Sunday, August 23, 2009

Why Government Fails, and Why Conservatism Has Failed

Ilana Mercer sums it up succinctly:

Nothing works in government because there is no private property. If you were given something to manage that you don’t own, have no stake in, on behalf of millions of people you don’t know, and who have no recourse against your mismanagement, except to whine like wimps—how well would you perform?

The larger context of Mercer's observation is the stubborn refusal of American conservatives to defend, without shame or compromise, the right to property. This is an old problem, identified decades ago by Ayn Rand. In "Conservatism: An Obituary", Rand wrote:

One need not wonder why [conservatives] are losing elections or why this country is stumbling anxiously, reluctantly toward statism. One need not wonder why any cause represented or upheld in such a manner, is doomed. One need not wonder why any group with such a policy does, in fact, declare its own bankruptcy, forfeiting any claim to moral, intellectual, or political leadership.

The meaning of the "liberals' " program is pretty clear by now. But what are the "conservatives"? What is it that they are seeking to "conserve"?

It is generally understood that those who support the "conservatives," expect them to uphold the system which has been camouflaged by the loose term of "the American way of life." The moral treason of the "conservative" leaders lies in the fact that they are hiding behind that camouflage: they do not have the courage to admit that the American way of life was capitalism, that that was the politico-economic system born and established in the United States, the system which, in one brief century, achieved a level of freedom, of progress, of prosperity, of human happiness, unmatched in all the other systems and centuries combined - and that that is the system which they are now allowing to perish by silent default.

- Excerpt from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (Signet Classics edition, 1967), pp. 194-195.

Having been a conservative myself, and having discussed politics with conservatives since my conversion to libertarianism, I think Rand was only half correct. People on the Right generally do go on the defensive when the Left accuses them of hard-heartedness toward the poor. But the flaw in their position runs deeper. I've observed that conservatives generally agree with liberals on three points: (1) That the collective, called Society, comes first in order of importance, whereas the individual comes second; (2) That the oracle of Society is the State, which determines when and where the individual must be subordinated or even sacrificed to the collective; (3) That the only possible alternative to this arrangement is moral anarchy, slavery, or even extinction.

The Right and the Left contest the definition of the first point: e.g., is the almighty collective the American Nation State or the World State? They argue bitterly over the application of the second: e.g., who is to be sacrificed to the Moloch of the prison industry, the dope smoker or the business owner? They tacitly agree on the third: e.g., if the State is not obeyed, we all shall be destroyed by Islamofascism/Global Warming. Fundamentally, they are both collectivist ideologies. That is why conservatives do not instinctively defend private property against the State, and why their movement has failed to stop the expansion of government power in America.

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