Yes, in Fact, We Are Radical

"Radical: of relating to, or proceeding from a root."
 - Merriam-Webster's dictionary

When the left attacks those of us who value our founding principles as "too radical," some of us may be tempted to respond, "We are not; we just want to uphold the Constitution. You're the ones who are radical!"

But "radical" is not a label from which we should defend ourselves. The truth is, we are indeed radical, because America's founding principles represent the most radical and revolutionary change in human governance in millennia.

As conservatives in America today, we seek to conserve our founding principles. This is fundamentally different from, say, a Russian conservative who seeks to conserve the traditional state power of mother Russia, or an Iranian conservative who seeks to conserve his theocracy, or a North Korean conservative who seeks to conserve his communist dictatorship.

In this sense, to be a conservative in America is to be misunderstood. Seeking to conserve our radical founding principles is linguistically confusing. In the same way, to be liberal in America today is philosophically tangled -- they seek to liberalize America by imposing more stringent controls and regulations upon her citizens?

Our political titles are fundamentally dysfunctional. It used to be that a liberal was what we now call a classical liberal, an adherent to a political philosophy aligned with what we would now call libertarian values.

A liberal in the past was an advocate for greater freedom from government control, more individual responsibility for our own success or failure, and greater opportunity for our own individual pursuit of happiness. A liberal sought to create a more merit-based, egalitarian society through removing the entrenched structures of political power and privilege, freeing up the energies of the individual citizen to rise or fall based on his effort, abilities, and courage.

A conservative, on the other hand, sought to conserve cultural traditions and could find him or herself at odds with liberals in terms of wanting to preserve such things as government privileges for established families or groups or male-only voting rights. A conservative in the past would not be considered, in anyone's wildest dreams, a radical. A conservative by definition wanted to keep things as they were.

So now we find ourselves in an odd position. The self-described liberals in America are those who want to maintain the present status quo -- the insane body of draconian regulations, the huge tax burden, and the massive governmental work force that sucks up to 30% of our national income.

They want to maintain this and build upon its ossified structure like coral on a pacific reef. They want to bring further government control to health care, financial transactions, and industrial activities. There is nothing radical about this; this is government as it has always been -- dictatorial, arrogant, and full of people impressed with their own power, ideas, and vision for how the rest of us should live.

The justification for their use of force is the progressive notion that true freedom is the freedom to have the government take care of all our basic necessities so that we can, in theory, fulfill their vision of our human potential.

Nice, warm, and fuzzy ideal. But it is no different from any other ideal imposed by force -- the ideal of the Spartans to have a warrior society based upon absolute discipline, with everyday needs supplied by their Helot slaves; the ideal of Alexander the Great, or Napoleon, or Hitler to conquer the world; the ideal of the early progressives to weed out genetically inferior people through euthanasia and sterilization; the ideal of communists for a worldwide dictatorship of the proletariat.

Modern-day liberals are engaged in furthering their own ideals through force. The ideal of cradle-to-grave government care, the ideal of eliminating the inequalities of the market, the ideal of making people "better" through social engineering, the ideal of environmental control.

In this entire world of mankind's grand political ideals, only one path is unique. Only one path is truly radical, in the sense that it seeks to look at human nature and the human condition at the root and to transform the entrenched power structures from that root.

In magnificent linguistic irony, it is conservatives who seek to weaken and undermine the systems of unearned, entrenched, and corrupt privilege. Nowadays, such privilege is concentrated in the halls of government, whose employees enjoy twice the average salaries and better benefits and retirement than those in the private sector (and whose officials escape consequences for their abuses of power).

So it's true: we are radicals. Our founding principles -- the vision of our Declaration of Independence and the structure of law based on practical idealism contained in our Constitution, ideals which are consistent with human nature and which transformed the ancient principles of human government at the root -- are the most radical political principles in existence today.

Those who have worked for the past hundred-plus years through progressive policies to undermine and replace our radical vision and structure of human governance are not radicals. They are conservatives of the worst sort. In common parlance, they are control freaks. They have brought political ideals from nineteenth-century autocratic Germany to America and fashioned them as some kind of visionary blueprint for bringing out the best in people.

But bringing out the best in people is not accomplished through force. Creativity, independent thinking, innovation, compassion, and initiative cannot be motivated through punishment.

  • Creativity and innovation thrive in an atmosphere of curiosity and playfulness.
  • Independent thinking and initiative flourish in an environment of positive incentives -- the reward of fortune and notoriety and the great joy of making things happen through your own efforts.
  • Compassion grows and deepens through personal relationships and the infectiousness and gratification of human kindness.
America's founding principles are the radical ideals that have shaken and continue to shake humanity to its roots, spreading the values of individual liberty, creativity, innovation, independent thinking, initiative, and compassion throughout the world.

The left seeks to frighten people with their accusations that we are radicals, and perhaps we are frightening to some. Liberty unleashes human potential that is unpredictable. The unknown can be terribly frightening for those who seek predictability and certainty through control.

But predictability and certainty are also boring. Creativity, innovation, initiative, independent thinking, and the genuine compassion of real human relationships -- these are fun. And they are good. These qualities of human nature, unleashed by our radical founding ideals bring out the very best in human nature -- though they do not eliminate the worst. Nothing can do that.

Those who today in America are labeled liberal seek to establish predictability and certainty, they want to establish an equality by force which they call social justice, and they are terrified that the fire of individual liberty still burns bright within the American soul.

So they call us radicals, as though we should be defensive or insulted or apologetic.

Fat chance.

Joel F. Wade, Ph.D. is the author of Mastering Happiness: Ten Principles for Living a More Fulfilling Life. He can be reached at