Cameron Pritchard
Cameron Pritchard

From Washington to Weasels

Close your eyes and think of Thomas Jefferson. Open them and look at George W. Bush or any other weasel-worded, compromising, pragmatic, mainstream politician anywhere in the world. What has happened? What has gone wrong? Gone are the days when politicians were philosophers, with ideas of grand political scope. Gone are the days when concepts such as truth, justice and liberty were the political catchwords. Today, these terms have been replaced by such almost ridiculous notions as "consensus politics," "the third way" or "the knowledge economy" — not the sort of stuff that stirs the blood and starts revolutions. Can lovers of liberty do anything but despair?

We should despair at this state of affairs. For libertarian principles to win, we need a world political stage free from meaningless spin doctor-speak, power-hungry politicians and public opinion poll driven agendas. For liberty to win, we need a return to that lost secret — politics of principle. Only then can we argue why our principles are the right ones. But in a world where principles are actively scorned, the battle will be a difficult one.

We are living in an age of anti-ideology. The major political parties have decided that political theories or broad principles are an albatross around their necks. The word ideologue is employed as if it were a synonym for dogmatist. Every mainstream party flings the term around as if it were some kind of disease they don't want to catch, and happily uses it as an easy way of abusing their opponents. To act out of "ideology," they seem to argue, is to be unconcerned for practical reality, as if being able to deal with reality effectively requires that one ditch one's ability for abstract thought.

There is yet more to despair about. We have just started a new century and yet where is the vision for mankind's future? Where are the philosophers who should be arguing about which is the best road forward for the human race? Where are the commentators discussing the next hundred years rather than the next parliamentary session? The answer is that thinking long-range is just as unpopular as having principles is. Indeed, principles are one way of thinking long-range since they are broad abstractions that can be applied to any given situation now or in the future. We can't think long range can we? Certainly not past the next election anyway!

We could learn something from the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Most of his ideas were disastrous and his particular political ideas were essentially an early blueprint for totalitarianism. But he was on to something in one respect — he held that the leaders of a society should also be philosophers. There is much to be said about this view. Think of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Men of vision all, they dealt with the big political questions — and provided answers. What is the role of the state? To protect man's rights. What can man claim as his rights? The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These men were thinkers, they were men of ideas and yet nobody could possibly doubt their practicality. They were revolutionaries, and established a nation state that was to become the freest and most prosperous nation on Earth. They were examples of the fact that thought and action go hand in hand, and are nothing without the other.

The leaders of a future libertarian society must be philosophers. Likewise, the philosophers of the nearer future must lead us towards liberty by providing its intellectual base (which is why Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is so important). They must also restore the nobility of an intellectual and unashamedly ideological approach to politics. Since even the left doesn't seem too interested in ideas these days, it is an ideal time for the advocates of capitalism to build a moral ideal. Indeed, it is somewhat ironic the degree to which the left, once renowned for its ideological and idealistic approach, scorned the free market reforms of the 1980s for being too ideologically-driven! (In fact, they weren't ideological enough — had they had a moral ideology as well an economic one they may have become more widely supported).

Capitalism's advocates would do well to embrace the free market as a moral ideal, not just as cynics (the "life's a bitch so just accept it and embrace the unfair system of capitalism" approach) nor as narrowly-focused whiz-kids who can remember everything they learnt in high school economics. The advocates of socialism were successful in the twentieth century partly at least because they were simply so zealous. Similarly, capitalism's advocates must see themselves as moral crusaders, with all the righteousness and burning passion of revolutionaries — remembering that there is no split between reason and passion.

We must also present a romantic vision of liberty and what it means in essence — the statists have always had their flags, banners, chants and symbols. What is it we can offer? Objectivism, as a philosophy, can certainly offer a vision of the world based on reason, human potential and achievement. Atlas Shrugged presents such a vision, and when its motif — the dollar sign — can be waved on a flag as proudly as the hammer and sickle has been in the past, then we will have achieved a society based on the kind of values freedom needs to survive — rational self-interest and its results: esteem for those who produce and trade the things we need to survive and flourish.

Capitalism is seen as at best amoral, if not immoral. Sundry humanitarians, embracing something that seems suspiciously like the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, see it as the result of the malicious part of human nature. But in fact, capitalism is based on individualism, and upon an individual's right to think and act on his own independent judgement. This is what the editor of this magazine refers to as "the most sacred thing in the universe" — individual liberty. Capitalism respects every individual's ability to think, and to keep the results of his mental effort. If this is malicious and evil, then we may as well ditch our minds and become zombies — which is what, in effect, the left (and many on the right) want us to do.

Capitalism's advocates must claim ideology — a proper, rational ideology — as their own. They must fight for capitalism as a spiritual ideal. Let us be ideologues unashamedly, with the knowledge that the ideology we adhere to is one of respect for the liberty of the individual's reasoning mind — the attribute of man which has given us all the marvels of our lives and the world around us. Indeed, it is on such terms that we can accept the label "ideologue" as the highest compliment. And having thoroughly scorned pragmatism, and brushed aside all talk of "third ways" or "consensus politics," the day will arrive when we can see on our political landscape, not a Gore or a Bush, but a Thomas Jefferson once more.

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe?