Many conservatives, in defending the representative republic of the United States, point to the U.S. Constitution as proof of both the wisdom of the founding fathers and the bedrock of American exceptionalism. However, as Lynsander Spooner made crystal clear, this founding document has no authority over the generations of people that have inhabited this nation since it’s founding.
One of the arguments offered by proponents of the social contract theory, under which the U.S. Constitution is partly justified, is that participation through voting confirms the authority of this supposed contract. However, as Mr. Spooner points out, votes can be cast defensively as well as offensively:
…if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defense, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing.
As with all human action, the act of voting proves little more than that the person resorting to it sees it as a means to alleviate some uneasiness, even if that is merely an attempt at overthrowing the yoke potentially imposed by those aiming at subjugation.
We in the “first” world often consider ourselves the best arbiters of the moral and reasonable. One example of this concerns working conditions in “third” world countries. When the topic of working conditions arises, we frequently refer back to the early industrial period. In such cases, the pejorative term “sweat shop” is often used to refer to facilities not up to the standards minimally accepted by most employed in the western nations today.
The term sweat shop is frequently applied to employment facilities of low comfort and/or quality and reflects a reluctance of western workers to entertain employment in such facilities. Because most of these nations of diverse business opportunities have options which appear more appealing than those warranting such an epithet, few in first world countries willingly entertain employment under harsh conditions. It is the presence of alternatives which makes such options unacceptable.
In impoverished nations, on the other hand, opportunities do not abound. As a result, when comparing the working conditions of one facility or another, the person in a third world country must decide how these options stack up to starvation. In other words, for those working in what might be termed unacceptable work conditions by industrialized standards, the alternative is something far less appealing. For this reason, we should all be supportive of any opportunity to advance individual freedom and prosperity, regardless how unappealing it might appear to ourselves.
When we consider the extent to which U.S. progressives have recently pushed the envelope on myopia, particularly on college campuses, it is easy to mistake conservatives for the more open minded extreme of the political spectrum. Much like progressives of the sixties, U.S. conservatives today appear the stronger advocates of free speech and individual rights. However, similar to the mythical anti-war leftists discussed here, this apparent open-mindedness is merely a symptom of circumstance.
To begin with, the term conservative contradicts the notion of open-mindedness: conservatism hearkens back to the good old days when things were simpler, people were kinder, and everyone knew their place. In this idealized world, crime was unheard of, children were respectful, and everyone worked for their supper. Consequently, non-conformity was frowned upon. From this ripe soil grew the progressivism of the latter half of the 20th century, lashing out against stifling social mores.
While they occupied the dominant social position, conservatives were tone deaf to progressive cries for free speech, free love, and other expressions of individual freedom. As the tide turned, and progressivism took root in the legislatures, the halls of academia, and the business world, conservatives found themselves faced with a choice: cater to free expression and individual freedom or face extinction. Being human, they chose the former. However, should the tide of political and social norms swing back toward the right, we can be sure that conservatives will become just as opposed to individual expression as are progressives today.
While I paint this with a broad brush, I am fully aware that individuals at both extremes will show varying degrees of tolerance. However, the majority of people follow blindly the tendencies of their ideology. As a result, despite the presence of intermittently dispersed people expressing genuine curiosity and neutrality, the opposing ends of the political spectrum will generally tend toward myopia as long as they retain at least the semblance of power.