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The Conservative Descent into Moral Bankruptcy


Nineteen ninety and 1991 were critical years for conservatives, years that accelerated their decades-long descent into moral bankruptcy. The Berlin Wall came down in 1990, signaling the end of the Soviet Empire. The Persian Gulf War ended in 1991.

It is impossible to overstate the radical nature of the philosophy that formed the basis for the founding of the United States. That philosophy brought into existence a society in which there was no Social Security, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, public (i.e., government) school systems, income taxation, drug war, war on poverty, occupational licensure, business regulation, or minimum-wage law. Why, not even any immigration controls! Like I say, a radical philosophy–a philosophy that came to be known as “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.”

But there was another radical aspect to our Founders’ philosophy–no standing army, conscription, foreign entanglements, foreign aid, foreign intervention, or foreign wars. That nonmilitaristic philosophy was reflected in such pronouncements as George Washington’s Farewell Address, in which he warned against U.S. governmental involvement in Europe’s endless conflicts, and John Quincy Adams’s Fourth of July speech in 1821 to the U.S. House of Representatives, in which he praised America for not going abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Like I say, a radical philosophy–one that relied on citizen-soldiers voluntarily coming to the defense of their country should it ever come under invasion or attack.

Despite the tragic exception of slavery and its costly consequences, the result was the freest, most peaceful, prosperous, and charitable society in the history of man.

Notwithstanding all the negative things that U.S. public schoolteachers teach American children about the Industrial Revolution and about our American ancestors who lived during that period, the truth is that when people were free to accumulate wealth, their standard of living soared, especially for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. And it was massive private, voluntary charity that brought into existence the churches, museums, universities, opera houses, and soup kitchens for the poor.

But it was not to last.

The socialist triumph

The enormous pool of wealth, income, and capital that this unusual society brought into existence attracted the attention of American socialists, who, driven by envy and covetousness, commenced one of the biggest moral and intellectual assaults in history. Their goal was to transform America’s unusual society of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government” into one in which the lives, income, and property of the citizenry would become unconditionally subject to the dictates of the government. The idea was that the state would be used to closely regulate the economic activities of the people and to use its coercive power to take money from one group of people and transfer it to another group of people.

The battle raged through the early part of the 20th century in virtually all arenas of American life–political, intellectual, legal, and religious. In the end, the statists, collectivists, and socialists prevailed. The culmination of the battle occurred in 1937, during the presidential administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively held that the socialistic welfare state and regulated society were here to stay and would never again be held to be unconstitutional. The radical idea of economic liberty, which had made our country so unusual, was overthrown.

However, for several decades, American conservatives continued fighting the good fight in favor of our Founders’ vision and principles. Conservatives openly and proudly opposed such immoral schemes as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, and income taxation.

“It’s morally wrong to steal, for a person to forcibly take what doesn’t belong to him,” conservatives would argue, “and the immorality of an action cannot be converted into morality simply by delegating it to the state.” “People should be free to live their lives the way they want, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others,” they emphasized, “and the role of government is to punish murderers, rapists, burglars, and thieves.”

The conservative surrender

Ultimately, however, conservatives saw the handwriting on the wall. In order to be “accepted” by mainstream America and in order to have any hope of attaining political power, conservatives decided to throw in the towel and become just like those whom they had despised and resented. They decided to become statists, collectivists, and socialists.

It was during the 1960s and thereafter that an increasing number of conservatives began a deep slide into moral bankruptcy, embracing a political philosophy and an array of government programs that would have been anathema to their ancestors and their conservative predecessors and to the Founders of this country.

What made the conservative descent into moral darkness even more egregious, however, was their decision to hide what they had done from the children of America. Their idea was that if they could deceive the young, the nation could continue on as before, without anyone’s realizing or recognizing the nature and magnitude of the revolutionary change that was taking place.

By means of compulsory-attendance laws, the nation’s children were herded into public (i.e. government) schools, where they were taught: “Control is freedom, welfare is wealth, and government regulations saved free enterprise. The government and the country are one. We are the government. What the government does is good because the country is good. The model citizen supports his government, especially during war. Now, let’s all stand and pledge allegiance to the flag.” Of course, no schoolteacher dared to mention that the pledge of allegiance had been crafted by a dyed-in-the-wool American socialist. That truth would have been counterproductive.

By and large, the scheme was successful. Having attended government schools, most Americans have no idea that they are living in a society that represents an abandonment of the philosophy and principles of their Founding Fathers. They honestly believe that the government programs that have become well-established parts of American life–Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, income taxation, drug war, and all the edicts, regulations, agencies, and departments to which they pledged allegiance every day of their lives for years and years–constitute the “free enterprise, private property, and limited government” philosophy of their Founders. It is a classic “life of the lie” that is best captured by the observation of Johann von Goethe: No person is more hopelessly enslaved than the slave who thinks he’s free.

The turn toward empire and interventionism

Unfortunately, the statists, socialists, and collectivists did not limit the battleground to the domestic arena. Instead, their goal was to transform the U.S. government into an omnipotent caregiver not just for the American people but for people all over the world. If the coercive apparatus of the U.S. government could be used to make over the American people, why couldn’t it be used to do the same for people all over the world? What better vehicle for “encouraging” people to accept American values than U.S. diplomats and the U.S. military?

And thus began the imposition of U.S. government wisdom and beneficence on countries all over the globe, primarily through the carrot of aid to foreign regimes and the stick of U.S. assassinations, embargoes, and bombs for those who resisted.

For several decades, the conservatives had fought the good fight in this arena as well. They reminded Americans that our Founders had created a republic, not an empire, and that the abandonment of that ideal would have enormously negative consequences for America. They reminded their fellow citizens of what had happened to the Roman Empire, with its “bread and circuses,” and they showed how that empire had ultimately caved in on itself as a result of the enormous burden of taxes that were needed to support both the welfare and warfare aspects of the empire.

Conservatives had opposed the Spanish-America War, which began the road to the U.S. empire, a war in which U.S. military forces freed the Philippine Islands from the control of the Spanish Empire and then quickly proceeded to massacre thousands of Filipinos for having the audacity to resist U.S. government control too.

They had also opposed the U.S. government’s entry into World War I, questioning the sacrifice of American GIs in a war whose goals were “to make the world safe for democracy” and “to end all wars.” They had opposed conscription–the notion that the state had the legitimate power to order a citizen to leave his home and business and report to a military installation, learn how to march “right face and left face,” and then be carried thousands of miles away to give his life for “freedom.”

Recognizing that World War I had wasting American lives, had not achieved its goals, and had actually given rise to communism and Nazism, conservatives had ardently opposed entry into World War II, and they criticized President Roosevelt’s efforts to involve the nation in that conflict.

But it was after World War II that conservatives threw in the towel in this arena as well. Joining the statists and collectivists, they began preaching the virtues of what they began calling the “good war,” ignoring some uncomfortable results in the process: millions of people dead (including six million Jews), and millions more under the iron fist of Soviet communists (Roosevelt’s ally and Hitler’s enemy) and Chinese communists. “We defeated Hitler and Nazism,” they taught the children in America’s public schools, ignoring the obvious truth that Stalin and Mao were just as brutal and dangerous, if not worse. And keeping absolutely hidden the fact that the U.S. government was now working closely with former Nazis to oppose communism.

In fact, the new threat –communism–was the impetus for the conservatives’ descent into moral darkness in foreign affairs. In order to combat communism (which, again, had been the U.S. government’s friend and Hitler’s enemy), it would now be necessary to abandon the foreign-policy principles of our ancestors (no standing army, entangling alliances, foreign aid, foreign intervention, or foreign wars). It would instead be necessary to have a permanent enormous military-industrial complex, which could protect America’s growing empire of compliant nations all over the world from those who would resist the will of the empire.

Once again, America’s schoolchildren would be taught, week after week, that all of this was “freedom,” despite the fact that it violated the principles of their ancestors. While resistance to empire had actually given birth to the United States, empire now meant “freedom” and national greatness, especially since the empire’s mission was to spread “democracy” and “freedom” and “American values” all over the world.

Conservatives supported it all, even embracing conscription as a necessary part of living in a “free” country. Tens of thousands of American men were drafted to give their lives for “freedom” in presidential wars in which Congress had not issued the constitutionally required declaration of war, and conservatives cheered. After all, they argued, while the Constitution worked fine for the “horse-and-buggy” era, it no longer applied to the new era of empire. Only a president with Caesar-like powers could quell resistance to the empire thousands of miles away from America’s shores.

Again, through it all, the public schools were used to indoctrinate children with the new teachings–that the ever-growing empire, foreign wars, foreign welfare, and conscription all added up to the “liberty” to which each of them was required to pledge allegiance, day after day after day.

A difficult obstacle

There was just one fly in the ointment however. A small group of people, who eventually became known as libertarians, began breaking through to the truth. They slowly began realizing what the socialists, collectivists, and statists, both on the left and on the right, had done to our nation and to the principles on which it had been founded.

Thus, today, conservatives know that libertarians know the truth. We know about the abandonment of our Founders’ principles. We know about the socialist, welfare-state revolution in America. We know that our ancestors rejected everything American statists today celebrate as “freedom.” We know about the life of the lie that conservatives have been living for decades. We know what they’ve been teaching children in government schools. We know about their deep slide into moral and political debauchery and hypocrisy.

That’s why conservatives resent us so much. That’s why they attack us so fiercely. That’s why they erect insurmountable political barriers against our running against them in political campaigns. They don’t want people hearing the truth. They would prefer that we disappear, move away, or, worst of all, join them.

It’s not going to happen.

Throughout the Cold War, conservatives proclaimed, “The only reason we favor big government is the communist threat (the threat that World War I had brought into existence and that World War II had solidified). “If the Soviet Union disappeared, the military-industrial state could be dismantled,” the conservatives cried, never of course dreaming that such an event would occur.

But libertarians knew the truth; Having begun the slide into moral bankruptcy, conservatives would never be able to climb back out. In 1990, one of those two critical years, conservatives’ worst fear materialized–the Soviet Empire came crashing down, not because “freedom” prevailed, as conservatives like to tell their children, but because empires always collapse from the massive governmental taxation and spending that finally causes them to implode from the inside. Some conservatives admit as much, but then studiously avoid explaining why the same thing won’t ultimately happen to the American Empire.

And what about the U.S. empire, including the enormous military-industrial complex that was needed to stand foursquare against the Soviet Empire? Were conservatives finally ready to dismantle it and return to the principles of our Founders, as they had always proclaimed during the 40 years of the Cold War and hot wars against communism?

Nope. As libertarians had always predicted, having begun the slide into moral bankruptcy, conservatives would never abandon their new-found devotion to the omnipotent state. Conservatives immediately began coming up with new reasons for continuing America’s international military empire. “Oh, now that we are the world’s sole remaining superpower, we can’t give that up.” “Oh, we now live in an “unsafe world,” which requires us to be prepared to fight two wars at the same time anywhere in the world.” “Oh, there are dangerous dictators everywhere and they’re worse than Hitler.” “Oh, there are rogue states all over the place and they are bent on our destruction.” “Oh, there is starvation and injustice in the world, and only the U.S. military can handle it.”

Thus after the fall of the Soviet Empire, conservatives continued turning their backs on America’s founding principles and continued embracing the socialistic welfare state domestically and the international warfare state internationally.

Three important teachings characterized the conservatives’ deep slide into moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy:

(1) Teaching children the life of the lie–that all this was “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.”

(2) Teaching children that “patriotism” meant an unswerving, unconditional allegiance to their own government, especially in times of crisis and war. The “good citizen” enthusiastically supports the troops and war effort, public schoolteachers taught, and doesn’t ask too many questions. Any citizen who dared not to march to the beat of the government drum during wartime would be considered unpatriotic–someone who hated America, perhaps even a traitor or spy in our midst.

Of course, it should be noted that U.S. officials continued to praise foreign citizens of enemy nations who refused to follow the “good citizen” credo with respect to their own governments. On the other hand, citizens of foreign enemies who supported their government out of patriotic allegiance were “bad citizens,” and therefore deserving of mass extermination during war.

(3) Teaching that “with freedom comes responsibility,” which they usually directed at welfare mothers on food stamps, while they themselves scrupulously avoided taking responsibility for the horrific consequences of their foreign policies. Conservatives demanded to be judged by their good intentions, not by the consequences of their policies and actions. It was always someone else’s fault that the policies they supported produced bad consequences.

The never-ending war against Iraq

Then came the other critical year –1991. Saddam Hussein, who had once been an U.S. ally (it’s sometimes difficult to keep the allies and the enemies straight because they constantly change), invaded Kuwait over a border dispute between those two nations. President Bush (who had been head of the CIA, a U.S. agency whose mission had included the murder of recalcitrant foreign officials) announced that U.S. military forces would reverse the aggression.

No congressional declaration of war was requested because, again, this was the era of the Caesars, an era in which the president had no time to concern himself with constitutional restrictions on executive power to wage war anywhere in the world. Anyway, as President Bush continually pointed out, the United Nations had authorized him to act. Why would he also need authorization from the duly elected representatives of the American people?

The U.S. military threw Iraqi troops out of Kuwait but chose not to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein (whom U.S. officials had described as the new “Adolf Hitler”). Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it. The mission was achieved. The war was won. The medals were awarded. The Persian Gulf was over.

Except for one detail, which unfortunately is unknown to many Americans: Saddam Hussein’s continuation as Iraqi dictator provided U.S. officials with the perfect excuse to continue waging war against Iraq and to continue requesting bigger military budgets over here.

First, the U.S. government continued a military occupation of Saudi Arabia, which angered many Muslims who believed that the permanent occupation of Islamic holy lands by U.S. troops (and their Playboys) violated Islamic religious principles.

Second, the U.S. government continued to bomb Iraq for 10 continuous years, which caused the death of an untold number of Iraqi people, including civilians. There was again no congressional declaration of war for post-Persian Gulf military actions against Iraq.

Killing the children

But worst of all, the U.S. government imposed and enforced an embargo and blockade that targeted Iraqi children for death as a means of causing Saddam Hussein to become a kinder, gentler, more responsible man and voluntarily remove himself from power.

It never happened, despite the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children.

It is the Iraqi embargo that perhaps best characterizes the moral degeneracy of the conservative movement. For 10 years, conservatives have been supporting and embracing a moral abomination–a government policy that, according to UN officials, physicians, and humanitarian officials, has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children.

Let me repeat that, because it’s worth emphasizing: American conservatives, many of whom are deeply religious, have embraced and supported a policy instituted by their own government that has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent children through starvation or illness–and continue to do so.

Now keep in mind that the conservatives are always the ones who talk about God, who want Christian values to be taught in the public schools, who preach morality, and who are the first to pledge allegiance to the flag, while questioning everyone else’s patriotism and love for America. Yes, it’s the conservative hypocrites who favor the morally abominable policy of killing children as a legitimate instrument of foreign policy.

Permit me to address conservatives directly: Nothing, not even the most cruel and brutal conduct of Saddam Hussein or his refusal to permit UN inspectors into Iraq, can justify what conservatives and leftists have both done to those innocent Iraqi children. It is true that you are not legally responsibly for their deaths, but you certainly share moral responsibility with Saddam Hussein for them. For 10 years, you have known that your horrific embargo was not achieving its goal of either removing Saddam Hussein from power or causing him to change his cruel, brutal, and irresponsible behavior. For all those 10 years, you have known about the innocent children the embargo has been killing.

But like other people throughout history who have been faced with similar wrongdoing by their governments, you have turned a blind eye, preferring not to face the dark truth–that the policy that you embraced and supported was killing multitudes of children who were no more responsible for what their dictator did than American children are responsible for what their president does.

Why have you never called for a stop to the horrific embargo, especially after learning that it was killing multitudes of innocent children? Why didn’t you call for a stop to it after the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993 openly stated that the embargo and the deaths of the children were a principal motivation for their WTC attack? Did you think it would be considered a sign of weakness to stop killing innocent children?

Was Saddam Hussein’s cruel and brutal conduct really worth risking the lives of so many innocent people? If so, then why didn’t you invade Iraq and oust him when you had the chance? Hasn’t the time arrived for you to confess, repent, and put a stop to the embargo before it does any more damage to innocent people? Isn’t it your moral duty as a citizen, a human being, and a religious person to stand not only against foreign wrongdoing but especially against the wrongdoing of your own government? Isn’t that what genuine patriotism is all about? Isn’t that what you preached to the citizens of foreign nations that the United States faced on the battlefield throughout the 20th century?

The next time you preach Christian values, you should keep in mind two important things about Jesus Christ: He loves children — all of them, and despises hypocrites — all of them.

Suppressing the truth

All of this explains why conservatives are now attacking libertarians so fiercely, questioning our patriotism and our love of country. “If you don’t support the government, then you hate your country,” they continue to cry, ignoring that that was the credo that guided many of the foreign enemies they faced in the 20th century.

And to distract away from what their empire has done to hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children, they level nasty, vicious, vile attacks that accuse their fellow Americans of “defending” or “justifying” or “supporting” the September 11 attacks. They are trying to do what they have always done–avoid responsibility for their policies and practices. They don’t want to face the horrible truth: that their beloved international military empire and foreign interventions produced the stagnant breeding grounds for terrorism against America.

They know that we know the truth. That’s why they want us to shut up. That’s why they’re now even suggesting that people might have to be rounded up and jailed for speaking the truth about their paradigm of empire and the interventionism and all of its perverse consequences. Yes, you got it right: After sacrificing hundreds of thousands of American men in wars against foreign dictators, conservatives are now talking about embracing the oppressive practices of those dictators. What better evidence of the conservative descent into moral bankruptcy than that?

And the siege mentality is all because conservatives are terrified that mainstream Americans might begin to break free of their life of the lie and ask a critically important question: Has the time come to dismantle the U.S. international military empire, end the foreign aid and foreign interventions, and restore the principles of a republic on which our nation was founded, especially since the price of empire and intervention is now clear–a daily way of life involving increasing attacks on their freedom by both terrorists and U.S. government officials?

Indeed, conservatives know that the American people might even begin to ask: Has the time come to dismantle the socialistic welfare state and regulated society, including the immoral and destructive war on drugs, and restore the principles of freedom of our Founders? Has the time arrived to reject the conservative and leftist principles of Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson, and Nixon and restore the libertarian principles of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Adams?

Conservatives cannot deny that they have become the primary exponents of everything the Founding Fathers of our nation opposed, even as they couch their abandonment of principle within their “free-enterprise and limited-government” jargon. They know that the truth that libertarians are sharing with our fellow Americans has power. They know that ideas have consequences. That’s why they’re now feeling the need to suppress both truth and ideas on liberty at all cost.

Interventionism and omnipotent government

Ludwig von Mises once pointed out that one government intervention will always lead to a subsequent intervention because the problems associated with the previous intervention will require further interventions to fix them. Ultimately, the continual series of interventions will lead to the omnipotent state.

Thus, one of the fascinating consequences of the September 11 attacks is that it has forced conservatives to accelerate their slide in moral debauchery and decay. In the name of the war on terrorism, they are now embracing the accelerated movement toward the omnipotent state–unlimited government spending, tight controls on the personal affairs of the citizenry, bailouts, national ID cards, sealed borders.

Yes, sealed borders! Why, undoubtedly conservatives are now lamenting the dismantling of the Berlin Wall that they so ardently opposed for so many years because they’ve got to be realizing that it could have instead been moved to, say, the Southern border of the United States, perhaps even manned by unemployed East German sharpshooters, where it could keep every foreigner in the world from entering the United States and polluting our culture except perhaps for government-approved, well-heeled, white Englishmen.

Combine conservative support of The Wall along our Southern border with an increasing government control over the lives of the American people in the name of “the war on terrorism” and with conservative support for jailing critics of U.S. socialism and what do you get?

You get a tragic and pathetic picture: American conservatives, who preach “free enterprise, private property, and limited government” in seminars, conferences, and public schools who have actually become the people they opposed throughout the Cold War–the statist, collectivist, socialist ideologues who advocate total government control in the name of preserving “freedom” and “security.”

Libertarianism: the hope for our nation and the world

The good news (the news that conservatives hate to hear) is that libertarians and libertarianism provide a way out of this darkness–a way out of this nasty, immoral morass. We libertarians must remain more committed than ever to once again making our nation the model of freedom, peace, harmony, and goodwill for people all over the world. We must never become like conservatives. We must never follow their descent.

We must constantly keep in mind that the achievement of a free society entails the full and complete rejection of the statist philosophy that has led to the welfare state, the regulated society, and the U.S. military empire. It requires a full and complete restoration of the principles and ideals of our Founding Fathers.

Therefore, today, the American people have a choice. They can continue following the statists and collectivists down the road to moral bankruptcy, along with all the perverse consequences that that road now entail — terrorism, anthrax, Internet spying, a new Department of Homeland Security, militarized airports, unlimited government spending, and, of course, the specter of jail for anyone who questions the beloved socialistic welfare state and regulated society that the conservatives now embrace as part of their philosophy.

We libertarians must continue calling on our fellow Americans to resist joining the conservative descent into moral and political bankruptcy, debauchery, and hypocrisy. The future lies with us, with libertarians and libertarianism. We must continue striving to restore the moral and political principles of our Founders in our quest in our quest to make the United States of America once again the freest, greatest, and most peaceful, harmonious, and prosperous nation in history.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.