A Call For Radical Utopianism & Political Entrepreneurship

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)

20 thoughts on “A Call For Radical Utopianism & Political Entrepreneurship

  1. One thing I find ironic about that video is that Santelli and all of the financial wizards behind him don’t actually do, produce or accomplish anything tangible and yet they like to come across as “real” Americans who represent the country as a whole.

  2. I think the point is that “real” Americans are those that pay their own bills.

  3. Tim – welcome to the ALS blog. A good first piece.

    I find your enthusiasm for action encouraging. In my view you are right in identifying apathy as a key obstacle to freedom. The Australian statist is a highly motivated creature (it comes in many colours) that too often finds the path to intervention unimpeded by intellectual or political resistance. We are somehow too used to being told what to value and what to do. If we need to import some inspiration and an intellectual framework from abroad then so be it.

  4. I thought the trader’s comment was great.

    “How about we all stop paying our mortgages, it’s a moral hazard”.

    I actually think the US is a cinder box, ready to explode. One false move by the federal government such as a survivalist getting arrested etc. will send people pitchfork crazy.

  5. Let all us individualists get together in a mob, and go and burn a bamk, or something! Don’t think about it, just do it!
    The trouble with being pro-individualist is that this is a society that responds to co-ordinated actions, like rallies and lobby groups. how can we get together without damaging our libertarian beliefs?
    I think we should just start rewarding politicians who reduce laws, for one thing. I mentioned a St.George award before. This could be a way to keep people thinking about reducing the role of the State. Have an Oscar-like night, but reward people who have helped the cause of Liberty!

  6. I don’t think that individualism and voluntary co-operative action are mutually exclusive. Libertarianism in many ways is founded on the spirit of individuals working together civil society and all – hence why mutual societies are better than welfare etc.
    So I think libertarians can still take a leadership role in terms of rallies and lobby groups without compromising our principles

  7. After Santelli bailed on a Daily Show interview, John Stewart skewered CNBC rather mercilessly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGn7JvbwcIE

    Aside from the intro clip, the clips are all of people other than Santelli, which is a bit unfair – but he has a point: it’s kind of hard to argue against bailing out home owners, when trillions have been spent bailing out everyone else.

    BTW, I don’t watch CNBC, so I’m new to most of these people – but that Jim Cramer dude sounds like an absolute douche-bag.

  8. Yes Cramer is a complete douchebag and people have lost a lot of money listening to CNBC pro market propaganda. If you trade stocks you can’t avoid listening to the prickseven though they are totally corrupt and stupid with the exception of Sentelli.

    However the Daily Show (and the prick Stewart) didn’t go after becaause CNBC is a rotten channel. They went after them because of Sentelli’s screed against the Obama administration creating the perversity of rewarding deadbeat borrowers.

  9. Actually, they went after Santelli allegedly for his hypocrisy. Stewart assumed Santelli supported the trillion dollar bailouts of the banks. Whether he did or not, I don’t know. Its a pity Santelli didnt appear on Stewart’s show to defend himself.

    Did Stewart mention that Santelli’s rant has led to the formation of a new political movement? No. See here:

  10. Yea, but Stewart was too dishonest to mention that Santelli supported the bailout of the banking system because it really did look like the entire thing was going to collapse the following day.

    The pinko and unfunny Stewart made it sound as though Santelli was for the bailout to just help out Wall street which is untrue as the system really did look like it was going to grind to a halt the next day. If the banking system failed Main Streeters wouldn’t have been able to shop for food as the payments system wouldn’t have worked.

    Bit different, not that Stewart would understand this especially when his whoring for the administration.

  11. Yeah – I was a bit unclear of Santelli’s position on the other bailouts, but figured if they had him saying stupid stuff they’d have used it (instead of other CNBC people) – but the whole bailout seems a bad idea.

    Maybe he thought it was necessary, as you did – but once you accept hundreds of billions of dollars for one thing, it’s hard not to justify – at least politically – a comparatively smaller amount for homeowners, etc…. Just about everyone has been ripping on the “too big to fail” line.

    For example, it’s hard for a government argue against nationalised healthcare, when they’ve effectively nationalised banks and insurance companies at an even greater expense…

  12. Fleeced:

    My concern at the time was that the banking system was about to seize up and payments wouldn’t get through.

    Looking back on it now I should have simply supported something like an orderly transfer to the FDIC while making sure payments would get through. I never thought it would morph into this.

  13. Another thing to point out is that libertarian Americans fight tooth and nail against socialism because they can’t escape it. An American citizen has to renounce their citizenship in order to escape US income tax.

    An Australian simply has to take a job in a nearby country. And that is what many Australian libertarians actually do. Direct Action. Voting with their feet.

    Why spend 20 years campaigning when we can have what we want right now, a 5 hour flight from here?

  14. It might help our cause if we had a catchy name. I now call myself, in honour of my philosophy, a ‘Liberationist’.
    Liberationists would believe in liberating people to live independently, whilst insisting that all public assets should be ruled democratically.
    Whilst a catchy title shouldn’t be the only attraction, it should be one of many. First impressions count. As they say in toastmasters, you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.

  15. Its funny that you dug up the Santelli video. I was also inspired by it. It became pretty well known. Even Jon Stewart planned to have him on the show late last week, but then at the last minute, Santelli cancelled.

    As a result, Stewart totally ripped into CNBC in his last episode. You can still see the recent clip on comedy central’s main website. What followed was 5 minutes of embarassing clips showing disastrous stock picks and predictions by CNBC’s experts. And when they showed the footage of Santelli, Stewart smugly commented “Yeah ! Why bail out those home owners ! Just stick to bailing out all of us on Wall Street!”

    Obviously share traders aren’t in the best position to attack the stimulus bill. They are pretty easy targets.

  16. Yes I completely agree with that – hence my point wasn’t so much about the merits of Santelli’s rant so much as what it inspired.

  17. As for individualists not getting together for rallies, why not just get together for free exchange of commerce? That should be in line with our principles. You could sell anything from badges to LDP memberships … or something as simple as a tea bag.

    Here’s another movement that’s popped up: http://www.reteaparty.com/

    They’re sending a tea bag to Washington on April Fool’s Day. What a marvellously literal way to return the favour!

  18. Hey Guys/Gals, Don’t you realise that we are all just talking to each-other and not achieving very much to influence the public, the media and politicians about libertarianism (except possibly those who already agree with us)? This won’t get us anywhere, except to reinforce our beliefs, and I admit it is nice intellectually/socially. It’s time to reach out like the social-justice and green NGO’s do, to both sides of politics, and especially to put libertarian/classic liberal ideas in a simple and attractive way so the average hard working person can understand them. Get thinking about how it can be done! It’s not easy to do, I know, otherwise it would already have been done, but it’s time for action, not discussing “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin”.

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