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The Era of Liberals and Conservatives is Over

By Oliver DeMille

When everything depends on which side is right, what happens when both sides are wrong? 

Liberalism believes in the state: government is the savior of mankind to guard against greedy businessmen.  Conservatism today believes in the market: business prosperity is the solution to mankind’s struggles, and the state must be controlled by business.

Both are wrong; and yet the battle continues.  To judge from media and academia, the thinkers are stuck in this paradigm; to judge from elections—so, indeed, are the voters.

These are our choices (we are told), one or the other: the State or the Market.  As Pat Choate has argued, the three megatrends today are: 

  1. modern mercantilism
  2. corporatism and elitism
  3. national security  

Sovereignty and prosperity have been sacrificed for global market-ism and statism.  It’s no longer state vs. market on the national level, but a global battle where the two choices—the government or the corporation—are part of the same team: the global aristocracy.

Ironically, as Thomas Frank shows in The Wrecking Crew, conservatives have used the state to promote their creed of worldwide capitalism. Likewise, liberals have emphasized the use of markets and the spread of western business to promote democratization and more “equitable” wealth distribution.  America needs to lead, as Thomas Freidman argues, and he says its best bet is to lead in the world’s biggest problem—it is “hot, flat and crowded.”  America should lead the world to “Green,” using both markets and governments—Freidman’s suggestion.  As Friedman says, “Green is not just a new form of generating electric power.  It is a new form of generating national power—period.”

Freidman is right about one thing: neither State nor Market alone can win anymore.  Great nations build on great ideas, and governments and markets play their important roles in promoting those ideas.  But neither the state nor the corporation is a great idea in itself.  Freedom, America’s traditional Great Idea, cannot work without both free government and free enterprise.  The Soviet Union failed, at least in part, because its idea of equality was (perhaps) politically viable but flew in the face of market principles.  The British Empire dwindled when it allowed market growth without political independence.  There are many examples.

But today, liberals still want the state to win—that is, to take over the market and control it; while conservatives want the corporate aristocracy and global elite to control governments.  Or, in other words (maybe too strong of words) the whole system is doomed.

Maybe it’s good that the two sides—government and market—keep fighting each other.  But a new aristocracy seems to be running both sides of the debate, and sending the bill to taxpayers around the world. The media collaborates (after all, it is a business) as does academia (mostly a branch of government now).

So here’s where we are.  As Barbara Ehrenreich’s book This Land is their Land argues, “While members of the moneyed elite can buy Congressmen, many in the working class can barely buy lunch.”  Her satire concludes with the suggestion to find a website that will match you perfectly with a new country to flee to.

One thing is sure.  As long as the aristocrats are in charge, government will grow.  When liberals run it, it will grow to redistribute wealth to the global “have-nots,” straight from the pockets of the middle class. When conservatives win elections, government will grow to promote global business empires and enforce taxpayer care of social needs—freeing up elite capital for more profitable uses.  If this seems too cynical, consider why government doesn’t shrink when both liberals and conservatives promise to reduce it. It was Bill Clinton who said that “the era of big government is over.”

Today, the era of conservatives and liberals is over. Both have either become aristocrats, or their employees or agents.  Ours is the era of a new, global aristocracy, which uses both governments and markets to increase its power and wealth.  Against that stands the idea of freedom.  It is an idea from the past, but its time is not over.

Freedom spreads from the people, seldom from the experts or teams of experts in whom governmental power tends to reside.  This has always been true in history and it is true today.  We will choose in our lifetimes between an era of aristocracy and an era of freedom.  And it will be the regular people who choose.  Even those who feel powerless and without resources are making the choice.

The choice is simple, if not easy.  It is as simple as: fearing the news versus turning it off and studying the great thinkers.  It is as simple as being dependent on a job versus thinking like an entrepreneur.  The hallmark of aristocratic society is a mass of people who consider themselves limited, stuck, inferior.  The hallmark of freedom, in contrast, is the individual who puts aside labels or limits and lives his/her dreams. The American dream is not a government program—it is a state of mind, a choice to be better and work harder and be independent.

America is not in economic crisis so much as it is in freedom crisis.  Will our generation turn to government to solve our crises, or to ourselves to apply initiative, ingenuity, tenacity and risk to building a better world? Our grandchildren will inherit an aristocracy or a free nation—whichever we give them.


Oliver DeMille is Chancellor of George Wythe University.  This article was first published on-line at