The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Individualists and the Gospel of Conformity

When conservatives attempt to shore up their sinking ship they often claim their ideology is inherently libertarian — instead of the obvious choice: authoritarian.

In spite of such juvenile attempts, the differences are obvious to objective observers. One of the most outspoken voices of the theocratic Right is Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. Not long ago he wrote:

“Perhaps the most sinister and dangerous lie the left has beaten into the brains of unthinking Americans is that there is strength in diversity. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Fischer claimed “strength is found in unity and not diversity” and countries should be like football teams:

Successful football teams wear identical uniforms, take directions from one coach, follow one game plan, and serve one high school, college or franchise. It is utter bilge and dangerous falsehood to believe that there is some kind of mystical strength in diversity.

Serve one purpose, follow one plan, take orders from one coach, and wear matching uniforms! Has anyone seriously proposed such an idea since Mussolini was strung from a lamppost? No wonder Fischer and his fellow religious authoritarians lined up behind the campaign of the Mussolini of the Republican Party

Libertarianism has many strands but none are supportive of this nonsense. Two figures of influence — one popular, the other academic — were Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek.

In the 1940s, Rand, then a scriptwriter in Hollywood, suggested that film scripts should never preach conformity. “Don’t preach that everybody should be and act alike.”

Don’t fall for such drivel as ‘I don’t wanna be dif’rent — I wanna be just like ever’body else’. You’ve heard this one in endless variations. If ever there was an un-American attitude this is it. America is the country where every man wants to be different — and most men succeed at it.

“If you preach that it is evil to be different — you teach every particular group of men to hate every other group, every minority, every person, for being different from them; thus lay the foundation of race hatred.”

Would Fischer go that far? Yes. He argues: “Racial diversity is a strength only if it is subsumed under an overarching unity of values and purpose.” He said American unity is based on Christianity and the Ten Commandments and anyone is welcome to come to America “IF they embrace these fundamental values…

Must one embrace Christianity to be allowed into America? Did Mr. Fischer really mean to imply “Jews Need Not Apply?”

Of course, the idea that preaching conformity teaches hatred toward those not like oneself is proven by Fischer. His vitriolic hatred toward the LGBT community is notorious. I would go so far as to say his fundamentalist Christianity is inherently hateful. Any study of history shows fundamentalists were in the forefront of the Nativists and Know-Nothings who despised the Irish, Chinese, Jews and Catholics. American fundamentalism was intimately linked to the Klan. It tended to support slavery, Jim Crow laws, and opposed the Civil Rights movement.

Fundamentalism has been, and is, the prime example of Rand’s warning: those who preach conformity teach their followers to hate anyone who is different from them.

Fischer’s collectivism demands subordination of the individual to the collective. He wants “unity of purpose.” “Energy that could be harnessed through unity of purpose and values is frittered away.”

What does he mean by “energy that could be harnessed?” He isn’t talking about solar power; he’s talking about human energy. He wants individuals “harnessed through unity of purpose” instead of being allowed freedom to fritter their lives away on individualistic endeavors. It is precisely this kind of conformism Hayek warned about:

Where there is one common all-overriding end there is no room for any general morals or rules. …[W]here a few specific ends dominate the whole of society, it is inevitable that occasionally cruelty may become a duty, that acts which revolt all our feelings, such as the shooting of hostages or the killing of the old or sick, should be treated as mere matters of expediency…. There is always in the eyes of the collectivist a greater goal which these acts serve and which to him justifies them because the pursuit of the common end of society can know no limits in any rights or values of any individual.

Hayek’s libertarianism was in the liberal tradition — I argue all libertarianism is a variant of liberalism and the idea of the conservative “ally” is a delusion. Hayek said the main difference between his views and those of the conservative is “that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion.” In his The Constitution of Liberty (1960) he said “The most conspicuous instance of this in our society is that of the treatment of homosexuality.”

In the almost six decades since Hayek wrote that, things have not changed a lot. The intolerant conservative is still obsessed with “the treatment of homosexuality” as Mr. Fischer exhibits on an almost daily basis. It seems Fischer is more obsessed with homosexuality than are homosexuals. Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative” perfectly dissects the collectivism and authoritarianism of theocrats such as Fischer, though written when Fischer was a child.

Hayek said the conservative only “feels safe and content” when “some higher wisdom watches and supervises change” and yearns for some “authority” to keep things under control. They are not opposed “to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. “He regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.”

The true liberal, wrote Hayek, “will never regard himself as entitled to impose [his own spiritual beliefs] on others and that for him the spiritual and the temporal are different spheres which ought not to be confused.”

The classical liberal, or libertarian tradition is NOT some variant of conservatism. It is its polar opposite. Classical liberalism opposed the mind-set of the Bryan Fischers of its day. The sooner modern libertarians realize conservatives are not their friends, the sooner they can get around to actually promoting the extension of individual rights for all people — including people conservatives hate.

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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.