Posts tagged Libertarians

The Age of Bronze

As we approach the New Year, we naturally think of ends, and of beginnings; what has changed, and what we have lost. So hey, libertarians, let’s all get together and feel sorry about the golden age of Limited Government and Individual Liberty we have lost. Remember the ancient liberties that we all enjoyed only 60 years ago, back in the 1950s? Back when all military-age men were subject to the draft, people were being interrogated before a permanent committee of Congress over their political beliefs, the FBI was conducting massive illegal wiretapping, surveillance and disruption against nonviolent civil rights activists, the National Security Agency was established as a completely secret surveillance arm of the federal government, it was illegal for married or unmarried women to buy basic birth control, it was made illegal for anyone to buy any scheduled drug without a doctor’s prescription, government was conducting medical experiments on unwilling human subjects[1], Urban Renewal was demolishing the core of every major U.S. city to build government highways and housing projects, and massive community-wide immigration raids were terrorizing undocumented migrants throughout the Southwest.

Or like back in the 1940s when government spending was over 50% of GDP, nearly the entire consumer economy was subject to government rationing, Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, and a secret government conspiracy was building an entire network of secret cities in order to build atomic bombs to drop on civilian centers.

Or like back in the 1930s when the entire institutional groundwork of the New Deal was being implemented, Roosevelt was making himself president-for-life, government attempted to seize all gold or silver bullion in private hands, the federal government first instituted the Drug War, Jim Crow was the law of the land, Congress created the INS, Jews fleeing the incipient Holocaust in Europe were being turned away by immigration authorities, and psychiatrists were using massive electric shocks or literally mutilating the brains of women and men confined to asylums.

Or like the 1920s when it was illegal to buy alcoholic drinks anywhere in the United States, tariff rates were nearly 40% on dutiable imports, Sacco and Vanzetti were murdered by the state of Massachusetts, the Invisible Empire Second Era Klan effectively took over the state governments of Colorado, Indiana, and Alabama, hundreds of black victims were massacred in race riots in Tulsa and Rosewood, when Congress created the Federal Radio Commission[2], the US Border Patrol, passed the Emergency [sic] Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the authority of the state to forcibly sterilize women deemed “feeble-minded” or “promiscuous” for eugenic purposes.

Or the 1910s, when the federal government seized control of foreign-owned companies to facilitate production of chemical weapons, imposed the first-ever use of federal conscription to fight an overseas war, invaded Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico[3], Russia, and Europe, passed criminal anarchy and criminal syndicalism statutes, tried and convicted hundreds of people for belonging to radical unions, imprisoned hundreds of people for protesting the draft during World War I (ordered by the President of the United States and upheld by the Supreme Court in one of its most radical anti-free-speech decisions), deported hundreds of people solely for holding anti-state political beliefs, the Mann Act made it illegal to “transport women across statelines for immoral purposes” [sic], the Colorado National Guard machine-gunned and burned alive striking miners and their families in order to break a UMWA organizing campaign, and Congress created the Federal Reserve, the Income Tax, the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act.

Or maybe like the 1900s. … .

  1. [1] See also the biological and radiological experiments documented here, and the Guatemala syphilis experiment conducted from 1946-1948.
  2. [2] Created in 1926; later converted into the Federal Communications Commission in 1934.
  3. [3] In 1914, and then again in 1916-1917

Free Millions

Here’s an article from Gina Luttrell at Thoughts on Liberty. In one way, the article is a defense of libertarianism against a common rhetorical attack from political status-quo Progressives. In another way, — and for much the same reason, because of the libertarian ideal that it appeals to — it is also a challenge to actually-existing libertarians. This is in many ways what the ideals, priorities and focuses of a sane Liberty Movement ought to be. If what you’re doing doesn’t live up to that, then you need to think more about what you’re doing, and why. Here’s Luttrell, in Tales of a Non-Male, Non-Christian Libertarian:

. . . In the history of mankind, who has been the most responsible for death, destruction, and oppression? Government. States are the entities that wage needless wars to prop up their own economies. Governments are the ones that systematically hunt down and slaughter their own peoples. Governments were responsible for Jim Crow, and it was the laws of the day that condoned, regulated, and perpetuated slavery. Even in our country today, a liberal, Democratic government is responsible for the mass incarceration of millions of people who have harmed no one. It is because of government policies that two people of the same sex can’t share property, have hospital visitation, or in some cases adopt children.

To my mind, and to the mind of many libertarians, the real enemy of the non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-Christian people in this country is not libertarianism, but the government. And when you greatly limit or even, dare I say it, abolish government, you free millions of socio-political minorities.

I will freely, perhaps more freely than most, admit that libertarians royally suck at understanding the societal oppression that faces minorities in our country today. I am about to make a trip to a conference to make that argument to them. They outright deny it in some cases. But not all of them do. . . . I don’t deny that libertarians very often have issues recognizing these problems as legitimate, but there are also scores of them who do and who are developing free solutions for a free world—for everyone. This is not a problem of libertarianism, it is a problem with some libertarians, and it is a fixable problem.

Are there problems with libertarianism as a philosophy? Possibly—but that depends on what type of libertarianism you’re talking about. . . . Libertarianism is a multi-faceted ideology, with a diverse group of adherents who all think different things about what liberty means and how best to achieve it.

— Gina Luttrell, Tales of a Non-Male, Non-Christian Libertarian
In Thoughts on Liberty (November 15, 2013)

Burn Corporate Liberalism

AlterNet’s recent article, Why Atheist Libertarians are Part of America’s 1 Percent Problem is mostly remarkably only in how utterly, thoughtlessly awful it is. Of course many political libertarians are conservative tools, and this includes those who are anti-religious. But the bulk of this article is a series of undirected polemical jabs and cheap partisan talking-points attacking Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Penn Jillette and Michael Shermer in the most formulaic and uncharitable possible terms; in general the article might be a candidate for the Ridiculous Strawman Watch, but mostly it is just a demonstration, as Nathan Goodman says, that the author couldn’t pass an ideological Turing test. I do want to mention the following, though — because the pull-quote manages to take just about everything I despise in American liberalism and wrap it up into one tight little package:

. . . Atheists who embrace libertarianism often do so because they believe a governing body represents the same kind of constructed authority they’ve escaped from in regards to religion. This makes sense if one is talking about a totalitarian regime, but our Jeffersonian democracy, despite its quirky flaws, is government by the people for the people, and it was the federal government that essentially built the great American middle-class, the envy of the world. . . .

— CJ Werleman, Why Atheist Libertarians Are Part of America’s 1 Percent Problem
AlterNet, December 3, 2013.

Yes, indeed. Here is a completely mythical, wildly unrealistic civics-textbook Disney cartoon[1] of how American government works. It has a few kinks here and there in the real world application, but it’s vouched for by the idealistic fantasies of a prestigious racist, expansionist slave-owning Democratic President. You know that it works great because through a stupendous effort of subsidy and social regimentation it has created the most privileged bourgeoisie the world has ever known. America, fuck yeah!

This is what happens when you take corporate liberalism and expose it to gamma radiation. In all seriousness, it is absolutely true that the construction of the white American middle class was one of the biggest and most effective projects of the United States government over the past 80 years. And in every aspect — the world-empire militarization; the cartelized, permanent warfare economy; the border controls; the internal segregation; the subsidized white flight, car culture and Urban Renewal; the Junior-G-man ethos and the law-and-orderist socioeconomic policing; the stock-market bail-outs and the logic of Too Big To Fail; the institutionalization of everyday life and the full-spectrum pan-institutional promotion of patriarchal family, bourgeois respectability and bureaucratic meritocracy — the political manufacture of the white American middle class has been one of the most reactionary, destructive, dysfunctional, patriarchal and racist campaigns that American government has ever waged against human liberty, and the basic justification of every one of its most grievous assaults on the oppressed, exploited and socially marginalized.

Of course the federal government created the great [white] American middle class. To the eternal shame of both.

  1. [1] Actually, John Sutherland Productions. Sutherland spent three years as a director for Disney before he went on to produce propaganda films for the D.O.D. and then for Harding College (on a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation).

Re: On the Road to Nowhere With Johnson and Paul

On the Road to Nowhere With Johnson and Paul. Center for a Stateless Society (2011-05-05):

Is it just me, or is the silly season of electoral politics — the presidential election cycle — arriving earlier and earlier in each successive four-year stretch? Last time around, it was nearly Memorial Day of the year preceding the election before pundits started speculating about when the obvious odd...

I have only two real objections. First, it just isn't true that Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work. They've spent decades being the most militant faction in favor of bigger, badder, more violent government. What they actually say is that government doesn't work at helping people, so government ought to be killing and torturing and imprisoning people instead. Lots and lots of people.

My second objection is that ABBA is a marvelous band and if what Gary Johnson and Ron Paul were actually planning to do was just to sit in a car all night listening to ABBA cassettes, I'd think they were pretty cool guys with a remarkably good social agenda.

Get the Gun Out of the Room.

Sheldon Richman recently published a TGIF column A Free Market in Banking? Not Even Close in which he points out that when folks like John Quiggin claim that free-market economic ideas have been tried and found wanting in the late economic crisis, they are attacking a Ridiculous Strawman of free-market ideas. There has been, to be sure, an economic crisis, which had something to do with bankers acting recklessly and exploitatively. But not because they were unregulated: there is no such thing as unregulated banking or a free market in money, and never has been at any time in the history of the United States (the Fed is a problem, but it’s far from the first problem).[1] In comments on this story, Shyla asks the musical question:

This article raises a critical question about how to structure our economic policies in light of the recession, spiraling debt, and financial collapse.

Let’s say I buy the argument these catastrophes were precipitated by crazy distortions in market forces. Richman suggests these crazy distortions are the result of corporatist influence and unintended consequences.

How do libertarians propose to counter “the competition-inhibiting partnership between influential businesses and government officials?”

Well, one possibility is to get rid of the government officials.

When positions of power are held in place, I think it’s a fool’s errand to try to devise strategies for keeping the wealthy and well-connected from corrupting and exploiting the power of these offices to their own ends. Political processes tend to benefit the politically-connected, and every federal regulatory agency, from the FTC down to TARP, has a long and sorry history of being captured and exploited by the trusts, cartelists, monopolists, robber-barons and financial sharks that they were supposedly concocted to restrain. So rather than worrying about how to stop influential businesses from capturing the regulatory apparatus for their own ends, better to abolish the regulatory apparatus, and refocus on economic, rather than political, means of responding to economic crises.

Of course, you may want to ask the question one step back: how, then, do you get rid of the government officials? (I.e., how do you stop admittedly influential players from exerting their influence over the legislative process, in order to assure that the offices they want created and sustained are created and sustained, in spite of popular indifference or popular objections?) Well, that is admittedly a hard problem. My answer is that in order to get rid of the government officials, you ought to get rid of the government.

I don’t doubt that as long as a legislative process is monopolized by a single, professional political apparatus, that apparatus will be an attractive prize and a willing tool for the influential and wealthy. Concentrated power will always be vulnerable to co-optation, corruption, and exploitation by those who are well-placed to take advantage of it. Attempts to vest all political authority in a single, professionalized, territorial monopoly, but then to turn around and strictly limit that government (for example, by means of a written constitution, or regular elections of officials) have always and everywhere failed. If initially limited, it will grow; legislation will multiply officials, establish bureaucracies, and ratchet up the level of political control, in response to pressure from the concentrated interests (chief among them influential businesses) that benefit from all that. Not because power cannot possibly be limited, but because concentrated power cannot be counted on to limit itself in the absence of any ultimate accountability or threat of competition. The solution, then, is not to find ways to insulate concentrated power from outside influence (which, even if achieved, would make an even worse problem: an absolutely unaccountable absolute state). It’s to diffuse power throughout civil society, rather than concentrating it all in a single, professionalized, territorial monopoly government.

Of course, you may now want to ask the question one further step back: if the solution to business-regulatory collusion is to get rid of the regulatory offices, and the way to get rid of regulatory offices (in spite of business pressure to create them) is to get rid of government, then what’s the way to get rid of government? Well, that is a hard problem, and I don’t have an easy answer. Perhaps it is impossible under present social and economic conditions. I’m inclined to doubt that, but if it is, then surely the answer is to work towards changing present social and economic conditions, around the edges and where possible, by means that avoid the corporate-political nexus, and in ways that undermine the corporate-political nexus’s control over our thoughts and everyday lives: spreading libertarian ideas, educating people about the ways in which bankers and other influential businesses have never been subject to free market conditions, how influential businesses have used the state for their own ends, helping people become more self-sufficient, materially secure and culturally respected while working “outside the system,” encouraging forms of protest, social activism and community organization that operate outside of conventional electoral politics or legislative lobbying, etc. Some of my fellow Anarchists call this “building the new society within the shell of the old”; if anarchy is not now possible, that’s no reason to imagine that even more fanciful utopian schemes (such as “progressive regulation,” “good government,” or “limited government”) are any more plausible or likely to succeed. And if anarchy is not now possible, there is no reason why we should give up on working anarchistically to make it possible in the future.

See also:

  1. [1] Richman discusses efforts at national banking cartels dating back to Alexander Hamilton, restrictions on branch banking, and regulations of interest rates and currency. The only thing I’d want to do at this point is to add: to discuss how legal tender laws, government tax policies, and government-enforced economic dependency and state capitalism conspire to create an artificial demand for liquidity in general, and balances in government-approved cash in particular; how 19th century banking regulations specifically taxed or prohibited co-operative forms of credit and money backed by goods other than government-approved precious metals; how government war bonds, the coercive extraction of tax revenues, and the promise of government bail-outs have been undergirding and coercively securing American banking bidniz models since the Revolutionary War; and the rest of the usual mutualist song and dance about the Money Monopoly.