The theme of my book The Left, The Right, and The State is that both sides of the political aisle represent a grave threat to liberty, though each of a different sort. It is like two people tugging at a turkey’s wishbone. The turkey is liberty and you are the bone.
We’ve lived through eight years of the threat from the right. It was all about nationalism, militarism, war, torture, state secrets, attacks on privacy, the use of tax funds to subsidize “conservative values,” the outsourcing of government in a fascistic business-government partnership, the banning of products and services that government doesn’t like, the regimentation of educational life, government impositions in the name of security, and so on.
It is the great merit of the end of the Bush years that many of these threats have receded, if only slightly. Consider the problem of nationalism, for example. The neoconservatives who ran the country during the last two Bush terms exploited this dangerous impulse for all it was worth.
If you were not for their wars, you were against America, and hence deserving of jail without trial. The whole ideological apparatus of the Bush years was profoundly anti-intellectual, and while the neocons shouted down anyone who compared these years to the Third Reich or Mussolini, the ideological comparison was actually quite apt: right-wing government control stems from the same motives of exalting security, discipline, and chauvinism above liberty.
In two short months, however, that ethos has subsided, and it has been replaced by a threat from the left. It is tragic that Obama should be president at all. If we had a position called “national well wisher,” “national greeter,” or “national symbol of accomplishment,” he would be perfect for the job. He is elegant and graceful and articulate, and inspires people in an unusual way. As chief policymaker, however, he has revealed himself as nothing more than a two-bit socialist.
After all the ghastly statism of the Bush years, you might think that the left would back off from using power to achieve its aims. Instead, they have learned nothing. The left has been lying in wait for its chance. As the Obama people entered the White House, it’s as if they found a closet labeled “failed ideas of the past.” They opened it and the contents spilled everywhere. They started grabbing things and putting them in the regulatory books and in legislation.
What an amazing pile of junky, worn-out, bogus policy ideas! Equal pay for equal work. Infrastructure spending. More money to the public schools. Socialized medicine. Rock-bottom interest rates. Welfare! Every wish granted by government. Down with business. Down with business failures. Curbs on fat-cat pay. Down with Wall Street. Turn on the money spigots. Expropriate the expropriators. Subsidies for every lifestyle that flies in the face of bourgeois prejudice.
Thus are we again reminded of what a profound threat the left represents to liberty. It’s been more than a decade now since we’ve seen this at work, and probably longer really. Clinton was a pain but he was smart enough not to take his reigning ideological framework too seriously. He actually showed some deference to reality from time to time.
The Obamaites are different. They are woefully ignorant of economics. They seem to actually believe all that socialist claptrap that has provided an excuse for innumerable foreign dictators: the idea that government is the source of wealth, and can make anything happen with the push of a button.
They see no limits to the possibility that government can make society perfect, righting every perceived social injustice, and bringing prosperity to all via stealing from the haves and giving it to the have-nots. Is there inequality? Mandate equality. Is there deprivation? Provide! Recession? Spend hundreds of billions!
What we have here is not just a profound love of the state; it is a profound confidence in the capacity of the unlimited state to create heaven on earth. How does this square with the idea of human liberty, of social cooperation and the rights of all? Herein lies the great mystery of leftism. The left seems oblivious to the relationship between their chosen means and their ends. It’s not that they hate liberty as such; it is that they believe that it must always take a backseat to other social priorities like equality. In the end, they have a tendency to build the total state and find themselves taken aback when the whole of society is caged.
Those Obamaites! So compassionate, loving, universally minded, progressive — except that their ideological cousins managed to starve and destroy whole civilizations. Loyalty to their creed means death because their ideology is the pathway to the gulag, and for one simple reason: their preferred means of social change is the state. The state is always and everywhere a threat to liberty, and liberty is the basic building block of prosperity and civilization.
Despite the slogans about progress, the upshot of the Obama administration is as deeply reactionary as anything that Bush conjured up. Despite all the hype and hope, what Obama offers is nothing new. It amounts to the robber state and the regimentation of society, a plan that will kill off prosperity and the conditions that allow for it.
The Republicans are right to fight this tendency at every turn, for it represents a radical attack on all things truly American. Worse still, by playing with the printing presses, the policy tendency here is also deeply dangerous. It could destroy the dollar internationally and domestically, igniting a hyperinflation that no one will be able to control once it gets going. One only wishes that the Republicans had been so principled when their president was in charge!
The Obama administration says that we have to give the stimulus time to work. No need. The stimulus will not work. If we manage to pull ourselves out of this slump, it will be despite and not because of this stimulus package.
When putting together my book, I wondered which threat was actually more dangerous for us, the right or the left. I’m still not sure, for national socialism and international socialism are in close competition. I ended up focusing on both. It’s a hard truth for Americans to face, that neither team in Washington is going to guard what we love the most. That is something we are going to have to face. Liberty is for the citizens to guard themselves.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is founder and president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com, and author, most recently, of The Left, The Right, and The State.