The Free Society Is in Process


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 political travails.

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.

Had 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.

February 5, 2007