Front Page Titles (by Subject) EDWARD C. FACEY, Conservatives or Individualists: Which Are We? - New Individualist Review
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EDWARD C. FACEY, Conservatives or Individualists: Which Are We? - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Conservatives or Individualists: Which Are We?
Editor’s Note: It is the policy of NIR to stimulate discussion of the fundamental principles of individualist philosophy. Accordingly, we are presenting here both a critique of a number of ideas current in conservative circles, and a comment on this critique, both articles written by individualists. Since there is not unanimity on the editorial board in regard to the issues discussed here, neither viewpoint should be taken to be the official position of this Review.
LAST YEAR, at Sharon, Connecticut, a group of right-wing college students and graduates passed a statement of first principles which they embraced as a sort of masthead for their new political action group, Young Americans for Freedom. The group was heavily conservative and I think an examination of its statement adds light to the debate in the May, 1960, issue of The Individualist.1 But first, some preliminary remarks.
The individualist’s position is that the individual man is the epistemological starting point in any social analysis. His nature and rights must be closely regarded before any consideration may be given to his place in society.
Unlike all the other animals in creation, man can continually make choices and direct his activity to the substitution of more suitable conditions for less suitable ones, i.e., he can act for ends. Since man is dependent here upon the material reality about him, the key right significantly enabling these endeavors is the one that grants him the opportunity to convert or transform unused raw materials into desirable economic goods. Then, man must have the right to consume the goods or trade them with whomever he pleases. The latter activity is done within the free market, within the framework of society which encompasses the entire complex of all individuals and their multitudinous exchanges. Society is nothing more than a means by which the individual members may gain their sought-for ends more easily.
But there are some people who do not choose the economic means of producing and exchanging to gain ends. Instead, they would use force to acquire and enjoy the fruits of another man’s labor. Franz Oppenheimer in The State calls this the “political means” of gaining wealth. It behooves the social members to divert a part of their production in order to establish institutions to expel looters so that man may continue existence secure in the right to produce and exchange property. This means that defense is another service that must be obtained in the market.
Conservatives, however, admire the historical solution to this problem: the establishment of an external non-social-market institution, government. They would install political officials and give them the power to seize wealth by taxation in order to repel the obstreperous persons mentioned previously. The individualist sees this as no solution but as merely the displacement of one set of looters in favor of another “legalized” set. The individualist believes in each man’s absolute rights and would move to cut off any group that insists on using the political means of gaining wealth rather than the economic means.
Still, individualists merge with the conservatives in urging a strict adherence to the Constitution in the United States. This is a tactical maneuver. It is the strategy of individualists to work a Fabianism in reverse until one by one the parts of the political structure, beginning with the most absurd, are upended and continuing until nothing is left. The Constitution, strictly interpreted, aids in this process.
THE CONSTITUTION in Article I, Section 8, in the enumeration of powers, says that Congress may call forth the Militia “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” This provision establishes a predisposition that the American government should concern itself with defending domestic society. If this is so, taxation can be kept light and social economic power may grow without serious let or hindrance.
Conservatives, however, are not restricting themselves to this interpretation of the extent of federal governmental power. Forgetting the individual, they are today engaged in a Messianic pledge to defend what they call Western civilization. In this caper they are urging bilateral alliances, collective alliances such as NATO, and actual combat, if necessary, in such far away places as Quemoy, Matsu, and Berlin. They urge that the enemy is Communism, and no sacrifice, seemingly, is too great to combat it. Witness the Sharon Conference statement:
“We, as young conservatives, believe . . .
“That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to [liberty];
“That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace; and
“That all foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?”
Individualists would disagree vigorously on the first point, enough to say that statism or socialism is the threat and that Communism is merely one variant of this hydra-headed monster. The individualists would continue by saying that when the U. S. government is handed the vague, ambiguous power embodied in the “just interests” clause, subject to wide interpretation, we are on our way toward great diminution in liberty. What the conservatives, unwittingly perhaps, are getting at is that extensive statism must be adopted in order to defeat the international menace of Communism. In short, the conservatives would use the state rather than oppose it and in doing this induce a result likened to the foe they are supposed to be beating.
The growth of individual freedom is in the reduction of government harassment and intervention. Within the condition of the absence of interpersonal molestation a person should be allowed to do whatever he wants according to his wisdom and conscience. Yet, the Young Americans for Freedom are calling for the strengthening of the subpoena-empowered House Un-American Activities (whatever these two terms can or may mean) Committee. The individualist cannot countenance the coercing of peaceful individuals to appear before a tribunal unless there is evidence that these persons have injured others who are willing to press charges. Making people comply with a court order is a very serious matter.
THE CONSERVATIVES in Young Americans for Freedom acquit themselves similarly in other areas. Instead of committing battle against federal aid to education they ask that the aid be distributed to persons who have taken loyalty oaths. Instead of really contending with the Peace Corps they wish to make it “effective” with loyalty oaths for the members. They would even add a tax supported Freedom Academy. I wish these were minor activities of the Young Americans for Freedom but so far they seem to be the whole domestic program. All this while the Kennedy Welfare State grinds ceaselessly ahead.
In the international arena the program of the conservatives gives alarm. Make no mistake, the attempt at world-wide defense of the West has taken the United States far from even Constitutional moorings. Not only is the U. S. not sticking to domestic defense but also it cannot stick to an international defense function if it would carry out the conservative mandate. America has had to engage in vast economic aid programs to keep the “Allies” from becoming “neutral” or selling out to Russia. Even then most, if not all, of the recipient countries are hanging onto a veto power over the use of American installations that may be placed within these foreign territories. Some may even kick the U. S. out of their countries after installations are built if no further U. S. aid is forthcoming or domestic political considerations warrant Meanwhile, the U. S. gives them military money in hopes that they will add some troops of their own to defend the “West.”
In the words of Garet Garrett, we have adopted the program of Empire. We are being forced to divert billions of dollars, some of which might better be spent on complex home defenses, into staking out a risky security via political internationalism. Even if the Federal Government did not engage in functions which conservatives and individualists agree are impermissible, such as federal aid to education, public power or social security, it is still possible for government to close in on our liberties through this American Empire idea. The U. S. government is spending $40 billion a year on “defense” and I rarely see this sum attacked in conservative journals as too high. Conscription is now an accepted institution in military operations because somehow many of us cannot get excited about fighting in foreign lands for some nebulous thing called the West or the Free World. Often the regime upheld may itself have little understanding of individual liberty.
Individualists will ever guard against the machinations of the state, any state. They view as actually present and more serious the inroads the domestic state has made on their absolute right to life and property. For the state is the real aggressor and it cannot be too often repeated that it is folly to extend and deepen the hegemony of one state in order to diminish that of another. Whatever the results of this attempt, collectivism or socialism is the winner; individualism and personal freedom, the loser. Let the conservatives beware.
[* ] Edward C. Facey is a William Volker Fellow in economics at New York University.
[1 ] “Individualist, Libertarian or Conservative—Which Are We?”