Independence Institute Celebrates 18th
by Ari Armstrong, December 17, 2002
Like many 18-year-olds, the Independence Institute is a little cocky and rarin' to change the world. And, with a Republican legislature and governor, leaders of the organization expect to see some serious reforms in areas of education, transportation, health care, and firearms. This "rag-tag team of free-marketeers" already has accomplished a lot, II President Jon Caldara said. (Caldara is pictured at left.)
The II held its 18th annual Founder's Night Dinner December 5 at the Brown Palace. Nearly 400 people attended -- including over a third of the state legislature, Caldara boasts -- to witness the awards ceremonies and hear conservative icons Linda Chavez and Dinesh D'Souza. KOA radio host Mike Rosen served as host for the evening.
Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, accepted the Vern Bickel Award from State Treasurer Mike Coffman. Usually known for his rough edges, at the banquet Bruce was the picture of grace and gentle wit. When Caldara called him, Bruce quipped, he said, "Behave yourself -- don't be yourself." He also joked about "creeping socialism:" "A little creep here, a little creep there, and pretty soon the government is full of little creeps." Bruce recognized Bickel as well as an "unsung hero" in the audience, Clyde Harkins.
Douglas Bruce, right, author of TABOR, greets Doug Campbell, 2002 candidate for U.S. Senate with the American Constitution Party.
Bruce said he "led the tax revolt" because of the "crazy idea that the Founding Fathers were right, that limited government works best, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the most inspired documents in human history... and that We the People, not 'they the politicians,' are in charge of America." Bruce argued individual liberty -- a full recognition of political, civil, and economic rights -- is necessary for people to achieve their full potential. He said the ideals of liberty are "choice, not coercion; limited taxes, not unlimited government; free enterprise, not state socialism; personal freedom, not group rights; and private charity, not government handouts."
State Senate President (and II founder) John Andrews presented the D'Evelyn Award to former Senator Hank Brown. In his acceptance speech, Brown discussed the importance of welfare reform as a way to help people "find their dreams," not "keep people down and keep them in poverty." Noting the early failed American experiments with socialism, Brown noted markets were soon adopted and productivity soared. In America, "individuals have the right to decide how to live their own lives." He said he appreciated attending such an event with "soulmates who understand how important freedom is."
Linda Gorman of the Independence Institute, State Treasurer Mike Coffman, and Senate President John Andrews.
Former II President Tom Tancredo, now Congressman Tancredo, was notably absent. One person I talked with theorized he might have stayed away because of his controversial views on immigration, coupled with the fact that Chavez supports immigration and D'Souza is an immigrant. Tancredo "has border-patrol duty tonight," Rosen quipped. Governor Bill Owens attended the reception but not the banquet.
"I do not want to restrict legal immigration," Chavez (pictured at right) began. However, she argued, it is important to "help those newcomers become Americans" and "adapt to civic norms." America has previously seen large numbers of immigrants, and those newcomers were able to adopt a new culture. A major problem, Chavez argued, is that American education has failed to teach immigrants English and the principles of American government. "Language is the single most important part of culture that helps integrate us together," Chavez said. Despite the failure of Amendment 31, she hoped Colorado will still implement English programs for immigrants.
During the question period, Chavez did say she doesn't like current immigration policies. She wants immigration policy to focus on skills, not merely family ties. She also wants immigrants to come from a greater diversity of countries. When challenged about the importance of a national language, Chavez pointed out that even in Switzerland, languages are enforced by region. D'Souza added Americans are tied together mostly by language, not, say, ethnic similarity. While I certainly see the economic and social benefits of a widely known language, I rather hope Americans are bound by their love of individual rights.
Offering a summary of his book, What's So Great About America, D'Souza (pictured at left) pointed to "a fascination and attraction to America." On the other hand, some people (particularly radical Muslims in the Middle East) hate America. What is it about our nation that elicits such divergent reactions?
Many come to America to earn more wealth, unquestionably. "America provides a remarkably good life to the ordinary guy," D'Souza pointed out. Yet in America wealth has not given rise to an aristocratic class: more money does not equate to "better." He offered a couple examples. What would happen, he wondered, if Bill Gates asked a guy on the street to kiss his feet? He also described the construction worker who spends four bucks on a non-fat latte. "I really want to move to a country where the poor people are fat," one of D'Souza's acquaintances said.
But standard of living is not fundamentally what distinguishes America, D'Souza argued. Had he remained in India, he said, "my destiny would to a large degree have been given to me... In America, we get to write the script to our own life." This, he said, is the "great appeal of America."
So why do some people hate America? He pointed to the "sheer ignorance" of some college professors to explain part of the phenomenon. Some believe America's foreign policy is hypocritical in that it supports tyrants around the world. "In my view," D'Souza said, such a critique "is utterly and completely invalid." He said American foreign policy is based on the "principle of the lesser evil." We are "justified in allying with the bad guy, to avoid the really bad guy," he said. For instance, the U.S. allied with Russia against Hitler. Later, we won the Cold War. Now, America's task is the support the lesser of evils, D'Souza argued. "What is the alternative?" he asked rhetorically.
What about the criticism that America only pursues her own interests via foreign policy? Foreign policy "is and should be" driven by self-interest, D'Souza said. Yet this is compatible with morally virtuous action. The Gulf War may have been about oil, but the U.S. also "kicked out a barbarous dictator." D'Souza said the appropriate goal is "securing our self-interest while at the same time making the world a better place." Self-interest can exist with "larger and nobler ideals," he said.
Notably, the same evening, Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.Com spoke at CU. Raimondo, a champion of the "old right" and an ally of Pat Buchanan, argues foreign intervention usually is folly. John Thrasher of OMF, the group that sponsored Raimondo's talk, plans to review that event. To D'Souza's question, "What is the alternative?", libertarian and old-right critics point out the alternative is Jefferson's ideal of "free trade with all, foreign entanglements with none." D'Souza makes a good point that, unlike the policies of most nations throughout history, U.S. foreign policy generally is motivated by a desire to do good in the world. But motivation is not the core issue: the main concern is results. Does a pragmatic policy based on the "principle of the lesser evil" achieve peace in the world? Critics say no: the pragmatic approach generally initiates a long chain of unintended consequences. (Thus, pragmatism is impractical.)
Of course, this is directly relevant to the potential war in Iraq. Jim MacDougald, chairman of the II's Board of Trustees, prayed for peace in his invocation. But Rosen predicted the chances are low that Saddam will comply with the Bush's demands and thus avert war. But we will put the matter back on the shelf for now.
The fundamentalist Islamic critique of America is that "freedom is often used badly." Thus, Americans cannot reply simply that their nation is "prosperous and open." The point of radical Islam is that society should attempt to implement the will of God, yet American freedom has degenerated into decadence. Many Muslims want a "society based on virtue, not freedom," D'Souza noted. As another of D'Souza's acquaintances suggested, "they kind of have a point about Jerry Springer."
D'Souza noted conservatives also value virtue. (They often seek to limit freedom for the cause of virtue.) Some Muslims are "attacking the core idea of America, which is the idea of the self-directed life."
So how ought Americans reply to their Muslim critics? D'Souza grants "virtue is an appropriate goal of society," but he adds, "liberty is the essential precondition for virtue... Without freedom, there is no virtue... The coerced virtue is no virtue at all." That, argues D'Souza, is the "ultimate moral triumph of the free society." He concluded, "The highest form of patriotism... is based on loving your country because it is good."
While in the bookstore, I picked up a copy of D'Souza's Letters to a Young Conservative and read the bit about libertarianism. He makes a good point that a political doctrine of liberty gives little guidance about the broader issues of ethics. Jeffrey Friedman, editor of Critical Review, also makes this point (and calls himself a "post-libertarian" because of it). True, some libertarians try to expand political liberty to the entire field of ethics, and the effort cannot succeed. (Indeed, even the libertarian theory of property rights, a key concept to the understanding of "liberty," is value-laden.) Yet a prudent libertarian argues the highest political value is liberty, not the highest moral value.
Yet D'Souza's answer to the Islamic critique cannot succeed, because his concept of "virtue" is bound up with libertarian political ideals. The Islamic moral critique must be met with as great a moral answer, not merely a political one. For libertarian politics to stand, the political ideal of liberty must be compatible with broader moral precepts. This means liberty cannot be merely a means to virtue; in some sense it must be bound up with virtue.
The moral philosophy of individual happiness and self-actualization is compatible with the political goal of liberty. Radical, control-oriented religions generally are not. Christianity, once a source of oppression and violence, has now become appropriately secularized. The same is true for many strains of Islam, though obviously not all. To persuade radical Muslims to embrace freedom, more is needed than to convince them "true" virtue must not be coerced. Surely many people will not want to embrace the most severe forms of the religion unless they are forced. At a minimum, the Islamic world must be convinced different beliefs and secular values should be tolerated. To really become a force for peace, though, the Islamic religion will need to adapt to modern ideals of individualism and technological progress.
But I've strayed rather far into the realm of philosophy, for an article purportedly about a banquet. Well, the II did invite D'Souza, and he did choose to speak about virtue. That's what I like about writing for the Colorado Freedom Report: I can delve into a wide range of interesting issues. It's also what I like about the Independence Institute, even when I disagree with the proposals of its leaders: it makes the struggle for liberty intellectually and socially exciting.
More of Ari Armstrong's photographs of the event are reproduced at http://www.i2i.org/other/events/120402.htm.