The Conservation of Liberty
posted at 4:11 pm on March 8, 2010 by Doctor Zero
New York Times house “conservative” David Brooks recently dismissed the Tea Party movement by comparing it to the New Left radicals of the Sixties. After remarking on the fondness of both movements for mass protests and street theater, he identifies their “core commonality” as a belief in “mass innocence”:
Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it.
According to Brooks, this similarity leads the Tea Party to paranoia and nihilism:
Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories. The ’60s left developed elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks — theories that live on in the works of Noam Chomsky. In its short life, the Tea Party movement has developed a dizzying array of conspiracy theories involving the Fed, the F.B.I., the big banks and corporations and black helicopters.
Because of this assumption, members of the Tea Party right, like the members of the New Left, spend a lot of time worrying about being co-opted. They worry that the corrupt forces of the establishment are perpetually trying to infiltrate the purity of their ranks.
Because of this assumption, members of both movements have a problem with authority. Both have a mostly negative agenda: destroy the corrupt structures; defeat the establishment. Like the New Left, the Tea Party movement has no clear set of plans for what to do beyond the golden moment of personal liberation, when the federal leviathan is brought low.
So, only a belief that people are “pure and virtuous” can justify distrust of the elite, and resistance to Big Government? And, since people are not pure and virtuous, opposition to the designs of the elite always leads to paranoia, plus an appetite for wanton destruction? Damning the Tea Party movement for “hating authority” is like declaring the survivors of Jurassic Park to be anti-lizard extremists. This is nonsense designed to reinforce the boundless self-regard of snobs, and disguise the inherent failure and corruption of a system “moderates” like Brooks apparently believe they can fix through fine tuning.
It also demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the Sixties radicals. The cutesy title of Brooks’ essay is “The Wal-Mart Hippies,” but the Tea Party differs from the New Left in far more than its preference for big-box retailers over head shops. No branch of the Left has any faith in the purity and virtue of the people. Quite the opposite – they believe the people are greedy, vicious, stupid, and helpless. That’s why every aspect of their lives must be regulated and subsidized, under the wise guidance of a socialist elite… guidance which must occasionally be supplied at gunpoint. At best, a liberal sees the public as victims and dupes of Big Business interests, which can only be defeated by even bigger government. Left to their own devices, the proletariat tends to engage in poisonous activities like capitalism, and draw arbitrary lines against the power of righteous government, based on mindless reverence for the philosophy of dead white males.
The entire point of our Constitution is that people don’t have to be pure and virtuous to earn their liberty. Liberty is not a gift from the State, bestowed upon qualified applicants. Insisting on the restraint of government does not require naive faith in the virtue of citizens.
Statists mistakenly believe the economy is a zero-sum game, in which the prosperity of one means the poverty of others. They hold this belief so tightly that it leaves them incapable of processing evidence to the contrary. Even liberals with advanced economic degrees are reduced to babbling idiots in the face of increased Treasury revenue through reduced tax rates. There is one crucial ingredient to prosperity whose supply is fixed: freedom. It is not a “renewable resource.” Every power seized by the government diminishes it. Each tax and subsidy melts down more of our liberty, to be forged into more pipes for a monstrous system of political plumbing. The ominous leaking and shuddering of those pipes heralds the utter failure and collapse of the system.
There’s nothing paranoid about pointing this out. The Tea Party critique of banks and the Fed has far too much documentation to be dismissed as a “conspiracy theory.” The assumption that government is “pure and virtuous” has led us to ruin. The truth is that once it reaches a certain size, it becomes all but incapable of virtuous action. The precious commodity of liberty has diminished so much that any further extraction of it becomes agonizing – a matter of brute force instead of persuasion. You can ask a rich man for a dollar, but you must take it from a pauper. We have all become impoverished in the coin of freedom, and in order to make his health-care scheme work, the President demands our bottom dollar.
David Brooks, David Frum, Christopher Buckley, and other members of the “moderate” chorus want to define conservatism as marginal improvement of the self-replicating machinery of the State. They accept the founding principle of therapeutic government: faith in the power of intelligent politicians to carefully design an improved future, or at least cushion the damage from inevitable American decline. The only inevitability is the abject failure of the well-creased pants and first-class temperaments they adore.
It doesn’t take starry-eyed love for an imaginary, angelic population to see that American citizens, and the free market that sizzles between their independent desires and endeavors, hold solutions beyond the comprehension of our political class. Visceral hatred of authority is not required to see the ambitions of Big Government come at the expense of its just and lawful duties. The signature difference between the Tea Party protests of today, and the counter-culture protests of forty years ago, is that the Left was wrong then, and they’re wrong now.
A bitter rain from the approaching tsunami of total failure has washed the glamor away from their promises, revealing a grim engine that nourishes a few, while devouring everyone slowly. The path away from its gears and chains is a fundamentally conservative one… the conservation of liberty. Arrogant elitists make poor guides along that path. They keep looking over their shoulders, and dreaming of what a properly educated master could do with such an engine.
Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.