The Right’s Sham Religion of Rugged Individualism
Behold the damning paradox that bedevils the dazed rightwing. While strictly-scrutinized party factions toe strict ideological lines, every freedom-loving GOP gang glorifies the absurd, frontier badge of rugged individualism. “The great and abiding lesson of American history, particularly the cold war,” declares Rand Paul, “is that the engine of capitalism, the individual, is mightier than any collective.”
Right, one great champion drives every mighty, corporate colossus, doubtlessly a willful, Ayn Rand superman. Columnist Marilyn von Savant only adds fuel to the folly, “The freedom to be an individual is the essence of America.” That so? The apex of radical individualism isn’t found in America, no longer the world’s leader in socio-economic mobility but more likely resides within some all-powerful warlord whose tyranny lasts as long as his lifespan.
The right talks individualism and freedom yet practices the politics of punitive submission, extorted by Tea Party primaries, boorish FOX newscasters, loutish televangelists, Rovian political operatives, and unelected Grover Norquist enforcers. “Don’t tread on me” sounds a great war cry but doesn’t advance a country of 300 million. No wonder, with widening agendas, at least five GOP cliques squabble like hungry chickens:
- the predatory corporate crowd, from Wall Street banksters to reactionary billionaires rigging the system;
- close-minded, Tea Party haters of all government programs that share goodies outside their tribe;
- faith-alone fundamentalists, keyed to Biblical literalism, End of Days, or defiance of abortion rights;
- belligerent, neo-con marauders, boasting pre-emptive invasions to affirm our imperial destiny; and
- the residual strays, fairly inconsequential, spanning distraught moderates to plumb-crazy conspiracy nuts, secessionists, armed militias and back-to-the-boonies cultism.
Yet, all Republican differences dissipate when the right invokes its transcendent, irrational leap of faith: that American prowess wholly reflects our worship of go-it-alone, “I-built-it-my-way” manias, revering the lone gunman blasting all foes. Why, just study history. Did not “collectivist” Puritans season their theocracy with individual freedom for all? Was not our revolution gained by one great hero, not the one-third of insurgent colonists working together? Did not lonely frontiersmen carve out homes from the wilderness, oh, except for families, neighbors, and cheap (slave, Native American, Irish, Italian, Asian) labor? Lincoln alone freed the slaves and won the Civil War, just like great individuals must have won both world wars, built our infrastructure, and now defend global commerce.
In short, thanks to willful ignorance that demeans the essential co-operation that defines America, babble that the individual is “mightier than any collective” goes on. Name one, Mr. Paul? This country is at heart communitarian, not authoritarian, not libertarian.
GOP Triumph of the Will
Yet, if every conservative has the god-given right to liberty and conscience, why are there so few party rebels (or true “rogues”) that defy lockstep obedience to a rigid party line? And why is disagreement, even challenge to one group’s holy crusade, vilified by great thinkers like Norquist or birdbrain Rush Limbaugh? What bizarre notion of freedom induces extremists to primary into oblivion minor divergence from their fixations? Had not Tea Partiers “expressed their individualism” by defeating five electable candidates since 2010, they’d control the Senate. Of course, they’d then have to forego this William Godwin rant, “Above all we should not forget that government is an evil, a usurpation upon the private judgment and individual conscience of mankind.”
In fact, do not warped notions of individualism, implying total mastery over one’s life, represent the motherload for every hot button social wedge issue since 2000? On gun control, what heroic individualist can protect his home and family against bad guys without commanding his own arsenal? Since “evil government” eyes the truest, most independent thinkers, freedom-loving, paranoid militias would betray their essence by not preparing for the enemy. Let’s not forget those gun-loving, manly hunters, decimating all those blood-curdling wild animals, like rabbits, game birds and deer. For stalkers of the innocent, it’s munitions, not clothes, that make the man. Or gay marriage: what self-respecting, individualist he-man “chooses” the “homosexual life style,” let alone publicizes it to the world by marrying one’s buddy?
The Certitude of the Rigid
Certainly, every rugged individualist scrutinizes birth control methods and reigns in appetites so he or she never needs abortion doctors. What model of self-reliance would ignobly drug a date or assault a relative or child? That deserves getting skinned alive. Does not similar, hard line thinking justify capital punishment as just accountability, fitting ultimate punishment to the individual's willful crime, like in good Old Testament days. Bring on the fire and brimstone, hell’s a’waitin’ for miscreants who choose wickedness.
Just last week, a throng of freedom-loving senators trumped a U.N. treaty for daring to apply American standards to overseas discrimination against the disabled. Pretty rugged stuff. What a brave bunch, shuddering in terror against the mighty wrath of primary challenges by know-nothings! Observe the fierce irony: any conservatives who think on their own, who deviate a smidgeon, face political blackmail, from all the usual suspects:
- libertarians outraged against those who insufficiently despise government;
- fundamentalists outraged at the failure to despise abortion, secularism, or gay rights;
- greedy capitalists outraged at those who don’t despise taxes or regulation; and
- belligerent, neo-con conquistadores outraged at those who don’t despise perpetual war.
Except for militarists, reliant on government-sponsored war machines (“peace after all depends on constant war”), all endorse Godwin’s take on government as evil and the individual as the highest, if not only good. All these zealots are so vehement they continue to shoot themselves in the head by equating “freedom” with obstructive filibustering of whatever the majority supports. If God is really on that side, the world withers without a new theology.
All for One, One for All
Finally, for lovers of high irony, here’s a zinger. The Democrats are in fact a far more diverse, undisciplined, and independent-minded community, yet they share a much higher consensus about community values, the value of government and where the country should go. With the Obama re-election, liberals regained strength simply by asserting this radical idea, “the greatest good for the greatest number,” while reinforcing both Elizabeth Warren’s campaign and Republican, ex-justice Sandra Day O'Connor, “We don't accomplish anything in this world alone . . . and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads form one to another that creates something” (of worth).
To end, here’s compelling etymology: the word “liberal” comes from the root “liber,” as in free, thus informing “liberty” and “liberation” (even “libertine”). For over a century, “liberal” buttressed the inalienable rights of all men, plus FDR’s Four Freedoms. A “liberal” benefactor was a hero with positive connotations of compassion, humanity, tolerance and openness to change.
Let us restore “liberal” to its root origins, with brave defenses of liberty alongside tolerance, individualism alongside“collective” teamwork. What’s wrong with pulling together, “all for one and one for all,” the recipe for job creation, health delivery, and critical ecological balances? For that simple, communitarian creed separates us from both know-nothing yokels and scheming fat cats who mouth individualism while funding inquisitions to insure lockstep obedience.