Giving ground to the left

In The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek made a powerful argument against centrally planned economies and how they must inevitably lead to tyranny. As evidenced by ever-increasing government intervention in our daily affairs, the nation has been marching steadily along Hayek's famous road for more than a century. The main opposition to this primarily (but not solely) Democratic effort has been the Republican Party, and while its more freedom-minded leaders have won brief pauses in the progression toward tyranny, they have failed to change the course of the nation.

American freedoms have been given just such a respite with health care legislation at an apparent standstill, but Democrats can be counted on to regroup and continue their efforts. The Republican Party should take a cue from Democrats and use this pause as a time of reflection, because a century of abysmal political setbacks should be a deafening alarum that their method of defending and maintain a free society cannot hope to succeed in the long run.

Many of the advances toward statism in the United States have been perpetrated by Republican presidents: Hoover's Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in response to the Crash of 1929; Eisenhower's enlargement of Social Security beneficiaries as a "safety net" in times of future economic depression; and price controls on key domestic goods such as oil under Nixon. The legacy of the Republican Party has been a slew of contradictory policies that, in the final analysis, create a net gain in the size and scope of government. In some cases these were bold and deliberate gestures; in others, capitulation and compromise with Democrats. In either case, the party's major flaw has been its failure to adhere consistently to the principles of a free society.

Republican politicians tend to run on the platforms of decreased government intervention and increased personal freedom. In reality, their platform should read: "We support individual rights, except when we choose not to." Republican departures from free society principles are almost always a reaction to a difficult problem or crisis; the party's leaders are capable of mouthing the words that can win them support from freedom-minded citizens, but when it comes to facing reality, they do not apply these principles systematically or consistently. It is absolutely not the case that free society principles are incapable of dealing with crisis (for proof of this, one need simply refer to the volumes of philosophy that have been written on this topic); it is that Republican leaders choose not to apply them.

The power to accomplish any goal lies in the ability to analyze the problem at hand, determine its nature, and devise a working solution. This process demands that we use our rational capacity and act according to complex, abstract principles that are ultimately grounded in reality. It makes no difference whether the problem lies in the field of engineering, medicine, or politics. How accurately a theory takes the facts of reality into consideration is the measure of its practicality.

The fact that Republican leaders do not consistently adhere to individual rights necessarily means that they do not actually believe in the workability of free society principles. Because a free society cannot be built on the foundation of contradictory policies, the net result of Republican actions will be the continued march toward bigger and bigger government with each emerging crisis. In other words, when a difficult problem arises, Republican leaders will turn off their brains and act like Democrats.

Hope is not lost, however. The freedom-loving individuals of this nation are surely making their voices heard, and we are proudly demonstrating our refusal to march willfully along the Road to Serfdom. Mere protest is not enough, however; those who love freedom and wish to defend individual rights should arm themselves with the powerful arguments of this philosophy's many great thinkers, and communicate these ideas in no uncertain terms to leaders in the Republican Party. Our nation can be free again, but representatives must begin to take a principled stance in favor of individual rights, and held accountable when they do not.