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Monday, May 9, 2011

A Revolt for the Principles of Liberty

The similarities between our political parties are particularly striking. Libertarians/classical liberals often express confusion as to why more individuals don’t see this. First, as election models in economics have shown us, politicians must capture the median voter if they wish to win elections. And more importantly, both political parties define the role of government in the same, decidedly un-classical liberal, way. As Leonard E. Read once said, “Therefore, the people had no choice except between power-seeking personalities and groups, each promising a superior administration of government-as-master. Such a choice was and still is no choice at all.”

The above quote from Leonard Read is from his brilliant 1948 essay, Pattern for Revolt. The reason liberty is slipping from our grasps is due to our attention to expediency over our principles. In order to sound more attractive and gain more followers, especially in politics, we make compromises that sacrifice our liberal ideals.

The revolt that Read believed was necessary back in 1948, is still necessary today. We must rebel against all political devices and ideas that place the government in the role of master. Anti-liberal policies are slipped through because the voice of expediency whispers in our ear, “heed the voice of your conscience and you will lose five million votes!” And many of us listen. But, as Read noted, “This voice always misleads. Of necessity it must mislead because it represents the rejection of moral principles for the hope of temporary gain.”

If we are to revolt, we must reject expediency altogether and ask, “What is right?” The role of the libertarian/classical liberal is to say what he believes to be true and right not what is popular. This is not an easy task, especially since our ideas are not in popular accord, but if we are truly to ever succeed, compromises cannot be made. It is better to stand for true liberty and lose than to win at the cost of our freedoms. There is no guarantee for victory, but if we don’t try then there is no hope. How can we change when we continually do the same thing over and over again?

Today’s document is a letter from Rose Wilder Lane to Leonard Read from August 16, 1948. Lane informs Read of two politicians, in a fringe political party, who were very influenced by Pattern for Revolt, one even quoted the essay in his nomination acceptance speech. Of course, these two politicians did not win in the election, but this is besides the point. A truly free society is built upon principles. Expediency is a cheat; the role of compromise in these principles is the distortion of liberty and growth of the state.

If there is one complaint about Pattern for Revolt it is the concentration upon the political process. The principles of liberty need to start with our understanding. The revolt, or revolution, needs to start in the world of ideas. If we lose the battle of ideas, elections won’t matter. The pattern for revolt must come from our loudly expressed and uncompromised principles of liberty.

Read the Pattern for Revolt by Leonard E. Read here.

  • Nicholas Snow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College in the Department of Economics, and previously a Senior Lecturer at The Ohio State University Economics Department. His research focuses on the political economy of prohibition.