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The struggle [for social order] will be decided in the minds of the rising 
generation-and within that generation, substantially by the minority 
who have the gift of reason. 

                                                                          Russell Kirk  (1952)

Why First Principles?

First Principles offers a synopsis of the theory, history, and philosophy of self-governance. We try to place in perspective how we got from history to here while simultaneously making estimates of how best to get from here to history.
     In beginning we attempt to define the common ground we share-irrespective of our political views. Those agreements come to the surface as the authors we present talk about human nature, the human condition, the human element, or the human spirit. Without a relatively uniform perception regarding both the variations and the commonalities of our character, our abilities, our goals and most importantly, what motivates us as individuals, it is unlikely consensus will be achieved with respect to governing paradigms. Appreciating, in a relatively coherent manner, where human consistencies and idiosyncrasies work either for us or against us is not difficult but it is crucial to arriving at agreement as to where and how government is likely to work. These comprehensions are not only the first hurdle in political or social or economic conversation, they are the most important-thus the many points where references to the human condition or human spirit independently come to the surface.
     The next hurdle is to voluntarily determine the manner in which we will be governed, and to realize the consequences of each assumption made in the course of investigating and designing political and economic relationships. The authors we discuss attempt to define what has been proven to work, and why, and what has not, and why not.
     The synopses we offer are just that-brief surveys; they suggest a focus to guide readers along paths that lead from the first questions


of earlier times to the relevant inquiries, reasoning, and alternatives that arise as we govern ourselves today. First Principles presents an overview of the basics of modern political and economic thinking.
     The books we discuss are ordered in four sections;

     A. The Architecture of a Free Society
     B. The Twentieth-Century American Experience
     C. Additional Fundamental Readings
     D. The Future.

     The lists are an attempt to achieve logical groupings based on subject matter, the era in which each volume was written, the degree of challenge each poses, and its historical significance. We offer the synopses in the general sequence in which we recommend they be read.

A Note About Terms

To understand the story told through these synopses requires a clarification of terminology. Today in America the word conservative denotes someone who believes in a number of interrelated elements: a basic set of moral values and historical truths; free-market economics; minimal government intervention in the lives of citizens; significantly decentralized government composed of separate parts that check and balance one another at all levels; the practical qualities of self-reliance and personal accountability; and a strong national defense. An American conservative wishes to conserve, or restore, the self-government envisioned by our country's Founders. Until the 1930s in America however, and still today in Europe, the words liberal and liberalism were employed to locate American conservative philosophy on the political spectrum. It is necessary to understand these terms in their various environments and eras in order to appreciate their use by the authors we review.
     During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when capitalism was expanding and the swift accumulation of wealth was notorious, socialism and equalitarianism gained an intellectual cachet. The fact that there was "poverty in the midst of plenty" caused more reaction than understanding. As a result, there arose an equally swift political attempt to redistribute this new wealth simply because disparity existed. There was little effort to discover cause and effect or the consequences of dismantling the system that had created both economic success and the rise in living standards for all.


     As free enterprise seemed to falter during the Great Depression of the 1930s, liberalism, which is also the political cousin of capitalism, was semantically bastardized, intentionally, by a movement that proselytized "liberal populism." Populism refers in part to an effort whereby a more "equitable" allocation of society's wealth is achieved-that is, one based on essentially equal economic redistribution-without consideration of economic tenets that are based on innate human characteristics and real-world economic truths.
     The movement is termed populist because its myriad equalitarian aspects are deemed popular with the citizenry-or at least the portion of it that is on the receiving side of the equation. Thus, liberalism in the original sense-which was associated with far-reaching economic progress-became distorted by the addition of equalitarian goals; the fact that populist methods were an attempt to spread liberalism's (meaning capitalism's) wealth without regard to any social or economic measure was initially not widely discussed, certainly not by those doing the disbursing. That group was reaping political advantage they didn't want to dilute with discussions of fiscal reality or human psychology.
     The point is this: beyond understanding what the words liberal or conservative mean in any given context at any particular time it is necessary to comprehend how ideas and terms have evolved during the last century and a half-most often intentionally, but not always consistently. As author Paul Gottfried observed in After Liberalism (1999):

               The history of liberalism in the twentieth century has been one of 
               growing semantic confusion. . . . [L]iberalism has not been allowed 
               to keep any fixed and specific meaning. It has signified dramatically
               different and even opposed things at different times and places . . . 
               from a defense of free-market economics and of government  based 
               on distributed powers to a justification of exactly the opposite positions.

     Creating a common framework and uniform terminology is necessary to allow for simple communication-but that goal isn't always politically beneficial, thus the battle of words continues unabated.
     In America, what today is denoted as liberalism Europeans generally call democratic socialism. Because this phrase is both an oxymoron (discussed in Chapter 38) and a public policy lever, its use makes comprehension of political goals difficult from the outset. Its original


intent was to mislead the electorate for political gain by convincing the citizenry both that democracy was still in effect and equalitarianism was possible. That the latter was indeed not feasible no matter what political machinery or distorted nomenclature was in place was buried in the soaring rhetoric of possibility.
     Frank Meyer, one of the authors reviewed in this book, outlines how the word liberal was informally transposed in the United States by the political use of language during the 1932 presidential campaign between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.
     Roosevelt used the term liberal in a manner opposite of what he knew it meant, understanding that the public might not recognize the difference-that they would listen to the words and the promises and not think too deeply about the disconnection between the word's meaning and the political rhetoric being offered. As this election occurred in the middle of the hard times of the Great Depression, Roosevelt's political calculations were more than advantageous for his purposes.
     Liberalism had earlier been shorthand for describing American freedom and responsibility. It represented that people were liberated to pursue their own goals, without government intervention. Roosevelt offered, in contravention to that definition, that government should be liberal in helping people. The political effectiveness of his effort is unquestioned. It is even somewhat accurate to say that his conceptual obfuscation would have been fine if government hadn't helped too much over the ensuing decades-to the point where some people not only stopped helping themselves, but were told and shown how they were really not capable of self-sufficiency. Roosevelt moved the country from employing a social safety net to deal with life's hardships, to effecting the beginnings of a cradle-to-grave social welfare net. It was a purely political calculation that caused the country to suffer greatly from the law of unintended consequences. 1
1  A social safety net takes care of those who cannot help themselves; the chronically ill or disabled or the unavoidably indigent. It also helps those who are temporarily in need and have few options other than short term public assistance. If properly designed these efforts do not operate as a disincentive to self-help or self-esteem.
     A social welfare net is implemented for political purposes. These are programs available to everyone, irrespective of capability or need (e.g., Medicare, federal aid to education, Social Security), and often do not contain incentives within their design that encourage restraint in their use or the duration of eligibility. Although citizens pay for some of what they receive, usually at a flat rate, general tax revenues eventually support the bulk of the cost. Over time, benefits expand, politically, without any significant increase in user contributions. Additional general tax revenues are then redirected to make up the difference. The programs become state-controlled income redistribution, or state welfarism.



     Eventually his brand of liberalism was taken too far; it made children out of many citizens, and unwitting parents out of all taxpayers. Because Roosevelt was successful in the 1932 election and three more after that his rhetoric became ingrained in political discourse. Liberalism in the U.S. became identified with an expansion of government. As a result, later authors coined the word 'conservative' and the phrase 'classical liberal' to regain some control of the nomenclature of political, economic, and moral debates. In the rest of the world, however, liberalism still means the opposite of what it nominally means in America-that people are liberated to control their lives without legislative or bureaucratic interference.
     Humpty Dumpty noted awhile back "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean." That may be a convenient approach for fictional characters, high school sophomores, or YouTube adherents, but it is quite useless in the real world. Unfortunately, the perversion of language is a formidable and ubiquitous tool in politics. Today words are often Humpty Dumpty-like moving targets, sometimes used to inform, sometimes to mislead. When linguistic integrity is compromised and substance is changed through political manipulation rather than rational evaluation, we all lose.
     And, just so we don't heap too much blame for any of this on one person, we recognize that Roosevelt's twisting of the meaning of liberal was not the first instance in America where language was turned on its head for political purposes. At the time the U.S. Constitution went through its bruising ratification process in the late 1780s, the word federalist was equally turned about by no less a democratic icon than Alexander Hamilton. Originally, a federalist was one who believed in the Articles of Confederation (drafted 1777, ratified 1781), the precursor to the U.S. Constitution of 1787, where the government was a federation of sovereign, or independent, states.
     In The Federalist (Chapter 6) Hamilton used the word federalist to represent his idea of a strong national government-most importantly, one with the power to tax (a power not contained in the Articles of Confederation). But, to those reading his arguments, the word federalist meant what it always had-one who believed in limited federal power and autonomous self-governing states in charge of their own administration and taxation. By the time the ratification process was over, federalists were those who supported a strong central government and the word came to mean the obverse of what it originally signified.
     As you read through some of the early books by Europeans like


Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Wilhelm Ropke, understanding the authors' use of the term liberal is important because the word conservative was not in their lexicon until near the end of their careers. And, just to make matters a little more complicated, the term classical liberalism-instead of conservative-is now used by some authors to define what liberalism meant prior to its being politically hijacked during the Roosevelt years. However, as the meaning of these terms did change gradually, and because the context in which the words are used will almost always tell you what the author intends, it will not be difficult to keep them straight. The caution is offered only to make the words stand out, so the reader can be watchful.

*      *      *

What one takes away from either First Principles or the texts on which it is based will depend primarily on two things: how well one appreciates the concepts that underlie the stories presented in each volume, and how one relates that appreciation to the real world in which we now live. This is no small feat. It requires paying attention and acting with political and intellectual integrity, two components of self-governance that are often lacking today.
     It also requires recalling that the precise use of language remains as consequential in the political and philosophical battles being waged now as it was in those fought over the centuries. It behooves the reader to recognize the nuances, gradual changes, and the sometimes intentional blurring effected for political purposes. The writings and speeches of William F. Buckley, Jr. are the most helpful in this arena. He makes clear some of the instances of political deception and electoral
temporizing founded in dishonest rhetoric. His dissection of these distortions underscores equally the importance of fidelity to linguistic integrity and the need to expose its absence.  Confucius observed: "The first step in restoring order in a chaotic society is to restore proper meaning to words.
     At the end of this section we offer definitions of various words, concepts, and movements in order to assist the reader's comprehension of what is being presented. At the conclusion of some of the synopses there are additional definitions to help facilitate comprehension. Further clarifications are available through our companion web site, <www.firstprinciples.us>, or through your local print or Internet dictionary.


The Ideas

The authors in this symposium do not always agree with one another, and every author is not always "right" in all he offers. The discussion is better because of their disagreements. The range of inconsistency varies from conflict regarding fundamental understandings and conclusions to mere differences in approach. Some authors expand on the theories of others by applying them to the real world. However, when Frank Meyer took issue with Russell Kirk in the twentieth century or Thomas Paine with Edmund Burke in the eighteenth, the disagreements were deep. One can learn much from these and other classical discussions; indeed, one may not be able to comprehend the long developmental process of modern self-governance without having most of them as background.
     Our authors often go beyond postulating, defining, and defending basic truths to the recognition that failures are as much a part of life as successes. In other words, no matter how true a theory may appear to be, when human beings become involved pretty much anything can happen. When theory is exposed to reality and errors are found they are mostly useful-by demonstrating what won't work-although the results can sometimes be devastating. This seemingly cannot be avoided, for human beings are not only imperfect, they are imperfectable. In spite of our authors' uniform conviction that the human spirit in each person should be its own guide (so long as it does not trespass on the rights of others) sometimes that spirit does go awry, thus the need for some form of regulation and redress.
     There is an inverse relationship between the size and power of government and the extent of individual freedom. Some legislators and bureaucrats err grievously when succumbing to an apparently innate need or desire to tell other human beings how to lead their lives (the same need that probably drove them to "public" service in the first place) and impose blanket rules and programs without accommodating geographic, economic, and/or social-much less innate human-differences. The authors dissect and discredit the immodesty of demagogues who seek to control men, supposedly for their own good. The exercise of the liberal's fatal conceit-as Hayek termed it-diminishes our lives by destroying the essence of individualism.
     The books reviewed here evince a marked emphasis on goodness, morality, and to a limited extent, religion. To remain free, a people


must be good to and for one another. The Golden Rule (whether considered in a religious context or more prosaically) must come into play. If people do not observe various societal necessities, then as Hayek noted, "every act of dishonesty or violence, whether violence to person or to principle, will result in the call for more law, more regulation." The resulting outcry-"There oughta be a law!"-grows, and the idea of freedom isn't just diminished, it is simply lost in the competing claims that the "other guy" should somehow be constrained or punished. We forget we are to control ourselves, that that is our responsibility.
     The authors rightly emphasize that a moral underpinning is necessary for freedom to exist among individuals. The freedom that results also allows individuals to protect themselves from an overweening government-a moral act as well. Ultimately it may be as simple (and utopian) as this: If we have a moral society it doesn't much matter what type of government we have (a moral citizenry will correct its own mistakes). If our society is not moral, it equally doesn't much matter what type of government we have (an immoral society will not follow the lead of decency, and it will not be cowed by the force of government). Of course, individuals typically exhibit both moral and immoral behavior (e.g., many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners); thus what type, and what extent, of governance we choose does become important.  Liberty without virtue is subject to the influence, and corruption, of power.  Liberty is a natural right, virtue is a natural good.  Corruption is a natural consequence of power, thus virtue must control power, of either the individual or the masses, so that liberty may exist. 

The vote of a majority cannot make right or just what is not. 

                                                                                                            Lord Acton

Without the protection of virtue liberty will die.
      In the United States we are fortunate to have not only a remarkably moral society, but also a fundamentally religious one. In our culture, government only becomes necessary on the individual level when the human condition forestalls "goodwill toward men." Government is also useful in other circumstances, such as protecting us from foreign interference, or in fulfilling public needs that individuals cannot easily accomplish alone. These are considerations that affect the body politic after we establish a moral framework. And if that moral framework is not established, then governing is a matter of much greater difficulty.
     Corruption-whether individual or organizational, financial, moral,


artistic, social, or intellectual-is not new. What is new is the public's inability, if not refusal, to constrain behavior on the grounds that there is no valid standard by which to judge it. This attitude is termed "moral relativism" and it holds that most choices are of equal value; in other words, because all individuals are philosophically equal each opinion, interpretation, and judgment should be considered to have equal value. This reflects a step away from understanding the interdependence of morality and governance-and the hard-won reality that some choices are better than others, demonstrably better. In today's world, by way of example, the media's portrayals of a moral society (or less than moral society) help create forces that sometimes work against the universal lessons learned during thirty centuries of social evolution. Competition for listeners, readers and viewers is so intense that intellectual, and thus moral integrity is often substantially compromised in the process of bringing content to the public.
Margaret Thatcher's recent book, Statecraft (2002), addressed the need and expectation of morality in American (or any free) society:

               The Founding Fathers believed that although the form of republican 
               government they had framed was designed to cope with human failings, 
               it provided no kind of substitute for human virtues. For them American 
               self-government meant exactly that-government by as well as for the 
               people. James Madison knew that democracy presupposed a degree 
               of popular virtue if it was to work well. In Number 55 of the Federalist 
he wrote:

                    As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a 
                    certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other 
                    qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem 
                    and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence 
                    of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. 

                                                                    [Emphasis added by Lady Thatcher]

The loss of that higher degree of virtue in society endangers the opportunity for a viable democratic republic. Our everyday world rests on a foundation of reciprocity that is largely unstated, but is equally universally understood. If that commonality is not present, a free society can exist, but it is more likely to be anarchic than angelic.


     Finally, we turn to the words of John Adams, the Founding Father who (after Benjamin Franklin) probably understood the most about human nature as it intersected with the new government:

               [T]he foundation of our national policy should be laid in private 
               morality; if individuals be not influenced by moral principles, it is 
               vain to look for public virtue.

*       *       *

Many of the works presented here were written in the middle of the twentieth century when socialism, not just liberal populism, was ascendant and the entire world tilted toward collectivist policies and programs. These were almost universally enforced through totalitarian rule. Today, with socialism debunked and freedom ascendant, some may question the need for our focus on these old books and those former times. The answer is simple: collectivist and totalitarian policies and goals have morphed, not died. To combat these new and varied challenges requires vigilance and education. As author George Santayana (1863-1952) noted in suggesting that people must help themselves: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Repeating the twentieth century's mistakes would not be pretty.
     In his introduction to The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich von Hayek observes:

               [I]f old truths are to retain their hold on men's minds, they must be 
               restated in the language and concepts of successive generations. 
               What at one time are their most effective expressions gradually 
               become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning.

     By way of example, although parts of socialism are virtual anachronisms (such as state ownership of the means of production or state control of resource allocation), many of socialism's ideals retain their allure. Modern liberals know they cannot successfully control enterprise through confiscation of, or excessive rules regarding private property, or command production in a direct manner. Nevertheless they are unrelenting in their efforts (and sometimes their inventiveness) to reinitiate these ends indirectly through tax and regulatory measures.


The goal of such efforts, like the goals of socialism, is nothing more than the redistribution of private property.
     Liberals still endeavor by these new means to attain the equalitarian society sought by Karl Marx (1818-1883) in The Communist Manifesto (1848): "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." The fundamental question, which interferes with these liberal tendencies, is how to define needs, or encourage abilities. If it is suggested that someone doesn't have something he "needs," the first issue becomes how and by whom is need determined?
     Assuming the need is valid, the second issue is to determine if government is responsible to fulfill that need for the individual, or if government is to foster an atmosphere that allows the person to meet the need for himself. If it is to be the latter, then freedom from government is the only model that will achieve the goal. If it is to be in large measure the former, then collectivist, totalitarian government is the eventuality; there is little room for adjustment in the middle. The consideration of when and how government is to act reflects much of the substance of the discussion offered here.
     Liberals often feel good about what they are trying to do and are ignorant of what they destroy in the process-the American virtues of liberty, individualism, and self-reliance. The inability, or even coarse refusal, of populists to take their ideas to logical conclusions and put them to the test of history and the human experience allows socialist liberalism to remain both theoretically attractive-as state welfarism-and socially dangerous.
     As James Madison noted,

               I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the rights 
               of the people by the gradual and silent encroachments of those in 
               power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

His understanding has not become stale with age.

A Very Brief History

As noted earlier, until the Great Depression (1929-1941) liberal-on both sides of the Atlantic-generally meant an approach to government and social life that implied a very limited central authority and


few controls on people. Citizens were routinely supposed to manage their own lives; they were "liberated" from the pre-nineteenth-century command of monarchy and church. The sixteenth century's Protestant Reformation, combined with some aspects of the eighteenth century's Enlightenment (both of which are defined below and dissected in several synopses) had fostered much of this "public" freedom.
     In Great Britain, the Reformation resulted in the birth of the Puritan (or Reform) wing of the Church of England. When various adherents to that group emigrated from England in the 1600s they became the founders of the American experiment. From the 1600s until the first third of the twentieth century liberalism evolved to embody the modern ethos of personal responsibility and minimal government. Then, in the political and economic climate of the 1930s the meaning of liberalism was reversed in America, and the new words previously discussed-conservative and classical liberalism-were put in place to describe old liberalism's philosophy.
     The hallmark of classical liberalism is that individual freedom is a natural right, not a government or societal grant. Co-equal with the primacy of individuality is the recognition that an open society cannot, by definition, become tyrannical. If ideas and information are never censored or punished, the foundation for a free society exists. Classical liberalism refers to a society in which human imagination enjoys free reign.
     Democracy became the starting point for the governance of such a society. It facilitates continuous changes in leadership and is conjoined with abiding respect for the principle of civic rule by law (versus authoritarian rule by men). This assumes, of course, that the laws are enacted within
a philosophical framework where government takes little from us, manages only those social necessities that we cannot efficiently obtain for ourselves, and leaves us alone to shape our own lives, communities, and futures. To protect the fundamental rights of the governed, Thomas Jefferson (who feared men as much as he admired mankind's ultimate rationality) wanted written recognition of basic rights, contained in a document that could not easily be altered by a tyrannical majority:

               In questions of power, then, let no more be heard about confidence in 
               man, but bind him down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.


Along this line Madison remarked in The Federalist,

               All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.

     But statists allege that society cannot run itself; instead they contend that the needs and economic prospects of the people have to be organized so that decision making resides in an executive elite-not in individuals, or in their community, or in their representative legislature. In other words, statists insist the public is too ignorant, or even too stupid, to govern itself. For these men freedom is simply intolerable-because it results in inequality and inconsistency. They cannot embrace the reality that inequality is endemic, unresolvable, and central to human existence and progress, no matter what form of social construction is in place. They contend they can outsmart or outgun reality.
     The history of the statist movement teaches us that socialist ideas lead to government that becomes despotic for two reasons: First, those who actually wield power invariably wax confident in their delusional omniscience that they can create a society of equal results. Second, collectivist ideals do not just invite, but they require totalitarian controls simply because human beings will not voluntarily submit to the wholesale authority of others that is the necessary result of equalitarian goals. The individual, family, and community-the essential ingredients of society-are reduced by statist regimes to having only the freedoms that government allows. In collectivist societies people are required to act as part of an overall social order, and individuality is viewed as anti-intellectual, if not seditious. Human nature will not long suffer the indignities or controls of such an arrangement.
     Opposing this dominant trend-which continually gained momentum through the middle of the twentieth century-were a few classical liberals who stood against the socialist tide. A reversal of course became necessary in the minds of those who understood the power and the utility of freedom; who understood that life is not just unequal, but that inequality brings the best of humanity's efforts to the greatest portion of society; that inequality not only doesn't hold people down, it lifts everyone up. Most importantly, it was clear that without life's inequalities nothing would be created that was worth arguing about other than-because of its absence-freedom. For these


classical theorists, people and history (and history's prescriptions) became the reference point.
     Although totalitarian socialism is leaving the world's stage, quixotic collectivist ideas are far from consigned to the trash heap of history. There remains a twentieth-century legacy of statist rhetoric (sometimes offered with an intellectual smugness masquerading as political correctness or social wisdom) in American and Western European media and academia and in the politics of the Third
World. Idealism is still the common language of socialist cant, particularly in Europe where Judeo-Christian philosophy (which harbors the origins of individual freedom) is nearly irrelevant.
     The battle against socialism's falsehoods never ends, because there are always well-meaning (at least in their own view) individuals who feel they know better than we do how to live our lives and how to distribute society's means and products. Our would-be guardians still seek to protect us from ourselves and each other; ever more intrusively they demand the right to dictate our interactions pursuant to standards of political correctness-an ill-defined, constantly-changing, emotional contract on which they claim society must be based. In the wry view of Stanley Johnson, a British former Member of the European Parliament, there is a worthwhile battle to be fought "against the crooks and nannies looking into nooks and crannies."
      Political correctness is most often political ideology wrapped in a cloak of do-gooderism that is little more than one person or group’s contested opinions.  Its subjective nature and emotional foundation expose its flaws as it deviates from observable reality.  Political correctness becomes self-perpetuating and self-aggrandizing as it enlarges the enabling atmosphere that opposes the supposedly politically incorrect behavior.  Ultimately, political correctness is promoted in an ill-founded attempt to silence those who question progressive/liberal goals.
     The foundation of a politically correct society is one in which an equalitarian distribution of its products and conditions is the goal. Government's neosocialist schemes of regulation and taxation are part and parcel of what we now call the "therapeutic state" or "nanny government." Within this government the bureaucracy grows ever more burdensome and economically and morally corrupt. Statist equalitarianism-which takes form in a social welfare net that removes individual responsibility (and thus individual opportunity and incentive) for life's everyday cares-represents philosophically and politically one of the main battlegrounds of the twenty-first century.


On Being Politically Correct
As noted earlier, there are often public attempts to place constraints on our ability to enjoy our individuality, private space, and personal preferences; this type of repression comes in the form of political correctness. The gender, race, national security, religious, or even fashion police make disproportionate and inappropriate calls for diversity, multiculturalism, pluralism, affirmative action, or other social controls, where the state is to dictate societal interaction. A commitment to the individual, or even to excellence, is termed inappropriate when there are alleged emotional or equalitarian needs to be met. As we step onto this slippery slope we must carefully balance two overriding considerations: our public nurturing of universal civil, social, human, or other rights, versus our fundamental individual rights. Achieving a balance in this instance has been ignored in many circles as the presumptions of those who understand what is politically correct become dictatorial.
     Perhaps at base, the difference between the views of liberals and conservatives in these cases relates to their respective beliefs regarding human rights, or natural rights. Liberals view such rights in a contractual light, the result of various cultural or societal agreements, and thus as a social construct or a political choice. Viewed in this manner such rights are negotiable, and understandable only in relation to the times and the circumstances. Conservatives view these same rights as either God-given or natural, not subject to alteration to meet the fad or fashion or whim of the day. When liberals deny the existence of immutable natural rights, they use the terminology of rights in a capricious manner. When right and wrong become relative terms, political correctness takes over-and social coherence becomes wholly at risk.
     In order to enforce the views of those who see society's members as controllable (and therefore entitled to less freedom than they might otherwise be), there has arisen a modern fealty to the managerial state. This particular management is not the type that directs traffic or collects taxes to fund public administration, but aims to superintend the people themselves. It is an intentionally
camouflaged and modernized implementation of a supposedly more benign, collectivist totalitarianism. Collectivists formerly intoned, "Just do it." They insisted on compliance by fiat, unsupported by reason or even agree-


ment. Today's governmental managers say, "Do it. It is good for you and for everyone else."
     In this manner the public administrators create a moral imperative rather than just a social necessity that claims the right to guide society. However, it is only their morality and their imperative, despite its claimed universality. It is not consensually arrived at, but determined through social science-in other words, through opinions that have been selected, not proven. These opinions do not meet with uniform agreement or acceptance; their implementation thus denies freedom of choice, action, and debate, and man's individuality, when it does not conform to the liberal overview, is labeled dysfunctional.
     How did we go backward so quickly after the defeat of socialistic totalitarianism was secured? As freedom paired with capitalism showed the way to solve the mechanistic problems of life-food on the table, clothes on our backs, shelter over our heads-the idealists were left with thoughts that actual paradise could be achieved. They were driven from the economic battlefield, where life's necessities are hard earned, by capitalistic freedom, while they claimed they knew all along how to procure these necessities. But once the basics were deliverable to everyone the welfarists entered the evanescent arena of perfect human comity and equality. To this group what can be still should be. These thoughts are likely the result, to put it charitably, of too much time, too little understanding. The rest of society pays for the consequences of this naive idealism by being forced to reinvent wheels that are already carrying society along. It is ever thus.
     The politically adept managers of the new utopia assert they can fix what ails us; and they intend to use the state to enforce their conclusions. The behaviorists abet the political class and aver scientific verity for their contentions. They claim "expert" status in spite of the lack of evidence, factual or otherwise, that they are experts. These equalitarians intentionally mount their politically correct assault through selected courts and legislatures intimidated by threats of political reprisals. A fawning media is used to validate their views. The prescriptions of historical experience are now held to be passé; understanding the imperatives of the human condition is dismissed; and all decisions are henceforth to be made "scientifically," in spite of the decidedly unscientific methods being employed. This ephemeral milieu, where society's faults and inadequacies are to be repaired by statistics and opinion, is yet another political and intellectual battleground of the present century.



Property and Government
Traditional European liberal doctrine (now classical liberalism or conservatism in America) has been associated philosophically and politically with capitalism since at least the time of Adam Smith and the eighteenth century's Scottish Enlightenment. At that juncture the need for private property and the free market to be inextricably intertwined with free political expression and the rule of law became clear. If people were not free to choose in either venue, then both systems broke down.
     The underpinnings of economic freedom-stable, enforceable laws; a free market; private property-are a sub-set of political freedom. Economic freedom is the essence of capitalism, but without legally protected property rights and impartial public authorities to enforce the law there is
no foundation for incentive, initiative, or imagination (there is only anarchy). These elements are the mechanisms that drive human progress. The political principles that ensure our economic liberty are elemental; they cannot be divided or implemented fractionally. They embody what is called "ordered freedom."
     Modern political contests often center upon who will determine what can or cannot be taken or constrained or encouraged by public authority-generally through taxation or regulation, or a lack thereof-for the ostensible greater good of society. Far too frequently, however, a concern for the public is declared by a candidate for office (irrespective of political affiliation), but after electoral success that person offers only shop-worn and tired programs designed to do little more than make everyone feel good-and, of course, see to that official's reelection. These programs are customarily accomplished with newly raised tax dollars or newly written regulations that most often actually work against the candidate's campaign assertions.
     Unfortunately, politicians often do not know what they are doing-they have studied neither history nor economics and frequently have little or no marketplace experience (this is especially true today as politicians find electoral employment a good career choice). But often they are dazzled by what they can be: a darling of the media, or the recipient of a special interest's accolades and financial support, or simply the social consummation of their own vainglorious and fatal


conceit. The consequence is that the country pays for ignorance when it is forced to operate an economic engine on empty rhetoric.
     On the administrative side of governance, bureaucrats commonly look upon the alleviation of society's "ills" (many of which are not universally viewed as problems) solely as their mission-not in any fashion the obligation or opportunity of either the individual or the community. They rarely find an occasion to help foster personal initiative or private assistance, especially if they can create some administrative mechanism that will serve as a substitute for these options. They allow, by their very actions, palpable distortions of government purpose to arise. Practically speaking, if bureaucracies actually solved problems, those employed there might work themselves out of a job-clearly not something in the bureaucrat's best interest. Instead, as noted by author C. Northcote Parkinson in his 1957 book Parkinson's Laws, if their franchise begins to wane, bureaucrats tend to seek out or invent additional areas of need so government can provide another "service" which then justifies their continued employment.
     When programs found ineffective are reduced by executive or legislative authority, bureaucrats (and their private sector partners) often attempt to achieve through the obscurity of regulation and/or stark administrative power that which they could not win in the political arena. Or they simply ignore what they've been told by the electorate and find ways to do what they "know" to be right by expanding other facets of their franchise.
     Ultimately, the primary difficulty with government programs is there is no market discipline. When bureaucracies fail they don't face bankruptcy or liquidation, they use their failure to push for bigger more intrusive programs (a program's small size or the inadequate reach of the bureaucrat's power being used to excuse their failure to achieve results in line with their enabling legislation). As well, of course, politicians and bureaucrats don't spend their own money-thus accountability on either the practical or intellectual level is not part of their fiscal equation.
     Most importantly, the philosophy and repercussions of governmental good works that seek immediate relief for the downtrodden are invariably not followed to their logical conclusion. 
Oftentimes these emotionally satisfying but socially and economically inappropriate impulses are found to do more harm than good. As Charles Murray noted in his book Losing Ground (1984):


               When welfare reforms finally do occur, they will happen not because 
               stingy people have won, but because generous people have stopped 
               kidding themselves.

What Murray was referring to was the public's eventual recognition of the negative consequences of giving a handout instead of offering a hand up. Murray's primary point was made by the 1996 legislation that effected massive welfare reform in America (discussed in Chapter 31). Unfortunately, the social welfarists persevere with their efforts in spite of the ignorant public's voted preferences; for example, by administratively expanding other "entitlement" programs that have not been modified or eliminated to take the place of what has been legislatively rescinded in the primary arena. Specifically, they have done this to work around and take the place of the now-discredited direct welfare payments reformed in 1996. This is a dishonest solution and openly retards progress toward the stated goals of both citizens and legislators.
     The consequences of welfare reform are frequently fought in the courts, to everyone's further detriment, because legalistic decisions are often narrow and inflexible. In almost all cases, legal battles in this arena are little more than rearranging the batting order of a last place team. Implementation of the public's electoral statements is not only the honest response, it is the logical one. If the electoral preferences do not work, reversion to welfarist solutions will be greeted warmly with liberal "I told you so" rhetoric. But if the directions of the voting public are successful, then everyone is better off-except, perhaps, a few soon to be out-of-work public employees.
     If private property is secure, if the people and their governmental representatives (whether or not elected) ensure incentive is in place to allow the public to act unhindered in their economic and social decisions, then society can be free and prosperous. When property is jealously protected, demagogic politicians cannot take advantage of social change or even crises to implement feel-good policy that is politically and/or economically bankrupt. Many of the books reviewed here were written by economists who understand the direct relationship between the limitations of law, the benefits of recognizing free-market economic reality, and the human condition. Their insights into how government can achieve its legitimate goals while keeping human freedom and dignity in view have enabled many to see that liberty is more than a political concept. Unfortunately, in order to get elected,


politicians often offer the voters happiness (usually in the form of a free lunch), not a promise to protect their liberty. If the political class is to deliver a free lunch, it must have power-which means the citizen will have less freedom. That is the Faustian bargain by which the citizen gives the Devil his due.
     Government cannot be used to protect individuals from the results of their own actions. It cannot strive for a particular distribution of economic resources, promote any particular region or group, or dictate a conduct code without becoming oppressive and destroying individual freedoms. To do so would end America as we know it and put into question the validity of individualism itself. Many contentious issues in our politics today involve areas of life that are wrapped up in some form of government intervention or desire for government intervention. This is usually at the behest of a
group that is trying to force its own agenda on other groups. Controversial ideas must be tested in the marketplace, not imposed by government.
Edmund Burke commented two centuries ago, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Forgiving Burke his seventeenth-century gender insensitivity, his point is that we must prevent intellectual and moral corruption and ensure the implementation of good policy based on sound reasoning or no one will. In the synopses that follow you will see references to the fact that the only true protection for the citizen is vigilance; laws, leaders, and institutions alone cannot shield us from perfidy, dishonesty, infidelity, deceit, or disloyalty. In the fields of economics, taxation, regulation, and social policy, the attitude of vigilance, not deference, must always be the foundation of our relationship with those whom we elect to govern.

Capitalism and Capitalists
A tangential journey from Adam Smith's nascent capitalism (explicated in Wealth of Nations [Chapter 12]) may be helpful at this point. First Principles is not intended to offer a detailed comprehension of capitalism's machinations; it is designed to foster an understanding of capitalism's unambiguous ties to freedom and the consequences that flow from that relationship. If capitalism's salient features-freedom of action and consequence-are not fitted first in the world that surrounds us, then the remainder of our efforts will be more difficult. Once the case is made regarding the organic link


between capitalism and freedom, then investigation of all matters regarding the minutiae of a free-enterprise system may proceed as the reader's interest leads.
     In the eyes of some, a twenty-first-century battle still rages over one of capitalism's foundations: freedom of action for both those who produce and those who consume. These individuals maintain that capitalism is at best immoral because its results offer only inequality; because inequality is unfair in this group's view both the system and its participants must be controlled. This group attacks what they allege is immoral economic freedom using the unequal results of capitalistic enterprise as the weapon. Ultimately, however, capitalism as an economic system is not moral, amoral, or immoral; only the people who operate within it can have those characteristics. But the more important consideration is that capitalism's unequal results have nothing to do with morality; they are simply what drive human activity; they reflect nothing more than human incentive and capability. The claim of immorality-and even inequality-exists only in the hands of the demagogues. When freedom of economic enterprise, measured by the actual results we obtain, is balanced against the demand for some condition of human parity, equality as an issue of morality is reduced to a political conversation only. With freedom as our operating platform the world's progress is astounding; if equality were used as our fuel, the state of the world would be much, much different, and less, on all levels. Many of the authors presented here speak directly to these issues.
     However, on the smaller stage and much to the chagrin of many of capitalism's promoters, there are bad, immoral, and thieving people who find the free-enterprise system's minimal controls useful for their nefarious purposes. For myriad reasons-not the least of which is media exploitation-this infamous group, and the consequences of their activities, occasionally form the basis of public perception of capitalism's essence. Thus a defense of capitalism in this book isn't one designed to advance its fundamental validity, but to deconstruct the self-serving and dishonest diversions of its detractors-who mostly contend that because life is not perfect under capitalism, capitalism must be
at fault. What they really mean to say is that if life is not perfect within a free society, then a totalitarian construct, under their control, will be.
     Capitalism's value, in broad terms, is ascertained by simply observing the progress of humanity under its auspices-and comparing that with the results obtained by means of other systems. The middle


social and economic ground-between a society that is perfectly able to foster the well-being of its inhabitants (utopia), and one rife with thieves and frauds (anarchy)-was the true field of play as capitalistic freedom began to spread and succeed. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (once the English Industrial Revolution had become the Dow Jones Industrial Average), additional revolutions-in the myriad laws that aimed at rationally and fairly aligning people and the economy so they could work together functionally-brought the system mostly in balance (but never perfectly and never permanently). When the system was able to operate without substantial restraints the standard of living and dignity achieved through its mechanisms was unmatched, even unimagined by any previous generation or model. But the bad guy persona enjoyed by the nineteenth century's capitalist caricature, the result of that era's capitalistic excesses, has never melted away-first, because it is too convenient for the coarse media or the politically crass not to exploit it, and second, because that person, albeit in inappreciable numbers, still exists today.
     There will always be people who engage in fraudulent or dishonest behavior-no matter what economic system is employed. This fact relates to human nature, not to economic paradigms; the bad guys in collectivist and dictatorial regimes excelled in the creation of misery and depredation far beyond what selfish mock-capitalists might have conjured up in their heyday. What to do with capitalism's miscreants is discussed in several of the synopses that follow, but the basic premise is this: people who distort the system are not capitalists, they are still just thieves or villains. To alter or discard the system that they misuse is neither necessary nor desirable; instead we must remove them from the equation. Yet, even when that happens, the perception often remains that it is the system's freedom that is flawed, not the person. Thieves still break into our homes, but we don't abolish private property to thwart their efforts-we put them in jail.
     In order to obtain a rational view of capitalism and its participants, we must counter myth with reality. For example, as Forbes Magazine publisher Steve Forbes observed, one common myth is that those who succeed in business "owe" something back to the community. The allegation is that only business owners profit from their businesses. Ignored entirely are the benefits obtained by the public (that receives new products or services), investors (whose risk is financially rewarded and who thereafter perpetuate the cycle), employees (who receive wages, health care, retirement, etc.), and the rest of the economic com-


munity that benefits from the multiplier effect of private enterprise. This, of course, is not to forget the other conspicuous beneficiary-the government-that procures revenue by means of taxes levied on the profits that are earned. If there is no enterprise, and profit, there is no government, simply for lack of fuel.
     While a voluntary charitable impulse is laudable, social pressure that the entrepreneur "return" something to the community for his success is in error. As Forbes observed, it leaves the impression that something has been "taken" in the first place. Business ventures are attempted at great personal and financial risk for the entrepreneur, his investors, and his employees. However, if the public perception that something is owed remains, it encourages the idea that capitalism itself is wrong and that engaging in it can only be atoned for by a return of its ripened fruits.
     The breakdown in logic comes when the harvest of the capitalistic process is to be distributed and the effort of planting, growing, and tending is forgotten. Some think everyone should end the day on equal footing-regardless of any obvious inequality of contribution or capability. In the minds of this group, if one person receives more than another, then oppression (not just inequality) has occurred. The fact is that if equality of result is preordained, incentive is destroyed. There is no happy middle ground between equal result and equal opportunity. Either freedom of action and consequence exist or they do not, for by its very nature, anything in between must be arbitrary. It is human inequality of contribution and capability that allows us to imagine what can be and helps us to create what will be. It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1788) who observed that ability should be rewarded for the advantage of the community.
     A healthy capitalist society looks positively on what has been achieved and eagerly greets the thought of what else can be accomplished. This capitalism does not look enviously on the successful, but admires their achievement while benefiting from their effort. When great or small things are attained, most people are inspired, not resentful.  Creating a profit is perhaps the most moral of acts because so much is achieved with the incentive it provides, and so little in its absence. (For an expanded discussion of this topic see Wealth and Poverty [Chapter 27].)
     After three centuries of free-market achievement, debate on various economic systems continues only because of public misperceptions or demagogic disingenuousness. Potential misgivings about capitalism-crudely and cruelly manipulated by the popular press and liberal


idealists-are what allow this "contest" to persist. Capitalism is sometimes seen in a light that does not take into account both its moral foundation and its fitness for the job at hand. This is because politics or idealism-not fundamental economic issues-are often allowed to drive the debate.
As Ludwig von Mises intoned almost a hundred years ago, the battle is not between capitalism and socialism (or now welfarism), but between capitalism and chaos. Resolving these perceptions and the issues yet extant in this arena is the focus of many of the efforts that follow.

The Human Condition

American socialist liberalism failed mostly because its purveyors misunderstood human nature. To be sure, liberals have always found sympathetic voters-people who wish to live in an imaginary world receptive to their passion to achieve perfection by proclamation. But efforts in this direction are undermined by the reality that governs our interactions: the human condition, man's imperfectability. As Wilhelm Ropke observes in A Humane Economy:

               It is the precept of ethical and humane behavior, no less than of 
               political wisdom, to adapt economic policy to man, not man to 
               economic policy.

     Liberals tend to be parentalists and apologists; they believe that because they imagine what could be, they must tell us what should be. As Ropke notes, we cannot use government to force people to be different from their essence. Sadly, liberals often think man's essence is selfish and dark-thus their insistence on attempting to control us. But the essence of humanity-humanity, not any given individual-when considered in a social context, freed from oppression and supported by the rule of law, is decency, honesty, and fairness. That these traits and intentions are not in perfect sync for every individual every moment is a reflection of our imperfectability. Yet even if mankind cannot be perfect, it can, and does, strive to be so. In nature, certainly man is anarchic, not out of venality, but out of self-protection. When refuge is offered by means of a moral and ordered liberty, the better part of our nature surfaces for one simple reason: being good to one another in the fashion of enlightened self-interest achieves more for each of us, and all of us, than does acting in any other manner. In other words,


courtesy, honesty, integrity are contagious. This theme is explored in greater detail later in this volume.
     Ludwig von Mises addressed another real world fact that confronts today's politically correct equalitarianism head-on; Mises knew that social cooperation cannot rest in egalitarian authority where everyone's opinion is valid and no one is allowed to be in charge. He understood that human inequalities (in our respective abilities) placed within institutional hierarchies are what allow society to work and progress. Although such views could fatuously be termed antidemocratic or even condescending and oppressive, Mises understood that individual inequalities are natural. To ignore those natural characteristics in ordering the economic or social aspects of any society is a formula for failure.
     Further, because someone must be in charge Mises argues that human interaction ought to be primarily managed locally, rather than in distant government. He reasons that government should be simple, so those over whom it rules can understand it. The less complex government is, the more obvious corruption and incompetence are when they arise and the more easily they can be corrected. When the power of those in charge becomes too great, or corrupt, or intrusive, or just wrong, the governed can see these things, and take action.

Observations and Considerations

While economy of words is always desirable, you will nevertheless find some ideas and concepts appearing more than once in this book. Occasionally these redundancies may seem pedantic, but the points iterated are core to each author who makes them. Many find the foundation of what they observe or conjure within the small orchard of principled thought, others are forced to act or react by the bright light of harsh experience. To not pay homage to their square one-and to the many authors who arrive at virtually the same square one over so many centuries past-would do a disservice to the remainder of what each individual has to say, and to the overall observations to be made here.
     Some of these foundations are nearly universal. An example: a point made equally often and stridently by the political observers and economists represented in this book is that the many varieties of socialism, which seemed possible to eighteenth-century idealists and became a theoretical obligation in the nineteenth, morphed in the


twentieth century into a singular obsession termed state welfarism that remains in the twenty-first a social, fiscal, and national danger. As Jacques Barzun notes in From Dawn to Decadence (2000), when John Stuart Mill opined in the nineteenth century that "the national product [of England] could be redirected at will and that it should be so ordered for the general welfare," the battle-not between capitalism and socialism, but between capitalism and chaos, as Ludwig von Mises termed it-was joined. When future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered similar thoughts as he regarded the Prussian-German economic model in 1912, it was apparent socialism was seen by him as something good, and the State as something better: "The [Prussians] passed beyond the liberty of the individual to do as he pleased with his own property and found it necessary to check this liberty for the benefit of the freedom of
the whole people" he announced to the People's Forum of Troy, New York. Lord Acton's contention that "liberty is not a means to a higher political end, it is itself the highest political end (Chapter 9)" was found wanting in Roosevelt's eye.
     That socialism assumed its place on the world stage in the twentieth century, undaunted by either logic or common sense, "taking," in Barzun's words, "the twin form of Communism and the Welfare State, either under the dictatorship of a party or under the rule of democratic parliament and bureaucracy" was so audacious an idea in the face of reality that many of our authors remained astonished. They felt evermore obligated to expose sequentially the insanity of socialism and its theoretically more benign but equally untenable progeny, state welfarism. As well, many of their acolytes were forced to action. To observe with what common certitude these authors held and voiced their views in spite of equally vehement opposition, inures to the benefit of anyone who sees in these pages not just sense, but a reason for passion.
     We hope through the recognition of the universality of many of these principles-whether in economics, governance, the protection of rights, or the necessity of performing duties-to achieve an appreciation of their extensive serviceability. Much as the foundations of most buildings share common engineering principles while supporting manifold architectural options, the first principles that underlie modern society's forms and relationships are equally simple and universal. It is essential that we recognize these foundations as the sometimes repeated substructure in varied applications and origins.


     Finally, as was observed by historian Forrest McDonald when he wrote E Pluribus Unum (1965), his history of the formation of our republic at the time of the American Revolution:

               If I have stated the obvious I do not apologize, for it is the obvious 
               that is so often most difficult to see.

The intention of First Principles is actually to do just that-state the obvious, note how each author uses the obvious to make more nuanced or broad points, and finally, to use the obvious to give credence to the principles that underlie both the origins and functioning of a democratic republic supported by a free-enterprise economic system.  As Thomas Paine noted of his own writing, upon receiving criticism for his style and structure:

              As it is my design to make those that can scarcely read understand,
              I shall therefore avoid every literary ornament and put it in the
              language as plain as the alphabet.

     As you explore the materials presented in First Principles we hope you will appreciate the intellectual integrity of the authors and their works, and the freedom of discussion our society affords each of us. We unreservedly believe that ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences, bad government is still a distinct possibility, and acting even with the best of intentions can have unintended, often harmful, consequences.
     As John Adams was fond of observing, "facts are stubborn things." As you peruse the fundamentals presented here, try to keep both an open mind and a commitment to traveling all pathways to their logical conclusions. In this manner you may sharpen your own understanding and help solidify freedom and virtue in a more dependable and public fashion. You may even discover new approaches and methods to deal with particular problems of government and human relations, or help resurrect old ones.
     Learn, then act. In that way our system and our society are made better.



There are some words and phrases that appear throughout the books reviewed in First Principles that are difficult to decipher, or for which exact meanings are not readily apparent, or that have a historical significance with which the reader may not be familiar. The following definitions will go some distance toward explaining what these words and phrases mean to conservative writers. The list appears here, and not in an appendix, because understanding these words and concepts before reading either the synopses or the underlying books will make the journey much easier.

authoritarianism: the suppression of the freedom of individuals, and control of individuals without considering or soliciting their wishes or circumstances: government by force rather than consent.

Benthamism: the moral doctrine of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) that posits the greatest happiness of the greatest number as the ultimate goal of society and the individual. Closely related to Utilitarianism, the doctrine that the worth or value of anything is determined solely by its utility, its usefulness. Benthamism is anti-individual and anti-individual rights.

bourgeoisie: the social class between the aristocracy (the very wealthy) and the proletariat (the working class); the middle class of small business owners. In socialist doctrine the bourgeoisie, or capitalists as a social class, is antithetical to the proletariat.

Calvinism: (named for John Calvin [1509-64], theologian and religious reformer, lawyer) Calvin's religious pronouncements had a practical, temporal side and his quest for civil order was a blend of both law and theology. His amalgam of the Ten Commandments and cultural admonitions to perform civic duties, such as paying taxes and bowing to the authority of government, brought civility to bear as society perfected itself after the Middle Ages. Religion was recognized as having a secular side in that it is a necessary adjunct in the fight against anarchy. Calvinism, represented today especially by Presbyterians and some Baptists, but also members of the broad Reform tradition, offers a dual, practical approach to social organization. Calvinist precepts-universal


(male) suffrage, equality in church self-government and other church matters, resistance to oppression, the obligations of civic duty, and ideals of personal liberty-were transferred almost in their entirety (from 1620 forward) into the nascent American experiment.

capitalism: an economic system in which most of the means of production, distribution, and/or exchange are privately owned and operated for profit. Initially capitalism was to be an open competitive system but government intervention and controls have developed over the centuries to counteract the economic power created by the success of the capitalism itself, and to deal with issues of national defense and public safety, health and well-being as they are affected by capitalistic practices.

classical liberalism: limited and decentralized state power, a free-market economy, freedom for the individual, and personal responsibility; now generally a part of conservatism in America.

collectivism: government control of most spheres of social and economic life; similar to socialism but without direct ownership of the means of production.

communism: an economic theory and system that takes socialism as its basis with regard to production and distribution. Communists assert that all means of production and distribution belong to the community as a whole (this tenet is the core of socialism), with the ownership of all other property also resting in the community; communist doctrine holds there is no need for private property. Distribution to individuals is "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his need." (See Marx, Karl following.)

conservatism: a social movement espousing minimal government intervention in personal lives, maximization of individual liberty coupled with personal responsibility, economic freedom with reliance on the market and decentralized decision making to order social/economic relationships, adherence to tested institutions and methods as described in the American Constitution and the writings of America's Founders. A more comprehensive definition assumes the existence of an objective moral order based on historical evidence. Within that moral order the individual is primary and the power of


the state minimal. The individual enjoys certain freedoms and rights, but assumes certain duties and responsibilities. Conservatism is anti-utopian; it understands mankind's inequalities, and the benefits that derive there-from, and acknowledges human imperfectability.

Deism: the belief that God exists and created the world but thereafter did not interfere with or assume any control over it. Reason is sufficient to prove the existence of God, but Deism rejects both revelation and specifically, religious authority. Deism holds that the universe, once created by a benevolent God, operates on rational rather than supernatural principles. (See also Reason, Age of.)

demagogue: a leader who uses the passions or prejudices of the populace for his own interest; an unprincipled agitator. "Demagoguery is the use of hyperbole and misinformation for political advantage by exaggerating either one's own virtue or the villainy of others"-Dick Armey, Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1994-2002.

despot, despotism: government by a singular authority, either an individual or a tightly knit group, which rules with absolute power. The word implies tyrannical control; a form of government that exercises exacting and near-absolute dominion over all of its citizens.

dialectics: the art or practice of examining opinions or ideas logically, often by the method of question and answer, so as to determine their validity; logical argumentation. Used by Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx in their theories of social action. It is based on the concept of contradiction or opposites (thesis and antithesis) and their continual resolution (synthesis).

economics: economics is the study of acts of choice (causes) and their results (effects). Economics is not about things but about people's actions and reactions to their world. Economics itself does not have an ethical or moral base; economics is only about choices and actions. Economics is indifferent to the goals of actions; it is a science of means, not ends.

Note: most dictionaries treat the words egalitarian and equalitarian as synonymous. In classical liberal and/or conservative theory and writing, however, the words are not interchangeable, and are, in fact,


essentially opposites. The following definitions capture this fundamental difference:

egalitarian: a belief in equal opportunity and equal rights for all people.

equalitarian: a belief in equal results or status for all people, irrespective of individual effort, capability, or opportunity.

Enlightenment, The: the eighteenth-century philosophical movement characterized by rationalism, learning, and a spirit of skepticism and empiricism in social, educational, religious, and political thought. The movement was centered in France and was founded in the blossoming of scientific understanding, often giving it anti-religious overtones. Its goal was the transformation of civilization on purely rational principles to achieve human perfection. Many of the Enlightenment's hopes were dashed with the disastrous reality of the French Revolution of 1789 that left unchecked power in the hands of a self-selected group in a legislative format. This was found to ensure no more fairness and justice than leaving such power in the hands of one person. Friedrich Nietzsche [1844-1900], a nineteenth-century German philosopher, captured the Enlightenment's failure succinctly when he observed "Man, instead of using reason to understand reality, tried to use it to master reality." The subsequent appreciation of man's imperfectability guided most of the ensuing rationalistic attempts at order and social construction. To control men's worst impulses when they exert dominion over others, mechanisms such as the separation of powers, checks and balances, frequent democratic elections, and a written constitution alterable only by the people, were implemented.

epistemology: the branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.

essentialism: the study of both economics and society through the use of base definitions of terms that embody their empirical or observable meanings. (Examples: a hammer is a heavy object used to exert force; taxes are revenues collected and used by a governing authority.)

fascism: a system of government characterized by a rigid one-party dictatorship and forcible suppression of opposition, the retention of private ownership of the means of production but under centralized


government control, belligerent nationalism, and claims to racial purity. First appeared in Milan, Italy (1919), under the Fascisti, founded by Benito Mussolini. The Fascisti's ostensible purpose was to oppose and then suppress all radical political movements in Italy, but their leaders-the Black Shirts-eventually established an ordinary dictatorship under Mussolini. Germany's National Socialism, a variant of fascism named for the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi Party (1931-1945), was an amalgam of fascism and socialism created by Adolph Hitler, but taken to greater extremes than the Italian version.

free market: a set of circumstances and suppositions where the activities of the participants are not subject to coercion and where all individuals may exchange their products, services, or ideas voluntarily. A market, of whatever nature or subject matter, from education to economics, from government to social interaction, in which the terms of exchange are set and re-set by supply and demand in open competition, and are otherwise unregulated. In a free market, decision making devolves to those closest to the activities involved, who have the greatest knowledge of what is occurring and how to achieve whatever goals are desired. Free-market activity is the opposite of centralized control, where distant decision makers, often operating largely on theory, cannot comprehend the myriad factors that affect entire systems. A free market allows individuals to learn what they do not know, and then act on what they learn, by providing theory with an open laboratory.

general will: the theory that a government’s decisions represent the will of the people, or a majority thereof.  In a representative democracy the claim that legislative actions or executive declarations embody the general will is used to quell opposition and dissent, thus increasing the power of both those in office and the bureaucrats who operate the system.
     The assertion that those elected are qualified to define public consensus arose as democracy spread subsequent to the American Revolution.  The general will, after it is presented by elected officials or candidates, is deified by its foundation in democratic process.

historicism (determinism): a theory that holds that the future is determined by what happened in the past; the belief that historical inevitability makes studying the past a way to predict the future.


human condition, the: a reference to the totality of the experience of being human. As imperfect, and imperfectable beings, the manner and content of our individual and group actions and reactions (both good and bad) as we experience life's realities are the substance of this condition.

inflation: rising prices caused by an increase in the amount of money and credit circulating in an economy with no equal increase in the supply of goods or services. Prices rise as the supply of money increases because more dollars are chasing the same amount of goods; when people have more money, they are willing to pay more for any given object, causing its price to be bid up. The increase in the amount of money is the result, primarily, of government printing more currency. When the supply of money increases, the value of each unit of money decreases. In general, governments print more money in order to balance their budgets. An unbalanced budget arises when governments spend more money than taxation brings in. Inflation, allowed to continue unchecked, causes the monetary system to collapse and the currency to become worthless, as happened in Germany in 1923 and in America in 1781.

Jacobins: from the Hebrew: one who seizes by the heel, a supplanter. Politically radical French democrats during the revolution of 1789, ultimately led by Maximilien Robespierre, who favored extreme change in France's social structure. So called because their meetings were initially held in the Jacobin friars' convent. The Jacobins instituted the Reign of Terror in 1793, their intention being to bludgeon opponents-through mass and summary executions-into acceptance of and conformity with their views. Refers today to political radicals, especially persons with equalitarian impulses.     In opposition to the radical Jacobins was the Gironde Party, a group of mostly moderate Republicans who sought, in the model of the United States, democratic government without a monarch.  Thomas Paine's support for this group almost cost him his life.

jingoism: boasting of one's patriotism and favoring an aggressive, threatening, war-like
foreign policy.

Labor Party (English): a political party organized to protect and further the rights of workers, or professing to do so; originally a democratic socialist party, it is now evolving away from that stance.


liberal: in politics, a word or label denoting views with essentially opposite meaning in Europe and America. Historically (and yet today in Europe) a political viewpoint developed during the nineteenth century that stressed personal freedom, limited state interference in the individual's life, and the importance of constitutional rule. In mid-twentieth-century America, liberal came to denote those who favor largely opposite goals such as "reform" of current conditions or perceived problems through the creation of new social patterns or values; change is to be achieved by means of direct government intervention and programs. Personal freedom and preference is often to be controlled by the state; the stated and sought-after "community" good is valued over personal freedom and individual choice.

liberalism, or collectivist or populist liberalism (American): the opposite of classical liberalism; state economic control, various intrusive interventionist state actions that limit individual freedom and expand welfarism, with highly progressive and redistributionist tax structures.

Liberal Party (English): formerly the Whig Party in England; a party of no fixed principles today.

libertarianism: a political doctrine that supports the freedom of people to act for themselves so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others, and that favors government action only if it is confined to those activities that the members of a society cannot efficiently and voluntarily perform either individually or collectively at the local level; generally opposed to legislation involving deviant personal conduct of any kind, for example, legislation against narcotics use.

macroeconomics: The study of any national economy, the global economy, or other whole economic systems through the accumulation of continually changing economic information, such as the rate of inflation, of unemployment, of production, of price levels, etc. The effects of government actions on these large markets are also a key part of market analysis.
Manifest Destiny: the nineteenth-century doctrine that it is the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon nations, especially the United States, to dominate the entire Western Hemisphere.

Manifest Destiny: the nineteenth-century doctrine that it is the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon nations, especially the United States , to dominate the entire Western Hemisphere .


marginal utility: the minimum degree of utility (usefulness), below which any activity (including everything from manufacturing to social controls) is not profitable enough to be continued.

Marx, Karl: (1818-1883) nineteenth-century political economist and social philosopher. His concept of economic justice was mathematical, and taken to its logical end resulted in a pure uniformity of existence for mankind. Marx's theories, based on his assumption that the history of society was a history of class struggles, were tested in a pragmatic manner as a result of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the imposition of communism-Marx's brand of socialism-on the Russian people. Neither the experiment nor Marx's theories were able to pass the "real world" test and Russian (Soviet) Communism collapsed in 1991 when the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a political and economic entity. Marx's labor theory of value (that because all value was created by labor, all value should be returned to labor) was discredited as capitalism matured and the benefits and economic value of its various components (management, capital formation, imagination, incentive, etc.) was recognized.

meliorism: the belief that the world naturally tends to get better, and especially that it can be made better by human effort.

microeconomics: the branch of economics concerned with the behavior of and decisions made by individuals, households, and firms and how these decisions interact to form the prices of goods and services and the factors of production and distribution.

monetarism: the theory that economic stability and growth are determined primarily by the supply of money.

moral hazard: the idea that if people feel isolated from risk they will gamble more and/or they’ll risk more when they do gamble.  A moral hazard spills over into illicit activity, behavior in which people would normally not engage, if enough insulation from risk is created. 

moral relativism: the belief that moral propositions do not reflect absolute or universal truth, that ethical judgments emerge simply from social customs and personal preferences; the belief posits that there is no single standard by which to assess an ethical proposition's truth.


This term reflects a view that morality is personal and self or socially-defined. When used as a foundation for public interaction it can evolve to complacent irresponsibility, social futility and self-indulgence.

multiculturalism: a philosophy or theory based on the view that society works better if people feel their cultural beliefs are respected and that they do not have to abandon their values to be considered good citizens. This view holds that several different and distinct cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably in a single country and that laws, customs and behavior are subject to citizen preference rather than unifying cultural norms that evolve sustainable values. A contrary view holds that overt or mandated cultural individuality breeds unnecessary conflict and jealousy and impedes citizen comity. This form of multiculturalism can devolve to pluralism (see below). Those who hold the contrary view argue that a basic national uniformity is essential (particularly in terms of language), but do not oppose informal recognition and tolerance of limited individual cultural heritage.

multiplier effect: in capitalism the consequences of an initial amount of private spending washing through the economy causing additional spending by inventors, investors, suppliers, producers, distributors, advertisers, sales forces, and consumers.  Each step adds value and increases tax revenue.  The multiplier effect from inventor to consumer is circular. 
       The opposite of the multiplier effect is government stimulus or Keynesian spending that is a one-time event.  The effect of tax dollars taken from the private economy (or created out of thin air by government printing more currency) that are redistributed as stimulus spending are reduced, first, by the bureaucratic cost (called friction) of government acting as a middleman and, second, through misallocation of funds via political intrusion into distribution decisions.  Circulation of private funds that do not pass through the hands of government that are guided by the invisible hand of the free market actually create the multiplier effect sought by government.  Government attempts to stimulate an economy are better achieved through tax and other policies, including reduced government spending, that provide incentive for private economic activity.


nominalism: a doctrine of the late Middle Ages that all universal or abstract terms are mere necessities of thought, or conveniences of language, and therefore exist as names only and have no realities corresponding to them; the opposite of realism. The idea that man's opinions are of greater consequence than truths gained by experience.

normative: of or establishing a norm or standard; pertaining to what ought to be, in contrast to a "positive" analysis, that is, analysis which determines what is.

opportunity cost: when one is choosing between two options, an opportunity cost is what is incurred because something else is chosen (i.e., any choice "costs" one a different choice). The opportunity that is lost is the next most valuable end, after the one chosen, toward which one could apply one's resources.

paradigm: the set of common beliefs and agreements about how problems should be understood and addressed; a coherent understanding of cause-effect relationships; the predominant view that defines what exists in the real world.

pluralism: A condition in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, language, or social groups maintain their traditional cultures or special interests within a common (shared) culture. Pluralism is a framework of interaction in which groups show sufficient respect and tolerance of each other that they fruitfully coexist and interact without conflict but also with or without significant assimilation. Pluralism is more separatist than its cousin multiculturalism. In a pluralistic setting often mutually exclusive and contradictory religious, moral and/or political doctrines are held to be equal in status-though equality in merit or value are not universally accepted. Strident pluralism, such as when two languages cause intra-country conflict is called Separatism (Canada, Belgium).

political correctness: a term used to describe efforts to discourage recognition of various political or other views that are not in sync with equalitarian (and related) criteria. While it frequently refers to a linguistic phenomenon, it also extends to describe a non-economic, emotionally based political ideology and behavior. When the state decides what is "correct" for the society, the state's decisions evidence a


"political" correctness, arbitrated by those in the government and supposedly, but not necessarily, expressing the general will. Those seeking a politically correct society strive for equality or social justice (from a particular viewpoint not necessarily universally accepted) through suppression of thought, speech, or practice they deem antithetical to achieving that goal. Questioning the morality or validity of various viewpoints that are not universally accepted is not permitted in a politically correct milieu; it is deemed "incorrect" speech.

(political) diversity: diversity refers to all of the characteristics that make individuals different from each other. In a political/sociological sense diversity reflects a respect for and accommodation of racial/ethnic, gender, cultural, disability, sexual orientation, and social differences. Political diversity, however, is often seen as a goal to be imposed (with all the difficulties of legislating morality or cultural norms), rather than as a byproduct of evolving social interaction.

populism: a political philosophy directed to the needs of the common people and advocating a more even distribution of wealth and power, without specific regard to classical economic tenets. Also: containing or advocating nativist or nationalistic tendencies, such as high tariffs and a restrictive immigration policy

positivism: a rationalist philosophy based solely on positive, observable, scientific facts, and their correlation to one another. It rejects speculation on or search for ultimate origins. It is an inductive method of reasoning that attempts to prove theories via evidence. Also called logical empiricism.

pragmatism: the theory that we learn best from experience, from what "works." Pragmatism leads to tolerance of others and their views; that is, for what works for them. Pragmatism became popular with the advent of the modern age when there arose many belief systems from which to choose. Skepticism about the authority or finality of any particular set of beliefs-out of the many available-led to pragmatism.

proletariat: the working class, especially the industrial working class; the class above serfs, peasants, or others bereft of freedom or property.


Puritan: A term first used c. 1570 for English Protestants who wanted to "purify" the Church of England of ceremony and ritual not found in the Scriptures. At first they simply wanted to reform their church, but by 1620 many were separatists who wanted to start their own churches. They felt reform was hopeless. There were never many separatist Puritans in England because they tended to emigrate to America. "Puritan" described a tendency, not a denomination; thus many sects evolved from Puritanism, depending on the parts of the Anglican (Church of England) service with which they disagreed. Puritans often defied human authority (religious or secular) in order to follow or rely solely on Scripture.

rationalism: the principle or practice of accepting reason as the only authority in determining one's opinions or course of action. The theory that reason, or intellect, rather than the senses, is the true source of knowledge. A rejection of revelation or the supernatural as explanations for temporal matters.

Realpolitik: foreign policy based on calculations of actual power and national interest.

Reason, Age of: a loosely defined period which began near the end of the eighteenth century, where rationalism was to define human experience and existence; also the title of a book by Thomas Paine whose thinking was archetypal of the age. Paine was a deist (see Deism). He vehemently rejected the authority of Judeo-Christian tenets and scriptures. In The Age of Reason, Paine outlined his objections to theism and his belief in deism, and he dissected the miracles and inconsistencies in the Old and New Testaments in an effort to bolster his view that God is less palpable than the adherents to conventional religions claim. Paine used reason, which he called "the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind," to point out problems and expose contradictions within various religions. Paine was so sure of his own reasoned conclusions that he thought the collapse of "revealed religion" was imminent as mankind entered the new Age of Reason.

redistribution (economic): a political effort to shift a substantial portion of society's wealth from the entrepreneurial class to the remainder of the population. This is accomplished by means of high rates of taxation whereby income, profits, estates, etc., are reallocated


to the less well-off through law and regulation (such as Social Security and Medicare), direct transfers (in the form of various subsidies), and implementation of other public welfare measures. Generally considered to achieve ends opposite of the intended goal by undermining the incentive that created the wealth that is to be redistributed. Redistribution also depletes the pool of capital that is the fuel of economic activity thus making the entire nation poorer.

Reformation, or Protestant Reformation: the sixteenth-century movement initiated by Martin Luther with the nailing of ninety-five theses to his parish church door in 1517. The theses sought to expose religious inconsistencies and apostasies. The movement was aimed at reforming the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in the establishment of Protestantism-a group of Christian churches not aligned with, and often opposed to, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Luther, a priest, contended that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt and in need of reform. He favored the translation of the Bible into contemporary languages because most people could not read Latin. Luther strongly opposed the selling of forgiveness by church functionaries, which sale he considered to be immoral, especially when the sale was of forgiveness for future sins. The idea behind the Protestant Reformation was simple: the Church should be changed, or reformed, so that it would be less greedy, and also fairer and accessible to all people, not just the rich and well educated. Luther held that the only religious authority was the Bible, not the Church hierarchy.

Renaissance: the period of European history from the early fourteenth to the late sixteenth centuries. The term is derived from the French word for rebirth, and originally referred to the revival of the values and artistic styles of classical antiquity, especially in Italy. The word later acquired a broader meaning. Voltaire in the eighteenth century classified the Renaissance in Italy as one of the great ages of cultural achievement. In the modern age the Renaissance is considered a distinct historical epoch characterized by rejuvenation of the arts, the rise of the individual, renewed scientific inquiry and geographical exploration, and the growth of secular values.

scientism: the philosophy that scientific methods can and should be applied to all fields of knowledge.


Scottish Enlightenment: the period c.1740-c.1800 when the intellectuals of Scotland —most notably David Hume, Adam Smith, and Frances Hutcheson, Hume’s antagonist—explored societal changes wrought by capitalism and science. The Enlightenment (p. 43), which flowered in France also in the eighteenth-century, was a movement characterized by rationalism, empiricism, and a spirit of skepticism in social, political, and scientific thought.  Using the Enlightenment’s intellectual tools and their own pragmatism the Scots watched mankind react to its surroundings.  From these observations they saw the necessity of accommodating the individual rights, duties, and opportunities of people rather than imposing on them theoretical verities that often didn’t work in real-world situations.  The conclusions of the Scots led to the elaboration of personal freedom as the common denominator in all human equations.
Appraising the newly-born scientific method and the division of labor and their impact on economics and society, Scottish intellectuals began a centuries-long contemplation of modernity’s moral foundations as they are affected by economic, social, and scientific realities. Modern scientific processes based on understanding evidence, experience, and causation were developed in this period. Hume elaborated many principles of the scientific method while he also investigated the evolving relationship between science and religion.  Simultaneously Smith expanded understanding of the intellectual foundation and logical consequences of capitalism.  The confluence of these economic and scientific advances revolutionized human thinking and progress.

secularism: a system of doctrines, philosophy, beliefs, and/or practices that rejects any form of religious faith and worship; the belief that religion and ecclesiastical affairs should not enter into the functions of the state.

social contract; social compact: the voluntary submission of free people to the authority of government in order to secure their rights. If the government violates those rights, it breaks the contract and the people are free to organize themselves in another manner-by the use of force if necessary. The protection of rights and the enforcement of duties are the functions of government, but if government exerts power beyond that agreement, then the right of defiance is manifest. However, there are shades of citizen justification for self-determination, for no government is perfect or perfectly administered. If government fails


the populace, there is a right of resistance; if government oppresses the people, there is a right of revolution. A continued theft of rights or enforcement of slave-like duties is no more justified in government than it is in private matters.

socialism: a theory and system that holds that the ownership of the means of production and distribution shall be by society as a whole rather than by free individuals. Everyone is to share equally in both the work and the product. In communist doctrine, socialism is that stage coming between capitalism and communism; a dictatorship-theoretically of the proletariat as a class, but normally of individuals-is required to bring about the eventual transition to a communist society.

sovereign state: a state independent of all others; a political entity not controlled by outside forces.

Soviet Union; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR): the former communist country in Eastern Europe and northern Asia; established in 1922; it included Russia and fourteen other socialist republics. The Soviet Union was the political entity that came into being after the 1917 Russian Revolution and the following Civil War of 1918-20. It was the home of a worldwide effort at socialist revolution by means of both stealth and force. The government and the country were run by a totalitarian political entity, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union. For most of the half-century following World War II, the Soviet Union vied with the United States for political and ideological domination of both populations and countries in what was termed the Cold War. The USSR ceased to exist politically in 1991, but its disintegration began in 1989 with the initial breakdown of its economic and political structures. When the USSR collapsed, its constituent parts became fifteen independent countries, many of which were loosely aligned in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Soviet is the Russian word for council. Soviets were councils of workers' deputies and organizationally began to be formed during the 1905 Russian Revolution (the deputies were those who represented the workers in the councils; the term deputies reflects their subordinate, in theory, position to the workers themselves); the term took on greater political meaning subsequent to the 1917 Revolution.

statism, statist: a term used to describe any economic system where a


government implements a significant degree of centralized economic planning, which usually includes a comprehensive welfare system and state ownership of the means of production, as opposed to a system where economic planning occurs at a decentralized level by private individuals in a free market. A statist is one who believes in or implements this form of governmental control.

tautology: needless repetition of an idea in a different word, phrase, or sentence; redundancy; adding nothing to the sense of a subject.

Tory: the political party in England labeled today as Conservative. Also applied to those Americans who sided with Great Britain and opposed the American Revolutionary War.

totalitarian, -ism: a form of government in which one person, a dictator, or a political party exercises absolute control over all spheres of human life, and opposing political parties or ideas are prohibited.

utilitarian, -ism: the notion that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the aim of all social policy (regardless of individual rights and freedoms). (See Benthamism.)

Utopia, utopia: an imaginary island described as having a perfect political and social system, from a book of the same title by Sir Thomas More (1478-1535); any place, state, system, or situation of ideal perfection, especially social perfection.

Whig: the English political party that sided with the Americans during the Revolutionary War and opposed maintaining American ties to Great Britain by force. The party championed popular individual rights. Also the name of the U.S. political party (1836-1856) that supported protection of industry and limitation of executive power.


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