Summary: Liberals have entered the second phase of their struggle with Libertarians. First they mocked them; now they dismiss them as irrelevant. Soon they’ll fear them. Rightly so, for Libertarianism is the interests of the 1% set to music. This is a follow-up to my previous post about Libertarians. (2nd of 2 posts today.)
This is 2013. I believe the orange Libertarian circle will grow much larger.
- There are few real libertarians (& no true Scotsman).
- Libertarians in the Right’s revolution.
- The big picture: the third attempt by the Right to rule.
- For More Information.
(1) There are few real libertarians (& no true Scotsman)
Liberals have no need to worry as they’ve discovered that there are few “real Libertarians”! This week the New York Times ran two high-profile articles so debunking the Libertarian uprising: “Rand Paul’s Challenge: Libertarians Are Still a Small Minority” by journalist Nate Cohn and “Rand Paul and the Empty Box” by economist Paul Krugman. The New Republic ran a similar article about a porn star libertarian. The Week proved that libertarian star Rand Paul’s views are incoherent (another article said, correctly, that this was an asset).
None of these were written by political scientists, who know better. A philosopher might say there are few “true libertarians”, but that’s politically irrelevant. It’s the “no true Scotsman” fallacy in action. One could just as easily prove there are few “real Christians” — and there have never been many. But Christianity has had a massive impact on history, and that’s so with Libertarianism as well. Liberals gave a similarly dismissive analysis of the Tea Party in its early days, before the demonstration of its great power as conservative shock troops.
One does not measure the effectiveness of a political movement by its fidelity to some theoretical schema, but by the numbers and passion of the people who follow its banner. There are many self-identified Libertarians, and they’re disproportionately in the politically active upper middle class — in rapidly growing regions like Texas and California (e.g., Silicon Valley), and among the 1%.
Libertarians achieving critical mass, appearing unexpectedly and everywhere.
(2) Libertarians in the Right’s revolution
The 1% has been winning since the before the rightly named Reagan Revolution (although most of the claims about it are false). It’s a slow-mo counter-revolution to the New Deal, building a plutocracy of the 1%. The first wave began in the 1960s; it laid the intellectual and organizational foundations — the plans, the Right-wing think tanks, recruitment and training of leaders, links to Christian conservatives (useful idiots), and fund-raising — (see details here).
Then came the ramshackle alliance with social conservatives (e.g., the social conservatives of Kansas described by Thomas Frank). Next came the mass movement to produce shock troops: the Tea Party (shock troops need passion, not knowledge or wisdom).
These two phases carried them far but cannot achieve dominance. For total victory they need people who fervently believe that the interests of the 1% are their own. They need Libertarians.
As so many have shown, from economists such as Paul Krugman to polemicists like Charles Pierce, the core Republican policy since 1980 has been a menu of policies with small support.
- To deregulate businesses and destroy unions, stripping us of any control over their activities.
- To reduce the social safety net (e.g., Workers Compensation, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, welfare).
- To shift the tax burden from the rich to the middle classes by flat rates on income taxes, low rates on capital gains and estates, and more regressive taxes (e.g., FICA, sales taxes) — , justified by pixie dust theories about benefits (which the Reagan and Bush Jr tax cuts disproved).
Libertarians believe to varying degrees this recipe, masking it with a variety of other more popular proposals about lessening government regulation of citizens’ private lives (Krugman has a somewhat similar view). While these are an anathema to the social conservatives (who, like Blacks, have no where else to go), they’re largely irrelevant to the 1% — who doesn’t care how the proles lead their lives. And when the voting matters, Libertarian politicians usually vote the standard GOP line (this is a GOP tradition).
They’re the energy tapped by Rand Paul, an engine pulling America’s Overton Window to the Right, as he mainstreams advocacy of positions formerly consider loony (e.g., see a description of his radical views in “Rand Paul is building a bridge — to the early 1800s“).
(3) The big picture: the third attempt by the Right to rule
The third time is a charm.
— Paraphrase from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (1602).
As usual we turn to Allan Bloom for a clearer view of these events. From The Closing of the American Mind, published in 1987 and still one of most accurate guidebooks to our time.
This is akin to, and actually part of, the fatal old alliance between traditional conservatives and radicals, which has had such far-reaching effects for more than a century. They had nothing in common but their hatred of capitalism, the conservatives looking back to the revival of throne and altar in the various European nations, and to piety, the radicals looking forward to the universal, homogeneous society and to freedom — reactionaries and progressives united against the present. They feed off the inner contradictions of the bourgeoisie.
… The Right — in its only serious meaning, the party opposed to equality (not just economic equality but equality of rights) — at first wanted to undo the Revolution in the name of Throne and Altar, and this reaction probably breathed its last only with Francisco Franco in 1975. Another form of the Right, as it were a progressive Right, wanted to create and impose a new kind of inequality, a new European or German aristocracy, on the world, and it was blasted out of existence in Berlin in 1945.
Now they’re trying again with a new formula, one that allows them to better penetrate sectors now closed to them academia, journalism, and the high-tech business industries. The appeal of Libertarianism to a broader range of society looks like they have a winner this time.
“A movement which is confined to philosophers and honest men can never exercise any real political influence : there are too few of them. Until a movement shews itself capable of spreading among brigands, it can never hope for a political majority.”
— From George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman” (1903).
We spend too much time talking about politicians ideologies. We should instead focus on their actions. That shows that the 1% has been winning for a long time. They’re winning today. Eventually it will be an endgame, where we no longer have the ability to resist and they’ll have embedded their rule in our institutions and minds.
Time is our enemy.
(5) For More Information
For more about libertarianism see the following.
- Two studies titled “In Search of Libertarians”. One in 2013 by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the other “in 2014 by Pew Research“.
- To see a pure form of libertarianism in action see the fascinating history of the “Dark Leviathan” by Henry Farrell: “The Silk Road might have started as a libertarian experiment, but it was doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings.” Or look at Somalia.
- See the best post ever about Libertarianism: “If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride — A Pony!“, John & Belle Have a Blog, 6 March 2004.
- All you need to know about Ayn Rand, savior of modern conservatism.
- A modern conservative dresses up Mr. Potter to suit our libertarian fashions.
- Ron Paul’s exotic past tells us much about him, the GOP, libertarians – and about us.
- Choose your team: our election is a conflict between long-dead philosophers.
- The difference between Christianity & Libertarianism marks a line between America & the New America
- Why the libertarian rich & their bankers love price controls – on money.
- Why do we believe an armed society is a polite society?