The View From 1776

More on Liberal Values: Is Liberalism as American as Apple Pie?

Constitutional liberties can’t survive liberal “values.”

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Freedom is defined by liberals as the absence of spiritual religion and moral codes, along with equal availability of society’s goods and services to everyone, without regard to whether the taker has contributed to their production.  If there is a disparity in income among the people, if some people don’t have jobs, and if some people don’t have cars, nice homes, TV, etc., in the liberal system of values, it can only be because of social injustice.

To get a full perspective on the negative implications of this conception of social justice, which is the basis of American liberalism, it is necessary to examine both the historical background and the philosophical theory.

Philosophical Overview:

This liberal theory of values is nothing new.  It has been around since Plato described it in his dialogues roughly 2,400 years ago, when he focused much of his arguments against the liberals of his day, who were then known as sophists and Epicureans.  Our educational system has left the last several generations of students ignorant about history and political philosophy, but some people today must, even so, be aware that liberal-socialist ideas about social justice were the core of political theory in the Soviet Union, Hitler’s National Socialist Germany, Mao’s Red China, Castro’s Cuba, and every other socialist society of the 20th century.

In the face of uniform failure, and usually savage brutality of a degree previously unknown in human history, why are Americans giving rapt attention to the same old liberal theories when politicians orate about them in the current Presidential campaign?  The answer, as noted frequently in other posting on this website, is that liberal-socialism is a secular religion, not a set of simply political or economic views (see Socialism: Our Unconstitutionally Established National Religion).

Liberalism, the American sect of the international religion of socialism, promises earthly salvation and the perfection of human relations here on earth, possibly even in the lifetime of its believers.  There are no rules of morality to govern individual conduct.  Individuals need not make personal sacrifices or change their way of life.  Hedonistic pursuit of sensual pleasures is acceptable.  People can say or do anything that strikes their fancy.  They do not have to take responsibility for their own well-being.  They don’t necessarily have to work for a living.  All that is required is submerging individuality in the comforting collectivity of social classes and believing firmly that collectivized government is the savior of mankind, from which all blessings flow. 

People who have lost their faith in Christianity, or more likely never had any such faith, hunger for some theory to provide meaning to an otherwise chaotic and violent world.  Baby-boomers are the largest contingent of those seekers.  Hillary Clinton, at the outset of Bill Clinton’s first term as President, was featured on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, and called, at the time, “Saint Hillary.”  She described the spiritual emptiness of her generation and speculated about alternative remedial paths, from Judaism to Zen.

The present-day version of the gnostic religious faith in socialism is rooted in the theory of pre-Revolutionary French philosophers that evil can be defined as oppressive political and economic power, which results in unequal ownership of income and wealth.  Social justice therefore is elimination of oppression, which in this theory implies redistribution of wealth.

That concept has enormous ramifications.  Not all of them are bad, but, without most of them,  the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century could not have existed. 

Most dangerous, and therefore most important, is the disarmingly simple thesis that the problems of humanity can easily be solved by intellectual planning to restructure society.  Everywhere this has been attempted, governments have moved in the direction of totalitarianism.  The reason is not hard to understand: people who have worked hard and saved their money resist the political state’s demands that they share it with others who have not worked hard and are, by traditional terms, undeserving.

The Historical Background:

French philosophers’ starting point was the idea that poor peasants and city laborers were denied social justice by the structure of French society that bestowed great wealth and privilege upon the aristocracy, purely via the accident of birth.  Few of the aristocracy were of demonstrably great intelligence or ability, and many of them failed their traditional duty to look out for the welfare of the poor on their ancestral lands, compounding the injustice.

These observations were not inaccurate.  But, while they applied to France and some other European principalities, they did not apply to England and North America. 

In France, powerful kings had for centuries been consolidating economic and political regulatory control under a central bureaucracy in Paris.  French kings encouraged the aristocracy to leave their estates and assume permanent residence in Paris, where they spent their time in idle chatter and court gossip.  French kings co-opted the aristocracy and the French Catholic Church by exempting them from most taxes, while taxing the peasants and laborers heavily to fill the shortfall.

In England, from the time of Magna Carta in 1215 the landed aristocracy and property-owning yeoman farmers had continuously battled the crown to prevent arbitrary taxation and seizure of property.  They insisted that only Parliament, as the representative of the whole country, had the right to impose taxes under the ancient, unwritten constitution of England.  And the English aristocracy made it their business to look out for the interests of farmers and property-owning yeomen on their estates, the people who would become their soldiers in armed conflicts with the king.

The cultural effect was an England and her North American colonies populated by the most individualistic and venturesome people on earth.  And a France acculturated to thinking in terms of feudal classes and inviolable privileges, in which the masses routinely endured any degree of despotism, looking only to grub for their share of whatever the king chose to dispense.  England gloried in the exploits of private explorers and merchants, sailing on trading and exploration ventures to all corners of the world.  France sought national glory via military conquest of Europe and thwarting British commerce wherever possible.

American liberals in academia have proclaimed that the French Revolution is the truest expression of Americans’ essential values.  They push the myth that France is our old and faithful ally (see the article below entitled “Misunderstanding Alliances”).  Students are taught that American colonists revolted against a tyrannical British king in order to establish full and complete equality among all citizens.  This is nonsense.

The true genesis of the 1776 War of Independence was the English Glorious Revolution of 1689.  James II, the last of the autocratic Stuart kings, was a stubborn advocate of the Divine right of kings.  A king, in this theory, was created by God and empowered to act in God’s behalf with regard to political matters.  The true benefactor of humanity was the powerful sovereign who imposed order upon unruly humanity at sword’s point.  The law was simply whatever the king decreed (note that our Federal judiciary now says that the law is whatever a judge says it is).

James II alienated huge sections of English society by seeking to overthrow the Church of England and re-impose Roman Catholicism as the established church, while at the same time confiscating property and imposing taxes without consent of Parliament.  Members of Parliament and the aristocracy forced him to abdicate. 

The English constitutional justification for the 1689 Glorious Revolution was written by John Locke.  His “Second Treatise of Government,” more than any other non-American study, expresses the true nature of our own actions in 1776.  Locke based the constitutional legitimacy of the English revolt on God-given natural law and the Christian religion.  People, he said, had voluntarily associated to form governments for their mutual protection and benefit.  But, in forming governments, they had never surrendered their God-given individual rights to life, liberty, and property.  Without these, no family could survive, and natural law and Christianity decreed that the family was the basic unit of political society.  When a ruler arbitrarily confiscated private property and imprisoned or executed resisters, he had violated the natural law rights of individuals and thereby forfeited his right to rule.

This is precisely the argument penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, and everyone in England and the colonies was fully aware of it.  The socialistic spirit that produced the French Revolution thirteen years later was on the far side of the moon from American colonists.

Problems in Applying Liberal Values, aka Social Justice:

A hedonistic population, focused on immediate gratification, is less productive of the material outputs essential to the welfare-state than a motivated and disciplined workforce animated by individualism and self-governed by morality. 

If the welfare-state is to deliver on its promises of free goodies, the anti-religious hedonism and selfishness advocated by liberal organizations like the ACLU and by TV, Hollywood, and much of the print media, can’t continue indefinitely.  Sooner or later, Big Brother has to crack down on the sensualists if political and economic order are to survive.  Indulging in drugs and sexual promiscuity don’t produce much of economic value to the general public.

Low productivity in the Soviet Union, for example, was at least partly attributable to one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the world.  When people are focused on immediate gratification via consuming to the max on credit card debt, the savings rate is very low or even negative.  Without savings, there is no source of funds to invest in new equipment to increase production of the welfare-state’s goodies, or even to replace old equipment as it wears out.  When the welfare-state substitutes printing money via deficit spending, rather than encouraging savings out of actual production, the result is simply inflation. 

This is the dilemma confronting socialist France and Germany today.  Far too many people are working far too little and being paid far too much for it.  They have come to expect the good life without the necessary hard work.  And the impulses of liberal-socialism inevitably drive society in that direction.  People who are taught by liberals that society owes them a certain standard of living are more likely to indulge their sensual appetites and selfishness.

Germany’s socialistic Weimar Republic after World War I followed this course and created one of the most devastating rampages of inflation in history.  What took place was disquietingly similar to what has been going on in the United States, particularly in cities like New York, LA, and San Francisco.  There was a flowering of art, music, and architecture.  The lewdness of Berlin cabaret society in the 1920s shocked even the Parisians.  But middle class savings were destroyed.  Factories had to shut down every hour to pay workers with carts full of million-Reichmark notes.  Reichsbank printing presses couldn’t print enough money fast enough.  Restaurants and merchants refused to take money as payment.  Transactions were reduced to primitive barter.  Diners haggled with waiters about how many yards of string a meal was worth.  The German people greeted with tears of happiness and relief the news of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor and his promise to restore traditional German discipline.

The United States embarked upon the same course in the 1960s.  Liberal economists proclaimed that they had mastered the techniques of fine-tuning the economy.  Major media proclaimed that perfection was just around the corner, now that politicians had returned to New Deal state-planing with a massive expansion of the Federal bureaucracy.  President Johnson’s Great Society created thousands of new welfare entitlements, while the money supply ballooned.  Severe inflation got underway as the welfare rolls increased.  Stagflation came into being: an economy dead in the water, yet with soaring prices.  President Nixon accelerated the process and attempted to quell inflation with price controls.  OPEC came into existence to demand higher prices for oil to compensate for the dollar’s declining value.  The death spiral was temporarily halted when Ronald Reagan became President in 1980 and removed price controls, cut taxes, and gave the green light to Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to squeeze inflation out of the economy.

The Great Society’s experiment with expanded welfare payments to single mothers, for example, caused an explosion of illegitimate births and biological fathers who walked away from their responsibilities.  The rationalization was that unwed mother were not eligible for maximum welfare payments if there was a live-in husband or mate, so males were “doing the right thing” by not living with the women they had impregnated. 

Going on welfare, in effect, became a career choice.  Welfare ?clients? were entitled to welfare benefits and they owed nothing to society.  Since, in the catechism of liberal social justice,  it was society?s fault that they were needy, they had no obligation to seek work or to limit the number of their illegitimate children.  Nor was there any reason, moral or legal, that they and their progeny should not collect these benefits forever.  Liberals, harking back to Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights declaration in 1944, called this a Constitutional right.

Liberal Great Society programs under the Johnson, Nixon, and Carter administrations, from the mid-1960s until 1980, not only failed to meet their objectives; they made conditions decisively worse, measured by the Federal government?s own statistics (see Charles Murray?s “Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950 - 1980”).  Ironically, the Great Society was designed to bring the blacks and other ethnic and social groups up to a parity with whites.  Instead, it under-cut almost all the progress they had made since the Civil War, leaving them far worse off than before.

The numbers of people with cash incomes (including welfare benefits) under the poverty line had been dropping every year after World War II.  Then startlingly, the pattern reversed.  While poverty spending increased in the Johnson administration, a period of burgeoning prosperity, the numbers of people below the poverty line increased from 23 million to 29 million. 

Liberals argued fallaciously that the increase reflected bad economic conditions.  In fact, poverty dropped more than 12% during the Eisenhower Presidency, when economic growth average only 2.7% per year, while poverty rose 26% during the 1970s, when the economic growth rate was 18.5% higher.

The real answer was simple.  It was a matter of changing public attitudes.  Social justice actually promoted the growth of poverty.  As Charles Murray noted, the poor are poor, not stupid.  For lots of ill-educated, low-income people, living fairly comfortably on welfare, without having to work at all, was a better deal than working for a living at only a slightly higher level of income. 

Similar counter-productive patterns were evidenced in employment, wages, education, crime, and family stability.

The Office of Economic Opportunity spent billions of dollars on job training programs and other efforts to move people off welfare and into the active work force.  Black male unemployment declined 38% in the 55-to-64 age group.  But the percentage improvement was progressively less as one went further down the age scale, with unemployment dropping only 1.6% among those in the 25-to-34 age bracket. 

Among black men who were too young to have been participants in the work force before the start of the Great Society entitlements programs, results were dramatically worse.  Unemployment in the 20-to-24 age group increased 18.6%.  At the youngest age bracket measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those 16-to-17 years old, unemployment jumped 72.4%. 

What was going on?  Older black men, who had always worked, improved as a group.  But black teenagers had all their young lives heard politicians telling them that they had been robbed of their entitlements by the white establishment.  Starting at the low end of the economic ladder and working their way up over a period of years was considered beneath their dignity.  With welfare case workers actively soliciting them to sign up for benefits, the career of welfare dependency seemed more attractive.

Federal statistics for labor force participation ? defined as people with jobs or seeking jobs ? display a pattern never before seen in this country.  Historically, black men had always had the same percentage labor force participation rates as whites, and that pattern continued under the Great Society among older blacks.  But the percentage of young black men working or looking for jobs dropped sharply the farther down the age scale one went.  Two out of every three black youths aged 16-to-17 had never even looked for work.

This is what results when liberal politicians demand tax increases for “the wealthy” and campaign to “give our country back to us.”

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/20 at 11:29 PM
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