I’ve decided to start a series of posts laying out what I take to be real world problems with the trend among many decent conservative-leaning folk, now disenfranchised with the US’s de facto two-party system, to see “Libertarianism” as a viable alternative to the given possibilities of the left and the right. I should say up front that this series is less about what libertarianism was or should be, historically, and more about why it is that erstwhile right-wingers see it as an ideology with which they want to now identify. I will, of course, be quite keen to learn from any of you who happen across this blog about this particular ideological history, and how it informs our present. I’m just saying, don’t expect a history lesson; my aim is rather the opposite one of trying to understand ourselves and the ideological alternatives that constitute our past and future better, by observing some things of note about our how this particular ideological option functions in today’s political discourse.
Before I mount this soapbox, let me say up front how deeply I sympathize with many of the critical concerns expressed by the new libertarians — specifically,all those which fall under the rubric of “corporatist” politics, in which there is a deep collusion between “Big Government” and “Big Business.” I admire, for example, Ron Paul’s principled stance against things like corporate lobbying; the racist criminal justice system; the excesses and injustices of the US-led (yet global) “military-industrial complex.” I have a sincere respect for those who take these problems, and all others associated with “money in politics,” seriously. This series will, I hope, reflect that affiliation, and be seen by my libertarian friends as an expression of that respect for common conviction and desire for better understanding about serious differences. I couldn’t write an equally-respectful series about Republicans because, even though I know and love many who self-identify that way, that doesn’t change the fact that, ideologically, their sense for the moral problems leftists and libertarians alike are concerned about is virtually non-existent. (All that to say: please, take the “stupid” in the blog title with the intended dosage of salt.)
That total lack of respect I have for contemporary Republican ideology brings me, libertarian friends, to critique numero uno: the main reason not to be a libertarian is because libertarians agree with Republicans that the source of political corruption is “Big Government,” not corporate capitalism. To be sure, libertarians have a lot to say against corporatist corruption and its political influence. But their critique here is ideologically driven by the problem of Big Government: corporatism is a problem first and foremost because it is an aspect of overreaching political structures, not because corporate hegemony (in simply economic terms) is itself an unjust phenomenon. While there are surely many libertarians who do object on grounds of morality or social justice to aspects of corporate-capitalism — e.g., they see the environmental havoc it’s wreaking — nevertheless, ideologically, the source of this immorality is not bad economic policy, but policy itself. In the simplest terms, libertarians today find their moral center in the sensibility that government itself is the root problem. It’s not the fact that what bends our leaders’ ears, and lines their pockets, are inhumane economic agendas (e.g. corporate capitalism); it’s that our policy-makers have any say in the matter, to begin with.
This basic ideological sensibility is why Ron Paul was even allowed on the stage with the outright corporatist candidates. Despite his critical differences from the other Republican candidates (which are indeed real), what Ron Paul devotees who dramatize his “revolutionary” potential systematically fail to notice is that, despite the fact that he names the basic “problem” in a way that is markedly different from other Republicans (namely, he’s explicitly against government-business “collusion”), he is of one mind with the corporatists on the social “solution”: less policy, most crucially of any kind which might impede the “free market.” That is why Paul was allowed to appear stage-right on our TVs: you get all the rhetorical flair of an anti-corporatist agenda (the sincerity of which I’m not doubting), which can then be twisted as “party diversity,” slipping a bit of “moral integrity” onto the ticket betwixt all those greased palms and overtly fake smiles. Yet, practically, his economic position is pro-corporate hegemony. Because, again, Ron Paul style libertarianism, like corporatists of all stripes (including most Democratic and Republican representatives), sees the problem in political, not economic terms. In other words, the problem for these libertarians is political power itself — the right and authority to “make law,” with social Law seen as the inverse of personal Liberty. This notion blinds would-be radicals to the truth that the root problem is not “Law” or “Government” as such,or in the abstract, but the particular form social law and/or governance takes when determined by narrow interests. As Marx and other insightful observers of capital’s inner-workings have taught us, these narrow — shall we say “private?” — interests most often have to do with that root of all evil, the love of money, of one’s own material gain, above all else.
So, I agree with you, libertarians, that we should all be about getting “money out of politics” — because it rigs elections, because it bends policy toward private interests, etc. But we need to have more, and better, discussion, about why “money in politics” is such a corrupting force to begin with, and how best to deal with it. I’m afraid that as long as you mislocate the problem in law and social order itself, the rest of us have no concrete (nor indeed any logical) reason to trust that your way of regulating society — that is, by freeing “the market” from any legal form of public accountability and social constraint — won’t just pour water on the root and help that corporate flower bloom even bigger.