Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Towards a Democratic Falangism

“Who Am I? Why Am I Here?” 

That was how Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992, infamously introduced himself to the audience at the vice-presidential debate that year. While those words may not usually be the most effective way to introduce oneself in person, I think they are an effective enough way to introduce one’s blog. To that end, those are the questions that this — my first blog post — will answer. Who am I? And why am I writing this blog? The short answer is that I am writing this blog because I subscribe to a peculiar, idiosyncratic political ideology, and I would like to share it with the world. I call this ideology democratic Falangism. I’m still in the process of fully developing democratic Falangism, but it is essentially an attempt to reconcile Falangism (an authoritarian ideology developed by the Spanish attorney José Antonio Primo de Rivera in the 1930s) with the practices of liberal democracy. I particularly value Falangism’s fusion of socially conservative values with economically progressive policies, and I feel that such a voice is currently lacking and sorely needed in U.S. politics.        

How did I become a democratic Falangist? Slowly, over a considerable period of time. I’ve subscribed to several political ideologies over the course of my life. My first experience of political awareness came in 2000, when I was still in elementary school. That year, I rooted for George W. Bush for no valid reason. (Can you really expect any different from a nine-year-old?) I guess I just found Bush to be a more colorful and interesting character than Al Gore. (Heck, even today, I have to admit: that is true. Besides, don’t many adults base their votes on the same criteria?) 

In 2002, however, my opinion of Bush changed radically. Like everyone in my family, I was deeply saddened by Bush’s drive to go to war with Iraq. We thought it was unjustifiable to go to war with a country that had had nothing to do with 9/11. Moreover, my parents insisted that imposing democracy on another country was an oxymoron and would not work in any case, because democracy needs to emerge through the natural evolution of the country in question. Such was my disgust with Bush that, as a middle school student in 2004, I loudly rooted for John Kerry. At this point, I was convinced that I was a liberal Democrat. To be sure, by 2004, I was starting to become more aware of additional political issues, and I was hearing some things about Democrats that worried me, such as rumors that they were in favor of something called gay marriage. But I was so enraged by Iraq that I didn’t pay much heed to this. I chalked it up to Republican fear-mongering.

One of the most important insights I gained in middle school was the knowledge that George Washington had advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy. I recalled thinking, in light of the Iraq War, that George Washington would be ashamed of what his country had become.

Towards the end of the 2000s, I began to realize that, in terms of social issues, the Democrats were in fact against everything I had been taught was morally right. Meanwhile, I got hooked on talk radio, especially Michael Savage. I also became addicted to Fox News. I came to strongly believe in as limited a government as possible, while maintaining my strong social conservative views. I thought I’d found a political home in the GOP. The only aspect of my beliefs that seemed at odds with GOP orthodoxy was my strong opposition to the Iraq War, but enough time had passed that my rage had cooled and I was willing to overlook this incongruence. Besides, time seemed to have vindicated my early opposition to the Iraq War, and I figured that the world (including the GOP) would only grow more opposed to it as time went by. In 2008, I vocally backed John McCain in the general election (though I had backed Mitt Romney in the primary, because I perceived him to be the more conservative alternative to McCain). I remember warning my high school classmates that Barack Obama was a radical Communist who was friends with terrorists. I seriously believed that. In hindsight, I feel so very silly about this period of my life.

Shortly after the 2008 election, one of my high school classmates lent me a book by a congressman from Texas named Ron Paul. Paul convinced me of the evils of central banking and the virtues of sound money, beliefs I hold to this day. He also confirmed my fear of big government. As a history nerd, I appreciated that his beliefs in sound money, states’ rights, and Congress’s war-making power were deeply rooted in American history. Most of all, though, I loved his opposition to intervention in other countries and his call for a return to “the foreign policy of the Founding Fathers.”

While reading Ron Paul, I recalled learning in school about George Washington’s warning to avoid entanglement in alliances. From Ron Paul, I learned that John Quincy Adams had declared that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” and had warned that an interventionist U.S. would became “the dictatress of the world.” Wow, I thought. How prescient were the Founding Fathers! “Dictatress of the world!” That sounded just like what the U.S. had become with its arrogant policy of “ending tyranny in our world.”

I was sold on Ron Paul when I saw a YouTube clip of him destroying Rudy Giuliani during a 2008 GOP primary debate. “Yes, yes, yes!” I thought. “Finally, a Republican that’s sane on foreign policy!” My favorite YouTube clip involving Ron Paul, though, is one in which a Fox News debate moderator asks him, “Are you saying we should take marching orders from Al Qaeda?” “No,” he replies. “I’m saying we should take marching orders from the Constitution!” What courage! I still admire and respect Ron Paul today, though I can no longer claim to be a supporter. But I’ll get to that.

Ron Paul got me hooked on libertarianism. I started reading works by whatever libertarian thinkers I could get my hands on. I was especially fond of Murray Rothbard. My libertarian years were my first truly intellectual engagement with politics. This was when my political views began to become sophisticated.

But there was a problem. As time went by, I slowly began to be confronted with areas in which it seemed that government had to have a role. Environmental regulation, economic regulation, healthcare, etc. For a while, I suppressed these qualms and clung stubbornly to the libertarian narrative. “Let the market fix it,” I said repeatedly. “The market can fix everything, if politicians would just allow it to work.” But at some point, it became clear to me that raw laissez-faire capitalism was a cruel philosophy. That fact that government had grown so large was not the result of some sinister conspiracy, I realized. It was a series of responses to very real problems. Social Security, the minimum wage, Medicare, Medicaid – such programs had vastly improved people’s lives. Yes, there was waste in government, but the libertarian formula of “starving the beast” was not the answer. Yes, Ron Paul’s worldview was deeply rooted in American history, but it was fundamentally ahistorical, because it ignored what had happened during the twentieth century and assumed that we could simply turn back the clock to a magical time…

I’m not sure when exactly my worldview changed from libertarianism to a more centrist brand of conservatism. It’s just a shift that happened over time. At some point, there were too many internal contradictions in my mind to sustain the house of cards that was my libertarian worldview. I could read all the Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, and Lew Rockwell in the world, but it gradually became apparent that these men had no answers to my questions. Indeed, it seemed to me that libertarians were so rigidly ideological that they didn’t even see the misery their policy prescriptions would cause and in many ways had caused (e.g. financial deregulation during the 1990s). They didn’t realize that their dogmatic insistence on the virtue of free markets would clear the path for what they claimed to stridently oppose: socialism and communism.

That said, if I had to pinpoint a specific moment that caused large, deep, and stability-threatening cracks to appear in the flimsy foundation of my libertarian fortress, I would point to a 2012 GOP debate in which CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul what should happen to a man who chose not to purchase health insurance but then suddenly needed medical care. Some people in the crowd shouted, “Let him die!” Paul’s response – let churches and private charities take care of him – did little to reassure me. It was at this moment that it dawned on me that while Ron Paul might be a good person (as a physician, he provided free medical care to patients who lacked health insurance), many – perhaps most – people were not. An ideology that relied on the goodwill of people, I came to believe, was simply not tenable.

At that point, I was politically homeless. On the one hand, I held many beliefs about government that seemed to roughly correspond to those of a liberal Democrat. On the other hand, I was a staunch cultural conservative, and I was seeing Democrats and even many Republicans move further and further away from my socially conservative worldview. Neither major party was a good fit for me, and neither was the Libertarian Party or the Green Party.

But I wouldn’t be long before I filled that ideological vacuum. Even before I had finally abandoned libertarianism, I became very interested in the Spanish Civil War. In college, I was a Spanish major. In one class, we watched a very good (though very biased in favor of the so-called Republican side) movie about the Spanish Civil War and had to give presentations about the Spanish Civil War. In the course of my research for this presentation, and much subsequent research (which I undertook purely for fun’s sake), I concluded that Francisco Franco has an unjustly bad reputation. I think this blog post has become long enough, so I’m not going to discuss Franco in depth here. Suffice it say that here was someone who had rescued his country from chaos and from two attempted Bolshevik revolutions, preserved and promoted traditional Christian values, defied international hostility to his regime, created social welfare benefits (such as pensions, salary bonuses, and universal healthcare), and modernized his country, creating the conditions for one of the most peaceful and seamless transitions to democracy in human history. Such a man as this was worthy of respect, I thought. The demonization he has been subjected to is unjustifiable. 

Today, I very much admire Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, but I’m also well aware of the drawbacks of dictatorship. For one thing, dictatorships tend to be extremely corrupt, as there’s no reliable mechanism to hold officials accountable for corruption. Indeed, even if the dictator is aware of corruption, there’s not much he can do about it, because, given the absence of democratic legitimacy, support for the regime is always very tenuous. The dictator can’t afford to alienate any of the groups in the ruling coalition, lest the house of cards that is the regime collapse.  

Yet multiparty democracies have their flaws, too – not least of which is the social polarization that results from the narratives that the various political parties develop about themselves and their opponents. If the best values of Falangism and liberal democracy could somehow be combined, perhaps a better system than both would result. Is this an internal contradiction? Absolutely. Maybe I’ll resolve it someday. 

That, in part, is the reason I have set up this blog. I hope to use this blog as a mechanism for developing the ideology of democratic Falangism. I plan to do so by reading books, watching videos, and posting my thoughts on these here. I envision this blog as developing into an eclectic collection of materials. This blog will feature inspiring quotes, YouTube videos, recommended reading, and occasionally original content from yours truly, such as book reviews and opinion pieces. 

As the blog’s subtitle indicates, the realm of politics and philosophy is far from my only interest. I am equally interested in classic comics and animated cartoons. Accordingly, I will also be posting about these subjects.   

If you’re interested in joining me on this journey towards a new political paradigm, with occasional rest stops in Cartoonland, I invite you to follow this blog, and to leave your own thoughts in the comments section.

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