IT CAN HAPPEN HERE
U.S. politics today are not democratic politics. Economic power is political power, and in the United States many of the holders of economic power have ceased to engage in democratic politics. Raw economic power has transformed the “Republican Party” into a shelter for a self-confessed revolutionary movement. This is not a conspiracy “theory.” There is a highly organized, well-funded Radical Libertarian conspiracy engaged in effecting a kind of rolling state-by-state coup d’etat which would replace democratic government with an oligarchy serving the interests of only the wealthy. As historian Nancy MacLean put it in Democracy in Chains (p.231), “The pursuit of states’ rights is not an atavistic racial reflex for the insiders . . . but a cold-eyed way to secure minority rule.”
One needn’t resort to such foot-noted studies for evidence of this conspiracy. One need only acknowledge that people like Grover “I-just-want-to-shrink-it-down-to-the-size-where-we-can-drown-it-in-the-bathtub” Norquist mean what they say. And what they leave unsaid can be observed in what they do: suppress the vote, gerrymander voting districts, undermine the power of labor, attack public education, and generally shrivel the public realm.
The values behind these efforts are explicitly anti-democratic, for they deny the right of the demos—the people—to rule. They are anti-republican, for they reject the legitimacy of the “res publica” itself. The movement seeks a de facto revolution in the American constitution.
We must realize that the current political conflict is not a debate about policy and programs conducted between groups committed to shared fundamental values. The “Republican” objective is not to change policies but to change the constitution itself. The Radical Libertarians reject the egalitarian philosophy of the Declaration of Independence. Their philosophy is profoundly elitist, contemptuous of the vast majority, to whom it would concede absolutely no say in government. Its notion of liberty is restricted to the right of any individual to make and keep as much money as possible by any means possible. It recognizes no other rights, civil or human; it rejects utterly the idea that the purpose of government is to secure the rights of all to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It values wealth, not people. It values power, it possesses great power, and it seeks to wield that power without restraint.
If living in a world governed by such values is not attractive, then we need to do more than merely resist. We need to fight ideology with ideology, not with programs and policies. We need to actively reaffirm the importance of democracy. We need a rededication to the “self-evident truths” of the Declaration of Independence, the political philosophy that animates our Constitution and the constitutions of all democratic states.
Jefferson’s summary of America’s revolutionary philosophy begins with the assertion of human political equality as its fundamental principle. Political equality is the foundation of democratic government, not an end to be achieved by government. Because of that equality, all people are possessed of rights based on their humanity, not on any achievements such as the accumulation of great wealth. The function of government is to secure those rights—an undefined number of rights including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—for all, and the powers of government are legitimized solely by “the consent of the governed.”
Radical Libertarians would cast aside all of those values. They would reduce “the governed” who give consent to the very wealthy, a group that, generously defined, might include as much as 1% of the American population.
We also need to be clear that private capitalism and democratic politics are not the same thing. Both emerged out of the individualizing impulse of the Renaissance, but in spite of the fantasies of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, economic activity alone is not capable of organizing a social order of any complexity. Not all values can be monetized. Property rights are basic to freedom, but human freedom cannot be reduced to property rights. Our greatest national failure, the ultimate source of much of the divisiveness in contemporary life, was slavery, the institutionalized triumph of property rights over human rights.
The dynamics of unchecked capitalism will inevitably overwhelm the claims of human rights. Wherever capital has been unconstrained by the power of a countervailing political system—think Nazi Germany, communist nations, other countries in which political and economic power are unified as in Pinochet’s Chile—human rights suffer, often catastrophically.
It can happen here