Blogs > Liberty and Power > Incipit MMV

Jan 1, 2005 8:18 pm

Incipit MMV

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

  • Happy New Year to all! I'm back from the APA. I'm pleased to report that the Molinari Society's inaugural symposium in Boston was a success; we had an excellent turnout, and the papers provoked lively discussion on the relation between libertarianism and feminism. I got particular satisfaction out of the affinities we identified between Herbert Spencer (much maligned and mischaracterised by leftists who've never bothered to read him -- see, e.g., here and here) and Andrea Dworkin (much maligned and mischaracterised by rightists who've likewise never bothered to read her -- see e.g., here). Thanks to Charles Johnson, Jennifer McKitrick, Elizabeth Brake, and Aeon Skoble for getting us off to a great start!

  • This past week I also caught the new film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, one of my favourite musicals of all time (sorry, Arthur). The film does a great job, for the most part, of capturing the haunting beauty of the stage musical, but I do have a couple of complaints. First, the Phantom himself: his voice just can't match the emotional nuance of Michael Crawford's, and making him young and handsome rather misses the point of the character (even sans mask he doesn’t look creepy enough). Second, many lines that were originally written to be sung end up spoken instead; why?

  • Brian Doherty's article on the Free State Project -- the one that quotes your humble correspondent (see my earlier post) -- is now available online.

  • For those libertarians who are still tempted to romanticise the Confederacy, Michael Gaddy's article on LRC today serves as a useful reminder that even if we leave aside the issue of slavery (and we shouldn't), the Confederacy was just one more goddamn bloodthirsty militarist state, just like the Union. (For my own take on the Civil War see here.)

  • There's good news and bad news at the Justice Department. The good news is that the Justice Department has repudiated the Bush régime's pro-torture policy. The bad news is that the creep who wrote that policy is still the nominee to run ... the Justice Department.

  • On July 25, 1993, Lloyd Bentsen, President Clinton's first Secretary of the Treasury, argued on Meet the Press that recent destructive flooding in the Midwest would stimulate the economy, because"lots of concrete will be poured .... You have to look at all the jobs that will be created to repair the damage."

    On September 14, 2001, three days after the destruction of the World Trade Towers, economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times that"the terror attack could even do some economic good. Now, all of a sudden, we need some new office buildings. ... Rebuilding will generate at least some increase in business spending."

    And now -- on December 29, 2004 -- C. Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics has opined on NPR's Morning Edition that the recent catastrophic tsunami in South Asia -- which by the latest estimates has killed fifty times as many people as the 9/11 attacks -- will bring economic benefits to the countries affected:

    Like any disaster, you get negative effects through destroying existing property and people's health, but you do get a burst of new economic activity to replace them, and on balance, that generally turns out to be quite positive.

    Over time, properties that have been destroyed will be fully replaced, and probably by better and newer substitutes, so at the end of the reconstruction process, the countries will probably be wealthier.
    (Conical hat tip to Christopher Westley for the Bergsten quote.)

    If it weren't a violation of the nonaggression axiom, I'd be tempted to favour requiring, at gunpoint, anyone who seeks to pontificate on economic subjects to first read Frédéric Bastiat's essay What Is Seen and What is Not Seen (along with Henry Hazlitt's elaboration thereon). It's bad enough when people fall for the Broken Window Fallacy in one of its comparatively subtle forms, as in the arguments for protectionism, public works, wartime prosperity, or Keynesian macro policy; but when distinguished"experts" happily swallow it in the blatant and naked form of that very absurdum to which Bastiat and Hazlitt sought to reduce the subtler versions, some sort of public shaming seems called for.

  • With regard to the controversy over Lew Rockwell's New Year's editorial The Reality of Red-State Fascism (see, so far, here, here, here, and here), I strongly agree with Lew that the libertarian movement needs to rethink its sometimes kneejerk anti-leftism and to consider"extending more rhetorical tolerance leftward." (I do think Lew is too harsh on Cato, which despite the passage he quotes has in fact been largely critical of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, etc., but that's another issue.)

    For me the case is not primarily strategic, since I'm far more in inherent sympathy with the left's economic and cultural concerns than most libertarians are (and part of the point our panel were making in Boston is that libertarians have done too little justice to such concerns); but it certainly is at least strategic. The statist right, which now controls the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and much of the media, is, as Lew rightly observes,"the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time," and it's in the interest of libertarians to build bridges with the left, who have been"solid on civil liberties" (at least by comparison) and" crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration."

    While there are, admittedly, plenty of authoritarian types on the left (as everywhere else), there are also plenty of people whose instincts are firmly anti-authoritarian but who have been lured into supporting state socialism because it's been sold to them as the only effective counterweight to state capitalism. These leftists are our potential allies, but no alliance will be forthcoming so long as we continue to confirm most leftists' impression of libertarianism as a variant of conservatism.

    As I've written elsewhere:

    The 1960s, too, were a time of political confusion, cultural conflict, ideological disappointment, and an unpopular war; but back then, libertarian scholars were a tiny remnant, much of their output confined to mimeographed broadsides of small circulation, and so were unable to take full advantage of the opportunities for libertarian education that such a situation offered. Today our numbers are rapidly growing, and our potential audience is as wide as the internet.
    This time around, we are much better positioned to make a success of the left/libertarian coalition that Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess, Leonard Liggio, and others sought to build four decades ago. Let's get to work!

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    More Comments:

    Rocky Eades - 1/4/2005

    Can you say World War II, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama?

    While I agree that there is something especially disturbing about what has happened in this country in the past couple of years, I think the poster is right that the dominant impulse - especially in times of "war" - of the American "heartland" has been blind acceptance of government power.

    It has always amazed me how Americans - especially conservatives (I think liberals tend to believe that there are actually "good" politicians) - can universally acknowledge politicians as lying, scheming, conniving crooks - or at best, incompetents - but then when the first bomb falls, these same politicians can do no wrong.

    As someone pointed out some time ago, the "cult" of the presidency - and by extension, government in general - begins early in childhood. Every first-grader can tell you who is the president of the United States; but it isn't until high school, when many are no longer interested in such mundane subjects, taught between last week's and this week's football or basketball games, that they are finally introduced to that archaic document we call the Constitution.

    Steven Horwitz - 1/3/2005

    But I think many of them made the mistake of *personalizing* statism; they were Clinton-haters first and government-haters second. I suspect that's part of why so many of them got absorbed back into mainstream Republicanism after 2000.

    This strikes me as true of many conservatives. Perhaps it explains the appeal of more libertarian-leaning arguments during the Clinton presidency and their relative lack of appeal to conservatives now. I don't think this is inconsistent with Rockwell's original point about the transformation of the "lean" of conservativism, or where the stronger threat to liberty comes from, but it does provide some explanation of that shift.

    K D Vallier - 1/3/2005


    My point then perhaps can be modified: the right-wing grassroots may have anti-statist parts within it, but the one thing that unites them is their willingness to obey their leaders *despite* their convictions. The NRA is actually a great example of these sorts of people. Why do they continue to fight for an organization that by and large consolidates gun control measures legislatively?

    Roderick T. Long - 1/3/2005

    There's a great deal of truth to what Kevin is saying, but I don't think it's the whole truth. During the 90s I spent a fair bit of time in the gun-rights movement, working inter alia with grass-roots pro-gun conservatives -- not quite "militia" types for the most part, but certainly leaning that way. These folks were deeply suspicious of government and didn't strike me as taking orders from anybody; and they were a big presence on the political landscape back then. Unquestioning obedience was *no* part of their psychology so far as could see.

    But I think many of them made the mistake of *personalizing* statism; they were Clinton-haters first and government-haters second. I suspect that's part of why so many of them got absorbed back into mainstream Republicanism after 2000.

    William Marina - 1/2/2005

    A cogent point made by KD Vallier!

    Lisa Roy Vox - 1/2/2005

    As for Phantom of the Opera the film, I too was bothered by how many lines formerly sung were transformed into dialogue. On a related note, did you notice how many times Christine explained that her father promised to send her an "angel of music" on his deathbed? She explained it in dialogue 3 times, even though that information was embedded within the songs themselves. Why Joel Schumacher felt that he had to "dumb down" Andrew Lloyd Webber is beyond my comprehension. While I too am a fan of the musical, it is hardly difficult to follow. As a side-note, it is a disturbing trend in American cinema that everything has to be spelled out for American audiences. Despite an otherwise brilliant performance by Meryl Streep in the recent remake of The Manchurian Candidate (she outshone Angela Lansbury in the original role as Eleanor Shaw), I groaned when the director showed Eleanor actually leaning in to passionately kiss her son on the lips. Guess we could not be trusted to sense the creepy sexual tension between mother and son. Gone is the subtext in American film.
    As a general fan of musicals, I revel in their cheesiness, and appreciate that being over-the-top and completely incredulous is part of their charm. But I laughed out loud when watching Phantom the film during the title song and Music of the Night. I must say, though, the high point of the movie was "The Point of No Return." What they did manage to accomplish on screen was a true sense of passion that Christine felt for the Phantom through the music, and it was fitting that the sexiest, and most powerful, scene in the movie was when the Phantom took the stage and sung opposite Christine in his own opera, Don Juan Triumphant. In the stage versions I've seen, Christine's sexual passion for the Phantom has never been quite so brilliantly delivered. The second act definitely outshone the first.
    And cheers to Minnie Driver, for making Carlotta an enjoyable, comical character!

    Mark Brady - 1/2/2005

    As you might guess, I'm sympathetic to your take on very many issues. I found your most recent post and links of particular interest. And I'm not at all surprised that Andrea Dworkin has been so savagely misrepresented. Keep up the good work!

    K D Vallier - 1/2/2005

    I've been reading this discussion with some interest so I decided to post.

    I think its worth paying more attention to a point that Bill Marina has already partly mentioned. Perhaps what has occurred is not a major ideological shift at all.

    I imagine there are other besides me who find it incredibly implausible to think that a mass of people, millions strong, actually completely changed their ideology over a mere ten year period. Just think about it for a moment.

    We understand that the groundwork for Nazism was already laid under Weimar; there was already something deeply wrong in Germany. It seems much more plausible to think that something very much the same has happened here.

    I'll advance a hypothesis that I think makes a bit more sense. My inclination is to think that the grassroots right in this country has one common ideological strand: unquestioning obediance to its appointed authorities. Thus, they will ebb and flow with their leaders in the elite classes.

    But if they will change their views with their leaders, then we can see easily how the ideological shift that we've been discussing occurred. Mainstream right-wing leaders change their minds from time to time about what the major political goals for their group are. These changes of mind occur in large part due to irrational fads perhaps via the introduction of new conceptual schemes invented by various intellectuals. Other times the shifts in opinion are just disguised power lust. Either way, there is nothing at all surprising here.

    I've been involved for years with people on the grassroots right through working for a conservative-libertarian newspaper at Washington University in St. Louis, and I think it really is true that by and large the grassroots right does one and only one thing well: obey.