We all hear about the “left-versus-right” schism in politics. You know how this goes: the evil fascists and Nazis are on the right, and the saintly communists and socialists are on the left.
But the concept of a left-to-right spectrum is worse than wrong; it’s a con. Who are the victims of this con? We are. That’s because the notion of left-versus-right is false and deceptive in the most injurious ways to the causes of freedom. Explaining why is what this blog is all about, so I hope you’ll stick with me.
To appreciate this, let’s step back for a moment and talk about freedom—because if you don’t know what freedom really is, then you may not be able to tell when yours is being taken from you.
When I write and speak of freedom in my book and my blogs, I’m referring to economic and political freedoms.
Economic freedom is our freedom as individuals to participate in commerce as we choose for ourselves. We decide what to produce and what to consume. But like all freedoms, it must rest upon the foundation of universal morality in merging self-interest and other-directedness. So if we think we can build a better mousetrap, then we should be free to start up our own business and try to earn rewards by pleasing customers better than other mousetrap sellers are doing. And we should be free to grow our business as we succeed in pleasing more customers, so that we can earn greater rewards in return for conferring more benefits of value on more people.
At the same time, as customers, we should be free to shop around for better value in whatever is being offered by sellers. We should be free to buy from sellers who please us, and free to offer greater rewards to those sellers who please us better.
This merging of self-interest and other-directedness occurs at increasingly higher levels as moral principles drive us to make our best better and to help others do the same. That’s because our growth enables us to confer ever-higher values of benefits on one another, in return for ever-higher rewards. Who decides how big a reward should be paid for any particular benefit? We do, as individuals and as businesses. This is the essence of economic freedom. It’s the true engine of wealth creation, economic growth, and middle-class affluence, because it’s based on millions of win-win exchanges of goods and services that enrich our lives.
Political freedom is our freedom to control our government, so that it remains a government that is of, by, and for us, the people, rather than a government that rules over us. That’s why we get to cast ballots to decide who our leaders will be. That’s why we have freedom of speech and assembly, so that we can speak out as individuals and join our voices together, in opposing what our government is doing. That’s why we’ve given ourselves so many other protections from excessive government power, and we’ve set them down in writing in our bill of rights. And that’s why we’ve established the rule of law, so that we can live according to rules enacted on our behalf—rules that bind all of us, our leaders included.
Like economic freedom, political freedom must rest upon the foundation of universal morality in merging self-interest and other-directedness, so that we keep government on the side of civilization and freedom, and make it our ally instead of our enemy as we seek to confer greater benefits of value on one another and raise living standards.
Well, that’s the way our economic and political freedoms are supposed to work. And much of my book is devoted to showing just how those freedoms, when they’re combined with universal moral principles, actually would work to help us bring out the best in ourselves—not only to help us find greater prosperity in our commercial dealings with one another, but also to help us find greater happiness in all of our relationships.
But much of my book also explains how our freedoms have been eroded over the past several decades by the progressive/liberal movement, which has increased the size, reach, and cost of the federal government, so that now it largely controls us and our businesses, rather than the other way around.
To accomplish this, the progressive/liberal movement has engaged in a great deal of deception, and I’ll be addressing many examples of this in videos and blogs to come.
Probably none has harmed us more than the corruption of the terms “left” and “right” to signify opposite ends of the political continuum. We need to get rid of these terms, and substitute truer and more meaningful descriptors. If you’ve read even the first chapter of my book, or visited this website before, then you know the terms that I prefer: “top-down” versus “bottom-up.”
That’s because true freedom is always bottom-up. It’s the freedom of us as individuals to make our own decisions in the exercise of our own free will.
When I speak of top-down power in commerce, I mean control by big businesses that stifle competition from smaller businesses and restrict buyers’ choices. And when I speak of top-down power in government, I mean control by big government that stands over and above the people, dictating their choices.
The threat to our bottom-up freedoms is hugely intensified when big business and big government join forces, each enhancing the other’s power over us. This is what’s been happening in America for many decades now.
But the greatest threat to freedom comes when big government takes control of commerce. This is what the term “totalitarian” really means. It’s the ultimate in top-down rule. The people no longer are citizens. They’re subjects.
Down through recorded history, top-down regimes have come in many guises, with their leaders’ titles ranging from pharaohs to kings to emperors to politburos and more. For the most part, they generated flat economic growth that kept most people poor, and that failed to generate a predominant and prosperous middle class.
In the twentieth century, starting in Europe, new ideologically-driven top-down regimes came into power: the communists, the classic socialists, the fascists, and the Nazis. All claimed to act for “the people.” But their central-command systems were imposed on the people by coercion and violence, and their leaders’ insistence on controlling the economy led to widespread poverty and several of the worst famines ever. Collectively, they brought about more deaths than any other cause known to us in all of recorded history. Communism alone was responsible for a hundred million deaths.
As I discuss in my book, these “isms” have some differences, but in their most important respects they are the same. The biggest distinction is that communism and classic socialism are international movements, aiming for worldwide seizure of all means of production, while fascism and Nazism are nationalistic movements having largely the same objectives. Fascism was created by a socialist, and Nazism—Germany’s own form of fascism—is an acronym for national socialism.
All of these “isms” are variations of top-down approaches to governance; all are variations of Karl Marx’s ideas; and all embrace divisive “us-versus-them” class conflicts that judge persons not by the content of their individual moral character, but by whether they fall within a group that is favored or disfavored by the powers-that-be who rule the state.
Yet we’re told today that the Nazis and fascists are on the political right, while the communists and socialists are on the left.
So ask yourself this: just where, on this left-to-right continuum, should we place a system that embraces bottom-up political and economic freedoms of the people? And just where should we place universal moral principles, which emphasize personal growth, empathic bonding, and striving for excellence?
You can’t answer this. That’s because either way you go on the continuum, you end up with top-down totalitarianism. Morality and freedom cannot be crammed down into this continuum. They do not occupy the mid-point, because there is no mid-point.
In America, the top-downers have exploited the phony left-to-right construct to discredit the cause of liberty, by mischaracterizing those who favor freedom as falling on the right. So the more vocal you are in support of freedom, the further to the right you must be.
This is how the top-down liberals and progressives have come to liken Tea Party members to fascists, and to label Reagan Republicans as extreme right-wingers. And this is how the top-downers get away with declaring that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement on the so-called far left and the “Tea Party” movement on the so-called far right are equally extreme—and, of course, that the Occupy Wall Street socialists are morally superior to the Tea Party proponents of economic freedom and constitutional democracy.
This left-equals-good and right-equals-bad message is being conveyed relentlessly throughout our society. Take a look at the television listings for next week. I’ll bet you’ll find plenty of programs justifiably showing the short-lived horrors of Hitler and the Nazis, but nothing on the equally bad but much longer lasting horrors of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
This is no coincidence. It’s part of the systematic skewing of information to further the top-down agenda of the liberals and progressives. What better way to undermine those of us who love liberty, and who believe that personal freedom of choice must come with personal responsibility for the choices we make, than to call us fascists and Nazis!
The top-downers do not occupy the moral high ground. But our children, and tens of millions of our voters, think they do. We have to put a stop to this and reclaim the moral high ground, while we still can. One big step in this direction is to stop referring to left versus right, and instead to start referring to bottom-up versus top-down, because this is the only valid way for us and our children to understand who the real enemies of freedom are.