"Freedom is not a gift received from the State or leader, but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all." ~ Albert Camus
The Slavethink of Liberposers
Full disclosure: I was once a left-of-center Democrat.
I know . . . Horrors!
When I say that I was a Democrat, I don't mean that I ever served in any sort of official party capacity or volunteered for a political campaign (thankfully, the condition never got that advanced to deteriorate my mental capacities to such a state), but for some years I faithfully voted Democratic in almost every election. What can I say in my defense? Not much. Looking back on those years, I realize that I voted almost out of some sort of reflexive, knee-jerk reaction, rather than as a result of any serious thought or research.
Considering my current political philosophy--anarcho-capitalist--I have to laugh as I look back on the presidential candidates I voted for over the years. My first time out, 1988, I voted for Dukakis. I voted for Clinton in '92. I sat out '96 (out of laziness, not principle, but perhaps subconsciously I was already starting to rebel). And yes, as recent as 2000, I voted for--drum roll, please!--Al Gore.
Oh, and for a real hoot, get this: In that year's Illinois primary, I voted for Bill Bradley. Bill Bradley. Good God.
What happened? What changed my way of thinking so radically? Well, as the electronic talking drones of the news media have said countless times, 9-11 changed everything, and that was certainly true of me, though it appears not to have changed my countrymen in quite the same way it has changed me.
That cataclysmic event was like a jolt of electro-shock therapy to me. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Why would a bunch of young, Arabic men do something so nihilistic as to hijack airliners and fly them into skyscrapers, mercilessly slaughtering thousands while immolating themselves in the process? What could drive even one person, let alone a group of 19, to commit such horrifying acts of death and destruction? Within just a few short weeks, the U.S. was invading Afghanistan . We were at war.
I became hungry for some answers, for some truth and knowledge. Having already unconsciously decided that I was a Democrat some years before, I began subscribing to The Nation and Mother Jones. Not only am I a Democrat, I must be a socialist to boot, I thought to myself! Yeah, those magazines (and Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, et al) had it right, man . . . we were at war because of capitalism! The profit motive was to blame! Not to mention certain people's endless greed for private property! Why, if we didn't have capitalism, we wouldn't have this endless, bloody cycle of foreign warfare that has preoccupied America for over a century!
After a while, though, this line of reasoning started to strike me as rather false. Was capitalism really to blame? After all, what is capitalism, anyway? Isn't it just people selling to one another, buying from one another, trading with one another and fulfilling mutual interests in a way that is peaceful? How could that possibly result in war? It seemed to me that such a system that spontaneously evolves out of individual free choices was a means of avoiding violent conflict, rather than causing it. After all, my late grandfather was once a shopkeeper on the south side of Chicago --was he a 'capitalist pig'? Capitalist, yes, but hardly a pig, or greedy for that matter. Most importantly, it had dawned on me that the United States does not enjoy a truly capitalist system. Quite the contrary. As many libertarian thinkers have pointed out time and again, we actually toil under a system that can best be described as corporatist socialism.
I also became disillusioned with much of the militancy of the so-called 'progressive' left. Their standards of politically correct orthodoxy began to grate on me. They seemed to think that forcibly preventing all private citizens from owning firearms was in and of itself a good thing, apparently oblivious to the fact that such an achievement--even if hypothetically speaking it could be practicably effected--would result in a totalitarian state, leaving citizens bereft of any effective means of overthrowing it. Then there are those elements of the left who seem to think that animals have more rights than human beings. Or try and point out to many leftists that Affirmative Action is an inherently racist policy that pits one racial group against another and I assure you that they will either subtly imply or outright tell you that you must be racist--even if it may be subconsciously--for opposing Affirmative Action at all. Before long, I was shaking my head at this backwards ideology.
But I knew at the same time that I sure as hell wasn't a 'conservative' Republican, either. If the Democrats were the welfare party, the Republicans were the warfare party. The Gang Of Plunderers never seemed to meet a foreign country in which they didn't like to meddle and interfere. Nicaragua , Panama , Iraq --Republicans seemed to revel in the role of Globocop, which earlier in the Twentieth Century seemed to be the exclusive preference of the Democrats. Of course, just a few years before 9-11, Bill Clinton effectively put to rest any lingering Vietnam-era doubts as to the Democrats' blood-taste for foreign wars when he plunged the U.S. into Kosovo. See? Democrats still enjoy a good war just as much as the Republicans, after all!
So I was confused. I had no idea where my political sympathies lay. As a result, my mind was open to just about anything. Then . . . a ray of light.
While doing research for a role in a play in Chicago , I came across a couple of books at the public library, Ayn Rand's Anthem and David Boaz's Libertarianism: A Primer. (Ironically, I had gone there in search of books on Russian communism and Marxism, as the character I was playing was a delusional communist ideologue living in post-Soviet Russia .) I checked out both and read them in my spare time. To make a long story of intellectual odyssey a bit shorter, it wasn't long before I realized that my own political principles were really quite similar to those of libertarians: society should allow maximum freedom for the individual, and for that to happen, government had to be extremely limited and restrained in its power. I read more and continued to educate myself on libertarian philosophy and ideas, and I also started communicating with other libertarians vis-'-vis libertarian message boards on the web.
In the following months I came across the writings of Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Lew Rockwell, largely as a result of surfing web sites like Strike The Root (the Internet really is the most important invention for the dissemination of ideas since the printing press). Soon I made the next logical step in my conversion, and I asked myself, why should we have any government at all? A completely stateless society--that is, a society that completely lacks the government apparatus that always sooner or later serves the privileged few at the expense of the many by various means of force and coercion--really is in the best interests of every individual in that society. I am resolutely convinced that it is the only way for every individual to enjoy maximum opportunities to fulfill his/her fullest potential for success and happiness.
One thing I have noticed about libertarians along the road to my conversion, however, is that there are libertarians, and there are 'libertarians,' or whom I sometimes refer to as 'liberposers.' Regular perusers of this website no doubt know what I'm talking about.
Liberposers are self-described 'libertarians' who repeatedly claim that they want government off of everyone's backs, but then at some point or other they come out in favor of some taxation or some government interference with individual rights and/or free market forces in pursuit of some vague 'greater good' of the collective. For example, suggest to a liberposer that government should entirely extricate itself from the business of teaching children, and they may very well reply that you're being too extreme, that what government should do is 'reform' public education with a 'voucher system' in order to maximize educational choices for parents. Don't these people realize that vouchers or no vouchers, government bureaucrats would still be in control of the educational system, not the consumers, that is, the parents?
Or try and float the idea of outright abolishing FDR's Socialist Security retirement pyramid scheme once and for all, and the liberposer may very well reply that you are once again just being too radical. We should 'reform' the system in order to make it more 'private,' they might say. They may proceed to explain to you that the scheme for greater economic 'freedom' that they support would allow you to either continue to let the government take your money and put it into the Social Security trust fund, or, you could allow the government to take your money and put it into a 'private' investment account that, of course, would be fully managed by Federal government bureaucrats. That's a pretty peculiar notion of economic 'freedom' in my view. (One has to wonder if this isn't merely a government scheme to direct a steady stream of dollars into the coffers of Washington 's favored corporate entities.)
A magazine that I started subscribing to during my long road to market-anarchism was Reason. When I was still in my minarchist libertarian phase, I eagerly awaited the delivery of each month's issue. Since deciding that I'm a full-blown anarchist, however, I've noticed that I'm often philosophically at odds with some of the periodical's writers, which really shouldn't surprise me, as I've always known that the magazine propagates what is essentially watered-down statism--that is what minarchism is, after all. Minarchism calls for a very small and limited state, but it still provides justification for the existence of a state nonetheless.
But last week's delivery of the Reason website's 'Reason Express' in my e-mail in-box truly left me at a loss for words. (If you're not familiar, 'Reason Express' is a weekly capsule of current events with links to related news articles as put together by the magazine's editorial staff.)
The lead story was on Iraq . Here's what it said:
' Iraq continues to be a mix of good and bad news as the jostling for political power continues, but as a whole, conditions in the country could be a lot worse.' (Italics mine.)
'Could be a lot worse'? Worse than what? Keep in mind that this was on the heels of the car bomb at a station for Iraqi police recruits in Hilla that killed about 125 people or so. So, yeah, I suppose 200 people could have been killed. That would be worse. Of course, the Second World War could have been worse. Vietnam could have been worse . . . .
It went on:
'Even the horrific car bomb that killed over 100 in Hilla tells us that the construction of a functioning Iraqi security force is what the insurgents fear the most. It is an ugly, cruel calculus, but if the U.S. can train more recruits than suicide bombers can kill, then the insurgency is doomed to fail. Attacking recruits is also a tacit admission that, at the moment, operations in the field are too dangerous for the insurgents to mount.
'A trained security force is only part of functioning government; another crucial part is being viewed as a real government. That is why Syria 's delivery of Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law seems so significant. When Syria deals with the new Iraqi leaders as legitimate office-holders, it enhances the standing of that government both domestically and abroad. And if it also turns out that Syria is having second thoughts about hosting any cross-border troublemakers, so much the better for the future of Iraq .'
First of all, how is the Reason staff able to magically divine what the insurgents 'fear the most'? Is it really just the Iraqi security force itself that the insurgents fear, or is it what it may do that they're afraid of, that is, that it might merely become another tool for the U.S. government to use for purposes of dominating that country's internal affairs? If that is the case, wouldn't there be some sound reasons for such fears in light of the fact that the U.S. bombed its way into that country nearly two years ago and has occupied it ever since, has structured the interim government, set up military checkpoints here and there and conducted house-to-house searches at will, not to mention that it supervised the writing of the interim constitution and managed the recent elections?
Secondly, why would a supposedly 'libertarian' publication imply that it's so important that the new Iraqi government appear 'real' and 'functioning'? I thought that libertarians were foremost occupied with individual freedom, not how 'functioning' or 'real' a new government should appear . . . the two ideas seem diametrically opposed to me. And if I were able to divine the innermost thoughts of Syrian bureaucrats--and I don't claim that I am--I imagine that the reason they handed over Saddam's brother-in-law had to more do with mounting fear of an attack by any of the 140,000-160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq than anything else. Considering the U.S. and Israeli governments' propensity to blame the Syrians so quickly for the recent bombings in Lebanon and Tel Aviv, I'd say such fears would be well founded. (I suspect that they probably would have handed over Saddam's grandmother if they thought it would appease the U.S. )
The same could also be said 'if it also turns out that Syria is having second thoughts about hosting any cross-border troublemakers,' assuming the writer's implication that the Syrian government has some sort of psychic or divine ability to identify every single individual that crosses its borders--at any time of the day or night--to be true.
Why wouldn't the writer for this 'libertarian' magazine/website instead take the opportunity to point out the many natural pitfalls and shortcomings of having a government-managed security force in the first place, rather than eagerly remind his readers that a highly trained security force is but one component of a fully functioning government, which by implication the author seems to think is so important? Why not take the space to promote the libertarian concept of individual armed self-defense for the Iraqi people, as opposed to the government scheme of having politically anointed guardians tasked with the responsibility of protecting all Iraqi citizens from violent criminals, when clearly in this instance the government guardians cannot even protect themselves from the insurgents?
And why would this 'libertarian' find cause for celebrating that--lo and behold!--yet another government on this Earth has been recognized as 'real,' and largely because the bureaucrats of another government were essentially intimidated into appeasing the officials of yet another government?
Reason magazine clearly has liberposers on its staff.
But as I said before, I probably shouldn't be surprised so much. For example, in the November 2004 issue, Ronald Bailey proposed that laws be passed making it compulsory for everyone to purchase private health insurance. He himself grants that it is a less than perfect idea, but he suggests that it would be better than, say, the single-payer model of socialized medicine. Well, yes, anything might be better than socialized medicine. But why not take the opportunity to advocate the truly libertarian position, which to my mind would be to propose getting government out of the health care business entirely, to cease and desist from all regulations and let the free market do its thing? I suspect that legally forcing people to purchase private insurance would lead to a whole other host of economic problems and complications for the health care consumer.
Of course, Reason has published many other articles expounding on the current administration's assault on individual civil liberties, the outrageous actions of local governments in the name of 'eminent domain,' the near-sightedness of many copyright and 'intellectual property' laws, and in the current issue there is a refreshing story on homeschooling and a welcome rant by assistant editor Kerry Howley on the sheer idiocy of U.S. tariffs on imported shrimp, so I haven't resolved to cancel my subscription just yet. (I feel compelled to also mention, however, that even though I'm not quite finished reading it, the featured debate on Social Security between TechCentralStation.com's James K. Glassman and George Mason University's Tyler Cowen appears to be a typical argument on variations of watered-down statism between a couple of liberposers.)
I suspect that the reason liberposers espouse statism to the extent that they do is to appear 'relevant' in today's political culture, which means not looking too 'extreme' or 'kooky.' Politicians and the media have done a considerably excellent job at portraying any individual who is on principle opposed to all measures of government-imposed force and coercion as being on the 'radical fringe' of society--a crazed lunatic, a nutjob. For example, someone who is opposed to all forms of gun control may find himself branded as being some kind of sociopath who would just as soon set up a nuclear missile in his back yard replete with a fully functioning launching pad, if he could get away with it. Totally abolish Social Security? Why, that would mean the nation's elderly would be thrown out into America 's streets and back alleys like so much garbage, of course, thus the support of many liberposers for the Bushian 'privatization' scheme. Oh, and point out that the U.S. government's 'War on Terror' is in reality a war of terror, and obviously you're eager to don a burqa and surrender yourself and your fellow Americans to an Islamofascist dictatorship, as so many neoconservatives and their allies among the liberposing liberventionists seem to believe.
In a piece he wrote some years ago and which was recently posted on Lew Rockwell's website, the late Murray Rothbard pointed out that many of these liberposers are very likely motivated by simple materialism. If a liberposer can competently argue the case for watered-down statism while maintaining the appearance of a 'freedom fighter,' he may be able to land a plush and cushy job with a 'conservative' Washington , D.C. public policy think tank, or perhaps even in a Federal agency.
They may even think they're doing the libertarian cause a favor by making libertarianism appear more 'mainstream,' but clearly these liberposers subscribe to the worst kind of slavethink. At least the more blatantly socialist-left Democrats that I have known over the years would come right out and tell you in so many words that government should continue to be the dominating force in society, providing education, social services, regulating the economy, etc. For the most part, they're honest and up front about their slavethink ideas. What makes the liberposer worse than the social democrat is the fact that he actively seeks out government's permission for more individual freedom, instead of explicitly demanding that government retreat to the abyss whence it came. Upon humbly beseeching Big Brother for a few scraps of liberty for the common folk, he then goes about patting himself on the back as the great 'soldier of freedom' that he erroneously believes himself to be. In the long run, he is only aiding and abetting the expansion of government power by seeking to give it a veneer of legitimacy and a false mask of 'liberty' that serves only to conceal the lies, fallacies and corruption beneath.
That's why it is so important that the ideas of individual liberty be consistently promoted, based upon consistent principles, by those who can see the forest through the trees. Those of us who are not so easily appeased when Leviathan tosses us a piece of freedom here and a scrap of liberty there need to continue to raise our voices, especially in contrast to those who falsely pose themselves as friends of liberty even as they seek to endear themselves to the U.S. Federal Megastate in the futile hope of being granted a few more choices by their slavemasters.
There is no greater prison for a slave to escape than his own self-delusion that he is 'free.'