guided by political self-interest, not consumer demand guided by rational economic calculation. The result will be no significant rebuilding, mind-boggling corruption, and a relatively small group of politically-connected corporations that become incredibly wealthy. That, after all, has been the history of "foreign aid." Despite spending billions on foreign aid in Africa, India, and elsewhere over the past 50 years, most of the recipients of the aid are worse off economically than they were before the "aid" programs began. This is not the result of one big unfortunate accident; it is exactly what anyone would expect who is familiar with the work of Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Peter Bauer, and Buchanan and Tullock. It is why the neocons, if they remain in power, will create disaster after disaster in foreign countries throughout the world, generating even more seething animosity toward Americans. They will also create great riches for all the American corporations who support them and their network of think tanks, magazines, and other institutions.
The people of foreign countries won’t just become more resentful of the American government. They understand that America is a democracy and that, consequently, a large portion of the American public supports these interventions. Thus, terrorists will have fewer and fewer qualms about attacking innocent American civilians, just as they are assassinating American soldiers one by one today in Iraq.
In sum, the conservative movement today is totally different from the one which existed only twenty years ago, thanks to the neocon takeover. It resembles fascism more than a movement that is devoted to limited, constitutional government. Just consider this: It idolizes and glorifies a "strong leader" and excoriates anyone who dares to criticize him. It endorses a government crackdown on free speech, in the form of the "U.S. Patriot Act." (The neocon American Enterprise Institute trotted out "Civil War" historian Jay Winik to write in the Wall Street Journal that Americans should not fear the current crackdown on free speech because, after all, the sainted Lincoln had all but abolished it and the nation survived).
The movement is hell bent on invading foreign countries that have not threatened us. It demonizes certain groups within society (i.e., the hapless David Frum’s attack in National Review of "unpatriotic," i.e., "real" conservatives); and it endorses a campaign of lies and propaganda to further its causes. Indeed, one of the tenets of Straussianism is institutionalized lying because of the anti-democratic belief that the public cannot "handle" certain truths. These truths, the Straussian neocons hold, should be their own special preserve, even if they have to speak among themselves in code language.
If, in the future, Americans only have a choice of being governed either by Hillary Clinton leftists or Straussian neocons, then the ideal of limited constitutional government in America will be destroyed forever. At that point, the only hope for the restoration of freedom would lie in a resurrected secession movement. As the popular South Carolina bumper sticker reads: "If at First You Don’t Secede, Try, Try Again."
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.
Really Learn About the Real Lincoln
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