The Improbability of Liberty Through Political Means

In a collectivist oriented power structure, increased liberties flowing from a particular leader or political party holding office, are highly improbable. Two analysts, from two different times, places and professions, share many understandings on the nature of authoritarian governments. Economics writer, Gordon T. Long, in his article An Orwellian America, discusses the United States descent into totalitarianism. Long’s analysis of our unfolding political environment has much in common with playwright, dissident and, much later, president of the new Czech Republic,  Václav Havel’s analysis of the political environment of 1978 communist Czechoslovakia in his essay The Power of the Powerless.

Havel describes one feature of the nature of power, in what he calls a post-totalitarian system, is that it is contained in the system itself. Unlike a classical dictatorship, power is not focused on an individual or even a political party. Sure, there may be a leader, possibly even an elected leader, but the system does not profoundly change based on who that leader is. Havel explains that the role of the ruler, is often overrated because even though they are the focal point of great power, they are often “blind executors” – they do not reflect upon the laws of the system, but rather let it move automatically on its course.

The laws of the system, have their own logic, irrelevant to human needs. In other words, the laws of the system are incongruent with natural law. Instead, the system’s purpose is the continuity of the system. This continuity — this seemingly unstoppable motion, is what Havel refers to as the automatist system.

Havel claims that the appointment of specific leaders, even if elected, would not affect the consistency and direction of the automatist system in any profound way. Gordon T. Long claims that this has been the case in the United States, as it has move toward collectivism since the establishment of The Fed in the early 20th century. He argues that during the last few administrations, we have moved more quickly to the other side of the continuum, away from personal and economic freedom, towards personal and economic security – from individual liberty to socialism. In the chart below, Long places Clinton and Reagan closer to the ideals of liberty – both personal and economic, than either Bush or Obama.

The Political Continuum – An Orwellian America By Gordon T. Long

Long explains that both Republicans and Democrats are socialist in their belief that government should “run or mold society.”  Both parties have demonstrated that they will grow government, both in size and in reach to obtain that objective. Their differences are in the methods of control, and in who pays for and who benefits from wealth redistribution. The point that he makes, is that both parties are simply walking on the left side and the right side of their shared path to totalitarianism.

Illustration from An Orwellian America By Gordon T. Long

Long uses the 2008 Obama versus McCain presidential election to show the lack of real choices between the competitive candidates. Obama (the blue circle) and McCain(the red circle) are fairly close on the collectivism side of the illustration, each favoring a slightly different left/right leaning.  Although Obama and McCain had a few discernible differences, they did not represent different sides of the individualism/collectivism divide. The one candidate in that election who did offer a truly different view of America, Ron Paul (the yellow circle), was considered wacko by the mainstream media and both primary political parties. He was even rejected by many of his supporters as a throw-away vote. Individualism and Liberty proved to be personae non gratae in political America.

Because of my own skepticism of any real and viable choices, I found both the 2008 and 2012 election seasons quite discouraging. Obama and Romney offered little variation in their interpretations of the place of government in American life. Ron Paul was again the different candidate, but got very little voter support.

Based on his essay, Havel might say that Ron Paul did not hide his independent will enough to enter the power structure at the highest level.  He observed that “In any case, experience has taught us again and again that this automatism is far more powerful than the will of any individual; and should someone possess a more independent will, he must conceal it behind a ritually anonymous mask in order to have the opportunity to enter power at all.” If such a person does manage to enter into politics, Havel explains, he is either “ejected from the power structure like a foreign organism”, like Ron Paul, or he will “resign his individuality gradually” and become part of that stronger will. This is why Havel believes that politically driven changes to a post-totalitarian government are unlikely. He argues that change must come through the non-political sphere.

Gordon T. Long doesn’t hold out much hope for politically driven change that would increase liberty either. In his analysis, he concludes that “we are one crisis away from a police state” and that “it is only a matter of time and circumstance.”

I concur. Unless the American voters suddenly stop evaluating their candidates in terms of left and right, and begin to consider liberty as the weightier matter, I believe that our descent into totalitarianism will continue to accelerate.

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