John Lewis has kindly allowed me to reproduce his excellent Open Letter to Republicans posted on Principles in Practice. I strongly recommend reading the whole thing — and sending it to your state and federal representatives, whether Republican or Democrat.
Open Letter to Republicans
by Dr. John Lewis
There are two things that all Republicans know today: that you lost the mid-term election, and that the loss was a repudiation of President Bush’s policies. What you must now figure out is why. Why did Americans vote as they did? What specific policies did they reject? The answer you accept will determine whether you discover a road to victory for your country and your party, or whether you stumble further into defeat.
You have heard–and will continue to hear–many explanations for the election results. You have been told, for instance, that Democratic obstruction stymied the president, and leftist defeatism undermined support for the war. These answers will not cut it. Republicans held a political majority in Washington for six years, and the President was given all the resources and authority he asked for–including a solid re-election two years ago.
You have been told that Democrats wanted to spend like crazy on domestic programs, and that they turned on Bush because he sought to allow Americans greater choice in how they spend their money. But the president has increased spending to a degree not seen since LBJ and FDR, and has not vetoed a single spending bill.
It has been said that the election was about values–meaning, religious values–and that you lost because you were not “Conservative” enough. But what does this mean? That you did not lobby strongly enough for government intervention in family affairs, education, and science? Religious conservatives–such as Senator Santorum–were also soundly defeated. The American people expressed no desire for more religious values in government.
It remains telling that the American people were solidly on the president’s side when he promised a reduction in government coercion at home, and a victory in the war overseas (over 80% supported the invasion of Iraq)–and that they withdrew their support only after he failed to follow through on his promises.
I’ll offer a different reason for your defeat. You lost because you ceased being Republicans, and became new, “Neo-,” Conservatives. You were too Conservative, and not Republican enough. To earn my vote, it is Conservatism that you must reject, in favor of freedom, rights, and reason. You must once again become Republicans–the party of the American Constitutional Republic.
What Republicans once stood for, despite many compromises and errors, was preserving and extending American freedom. But where in recent history have you upheld this value? Have you, for instance, defended America’s freedom against foreign enemies? The “Forward Strategy of Freedom” uses our soldiers to dig toilets for foreigners, claims success when a hostile government is elected, and promises years of American casualties. The result has been permanent airport checkpoints at home and armed guards on our borders. Whatever happened to the idea of driving to victory over avowed enemies?
Have you preserved freedom at home? Did you demand spending reductions along with your excellent tax cuts, or rather settle for deficits in the hundreds of billions of dollars? Who doubled the size of the Department of Education, which some of us once hoped that Reagan would eliminate, and which is now pursuing a de facto federal takeover of the schools? Who enacted the Sarbanes-Oxley persecutions of businessmen? Who projected government power vigorously into bedrooms and marriage contracts? Who showered government money onto churches as replacements for the local welfare office?
Fiscally, you have accepted without question a God-given imperative to distribute other people’s money by force–not as a compromise with the Democrats, but with a commitment to outdo them. Every time you have set out to eliminate or reduce a government program, you have ended up energetically saving it. Social Security, for instance, once facing elimination, has been saved–by Republicans. You have surpassed the Democrats in spending other people’s money.
In no case have you been Republicans–meaning, defenders of the American Republic. You have been Conservatives–conservators of your vision of America, in the form of the liberal welfare state.
The first cause of this problem is the moral premise that you share with the leftists: altruism. You have accepted that moral goodness means sacrificing for the (alleged) good of others, and you have worked to shape America in this image. This ideal has defined President Bush’s policies overseas, which purport to wage war by bringing benefits to enemy nations. It has defined a domestic policy that sees moral goodness in expanding programs of redistribution. Whereas the Democrats do this in the name of socialism (a discredited doctrine that has wreaked havoc wherever it has been tried), Conservatives do it in the name of “compassion.” Democrats base their vision on class warfare and revolution; Conservatives base it on charity. But the practical results are the same: Socialism, now anchored not in Marx, but in civic religion.
Is this what you want for your party? If so, then stay the course, and continue your competition with the Democrats. But if you wake up one day and find that no area of life is beyond the reach of government power, and that we are all wards of the state, then you may rejoice. You will have reached the Promised Land. This is what you wanted.
If, however, you want to restore and protect freedom in the Land of the Free, then you must see the error of your ways. The proper state of man is not that of a beggar, demanding handouts by coercion and moral blackmail. The proper state of man is that of a thinking being–a being free to act on his own judgment for his own sake–free to produce and to trade for what he needs–free to achieve his full intellectual and physical potential–free, that is, from coercion by others.
This idea of freedom is based on a moral conception of man that is radically different from man the dependent. By this vision–the vision of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”–each person is an autonomous moral agent, free to act as his nature requires, for his own benefit, without sacrificing self to others or others to self–free to deal with others voluntarily, by offering values, not by imposing “duties.”
But where, in our culture today, is this moral conception to be found? Leftists claim that moral principles–the broad generalizations that define the basic terms of right and wrong for every area of our lives–are not derived from facts. No “is” can lead to an “ought,” they claim; moral principles are invented, culturally relative, subject to change, mere conventions that shift with the winds of the day. This premise led to the 1960s, freedom of speech as sit-ins on private property, and freedom from political authority as smashing “the system.” The basis of this anarchy is subjectivism–the idea that we create reality in our minds, rather than grasp it through our senses and our reason. There are no absolutes, in this view; there is only man the follower of whims. Vox populi, vox dei.
You were appalled at this, and rightfully so. But what was your answer? There are standards, you said, but they are not derived from facts. With this basic premise you agreed with the leftists: There is no “ought” to be derived from this world. Where then shall we find moral principles? In another world, you said. Moral principles are supernatural and beyond reason, but they are imbedded in society and tradition, and knowable by faith. The result is an undefinable feeling that tells you to give to the poor, to render unto Caesar, to turn the other cheek, and to lose your fortune–or to tax mine–if it benefits others. Vox dei, vox populi.
The root of the moral views shared by leftists and Conservatives remains the conviction that the mind is incapable of grasping moral principles–and that we must rely on the authority of feelings, whether from the immediate consensus (vox populi) or from claims to divine sanction (vox dei). The clash between the leftists and the Conservatives is a clash of feelings. Neither side appeals to the mind; each wishes to impose its views by force.
This elevation of Feelings over Reason is precisely what you must reject. You must learn that your emotions are not tools of cognition. Your feelings will not tell you how to run a business, how to protect freedom, how to win a war, or how to distinguish good from evil.
If you, as Republicans, want to regain control of your party and end its malignant alliance with the looting left, then you must stop being looters yourselves, both in mind and in matter. Intellectually, you must grasp that rights and freedom can be discovered only through rational thought–individual thought–and that only the rational mind makes rights and freedom necessary. Materially, you must end your love affair with socialist redistribution, and become protectors of property rights–the practical expression of individual thought and freedom.
Each man’s rights are inalienable from his being. This is a fact of nature–not of “supernature.” Since each man must act on his own judgment in order to live as a man, he must be free to do so. This is his basic right: The right to act on his best judgment–that is: the right to do what is right. It is right to identify the facts and think–and to act as reason dictates–because we can live only by using our minds. It is right to keep what we produce–and to trade in a free market–not because this embodies some mystical “invisible hand,” but because our lives depend on it. It is right to interact with others by rational persuasion and values–because the alternative is the club. And it is right to use physical force to restrain–and, if necessary, to destroy–those who attack us.
If you Republicans want to become true rightists–and a real alternative to the left–you must accept a morality of reason and become its advocates across the board: in classrooms, in newspapers, in board rooms, and in town squares. You must recognize that there is no dichotomy between what man is and what he ought to do, and no chasm between moral rights and practical consequences. The only true alternative to the left is a view of man as a rational being who owns himself and is the proper beneficiary of his own productive effort.
Grasping this makes it easy to evaluate the numerous issues swamping political discourse today. Domestic programs? Redistribution means taking from one person by force because another (allegedly) needs it. The principle is not changed if extended to millions–only the scope of the destruction is broadened. What of Social Security, Medicare, and government funding of medical research, agriculture, and education? There is no basis in reason for making an employee, a CEO, a doctor, a researcher, a farmer, or a teacher, into a slave to others because he produces–nor to demand the enslavement of others to fund him. Republicans can seize the moral high road by opposing such redistribution forthrightly, as a matter of principle.
The purpose of the government is to prevent criminals from preying on us. We need a domestic policy that does this and this alone–rather than turning police into social workers, and courts into moral censors and persecutors of businessmen. Republicans need to become voices for objective, rights-based, reason-based law, as a matter of principle.
What of foreign policy? Support for the war in Iraq has collapsed because there are no goals being pursued except the sacrifice of our youth for strangers, and no accomplishments except a demonstration of America’s weakness. Republicans need to become advocates of a foreign policy of self-interest, by which we fight to defend the freedom of Americans, and only the freedom of Americans, with the goal of a fast and decisive victory when we do fight, as a matter of principle.
To preserve and extend the freedom of Americans was once the mission of the Republicans. But this mission was never properly understood. This is what you must discover. Your choice is: Conservatism (i.e., faith, self-sacrifice, and religion-inspired socialism) and its consequences of enslavement, self-loathing, and further defeat–or proper Republicanism (i.e., reason, self-interest, and individual rights) with its consequences of freedom, self-respect, and victory. I hope you Republicans–and all Americans–make the right choice: the rational choice.
Dr. John Lewis is Assistant Professor of History at Ashland University.