Those of us who advocate less government, are usually described as conservatives. We don't particularly like the word "conservative," because it sounds rather miserly and stingy - especially when compared to the word "liberal" which sounds so much more generous and humane. But the shading of the word isn't our only objection to it. We could live with that so long as it accurately described the beliefs this country was founded upon, but it does not. Many who are presently labeled "conservatives" wish only to conserve and expand the present programs that now dominate our government and our nation. We are not among those ranks, I can assure you. We do not want to conserve the present system of high taxes, deficit spending, expanding welfare programs, foreign aid, leniency to criminals, no-win wars, and ever-increasing government controls. These are the jealously guarded bastions of liberalism. Yesterday's liberals are all to often the conservatives of today.
The debate--or the dialogue, as it is now called--is not between conservatives and liberals. It goes back in history long before those words were ever invented. The opposing points of view properly are identified as individualism versus collectivism, and their champions are called individualists and collectivists. These words have meaning. They accurately identify the political thoughts they represent. Like the founders of this nation we regard ourselves as individualists, and here are the differences between the two, as we see them.
First of all, the individualist believes that the rights of the individual must not be obliterated by the desires of the collective or the group. The collectivist, on the other hand, believes that the group is more important than the single person within it, and that the individual must be sacrificed, if necessary, for the greater good of the greater number.
The individualist believes that with rights, come responsibilities. And, since we insist on individual rights, therefore, we accept the principle of individual responsibility rather than group responsibility. We believe that every man has a personal and direct responsibility to provide, first for himself and for his family, and then for those outside his family who may be in need.
The collectivist, on the other hand, declares that the individual is not personally responsible for charity, for raising his own children, providing for his aging parents, or even providing for himself, for that matter. This is a group function of the state, of government itself. As a matter of fact, this is always one sure way to spot who is an individualist and who is a collectivist. The individualist wants to be free to do it himself. The collectivist wants the government to do it for him. He is enamored by government. He idolizes government. he has a fixation on government as the ultimate group mechanism to solve all problems. The reason is that government is the one group that can legally force everyone to participate. It has the power of taxation, backed by jails and force of arms, if necessary, to compel everyone to fall in line.
And this leads to the third difference between the two groups. Simply stated, the individualist believes in freedom; the collectivist believes in compulsion. Let me give a few illustrations.
As stated a moment ago, we believe that every man has a personal responsibility to provide for himself, if he can, and for his dependents. This means that, routinely, we should all set aside a portion of our current earnings for the inevitability of unemployment through sickness, accident, or retirement. But, as individualists, we also believe that we should be free not to do this, if, for whatever reasons, we prefer to act in some other manner. If we wish to live to the full extent of our income and plan to depend on our children or other relatives in our old age, or if we choose to take our chance on a greater income in later years, or even if we choose, consciously, to fall back on charity as a way of life, for whatever reason, we believe that a person should be free to choose his own course. We have no right to force him to comply with our ideas of what he should do.
By contrast, the collectivist says that, since some people don't have the brains or the will-power or the desire to save on their own, let us pass a law and use government to force them. There must be no freedom of choice in this matter, otherwise there'll be many who won't do what we know they should do.
This same contrast can be seen in the area of charity. We believe that every man has a personal responsibility to be generous to those in need. But, as individualists, we also believe that a man should be free not to be charitable if he doesn't want to. If he prefers to give to a different charity than the one we urge on him, if he prefers to give a smaller amount than what we think he should give, or if he prefers not to give at all, we believe we do not have any right to gang up on him and force him. We may try to persuade him to do so. We may appeal to his conscience to do so. But we may not force him to do so, either directly by mob violence, or indirectly by the ballot box. In either case, the principle is the same. It's called stealing. True charity is the voluntary giving of your own money. Government charity is the giving of someone else's money, which, of course, is why it's so popular.
And so, the individualist believes that every man should be charitable, but that compulsory charity is not really charity at all. It's merely legalized theft. Therefore, he believes that every man must be free in this matter to act or not to act, as he sees fit.
The collectivist believes just the reverse. He proclaims that, because there are some who will not be charitable as we think they should be, let us pass a law and use government to force them. Let's not call it stealing, though, Let's call it welfare.
For one additional illustration to round out the point, individualists believe that every man should be free to join a union in order to gain bargaining power and be more effectively represented with his employer. But we also believe that he should be free not to join a union if he doesn't want to. If he feels that a particular union doesn't represent his best interests, or that the union leadership is corrupt, or that it's spending his dues money to promote political programs contrary to his choice, or, for whatever reason, he should be free not to join a union if he doesn't want to.
The collectivist, of course, replies that unions are good. Therefore, let us pass a law making it illegal for an employer to hire a non-union man. In this way, we will use the power of government to force any man who wants a good job to join the union. He must not be given freedom of choice.
And so it goes, on almost every conceivable issue in which the end result generally is conceded to be desirable. As individualists, we believe in freedom of choice. The collectivist, inevitably, turns to the coercion of government force.
We hear a lot of talk today about right-wingers, left-wingers, extremists and moderates. So let's turn now, to the question of the political spectrum.
The political spectrum concept, if it has any meaning at all, is a measurement scale showing all the variations in government, ranging from zero at one end to 100% at the other. The extremists at the zero end would be those who advocate no government at all, the anarchists. The extremists at the other end would be those who advocate total government. And who are they? The Communists, of course, but also the Nazis, the Fascists, and any others, no matter what they may call themselves; if they advocate total government control over the people, they are all, by definition, totalitarians. Communism and Nazism are not opposites.
As you recall, the official name of the Nazi Party really was the National Socialist Party. So, whereas Nazism advocated national socialism, Communism advocates international socialism. Whereas Nazism promoted race hatred, Communism promotes class hatred. Whereas Nazism directed all industry and commerce by government controls over the managers, Communism controls all industry and commerce by confiscating it first and then appointing the managers. And that is the total difference between the two systems. Call it Right or Left, it makes no difference, they're both at the same totalitarian end of the political spectrum.
But where do Constitutionalists fit into this picture? Aren't we supposed to be the extremists? That's what we hear constantly. Well, the truth of the matter is, we turn out to be the real middle of the roaders. Not that we think that's any particular virtue in itself, but we are just as opposed to the extreme of anarchy as we are to the extreme of totalitarianism.
In essence, anarchy and totalitarianism, also, are the same. Under anarchy, the strongest individuals inevitably will rule over the weak with all the ruthlessness of the totalitarian. The only difference is the size of the dominion. Under anarchy, instead of one large despotism, there are many small ones. Freedom is dead in either case.
Because of this fact, the "linear" concept of the political spectrum gives way to a "circular" concept in which both extremes, anarchy and totalitarianism, join together. Regardless of which concept is used, however, as Individualists we believe in the principles of limited government and oppose any movement which tends to polarize in the extremes, be they separate or joined.
We recognize that government is absolutely necessary for any orderly society. But following the dictum that government, like fire, is both beneficial and dangerous, we believe in the concept of limited government. And we believe that the Constitutional Republic created by our Founding Fathers is the best form of limited government that has yet been devised by man.
To understand why we feel this way, it will be necessary to define the word "republic" and to point out the differences between a republic and a democracy.
The word "democracy" has two meanings. As commonly used today, it's generally accepted to describe our American concept of free elections and representative government. But it has a classic definition which is not nearly so flattering. During the debates surrounding the Constitutional Convention, the framers of that document made it very clear that democracy was the worst possible form of government, leading always to mob rule and anarchy, and then to despotism and dictatorship. They said, in no mistakable terms, that they were not establishing a democracy in America, but a republic. As a result the word "democracy" doesn't appear anywhere in our Constitution. And when we pledge allegiance to our flag, it's to the Republic for which it stands, not the democracy.
All of this was clearly known to students of American history until fairly recently. The big change came when we were thrown into what was called "the war to make the world safe for Democracy." And ever since, Americans have been increasingly accepting the new meaning for democracy and forgetting the old meaning for republic.
We would be quite content to accept the new definitions and forget the old except for the fact that nowhere in the new vocabulary are there words which can be used to convey the old meanings. If we wish to discuss the differences between a republic and a democracy at all, we simply have no choice but to return to the older definitions that existed prior to World War 1.
Democracy is a form of government based upon the principle of majority rule. Period. End of discussion. Now, that's not very complicated. Majority rule. It's easy to understand, easy to sell to the masses, and, I might add, deadly! For example, what would you call a lynch-mob? That's majority rule. There's only dissenting vote, and he's at the end of the rope. That's pure democracy in action!
"Ah, but wait a minute," you say. "The majority should rule. Yes, but not to the extent of destroying the rights of the minority." And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are no longer describing a democracy, we are speaking of a republic.
A republic is a limited democracy. It's a form of government based on the principle of limited majority rule, limited so that the minority--can be protected against the whims and passions of the majority.
How do you protect the minority from the majority? You write down a set of rules on a piece of paper. You say "This we can do. That we cannot." At the top of the paper you write the word "Constitution." Then everyone agrees to follow the rules no matter what the temptation. And when you're finished, you've created a Constitutional Republic.
Notice that the entire function of our Bill of Rights is to spell out in detail the many ways in which the majority acting through government, must not be allowed to infringe on the rights of the minority. The First Amendment sets the pace with the words: "Congress shall pass no law," and then the document proceeds to explain that Congress, even though it expresses the will of the majority, shall not deny the minority the right of free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, the right to bear arms, and others. congress shall not. The majority shall not. This is the meaning of a republic.
And it didn't just happen that way accidentally. Our Founding Fathers knew exactly what they were doing. Remember that interesting exchange of letters between Thomas Jefferson and a friend who had criticized him for being distrustful of men with political power? Using the same argument we hear so often today, the friend asked, "Have you no faith in the men we elect? have you no confidence in our government? And remember that beautiful reply? Jefferson said" "Confidence is everywhere the parents of despotism.... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." There, in a single phrase, is the best summary you'll ever find of a republic: Binding men down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution. And this is the concept of limited government in which the we believe.
To translate this general concept of limited government into something specific and tangible, it follows that the we do NOT think that taxes are too high. That's right. Taxes are merely the price of government, and you have to pay for what you get. Every year the American people apparently want more government. They clamor for more services, more benefits, but, oh, how they complain when the bill comes in the mail. Actually, taxes aren't high enough. For years the government has been spending more than it takes in. This deficit spending has caused inflation. Inflation has undermined the value of our money. It has decreased the incentive to save, and has shifted a heavy portion of the cost of government onto our senior citizens and others on fixed incomes. So, taxes really should be higher to pay for the government we have.
We believe, therefore, that taxes are not too high, but that government is too big! That's the problem. If we ever really want to reduce taxes, we'd better get the horse back in front of the cart and begin to talk about ways and means to reduce the size and reach of government, itself. This goal is summarized very concisely by the motto:
Less government, more individual responsibility, and, with God's help, a better world.
Copyright 1972 by G. Edward Griffin