January 29, 2021 Reading Time: 4 minutes

All Hail the Reopening!” but the work of classical liberals is just beginning.

“The” science has spoken: only a clown would impose a lockdown. Not a funny clown, a demented, scary clown. Although I have been too sanguine in the past, it looks like this time America’s gubernatorial lockdown clowns are indeed piling into a comically tiny car, proclaiming themselves heroes, and driving off before they get recalled, or worse.

Before all the worst restrictions fade away, though, many Americans will have experienced about a year under socialism, i.e., a command-and-control economy featuring the destruction of the modern equivalents of the great enemies of the socialist state, the kulaks and petit bourgeoise; suppression of religious gatherings and local knowledge; breakdown of the rule of law; the mass warping of words; an election where party interests trumped Constitutional procedures; the regular ratting out and ostracization of neighbors and “followers” for speaking out against the party line; toilet paper, mask, and other shortages; and for-profit megacorporations nevertheless behaving increasingly akin to state-controlled media.

Of course socialism was imposed in the name of a just “holy war” proclaimed against a microscopic creature, so that makes it all okay. Moreover, a year of war isn’t so bad in the scheme of things. Wars often last much longer, like Seven Years, or even a century (though a good medievalist will tell you the term The Hundred Years’ War is an exaggeration because the fighting between England and France was intermittent over that century).

Arguably the most horrific war in history lasted four years and three plus months and ended in a global pandemic. Contemporaries called it the Great War and, more hopefully, “The War to End All Wars.” That we now call it World War I to distinguish it from World War II, which started just twenty years later, belies the optimistic view that grave horrors will automatically spur sufficient backlash to prevent their recurrence.

After all, we all solemnly declare “Never again” after each genocide and are proven correct only until the next genocide. Ditto with asset bubbles and bailouts.

In short, Americans cannot assume that the lockdown horror stories of 2020-21 will not be repeated in the future because the nation has learned its lesson. They must take positive steps to avoid a repeat performance.

A Constitutional amendment banning or restricting future lockdowns might sound nice but America’s policy clowns will subvert it whenever and however they can regardless of what the amendment says. Just compare, for example, some state firearms regulations to the Second Amendment.

What America needs to do is to prevent its more clownish policymakers from gaining power in the first place. The nation will still have 99 problems but socialism in the name of public health won’t be one of them.

I’ve argued before that I would like to ban political parties but of course as an advocate for liberty I can’t justify the abolition of an entire class of peaceful voluntary association. But I can suggest that like-minded people voluntarily form a new political party based on very different principles than the two major existing ones.

What if a new political party formed with the goal not of winning elections at all costs but of protecting and eventually extending the Constitution and liberty? I don’t mean using the Constitution and liberty as branding points in an attempt to form a new rent-seeking political phalanx, a.k.a. a “third party,” I mean establishing an organization with internal incentive structures designed to protect Americans’ constitutional liberties and nothing more.

What I have in mind is an organization that would seek to attract and retain quality members based solely on their Constitutional aptitude and classical liberal attitude as determined by examination.

Voting and serving in office, you see, is at least as dangerous an activity as driving a motor vehicle. Only those who demonstrate at least a baseline proficiency should be allowed to do it. While current sentiment and the history of the country prevents anything smacking of a literacy test (or even a heartbeat in some districts, ba doom boom!) in a general election, political parties can establish the rules for their own primaries or caucuses. Parties can also decide who can, and who cannot, “run” for office under their imprimatur. So why not ensure, through examination, that only those who understand the U.S. Constitution and the classical concept of liberty can stand for office as a Constitutional Liberty candidate, or vote in a Constitutional Liberty party primary?

Political parties, after all, can and do discipline their members. They are essentially nonexclusive clubs that can use clubs (punishments) and rewards to force executives, legislators, and even judges to serve party interests instead of their own, or those of their constituents. (If you don’t know what I mean, watch House of Cards. Yeah, Kevin Spacey is in it. So what? If he committed a crime or tort, let the court system mete out an appropriate punishment.)

A party could credibly commit, however, to serving an interest other than increasing its own power by screening members, as with an examination, and expelling or otherwise disciplining members that serve their own interests instead of the party’s stated goal. A Constitutional Liberty party, for example, might fine a member for missing a vote on an important bill or voting in favor of an unread 2,232 page monstrosity. And of course supporting something as obviously unconstitutional and ineffective as a lockdown would mean expulsion from the party and possibly mandatory resignation.

A Constitutional Liberty party could enforce its disciplinary actions via performance bonds. If one of its members went rogue, supported something unconstitutional, and refused to resign, he or she would forfeit money held by a third party arbitrator as well as be expelled from the club.

Why would politicians submit to such harsh party discipline? To get elected to office so they can serve their town, county, state, or country and keep their oath to uphold the Constitution. Public-spirited, Constitution-loving politicians still exist. Seven of them just resolved to make Monument, Colorado a Covid sanctuary city, thumbing their noses at the gubernatorial clown lurking along the Front Range.

Rationally ignorant voters tired of the status quo might flock to a party credibly committed to liberty and the Constitution. Most Trump voters did not care for the man personally or even some of his policies. What most of them wanted was to “drain the swamp,” i.e., to cut government corruption and waste, so that all Americans could prosper in a “free country,” as they were doing until the lockdown clown came to town. A party truly committed to limited government and voluntary association does not need a problematic, charismatic leader like Trump but instead could prevail merely on the incentive-aligned reality of its commitment to the Constitution and liberty.

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic ReviewBusiness History ReviewIndependent ReviewJournal of Private EnterpriseReview of Finance, and Southern Economic Review. Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997. Robert E. Wright was formerly a Senior Research Faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research.

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