Review: ‘Common Ground America’ by Adrian Murray

Adrian Murray. “Common Ground America: A Blueprint for American Renewal” (2011).

Local business owner and conservative activist Adrian Murray throws a wrinkle in the contemporary left-right partisan divide with his book “Common Ground America.” In it, he hopes to move past the never-ending contentious rhetorical slaps that often make up our political debates yet aren’t providing practical solutions for people’s problems. It’s more than just a rhetorical change of face that’s needed, and he says the legislative approach hasn’t gotten us anywhere either.

There are lots to find disagreeable with the book’s substance (like Murray’s explicit insistence that disliking a particular democratically elected government means disliking the people or the country as a whole), but it is a positive development when people recognize that government power is not a cure-all for our social problems. He says that the goal of the national organization he is proposing to form, which the book is titled after, is not to overtake the government “but to supplant it.” He thinks that many of the problems faced in our country (like unwanted pregnancies, racial division, and drug abuse) cannot be solved by government presently. His goal is to lessen the harm of these problems by working with private organizations in our communities. His idea is that an issue can become more manageable politically once it becomes less divisive and proven solutions can be put forward. I think that is a sound approach, working directly to improve people’s lives rather than looking to politicians for help.

Still, Murray takes for granted that these issues should (at least partly) be a responsibility of government, or the federal government in particular, in setting national goals. A portion of his organization would have district leaders act as liaisons with elected officials to convey the interests of a community. This plays into Murray’s tendency of being skeptical of informal authority, just as he finds that it’s necessary to jettison the autonomous tea party model for organizing in favor of a more “structured approach,” as he calls it.

Murray is a grassroots organizer, so his approach to restore the federal government to its constitutional roots in order to “re-empower local governments and communities” seems backward. His narrative explaining why the federal government was called to fill a void, as he explains it, for the provision of a social services misses why private relief from poverty and other social problems were left wanting. It was not because private charities and grassroots mutual aid societies were being negligent. They were deliberately undermined by the policies of managerial progressives hustling for centralized state power.

There were superficial treatments (hardly considering or failing to mention counter-arguments) concerning the Articles of Confederation, Shay’s Rebellion, Herbert Spencer, the social safety net, the nature of equality and social justice. For example, Murray repeats the smear that Spencer praised the elimination of the poor and vulnerable, a popular misrepresentation of Spencer’s views. Who Spencer regarded as “unfit” were those people who continued to live by the violent expropriation of others rather than peaceful industrial trade. In each of these instances, Murray takes the side of centralized power. These errors add further weight to what I think is the core problem with Murray’s strategy: depending on leaders for remedy only breeds more dependence and more followers following.