Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Liberals, Conservatives, Joan Baez and Ending the Nation-State

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Liberals, Conservatives, Joan Baez and the Nation-State

The other night I saw a reprise performance of the recent American Masters episode on the life of folksinger and political activist, Joan Baez.

It was a good program and showed what a remarkable person Joan Baez is.    She walked the walk, even to the point of voluntarily accepting incarceration several times because of her (nonviolent) opposition to the Vietnam War.

But one detail that caught my attention was a brief remark by Joan in a film clip from an early 1970’s protest:  she was  exhorting people to “end the nation-state”.

End the nation-state?  Sounds like a good idea to me — where do I sign up?

And here was Joan Baez, one of most visible “liberals” of the second half of the 20th century, saying something I agree with, even though I am a political libertarian — which most people consider a conservative position.

But there was no mistake.  Joan Baez wanted to end the nation-state.   That was the wish of liberals in the 1960’s (as with John Lennon’s song, “Imagine there’s no countries; it’s easy to do….”).  It seemed obvious to anyone with good sense that governments were the cause of wars, and that governments served generally to suppress what is best in human nature.

To liberals, the government was the problem, not the solution.  The government was causing the war in Viet Nam, and hurting everyone.  Liberals wanted to reduce government power and to end the cultic worship of governments.

But roll things forward 35 years.  Now so-called liberals are supporting massive government-run healthcare.
They’re militant about it, insisting that “poor people have a right to healthcare, and the government
should supply it, whatever the cost.”  This is not only different from the liberalism of the 60’s,  it’s really the complete opposite.

In the 60’s and 70’s, the view was that if governments would get out of the way, people could sort out their own problems.  I can say that for sure, because, at least in the 70’s, I was there marching and singing “give peace a chance.”  People were thinking, “Life is good.  If governments would get out of our lives the natural impulse to enjoy life and to love and help others would manifest itself spontaneously.”

That’s still my view.  If John Lennon were alive today, I’d like to think that would be his view, too. Somehow I just can’t imagine him singing, “Hooray for government!  Let’s give them more power!  Let them pick our pockets and design aversive, government health programs, so we can all stand in line, put up with terrible service, and be at the mercy of arrogant public officials.”  No, that’s not how a working class hero would see things.

So the great irony is that true conservatives and true liberals are on the same side:  both groups want a world which affirms human values, welfare and happiness.  And opposed to these things is an ever expanding “statism” — a vast, inhuman, oppressive machine.

This is a rather important idea, and bears further thought.  Consider how much the media makes of the supposed opposition between “conservatives” and “liberals.”  What if this turned out to be all bunk!  Could it be that human beings are in basic agreement about core values — and in an instinctive aversion to abusive government power?  And could it be that the dominant economic institutions try to invent a false conflict in order to divide and conquer the population?

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