What Would Samuel Adams Do?

Dear Dr. Hurd:

Certain things bug me from time to time, things for which I have no answer.  I don’t understand why the left always frames the argument and sets the terms of engagement.  I’ve been studying the American Revolution for some time.  In my opinion, Samuel Adams was the Saul Alinsky of his day, a community organizer if there ever was one.  Why are there no Samuel Adamses today?  Why have we no community organizers for liberty?  Why are all the community organizers affiliated with the SEIU and ACORN?  Why are all the community organizers today statists and socialists and not community organizers for liberty, like Sam Adams?  Why are the defenders of liberty today, always that, defenders?  Why are libertarians always on defense, never offense?  I mean, we are the ones with truth and reason on our side, yet we are always manning the ramparts, always the ones pushing against the tide, always playing defense.  Why was Sam Adams always playing offense?  The question frequently heard from many of us on the side of liberty have today is, “What would Reagan do?”  I never ask that.  I always ask myself, “What would Samuel Adams do?”  And unfortunately, I do not have an answer.

Perhaps you do, and I would love to hear it.  

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

To understand why Samuel Adams was on the offensive, while today’s advocates of liberty are (at best) on the defensive, let’s analyze some of Adams’ quotes.

Samuel Adams: ‘It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.’

Adams clearly understood that the intellect matters. Today, too many advocates of liberty and individual rights turn first and only to politics. Case in point: The Tea Party. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with political activism for liberty. But, as we’ve seen, attempts to roll back Big Government and at least partially restore free markets and individual rights without an intellectual and philosophical base are futile.

In essence, all the Tea Party is able to do is shout, ‘Liberty!’ But why liberty? Why individual rights? A majority of Americans like their Medicare, their Social Security, their illusion of protections and benefits and advantages that they think they’re getting from their Big Government. To date, the Tea Party has no answer. That’s why they’re not the majority, and why even as a minority they don’t have a say in John Boehner’s Big Government Republican House of Representatives.

Samuel Adams:  ‘The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on Earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule.’

Notice that Adams isn’t saying that freedom comes from God, like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and most other conservative spokesmen for liberty claim. Adams is saying freedom arises from the objective nature of man. He was like his contemporaries Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and James Madison in this respect. Such a view does not imply or require a belief in a supernatural being, or an ‘eternal life’ after real life. If someone on the ‘right’ came out in favor of individual rights based on the secular nature of man, the cries of outrage would come more loudly from the religious right than even the secular left.

Trying to argue for capitalism from a secular viewpoint makes sense. For example, ‘Man has a certain nature. That nature is the volitional use of reason to survive and think. Capitalism is the only social system that respects and allows for this.’ (Ayn Rand made this argument, but she’s not in the mainstream of conservative thought, not yet at least.) That would be an effective argument. It’s not the argument of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, or any other religious conservative who tries to take the government over by storm. These people, in one form or another, claim: Religion comes from God. Although Ronald Reagan was much more articulate than today’s conservatives, he said pretty much the same thing. This takes the argument for individual rights away from reason and science, and leaves it (by default) to the academic leftists who now run essentially everything.

Samuel Adams: ‘A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.’

Adams understood, unlike most of today’s conservatives, that ethics and morality—rationally defined—are a requirement for a free society. Conservatives are mostly religious. They argue that human beings must follow religious ethics—specifically, Christianity—in order to deserve freedom. But Christianity teaches the same things the leftists advocate in policy: We are our brother’s keepers, and the virtuous (including the peaceful) must surrender their arms (literally and metaphorically) and in effect love their enemies. Both Jesus and Obama say these things. Conservatism tries to fight leftism by endorsing the very approach to morality and ethics that the left fervently upholds (albeit for secular reasons). What kind of battle is this? It’s like shooting yourself in the foot and then deliberately running into battle, wondering why you always lose.

‘Community organizing,’ whatever that actually means, refers to a strategy, not a philosophy. In order to inspire a community or society, you first must have a set of principles that make sense. The left has a set of wrong principles, but they consistently uphold them and win every battle (and always set the agenda) in the end. They will ultimately lose the war, destroying themselves and quite possibly the rest of us, because they are plainly wrong about essentially everything—but they’re great at winning elections and controlling the agenda. The right tries to offer an opposite set of political policies based on an equally wrong set of principles. It’s futile and shameful, and exceedingly painful to watch.

What passes for today’s political “debate” is not a battle worth having, and it’s not a battle conservatives, as we know them, have any remote chance of winning. That’s why I keep saying America needs a second political party, and a second political philosophy—not a third.


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