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The Conservative (and Libertarian) Embrace of Socialism

The Conservative (and Libertarian) Embrace of Socialism
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When President Franklin Roosevelt enacted his New Deal economic program in the 1930s, including Social Security, he revolutionized America’s economic system.

For more than 100 years after the Constitution called the federal government into existence, the American people lived without an income tax and an IRS. During that period of time, they also lived without a welfare state, including Social Security. Americans were free to keep everything they earned and decide for themselves what to do with it. No one was forced to share his money with anyone. Charity, including to family members, was 100 percent voluntary.

One result of this unusual way of life was the most economically prosperous nation in history, especially for the poor, many of whom were flooding into America as a result of the the open-immigration system that was also embraced by our American ancestors.

Another result was the most charitable nation in history. When people were free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, they used it to take care of family members and the poor and to build churches hospitals, libraries, schools, museums, and other such things, all on a voluntary basis.

The move toward socialism

In the late 1800s, American progressives began agitating in favor of socialist programs — that is, ones in which government forcibly seizes money from people to whom it belongs through taxation and gives it to people who the government feels need it more. The ideas for these programs originated among German socialists in the 1800s and were later coopted by the German regime of Otto von Bismarck, the so-called Iron Chancellor of Germany. It is not a coincidence that a portrait of Bismarck is displayed on the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Among the principal socialist programs that progressives were proposing was Social Security, a program by which government takes money from younger people and transfers it to seniors. It was sold as a program based on “charity” notwithstanding the fact that it was based entirely on government force.

Conservative resistance

During the late part of the 1800s and early part of the 1900s, American conservatives resisted the socialist tide, which was actually spreading all over the world. Finally, however, the tide turned into a tsunami during the Great Depression, which enabled FDR to achieve his New Deal welfare-state revolution, led by the adoption of Social Security.

For some 30 years after that, conservatives continued battling against the welfare-state socialism that the Roosevelt regime had ushered into American life and fought to restore America’s founding system of economic liberty.

Conservative resistance against the socialist tide culminated in the 1960 book Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, a U.S. Senator from Arizona and an icon of the conservative movement. In the book, Goldwater railed against Social Security and called for a repeal of the FDR’s New Deal.

Goldwater became the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in the 1964 election. His opponent was the incumbent Lyndon Johnson, who had become president with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. During the campaign, Johnson pointed out to voters Goldwater’s deep antipathy to Social Security and the welfare state.

Johnson ended up smashing Goldwater in that election, winning 44 states and 61.1 percent of the popular vote. It was the largest percentage of the popular vote since the 1820 presidential election.

The turning point

At that point, conservatives threw in the towel and accepted the permanent existence of Social Security and the welfare state in American life. Their reasoning was that if they continued to oppose these popular socialist programs, it would be difficult for them to be elected to public office and it would become difficult for them to be taken seriously by the mainstream press.

Conservatives continued adhering to free-market mantras, such as “freedom, free enterprise, and limited government,” but deep down they knew that their mantras now rang hollow given their new devotion to Social Security and welfare-state socialism. Conservatives knew that they had thrown in the towel on achieving liberty and had embarked on a life devoted to reforming and improving the welfare-state way of life. It was a life of the lie, one that conservatives continue to live to this day.

In fact, the welfare state and the conservative abandonment on getting rid of it was one of the reasons for the rise of the libertarian movement. Libertarians simply became what conservatives used to be — adherents of economic liberty, which necessarily means a dismantling, not a reform, of welfare-state socialism.

Conservative influence on libertarians

Over the decades, many conservatives and Republicans became disenchanted with conservatism and the Republican Party and came into the libertarian movement. Unfortunately, however, many of them failed to leave their pragmatic baggage behind and began convincing many libertarians to take the same position that they took after the 1964 presidential election — accept the permanent existence of Social Security and welfare-statism in order to achieve respectability within the mainstream press and a greater chances of electoral success in the political arena.

Convinced that their chances for getting their perspectives published by the mainstream press and their chances of electoral success would be improved if they followed the route taken by conservatives after the 1964 election, some libertarians unfortunately did what their conservatives predecessors had done — they thew in the towel in achieving genuine liberty and instead resigned themselves to coming up with ways to save or improve Social Security and other welfare-state programs. And like conservatives, they couched their reform proposals, some of which were of a Rube Goldberg nature, in terms of “freedom and free enterprise” and “choice and competition,” all the while falsely convincing themselves that they were fighting for “liberty” and libertarianism.

But the ultimate question continues to bedevil conservatives and libertarians who have accepted the inevitability of Social Security and the welfare state: Do you want to be free or not? It’s an important question because if the answer is yes, then a necessary prerequisite of freedom is the dismantling, not the reform, of American socialism, including its crown jewel, Social Security.

The post The Conservative (and Libertarian) Embrace of Socialism appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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About The Author

Jacob G. Hornberger

The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government. Visit

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