After I left the world’s largest hippie commune but before I cut off my long hair, it occurred to me that the two central tenets of our hippie beliefs were on a collision course with each other. We were talking out both sides of our mouths, saying opposite, irreconcilable things. On the one hand we were saying, “We are all one on this spaceship earth and must act together to save it.” On the other we were saying “If it feels good do it.”

For the most part, we we’re oblivious to the clash. Like the cat fancier who collects all the adorable strays without noticing the catfights escalating, most people collect any and all ideas that move them without noticing where they are at odds with each other.

When the Youngblood’s sang “Come on people now, everybody get together,” we’d say “Yeah, right on.” When the Isley’s sang, “It’s your thang, do what you wanna do…” we’d say, “Yeah, right on.”

To the extent we did think about how to weave together our collective and individualistic principles, to patronizingly and paradoxically teach the world to sing in perfect harmony a song of freedom, we had two basic theories:

1. Doing what’s good for the collective is really everybody’s thang: Take meat for instance. Spaceship earth couldn’t really handle all of us wanting to eat a lot of meat. It’s not in the collective interest for you to want meat, but the good news is that in your heart of potentially clogged hearts you don’t really want to eat meat anyway. Sure you might think you want a Big Mac, but you don’t really. No, you really lust for tofu.

2. That doing our various individual things would create a harmonious melting pot collective future: You could get this impression from our festivals (still can, for example this week at Burning Man). At Woodstock, for instance where the Republican farmer who leased the land marveled before the crowd that “a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God Bless You for it!”

The secret was three days. Yes, for a brief time the melting pot is harmonious, but having lived on the commune where we attempted to extend indefinitely our union in liberty it became more difficult.

Lately I’ve been reading Republican scholars explain the conservative tradition. Its legs, they all agree are three:

1. Commitment to traditional values,

2. Commitment to individual liberty, and

3. Opposition to communism.

Growing up I mostly associated Republicanism with anti-communism. With the Soviet’s demise and China’s embrace of capitalism, we heard less about communism for a time. These days, the anti-communist leg of Conservatism’s tripod has re-extended itself as fierce opposition to socialism. The conservatives I know use the USSR as the exemplar of socialism’s failure but modern socialism is actually a mixed economy, a style with more mixed success than the USSR, which professed communism, but was actually a totalitarian dictatorship (which historically come in lots of flavors–capitalist, Islamic, communist, Christian).

The other two legs of the conservative tripod—liberty and traditional values are wobbling in relation to each other these days as conservatives advocate a libertarian theocracy, a government that gets out of our way but also bans gay marriage.

According to New York Times/CBS New surveys, in 14 months the number of Americans who have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party has risen from 18 to 40 percent. Today, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups they asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats, and is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.

Commenting on the survey results, David Campbell and Robert Putnam say “On everything but the size of government, Tea Party supporters are increasingly out of step with most Americans, even many Republicans. Indeed, at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, today’s Tea Party parallels the anti-Vietnam War movement which rallied behind George S. McGovern in 1972. The McGovernite activists brought energy, but also stridency, to the Democratic Party — repelling moderate voters and damaging the Democratic brand for a generation. By embracing the Tea Party, Republicans risk repeating history.

Bachman senses this and is hoping to forestall through the 2012 election any confrontation about her incompatible commitment to both liberty and theocracy, for example claiming, despite all personal historical evidence to the contrary that she was just kidding about God’s wrath at American’s non-compliance with His Tea Party-supporting desires, manifesting in New England’s earthquakes and hurricanes.

Rick Perry, Bachman’s fellow theocratic Dominionist is above all, a practical political climber. He plans to blow hard for theocracy until winning the primaries, but with Americans troubled by the Christian right, eventually those two wobbly legs of the tripod will wobble for Perry too, as they do for Bachman.

And interestingly, as they did for us hippies. The Youngblood’s “Everybody Get Together” and the Christian Right; The Isley’s “It’s your thang” and the Libertarian’s “Get big government off our backs”—Today’s Republicans and yesterday’s hippies have equally unfounded optimism about being able to teach the world to sing a song of freedom in perfect harmony.

Our union is absolutely sacred; our individualistic states are absolutely sacred. And wobbling is inevitable. United states is an oxymoron. Either we’re all one or its everyone for himself or its some vital but more complicated mixture of the two.

We have two names for mixtures of the two, in which autonomy is distributed among levels of organization, in which, for example individuals, neighborhoods, cities, counties, states and the federal government each have some power and control.

They’re called either republics or modern socialist mixed economies.

Oh, they’re also called “Corporations” or “Organizations.” Companies too work out power distribution issues within, among and between their layers, empowering individual workers, teams, divisions, and the whole.

Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang, in response to those who argue that everything should be left to market forces, not “central planning” notes that a CEO who arrived at the job saying “no central planning—let every individual in this firm respond to market forces,” would be out on his ear before day’s end.

The real foundation of republicanism is a question:

Having decided that pure monarchy and pure democracy don’t work, how best do we allocate power among the levels of society?

That is the great—indeed magnificent republican question. It’s also the great socialist mixed economy question. Same question.

There is a third way to teach the world to sing a song of freedom in perfect harmony, the way that comes easiest to us wordy monkeys could alternatively be called mindblindness, solipsism, Be Like Me Syndrome, or simply “seeing the world through Me-colored glasses.” It goes something like this:

1. I should be freer to do what I want.

2. If other people were freer they would want to do what I want also….

3. …except for those who want to do something different from me, but they’re traitors, squares, heathens or not Real Americans.

4. The hell with them.

5. Follow me, lets take back our nation for our union of perfect me-style liberty!

Campbell and Putnam say that we hippie McGovernites repelled “moderate voters and damage the Democratic brand for a generation.” I believe them. And thanks to the Soviets, it may be a while before we in the US can get back to the great socialist question.

Today’s “be like me” libertarian theocrats seem likewise destined to throw us off the scent of the magnificent republican quest and question for decades to come. When they say “give me liberty or give me death,” they don’t mean liberty for all Americans just for Real Americans.

I say “give me liberty and give me debt,” debt to the collective that compromises my individual rights. Small price to pay because I am indebted to the union that has made my great life possible.