April 25, 2010
Individual rights must be the rallying point for reclaiming liberty.
The Founders of the United States hoped to create a society of free individuals, but for at least a century, the nation has been marching ever more quickly in the direction of tyranny. The independent Tea Party movement represents a renewed desire to roll back the tide of government expansion, but this cause will fail unless its participants take an uncompromising stand in favor of individual rights. A building, no matter how rigid, cannot stand upon a weak and cracked foundation. In the same vein, errors and inconsistencies in a society's philosophical foundation will cause its downfall -- even in one as great as ours.
The Republican Party inadvertently teaches this lesson. Even though its leaders have mostly advocated free markets and individual responsibility, they have failed to defend the proper moral foundation of a free society. This failure has led us to imminent crisis, and their actions illustrate perfectly why an unyielding adherence to the correct moral principles is so vitally important. For example, many Republicans argue for a return to constitutional limits on government, which is a good idea. But if they do not understand the moral context the Founders used to write the Constitution -- individual rights -- then they will misinterpret "Constitutional limits." The wrong moral context might lead someone to conclude that "promoting the general welfare" is a Constitutional sanction for some species of statism, which is absurd.
Republican leaders commit this kind of error with The American Energy Act, in which they arbitrarily propose building one hundred nuclear reactors over the next twenty years. Rather than deregulating and allowing people to choose their own energy solutions -- which would uphold individual rights -- politicians will instead continue the practice of manipulating buyers and sellers. Markets deal with the concrete facts of reality, however, and reality is not subject to the whims of any lawmaker. On the contrary, reality dashes all attempts to rewrite it.
For example, if the reality of energy demand required a hundred or more new reactors, this mandate would be wasteful because suppliers would build at least this many reactors anyway. If buyers demanded fewer than a hundred reactors -- perhaps because there are better and cheaper energy solutions on the market -- then Republican legislation would make energy more expensive because it would force capital away from cheaper solutions and toward nuclear energy. Simply put, violating individual rights will not produce the favorable outcome Republican leaders are looking for.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the same error in a recent appearance on CNN. He discussed the Democratic health care bill and identified the slogan "repeal and replace" as a key component of Republican campaign strategy. He went on to say, "[H]opefully we'll be able to repeal the most egregious parts of this and replace them with things we could have done on a bipartisan basis much earlier this year." McConnell implied that Republicans are willing to compromise with Democrats on health care legislation, which is a tragedy in itself, given the horrifying national crisis of debt. But even worse than this, Republicans propose a bill that is principally and morally no different from the Democratic bill.
Where Democrats seek to plan health care directly, Republicans propose tax incentives and federal-to-state bonus payments to plan the industry "indirectly." The key similarity is that Democrats and Republicans both agree that politicians must use their particular methods of planning to manipulate buyers and sellers of health care services. Because the free market already provides a profit incentive for exceptional services at the best prices, Republican legislation is unnecessary and even harmful.
As mentioned above, markets deal with the facts of reality, and any kind of successful business venture must gauge these facts accurately. Republican health care legislation will distort the view of the marketplace by making it appear as if some kinds of services are better than others. If individuals actually require different services, then this legislation will necessarily increase cost and waste. Just as with the previous example of nuclear energy, capital would be forced away from better services to those "encouraged" by Republican legislation. With this proposal, Republican leaders would create more government control, fewer choices for individuals, and yet more cracks in the foundation.
Republican leaders do not question whether government should interfere at all in the choices of free individuals, but rather how the interference should be implemented. Both parties treat society as a singular entity that should be herded, steered, and molded in the image they envision. In reality, a society is composed of individuals making their own decisions. Treading on the rights of individuals will necessarily damage the society that emerges. The simple point has been lost on Republican leaders that the most effective way to encourage innovation is to stop meddling with people.
The philosophical arguments of individualism hold that rights are derived from the factual traits of human nature. It is the individual -- not society -- that must use his thinking mind in order to produce what he needs to survive and pursue his own happiness. The only way to live with others is to recognize this fact and respect it by never initiating force upon another, because force negates a thinking mind. Since societies are made by individuals working together, it follows that a stable and thriving society necessarily respects its fundamental unit: the individual. After all, a building will not stand with its foundation destroyed.
The current state of U.S. politics is analogous to a trick of sophistry known as Morton's Fork, which is a way of presenting two choices that lead to the same unfavorable conclusion. Lord Chancellor John Morton, charged with replenishing the depleted coffers of Henry VII, devised a tax strategy under which no one was exempt: Either a subject lived frugally, and must have savings enough to give to the king; or they lived opulently, and obviously had enough money to spare for the king. Either way, the crown wins.
Just as Henry's subjects never questioned the king's right to demand a ransom, voters today do not question the bipartisan violation of their rights. A vote for either party results in the same unfavorable outcome: a politician with no moral qualms about trampling your rights as an individual. Voting alone will not solve this problem.
Americans must deny Morton's Fork and recognize a third option besides two species of tyranny: a free society that upholds individual rights as an inalienable, moral absolute. Politics is founded upon moral philosophy, and the former cannot be altered without reforming the latter.
Advocates of liberty must adopt individualism as a moral conviction if we are to renew the hope that our nation can be reclaimed, salvaged, and rebuilt with the proper foundation. We must demand that our representatives adhere consistently and uncompromisingly to individual rights, and we must make it clear that we will accept no political infringement upon our sovereignty as individuals. The battle of ideas is being waged here and now, and there has never been a more urgent time to act. The outcome will determine whether our nation will collapse from the weakness of its own philosophical contradictions or thrive once again.