“You can’t beat something with nothing.” That is an old slogan out of American politics. It applies to all of life.
In every philosophical system, there is a pro and a con. There is a benefit and a liability. There is something to be attained and something to be avoided. There are positive sanctions and negative sanctions. There are carrots and sticks. Christianity teaches about heaven and hell.
All of this seems obvious, but when we get to American politics today, we find that it is virtually all anti-.
The 2016 presidential election is the classic example of this in American political history. People lined up against Trump or against Clinton. But it was difficult to find anybody who was philosophically in favor of either one of them. Certainly, the voters did not see it this way. It truly was an election settled by an appeal to this familiar principle: the lesser of two evils. In this case, millions of people really did believe that the candidate they opposed was evil.
THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT
I was recruited into the conservative movement in 1956 because of a lecture given by an Australian physician named Fred Schwarz. He was a specialist in communist philosophy and tactics. He ran an organization called the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. He was a good speaker, and he was able to boil down communist tactics and philosophy in ways that the average person could understand them.
The problem he faced, which he admitted at the time, was that he had no practical solutions to offer. He said that people would come to him after a lecture, and they would ask the obvious question: “What should I do?” He always said the same thing. He said that he was like a physician who specialized in diagnosis. He did not offer cures. There are such physicians, but we do not find them practicing medicine for a living. They are researchers who work in labs. A physician who cannot offer a suggested treatment to deal with a fatal diagnosis is not going to keep patients. Schwarz should have understood this obvious fact from the day that he started his anti-Communist crusade.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, I often heard this complaint: “Why don’t the conservative organizations all get together? Why do they keep arguing with each other?” This betrayed an astounding lack of understanding of how organizations work, especially ideological organizations. The Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks battled one another in the early 1900’s a lot more than they battled the Czar. This is especially true in the early phases of any movement.
In 1956, there were only two magazines that people in the American Right wing could subscribe to for more information. One was National Review, which had been started in late 1955. The other was The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education. William F. Buckley, who launched National Review, originally had wanted to get control over the name The Freeman. It was controlled by Leonard E. Read. There had been a previous magazine called The Freeman, but it had gone out of business in 1954. Read started his version of The Freeman in 1956. Some of the authors wrote for both magazines. Henry Hazlitt was one, and John Chamberlain was another. But the two magazines had different goals and organizing principles. The most important difference was this: The Freeman was not an “anti-“magazine. It was “anti-” only in so far as a particular author would contrast what Read called the freedom philosophy with some other philosophy that did not promote freedom, and therefore produced bad results.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)