The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

The Conservative Menace and the Great Dichotomy

Too often individuals who tell me they support individual rights and individual liberty seem to think the definition of rights and liberty is solely about economics while issues such as censorship, reproductive rights, police abuse, all take second place, if they even get that much attention.

I have had people point to the two most authoritarian states today — Florida and Texas — and call them bastions of liberty. Ask them what they mean and the answers are solely economic. They may point to indexes of the state, which almost solely concentrate on economic issues. Those that have included social freedoms tend to weigh the importance of issues in favor of the economic, putting social freedoms in distant second place.

What they miss is the great dichotomy in values people hold. Maslow saw a hierarchy of needs and noted the lower order needs versus the higher order needs. I define them slightly differently. The lower order needs were things like shelter, safety, and food, but higher order needs he termed as self-actualization.

I prefer to see the lower order needs as the needs of the herd and higher order needs are the needs of the individual. Herd needs are largely the same for everyone. No matter who you are you need to eat, you need safety, you need security. Individual needs are completely different. They are a diversity of wants and dreams, and they can differ radically from one person to another.

The herd tends to prefer conformity. In human evolution that used to make sense. In the beginning of human society our species gathered food and hunted. Every other tribe of people was thus a threat. The “other” was the enemy. Instead of raising food they gathered it and whatever one herd took meant another herd couldn’t have. It was a brutish and cruel existence.

Once our species started to produce the things needed, instead of seeking them out, they gained stability previously unknown. Some soon discovered trade with other tribes could actually make both tribes more prosperous.

As time passed lower order needs become less urgent and eventually people started seeking their own individual identity, or what Maslow called self-actualization.

But conservatives wanted to “conserve” conformity—the old way of seeing the world. For them the herd was good and others were still seen as threats. They couldn’t see the world had changed — and for the better. They still clung to the herd mentality, which required snuffing out individualism and demanding social conformity.

Evidence of this can be found on the Religious Right in abundance. Consider the very authoritarian evangelical Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. He said one of the worst lies in American politics “is that there is strength in diversity. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

He compared a strong society to a football team: “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.”

Everyone should dress alike, take order from one ruler, obey the one central plan, serve the collective and obey, obey, obey. Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler and scores of other would be giving Mr. Fischer a standing ovation.

The antithesis of Fischer would be Ayn Rand who defended diversity. She warned, “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.”

Fischer the conservative said individual effort and energy had to harnessed for a “unity of purpose.” The one plan for society would be imposed on all and all would serve that goal — the herd would be triumphant and the individual defeated.

F.A. Hayek, the liberal, warned of this:

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.

The culture war is ultimately about one thing — the annihilation of individualism by the herd.

Some who advocated that libertarians should work with conservatives for economic liberty are now looking at a Republican Party, which is actively waging war on economic liberty as well.

The problem for the theory of “fusionism” is the goal of herd conformity ultimately requires the abolition of economic freedom. You can’t centrally plan the values of 300 million people without also centrally controlling their economic existence.

One thing the Religious Right learned was markets were the enemy of their morality. Markets created the economic prosperity allowing people to pursue their self-actualization needs. Prosperity meant people left the herd and became individuals. The conformity the herd demands is always undermined by economic freedom.

Earlier this month I wrote about the psychological research showing that with increased economic prosperity comes more individualism, and with more individualism comes greater social tolerance and a more charitable view toward others. But the Religious Right, which holds the GOP in their hand, tolerates no one. They demand total obedience and total conformity. To be charitable toward others is to tolerate their sin, something they deem immoral and offensive to their vindictive and violent deity.

Richard Posner, who was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Reagan, wrote a book entitled Sex and Reason. One of the points he made was that economic freedom, by leading to greater prosperity made possible the idea of single motherhood for many women. Economic prosperity liberated women and challenged the concept of wealth being a family creation, not an individual one. Thus it undermined the role evangelicals believe women are condemned to hold—as servants to their husbands.

Posner wrote the changing status of women was due to economic advancement. As women were able to compete in the marketplace and earn their living independent of men we saw “the movement toward sexual permissiveness.” Posner argued this new permissiveness was “a consequence rather than a cause of their changing social and economic status.” He wrote:

[T]raditional sexual morality is founded on women’s dependence upon men. As that dependence lessens, the traditional morality weakens. The function of that morality is to protect the male’s interest in warranted confidence that his children really are his biological issue. Women will cooperate in securing that interest only if they are compensated for doing so, as they were when they need the protection of men in order to have children and when careers not involving children were closed to them. Women need and receive less male protection as their childbearing role diminishes and their market opportunities grow. (Sex and Reason, p 180)

But what markets did for women it did for LGBT individuals as well.

Gay writer Dennis Altman wrote “not only does modern capitalism create the socioeconomic conditions for the emergence of a homosexual identity, it creates the psychological ones as well. In short, the new homosexual could only emerge in the conditions created by modern capitalism.

Sociologist Barry Adams pointed out in Christopher Street that: “Capitalism laid the groundwork for voluntary relationships based on personal preference, the precondition for ‘romantic love.’ Capitalism did not cause romantic love, it allowed it to flourish.”

John D’Emilio wrote something similar saying gay men and lesbians “are a product of history.”

“Their emergence is associated with the relations of capitalism; its free labor system — that has allowed large numbers of men and women in the late twentieth century to call themselves gay, to see themselves as part of a community of similar men and women, and to organize politically on the basis of that identity.”

The very things conservatives have said they want to eradicate are the results of competitive, depoliticized markets. That was a dilemma for them. Throughout the 70s and 80s the Religious Right rose to power within Republican circles. As they did commitment to markets waned and the desire for an authoritarian social and economic system grew. It took until the rise of the MAGA mobs for the GOP to go full on fascist, proposing the eradication of both social freedom and economic freedom.

They propose a form of fascism run by Republicans with the goal of Christianizing America, dominating the world militarily, and wiping out unchristian faiths and “lifestyles.” In a nutshell if you aren’t one of them, you are the enemy.

Private business will be tolerated, but only when it is kept in check. One example is a recent law in Florida banning private businesses from addressing race issues in employee training programs. A federal judge stopped enforcement and wrote: “Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down. Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely. But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”

This is one good example of how regulation of private business is meant to enforce a rigid social agenda for evangelicals. Another is Republicans proposing legislation making it illegal for health insurance to cover abortions.

The idea markets in Republican states are safe is a fantasy. Just remember what Florida’s Führer Ron DeSantis did to Disney. DeSantis proposed laws to ban the mentioning of gay people in state schools. Disney voiced opposition to the measure. The GOP responded with legislation meant to target Disney and Disney alone. The measure was intended to inflict punishment on one private company for the “crime” of questioning the authoritarian dreams of DeSantis. Jonathan Chait called it correctly when he wrote: “DeSantis has no principled objection to blacklisting, censorship, or propagandistic indoctrination. All he wants is for the whip to be in his own hand.”

Some people are quite willing to give up the social freedom of others in the quest to protect their own economic freedom. But the reality is they are likely to end up with neither. The social agenda of today’s GOP simply can’t be achieved with depoliticized markets. They don’t want the diversity markets bring; they want conformity. They don’t want the individualism and tolerance that comes with economic prosperity. So in the end to achieve their “Christian America” they have to wage war on markets as well. To protect the herd the individual must be annihilated.



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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.