Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hentoff or Krugman?

Since a couple of my acquaintances have criticized (Freedom Watch fan) Nat Hentoff (including in yesterday’s comments thread), the contrarian/balancing/moderating impulse tells me I should seize this opportunity to describe myself in terms that sound as left-wing as possible, both as an explanation of why Hentoff doesn’t automatically horrify me the way some leftists do, and as a brain-limbering experiment (a reminder, periodically necessary, of how rhetorically flexible some of the categories by which we define ourselves, and thus history’s ever-shifting political alliances, really are).

I’m pro-drug-legalization, atheist, skeptical, gay-tolerating, anarchist yet Constitution-respecting, mostly anti-death-penalty, pro-open-borders, wary of police and military, mostly anti-nationalist, racially tolerant, punk- and avant-garde-admiring, science-loving, abolitionist- and flapper- and beatnik-admiring (I think it’s swell that Hentoff loves jazz), strong-women-preferring, suspicious of fashion and some other major elements of mainstream consumer culture, a lifelong Northeasterner, almost Marxist in my wariness of the shaping of people’s beliefs by institutional incentives, and basically anti-sports.

(Perhaps more shockingly, I’m also dating a woman who likes teachers unions, some gun control, drag queens, Pat Moynihan, military non-intervention, modernist urban planning, the Black Panthers, and green anti-car urban planning — there being essentially no real female conservatives in New York City, apparently. [CORRECTION: Helen says she has become more sympathetic to military intervention and has just renewed her subscription to Commentary -- so here's hoping that in addition to enjoying our drag-like debate about burlesque this coming Thursday, she will enjoy our tentatively-planned August debate about "benign imperialism," a topic partly inspired by Conor Friedersdorf, though he's leaving the imperial city of DC.])


Despite all the above, though, having respect for property rights will damn you in a modern liberal’s eyes every time. Unless amidst the current big-government-debt crisis even many liberals are beginning to learn…?

In any case, I tend to admire principled people, and you can see how people might be principled adherents of property rights, traditions, religious rules, the scientific method, the Constitution, and/or, yes, civil-libertarian procedural rules, all in ways that spoke well of them and helped keep chaos at bay — or, tragically, in ways that made them martinets (in the classic sense of rigidly adhering to rules, such as table etiquette, while forgetting their underlying purpose of improving human life).

I think, though, that property is the rule that solves the most otherwise-chaotic social problems with the most easily-transmissible, most sustainable, and least abusable formula, and there’s a great deal to be said for that (even if that doesn’t say everything there is to be said). May the day yet come, then, when it’s all of us (even Nat Hentoff) vs. Paul Krugman.

Tomorrow, a word about Devo for July Fourth.

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