I assume by now everyone back in Australia would have seen the famous “Rick Santelli Rant” from a few weeks back. If not, check it out here:
No really, do actually watch it. Seriously.
What is interesting to me is not the rant, so much as what followed. Essentially this rant inspired spontaneous grassroots “tea-parties” across the USA. Non-political individuals – ordinary people – who were fed up with the creeping socialism that is coming from the Administration coming together to protest. Tens of thousands of people.
Although some advocacy organisations helped co-ordinate some of them, this was for the most part an organic, bottom-up movement.
A libertarian friend of mine quite high up in the Liberal Party (yes a few still exist!) emailed me shortly after, saying that this “Really cuts to the core of why American conservatism is better than Australian conservatism – we are conservative in a literal, preserve the status quo way. Their brand of conservatism is inherently revolutionary – I love it!”
Irrespective of your thoughts on fusionism, I believe a similar critique can be made of classical liberals/libertarians within Australia. However, I think that there is more to it than this, and that a further argument that can be made regarding the political culture within which small government types operate in Australia:
We have many political operatives in Australia, but we chronically lack political entrepreneurs.
What do I mean by this? I mean that – for the most part – those of us on the small-government side of things, irrespective of whether we classify ourselves as conservative or libertarian, have an inherently conservative approach to politics, and and do not show the initiative or risk-taking necessary to succeed.While the left have almost perfected the art of direct-messaging to people and engaging in effective issues advocacy (and do so via ‘spontaneous’ mass actions and campaigns generated by individuals) we tend to stick to safe and sure methods, being practical and seeking to only win the battle of ideas in the abstract, not the practical. As a general rule (and obviously there are exceptions) we – as individuals – do not go out there and try to actually do something.
I offer a few quotes from the brilliance of Hayek, who wrote in The Intellectuals and Socialism:
“In particular, socialist thought owes its appeal to the young largely to its visionary character; the very courage to indulge in utopian thought is in this respect a source of strength to the socialists which traditional liberalism sadly lacks.”
“Thus for something over half a century it has been only the socialists who have offered anything like an explicit program of social development, a picture of the future society at which they were aiming, and a set of general principles to guide decisions on particular issues.”
“If we are to avoid such a development, we must be able to offer a new liberal program which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.”
“What we lack is a liberal utopia, a program which seems neither a mere defense of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty (including the trade unions), which is not too severely practical, and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote.”
“The main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and therefore an influence on public opinion which is daily making possible what only recently seemed utterly remote. Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this had rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide — unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds”
I feel these words hold as true today as 50 years ago. However, we do not only need to recapture this radical utopianism, but rather we need to also show the proactive initiative to take action.
Many of us despair at the perceived socialist tendencies of our two major political parties. Yet we do not ask why this came about, and if we do, we do not honestly answer with the truth: because we let them. How many of us have individually taken action to shape the minds of those around us? How many of us have gone off – as individuals, not as part of any group – and done something to influence people? Far too few I fear.
As the side of politics that values individualism, we are – with all due respect – pathetic at seizing the initiative, at being proactive and not reactive. It is insufficient for us merely to read. Rather, we must learn to lead, for as much as concepts of leadership may cause many libertarians to cringe, it is essential for us to provide the intellectual and practical opportunities to engage with everyday, non-political Australians.
Here in the US, first under GWB and now the Obamamessiah we’ve seen the greatest socialisation of the US since FDR. Yet it was fought tooth and nail every step of the way. Massive online campaigns were created, petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures were made up, impromptu websites, protests, congressmen were flooded with phone calls, emails, faxes and letters. While they were ultimately unsuccessful (despite the #dontgo campaign suceeding in killing the first bailout bill), this is irrelevant to my point, and besides you can never win without a willingness to lose. And in the long run, those on the side of freedom will triumph.
In Australia have we ever seen such a thing? No! I reject the notion that Australians have any greater desire for government coercion than our American counterparts.Rather, we lack people out there willing to go out there and do something to make a difference. One of the things that struck me at CPAC (for all its faults) and the Ron Paul Campaign for Liberty events surrounding it was not only the passion, but how so many people started up projects, events all of their own volition. Heck – young people here even write books! And we wonder why people in Australia blame the market.
Australians are frustrated at government intervention – recent grassroots campaigns against the 2am lockouts and internet censorship show this brilliantly – but lack a coherent way to put this this into action. How many libertarians have capitalised on all the pent up frustration on government coercion so paining young people at the moment? How many of us have placed this in a philosophical framework? Heck – how many of us have led the way??? We should be at the forefront of such campaigns, rather than – at best – tagging along at the end. It is up to us to rise to the occasion and provide intellectual leadership. And then to translate this into action. With all the glories of the interactivity of web 2.0, and the move away from vertical top-down campaigning, to grassroots bottom-up – or at the least horizontal models – now is the perfect time for us. Yet in order to do this we need 1) to recreate a liberal ideal for us to strive for and 2) actually take the risks and start being proactive entrepreneurs to achieve it.
Government intervention and regulation has caused the greatest financial crisis in recent memory. Socialism and the mixed economy have conclusively failed. Now is our time. Let us seize the day.
(cross-posted from my personal blog)