If Jean-Jacque Rousseau is the patron saint of American liberals, which is a commonly held belief among educated conservatives, then we would argue that the stoic philosopher/slave Epictetus is the patron saint of American conservatives, for it was said by Celsus, according to Origen, that Epictetus once stoically told his master, Epaphroditus, who was twisting his leg, that if he, the master, kept it up, the leg would break. And sure enough, it did.
So why, you ask, should Epictetus be considered the patron saint of American conservatives? Well, because conservatives have done a masterful job from the mid-1940s to the present day stoically explaining to liberals that if they keep doing what they are doing, they will do irreparable damage to the nation that Lincoln once described as “the last, best hope of earth.”
Yet, like Epictetus, they have failed miserably to make their point, despite the fact that the liberals, unlike Epaphroditus, who had to rely on Epictetus’ word alone, have had the additional beneﬁt of being able to witness, time and time again, in real circumstances, in real nations, the terrible human and economic damage that will inevitably occur from their actions.
F.A. Hayek described this phenomenon as follows in his brilliant and justly famous little book, The Road to Serfdom, which is particularly interesting today in light of the Left’s reliance on the immoral claim that the end justifies the means to rationalize their patently illegal and potentially treasonous behavior during the last election to prevent Donald Trump from winning. To wit:
Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things. The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule. There is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole’, because that is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done.
Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarianism which horrify us follow of necessity. From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal suppression of dissent, deception and spying, the complete disregard of the life and happiness of the individual are essential and unavoidable. . .
A further point should be made here: collectivism means the end of truth. To make a totalitarian system function efficiently it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the ends selected by those in control; it is essential that the people should come to regard these ends as their own. This is brought about by propaganda and by complete control of all sources of information.
It is important to keep in mind when reading these words that Hayek was not prone to abstract, theoretical observations. These thoughts represent a very real warning from a serious and brilliant man that political power once collectivized will eventually be arbitrarily administered under the claim that the collective is responsible not just for the “greater good” of the community, but for actually deﬁning “the greater good” for the community. Moreover, Hayek notes that those who will make this determination will increasingly favor their own personal interests and in the process of doing so will trample on the principles of justice that distinguish a free nation from a totalitarian one. He put it this way.
Where the precise effects of government policy on particular people are known, where the government aims directly at such particular effects, it cannot help knowing these effects, and therefore it cannot be impartial. It must, of necessity, take sides, impose its valuations upon people and, instead of assisting them in the advancement of their owns ends, choose the ends for them.