Letter to Libertarians: The People Are The Government
In our country the people have popular sovereignty, which means that they are self-governing through the election of representatives. Throughout our history, concentrated wealth, both private and corporate, has exercised various degrees of disproportionate influence over government (the people’s representatives), and exercised a lesser degree of still disproportionate influence during times of popular “unrest” — periods when the people have organized on a mass scale to “take back” the government, reasserting their right to govern themselves, to have their vision for society actually determine how society is organized and maintained.
Today, two political movements are claiming to want to “take back” the government: the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement. The libertarians in the Tea Party movement have legitimate concerns about Big Government, but what they fail to see is that corporations and wealthy individuals who largely control the government (the people’s representatives) pose a much bigger threat to individual liberties, the common good, and the environment than Big Government.
The Occupy movement more appropriately focuses on the corporate corruption of democracy. I believe that some libertarians could find common cause with the Occupy movement, but the Christian nationalists within the Tea Party want to “take back” something else entirely; not the government as it ever actually existed, but as they imagine it to have been: some sort of homogeneous “Christian” society that was also “democratic.”
The truth is that our country has never been a homogeneous society and that democracy has always been what the people make of it. Popular sovereignty is not a machine that runs on its own, but something that must be actively constituted and maintained by the people themselves. The Tea Party talks a lot about the U.S. Constitution and our nation’s founding, but the Tea Party, as well as the Republicans and Democrats, embody corporate values and anti-democratic tendencies that threaten our country’s tradition of popular sovereignty.
The Tea Party has turned politics into religion, and they have replaced doubt with dogma. Doubt is what enables an individual to listen to others' perspectives out of a desire to examine one’s own beliefs or opinions. A willingness to hear others' arguments, sincerely consider the merits of those perspectives, and critically analyze one’s own positions is necessary for democratic deliberation. The Christian Nationalists and the corporate media stifle real democratic deliberation.
The libertarians in the Tea Party view Big Government as the biggest threat to individual liberty because they fail to appreciate how much Big Business already controls the legislative process. The libertarians fantasize about drastically reducing the size of government, but what they fail to understand is that government is a good thing when it listens to the people rather than to corporate interests. Reducing the influence of government simply increases the influence of corporations. A society whose legal system and political process serve corporate interests is no longer a society of individuals coming together for their collective benefit, and it is no longer a society with popular sovereignty. In their drive to increase personal freedom by reducing government, libertarians in the Tea Party would give banks, insurance companies, and polluters everything they want: no government regulation on behalf of the citizenry.
Those politicians who assure the people that society’s problems stem from too much government, that government regulation is ruining the economy, that more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations will stimulate job growth, are pawns of the growing corporatocracy.
Those politicians who support Citizens United are enabling the gradual imposition of a corporate agenda at odds with individual liberties, the common good, and the environment. They do not see a problem with unlimited corporate or private money influencing the political process or the idea that money is speech because the corporations are the people they are truly representing. Citizens United undermines the notion that the people are sovereign, that each individual has one vote, by legitimating and encouraging the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and corporations over our representatives. The political process has been corrupted to such an extent that the people may no longer be truly sovereign. Our vision for society no longer matters to the corporate politicians.
What the Tea Party fails to understand as it attempts to weaken the influence of government is that the people are the government. We need more government, that is, more people actively involved in the political process.
The Occupy movement sees through the deceptive rhetoric being fed to us by the corporate media and the corporate-funded representatives who discuss corporate-friendly legislation as if it were the only possible choice. The Occupy movement embodies and encourages political participation and democratic deliberation. The Occupy movement understands the sad irony of America: that the corporate corruption of democracy forces real democracy to take place outside of the democratic process.
We can revive popular sovereignty, but we have to grow this movement into a force that can occupy the political institutions through which our vision for society can become a reality. Government is what will protect individual liberties, promote the common good, and preserve the environment. We the people simply need to get the corporations out of our way.