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Monday, December 28, 2009

"Libertarians" or Libertarians, Part 1: The Real Advocates of Liberty Are The Original Leftists

In the late afternoon of Christmas Eve last Wednesday, sometime after my parents and I arrived at my brother's house to celebrate the holiday with him, my sister-in-law (his wife), and my niece (their daughter), my brother, my dad, and I sat at the table in his kitchen discussing politics (that is, his brand of "right-wing"/conservative with a heavy dose of libertarianesque Republican politics being monopolized in the discussion). These discussions have always been a politically religious tradition in the Barnett family on an annual basis, even if they are held on Thanksgiving Day and Xmas Eve. My mom, my sister-in-law, and my niece stepped out a few times for intervals of five to ten minutes, during which my dad, my brother, and I got into our political chats. (Interestingly enough, my sister-in-law, according to my brother, has grown quite intolerant of the political conversations that are often held at his house or anywhere with all of us together for dinner. Apparently, she can't stomach such discourse during those times together, from what I can gather.)

At one point during the talks, my brother, my father, and I found ourselves in a discussion over the ObamaCare bill that the Senate had just voted to pass its version of it. (The final vote tally is 60 to 39, with Biden presiding over the key vote on the mandate.) Now the Senate and the House (and even my sibling confirmed this at the table) are scrambling to match their provisions contained in their versions of the bill, so that they can draft a final bill to be passed by both chambers of the House and Obama to sign it into law.

(Keep in mind that, all his best intentions notwithstanding, my brother idealistically -- but not erroneously -- believes that the law will be successfully challenged by the courts on constitutional grounds. It's possible that the U.S. Supreme Court can and might overturn the impending law, but given the fact that most conservatives -- not to mention their right-wing populists and allies - have historically gone along with government programs once and long after they have passed, it stands to reason that this program will remain in place and be nearly impossible to abolish at the federal level.)

At one point in the conversation, (I'm paraphrasing here!), my brother states that when he talks to people regarding health care, they respond, "We have a right to health care!" My brother argues against that proposition (assuming those people with whom he spoke are of the progressive mindset), claiming that no one has a right to it because he takes the constitutional position that an individual "has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (While the praxeology per se is valid, it is not a good argument to make against the so-called public option because it is a cookie cutter talking point that libertarianesque conservatives like him take.)

The reason for his argument against the "public option"? He says that it's taking money from those who didn't pay for it and giving it to those who can't. It's a fair and valid point, and quite a solid libertarian one at that. Who can rightfully argue against that? (The progressives can make a counter-argument in response to that standpoint, but that's a subject for another post.)

Of course, I interjected by saying that the same argument can be made about Social Security, and I made that point after he applied that same principle to Medicare. He even agreed that Social Security "should never have been created in the first place." It's nice to know that we concur on the principles, because his talking points are libertarian to the core. I even pointed out that those programs absolutely should never been created in the first place, and that I have told my listeners and guests on my Internet talk radio show Liberty Cap Talk Live (specifically, some of those listeners who really don't get the point yet) that, once those programs are created, they eventually morph into something other than they were originally intended to be. (Interestingly enough, he agreed. I did even bring up my criticisms of the Big Players of the insurance industry who had a stake in this mess, but we were cut off because my mother, my sister-in-law, and my niece returned from their "in-the-garage" cigarette break.)

But this is what I wanted to ask him, and I wish I had the opportunity to ask him this but didn't have a chance to do so: "Do you oppose or support the big corporate players in the insurance industry (specifically the big corporate insurance firms like Blue Cross Blue Shield and BlueCare Network) that are on board with ObamaCare?" Furthermore, I wanted to ask him, "Do you oppose welfare in all of its forms? Or do you oppose welfare only for the poor, but support corporate welfare (or corporatism) all the way?"

I suspect he supports the latter. After all, his admission of his supporting the government bailouts of the Big Three and the automotive industry that transpired in the last few months of Bush's final term of his presidency (when I was at his house for Christmas Eve last year) is an overwhelming indication of that.

Herein lies the heart of the problem with my brother's thinking, including the mindset that dominates the old libertarian movement. The mentality that has long pervaded the libertarian movement is this: "Despite government intervention in the economy, corporations are still needed, are not the creature of the state, and are not protected by but are victims of the state. Oh, and we do need limited liability laws to protect the interests of our shareholders, specifically the small ones."

Thus, in corporate libertarianese (particularly those espoused by those self-proclaimed libertarians from both the CATO Institute and Lew Rockwell's Ludwig von Mises Institute), corporations are the apotheosis of laissez-faire and that they can exist without state-sanctioned privileges and guarantees and state-furnished subsidies. (Imagine the health insurance corporations that stand to gain everything once the state-provided, vile ObamaCare is set in stone. After all, consider how much tax money is riding on this bill by the entire corporate insurance establishment that's colluded with the state with this bill.) Furthermore, it's also another reason why many progressives revile libertarians for adopting Ben Steinan/Lawrence Kudlowesque rhetoric that has significantly dominated the vast majority of the movement, thus harming and scathing it in its entirety.

"Left-libertarian" a.k.a. ideologically pure libertarian/anarchist/agorist Sheldon Richman, who has been in the old libertarian movement for nearly 40 years, had this to say about the state of libertarianism as it stands today:

There are also good strategic reasons for associating libertarianism with the left and not with the right. The modern movement has, despite futile protests that we pro-Liberty activists are "neither left nor right," been placed on the right as sort of a hip variant of conservatism. Some of this comes from the observers' lack of perceptiveness, but much of it is the movement's own fault. A good deal of libertarian commentary sounds like corporate apologetics.

Sheldon is right on the money. Today's "modern movement" is seen by progressives and many other nonlibertarians as a "cool" aberration of the modern conservative movement. This is not a good PR image for the movement, whether we care to admit it or not. It does not bode well for us in the long run.

Furthermore, libertarians who take -- and not to mention embrace -- the unconvincing (and largely unbelievable) "neither left nor right" stance have given their adversaries excuses to think that conservatives and libertarians come from the same family when that is not so. Conservatives are fundamentally different from true advocates of liberty (whether those advocates use the label "libertarian" or not). Moreover, the movement has been infiltrated by shady opportunists and collectivists who seek to use the state to their advantage. Look at alleged "libertarians" like Wayne Allyn Root whose most recent book reads like a playbook for a Republican football team and former Libertarian Party activist and now retired Republican talk radio show host Larry Elder who fled the LP a few years ago because of its old non-interventionist position on foreign policy! He even has supported Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan consistently and the government's incessant intervention of the economy via corporate protectionism and mercantilism. Is that the image that we as pro-Liberty activists want to portray?

(Furthermore, how about the pro-preemptive war comments that GOP senatorial candidate Peter Schiff recently made? How would anti-war nonliberal leftists respond to that rubbish? Or how about Rand Paul's recent statements on the Gitmo detainees in his senatorial campaign's press release on the issue? What are civil libertarians and antiwar activists supposed to take away from that crud? Many of the defenders of those two candidates are "libertarian" [actually conservative] supporters of the Lew Rockwell/Ron Paul wing of the movement who, while trying not to come off as not very corporatist in rhetoric, appear to be very apologetic of the corporate state. Some of them take the "libertarian Republican" [quite an oxymoron to boot!], or what should be called the neolibertarian, position that an aggressive foreign policy and a solid national defense [conservative concepts, by the way!] will keep us safe from would-be terrorists and produce peace only by means of an offensive war.)

This is what "free market anticapitalist" Kevin Carson was referring to when he coined the term "vulgar libertarianism" -- the brand of libertarianism practiced by those "libertarians" who believe that today's corporate market would be what the free market entails if decades of government intervention and central planning had not been in the way. When libertarians have that attitude about the marketplace in that fashion, then they give the progressives legitimate reasons to discredit us and persecute us, thus making our jobs harder or even nearly impossible to remove the state from our lives.

Let's not forget that many free marketeers come off as very combative, very belligerent, and very antagonistic when a morsel of sympathy is given to working class laborers who are the true victims of government taxes, regulations, and pro-state business/corporate guarantees, protections, subsidies, and privileges. A number of those libertarians who complain about this spew this nonsensical attitude that a free market (especially one without state privileges, guarantees, and the like) would not last very long and that the current market, despite the government's incessant interventions, could not exist in the absence of the state. That assertion tells me several things: that ilk lacks an extraordinary amount of deep perception and objectivity, certainly fathoms the concept of a free market but has never experienced it in a real sense, and has never fathomed how the pains of government intervention have affected the poor and the blue-collar middle "working" class on all levels, physical, economic, mental, and psychological.

When libertarians become indifferent and cold to people who experience true cruelty and misery by defending rotten employers who treat their good employees like a pile of rubbish, it gives nonlibertarians and progressives an excuse to attack free enterprise and side with the state. Of course, there are rotten employees too, and that's a given in any business, yet that's not the point. Not only that, it's an unfair talking point, because libertarians (and conservatives as well) who employ that argument lump in the good laborers with the bad.

And that also raises another paramount standpoint as well: when shady, politically-protected firms abuse their good workers, and those libertarians come to their defense despite all that nonsense, that alienates those workers, thus pushing them into the arms of the politically-connected unions, the bureaucrats, and the politicians who will use them as political and campaign fodder to score some political points, even on the campaign trail. That transpires all the time during every election and legislative cycle. If the politicians, as opportunistic as they are, capitalize on the pains of the working class by appearing to be champions of the poor and the middle class, then those groups will flock to them and see their employers and the entire marketplace as enemies of the "working man."

This is a massive reason why libertarians of all stripes in the Liberty movement lose on economic liberty big time every single time, before, during, and after every election season. They will keep losing until they stop seeing big employers' workers as albatrosses on the necks of their businesses and understand that, without their customers and employees, employers don't have their businesses. If libertarians and employers do that, then the working class and the poor, who are the victims of the state like the entrepreneurs and every non-politically-connected businesses are, will side with them and support a real return to the free market. Why can't they just do that? What have we go to lose if we do exactly that?

The real advocates of liberty are the original leftists who support and advocate a voluntary society based on mutual consent, not the kind of society that these corporatists and their government cronies want to engineer for all of us.


Ken said...

I agree with you Todd.

The very concept of "incorporation" is opposed to the concept of individual responsibility. Corporations exist to limit responsibility, thus shifting consequences of risk to somebody other than the risk-taker.

Gary Chartier said...

Todd, I think you've made a bunch of points here that are right on the money. I think I'm inclined to think of Ron Paul more kindly than you seem to want to--I really believe he's a principled anti-corporatist--but I sure as hell don't think he, or Peter Schiff, or anyone similar ought to be deified. Libertarians ought to ally themselves with the dcentralist left, making clear to fellow lefties who haven't gotten the memo yet that the state is bad news for all the causes principled lefties care about.

Clay Barham said...

This is directed at those who admire and criticize Ayn Rand’s beliefs about people who stand on their own feet. Most who criticize Rand say she promoted selfishness, thereby greed, which is self-centered and anti-individual creativity, therefore, anti-Rand. Rand admired the creative individual, such as James Jerome Hill, on whom she was reputed to have based her character Dabney Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. If we look at Howard Roark’s summation to the jury, from Fountainhead, we do not see a self-centered individual destroying his work. Were he greedy, he would have simply accepted his payment. We see a self-interested, other- and outer-centered individual in love with his own dreams and creations, as one would love a spouse, child or family and refuse to allow them to be assaulted. Though love for anything spiritual may be missing, a great idea or vision also measures up to that which is spiritual, and that view is not inconsistent with Christianity.

james said...

Please link to anything on or even that supports and aggressive foreign policy or a strong national defense. I would also point out that current U.S. foreign policy is completely leftist not conservative.

mac ram said...

Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person's right to life, liberty, and property-rights that people have naturally, before governments are created. In the libertarian view, all human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves used force-actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.

Todd Andrew Barnett said...

James, it's not what Lew Rockwell's blog has said with regards to foreign policy; he has been vocal about a foreign policy of non-interventionism, yet that's not the issue here. Rather, it's what he didn't say about Rand Paul's pro-Gitmo statements or even Peter Schiff's statements on preemptive war.

Rockwell, whether we're talking about his blog or on his LvMI website, has not called Schiff and Rand out on their statements on the issues and, from what it looks like, refuses to do exactly that. When he acts as though he's on the fence when it comes to this issue (when actually it appears that he's quietly helping Paul and Schiff), it makes the Liberty movement really bad. But then again, that's not the main issue of my blog post.

The main issue of my post is that the Miseans (including the Rockwellers and the Ludwig von Mises Institute) and the CATO-ites employ free market rhetoric on economic issues, implying that we still "have a free market despite government intervention." Wrong on all counts! We have a socialized corporate market BECAUSE of government intervention. Using that rhetoric to defend the current system and putting on a good show by making themselves sound like they're allies of a free market are making it possible for nonlibertarians, including nonliberal leftists thinking that we're shills for corporations (which happen to be constructs of the state, not the free market). Conflating the term "free market" with the words "capitalism" and "corporations" has always been, is, and will always be a bane, not a boon, for laissez faire, because it creates the impression that businessmen are pro-business and anti-labor.

That's the last thing we want and need. And that's why the libertarian movement will never win the economic argument as long as it pursues that kind of mentality. What will it take for the statocrats/plutocrats and the "libertarians" in our own circles to understand that? What parts of those points don't they understand?