Revolutionaries and Reality
Tibor R. Machan
Those who are loyal to the political values of the American Founders are revolutionaries, far more so than any other type (like the Marxists or radical Muslims). This is because the American Founders identified something brand new and radical when they declared that individuals have unalienable rights to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
This idea overturned thousands of years of official doctrine according to which people belong to the government—the idea that they are subjects, not citizens. Such a notion is fundamentally alien to what the Founders proclaimed and believed is in fact the case, namely, that each intact adult human being is sovereign, a self-governor, and not someone’s slave, serf, or subject.
Sadly although the gist of the Founders’ idea has gained a good deal of influence in many cultures—legal systems and public policies certain give some lip service to it—there is still a great deal of habitual statism in vogue. Many politicians, intellectuals, educators, pundits, and such cling to the notion that you and I and the rest of us belong to some group—the race, nation, tribe, what have you—and so can be conscripted to do service to these never mind whether we consent. Both conservatives and liberals—and indeed nearly all the rest of the political factions—insist that your life isn’t really yours but you owe it to something or somebody else.
This was, of course, the essential teaching of socialists of all stripes, including Karl Marx. It is also the teaching of some of today’s leading political and social thinkers, such as Cass Sunstein, Charles Taylor, Thomas Nagel, Amitai Etzioni, and many others. They all deride individualism, the idea that you and the rest of us are sovereign and to gain our cooperation for any project we need to give our consent, we must be asked and only if we agree may such cooperation be obtained form us.
In the current election year this collectivist idea is especially prominent. It is taken for granted, not even argued for, by most liberal democrats and even by American conservatives, those in the country who claim to be conserving the ideas and ideals of the American Founders but have, in fact, become totally disloyal to them.
So what are the bona fide loyalists to do? What are those to do who insist that the original American position is sound and ought to be the governing set of ideas in this country and, indeed, in any civilized society? There is no one to vote for who embraces these notions except Ron Paul whose numbers aren’t very impressive, even if those who support him have made news with their enthusiasm and willingness to put their money behind their man. Even Dr. Paul isn’t quite the champion of the Founders’ ideas this country needs—someone who stands four squares by the Declaration of Independence rather than, as Paul does, by the much more ambiguous and constantly changing U. S. Constitution.
What the revolutionaries among us need to grasp is just how radical their position really is and how long it takes to make such radical ideas gain currency. Human beings can live by good judgment, their rational thought, but they also live, mostly, by habit. And many of the habits of the human race are flawed and tend to misguide people toward neglecting their sovereignty. Just as some women who have every right to insist on their independence in fact acquiesce to being subjugated by some men, so a great many people, even in America, are embracing the old, reactionary notion that people belong to the government, the king or whoever, not themselves. They do not protest at all when politicians make arbitrary, unjustified claims on their lives and labors, as if these didn’t belong to them at all but could be used and disposed of by the government.
John Locke made clear that “absolute monarchs are but men,” meaning, essentially, that government is simply other people and since no human being has rightful dominion over another—slavery is a vile institution, as is serfdom—the continued belief in government’s authority to expropriate what belongs to us, to conscript our labor against our will, is unjust. But, sadly, it is understandable because old habits are hard to overcome. (Just think of a habit you have which you have learned is destructive to, say, your health. It is often very hard for us to change it.)
So in this election year when our leaders want to continue to govern according to the tenets of the reactionary doctrine that government is our ruler, not our hired professional duty-bound to protect our rights, those who are loyal to the American revolution must continue vigilantly to promote their ideas however hopeless it seems to do so. That is a matter of integrity and in the long run it will also bear fruit.