Libertarianism and Americanism
Given that in the main the American political system is still the closest to protecting varieties of individual liberty – regarding speech, commerce, religion, due process, etc. – most of those who peddle political ideas want to hitch their wagon to the ideas of the American Founders. Socialists, conservatives, populists, agrarians and even communists have laid claim to being the proper carriers of the American political flag. Libertarians, of course, are no different. They hold that it is their political philosophy that most fully realizes the vision first put into practice by the American Founders and Framers. And with their current role in America's political life, it would be useful to see if they or the others are right.
Why would a socialist think the same thing? Or a conservative or populist, let alone a communist?
Socialists tend to believe that the American Founders advocated egalitarianism, first and foremost. They focus on the paramount idea in that document that "all men are created equal." Conservatives, in turn, consider their position to be validated by the Founders and Framers in light of how they derived their political theory from a study of history and the thoughts of numerous influential political philosophers and theorists. This confirms the conservative notion that to do nation building properly, one must consult tradition, history and custom, not concoct ideas and ideals de novo. Populists, of course, focus on the democratic elements of the American political tradition, those that relate to how every citizen has a right to influence public policy. Never mind the limits imposed by, say, the Bill of Rights. What counts is mass participation, the "will of the people." Agrarians will insist that Jefferson & Co., were mostly promoting the special interest of the landed gentry. And communists will argue that the American system is simply a historical precursor to the ideal community in which a nation becomes a family of equals.
Libertarians, however, point out that the Founders had a more realistic but also optimistic view of human community life than these other advocates do. They hold that listing the basic unalienable rights of every human being serves as a clear reminder of the radical insight that no one has the proper authority to impose his or her agenda upon others however much these others may mismanage their lives, even threaten some desirable features of culture. The political task is to secure the basic rights of all citizens. Everything else must be achieved without resort to the main instrument of public policy, namely, coercive force. As the libertarian insists, initiating force against others even for purposes that are quite admirable just cannot be reconciled with a proper standard of justice. That standard, which is actually the first ingredient of civilized life, is to interact with one's fellows voluntarily, even as one disagrees with them, even if they are recalcitrant, even if they act indecently themselves but they remain peaceful, respect for of the rights of others.
The idea that reference to all human beings being equal should usher in socialism is countered by the recognition that the equality referred to in the Declaration is about the equal possession of the unalienable rights all of us have, not about health, welfare, good looks and other admittedly valued matters. And only libertarianism acknowledges this strict limitation of the Founders' and Framers' "egalitarianism."
Some features of the original American political ideas and ideals are clearly improved upon in libertarianism; abolition of any form of involuntary servitude, for example, including taxation, the military draft, the war on drugs or alcohol and other types of compulsion citizens are supposed to be subjected to just as may be subjects of a monarchy. As the libertarian sees it, some of these elements of the original American system are the unfortunate reactionary residue from prerevolutionary times and not consistent with the fundamental principles laid out in the Declaration, especially the idea of everyone's unalienable individual rights.
So, I submit, libertarians are indeed the faithful students of the American political tradition, ones who learned well from their elders and went on to improve on what they have so learned.
(This is from "Machan's Archives," previously posted at his website.)
Posted by GrandpaSpeaks on 12/28/11 06:59 PM
I agree, if it were only so. But then there's that money thing.
Posted by victorbarney on 12/28/11 03:38 PM
Our forefathers were "individualists" and all their papers prove as such, none more so than Ben Franklin! Marxism is "collective" government, not much different than having a king! In Karl Marx wrote and presented his "marxism" deal(Anti-Christ, as Islam by defintion, while recognizing no "spirit" as Islam does in 1848; and he was too late for debate in American politics at the beginning it seems, but to my knowledge Teddy Roosevelt was the first marxist leaning President and there is absolutely no question that Wilson was not only a racist, but also a marxist! Just saying...
Posted by TPaine on 12/28/11 12:08 AM
Amerikkka was really free when humans like jefferson and friends ruled the colored subhumans, the women, children, and all the rest of people who didn't belong to the cast of natural scumbags, I mean to the 'natural elites'.
As to machan, he wasn't born in amerikkka and yet he's more jingoist than your average neocon.
"Libertarians, however, point out that the Founders had a more realistic "
libertarians point out that the founding fraudsters were scumbags who deserved to be hanged by their balls.
Posted by davidnrobyn on 12/27/11 12:50 AM
I agree with Tibor's basic premise that libertarianism is the logical successor to the ideas of the Founders, but I might contest the notion that all the other "isms" listed above would also like to make the same claim. I think that if you scratch the surface of a liberal or a communist (especially), you'll find a very real hatred of America and what it represents. America, after all, is nothing if not an idea, as Doug Casey is fond of saying, and I think he's right. I sense, more than anything, when hearing what these people say, that they feel the whole experiment was a mistake, a misguided effort which they need to correct. Our ancestors, after all, who voted with their feet to come here were either motivated by the crassest of considerations--that of joining the feeding frenzy on a new and unexploited land--or were fundamentally misguided in their idea that people should have the kind of liberty to do, to strive, to think, and to create without serious oversight by those who know better. Of course, THEY and others like them are the ones who know better.
Posted by jlax23 on 12/27/11 12:43 AM
Citing Soviet statistics is amusing. My mentor mentioned to me a couple weeks ago that Stalin is co-author of more academic research papers than anyone who ever existed, lol.
For s--ts & giggles you should probably also include in your stats the 40-60 million lives lost just to prove socialism could work.
Posted by budwood on 12/27/11 12:34 AM
Yes, A.L., you're sure correct.
"The Price of Civilization" is war, destruction, and domination over weaker people. That's not a very humane way to run a society. However, the "game doesn't appear to be over"; it's been going on for eons.
One can go through the ten commandments (or any other assemblage of ethical rules) and attach the collectivist exclusion of "except when it's done by us" to come up with the mindset of the typical subjected person.
Posted by NAPpy on 12/26/11 08:09 PM
Wow... just, wow. Capitalism is nothing more or less than voluntary exchange. To what degree would you say we had voluntry exchange during the Big Government 1930's? And, do you really trust Soviet statistics? And, so what? What are you proposing?
Posted by rgperrin on 12/26/11 05:46 PM
I imagine that Herbert Spencer (cf. The Principles of Ethics) would like this brief synopsis as much as I do.
Posted by Friend_of_John_Galt on 12/26/11 04:12 PM
Right... . proven with questionable statistics from the Soviet bureaucracy and the ultimate excellent results of Soviet Communism having "buried" decadent Western capitalism as Nikita Khrushchev so presciently predicted during the 1960s...
Oh wait! The Soviet Union is now on the ash heap of history, having succumbed under the weight of central planning...
With the U.S. economy (now) more than 10 times the size of the Soviet economy (expressed as GDP), a smaller factor increase in GDP is still significantly greater in shear numerical size when compared to the Soviet Union's apparently higher growth rates. (The paradox of small numbers vs. larger number growth rates. 1+1=2, a 100% growth rate, 100+2= 102, a 2% growth rate.) Your description is like saying the Soviets came in 2nd while the U.S. came in second to last -- leaving out that it was a race with only 2 competitors.
The other fallacy is the supposed lower unemployment rates in the Soviet Union -- again, based on the questionable statistics provided by the soviet bureaucracy. It's been common knowledge that "employed" workers in the Soviet Union were often not working or not working at their "official" jobs. There was a saying in the Soviet Union: "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work." -- while intended as a joke, such sentiments do reflect a certain reality in the Soviet Union. Unemployment was "illegal" -- thus there were no unemployed.
Speedy, you're entitled to your opinions -- but you can't just invent your own facts.
Indeed, if the Soviet Union were anywhere near as successful as the linked article suggests, then the Soviet Union would never have collapsed as it did in 1991 -- and the West/United States would never have "won" the cold war.
Those are facts that are pretty hard to refute.
Posted by laceja on 12/26/11 04:10 PM
The only thing that made the old Soviet Union work was the fact their central bank didn't go nuts printing fiat money. The government absorbed whatever "excess" money was in the economy. Yes, most Soviets had jobs, but then again, most lived in a Soviet style of Cabrini Green.
Posted by AnarchoLibertine on 12/26/11 03:30 PM
Yes, they had it SO good in the USSR!
Famines, gulags, and ultimate economic collapse...
Posted by AnarchoLibertine on 12/26/11 03:29 PM
Every political system is inherently socialist in nature, regardless of what one calls it.
Once you accept the legitimacy of "authority" (that some people have the right to steal/tax from others) the game is over.
No human is entitled to rule by force over another.
Posted by speedygonzales on 12/26/11 02:00 PM
In fact, Soviet socialism-while it existed-worked better than capitalism in producing economic growth.
From 1928 to 1989, GDP per capita grew in the USSR by a factor of 5.2, compared to 4.0 in Western Europe and 3.3 in the major industrial offshoots of Western Europe-the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
And importantly, Soviet growth happened without the recurrent recessions-and their attendant pain in unemployment, hunger, and despair-that were routine features of the capitalist economies over the same period.
Indeed, while capitalism was mired in a major depression during the 1930s, leaving hundreds of millions without work, the Soviet economy was expanding rapidly, absorbing all available manpower. And while the dual ills of inflation and unemployment ran rampant in the stagflation crisis that roiled the capitalist economies during the 1970s, the Soviet economy expanded without interruption and without inflation or joblessness.
Click to view link
Posted by kenn on 12/26/11 10:26 AM
Given that in the main the American political system is still the closest to protecting varieties of individual liberty - regarding speech, commerce, religion, due process, etc.
??? Really... .must have been a really old archive.
Posted by jwade on 12/26/11 10:25 AM
Beautifully said. It's important to understand and acknowledge just how these disparate philosophies can claim title to America's founding principles - in order to effectively argue against them.
I think that it's interesting that the progressive/liberal movement in particular has entrenched themselves in the idea that they are the true holders of what it means to be "American." I think FDR cemented that in, as he has been established as one of the greatest presidents by liberal historians, journalists, and politicians. Even my conservative Aunt and Uncle revere him as having saved the American system. WWII is I think what affected their beliefs.
There are truly irreconcilable differences between America's founding principles and the progressive liberal philosophy (as well as the other philosophies that you describe here), and I think it's important that we make that plain.
Hope all's well,