Is the enemy of our enemy our friend?
I suppose in the abstract, the depends. But when it comes to battling the biggest, most powerful government in the world, I think the answer is usually yes.
To frame it into a more concrete strategy question: should we work with people who generally reject our broader constitutional principles if the partnership can lead to an incremental shift toward constitutional fidelity and liberty? For instance, should we work with people on the left to fight against the growing police state? Or right-wingers to fight gun laws?
To me, this is a no-brainer.
Of course, we should.
In fact, single-issue coalitions have been the bread-and-butter of the Tenth Amendment Center’s work for years.
For instance, we have maintained a strong relationship with the ACLU and work closely with them on surveillance issues. The fact that the organization is awful on the Second Amendment and the vast majority of ACLU staffers and supporters sit solidly on the political left and embrace a “living breathing” view of the Constitution doesn’t stop us from working with them to rein in the surveillance state. In fact, we have joined coalitions with organizations far to the left of the ACLU to successfully ban government facial recognition surveillance.
On the other hand, we work closely with right-wing organizations to fight federal gun control. The fact that a lot of these people happily ignore the Constitution to embrace the police state and foreign wars doesn’t stop us from working with them to protect the right to keep and bear arms.
It’s pragmatically stupid to say to tell somebody on the left, “I’m not going to work with you on surveillance because I disagree with your wealth redistribution scheme.” In the same way, it would be stupid to say, “I’m not going to work with neocons on Second Amendment issues because they suck on war.”
Sorry, But We’re Irrelevant
Those of us who believe in following the Constitution every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses would be wise to remember we are an overwhelming minority. Very few people embrace our philosophy and most people aren’t interested in the broader principles of liberty. If we apply an ideological or constitutional litmus test before working with people on political activism, we will never do any effective political activism because virtually everybody will fail our test.
Practically speaking, it takes large groups of people to create the momentum necessary to change policy. Newsflash: constitutional originalists and those of us who want to truly limited federal government aren’t a large group of people. In fact, we’re politically irrelevant in today’s sharply divide left-right paradigm. Yes, that sounds harsh, but it’s the cold reality we have to live with.
If we want to change policy, it’s imperative to form coalitions with other people – from the left and the right – in order to cash in on the synergy of the group. We might be a minority when it comes to the Constitution and liberty, but we can join with others to create an interest group strong enough to limit police surveillance, end enforcement of gun control, expand food freedom, or nullify the drug war. These actions might not mean absolute liberty in our time, but they will allow us to live a little more free. And that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?
So, why not work with BLM sympathizers to push back the police state?
In the current political environment, there is suddenly a lot of interest in curtailing police militarization, especially on the left. This is something we’ve been pushing for years at the Tenth Amendment Center. The right was kind of interested in this when Obama was in office, but as soon as Trump was elected, they become full-throated supporters of weaponized cops. So, if the left wants to fight police militarization, I’m more than happy for their help. If we can get bills passed that limit surveillance or opt local cops out of federal militarization programs, that’s a net-win for liberty.
But aren’t we empowering the left and making it more likely they will “take over?”
I doubt that very seriously, but if they do, they won’t have those police state tools at their disposal. When we successfully limit the power of the state, we limit the power of whichever political persuasion happens to control the levers of the state.
In short, constitutional restrictions on federal power restrict whoever is in control – the left or the right. And by the same token, expansions of federal power, even for “good” policy outcomes, means more power for the next person in office. Every constitutional exception you make for Donald Trump today will set a precedent for Joe Biden or AOC in the future.
But I Don’t Trust You
Very few of us were born into the philosophy of liberty. Most of us came from the left or the right. And even though we’ve embraced libertarian principles, we tend to hold some sympathies with one side of the political spectrum and to distrust the other. I came from the right. Even though I recognize both the political left and right sucks, it’s easier for me to forgive the foibles of my former cohorts on the right and demonize those on the left. To borrow a phrase from the movie “Pretty Woman,” it’s the fork I know.
Lack of trust makes it difficult to work with people we ideologically disagree with. As one friend put it, “You shouldn’t be working with those lefties. Commies aren’t trustworthy.”
And of course, I’ve heard folks sympathetic to the left say similar things about “fascist” right-wingers.
But when you boil it all down does it really matter if they’re trustworthy or not? If they help me achieve a policy goal, their motives don’t really matter to me. The point is to get something practical done for liberty.
I’m not suggesting compromising principles. I’m suggesting it’s wise to work with people when they have the exact same policy goal and when implementing that policy will further the cause of liberty.
The operative question isn’t “what is everybody’s broad philosophical worldview.” The operative question is “will doing A make me more free and will working with these people to achieve that goal make us more likely to achieve it.”
If I can answer yes to those questions, I’m moving forward.
And you know what? When you actually talk to people in a cooperative way, sometimes it opens doors to change their minds. Think about it. At some point, your mind likely changed. Mine certainly did. Perhaps we would be better served in viewing people who hold opposing views as potential converts rather than enemies. Samual Adams hinted at this in an August 1776 speech.
“Having been a slave to the influence of opinions early acquired, and distinctions generally received, I am ever inclined not to despise but pity those who are yet in darkness.”
Here’s the harsh reality: if I’m only willing to work with people who share my ideological worldview, I will sit here by myself and watch YouTube all day. The truth is sitting around virtue-signaling your hatred of the left or the right in your little echo-chamber isn’t going to make you more free. Getting policies changed in a way that limits the power of the state will make you more free.
I’m happy to work with anybody that will help me do that, even in a limited way.
Because my enemy isn’t the left. And my enemy isn’t the right. My enemy is the biggest, most powerful government in the history of the world.
We have split into sharply divided political factions at war with each other. I think sometimes, we get so wrapped up in beating the other side, we forget who the real enemy is. When we focus on “owning the libs” or ‘”resisting the right,” we forget that the federal government is trampling over all of us. A comment George Washington made during his farewell address was prophetic.
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
I don’t side with your faction. I side with the Constitution.
This article was adapted from an article originally published at the Libertarian Institute.