It’s that time of year again: BBQ’s galore; fireworks cracking; American flags waving in the breeze. It’s also the time of year when someone writes somewhere about… “The Downside of Liberty”. Yes fellow citizens, having too much liberty is bad for you because we’re all like self-indulgent children— who when left unattended, will just eat the entire cookie jar by themselves and not share. Nevermind that research has actually shown that many children are not self-indulgent at all. But who care about facts.
I digress. Let’s get back to “The Downside of Liberty”. The main thesis is this: rugged American individualism creates selfish bastards, who love capitalism above all else, and care for no one other than themselves. An example:
When I was growing up in Omaha, rich people who could afford to build palatial houses did not and wouldn’t dream of paying themselves 200 or 400 times what they paid their employees. Greed as well as homosexuality was a love that dared not speak its name.
But then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment, between the forever-young and the moneyed.
Going forward, the youthful masses of every age would be permitted as never before to indulge their self-expressive and hedonistic impulses. But capitalists in return would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes or social opprobrium.
I remember watching Superman II and hearing the line “Kneel before Zod”. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s kind of the vibe I got from David Brooks in his uber creepy column earlier this week. By now, there are about a thousand different posts regarding Brooks’ column, but we here at United Liberty are just too awesome to not put our own thoughts on it.
Now, to be fair, much of the point of Brooks’ column is lamenting what he perceives as a lack of powerful monuments to our “Dear Leaders”. However, along the way, he also does the best job of boot-licking politicians I’ve seen that wasn’t intended as satire.
These days many Americans seem incapable of thinking about these paradoxes. Those “Question Authority” bumper stickers no longer symbolize an attempt to distinguish just and unjust authority. They symbolize an attitude of opposing authority.
The old adversary culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass adversarial cynicism. The common assumption is that elites are always hiding something. Public servants are in it for themselves. Those people at the top are nowhere near as smart or as wonderful as pure and all-knowing Me.
You end up with movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties that try to dispense with authority altogether. They reject hierarchies and leaders because they don’t believe in the concepts. The whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.