The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Freedom’s Bigger Threat: The Right

I have referred to the collectivist Right, neo-conservatives, the theocratic Right and such groups as “socialists of the soul.” I have done so because that is what they are.

Now, I want to think through what this term means when it comes to the question of whether the materialist socialist of the Left or the socialists of the soul on the Right are worse for liberty? Liberalism proper is the polar opposite of both these groups.

But, liberalism is a minority viewpoint even if many aspects of the liberal view are now considered “common knowledge.” Liberalism’s love for free trade is accepted by almost all but the most regressive segments of the Right [Trump] and the Lef [Sanders]. Even the liberal love for free markets is accepted across the political spectrum to some degree. Few today have the guts to admit they want state control of economic life even if that is what they endeavour to create.

Fake liberals, drunk on some theocratic gospel would love to make liberalism into some form of conservatism. Many conservatives, lacking an intellectual foundation of their own, have latched on to the liberal tradition to try and bolster their own deadly ideology. It is often said by such folk that conservatives are the heirs of classical liberalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conservatives, like socialists, have always been enemies of liberalism.

Often liberals are faced with real world political decisions of whether to work with the Right or with the Left. The human rights debacle of communism and the genocide that it created often caused liberals to side with the Right against the Left. This was particularly true in the last century. Conservatives wanted to resist the trend toward statism merely because it was a Leftist form of statism. When holding power conservatives are not foes of statism as the Trump regime clearly shows. They can learn to love the state quite easily.

When liberalism was first born it was the opposition to the feudal system imposed by conservatives who argued that tradition, the Bible and the Church all supported the status quo. Liberals challenged all of that and challenged it hard. Conservative shackles began to fall off the wrists and ankles of mankind. Freedom started to blossom. But freedom is terrifying to many.

Economic interventionism creates distortions in the economy which eventually will lead to problems. Those distortions have to be worked out of the economy and when that happens, by allowing freedom to reign in that area, a large element of uncertainty and change will take place. Anytime such dislocations are corrected there is a backlash, not against the policies that created the distortion, but against the reforms that were needed to correct it.

When liberalism challenged the feudal conservative status quo such misallocation of economic resources was common. The liberalization of the economy brought about many severe, but necessary, shifts and out of this socialism was born. The socialist was a compromiser. He promised the first “third way” between conservatism and liberalism.

He was someone who accepted most liberal goals but wanted to use conservative means to achieve them. He hoped to get to the liberal society where rights are equal and people are educated, prosperous, well fed, healthy, etc. But he wanted to get there by using the levers of state power. He disagreed with the conservative as to what goals should be achieved but shared a commonality of means with them. True liberals opposed both.

Liberalism was the polar opposite of the conservative movement. So when socialism came along and accepted liberal goals, but adopted conservative means, the true liberal felt the socialist often was an ally. And, in many ways they were, while the conservative was consistently the enemy of liberalism in both goals and means the socialist at least shared similar goals. The great French liberal Frederic Bastiat sat on the left in the French Assembly yet fought the socialists as hard as he did the mercantilist Right. Conservatives in the bastion of feudalist thinking, the Catholic church, could not see any major differences between socialism and liberalism.

They didn’t care about the means per se. They were interested in the end result and for them protecting feudalism and keeping man’s mind shackled was their goal. While socialism shared their view of means it differed with them regarding goals; and these older theocrats were most interested in goals. It was the end result they wished to guarantee.

One of the great tragedies of this era was liberals were seduced by the socialist promise of using state power to achieve liberal goals. They compromised and slowly adopted the means of the socialist. In doing so they adopted the means of the conservative. The far Left used this compromise and eventually stole the name “liberal” for themselves in many places of the world. They are not liberals at all. In fact, if anything, they have far more in common with conservatives.

There is much common ground between an extreme Marxist like Kim Jong-un and the authoritarian nationalism of Donald Trump. Both are advocates of a strong, centralized state. Both believe in using government to “help” those they favor. Both want national control of the educational system. Both want grand military parades where the world can see them be ego stroked by saluting men in uniform. Both are moral conservatives who want state power used to force people to be moral. There are some differences of course. But both share many common values. And, contrary to popular thinking, common values are not indicated by alliances. Often the most similar groups are the most antagonistic toward one another. Trump’s opposition is not necessarily an indication of opposition to values they hold in common.

But what of today’s choices? Do liberals have more in common with conservatives or with socialists? Who is more dangerous to liberalism?

What I contend here is only part of the larger answer. It is not the be-all and end-all of the argument. But I think in some very important ways the conservative is more dangerous to liberalism than the socialist. The socialist, as we know, wants to regulate the material existence of man. The conservative wants to shackle his spirit.

To the socialist the material existence of man is the most important aspect of life. So he wants it shackled, regulated and controlled. He often accepts individuals should be spiritually free in the general, non religious sense, of the word. It is not our inner life he wants controlled, but the material existence that makes the inner life possible. Of course the more extreme left, like communists, want every aspect of man’s life controlled and thus really have no political differences from Right-wing theocrats.

The classic conservative wants to shackle the human soul. He wants collectivised control of our inner lives — our “spiritual” values. What is included in this inner life?

They are the individual’s deepest values or highest values. They are those things which are at the top of Maslow’s pyramid of values. It is the individual becoming self-actualized. It is that which, in the deepest sense, make each man or woman an individual. Individuality is not so much exhibited in the individual’s economic existence, as in the individual’s spirit. We all have to eat, we all need clothes and shelter and medical care. These are determined by human physical needs and thus not very individualistic at all. They are common and similar around the world for every human.

Individualism comes, not out of these economic needs, but out of our higher values. Economics is the means for fulfilling this basic, common needs of humankind. When such needs are filled the man individual pursues their higher order needs for self-actualisation. This is when individuality blossoms.

This is exhibited in what the individual thinks, reads, and the views they express. It is shown in the music that he loves, the art she pursues, the clothes she wears, the values each pursues. This is only possible when our lower order needs have been met. When the human stomach is full, the body is warm and healthy, then we can pursue the values that makes each of us different from others.

It is here the conservative steps in with state controls. He wants to regulate the particular aspect of humanity which makes each of us unique and individual. The conservative may talk about “individualism” but is inherently the enemy of what is true individualism. He wants common values, common “lifestyles,” common moral principles applied to all. This is especially true for the religious conservatives who believe that humans are inherently evil and sinful.

We do see a similarity between the conservative and the socialist. The socialist believes that man, as an economic being, is inherently evil. He will exploit others. They oppose free markets because they believe if economically free the individual will act in immoral ways. The Religious Right believes this about the human spirit. They believe we are born sinful and thus must be regulated by the state to control immorality. The stronger their view on sin the more they wish to wipe out individualism. The Calvinist and the Islamist, in today’s world, are the most extreme on this position.

In our modern world, where most basic economic needs are fulfilled the conservative, more than the socialist, is the main threat to freedom. Socialism has it’s main appeal when man is wanting in material goods even though socialism is a poor means of satisfying those needs. But today basic needs are meet in all but the worst Third World nations.

Fulfil our basic needs and the human individual spirit begins to blossom. That is where we are in most Western nations today. This is what the conservative wants to stop from happening. The target for conservative statism is that core of human values, that which makes each an individual.

The socialist, though not the extreme Leftist, is more likely to leave man’s mind free. It’s his material existence they want controlled. But the conservative’s target is man’s soul. It is his very essence as an individual human being they want regulated and restricted. The conservative and the socialist are similar in that both wish to control that aspect of man’s life which they consider most important. The socialist is obsessed with man’s material well being and hence wishes to control his material existence. The conservative is obsessed with our spiritual nature and thus wants it regulated. Ayn Rand first mentioned this trend in her 1973 article Censorship: Local and Express. [Note: Rand uses the word “liberal” not in its accurate sense but in it’s popular American sense of meaning socialist.]

Rand wrote: …Conservatives want freedom to act in the material realm… But they advocate government control of man’s spirit, i.e., man’s consciousness; they advocate the State’s right to impose censorship, to determine moral values, to create and enforce a governmental establishment of morality, to rule the intellect. The liberals [socialists] want freedom to act in the spiritual realm… But they advocate government control of material production…

The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories-with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals [socialists] see man as a soul freewheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe-but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread.”

Yet is is the conservatives who are predominantly religionists, who proclaim the superiority of the soul over the body, who represent what I call the ‘mystics of spirit.’ And it is the liberals [socialists] who are predominantly materialists, who regard man as an aggregate of meat, and who represent what call the ‘mystics of muscle.’

This is merely a paradox, not a contradiction; each camp wants to control the realm it regards as metaphysically important, each grants freedom only to the activities it despises.

The typical socialist of today will snatch some of our wealth so as to “help” others. The conservative wants to take away our spiritual freedom. They want “religious” values imposed from the top down. They want a common private morality enforced on all. In this sense they target the most essential aspect of being human. The socialist wants some of your money, but the conservative wants your mind.

I am not saying economic freedom is not important; it is. If I am taxed at 20 percent or 18 percent is of some importance, but it doesn’t touch the core of who I am. It is our social freedom that reaches the core of each person. Economics allows us to make choices but social freedom IS the choice. Economics is the means of achieving social goals. So I think taking away freedom of thought or expression is more of a violation of human personhood than taking an extra 5% in taxes. Denying people the freedom of their love does not pick their pocket but it violates their soul. As the founder of the Nazi resistance group, The White Rose, Hans Scholl warned the Nazis, “If you tear our hearts from our bodies, you yourselves will burn to death for it.” It is far uglier to reach in and rip someone’s heart out, metaphorically, than to take some of his income. Social control violates people at a far deeper level of their humanity.

Conservatives today, particularly the Religious Right, are attacking man at his core. They are attacking his individuality. They want to collectivize his soul. At this time in history I believe that is far more of a threat than what the Left proposes to do to us.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.