Triangulating Political Theory
To “triangulate” in politics usually means to seek an acceptable position between two extremes. But modern political circumstances have given us three distinct goals instead of two: liberty, equality, and tradition. At various times in history these words have had different meanings, and it was not until recently in history that these goals emerged as distinct. Even as the conflict between liberty and equality became clear to observers of American politics, tradition was not afforded a place in the schema because America, unlike other countries in Europe and Asia, had no long-standing traditions other than what she partially inherited from Britain. When the American revolution concluded, the Tories had been driven out. All that remained were Federalists and anti-Federalists, Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, commercial oligarchs and radical democrats. By the mid-20th century, the Old Right, our proto-libertarian populist movement, had been snuffed out by the massive expansion of the nation-state engendered by the world wars and a “liberal consensus” reigned. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 then witnessed the birth of modern American “conservatism.” And now we are here.
The liberal and conservative paradigms have frayed. On the left, radical egalitarianism and collectivism reigns supreme, and hardly a molecule remains of old-fashioned liberalism. The combined cadres of radical feminism, homosexual activism, critical race theory, militant atheism and social democracy (though to a lesser extent) have completed their long march through the institutions: the media, the universities, the Democratic Party, the government bureaucracies at all levels, all of the major corporations and many of the medium and small businesses, and much of the military brass. Though we will never cease hearing about the oppression of non-whites, women, gays, atheists, and a new host of deranged grievance groups whose identities and demands are nearly incomprehensible to rational minds, the fact is that the most powerful institutions in the country and the people who run them bow to their every whim. It will never, ever be in their interest to admit as much, for to cease being the oppressed and become the oppressor in a formal and open sense would mean the end of their moral universe, their reason for being, and their personal wealth and power. Here we have “equality.”
Then there is the resistance, within, on the edges of, or miles away from the GOP. The Reagan coalition of military interventionists, economic libertarians and social conservatives is falling apart. Libertarianism has awakened in the United States since the banker bailouts of ’08, the Ron Paul presidential candidacy of the same year, the advent of the Tea Party movement, and now the Rand Paul presumptive candidacy for 2016. Here we have liberty. Social conservatism has not disappeared, though it struggles to maintain an independent existence in the way neoconservatism and libertarianism are able to. A new movement called “neo-reaction” has come up, though, and while it would be incorrect in my opinion to associate it with what we typically think of as social conservatism, the two together I think represent tradition.
There is no question that the egalitarian left seeks to drive a wedge between the two. It is always beckoning to both libertarians and traditionalists in different ways. To libertarians, it whispers “how can you stand for freedom of the individual while aligning yourself with these fascist social conservatives who want to control women, oppress minorities, and deny gay rights”? Something called “thick libertarianism” results, replete with some of the most absurd arguments imaginable. To the traditionalists, the egalitarian left says “how can you stand to work alongside those libertarians, whose individualism is so destructive of your values, whose capitalism and free markets trample on your Christian ethics?” Something like Distributism results, which doesn’t have to be viciously anti-capitalist but almost always is.
What I have to say, then, through this blog and through most of what I write and do elsewhere, will only really appeal to those who can agree that radical egalitarianism is the enemy. Liberty and tradition stand higher on the hierarchy of values essential to human happiness and civilization than equality. I do not even claim that equality is unimportant. Equality before the law is certainly important, for instance. But radical egalitarianism seeks equality at the expense of all other values and goods, at the expense of rationality, efficiency, order, justice and truth. To level, one must destroy. To equalize, one must transform or destroy nature itself, which bestows unequal gifts on individuals and yes, even whole cultures and peoples. To establish an egalitarian society is to legitimize and institutionalize envy on a mass scale. And if socialism and communism proved to be failures, we ought to shudder in horror at the same experiment carried out by people who are far more radical in their hatred of liberty and natural order than the Bolsheviks ever were (the Russian proletariat wasn’t partial to homosexuality and no one ever proposed transgender bathrooms in the USSR). Radical egalitarianism is totalitarianism, plain and simple. At present it manifests itself mostly as an intense pressure movement that, while currently unable to deny constitutional rights and liberties to its ideological foes, promises to make their exercise a humiliating, costly and possibly dangerous endeavor. It is only a shadow of what this cancerous movement would do if it had the power it daily moves towards acquiring.
But what of liberty and tradition? Are they truly compatible? Are not the individualism and capitalism of classical liberalism at desperate odds with the traditional order? Doesn’t Christianity seem to imply the need for a welfare state? Is liberalism a vast Jewish conspiracy along with socialism in a common offensive against traditional Christian civilization? Do traditional religions everywhere and always stifle the freedom of the individual and legitimize tyrannical rule?
No, no, no! It would be impossible to deny real tensions between liberty and tradition. No one ought to try. But their commonalities are more significant than what egalitarianism would offer either. Liberty does not demand, in the way egalitarianism demands, the dismantling of traditional hierarchies. It does insist that tradition is not to be valued in and of itself; if it can withstand the test of a free society, however, there is no legitimate complaint to be made against it. It is possible to go further; traditional institutions often do pass the test and demonstrate their rationality in a free social setting. Of course not every aspect of the pre-modern world can be retained. Technological advancement has achieved a certain measure of equality all on its own, without the coercive tyrannizing of egalitarian evangelists. It would be unreasonable to expect women to return en masse to domestic life, to give up the franchise and other individual rights. It is my view that traditionalists ought to come to terms with first-wave feminism, but that traditionalists and libertarians both resist second and third-wave feminism, which are, in the final analysis, totalitarian in their ambitions. The same must be said of racial identity politics and homosexual activism; whatever is legitimate in their claims ought to be recognized as such, but whatever is illegitimate, whatever conflicts with individual liberty and the Constitution ought to be condemned and rejected.
It is the Constitution, in fact, where liberty and tradition can meet, because it protects both. Individual rights are of course protected by the Bill of Rights. But so, in fact, are rights essential to the survival of traditional communities, such as freedom of association and freedom of religion. Our common project must be a massive push to restore the United States to a true federalism, whereby the states and the people exercise all powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution; in other words, the 10th amendment. We may go even further and advocate for the division of various states into smaller states, but that is some ways off. The primary point is that in an environment of liberty and pluralism, all values and lifestyles will be forced to compete without the subsidies, endorsements or violent intervention of the federal government. What is good and natural, what is conducive to human nature, will win out – what is degenerate and corrupt will fall by the wayside. It is in our nature to form families, religions, communities and other associations which make up the bedrock of the traditional order; this nature was not destroyed by capitalism, but by the incentives of the modern welfare state. This welfare state in turn was not driven by some actual need to relieve poverty, which laissez-faire capitalism eliminated among countless millions (and still does today), but by the envy and hatred of the leveler. Again, capitalism will make a return to pre-modern conditions impossible, but it will not make traditionalist polities and communities impossible.
Some balk and scoff at such notions. Their ideas are so much loftier than mundane constitutionalism. They dream of castles and princes, or they dream of techno-city-states, or some other project. Well, I have nothing against any of that. None of those dreams ought to conflict with the basic goal of earning some breathing space for both libertarians and traditionalists alike, so that they may enjoy liberty and tradition here and now. We do not stand in each other’s way; radical egalitarianism, which is the impulse behind centralization and bureaucratization, behind the massive increase in power of the federal government, is what stands in our way. So we can fight and bicker, we can contrast our ideal societies, compare the merits of 13th century France to the 25th century anarcho-technocracy, but in the end we ought to form one fist to drive through the skull of the egalitarians.
All our efforts ought to be geared up at the decentralization of power, in whatever increments we are able to bring about. No more foreign wars, which consolidate the power of the state. Demand your representatives call for a vote before intervening, and demand they vote no when they do vote – this is how we stopped Obama’s war against Syria. No more phony “war on drugs”, let the states decide. Continue the fight against judicial tyranny in overturning popular gay marriage bans at the state level, but respect the right of other states to establish gay marriage through legitimate constitutional means. Close the border and bring the national guard to enforce it, defying a treasonous federal administration. In every contest between a state and the federal government, be it ever so slight and/or over an issue you happen to agree with the government about, support the state. Recognize that Rand Paul is the last best hope we have to establish sufficient room for us to operate and go on the offensive – support his campaign critically but enthusiastically.
Though I don’t agree with everything the man wrote, Murray Rothbard, Mr. Libertarian himself, recognized that egalitarianism was “a revolt against nature.” So start your theoretical adventure here.
The egalitarian revolt against biological reality, as significant as it is, is only a subset of a deeper revolt: against the ontological structure of reality itself, against the “very organization of nature”; against the universe as such. At the heart of the egalitarian left is the pathological belief that there is no structure of reality; that all the world is a tabula rasa that can be changed at any moment in any desired direction by the mere exercise of human will – in short, that reality can be instantly transformed by the mere wish or whim of human beings. — Murray Rothbard, Egalitarianism As A Revolt Against Nature