The Free Society Is in Process
Alvin Lowi, Jr.
by Alvin Lowi, Jr.
The better sort of conservatives often urge a return to the methods
of the framers of the American Constitution to achieve the type
of society that they crave, which is presumably one that tends toward
prosperity, harmony, and peace. Such a society is understood to
be "free," specifically free of political regimentation.
The recommended action exemplifies the dignified conservative approach
to social change. It urges all who care "get back on track"
by adopting the methods of our ancestors, namely to discuss and
debate the moral, political, and philosophical questions involved
before taking action at the polls to decide the matter. The goal
is social rehabilitation. The means to achieve this goal are political.
The sentiments are comforting.
The process we are exhorted to use to obtain our freedom is the
one venerated by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. But this
process institutionalized the monopoly of coercive power over people
now known and feared as the Government of the United States of America,
which we now bear. It has come to pass that this monopoly of coercive
power over people is not only the conservative choice of government
but it is the one most sought-after regardless of the political
party seeking power. It is the inevitable result of the misguided
political obsessions of our ancestors including the republicans
of Ancient Greece as well as the American Constitution framers.
Accordingly, all devotees of this American Government are conservatives.
The conservative design for government is widely supported but
the conservative program for freedom is conflicted. While political
means of social change are most definitely conservative, the stated
goal of such change is clearly revolutionary. At the time of the
American Revolution, there was no historical precedent for the society
envisioned by the Declaration of Independence. The historic constitution-forming
process, which is political, did not and does not lead to such a
society notwithstanding the sentiments of the Federalist Papers.
There was no historical support for any approach to humane society
building at the time. Certainly, nothing has happened in the interim
to accredit politics as such a process. To the contrary, two hundred
plus years of history is informative in the negative. So it is now
appropriate to ask, in the light of history, whether political means
are suited to the attainment of social ends.
Politics failed to achieve the revolutionary social goals of the
American Revolution. Nothing has occurred in the meantime to make
it relevant today. Today’s advocate of the same political shenanigans
that subverted the American Revolution is deluded. His emperor is
naked. Imagining a libertarian suit of clothes for the emperor will
not fit his conservative physique. Arguing some abstract concepts
before going to the polls has a dismal prospect of achieving freedom.
Yearning for a free society is not a conservative impulse because
the object of the affection for which many of us yearn never actually
existed in the past. The comprehensive free society is an ideal
that is still a dream. However, this much is true: such society
is evolving, not by political processes but by economic ones. A
free society is emerging as a result of an expanding and irrepressible
market economy, no thanks to American government and its conservative
advocates. The spread of voluntary behavior is symptomatic of this
development. Ever since the American Revolution there has been this
irreversible movement toward prosperity, harmony, and peace for
all individual humans on the planet. This trend toward comprehensive
freedom is inexorable and stateless, and its primitive existence
at present suggests at least an asymptotic possibility for its realization.
It is a technological development, not a political feat. People
are learning how to govern themselves on the job. In self-government,
power is local, well-informed and competitive. Its growth is a check
on monopolies of all kinds.
Politics cannot be a remedy for insufficient society because it
is fundamentally anti-social. Politics is not an aid but a handicap
society must overcome. Political elections ostensibly for freedom
actually foment conflict by sanctioning coercion and regimentation.
Such is the nature of monopolization of social control in the hands
of a few, elected or not. This conundrum accounts for the pessimism
of politically active libertarians and conservatives.
Conservatism implores the freedom-lover to persevere on a traditional
political path. But it fails to provide an explanation as to how
freedom is attained thereby. Instead, we are offered only the assertion
that freedom is impossible without political voting.
On the other hand, it
easy to explain how it is impossible to achieve freedom via
political voting. As I explain, political voting is merely a bloodless
means of conquest (the opposite of freedom-building), which, once
instituted and ritualized, facilitates the maintenance of the status
quo by force of arms if necessary (and it will be) thereby prolonging
the agony of involuntary servitude. Lest there be any doubt of the
accuracy of this portrayal, try to go about your life in the United
States without paying taxes.
The founders of the American Republic may be forgiven for their
mistaken reliance on politics to realize the promise of the Declaration
of Independence. They could not have imagined the exponential growth
in voluntary economic behavior subsequent to it based on that which
was imperceptible until fairly recent times. Nowadays, this trend
is undeniable even by the monopolists and political commandoes.
This economic phenomenon now stands in stark contrast with the 230-year
record of political despotism. Accordingly, the allegiance of modern
conservatives and libertarians to political means of liberation
and justice is not so forgivable. Still, it is sad to see sincere
advocates of liberty, who long to see freedom in their lifetimes,
suffer depression and demoralization over the futility of their
The practice of economic voting using an impersonal medium of exchange
has blossomed throughout the world since the American Revolution.
Such voting, largely ignored by conservatives, continues to manifest
the essence of freedom without a trace of ideological color notwithstanding
the massive distractions of political obsessions and antics. It
is heartening to see so many voting in the economic arena and staking
their fortunes on voluntary participation in the marketplace where
every person is free to advance his life according to his own vision
using means that are perfectly suited to those ends.
In the marketplace one finds a grand alternative to politics. There,
every freedom-seeker enjoys full authority over his choices including
"thanks but no thanks." There, every person is effective
in tending to his precious life. There, everyone has good reason
to be optimistic for the prospects of freedom. There, everyone is
not only practicing what he preaches but he is also doing what he
knows how to do and avoiding acts and situations that he knows will
detract from his life. Such behavior is recognizable as self-government.
That ordinary people persevere in this way is no mystery. It is
otherwise known as "the pursuit of happiness," and no
mere political contrivance can suppress it or substitute for it.
Oddly enough, political government depends on the existence of
a modicum of self-governing individuals. (Lowi, 1976, American
Government, Incomplete Conquest, p. 60.) Accordingly, before
there is self-government, there is no government, political or other.
So the development of self-government is the beginning and end of
government of any kind. Since self-government consists in the ability
to pursue one’s own wants while adjusting to the similar pursuits
or wants of others, government consists fundamentally of individual
autonomy and discipline. The outcome of such self-government is
individual freedom, which is also known as free society when widely
practiced. Such self-government is the necessary and sufficient
condition for a human population to become a stable society without
a political overseer. This condition might also be called economic
democracy because the consumer (who is everybody) is the sovereign.
(Mises, 1949, Human
Action, pp. 271, 678) Economic democracy exists without
any need of political government, conservative or other. Its elections
occur around the clock using money for ballots.
the Conservative advocate for voting been thinking strictly of the
economic variety, he would have been correct when he said it is
impossible to achieve freedom without voting. Since voting in the
marketplace is voluntary exchange, he would be entitled to optimism
for the chances of freedom to succeed in his lifetime. He would
find market behavior everywhere and growing, and he would realize
that such behavior can simply overtake and outlast the pernicious
effects of politics. He would see the spontaneous growth of society
in progress, in the process of superseding all the common political
anachronisms and abuses.
Lowi [send him mail] has
been a professional engineer in private practice in Rancho Palos
Verdes, California, for the past 40 years.
© 2007 LewRockwell.com