The important divide in American civic life is not between Right and Left on the horizontal axis; it is between Up and Down on the vertical – do we want more or less government?
Where we each place ourselves on this vertical scale depends largely upon our understanding of the relationship between the individual and society. Does society exist for the benefit of its individual members (the individualist’s orientation)? Or do individuals exist for the benefit of their society (the socialist’s)? It is not an irrelevant abstraction; the answer shapes our view of the world and the role of government in our lives.
Government is the organized use of force to constrain action. To the individualist, it is the state itself which needs to be constrained. To the socialist, it is the individual. These are incompatible philosophies. One can only be advanced if the other retreats. This is the dimension of civic life measured on the vertical axis.
Today’s Republicans and Democrats are both socialists, in that they seek to restrain the individual to benefit of society. They differ only on the purposes to which they would turn the power of the state against its citizens. They push and pull to the right and left against each other along the horizontal axis, but when given control of the levers of government, they have both pushed the vertical up with equal gusto.
In broad terms, Democrats constrain economic liberty to achieve their notion of social justice, while Republicans constrain personal liberty to achieve their notion of moral order. Whenever state power constrains its individual citizens,
Libertarians do not seek to restrain individuals; we seek to restrain the state from taking our liberties. Economic liberty and personal liberty are two sides of the same coin; it is foolish to think we could give up heads and somehow retain tails.
It is the relentless assault on our liberties – from both the Right and the Left - that explains the increasing disaffection of the public for its government, regardless of which of the two major parties claims temporary custody of it. Most Americans don’t want either the Right or the Left to lord over us. We see plainly that it is the unchecked power of the state that produces abject failures on both the Right (
There is an alternative to Right/Left; it is Down – a smaller, less powerful, and less intrusive government whose aim is neutrality, not ideology.
If one believes – as Libertarians do – that society exists to benefit its individual members, then it follows that the power of the state must be constrained to preserve individual sovereignty. The idea of individual sovereignty and limited government is not new, although it is once again considered radical. It is the noble ideal upon which our nation was founded. The holiday we are about to celebrate on July 4th is Independence Day; it is not Entitlements Day.
This nation did not just magically appear one day in 1776. There were over two centuries of American history before the Declaration of Independence; before the Revolution, our Government was organized on the premise that individuals exist to benefit the society to which they are assigned at birth. Government constrained its individual citizens and sought to impose its own notion of social justice and moral order upon them.
The state and its ruling elite claimed dominion over the natural rights of its citizens. The government claimed jurisdiction over private property. The state intervened in commerce to reward allies and punish opponents. A distant central government imposed mandates upon local governments and individuals, extracted exorbitant taxes and fees, and burdened citizens with public debts. Prosperity was not earned through merit; it was allocated by the state to those best able to petition for favors and pay for advantage. Sound familiar?
Human nature did not change on July 4, 1776. What was changed was the nature, size, scope, and purpose of our government. Two centuries of collectivism was rejected, and individualism was embraced. While the same diversity of views on social justice and moral order existed in their time as ours, our founding fathers had the wisdom to constrain the government to neutrality on these matters. They considered all possible directions for the new government; they rejected left and right and wisely chose “Down”.
What followed was a century unlike any that had been brought forth before or since. These
It was not by accident that we became the most prosperous, the freest, and the most virtuous people on earth; our commitment to
It need not be. Americans changed our government once to install
This time, our revolution will not be fought with bullets and blood; it will be fought with ballots and blogs. The weapons will be different, but the mission is not; restoring our individual sovereignty from a government who has denied it to us.
What is the purpose of winning independence from one government, only to become dependent on another? How do we honor the millions who fought and died to secure our
This Independence Day, let us not forget what it is that we are celebrating - it is our independence from government. Happy Independence Day.
Tim Nerenz is the Libertarian Party Candidate for