Why Conservatives Have Lost the Political Battle
for America's Soul
Tea Party Economist
by Gary North: Government
Bonds and Bondage
This was posted
on one of GaryNorth.com forums.
for Americas political soul is always fought on the battlefield
of federal politics. Thats why conservatives lose, generation
would you please elaborate on this, why you believe the battle
for Americas political soul is fought in Federal politics
and why it is that conservatives continue to lose, generation
From the time
of the ratification of the United States Constitution, American
politics shifted to the national level. One of the things that I
realized late in my career, even though I had been trained as an
historian of the colonial period, was this: it is virtually impossible
to write a history of the United States after 1788 without dividing
it into four-year segments. Presidential election years set the
tone for the direction of the country, and this has been true ever
since the early 19th century, when the federal governments
share of the economy was minimal. It is not a matter simply of money;
it is a matter of political legitimacy. Issues of legitimacy are
much more important than issues of taxation. Legitimacy tells what
the taxes will be spent on. That is far more important than the
amount of taxes collected.
is this: voting for the President, who is the only representative
of all the people, is functionally a covenantal act. People ratify
a particular President, and in doing so, they transfer authority
and legitimacy to him and to his administration.
Prior to the
ratification of the Constitution, these events were limited to state
and local governments, and before that to colonial governments that
were technically under the authority of the King of England. Politics
was local, and the great issues of the day were also local. These
issues differed from state to state, or from colony to colony.
There was no
national civil government. There was no national political issue
that confronted citizens in every region. Because there was no national
government, there was no means of covenant ratification, which first
took place in 1788. There was no means of covenant renewal nationally.
So, people did not think of themselves as Americans; they thought
of themselves as residents of their particular state.
It is difficult
to write a history of the United States politically prior to 1775.
Other than the American Revolution, there were no national political
events. There were so many different colonies, and so many different
issues, that the focus of the historian of necessity moves to issues
of economics, social institutions, literary trends, political theory
in general, marriage patterns, church planting, and basically nonpolitical
issues. These are what conservatives regard, at least in theory,
as the central issues of civilization.
with political conservatives today is that the Constitution created
a national government, and this national government has the power
to tax. It has grown systematically and without reversal since 1788.
The issues of the day are increasingly those of national politics,
because the federal government extracts a greater percentage of
the publics wealth than any other single institution. When
there is that much loot to be divvied up, everybody wants to get
his hands into the pile of loot. In taking this money, the government
legitimizes certain activities of the government, and these activities
steadily replace private institutions and local governments. The
money that the government collects baptizes the various proposals
that special interest groups have for national renewal. Renewal
is seen as political. It takes a lot of money to redo the whole
social thought de-emphasizes politics. This is why conservative
social thought never gains much of a hearing in the modern world.
The modern world is so obviously political, and the power of central
governments is so great over every area of life, that all issues
become politicized. The traditional conservative opposition to the
very suggestion of political salvation is co-opted by their enemies.
Conservatives over and over go out to vote as if their votes will
fundamentally change the nature of American society. Ultimately,
this cannot be true if conservative social theory is correct. Ultimately,
the political institutions represent the people, and the great issues
of daily life are not political; they are social, ethical, economic,
ecclesiastical, and educational. The great issues of life are not
political, yet at the same time the central government is pushing
its way into every area of life. It is politicizing that which was
not political prior to the Enlightenment.
So, the conservative
faces a dilemma. He wants to make the case for a particular national
political candidate in terms of conservative values, but conservative
values tell him that no political candidate can do much of anything
to make the country any better. If the essence of social life is
nonpolitical, which is what the conservative says is the case, then
how can an election every four years fundamentally change the foundations
of American life?
I always quote
written by political activist Paul Weyrich in 1999, in which
he specifically said that we have lost the culture war, which ultimately
is an ethical war. He did not see how politics could roll back the
debauchery that America has become. He did not think that anything
that could be done at the federal level through politics could fundamentally
reverse what Robert Bork called slouching towards Gomorrah.
believes in something like political salvation. He believes in political
healing of every area of life. He believes that federal power, coupled
with federal money, can make society better. Therefore, he is active
in politics, he puts faith in politics, and he puts a whole lot
of money in politics. He sees political mobilization is the heart
of social transformation. He becomes highly skilled at getting votes.
He becomes a master at political fund-raising. He has all of the
skills that a professional has in any field, and he is up against
conservatives whose very philosophy of life militates against political
salvation and hard-core political mobilization.
So, every four
years the conservatives go off to vote, telling themselves that
this is going to change something fundamental in the country. It
never does. It can accelerate certain trends. But, given what George
W. Bush did to the budget deficit, and given what he did in Middle
Eastern wars, it is hard to make a case that the election of Al
Gore would have made America far worse than it is today. The great
thing about Al Gore was that he was indecisive. He did not trust
his gut in the way the George W. Bush trusted his.
I suppose the
best example in my lifetime was Franklin Roosevelts decision
in 1944 to replace Henry Wallace with Harry Truman as Vice President.
Henry Wallace was the most radical political figure ever to advance
to national politics. He was further to the left than Huey Long.
He would have replaced Roosevelt in April of 1945. Had he done so,
America would be a far better place to live in. Harry Truman personally
imposed the modern national security state. It was Truman who created
the CIA. It was Truman who created the foundation of the Department
of Homeland Security. It was Truman who expanded Americas
Empire around the world. It was Truman who got us into the Korean
War, and would not even call it a war, never gaining congressional
approval. Wallace would never have been able to get that through
Congress, because conservatives in Congress would have opposed him.
Everybody knew how far to the left he was, and he had no national
constituency of his own. Conservatives looked at Truman as preferable
to Wallace. They make that sort of mistake all the time.
the conservative movement by its own nature is not an effective
political competitor. Because local issues are far more tied to
social issues, where conservatives say a country is established,
they are better equipped to fight political battles of the local
level than liberals are. Liberals look to Washington for salvation;
conservatives ought to look to county government as a barrier against
the expansion of the federal government into their lives. But they
do not know the philosophy of local government which undergirded
the foundation of this nation, beginning in the colonial era, and
extending even through the period immediately preceding the ratification
of the Constitution. That legacy has got to be restored, and conservatives
have got to adopt it. If they do not adopt it, we are simply going
to get more of the same, until the federal government finally goes
Sadly, I think
that is what is going to happen. I do not think most conservatives
are going to spend the time, money, and effort to build up local
resistance governments at the county level to step in when Washingtons
checks bounce. They will have to do it after the Great Default.
with permission from the Tea
North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
2012 Gary North
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