A Vision for a New Liberalism

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The freedom-oriented movement that has steadily grown and galvanised opposition to government and corporate coercion in the last four years has produced many brilliant analyses of problems and culprits. Yet precious little time has been spent thinking about how a better society could work, and what constructive next steps can be taken to get there.

Most analysts suffice with pointing out how the globalist Western elite is now an enemy of their populations, and how nice it would be if its vanguard were to be kicked out and brought to justice. But beyond that no one has much to say, either because they think it can all be fixed by getting rid of the baddies, or because it just gets too hard to figure out an alternative to our current system that won’t eventually come crashing down around our heads for the same reasons the last one did. 

Is This a Star Wars Movie, or Does Your Child’s Future Depend on Us All?

Let’s indulge in a little thought experiment: suppose we had a magic spaceship that could transport anyone we wanted to a paradise in another universe. Fauci, Gates, the whole WEF, all the billionaires you don’t like, anyone Novak Djokovic nominates, and so on – all shipped off and parked somewhere out of sight and out of mind, never to return.

What does one expect to happen to the organisations that these people led on the day after the top dogs have permanently exited stage left? What does one expect their think tanks, their heirs, their education systems, their legions of enabling bureaucrats, their millions of co-opted intellectuals, their political parties, their woke universities and their gentlemen’s clubs to do? And what should one expect to happen to the traumatised, atomised, woke youth they leave in their wake?

The fantasy that just getting rid of ‘The Enemy’ will provoke a spontaneous outbreak of constructive thinking and fellowship among those who remain, a kumbaya moment of brotherly love and cosmic insights, is woefully misguided and puerile. Team Sanity must, on the contrary, think like adults. We are living in real history here, not Return of the Jedi. The system, along with the sheep ‘The Enemy’ created, will keep on going just as before, with others in charge who look very similar and who would rush to fill the vacancies left by their predecessors.

The problem we face is far, far deeper than a few thousand rotten eggs. Tinkering around the edges of the existing system, to somehow ‘fix’ it by disinfecting it of the villains, will be nothing like enough to get us back on track. Rather, large chunks of the system itself must be dismantled altogether and replaced with something that is genuinely revolutionary. Opposing the agenda of the globalist elite is but a tiny sliver of what needs to happen to get to a better place. A real solution must start with realistic ideas about what to set up in place of current structures, and how to get to such a change, even if only in our own country and painfully slowly.

Simplistic stories of the eternal enemy and quick-fix solutions sound dull and lazy after a while. If you read too many “look what the <bleeps> are trying to do to us now” stories, you secretly start to admire those bleeps. It’s like a rerun of Game of Thrones, where the whole show gets carried by the baddies. You can’t wait to see their next evil genius plan, and eventually you want to be them or marry them because they’re the ones where all the action is.

We need to stop being victims admiring our enemies and become actors in our own future. We need to develop our own plans. 

In that vein, we sketch here a story of hope we have explored in our writings during the last four years, drawing on our research of the last 20 years. It is a story we are trying to be part of ourselves by setting up new scientific, medical, and educational organisations that build on the intellectual might and pioneering spirit of Brownstone Institute: scienceandfreedom.org and novacad.org. We encourage thousands more like-minded people like you to set up similar initiatives in your own communities.

From Local to Global

Try to imagine a prosperous, confident Western world in 20 years’ time. Think of how you would like life to be in local communities where people live most of their days. Think of the states where much of government will be and large countries that will have relations with other countries. Below we sketch a future that we venture could work, but is quite different from both our present and our past.

At the local level, we envision family-oriented communities responsible for most of their own health, education, welfare, social life, and policing. We are thinking of villages, suburbs, or pretty much any defined physical location within our countries that features regular physical interaction amongst its inhabitants. (Instagram and Facebook networks are not included in our definition of a community.)

These basic communities could be as small as a few thousand, like a rural village, or in a few cases as large as several million. The residents should run these places, taking responsibility for the well-being of those who live there. This may in some circumstances require them to be armed for effective policing. These communities would also be part of bigger structures capable of resisting foreign invasions and gaining some control over huge corporations, but the basic unit in which most people live most of the time would be strong local communities heavily invested in the future of their children.

Underpinning our vision is not a belief that to achieve healthy communities people must blindly re-embrace a Brady Bunch-style of family values, but rather a recognition that viable communities must belong to those with an active stake in their future, that are ensuring the life of those communities in the centuries to come. Communities with no children will simply die out, and might as well hand over their land to migrants and others that do not have a death wish for their own way of life.

Following this line of thought, we envisage that the key decisions in local communities will be taken by parents and ‘carers’ of the next generation. To be eligible for leadership positions, would-be carers can adopt, share rearing responsibilities, look after the ‘cultural babies’ of the community for some time, defend the community by taking physical risks in combat, or in other ways be part of ensuring and nurturing the future.

Some places in the West today, such as those under the aegis of the church, have inherited community structures like what we sketch above. Indigenous communities too have a rich heritage of valuing ‘elders’ and families. The higher status these cultures accorded to those who carry the future of the community is exactly why they survived for so long. 

Yet many places in the modern West are currently oriented towards individual fame, money, power, and other substance addictions. In the long run, those addictions are destructive. What needs to happen is a sea change in the law and social institutions so as to vastly increase the importance of elements in the community that carry the future. This includes an appreciation of caring, nurturing, motherhood, and fatherhood.

Embedding a greater appreciation for those investing in the future of the community also means that others – those not devoting effort towards the communal future – need to be actively taken down a peg. One way to accomplish this is to insist that important economic and bureaucratic roles can only be filled by those who have made substantive investments in the future of their community. For example, access to high-level positions or resources, like positions at top universities, should be given only to parents and carers. This can work for ambitious young scholars if, for example, they bear children in order to make themselves eligible for such positions, but the grandparents take up much of child-rearing.

We have a lot to learn from more traditional societies in which grandparents, many of them in lineal households where several generations cohabit, play a significant role in the upbringing of grandchildren. This sort of shared responsibility strengthens family ties, frees parents to assume more active economic and social roles in the community, and also inculcates respect in children for the wisdom and experience of their elders. The greater status accorded to parents and carers in the community will also help reintegrate parenting and caregiving into the self-image of important institutions. Respect for those who care for our future replaces our present reality in which caring work is hidden away and done by supposedly ‘lesser beings’ who are then not competing for fame and money, the things currently deemed of real importance. 

This key change in orientation needs to happen at the local level, but must be carried by the whole country. Merely reaching a certain age (like 18 or 21) would no longer be enough to be counted as a full community member. A person must have taken an active part in sustaining the community in order to be awarded the full rights of citizenship in that community. 

We have seen over the past 50 years that immediate age-based access to full rights breeds complacency and free-riding. Everyone waits for everyone else to defend the community and ensure its future. Central government then muscles in on the family and the community, alienating people from each other and making them dependent on the state.

That combination of rights-conferred-by-government and lack of community responsibilities has failed the West. The lack of responsibilities has led to a lapse in vigilance that provides fertile ground for a takeover by the greedy and powerful. For communities and the civic virtues they propagate to make a comeback, communities must have real power over their youth. Individuals must earn their place as a citizen in a community, and that community must have the power to judge what type of effort is worthy. Some may think of this as illiberal, but we would counter that to the contrary, it is perverse that governments have been allowed to destroy communities and families so effectively by taking their youth and their future out from under their noses. 

Highly non-bureaucratic education and health systems would operate in these local communities. These systems would be oriented towards promoting critical thinking, resilience, and healthy habits, and highly aware of the addictive nature and narcissistic impacts of social media and the internet. Local communities and their schools would figure out how to deal with the downsides of social media and other modern technology, not by entirely abandoning them, but by limiting exposure to their most pernicious effects. Much as we now have driving licenses, gambling laws, and food standards that help populations reap maximum benefits from technology, so too would communities work out how to get the most out of technological innovations in other arenas. 

For example, a local community might establish a norm that mornings are spent free of digital devices, so as to help everyone concentrate. Another community might charge people for demanding the attention of everyone else via sending mass emails. AI might be encouraged and co-developed in some areas, like health diagnosis, and shunned in others, like cybersex. Many more cultural innovations are imaginable. It would be the job of local communities to figure out how to be modern without becoming mindless.

With their greatly expanded powers, these local communities would become strong and resilient places perfectly willing to go after drug dealers or unwanted migrants, and often setting their own laws and enforcing them swiftly. This may sound like something out of the 18th century, but these local communities would sit within larger structures and hence benefit from strong national armies and national pushback against large international corporations. Singapore and the communities in Switzerland are somewhat close to what we have in mind, but our vision includes more explicit empowerment of the elements in the community that nurture the future.

What would the supra-community states and small countries look like politically, in our vision of this future? Their governmental responsibilities will comprise roughly what was allotted to them in the early history of both the US and the EU, such as defence and trade. Practically no central governmental role would exist in organising education, welfare, or health. As we have previously opined, we think our future is highly federal, and we do not see this as a step backward. New technology makes it the way forward. 

We revise and expand below our thoughts about how this ‘Federalism 2.0’ could work – and the crucial roles played by citizens that by and large they are ignoring today.

Fixed-up Federalism

Several new elements are needed to make federalism work and to prevent alliances between large corporations and the central bureaucracy from usurping the power of the individual states, as has happened over time in all the Western federations of the last two centuries. That takeover has usually happened by abusing emergencies to gather more power in the centre, as was illustrated so perfectly since 2020.

The core shield against this is eternal vigilance of citizens, operationalised in three main elements. 

First, democracy will need a fourth power oriented towards appointing and monitoring the top leaders in the bureaucracy and any large public-oriented organisation. The job of the fourth power is to keep the other three powers — judicial, legislative, and executive — from colluding, and to increase the degree to which government is truly delivered by the people. 

A main activity of the fourth power happens via citizen juries tasked with appointing the top bureaucrats in statistical organisations, large charities, the judicial system, state media, state regulatory agencies, the police, and so on. The leaders of this fourth power would themselves be appointed by citizen juries. The fourth power would both define citizens and determine key parts of their responsibilities towards sustaining their communities and states.

The fourth power would also organise the production of news by citizens, so that citizens are not swamped by media beholden to money, and would audit the politicians and bureaucracies.

Second, an individual state would not merely have its own bureaucracy to run affairs in that state, but would also take up the burden of running part of the overall bureaucracy of the entire country, in rotation with other states. So, say, the US Department of Defence would be housed in Texas for a period of 20 years, after which it would rotate to another state. Ministries and governments would communicate remotely, rather than co-locating in a single capital city, thereby neutralising the capital city’s role as a physical target for large corporations and the super-wealthy to corrupt and take over.

The central bureaucracy would thus be physically divided and brought under the custodianship of the individual states, who would keep it honest. A similar structure would be adopted by the EU and other modern federal systems. Internet technology, something unavailable to our ancestors, has made this type of federalism possible.

In spite of the wonders of the internet, coordination problems because of the physical separation between different parts of the central bureaucracy would still arise, but we deem those problems preferable to the problems of corruption and fascism that develop if the central bureaucracy is in one place. That risk is real: we see it manifest everywhere today. A capital city over time starts to be run by bureaucrats and politicians divorced from local communities and states, which eventually create narratives and policies that harm rather than help their people. 

In the future we will still need central governments that organise powerful national armies and provide the capacity for nations to resist the will of large corporations, but we can and must run these central governments differently.

Third, a new covenant would be needed both with other countries and with large corporations. The current system of laws and treaties, via which the elites have essentially enslaved all of us, has to be nearly entirely abandoned. In the new covenant, large corporations would be treated by a given nation just like it would treat another nation: unavoidably there, possibly a friend when it suits, but in essence a potential competitor.

Many details remain that we could expand upon, but let us just mention one particularly important suggestion we have for how a new covenant could work. Consider the taxation of large corporations which at present have essentially escaped paying their fair share of tax, thereby increasing the taxes the rest of us pay. In a paper from 3 years ago we worked out how those corporations could be taxed on the basis of a tributary system, in which big corporations are simply sent a bill for what the tax office thinks is a fair slice of the profits they make in the country as a whole. Crucially, there would be no rights of appeal or other legal means for corporations to derail the system. 

Any large corporation that refused to pay such taxes would be declared a terrorist organisation, with its leaders pursued with the full power of the national military – unless they decided simply not to operate in that country. Just as in modern Singapore, companies would often be welcome and looked after, but essentially treated as guests. To enforce this new covenant requires an army and a bureaucracy, and often also the means to deny secret access to the population.

The above are the three main features we see that need to be in place for states and countries in the future to function well and avoid the problems we have now. The new features at the local level and state level amplify each other: strong, self-reliant communities breed smarter, healthier, and more confident citizens who can keep the inevitable bureaucracy in line, and reorient both it and large corporations towards benefiting the citizenry. At the same time, an effective central government oriented towards the needs of its people enables local communities to do things that are beyond the capacity of individual communities, like resisting foreign invasions and abuse by huge multinationals.

The More Things Change…

At the level of large countries, such as the US or the EU, or whatever conglomerations of small Western countries emerge in the future, we think ‘normal democracy’ is still the best way to run things once citizen-run media have cleaned up the information commons and citizen juries appoint all the key enforcers of laws. The role of representative politicians would be to decide on budgets and new rules, as now, but with their bureaucracy scattered over the individual states and their key enforcers directly appointed by the citizens. Politicians and their entourage would have the same essential job as they do now, but they would be caged in like rats to keep them honest. 

Representative democratic elections, at the level of both the states and the country as a whole, would be held to enable populations to decide amongst alternative policy platforms involving important trade-offs: what to fund more, what to fund less, how to organise things, and how to behave internationally. The role of elections would be to focus the mind of the population on such questions of their common interest and their behaviour as a nation. One needs pivotal moments to help focus populations on the need to consider trade-offs.

In this hopeful future, both populations and government would have an interest in building a better future for communities and for humanity. Communities and countries would green the deserts, make the oceans fertile, provide good governance where it is lacking overseas, and engage in other such good works. We also think that in this future many communities would be quite religious, actively pursuing the creation and worship of their gods, though different communities would support different religions. The idea of “good works” would feed the soul of community members, though the primary duty of individuals would still be that of ensuring their own future and that of their community, state, and country.

In the sphere of international cooperation, we again think the future is federal, and would see no role for central international organisations that develop into a huge problem for populations as they dream up ways of enslaving others. This would mean the end of NATO, the UN, the WHO, and other multilateral organisations. If countries decide they need a new international bureau for optimal climate circumstances, then it should be both housed and run by a particular country, periodically rotating to other countries. Ditto for international sporting bodies, charities, or cultural bodies: they should all be federalised. No more would we set things up to support the emergence of a separate globalist class.

International corporations will remain, inevitably, because they are so fantastically good at spreading and applying new technologies. They arose in the 17th century with the Dutch and British East India Companies and have become ever more dominant as forms of economic organisation, and for good reason. To reject them entirely would mean falling behind the rest of the world technologically, and eventually being dominated by those who adapt. For any future-focussed society, large MNCs must be embraced. 

Yet, as is true today, the MNCs of the future will often be run by people who dream of running the world and smashing individual countries and cultures. These are people you may have thought of shipping to another planet in our thought experiment of a few pages back. In our vision, MNCs’ leaders and key workers are instead the new gypsies: nomads without a home, invited when they are useful, but kept out of local politics.

Many more details must be worked out, including the issue of employment and associated loyalties. Local citizens should clearly be free to work for international corporations and even take direction from their leaders, yet would still need to respect local culture and laws. Singapore again provides an example of where the locals are in charge, despite many international companies being based there. Similar arrangements can be built for charities or other avenues via which corporations could try to influence local politics. Any large charity should be headed by people appointed by local juries, keeping in mind the stated aim of the charity.

Another issue to be worked out is taxation: who gets to tax whom, and how? While the current main principle of taxation (“Tax whatever you can at whatever level you must”) will surely remain, the key problem we envisage is that much taxation in the future will have to be of MNCs or other organisations (like internet transactions) that operate on the entire population. This means taxation would largely be national, meaning by a central tax authority, giving rise to the problem of how to allocate tax revenues without major fights between regions, as well as the problem of how to contain that very powerful central taxation unit. It would be the most corruption-sensitive part of the entire structure. Perhaps on top of federalising this unit so that it too rotates between states, its leadership should be made up solely of citizen-jury-appointed representatives from the different states.

Roads to This Future

We see the system sketched above as quite implementable. It harnesses the great cultural and political inventions of the West – the separation of powers and the immense strength of an engaged citizenry able to freely debate and co-organise the community – while also acknowledging that modernity, with its large bureaucracy and modern corporations, is here to stay. The essence of our vision is to ground a nation in strong, future-oriented local communities that play an active role in governing the whole, rather than being comprised of passive recipients of what “the government” does to them. It strikes a new balance between liberalism and community, with more community obligations and rights than classic liberalism recognises, which prevent the enslavement of individuals in the long run. You might call our vision “Liberalism for Adults.”

Obviously, our current reality is light years away from this vision. 

We personally are taking two distinct steps towards our vision of the future. The first is to articulate a vision, work out many important details, and not shy away from the question of who will lose from that vision. For instance, those with no interest in the future of their community will lose in our vision. They will be seen as selfish, and it will be important to limit their power and their appeal to the youth. We do not shy away from that implication. Other losers in our vision will be the current globalist elites and their enablers. Activists for victimhood, who set parts of the community against other parts, will lose too.

Our personal second step is to work towards new communities, health systems, education systems, and so on, in the places where we live. We have co-founded Australians for Science and Freedom, where the aim is to generate information and form freedom-enhancing Australian communities. We are also co-founders of a new academic institution, Nova Academia, aiming to teach critical thinking and work out how vibrant communities could actually work by embodying such communities on campus.

We call on you to join us in both endeavours. Become mentors, teachers, or sponsors of novacad.org or scienceandfreedom.org. Better yet, set up your own communities and organisations for those you care about. We need to start building the future we want for those we love, and stop indulging in the fantasy that the West will magically come to its senses if only we press the like button for the right articles often enough on social media and badmouth Bill Gates at enough dinner parties. A better future for our children is worth fighting for, and it is ours to build.

This article was first published on the website of the Brownstone Institute here.

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Authors

  • Prof Gigi Foster

    Gigi Foster (Professor, UNSW School of Economics; BA Ethics, Politics and Economics, PhD Economics) works in diverse fields including education, social influence, time use, lab experiments, behavioural economics, and Australian policy. Named 2019 Young Economist of the Year by the Economic Society of Australia, she publishes in both specialised and cross-disciplinary outlets, and her innovative teaching was awarded a 2017 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. She has filled numerous roles of service to the profession and engages heavily on economic matters with the Australian community, as one of Australia’s leading economics communicators, in the media and at live events. She is co-author of The Great Covid Panic (Brownstone Institute 2021, with Paul Frijters and Michael Baker) and Do Lockdowns and Border Closures Serve the “Greater Good”? (Connor Court 2022, with Sanjeev Sabhlok).

  • Prof Paul Frijters

    Paul Frijters is a long-time Professor of Economics, among the top 1% most cited economists and the 2009 "best economist under 40" as voted by the Economic Society of Australia. He worked as a Professor at the University of Queensland and the London School of Economics (LSE) for over 10 years. He is currently working in Saudi Arabia alongside a visiting emeritus professorial position at the LSE.

  • Michael Baker

    Michael Baker has a BA (Economics) from the University of Western Australia. He is an independent economic consultant and freelance journalist with a background in policy research.

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