Published on November 29th, 2012 | by Dr. Joel McDurmon12
It’s time for radical long-run optimism
The Conservative has long been marked, whether he knows it or not, by long-run pessimism: by the belief that the long-run trend, and therefore time itself, is against him. Hence, the inevitable trend runs toward left-wing statism at home and communism abroad. It is this long-run despair that accounts for the Conservative’s rather bizarre short-run optimism, for since the long run is given up as hopeless, the Conservative feels that his only hope of success rests in the current moment. In foreign affairs, this point of view leads the Conservative to call for desperate showdowns with communism, for he feels that the longer he waits the worse things will ineluctably become; at home, it leads him to total concentration on the very next election, where he is always hoping for victory and never achieving it. The quintessence of the practical man, and beset by long-run despair, the Conservative refuses to think or plan beyond the election of the day.
Consider the vast chorus of conservatives who have been repeating the long-debunked freeloader myth to argue that we have passed the “tipping point”—the point of no return from total socialism.[product id="1522" align="right" size="small]
Consider wailings such as Ann Coulter’s on Laura Ingraham’s show: “It’s over. There is no hope.”
Consider these things, and the insight above seems relevant, timely.
But consider that it was written in 1965, and it seems profoundly prophetic. Or worse: simply true. It reveals a particular psychosis within conservatism.
The quotation was the opening paragraph to the Libertarian Murray Rothbard’s essay “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty,” written in 1965. It’s a long essay. But with the exception of a few fundamental philosophical differences I have, most of it is profound.
It’s also sad that it’s so true. Conservatives have done little except prove these introductory sentiments true for nearly fifty years.
There was a brief exception in conservative rhetoric. In 1984, a Reagan ad touted “morning in America.” It was an optimistic message. With Mondale’s ineptitude and legacy as Carter-light, we saw the greatest electoral landslide of the century: 525 to 13. America hadn’t seen a blowout like that since 1980. Democrats lost, Reagan ruled, and it was thus “Morning in America.”
(Previous elections had been blowouts as well. One of them was LBJ over Goldwater in 1964. Obviously, at that time, there must have been more “takers” than “makers” in America, as LBJ wooed the electorate with the promise of the Great Society, which he delivered in 1965. Was the “tipping point” really in 1964? I’m sure we would have heard about it then, except that Ann was only 3 years old.)
But with few exceptions, the morning was more like a sunset. Reagan’s “morning” had pretty much ended after the presidential honeymoon in 1981. By the end of the first term, even Bob Dole could quip, “Now the bloom is gone.”(1) Not too much transpired to advance the causes of American liberty under the sun of that 1984 dayspring. (Reagan’s legacy has been dissected here.)
There was, of course, a Wall that he helped to get torn down in 1987, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, it seems to have fallen in this direction. The waves of socialism and socialists have flooded our way. Some of them just wanted to eat, sure, but others want to eat the rich and teach our children to do so, too.
Conservatives, of course, have enabled the latter by sending their kids to socialist teachers at socialist institutions to learn socialism through both instruction and osmosis. When criticized on the issue of public education, most conservatives and even many Christians not only support the socialistic institution, but defend it fiercely as if it were part and parcel of John 3:16. Then they wonder why culture is slipping away from Christian values, and even act shocked as to why their children no longer go to church, have sex in high school, become atheists in college, and vote for Obama.
Let me be blunt: one major reason culture is slowly slipping away is because you send your children to public schools, and because you defend the institution of public schools.
There is no bigger cause of the problem, and there is no bigger fix to creeping liberalism than to begin homeschooling or at least private schooling now, as in right now, today, when you finish reading this sentence.[product id="1355" align="left" size="small]
Yet, too many Christian conservatives will deny this, and will fight and argue to rationalize their use of socialized education.
(I can hear those ravenous liberal now: “Kids need to be better socialized you say? Hehe. We can take care of that.”)
Pessimism is as pessimism does. If you refuse to practice and promote free Christian models of living, you are only aiding and abetting the decline and fall of free Christian society.
Solving the problems of pessimism
For Christians, there are two main facets to the problem of pessimism: 1) beliefs about “end times,” and 2) a false view of “left” and “right.” Both are simple to address, although one will be considered a radical to do so.
The first is obvious (although Rothbard hadn’t seemed to consider this one in 1965). It is Christian eschatology, or “end times” views. The most common view of “end times” among Evangelicals is dispensational premillennialism. In relation to end times teachings, this is most commonly understood as the “left behind” school. It emphasizes the gradual decline of the world into total submission to Satan—or “the antichrist.” At some point (very soon now, we are assured), Christ comes back to “rapture” out the saints, initiate a seven-year period of tribulation in the land of Israel, and bind Satan during a 1,000-year physical rule from the literal city of Jerusalem.
The main point here is that the world must, according to this view, devolve gradually into corruption and evil before any of the return and rule of Christ can even begin. Thus, conservatives who believe this—and it is a large portion of them—accept the gradual decline of society now as a welcome part of their Christian expectations. It is prophecy fulfilled, God’s will, the way things must be.
Thus, no matter how upset they were that their candidate was a Mormon, and no matter how upset they were that their candidate lost to a socialist they perceive to be an American-hatin’ Muslim, indeed, no matter how much they decry and lament the comprehensive decline and fall of America—these Christians must secretly embrace that decline in their hearts as confirmation that we’re closer to the return of Christ.
Christian Reconstructionist, theonomists, and other postmillennialists have criticized these “pessimillennialists” as historical defeatists who believe that Christ and the Holy Spirit must suffer defeat in history in regard to the very Great Commission He gave us. In response to the force of such arguments, several premillennialists and even some amillennialists have attempted to present themselves as “optimistic” and working toward the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom, even if in futility, as a testimony against the forces of Satan.[product id="1161" align="right" size="small]
But this budding number of dispensationalists is up against its own inner contradictions. It’s simple. If your end-times belief system dictates that the world must degenerate and fall completely, or almost completely, into the hands of Satan before the Lord even starts to return, then the conclusion is inescapable: whether you fight outwardly or not, you still must inwardly long for the advance of evil in the here and now.
Such a Christian must, even if subconsciously and secretly, love and embrace—earnestly desire—the advance of Obama, socialism, liberalism, homosexual marriage, “gay rights,” abortion, economic crisis, inflation, the Federal Reserve, war, natural disasters, radical Muslim immigration, and indeed the entire evisceration, decline, fall, destruction and utter desolation of the United States of America.
While obviously they would be personally opposed to all of these things, such Christians must of doctrinal necessity laud the advance of these things in the public square. For the worse things get, the closer we must be to Jesus coming back.
And on the contrary, any earnest effort to halt such things, especially politically, must be judged as at best naïve, and at worst an attempt to thwart the will of God by the “works of man.”
I say, such an eschatology is pessimistic. It demands and welcomes consistent historical defeat until Christ returns (“soon,” of course). And the fact that such a view dominates a large portion of the political landscape among the GOP is a tremendous obstacle to the advance of Christ’s Kingdom, which is Freedom.
Until the majority of Christians change their eschatology, there is very little hope of political progress for conservatives. Political progress toward freedom requires a goal, a plan, and an optimistic faith, both short-term and long-run. But such an outlook is by definition impossible for dispensationalists and premillennialists in general (and to be honest, most amillennialists, too).
It just so happens that the dispensational premillennial view of end times is not difficult to refute from Scripture, nor to replace with the Scriptural view of Christ’s continuing dominion from His heavenly seat until that conquest is finished and the last enemy is destroyed. The optimistic faith we need is right there in the clearest terms in undeniable passages of Scripture. These passages interpret the prophecies for us so we don’t have to rely on novels, movies, and newspaper clippings interpreted by fast-talking prophecy teachers with too much hair spray.[product id="1445" align="left" size="small]
In the meantime, we will learn that we Christians need to get to work. This means doing certain things in accord with the Gospel and law of God.
This means understanding the second main problem of pessimism among conservatives: a warped view of the left and right. This pertains specifically to the goals at which we must aim and the plan to get there. We have come to understand these terms to apply as “left = liberal, Democrat” and “right = conservative, Republican.” Further confusing the historical facts are the common association that the left wants big government and socialism while the right wants small government and freedom.
This is almost the opposite of the truth.
Historically, at least in the British tradition which influenced early America, the “left” and “liberals” were the proponents of freedom, voluntarism, contracts, rule of law, and Constitutionalism. The “right” was the Old Regime which believed in strong, centralized government, an established church, government control over money, finance, commerce, cronyism, corporatism, etc. It was the monarchical and mercantilist party dominated by wealthy men who had gotten wealthy by government coercion, favors, subsidies, etc.
It is in this regard that Rothbard—and again I reserve certain fundamental philosophical differences with him—is particularly helpful. He explains the divide historically, and then makes reference to the views of the great champion of freedom Lord Acton:
Acton wrote that “Liberalism wishes for what ought to be, irrespective of what is.” In working out this view, incidentally, it was Acton, not Trotsky, who first arrived at the concept of the “permanent revolution.” As Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote in her excellent study of Acton:
. . . his philosophy develop(ed) to the point where the future was seen as the avowed enemy of the past, and where the past was allowed no authority except as it happened to conform to morality. To take seriously this Liberal theory of history, to give precedence to “what ought to be” over “what is,” was, he admitted, virtually to install a “revolution in permanence.”
The “revolution in permanence,” as Acton hinted in the inaugural lecture and admitted frankly in his notes, was the culmination of his philosophy of history and theory of politics. . . . This idea of conscience, that men carry about with them the knowledge of good and evil, is the very root of revolution, for it destroys the sanctity of the past. . . . “Liberalism is essentially revolutionary,” Acton observed. “Facts must yield to ideas. Peaceably and patiently if possible. Violently if not.”
The Liberal, wrote Acton, far surpassed the Whig:
The Whig governed by compromise. The Liberal begins the reign of ideas. . . . One is practical, gradual, ready for compromise. The other works out a principle philosophically. One is a policy aiming at a philosophy. The other is a philosophy seeking a policy.
Nothing suits the more recent history of the GOP better, as we have just witnessed, than Acton’s expression of the old Whig tradition here: “ready for compromise.” In practice, this results in stagnation at best, decline more likely. For any compromise with evil is a victory for evil. It is difficult to make a similar argument for any “good” that may be achieved while simultaneously promoting social evil.
But more to the immediate point, the old-school “liberal” (it’s scary today even to try to re-appropriate the term in a positive way!) was a principled champion of freedom who had two things: 1) a political and social goal at which to aim, and 2) an uncompromising commitment to get there eventually.
Rothbard then explains how such a view of the “left” was lost and eventually replaced with the left we know today—the socialist, communistic left. But his reasoning is very revealing. For those who would be queasy to study the thoughts of the Libertarian Rothbard for whatever reason, consider the following two factors to which he points for the wane of the old Liberty movement:
Two philosophical roots of this decay may be discerned. First is the abandonment of natural rights and “higher law” theory for utilitarianism, for only forms of natural or higher law theory can provide a radical base outside the existing system from which to challenge the status quo; and only such theory furnishes a sense of necessary immediacy to the libertarian struggle by focusing on the necessity of bringing existing criminal rulers to the bar of justice. Utilitarians, on the other hand, in abandoning justice for expediency, also abandon immediacy for quiet stagnation and inevitably end up as objective apologists for the existing order.
The second great philosophical influence on the decline of liberalism was evolutionism, or Social Darwinism, which put the finishing touches to liberalism as a radical force in society. For the Social Darwinist erroneously saw history and society through the peaceful, rose-colored glasses of infinitely slow, infinitely gradual social evolution. Ignoring the prime fact that no ruling caste in history has ever voluntarily surrendered its power, and that, therefore, liberalism had to break through by means of a series of revolutions, the Social Darwinists looked forward peacefully and cheerfully to thousands of years of infinitely gradual evolution to the next supposedly inevitable stage of individualism.
Study these closely: they may be summarized in my own way as 1) a departure from God’s law, and 2) the embrace of Social Darwinism.
The first summary is not a stretch because “natural rights” and “higher law” together can only mean God’s law in any consistent worldview. Surely in the context of the eighteenth-century English liberals, there was influence from this perspective. This means that even the agnostic Rothbard recognized the need for a law higher than mere human laws (positive laws, statute laws) if there is to be 1) true liberty, and 2) the prospect for the advance of liberty in society.[product id="653" align="right" size="small]
What’s even more powerful is what Rothbard’s comments entail: the belief that the state itself must be subject to this “higher law.” Indeed, such a system promotes liberty and brings an urgency toward that end, as freedom would demand us to bring “criminal rulers to the bar of justice.”
As he rightly notes, the two major compromises which destroyed this liberal tradition were utilitarianism and social Darwinism. Both of these should be obvious: the former subjects the freedom and rights of individuals to the “greater happiness” of the greatest number of people—not even a majority, but a plurality! This obviously leads to pragmatism, political gamesmanship, corruption, and suppression.
It also can breed elitism, which is what social Darwinism effectively becomes. This view says that man has evolved to the point that he can be the wise director, planner, caretaker of nature. This mandates that the most intelligent and careful few among us direct, plan, and take care of the rest. The result is, well, the history of leftism as we know it today. Its clearest manifestation is the public school system, of which the godfather of social Darwinism, Lester Frank Ward, was a vigorous proponent.
The antidote to this whole problem begins by adjusting our understanding of left and right. We should not understand these as D vs. R. We should understand them as liberty vs. tyranny as judged at the bar of the eternal higher law—God’s law.
From this perspective, and the perspective of history, D and R are both far to the right of this schema—far towards tyranny. Both believe in using statist, oppressive means in order to further agendas, many of which are unbiblical. They are each unbiblical for some similar and some different reasons, but they are both unbiblical and tyrannical nonetheless. We should view them that way, and as the preferred alternative, view the goal of biblical law as the cause of Liberty toward which we must aim.
While so much more could—and should—be said in these regards, the basic conclusions are simple. Conservatives fall into hopelessness and despair because they are trained to be pessimistic and reactionary, and from this malady they are provided no escape which is not condemned as “radical.”
These characteristics are expressed and exacerbated most vividly in widespread pessimistic eschatology and a failure to critique the false view of left and right that is foisted upon them.
With the former problem comes a secret love of cultural decline. The second brings a secret refusal to adopt biblical, as opposed to secular, standards of liberty. Both are then compounded by a self-induced paralysis to do any different. As the trend spirals downward, the entrapped refuse even to listen to anything outside of the prison of their pessimism.[product id="134" align="left" size="small]
The solution to these problems is education in dominion theology. This addresses, among other things, both the eschatology and the political standard. It supplies optimism in both the goal at which to aim and the confidence of seeing it come to pass according to God’s own promise.
Until we make strides in these basic areas, the next “election of the day” will be one more, and one more, and one more, near-sighted project destined for pity and despair—even after a win as rhetorically optimistic as the great Reagan revolution.
If we do begin to overcome the gloom and compromise, it will only be because we set clear biblical goals, and then marched, sweated, spent, and bled for them.Endnotes:
- See p. 8 in the link.(↩)