Human nature and history teach us that political labels are used to influence society to accomplish a certain political end. Many times, words used to describe original principles are somehow conquered or hijacked and then proclaimed to be a part of those original principles, but are realistically far from them. As I was growing up, I remember thinking this: “‘liberal’ equals bad and ‘conservative’ equals good.” “Conservative” was proposed to be a word purely describing the principles believed and proclaimed by America’s founding fathers. “Liberal” was proposed to describe those whose only goal was to bring Americans under the control and dominion of the federal government. As it turns out, these words and descriptions were not only misleading and narrow-minded in their application, but they were also incorrect in their origin. Today, neither “conservative” nor “liberal” accurately describe the philosophy and principles they purport to advocate. Consequently, freedom suffers because of America’s ignorance of and infatuation with these labels, contrary to George Washington’s warning of this very tragedy.
The United States were born and raised on the principles of a constitutionally limited government, (state) powers checking (federal) powers, federalism, natural rights, natural laws of God, individual liberty, self-government, consent of the governed, state and individual sovereignty, and meaningful checks and balances, just to name a few. With these ideas, America threw off the enslaving chains of Great Britain’s national and centralized government control in the individual, familial, commercial and religious affairs of the people, to the point that most of our constitution’s framers and ratifiers believed that the government which governs least, governs best. So, were these principles advocated by conservatives or liberals from 1776 to 1787? Perhaps those who call themselves conservatives today should understand the original application of that word before being proud of it. Same goes for liberals.
Conservatives in the 1700 and 1800’s preferred government controls, privileges, monopolies, cartels and subsidies in the areas in which the revolutionary Americans believed government had no business whatsoever. Conservatives were those who wanted America to be the “British system without Great Britain.” (Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty: Libertarian Manifesto, 2nd Ed. [Auburn, AL, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2006], 8. These conservatives unsuccessfully attempted to interject their ideas for a centralized/national and monarchical government at the Constitutional Convention debates in 1787. These conservatives attempted to annihilate the existence, sovereignty and power of the states in the union. (Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Ed. Henry Cabot Lodge, vol. 1, [New York, NY, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904], 397-398, 400: “We must establish a general and national government, completely sovereign, and annihilate the State distinctions and State operations; and, unless we do this, no good purpose can be answered…I believe the British government forms the best model.”) These conservatives possessed Old World ideas completely contrary to the foundations of American Revolution during the 1700 and early 1800s. For this, the Federalist Party died (another example of a deceptive use of a word: in this case, “Federalist”). However, their kind, agenda and philosophy did not die, but still thrives today under different labels, even under the label, “conservative”.
Conversely, liberals of the 1700 and 1800s were those who believed that government was to leave individuals, families, commerce and religion alone; that the freedom of the people to produce and prosper was more important than government sustainability and energy; and that the natural rights of man were to be protected, preferred and secured at the cost of government power and control. It was this freedom movement that led us from victory during the American Revolution in the 1700s to the Industrial revolution in the 1800s. Classic liberal leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams and John Randolph fought vigorously to keep Old World conservatives like John Adams, Henry Clay, and Alexander Hamilton from creating in America through subversive constitutional (de)construction what they could not accomplish through transparent constitutional debates and ratification in 1787. From Jefferson’s Presidential election in 1801 to James Buchanan’s election in 1857, classic liberal concepts, such as laissez-faire, individual and natural rights, state sovereignty and limited and divided government, prevailed in public opinion, believing that “the ideal government…is one which barely escapes being no government at all.” (Henry Louis Mencken, Prejudices: Third Series, [New York, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1922], 292.)
Over time, the labels, “conservative” and “liberal”, changed meaning and application. You hear the word “liberal” today, and every notion contrary to classic liberalism comes to mind. Liberalism’s ideals of freedom were distorted, through the government-controlled education systems, into socialistic and fascist forms and masquerades, where “individual rights” are obtained through government force, control and regulation. Through duplicity and deceit, classic liberalism was replaced with social liberalism, whereby the “[government] must regulate industry for the public good; substitute organized cooperation for the dog-eat-dog of the free and competitive marketplace; and above all, substitute for the nation-destroying liberal tenets of peace and free trade the nation-glorifying measures of war, protectionism, empire and military prowess.” Rothbard, For A New Liberty, 12.
Admittedly, conservatives today attempt to present themselves in a form similar with classic liberals of the 1700 and 1800s, but their substance is far removed from those ideals. Consider this: since Abraham Lincoln, more supposed conservative presidents have been elected than any other political or philosophical category; and yet, since Lincoln, the power of the federal government has become exponentially more centralized and powerful. Like social liberals, these conservatives claim to advocate freedom for society (and even the world!), only this freedom comes by government centralization, control, war and force. Consider the following few historical illustrations.
Abraham Lincoln engaged in what became America’s most horrific war–against our own people, no less! And for what purpose? Most Americans have been taught Lincoln “had to, to save the union”? The truth is, Lincoln destroyed the union, by destroying the principles that formed the union. In Lincoln’s own words, the Civil War was to reform (replace) the original nature and character of the union from a federation of states to a nation of people, despite our original formation under the constitution. Lincoln says, “[T]he awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of national reformation as a whole People[.]” (Abraham Lincoln, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union, [Washington D.C., Government Printing Office, 1899], 106). Lincoln knew that for the ratified federal union to become a national system (which was rejected by the people and founders), the nature and character of the union must be reformed. For this cause, Lincoln waged war against the Confederate States of America, creating substantially the same national system of government that the colonies seceded from in 1776 and the states rejected in 1787. This is “saving the union”!? This is “American”!? This is “freedom”!?
Shortly after the Lincoln administration, President William McKinley led a war against Spain in 1898, eventually giving the United States empirical control of former Spanish colonies, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. What was the driving force behind this “conservative” President?–well, in his own words, to commercialize and imperialize the Spanish territory. McKinley says, “I don’t know how it was, but it came [to me]: (1) that we could not give them [the islands] back to Spain…(2) that we could not turn over to France or Germany – our commercial rivals in the Orient – that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves – they were unfit for self-government – and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them…I told [the War Department] to put the Philippines on the map of the United States…and there they are and there they will stay while I am President!” If there is anything contrary to the American ideal of justice, it is empire-building, colonizing, foreign entanglements, and unjust wars. Yet, many conservative presidents have towed that line.
Even modern conservatives’ model president, Ronald Reagan, adopted the imperialistic approach to the United States’ involvement in foreign affairs–a notion completely contrary to the laws of nations as expressed by our founders. Reagan describes the United States role as peace-giver to the world! He says,
“Our dream, our challenge, and yes, our mission, is to make the golden age of peace, prosperity, and brotherhood a living reality in all countries of the Middle East. Let us remember that whether we be Christians or Jew or Moslem, we are all children of Abraham, we are all children of the same God… If you take away the belief in a greater future, you cannot explain America – that we’re a people who believed we were chosen by God to create a greater world.” (John W. Robbins, Freedom and Capitalism, [Unicoi, TN, The Trinity Foundation, 2006], 123).
To these past conservative presidents, America has to force others to accept (their version of) peace, way of life and government. To do this, of course, America must entangle itself in the affairs of foreign sovereign nations and force the states in the union to participate in unconstitutional acts. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington despised and warned us about these very dangers: empire-building, military-industrial union, corporate statism, and foreign entanglement. Yet, somehow, many conservatives and liberals in America erroneously believe this philosophy to be what our forefathers accepted in principle.
The immeasurable expansion, size and control of the federal government includes both foreign affairs and domestic society–at the hands of both conservative and liberal. Of course, we know that politicians can advocate for good causes, but these causes have been the distraction to the more important and fundamental matters of freedom. What good is it for those on a train heading over a cliff to enjoy the ride before falling? Do you want someone advocating that you have tastier food, more comfortable seats, and a better view on the train or do you want someone trying to stop and reverse the train before falling? Evidently, conservatives and liberals in America have not protected, preserved and defended the American ideals adopted by the people of the states from 1776 to 1787. How do we know? Well, they have had a DU-nopoly in America for the past 150 years. Yet , here we are!
A country does not go from good to bad over night. It takes decades. A country does not go from libertarian to fascist, communist or socialist in a matter of months. It takes generations. You think Obama has caused all of our problems? How ludicrous! By chance, to those who now criticize Obama’s enormous federal spending, did you criticize G.W. Bush for his 4 Trillion dollar debt increase, setting a federal spending record at that time? Wake up! Slavery is accomplished by the gradual sink method, not by the mere election of a democrat or republican president. And if these presidents in fact make this determination, then we no longer live in a confederate republic, but a despotic monarchy; and this whole system is just a matrix of lies and deceit to make the people think they have anything whatsoever to do with the outcome of political, social and individual freedom.
Could I agree with certain ideas advocated by conservatives and liberals? Certainly. Even a blind squirrel will find a nut every so often, and talk is cheap. You cannot dump every American into the red-blue, republican-democrat, conservative-liberal pigeon holes–despite the politicians’ and media’s attempt to do so (because it gives them monopolistic control over all public debate and perception).
However, conservatism and liberalism today are missing the ultimate goal for which our forefathers fought and died, and serve only to place those in power who perpetuate the very form and substance of government that continues to deny us our contractual and natural rights derived from God and secured by our Constitution. If that is what being a conservative and liberal is, I do not classify myself as either. Rather, call me a Freedomist! If you agree, join me!
Tim Baldwin is an attorney who received his Juris Doctor degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a former felony prosecutor for the Florida State Attorney’s Office and now owns his own private law practice. He is author of a soon-to-be-published new book, entitled FREEDOM FOR A CHANGE. Tim is also one of America’s foremost defenders of State sovereignty. See his website.