Blogs > Liberty and Power > Huh?

Mar 5, 2004 3:08 pm


Robert Campbell asks what strikes me as a strange question: whether recent calls -- by myself among others -- for greater sensitivity among libertarians to left-wing concerns count as advocating"unquestioning adoption of hulking great slabs of ideology labeled 'feminism,' 'multiculturalism,' or 'environmentalism'?"

I call the question strange because I would have thought that the answer was obvious -- namely, no.

Haven't I, in this very forum, recently criticised the eco-terrorist faction within the Sierra Club? Likewise in this very forum last fall I wrote, inter alia:

"One can criticise Columbus, and the European colonisation of America generally, without either denying the existence of some admirable qualities in the colonisers or rejecting Western civilisation per se."

"I'd have liked to see a question that distinguished between labour unions per se, which are as legitimate as any other voluntary enterprise, and labour unions as recipients of government-granted privileges, which are as illegitimate as government-granted privileges to any other enterprise."
Aren't these precisely the sorts of"relevant distinctions" that Campbell claims I"haven’t gone even this short distance" to make?

As for my own blog, I've recently noted there that"the environmentalist movement includes a number of people who are quite properly classified as enemies of civilization" (though I also observed that they"hardly constitute the majority of environmentalists"). And in a piece I've linked to more than once from L&P, I wrote that"a great deal of silliness and even downright evil has been perpetrated in the name of political correctness," and that left-wingers'" concerns about hegemony and domination ... melt away when the hegemony and domination are being exercised by the state for politically correct purposes." I also accused many feminists of taking their complaints to"absurd extremes," and of defending policies that"involve an increase in state violence."

In short, I don't think the charge that my attitude to the left is uncritical can possibly be sustained. Portraying me -- or Gus diZerega, or Steve Horwitz -- as indiscriminate apologists for all things left-wing would admittedly make it much easier for many libertarians to dismiss the criticisms we've actually been making; but it would not be accurate.

There is of course no shortage of libertarian comment on the many defects of the left. What there is a shortage of is libertarian recognition of, and sensitivity to, many of its legitimate concerns.

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Charles Johnson - 3/5/2004

There is much to agree with in Roderick's post and Gus's excellent addendum. However, there is one point to take issue with:

"It is difficult to imagine liberals wanting to bring back the draft - it is not difficult to imagine that under the current regime."

Unfortunately, this is not so. There is a band of putative "liberals" who have explicitly advocated the return of the draft; led chiefly by Charles Rangel (D-NY) and joined by about 13 or 14 other dimwitted House Dems. He went so far as to introduce a bill last year in the lead-up to the war:

And I believe he has reintroduced the bill this year as well.

Rangel's "reasoning" (to be more charitable than the proposal deserves) is that only by reinstating the draft will we ensure that the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful face the consequences of a declaration of war, and that this will prevent war in the future. WHY the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful should be forced to face the consequences of their parents' actions, and why Rangel thinks that the class politics of military assignments will be any different now from how they were in Vietnam, and why in the world he thinks general conscription will stop a war when it has never stopped any war in the whole history of humankind, remains unclear.

Fortunately Rangel is not, shall we say, representative of the Left mainstream on this issue. This is not the Left, and that is good, because if that were the Left, it would deserve to die.

Gus diZerega - 3/5/2004

Campbell seems to think that attacking a straw man settles a complex issue. Like Roderick Long and Steve Horwitz, I have never treated "environmentalism" as a monoliothic force, in fact I would say that, on balance, it is the political right that loves to ignore distinctions, and then attack the whole. For example, Reason magazine a few years back published an inane article about "environmentalists" planning to do in the human race by germ warfare. That was the last time a penny of mine entered into Reason's coffers. Ditto for the other issues Campbell mentions.

These days I would argue that those on the left - especially the moderate left - are more reliable defenders of liberty than many on the right, who somehow confuse the Republican attempt to create the first national political machine in history with a support for limited government, federalism, and all that. It is not for nothing that Dick Armey joined the ACLU - but on IHS's latest list of interns and jobs, there were places at National Review and a "conservative media" organization, but nothing for the ACLU, which on balance is a far better friend of liberty than NR these days.

Similarly, at libertarian oriented conferences over the past couple of years, I have stood out pretty much as a sore thumb compared to the many praising then Heritage Foundation and its ilk as friends of liberty.

Please, give me a break.

I find liberal and leftist PCism as tiresome and irritating as the next person, but I find the similar attitudes on the right just as tiresome. And the right supports those in power whereas the left is very much out of power.

What seems under appreciatred is how both right and left have changed over the past few decades. Most liberals are no longer socialists, and while they certainly support intervention, they recognize the central role of market processes in creating a viable economy. Bill Clinton did more for free trade than George Bush.

Further, liberals are far far better on civil liberties in general, and less interventionist than the current crowd in foreign policy. It is difficult to imagine liberals wanting to bring back the draft - it is not difficult to imagine that under the current regime. Bourne was right - war is the health of the state. And no concept of war in our history has been as open ended and vague as Bush's "war on terrorism" which seems to be expanding into a "war on evil" if we are to believe his neoconservative friends like Frum and Perle.

Libertarians could often make common cause with the right when it was strongly defined by views akin to Barry Goldwater's. It no longer is. Goldwater harshly denounced the influence of religion in right wing circles, and it is easy to see today which view is domiannt. It isn't Goldwater's.

A book many libertarians would be well advised to read is Theodore Lowi's The End of the Reopublican Era. Lowi is not a libertarian, but he takes libertarian views seriously and treats them with respect. However that's not the reason i recommend the book.

More importantly, Lowi describes how the nature of the right changed once liberal political values were imposed on the South in the '60s. And by liberal, Lowi means values in harmony with the Bill of Rights. As the ability of Southern elites to trample on the weak - especially blacks - was limited by the national governmenmt, they mobilized as never before to become a power nationally rather than regionally. Nixon - hardly a libertarian - saw the possibilitie of weaning Southern Democrats away from the Democratic Party, and creating a new Republican majority. The price, which didn't bother Nixon at all, was integrating into the Republican Party that portion of the American political culture which always had been most at odds with the Bill of Rights and the ideals of limited government. this is the rioughest of outlines of Lowi's powerful analysis.

Today that portion of our political culture dominates the Repoublican Party, and is seeking to build the first national political machine in our history. They are doing so through the rhetoric of "contracting out" - but what that means is sending enormous amounts of money to crony capitalists who repay the favor with enormous campaign contributions. This accomplishes an end run around the civil service regulations that were designed largely to prevent a political machine by Democrats. It works so long as government spending is very very high, becaus in essence, a large portion of contracted out ciontracts returns as taxpayer financed election contributions to the incimbents. Halliburton's cost-plus contracts make a lot of sense from this perspective.

Only the naive think such people are interested in cutting back government spending, and only the naive are perplexed at the current behavior of the Bushies and their right wing allies.

Libertarians are among the most naive, in my opinion.