Social Power and the New Opposition

At first glance, it seems disappointing that no one has mounted a right-wing challenge to George W. Bush for the Republican nomination. His father got one from Pat Buchanan, and the son has been even worse than the father. Would it kill him to veto a spending bill or two?

But upon further reflection, it's probably good that there isn't a challenge. For one thing, there is one and only one credible challenger with political experience who would have galvanized Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Confederates, and Christian conservatives. And that is Congressman Ron Paul, M.D. (R-TX). He's not running, and that's fine with me. It's his life, and I'm not going to tell him he's morally obligated to run any more than he has the right to tell me what I should write about.

If he had run, he might have provided some "unity" to the freedom movement, but at tremendous cost, probably to himself and to the movement in the long run. A Presidential campaign can be a useful means of furthering the cause, but on the other hand it would be easy, in this age of media groupthink, to see us all written off as racists and extremists.

Even if there was an even more prominent media celebrity out there who could represent us, all that would do is create an artificial spark of enthusiasm. After the publicity dies down, the project would be written off quickly. The disappointing vote total at the end, after the strong start in the campaign, would discourage us all the more. Many will think voting the "lesser of two evils" is indeed the way to go.

The good news, however, is that this movement isn't about electoral politics, not even Presidential politics. And it isn't really about abolishing the government, or restoring the monarchy, or bringing back the Confederacy – although any one of those is preferable to what we have now. It's not even about immigration policy. It isn't about any one thing.

Yet, the movement grows. From the so-called fever swamps of the far right, we are hearing voices of truth, of common sense, of revisionist history. This is an educational campaign for the future of America. This is not a political campaign for one leader or one party. This alliance of libertarians and so-called paleo-conservatives makes us a diverse lot indeed. But we have one thing in common. We are the New Opposition. I'm not saying we're the loyal opposition, like the minority parties in Canada's Parliament. We are not a party seeking power in the next election. This isn't even about national borders. This is a bigger deal. This is about civilization.

And this can't be narrowed down to a set of beliefs or doctrines. Yet, thanks to the Internet, most especially LRC, the movement attracts a wider and wider following. That's because this is about education. About values. About liberty. What we are seeking is a cultural transformation before we can even expect top-down political change.

Because politicians can't "fix" our problems. That's the point.

What we are seeing is a decline in our civilization. What unites the New Opposition is the recognition of a basic fact that no Democrat whatsoever and almost no Republican politician will acknowledge: that large, intrusive, bureaucratic government is the cause of, not the solution to, this decline.

The battle line was drawn in 1935, two years into FDR's Presidency, by Albert Jay Nock in the opening paragraph of Our Enemy, The State:

"If we look beneath the surface of our public affairs, we can discern one fundamental fact, namely: a great redistribution of power between society and the State. This is the fact that interests the student of civilization. He has only a secondary or derived interest in matters like price-fixing, wage-fixing, inflation, political banking, “agricultural adjustment,” and similar items of State policy that fill the pages of newspapers and the mouths of publicists and politicians. All these can be run up under one head. They have an immediate and temporary importance, and for this reason they monopolize public attention, but they all come to the same thing; which is, an increase of State power and a corresponding decrease of social power."

State power vs. social power. This is the struggle. This is what unites the New Opposition. This is what we are about. We are for social power.

Social power is what we find when the State is relatively weak, which it had been for the most part from the Middle Ages until Bismarck's unified Germany. The power of other institutions: the Church, the family, social clubs, grow stronger by default.

I understand that such private, freely-managed social institutions are capable of tremendous guilt-manipulation and abuse. And I recognize that a radically decentralized State could lead the way to local tyrants and localized tyranny. This could be anything from censorship of a racy book to outright government abuse of certain minorities. Intolerance and tyranny are never good.

But it's also true that a centralized Big Government is incapable of "checking" or "balancing" these abuses. Rather, its inclination is to encourage them and impose them on a nationwide scale. When any local dust-up can become a federal case, such as whether or not liquor can be sold in strip joints or if prayer can be said in a government school, then the ultimate decision by the federal authorities can be binding on the entire nation.

This encourages ambition, the ambition to gain power in Washington. There's no filtering process to assure that only the moral and wise will assume that power – the truly moral and wise tend to reject that power. There aren't even "checks and balances" in the federal government. Rather, the Congress, President, and the Supreme Court agree more or less to cooperate with each other so that each branch can acquire more and more power for itself without intruding on another branch. The McCain-Feingold Censorship of Dissent Act, passed by Congress, signed by the President, and approved by the Supreme Court, is a case in point. And then they pretend that saying "under God" in a local school is a serious First Amendment issue.

The central government is broken. And it can't fix itself. A cultural transformation is required, one in which people are persuaded that dependency on Washington D.C. is irreconcilable with genuine liberty. That Social Power – free individuals and free markets regulated by moral restraints that are the outgrowth of home-grown social institutions – is superior to State power. That the power of the State corrupts us and abuses us far more than decentralized government and free markets ever could.

And I think this is what makes us yearn for what once was, whether that was a gracious emperor like Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, or the Confederacy, or pre-New Deal America. Where the spirit of "democracy" in which one's freedom and property is subject to politicians, was less prevalent and the spirit of liberty – of social power – renewed Western Civilization.

None of us, I suspect, really want to go back to some previous age, and encounter the brutality of nature and the rampant ignorance. The comforts and knowledge of our modern age have been a blessing and a legacy of the free market. But what we do want is the renewal of social power, of letting society evolve on its own terms rather than on the dictates of the officials of a central State.

Presidential campaigns come and go. I'm glad that the New Opposition hasn't distracted itself with one. Because we don't want political power, we want our civilization back.

February 23, 2004