“We will begin to thrive again when we begin to believe in ourselves again.” The statement sounds like the opening line to a bad self-help book. Not bad because it is targeted at a small demographic struggling with self-esteem, but bad because it is generalized and marketed to a broad audience whose only real problem is that they already believe in themselves a little too much. But confirming what people want to hear is a lucrative business, which is probably why Rand Paul used the above statement in his State of the Union Response.

Paul’s response mirrors the errors of contemporary “conservatism” by confusing the end and means. The way the Senator talks, it seems that the free market and economic growth are the end, and anyone or anything that stands in their way is expendable.

Senator Paul says that he wants you to “have something infinitely more valuable than a free phone.” Instead, he wants “you to have a job.” But for what cause? Is a job the end goal? We used to speak of creating jobs as a means to support your family, to provide, to give for your children. Now, however, family is less important, and it is less important because it less common. Without the family we are reduced to creating jobs for the sake of jobs. Most would rather have the phone.

The free market is a means to an end. Because the end is fading away, contemporary “conservatives” have responded by trying to preserve the means. Most rank and file, and to his credit, probably Senator Paul, don’t realize what they are doing. That doesn’t change the fact that they are taking us down the road of materialism, which we will soon discover is just a detour on the road to serfdom.

Senator Paul claimed that, “Our party is the party of growth, jobs and prosperity, and we will boldly lead on these issues.” Indeed we should lead on these issues, but those ideals need clarification. What are we growing towards? What are we working towards? What is prosperity? If the answer to these questions is merely material then we have already lost.

Paul further shows the lapse of “conservative” thinking when he talks about immigrants as “assets.” Thankfully, we are no longer like our ignorant ancestors who limited immigration in the name preserving national values. Now, in our progressive state of mind, we make those decisions in the name of how it will affect our material well-being. Paul declares that,  “We must be the party that says, ‘If you want to work, if you want to be an American, we welcome you.” Paul may not be conscious of it, but no doubt his intellectual and political heirs will be all to willing to erase the lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free” and substitute lines more appropriate for their brave new world: “Give me your educated, your able, yearning to produce.”

Senator Rubio’s response made some of the same errors, including on immigration, but at least Rubio’s speech still had some shadow of the old ideals. Rubio spoke of the moral breakdown that can only be solved by our families and our faiths, and that we want to grow our economy in the name of our children, so that they may live in a better world.

brianmillerThe Republican Party has lost its soul, and that fact is not easy for this unrepentant old Whig to admit. Conservatism used to be grounded in the belief that men are imperfect. Now, we think that we just have to “believe in ourselves.” Now we believe that man is basically good, and that we can solve all his problems and make him better by just getting government out of the way. However, as the Libertarians are always so quick to point out, it is frightening the lengths that men will go to if they believe they can make men better. They will make bare the state in the name of growth, they will tear down the family in the name of jobs, and when they have lost sight of all the old ideals they will sacrifice anything at the alter of the market. That is the only logical conclusion of a platform based solely on material ends. Our only hope is to stop believing in ourselves, and realize there is no hope for man in man.

Put the feel-good, best-selling, self-help book back on the shelf. Much better books have been written.

Brian Miller | George Mason University College of Law | @BrianKenMiller