Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The The Freedom To Get Out Of My Face / The Naive Brutality Of Libertarianism

I have not been surprised by any of the quotes that have recently come to light from
 Ron Paul's racist newsletters. And, yes, no matter what Paul says, 
he knew about the articles and in fact is on the record defending the
 language and the articles back when they were written. I have
 learned from experience that if you talk to a hardcore 
Paul supporter for a reasonable length of time, these sorts of ideas
 are more likely than not to come up.
I often think that libertarianism - at least, its modern American version - 
is not really about increasing liberty or freedom as an average person would
 define those terms. An ideal libertarian society would leave the vast majority
 of people feeling profoundly constrained in many ways. This is because the freedom
 of the individual can be curtailed not only by the government, but by a large variety
 of intermediate powers like work bosses, neighborhood associations, self-organized 
ethnic movements, organized religions, tough violent men, or social conventions. 
In a society such as ours, where the government maintains a nominal monopoly on
 the use of physical violence, there is plenty of room for people to be oppressed by such
 intermediate powers, or local bullies.
The modern American libertarian ideology does not deal with the issue of local bullies. 
In the world envisioned by Nozick, Hayek, Rand, and other referenced "thinkers" of the 
movement, there are only two levels to society - the government (the "big bully") and the 
individual. If your freedom is not being taken away by the biggest bully that exists, your 
freedom is not being taken away at all.
In a perfect libertarian world, it is therefore possible for rich people to buy all the 
beaches and charge admission fees to whomever they want (or simply ban anyone they choose).
 In a libertarian world, a self-organized cartel of white people can, under certain conditions, get together and effectively prohibit black people from being able to go out to dinner in
 their own city. In a libertarian world, a corporate boss can use the threat of 
unemployment to force you into accepting unsafe working conditions. In other words,
 the local bullies are free to revoke the freedoms of individuals, using methods more subtle
 than overt violent coercion.

Such a world wouldn't feel incredibly free to the people in it. Sure, you could get
 together with friends and pool your money to buy a little patch of beach.
 Sure, you could move to a less racist city. Sure, you could quit and find another job.
 But doing any of these things requires paying large transaction costs. As a result 
you would feel much less free.
 The "theorists" of libertarianism obviously understood the principle that freedoms
 are often mutually exclusive - that my freedom to punch you in the face curtails quite a
 number of your freedoms. For this reason, they endorsed "minarchy," or a government 
whose only role is to protect people from violence and protect property rights. But they
 didn't extend the principle to covertly violent, semi-violent, or nonviolent forms of coercion.
Not surprisingly, this gigantic loophole has made modern American libertarianism 
the favorite philosophy of a vast array of local bullies, who want to keep the big bully 
(government) off their backs so they can bully to their hearts' content. The curtailment
 of government legitimacy, in the name of "liberty," allows abusive bosses to abuse
 workers, racists to curtail opportunities for minorities,polluters to pollute without cost, 
religious groups to make religious minorities feel excluded, etc. In theory, libertarianism 
is about the freedom of the individual, but in practice it is often about the freedom of
 local bullies to bully. It's a "don't tattle to the teacher" ideology.

Therefore I see no real conflict between Ron Paul's libertarianism and his
 support for the agenda of racists. It's just part and parcel of the whole 
movement. Not necessarily the movement as it was conceived, but the
 movement as it in fact exists.


squatlo said...

Paul's brand of libertarianism has some appeal, until you realize that taken to extremes it would mean no meat inspections, no air pollution controls, no government intervention in discriminatory practices of the individual landlord, diner owner, or factory CEO... The "I got mine, get yours" mentality only goes so far before it runs off the track and slams into an infringment on the rights of the minority.

These people scare the shit out of me, and they're everywhere. I completely agree with Paul's attitude toward the failed drug wars, the legalization of drugs, and other individual freedoms that have been curtailed by the state. But you can't lift all controls without sooner or later exposing us all to the worst inclinations of the majority.

microdot said...

well, of course, there are aspects of libertarianism that make sense, but not because they are libertarian concepts. it is the adolescent, immature naive total of the movement that defines it and because we live in a world populated with immature, adolescent and naive individuals, who cannot think in a straight line...they do not understand the logic, the ability to parse ideas, to see beyond the consequences of immediate gratification, you are very right to say that they scare the shit out of you.