Since I sounded pessimistic about conservatism in my last entry, since there are currently only two significant ideological factions in the U.S., and since people inevitably think that if you sound like you’re souring on one thing you must therefore embrace its rival, I should perhaps post a very-basic reminder of how deeply unacceptable liberalism is, regardless of conservatism’s current problems. Keep in mind that since I think it’s fairly obvious governments cause harm by interfering with vastly more efficient voluntary human activity in the free market, any time I suggest a political philosophy or faction is failing, I essentially mean failing in the one worthwhile political task, restraining government — and even “anarchism,” by embracing the trade-restricting cause of antiglobalization in recent years, has disgracefully abandoned that most basic of political tasks. But about liberalism:
It’s worth noting liberalism failed before conservatism did, as you may recall — liberalism is a form of hypnosis, you might say (not that I believe in hypnosis), in which mesmerists (in the form of philosophers, politicians, lawyers, and college professors) keep chanting “individual rights…constitutionalism…personal autonomy…”all of which sounds great — except that somehow when the chanting stops you find that your money’s been stolen, regulation controls every aspect of your life, and bureaucrats are making a pathetic attempt to replace your dying culture with pamphlets from the CDC and the Department of Labor. And this is no accident: liberalism was, in a sense, too highbrow from the get-go, replacing the old, real aristocracy with a new one ensconced in parliaments and college campuses.
As long as people passively assume that their lives are rightly run, for their own good, by the outside forces of law, regulation, elite expertise, and complex “theory,” they’ll inevitably surrender their liberty, gradually, to the self-serving and self-congratulatory eggheads. That’s why we should all be sifting the ruins of conservatism for signs of hope, not deluding ourselves that cozying up to the liberals will turn them into friends of freedom.
If freedom is to survive, we would be better off with generations of children growing up, in arch-conservative fashion, singing patriotic songs about why when the taxman comes to take our land “he deserves to get shot in the face, bang bang, in the face, bang bang!” (I just wrote that — as a hypothetical example of a culture shift, not a recommendation for a current course of action, I should add) than with a six-volume explanation of why John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, when read sideways, yields results that are not 100% antithetical to everything free, libertarian people believe.
Democracy, constitutionalism, and liberalism are all expendable — and in liberalism’s case even undesirable — while property rights are essential, and for all conservatism’s failures, it has at least produced a vague cowboy-individualist ethos sometimes capable of inspiring people to shoot at the taxman or the invading communist. I do not see the evidence that liberalism, over the long haul, in a sustainable way, is capable of inspiring that sort of action, which makes it useless no matter how much — or perhaps even especially because — it looks on paper so similar to the language of liberty.
The government, quite simply, is coming to take everything from you that it can. Is liberalism really any way to scare them off? Or just a complex language for rationalizing oppression and showing how it can be discussed endlessly, reconciled with the theories of Habermas, seen in the light of nineteenth-century feminist struggles, blah blah blah blah, while taxes rise and the EPA issues fines and people go to jail for dumping dirt in duck ponds without filing environmental impact statements?
We not only need an anti-government ethos, we need one to which the common man feels a traditional, even tribalistic allegiance — the sort of thing that rouses a man to get the flintlock down from the mantle, not just the sort of thing that lawyers and political philosophers find “worthy of discussion.” Conservatism is felt in the bones, liberalism is discussed in academia. Conservatism, then, must be made to serve liberty, since liberalism is too thin a gruel to get the job done, too easily watered down further with the latest statist ideas.
Nadine Strossen of the ACLU is a prime example of why liberalism can’t save us: She is wrong on virtually every issue, as many of my fellow libertarians have somehow failed to notice — she favors gun control, forcing shopping malls to allow forms of speech they dislike, and a host of other property-thwarting behaviors — yet because she speaks the language of liberalism and is happy to attend libertarian events, we are lulled into thinking her way leads to freedom. It doesn’t. Better the NRA — though it, too, is too pro-government and pro-gun-control, I hasten to add — than the ACLU. And I see this pattern again and again.
Buckley once said that if he were on trial he’d rather have his jury be the first twelve citizens out of the phone book than twelve Ivy League faculty members. Likewise, we should never forget that it’s better to be left free by neighbors who think “Jesus hates taxes” (for example) than to be taxed by neighbors who find John Stuart Mill “fascinating” but also really, really dig, say, Robert Kuttner from The American Prospect magazine and tax and regulate you accordingly.
I am aware of conservatism’s flaws — as are more and more conservatives, fortunately — but that’s still where we need to look for lessons and answers, even if there are very few, since the liberal tradition sold out — and sold us into slavery — a century ago. Conservatives are still capable of feeling guilt for abandoning the libertarian principles among their various conflicting impulses. Few liberals even know that liberalism ever had any libertarian principles — beyond the tiny, tiny handful of freedoms useful for the specific, strategic purpose of fighting or enraging conservatives (the right to blaspheme, get naked, be a lesbian, or stage anti-military protests — not that I’m knocking those freedoms, you understand). Conservatism is broken, but liberalism is the great destroyer.
Well, Buckley would be (on this occasion, at least) wrong. When I was on a jury, it was I and three fellow professors (random selection, believe it or not) who fought the good fight of restraining gigantic compensation for the “emotional distress” and physical injury of a girl who had suffered a minor fender bender and showed zero evidence of any physical injury. It was the anal-retentive, crazy-lefty professors who were asking questions like “If she was in such pain, why did she neglect to fill her Percoset prescription?” while the salt-of-the-earth, them’s-good-people citizens Buckley would favor criticized us for being “too logical” and “hard-hearted” (and for perversely sticking only to the information given in testimony). This was padded with the populist argument that we shouldn’t mind awarding her a large payoff even with no evidence of injury, because it was just coming from an insurance company’s pockets anyway.
A minor point that I couldn’t help making.
Interesting observation. And ironically, a future member of the libertarian John Stossel ABC News unit was the only person on the jury he was part of who wanted to give an award to a man who argued in court that tainted julienne carrots at Howard Johnson’s were responsible for his “loss of marital fulfillment” — but in any case, I agree populism is often the real enemy, the gut instinct of the mindless crowd.
I wish I could offer points of optimism, but I can’t. The fundamental truth is that most people want to be taken care of by others and to be told what to do and when to do it, not to mention how and why. Most people are sheep.
As for your broader points about where to find hope (if there is any), I concur. Every liberal I have ever known wants to give me freedom to do things I would not do anyway in return for preventing me doing the things I actually want to do- they are scam artists of the highest order. Conservatives, on the other hand, betray their principles in so many ways that I have lost faith in them to fight the good fights; but is there a realistic third option?
I have a question, Todd.
If true libertarianism were achieved in our government and society, what societal mechanisms would prevent things such as economic anarchy or the strong devouring the weak (which I translate as property owners bullying those wihout property)?
That question’s too vague to answer, though there is no limit to the number of social mechanisms free people can construct — and, luckily, very strict limits on how much “bullying” you can do in an environment of strict property rights (by contrast with the unlimited bullying potential offered by laws and lawsuits).
Todd, in the end such mechanisms would be constructed by those with money rather than those without (such as the corporatocracy that exists in America today) and the strong would still devour the weak. Government interference limits that. This is why I’m convinced that Libertarianism as you describe it is like Communism in the sense that it only looks good on paper and would not work in execution.
Please note that this is not a defense of the current system in place.
Obama is Nietzschean.
Jeez. It’s like he’s _trying_ to give Jonah Goldberg nightmares.
This post is my punishment for my comment on your last post.
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