The late Senator Everett Dirksen once said “there’s not a dimes worth of difference” between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The subsequent four decades since he made that remark have certainly proven his prescience. The current “Paul Ryan budget,” which seems to have been written, line by line, by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, is slam-dunk proof of Senator Dirksen’s observation.
Thomas Mullen has just published a new book, Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From?, that goes a long way toward explaining why this is. Mullen traces the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism and “liberalism” (in the American sense of the word) and shows that they both contradict the true American creed, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents, that the sole purpose of government is to protect our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The two most influential conservative authors who have shaped the thinking of British and American conservatives, Mullen argues, are Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke. Hobbes believed that man’s natural state was “a state of war” of “everyone against everyone.” This, says Mullen, is “the basis for all conservative thinking. Not only does man need a government, but one powerful enough to ‘keep him in awe’”. It gets worse. Hobbes also believed that “because the condition of man . . . is a condition of war of everyone against everyone . . . it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body.” (Hobbes’s own words). This of course is the exact opposite of the American creed of natural rights to life, liberty and property, including one’s own body.
This is why conservatives believe that only government can keep “our dark nature at bay,” writes Mullen. It is why they typically support law enforcement, no matter how inept or criminal the enterprise of policing becomes. “Rarely will you see conservatives side with an alleged victim of police brutality,” he writes.
It was Hobbes who also wrote that “subjects” can never change the form of their government, no matter what. “This completely contradicts the [American]Creed’s assertion [in the Declaration of Independence] that the people have the right to alter or abolish their government and replace it with another,” writes Mullen. Lincoln was obviously a Hobbesian, since this idea was at the heart of his new and fanciful theory of the “perpetual union” held together by the threat of murdering hundreds of thousands of dissenters.
Edmund Burke agreed with this notion that “the people are permanently bound by the contract made by their ancestors.” He also believed that rights to life, liberty and property were not natural or God-given, but granted to us by politicians. That is why conservative politicians like Rick Santorum, for example, went on NPR to mock the idea that government “shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom . . . shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues.”
Burke believed that “our rights” were not just government grants, but also the result of “longstanding traditions.” Consequently, modern conservatives rarely, if ever, criticize let alone repudiate such things as FDR’s New Deal. Conservative Newt Gingrich even once hailed FDR as the greatest president of the twentieth century. “Some day, conservatives will defend Obamacare,” Mullen quotes Tom Woods as saying. For conservatives, “to challenge the sovereign power, regardless of how objectionably it is wielded, is to endanger all of civil society.” This helps explain the extreme hatred that conservatives have displayed toward Yours Truly in particular, and LewRockwell.com in general. “Conservatives from Hobbes to Burke to Rick Santorum believe government power should regulate all areas of life,” Mullen accurately concludes.
Conservatives are also centralizers, following Hobbes’s belief that “the sovereign power should never be divided.” They are therefore enemies of another important part of the American Creed, federalism or states’ rights.
Conservatives in general also embrace various forms of mercantilism as their preferred economic policy. They will support competititon, but then they call for government intervention to make sure “the right people” win. This is because they incorrectly view economic activity as one big “war” with winners and losers. They tend to be ignorant of the truth about voluntary market exchange being mutually advantageous.
“You can hear Hobbes every day in neoconservative rhetoric” warning of the “instability” in foreign countries, writes Mullen, and of the alleged “need” for the U.S. military to intervene everywhere on earth where such “instability” exists. We heard this when George W. Bush said we need to “fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them over here,” and is also the argument that was made to “justify” the Korean and Vietnamese wars. From all of this comes the truly totalitarian idea of “American exceptionalism,” writes Mullen.
“Liberals,” on the other hand, are inspired (whether they recognize it or not) primarily by Karl Marx and Jean-Jacques-Rousseau. “[I]t was Rousseau and Marx who laid the modern foundation for liberalism.” Hatred of “inequality” is what animates all “liberals.” Whereas socialists “seek to abolish private property,” liberals want to “heavily regulate and redistribute it.” The latter are fascists, in other words, no different from conservatives, really.
The denial of the thousands of natural human differences, and their compulsion to have the state force “equality” on everyone, explains modern “liberals.” It even explains, says Mullen, why liberals even “insist on positive laws that prohibit anyone from refusing to associate with homosexuals.” He cites the case of the Christian couple who owned a bakery and refused to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple. Liberals naturally sought legal penalties.
Rousseau, the intellectual father of communism as much as Marx, was a fountain of horrible ideas. He was also the intellectual inspiration for the French Revolution, and whose ideas are also now the Official American Creed, as announced by President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris this year. (Obama claimed that “we” also believe in the French Revolutionary slogan of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”). Among Rousseau’s main ideas, as embraced by Obama, the leader of American liberalism, are: man must give up all of his natural rights to the sovereign power; government will grant us whatever civil rights we are to have; the sovereign power must be absolute, indivisible, and inalienable; government should prohibit economic inequality, no matter what its source; being a “virtuous citizen”means having absolute loyalty to the state; children should be indoctrinated into this statist idolatry as early as possible; the state should replace the parents with regard to education; governmental power should be centralized in the executive branch; we should pretend that all government action is the result of carrying out the wishes of “the whole people”; and “truth” is determined by “the majority will,” as defined by a political elite. Marx agreed with all of this, and “departs from Rousseau merely in his ideas about what political action is necessary to resolve the problems caused by private property.”
Mullen also provides a concise overview of the dramatically-different philosophy of natural rights that informs the true American creed, beginning with the ideas of John Locke. He explains how “Locke’s view of man in nature departs from both conservatives and liberals on every substantive point.” The latter chapters of the book are more historical than philosophical, describing how America was transformed by the late nineteenth century from a more-or-less Lockean/libertarian society with minimal government, to a centralized, conservative/mercantilist empire in the spirit of Hobbes and Burke, with the “Civil War” as the great turning point. In a promised sequel, Mullen will write about how the centralized mercantilist empire of Lincoln was eventually infiltrated if not replaced by the socialist/egalitarian ideas of Marx and Rousseau. Both sets of ideas reject the fundamental American creed that individuals have natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that it is the sole purpose of government to secure these rights.