American Culture

The road to liberty is bewildered by fascists, oh and American "libertarians" like Rand Paul

I saw a New York Times headline reading “The Randslide and Its Discontents” and assumed it was about the South African currency (which I hadn’t known was in trouble … it isn’t).

This introduced me to one Rand Paul, a self-declared “libertarian”? I use the term by which he calls himself advisedly because that sure as shit ain’t my definition. How does one get to be a libertarian and still oppose a woman’s right to choose an abortion? That’s a contradiction. I didn’t have to go much deeper to find more.

Paul is articulate and hard-line. When he says he is antigovernment, he means it. Unlike McConnell, he wants to end all earmarks, including agricultural subsidies for a state that thrives on them. (He does vow to preserve Medicare payments, however; they contribute to his income as an ophthalmologist.) He wants to shut down the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve. Though a social conservative who would outlaw all abortions, he believes the federal government should leave drug enforcement to the states.

Shut down the department of education? And, yes, Milton Friedman may have proposed this but about the only thing that development economists agree on is that universal access to a high standard of quality education is the best path out of poverty. How exactly does one provide that to everyone without the involvement of a central state? We can debate whether the state should own those schools. I support vouchers, but I still believe that the state should be collecting the taxes that pay for those vouchers and then monitoring the bang-for-buck it receives for those vouchers. How else but through a Department of Education?  It is about the only manipulation of the state I believe is necessary but it should certainly be debated, not thrown in the bin.

Same goes for the Federal Reserve. A currency needs to be managed if it is to be believed. Money is simply an indication of trust (whether it is backed by gold – only made valuable by the belief in its value. It certainly isn’t sufficiently scarce for practical purposes to warrant such high values). Someone has to be responsible for managing that trust.

Seriously? The man’s a twat and no libertarian. Liberty is a social construct. It requires support from a stable and powerful central state. It does not exist in and of itself. I agree with wanting to end trade distortion (earmarks) and I hope I have been consistent in that expression. However, in my view, the state exists to prevent such distortions and this is actually quite difficult. You won’t achieve liberty by dismantling the state.

The Tea Party never struck me as being libertarians. Associations with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have led me towards viewing them as the more aggressive type of religious conservative. And the little impact that libertarianism has on the US body politic (aside from Ron Paul, who seems to have a “party of one” attitude to libertarianism) hasn’t added to my need to pay attention.

A quote from Umberto Eco’s essay “Ur-Fascism”:

If you browse through the New Age sections in American bookshops, you will even find Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a Fascist. But putting together Saint Augustine and Stonehenge, now THAT is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.

Elsewhere, he says:

The term ‘Fascism’ fits everything because it is possible to eliminate one or more aspects from a Fascist regime and it will always be recognizably Fascist. Remove the imperialist dimension from Fascism, and you get Franco or Salazar; remove the colonialist dimension, and you get Balkan Fascism. Add to Italian Fascism a dash of radical anti-Capitalism (which never appealed to Mussolini), and you get Ezra Pound. Add the cult of Celtic mythology and the mysticism of the Grail (completely extraneous to official Fascism), and you get one of the most respected gurus of Fascism, Julius Evola.

Now, none of Rand (Ayn), Hayek or Friedman are fascists. Like ‘em or loathe ‘em, they are products of their times. Friedman convinced the progressive world that it would be better for freedom if conscript armies were replaced by volunteers who are paid professionals. Hayek was analysing the inevitable consequences of Nazism and Stalinism and his reason had to hold because the war was still on as he wrote. He was correct. Rand was a refugee from the Stalinist purges that followed the war. She wrote that government should not be allowed to grow so big as to limit individual choice.

Stripped to these essentials you might find yourself with some common ground. But Rand also believed in a gold standard in her odd quest to find external and fixed measures of value. It was this which led to her falling out with Hayek who certainly didn’t. I don’t know enough about either of Hayek or Friedman to know their quirks but most people have a few.

If you formed a political ideology by cherry-picking the views of people – no matter how well-formed their original ideas – I’d say, using Eco’s definitions, you’d be well on the way to Ur-Fascism.

Most importantly, if you believe in real liberty you also believe in a person’s right to not choose liberty.

If you wanted to take sexual liberty to its logical extreme you’d have 100 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, who was a Libertine. If you wish to impose liberty on others you get regime change and the so called “liberation” of Iraq.

The very idea of fanatical libertarianism is so absurd a contradiction as to lead one to question the very meaning of US political thought.

I hand it over to Rand, Friedman and Hayek. You may not agree with them, but they are rather severe in their criticism of conservative politics.

Rand – “To be a conservative means to uphold the established regardless of whether it is good or bad … not because it is right … but because it old…”

Friedman – “We have no right to impose it even if we had the authority…”

Hayek – “We live in a world where three moral traditions are in constant conflict: the innate ones; the traditional ones; and the intellectually designed ones…”

Note that they disagree even with each other and that forming a universal approach from their ideals could take you in a wide range of directions, from dictatorial to liberal.

22 replies »

  1. Great post, I caught that NY Times piece, but unfortunately knew it referred to the new scourge of Kentucky. The Tea Party aren’t anything but wingnuts of the most dangerous kind and I’m afraid they’ve been allowed to grow in stature to the point that Rand Paul won’t be the only one flying their banner come November. You can almost respect Rand, Friedman and Hayek for the purity of their beliefs, it’s a shame their ideas have been used to attain such evil ends over the past 30 years.

  2. Outstanding.

    When forced to, i classify myself as a socialist-libertarian. Not because i want the means of production owned by the state (i don’t), and only partly because i will always take the side of the working class. Mostly it’s because i think that there does need to be a well-functioning state in order for the ideal of liberty to become everyday reality.

    I’d be just as happy with describing myself as a libertarian-socialist. I can’t help but see the two as interdependent halves of a whole.

    It’s a shame that in the US aligning with either puts one in association with sundry cranks, nuts and wankers. Adopting both means to never be accepted into any socio-political clique…but that’s probably for the best.

  3. It’s also a shame that the ideas of Thomas Paine, Helen Keller, and Robert Owen have been used to attain such evil ends over the past 75 years.

  4. A woman’s “right” to choose an abortion? What? How in anyone’s deranged mind is that related to libertarianism? Libertarianism is concerned with the government securing the rights of the individual. Period. Guess what cupcake, if you want to cut out your own spleen, go for it. But that BABY you want to murder is another human being, not “part of your body”. THAT is why a libertarian can oppose abortion.

    Heck, cut off your own arm if you want to for all I care… smoke and drink yourself to death in the privacy of your own home, just don’t wreck your car into me or someone else when you leave this planet. But if you for a moment think you have a RIGHT to murder another human being… so help me…

  5. Matt, you have clearly missed the point. A libertarian would not consider using government power to coerce someone else to do something that they didn’t want to do. This applies equally to forcing someone to buy insurance or enter into an employment agreement as it would to forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term. You can’t pick and choose and still call yourself a libertarian. Not without being a hypocrite, anyway.

    And if you think it’s OK to pick and choose so that the government is allowed to coerce behavior on the issue of abortion, then that means it’s OK for ME to pick and choose so that the government is allowed to coerce behavior on gay marriage, insurance coverage, and so on.

    You can be a pro-choice libertarian or you can be an anti-choice NON-libertarian, but being an anti-choice libertarian is a contradiction in terms.

  6. Brian, I am sure you are well meaning, so I am going to try to say this as nicely as I can. That “fetus” is a f***ing human being. The woman’s “choice” whether to carry that *human being* to full term or not isn’t a “choice” she has, unless she is willing to murder another human being, and last I checked murder infringes upon someone else’s right to life.

    Like I said before, if that baby wasn’t another human being (which it isn’t until fertilization), do whatever you want. If you want to cut off your own arm, I don’t care, but that *baby* isn’t part of a woman’s body, it is her child that is wholly dependent upon her, much like my 6 year old, 3 year old, 2 year old, and 1 year old are dependent upon myself and my wife. The one year old is much more dependent, the 2 year old a little less, the 3 year old still less dependent, and the 6 year old even probably couldn’t survive on her own without the support of us, or a similar caregiver. Does that mean they’re all eligible to be slaughtered because they “infringe upon our right to choose whether to raise them to adulthood”? That is the most absurd and asinine thing I’ve heard said as an argument from a libertarian perspective, that a person has the choice of life or death over another human being.

  7. Matt, whether life begins at conception or not is largely a cultural choice. Some cultures hold that life is only set in the foetus six weeks after birth. Others earlier. If you’ll suspend your own convictions for a moment you could see where that difference would come from.

    Societies with high infant mortality rates would, of necessity, develop customs that impart “life” on children after birth. Those that have the capacity to sustain the development process even for exceptionally prematurely-born foetuses would hold that life begins earlier. Patients in a vegetative state (i.e. no brain activity) allow doctors sufficient grounds to switch off life-support as the patient is effectively “dead”. At the other extent, babies could be regarded as not being “alive” until their brains start showing activity.

    But all of this is still a choice. I have no wish to go nuclear, but imagine for a moment that you had a 12-year-old daughter who had been brutally raped by a mentally-unhinged illegal immigrant. Say she got pregnant. Would you force your 12-year-old to carry the child to term? Even if pregnancy was confirmed within a week or two of the rape?

    If so, bravo, you are a man of your convictions. But do you believe that all people would be that certain? Would you be prepared to use force to fasten this on others who wish to abort?

    If so then you are no libertarian and certainly no liberal.

    If, on the other hand, you wouldn’t, then this is all semantics and choice holds. You just wish it wouldn’t.

    No one is stopping you from holding any convictions you wish. Where we disagree is in your being permitted any sort of legal or moral right to impose those convictions on others.

  8. Brian, right and wrong isn’t a relative thing. There is an absolute right and there is an absolute wrong in this case. I don’t care if some culture thinks life starts at 6 weeks or 12 years, scientifically speaking there is only one way to measure it, and that is at fertilization, not a vague notion of when they show viability, or when they start brain activity, or when they start a heartbeat.

    If my daughter was 12 years old and was raped and got pregnant, why in the world would I think murdering that child would fix what was done wrong? Is it that child’s fault that happened? Would it be right for us to murder the children of people like Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Lenin, and Pol Pot, simply because those children’s existence reminds the victims of those mass murderers about the horrors they faced, and the family that they lost under their rule? Why isn’t that ok? Where is the line drawn?

    The fact is, individuals have a right to life, and that right isn’t determined by anything you or I (or their mother) decide on, but simply on the fact that at a certain point, a new human being is created, and that human being, innate in their very nature, is entitled a right to life, no matter the source of that life, be it from love or a malevolent act.

  9. Matt, scientifically speaking? Really? The scientific definition of sentient human life requires brain activity. Otherwise you’ve just made the case that a spoonfull of HELA cells in a petri dish is sentient human life (HELA cells being the cancer cells from Henriette Lacks who died from cancer in 1951 and whose cells are still being used in research). Cancer is human cells with a few settings gone awry.

    And, Matt, there is no such thing as a “right” to life. That, too, is a human agreement mediated and enforced by law. All rights are moral agreements. They’re not scientific the way gravity or evolution are “laws”.

    The world is a complex place; all that politics, laws and morals give us are a means to navigate. A true Libertarian would want the individual to have as many of the levers of these choices in their own hands as possible.

    That you would force your 12-year-old daughter to carry her rapist’s child to term is a choice you could make and enforce, if you so choose. But don’t think that this entitles you to the label of “libertarian”. Far from it.

    Matt DeMinico, you are no libertarian.

  10. Gavin, honestly. You know the difference between “human life” and a “human being”. Your kidney is “human life”. You are a human being. The result of a sperm and an egg meeting and becoming one complete unit is a human being. All natural processes taking place that human being will grow into a full complete (usually healthy) human being.

    And yes, in fact there is such a thing as a “right” to life. A right is something inherent in your being, simply by your existence. You do not have a right to telephone service, as it is not something inherent in your being. Someone can take your right to life, and in a civil society, they would be punished for it, even by the wacked out definition of libertarianism you portray.

    Don’t go calling me not a libertarian simply because you think being a libertarian is equivalent to being an anarchist. You might as well call me a llama or a tree, because none of those are accurate descriptions.

    I could call you a murderer because you’re willing to defend a group of thugs who actively murder unborn babies. Accomplices to murder are nearly just as guilty as the one who actually pulls the trigger. But I’m not. I realize that some people don’t understand what they’re doing, and some do understand but are trying vigorously to justify their actions by intermingling it with their twisted beliefs about politics and the way we should govern. It’s all really very simple when it comes to abortion, it’s another human being, and that’s why libertarians defend the right to life of that unborn human being.

    Government should do only two things:
    Ensure everyone does what they promise to (enforce contracts)
    Ensure nobody encroaches on the rights of others.

    A government that mandates anything beyond this is tyranny.

    • Matt, the issue here is fairly simple. Like too many American Paulites, you don’t know the difference between the term “libertarian” and “religious fundamentalist.”

      So let’s make this easy. We know what you think. We know that your mind can’t be changed. We wish you the best.

  11. HA! You’re right, because if there is no absolute standard of right and wrong that we base a society on, then me walking up to you, your wife, and kids, and shooting all of you *could* be judged as “not wrong” in someone’s sick twisted mind, and who are you to say that’s wrong?

    Heck, who are you to say Muslim “honor killings” are wrong? Their society says it’s ok. Unless there is an absolute standard to look to, you are essentially navigating a ship by the light on the mast of your boat, instead of navigating by the stars.

    Mind you it was wacko religious fundamentalists like William Wilberforce that spurred the end of the slave trade and ultimately the “right” of one person to “own” another human being involuntarily against their will. We bastards we.

    We’ll win this war too, and some day, murdering an unborn baby will be looked back at with even more disdain than slavery is today.

    Knowing that, thank you for wishing me luck, it’s been good talking to you.

  12. “Liberty is a social construct. It requires support from a stable and powerful central state. It does not exist in and of itself.”

    And black is white and war is peace, right Gavin?