This post takes up a previous post by a communitarian blogger, who wrote in to distance himself from the Ron Paul campaign. The blogger, Scimitar, objected to some Ron Paul critics who had made a wrong-headed connection between racialist or racist ways of thinking and Paul’s libertarian’s position.
Scimitar correctly noted that libertarianism is a philosophy that undermines collectivist policies or group-based policies – of any kind. He argued that it would also tend to undermine more benign racialism – feelings of group identity and solidarity with people of the same language, race, or culture. I tend to disagree with him on that, although I think, over the long haul, libertarianism (since it leaves people free to be individuals), does encourage people to be open to others — but that’s very different from forcing them to.
Scimitar then identified libertarianism with license and moral relativism, and a blogger at Cynical Nerd seconded that, calling libertarianism a kind of a “nothing” when it comes to political ideology and the “goals” of life.
Well – surprise – I agree.
Libertarianism has “nothing” to tell you about what ends or goals you should choose for yourself or what gods you should worship or refuse to worship. So, if you are looking for an explanation of the universe that fits the whole world, a religion that works for everyone, a “truth” you can bite into like an apple — libertarianism won’t give it to you — at least not in an obvious way.
But that is just why I am a libertarian. Libertarianism is ONLY a theory of how people or groups should best associate; and it is the ONLY approach to politics with enough sophistication to understand that different groups and peoples might have different beliefs about how to conduct their lives. Politics, note, are not the end-all of life and libertarianism starts from that assumption. That is its beauty.
Libertarianism is not moral relativism – it is pluralism. It is perpectivalism. It involves understanding that our moral language is itself ambiguous and depends on context — Libertarianism simply leaves room for the greatest number of contexts. It does not assume there is NO objective truth or truths; it just involves an agreement that a government is not the best place to find them and that were there any sort of truths and “final ends” found embodied in a government, they would only be corrupt forms of them.
Scimitar: by checking the growth of the state, libertarianism is the only theory about human association, that lets those civic associations you like flourish – churches, cultural groups….
The bigger the state gets, the more energy is taken away from those associations…
Does libertarianism lead to anarchy?
Yes – and that’s a good thing. Anarchy is not chaos. Even chaos is not chaos, as scientists have long ago conceded.
Chaos and what we called randomness have patterns of far greater complexity than we have suspected so far. Those patterns are actually disrupted and destroyed by government interference. Left to themselves, humans are hardwired to associate in very complex ways that self-regulate and avoid the excesses of crime we now have everywhere, which we falsely blame on human nature alone.
Of course, human nature is not solely good. But libertarianism is realistic enough about that too. That’s why it allows for self-interest and natural limits to regulate human beings , rather than the government. If you have an Augustinian view of life, if you think human beings are inherently flawed, why would you give a few human beings so much concentrated power?
Who will guard the guardians — doesn’t that thought occur to you?
Contrary to your criticism, libertarianism sees through that kind of “guardianship” and is humble and wise enough to see that nature herself possesses self-regulatory mechanisms that would work if we did not get in the way. Bargaining for goods in a market (and a market, however free, always has laws – the question is only what kind of laws) is one way; family and kinship groups are another; even death and disease are hard facts which set limits to how far our license can go.
Do too many serious drugs and you will die… or go nuts. That’s a pretty sharp boundary just there. Does the state really need to waltz every petty marijuana possessor off to jail?
Or take last night, when the ever vigilant MSM (mainstream media)- NBC in this case – ran an investigative piece on what it called sexual predation by adults on teens. It takes some doing to get me to start defending sexual predators, but what I saw last night sounded like straight entrapment. I don’t know what the resumes of those men were, but to me, at least, it seems that if you chat up a police decoy posing as a teen who explicitly sets up an occasion for a crime and leads you into it — that’s not just an undercover operation. That’s entrapment. That’s creating a crime that would not have occured without you.
(More on this expose another time…and no, this is not a defense of pedophiles).
Libertarianism does recognize the faults in human beings but it also recognizes that the state incentivizes, exacerbates and multiplies those faults — because it relies on collectivist thinking; because it manipulates and lives off the lowest common elements in the nature of mass man. It appeals to the mass and not to the individual, and masses of men – mobs – are very different from aggregates of individuals. The mass can be manipulated by propaganda, as I write in this piece.
A mob is not a group. Individuals in groups do not need a political messiah to rescue them from their own uniqueness. An individual might have a relationship with Jesus Christ or a guru or the Unknown God. But only a mass wants a superman in front of it to lead it to the third reich, manifest destiny, the worker’s paradise…or most likely, hell on earth…
Only the mass wants to exchange the freedom to shape your own life and to think for yourself for the questionable intoxication of merging with the crowd.
Individuals, lightly restrained, develop self-government.
Masses, overregulated and terrorized by power, develop nothing but hero worship and a love of slavery.
Does that mean we should not have laws?
No, of course not. Anarchy does not mean the absence of law or morality or order. It is simply a refutation of state (admittedly corporate-state) imposed law, morality or order.
In my reading of anarchism anyway (I know there are some anarchists who think all law is coercive and all inequality or hierarchy illegitimate – I tend to think their position misguided) would not, for example, do away with customary laws, common law, and more organic, community based standards. It would simply prevent an estranged, alienated state and a distant judiciary imposing laws and regulations, however well-meaning, for the “good” of a non-existent or ambiguous collective that is so large that meaningful identification of its “interests” is difficult if not impossible in many areas.
Those are my random thoughts this Sunday morning. I am listening to Garrison Keillor and thinking – to a lot of people (including me) — that’s America. Not the U.S. government – its past or its future…
Now, I need to get to two other points Scimitar made:
First – that he is more an American because his ancestors were here long before those of more recent immigrants and because they lost their lives in the wars that shaped the geographical boundaries of this state:
(In his comments below, Scimitar says I do not correctly state his position, which, he says, was simply a belief most “whites” held until the 198os. As I understand his clarification, he does not claim to be “more” American than other immigrants, he only says that being American before the 1980s meant giving centrality to the traditional cultural heritage of the country — constitutionalism, classical republican thought, Christianity, etc etc).
Of course, the immediate question that comes to me is — which Christianity? Whose idea of federalism (it was controversial from the start, right?…but that aside, here is his original comment:
“Well, I reserve the right to celebrate, defend, and honor the customs of my people. We used to have a word for this. It was called “American.” Some of us have deeper roots in this country than others. My ancestors were here in the seventeenth century – before there was even a “United States.” The men who fought and died at Charleston, Cowpens, Camden, Horseshoe Bend, and the Alamo, who marched with Scott at Veracruz, Monterrey, and Mexico City, with Lee at Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Gettysburg shared this understanding of America. “We are a nation of immigrants” is not something they would have understood. ”
(Reading this over, I am not sure he is right to say I misunderstood him. What I said sounds like a pretty good inference from what he says…
Still, I accept the correction and take it from there)
S’s second point was that Jews, as a group, have pursued their own self-interest as a minority by advocating government policies that change the racial mix in the country against white, Christian culture (these are Scimitar’s categories, not mine), while at the same time, making their position impregnable. That is, he thinks critiques of imperialism and racism against whites are political moves to decrease white power and increase the power of minorities ...ostensibly, although, he says, the ones who really benefit are the opinion makers, who – he claims – are largely Jewish.
I am going to refrain from dismissing this out of hand as anti-Semitic, which I know a lot of people would do, perhaps with justification. But since this is a blog about propaganda and mass thinking, I don’t shy away from the topic and want to address it seriously. But carefully. Because, it’s something that isn’t really clear in my mind, though I have talked about it before in relation to hate speech laws – which I oppose. Coincidentally, there was a fascinating discussion of a John Derbyshire post, “Be Nice or We’ll Crush You” (- this is not an endorsement of D’s positions on this or any other matter) at Jewcy.com, which has a penchant for taking on controversial topics – at the invitation of its very bright, entertaining, and open minded editor, Joey Kurtzman, who writes:
“Even interested non-scientists like you and me, John, have learned that human populations have different distributions of various alleles (variants of a certain gene); that some of these variations between groups result in different distributions of biological traits such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, and so on; and that we need prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that the list also includes psychological and behavioral traits.
I’m not asking for crudeness or intentionally insulting behavior, of course. But if puncturing some of our American and Jewish anxieties about race-related language will make it easier to have the honest discussion I’m looking for, then, hey, I say let’s go for it. Jewess is innocuous enough—let’s you and I agree to use it. If anyone calls you an antisemite or asks you to take one of the ADL’s sensitivity courses, you just tell them that a Jew gave you permission—nay, urged you!—to use the word. Pass the buck to me.”
I say carefully, because again, I find the tools of analysis – the terms (American, whites, Jews) elusive when you look at them closely and because ascription of intent or motivation to a whole group is usually a bit of an exercise in futility.
Given that, however, let’s look at what he is saying closely…
When I said that the topic of the alleged mongrelization of the state by Jewish opinion makers is one to be negotiated carefully, I wasn’t merely referring to the possibility of being seen as anti-Semitic, I was also wondering about the actual validity of the argument, its elusiveness as an analytical tool.
After all, Jews are well represented across the whole spectrum of political beliefs (from socialism to neo-liberalism, WSJ style, to Austrian economics to anarchism). If they hold these views out of self-interest only, their self-interest must then be a remarkably protean creature.
What’s more, it isn’t clear to me that the policies that opinion makers pursue are the ones that represent the interests of ordinary Jews either here or in Israel. Even if they do represent Jewish elite interests, it’s usually also true that they represent other non-Jewish elite interests. In which case, to what degree can any policy they pursue be seen as specifically or solely Jewish?
It’ s not that I don’t see from where S is coming…or even some one like Kevin McDonald. I do. But I tend to think that there isn’t all that much to be gained analytically by going down that track — although censoring discussion of it also doesn’t do much good.
You have to differentiate between the opinions of Jews and the opinions of Jewish lobbying groups and action committees. Then too, Jews are highly represented in espousing views that are called anti-Semitic — from Shahak, in Israel, decribed here by Christopher Hitchins to Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomksy and Jeff Blankfort here in the US. What does S say to that?
Or to the fact that two of the leading theorists of libertarianism (which he sees as undermining communitarian ethics) were Ayn Rand (with whom I go along only partly and warily) and Murray Rothbard, both Jewish, and both interested in the flourishing of civic society. That’s what S wants to see flourishing and which he thinks libertarians undermine.
Here is Rothbard on family, education and government in
“The expansion of compulsory public schooling stemmed from the growth of collectivist and anti-individualist ideology among intellectuals and educationists. The individual, these “progressives” believed, must be molded by the educational process to conform to the group, which in practice meant the dictates of the power elite speaking in the group’s name.”
And here is a quote from Rand on individualism and the flourishing of moral law:
“Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.”
Or take the case of immigrants. Is an immigrant like me always more suspect than say an Anglo-American, for instance, in such matters as espionage against the country? I think it is not self-evidently the case. For myself, if the US were to go to war with India and the US were at fault, I would find it extremely difficult to remain here and would probably leave or even give up my citizenship. On the other hand, say the issue was Indian immigration here. I would not side with my own racial group if it was in violation of the law or of ethics, certainly, but also, I think, in other less clear cut situations. I would tend to bend over backwards to the community in which I lived, as a matter of generosity to the racial “other” (NOT because I was kow-towing to the dominant thinking of the state on the issue). That is a subtle but important moral distinction.
In other words, I would more than likely injure my own racial self interest out of an obligation to the immediate community in which I lived and to which I also feel a group affiliation.
And I think that obtains with Jews, as well. Some Jewish opinion leader probably hold views that might seem mistaken or even prejudiced to an outsider, simply from their own perceptions of obligation and from multiple affiliations that have nothing to do with intent to propagandize. In other words, they may genuinely see things that way. On the other hand, I do not think the same of some Jewish-American politicians, like Douglas Feith or Richard Perle, whose actions seem to be more like the “pursuit of group self-interest” model you reference.
Besides, group affiliation itself, as I noted, is complex.
I am an Indian, but also a Christian. Isn’t my Christianity (which is as old as European Christianity) less tainted by the antiSemitism of European Christianity? Or does that have to be weighed against my third-world affiliation, which with its assumed Arabism, is seen by some as necessarily anti-Semitic?
Or is seen also as having its own racism. As a Jewish reader at this blog said – “Gandhi didn’t like blacks” ?
Is that the slur which Indians now have to juggle to survive the ideological smell test?
Can you see how convoluted these questions get?
And isn’t it possible also that state policies can be enacted because of structural reasons that coincide with the group preferences of opinion- makers, but are not caused by them in some simple one to one manner? Does there need to be intent? If so, whose specifically and how?
Mind you, I see the same problems in discussions of imperialism which too simply conflate it with “white” and “Christian” — there is certainly a bit of both in Western imperialism, but how it operated is not as clear cut as people make out.
Aren’t Jews also white…and American…and even Anglo? And doesn’t the racial mongrelization that S says their opinion makers pursue apply also to them?
Isn’t it also true that while this and related topics are taboo in leading opinion journals and universities, they are still discussed everywhere in less prestigious outlets, and that if there is censorship, quite a bit of it is self-censorship? And the self-censorship arises out of our own servility to power and prestige?
And if you don’t speak up forthrightly about what you find important or truthful, whose fault is that?
And if you are afraid you might lose a job or a promotion or a review, then how deeply held and morally important are your convictions?
Isn’t it also true that some part of the reason why this debate can never take place openly is not really because of the arguments themselves but because we do not trust each other enough?
That we do not really feel that we are above board in doing justice to each others’ claims?
And that, in fact, we are not above aboard?
Only look at the way people debate each other – the level of vituperation. Neither left nor right is able to see each other with any degree of respect and consideration. And isn’t that really the reason we resort to political correctness and other speech codes?
Who really is persuaded solely by arguments? The reason Marxism had such a hold over the third world was because its adherents often showed more concern for the welfare of ordinary people than adherents of other ideologies. People were persuaded not by the ideas alone but – at least initially – by the kind of people who held the ideas. Lack of trust does not persuade.
And isn’t every debate about race and gender in this country poisoned by that lack of trust? And isn’t that why we try so desperately to show our ideological purity? To prove our guiltlessness by distancing ourselves from anyone who might contaminate us, as though they were untouchables?
Isn’t that really why we are afraid of ideas that are free of fashionable dogmas? They are not”pure”?
Isn’t that really how propaganda works here — by our own self-censorship and weakness in articulating our own thoughts?
Would we really be afraid to be called anti-Semites, or whatever else, if we were completely free in our consciences about it?
And when we are free of such feelings — or at least — are struggling at all times to be free of them, then, wouldn’t what we said carry a weight and a force which would be infectious and free us of our fear?
Isn’t it the case that reason backed by moral qualities and emotional truth has a power that we fail to possess not because we lack the ability to argue but because we lack that kind of moral clarity and consideration for other human beings…. and it shows?
And that, S., is what I meant when I talked about rationality.
I don’t mean appealing to logic – as if rationality were a matter of syllogism. Rationality as a tool to coerce or manipulate is only the rationality of the state – a bureaucratic rationality that reduces everything to mass man and mass ideas.
But individuals are not mass men. They are developed not only in logic, but in their emotions, in their intuitions, in the full range of their humanity. They are able to love – to have caritas – for the other, to see the other as human in the same ways as they are.
That “right reason,” rooted in emotions and intuition, is precisely what allows us as individuals to self-organize outside the coercion of the state. That kind of reason is what libertarianism values and sets free in individuals.
A reason that is not seperate from conscience and belongs only to the individual — not to the group.
Which is why I am a libertarian.
(Note: I should add that since Lib. posits reciprocal behavior that respects individuals’ life, liberty and property it assumes a certain set of ethics…
To that extent it certainly does impose norms – only not in an obvious way. How then would a Lib. community defend itself from another imperialist community? Well – it would do so by banding with other libertarian groups. Would that always work? It might not. But a state, too, has no guarantee of surviving the depredations of another state. My idea, however, is that it’s only propaganda (by interested elites) that gives the state its legitimacy. That is, you have to have a priesthood preaching the divine right of the king, or, now, you have to have opinion-makers touting the sanctity of the corporate-state for the rulers to acquire power. For, contrary to popular assumption, governments ultimately only get their power from the submission of the governed. In a so-called democracy, the masses submit because they are hit over the head, not with a baton – although that, too — but with propaganda.