Thursday, December 27, 2007

Establishment "Libertarianism": Better Living Through State Aggression

Father Abraham, Progenitor of the Modern Fascist State
-- a fact attested by the Roman-style fasces displayed in this familiar monument in the Lincoln Memorial.

(Thanks to Lew Rockwell for pointing out this significant artistic detail.)

When it comes to the matter of individual liberty, there is no fact too conspicuous, or principle of logic too obvious, to escape James Taranto's understanding.

Responding with canine servility to the command that he attack Ron Paul (Taranto didn't need a memo, a dog whistle was sufficient), the Wall Street Journal columnist dutifully produced a brief broadside accusing the Congressman of being a bogus libertarian because Dr. Paul doesn't burn incense at the shrine of Abraham Lincoln, or support the proto-totalitarian 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Taranto offered a poorly performed grace note to his essay in the form of an insipid gibe:

As the old joke goes, if you want to find out if someone's really a libertarian, ask him: Do you think children should be allowed to buy heroin from vending machines? A real libertarian will answer: Only if the vending machines are privately owned.”

The urbane James Taranto, our infallible tutor in the ways of "true" libertarianism.

An honest formulation of that question would destroy the punchline, such as it is, because a genuine libertarian would respond by asking, “By what authority does the government forbid the consumption of heroin?”

A libertarian of a federalist bent – and Dr. Paul is the most consistent exemplar of that tendency – would point out that, while the powers reserved by the Constitution to states and communities would include the power to regulate or forbid drug consumption (whatever one thinks of the wisdom of such a policy), the federal government has no proper role here. A libertarian of minarchist or anarchist persuasion would insist that no government of any kind has a proper role in regulating drug consumption.

Those views all take into consideration the fundamental insight of libertarianism: Government is, at all times and in all circumstances, the single greatest threat to freedom, property (beginning with one's person), and social harmony.

Taranto, however, insists that the federal government, through the so-called Civil Rights* Act, was “siding with liberty against government-enforced oppression” in the Jim Crow South.

That system of petty apartheid was fraught with pointless cruelties and pointed indignities. But given the economic and social costs of maintaining Jim Crow, it's perfectly reasonable to believe that it was susceptible to reform and abolition through means other than federal intervention (as Martin Luther King, Jr. may have understood before he became the figurehead of a movement devoted to abolishing federalism). When the "civil rights" movement decided to enlist the power of Beelzebub to cast out a smaller devil, did it really expect that Beelzebub would still be enthroned decades after Jim Crow perished?

It's worth reflecting on a largely ignored point raised by Dr. Paul in his Meet the Press interview: Like the Black Codes that preceded it, the Jim Crow system in the southern states was inspired and fortified by the predictable generational hatred growing out of a war that killed 600,000 Americans, and the vicious occupation that followed in the name of "Reconstruction."

And the war itself was not begun as a campaign of liberation, but one of conquest and consolidation: Lincoln's view -- contradicted by the best scholarship of the pre-war period, and by explicit provisions in some state constitutions (Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island) -- was that the states, as fully digested components of a unitary government, had no right to secede.

Once the campaign to “restore the Union” (actually, to transmute it into a centrally ruled monolith) was underway, it was cynically re-defined as a campaign to end chattel slavery, an objective Lincoln resisted as long as it was politically feasible to do so. (It's worth pointing out that by introducing the military draft and the first income tax, the Civil War created precedents for institutionalizing slavery, rather than abolishing it.)

The re-definition of the Union's war aims actually undermined the cause of individual liberty by claiming on behalf of the central government the power -- both in war and during Reconstruction -- to reconfigure social customs within the states that created it, and to police private relationships apart from the odious and unlamented custom of chattel slavery.

There is a large and growing corpus of revisionist works on Lincon's war, not all of which have been produced by libertarian or paleo-conservative authors. One of the most provocative of those books is Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy, by George P. Fletcher, a Marxist Columbia University School of Law professor.

Fletcher sounds very much like a libertarian or paleo-con critic of Lincoln, in that he insists that Father Abraham's true purpose was not to restore the constitutional union, but to create a new order – one born from successful and continuing aggression by the central government against the states of the union and the people of the country.

The new order inherits an operating Congress, Executive, and Judiciary,” writes Fletcher, and although federal institutions have been “recast in new functions, the forms remained the same.” Behind a change in federal functions is a new ruling ideology, in which the central government elite now acts on “the consciousness of setting forth a new framework of government, a structure based on values fundamentally different from those that went before.”

The heart of the new consensus is that the federal government, victorious in warfare, must continue its aggressive intervention in the lives of its citizens,” writes Fletcher approvingly. As written in 1787, ratified by the states, and generally understood today, the Founders' Constitution was proscriptive, defining the few and specific things the people would permit government to do, and forbidding government action beyond such license. This was changed by Lincoln's war, according to Fletcher, since “the liberty that comes to the fore in the intended postbellum constitutional order and under the Secret Constitution requires the intervention of government. Liberty is born in the state's assertion of responsibility to oversee and prevent relationships of oppression.” (Emphasis added.)

Liberty,” on this construction, is the gift of the state, requires the state's constant supervision, and is provided through state coercion. This view could be digested into a doxology: Wherever the spirit of state coercion can be found, there is liberty. Then again, Mussolini's famous dictum captures the essence of Fletcher's views quite tidily: Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

I grant that Fletcher is not the official spokesman for the Cult of Lincoln (he is infinitely more readable than the demented Harry Jaffa, who presently occupies that post) – but he expounds the central tenet of that cult with commendable candor: One is “free” only to the extent he supports, and is subject to, unlimited aggression by the infinitely wise and and peerlessly noble people who preside over the central government in the name of freedom.

Of course this means allowing the central government to dictate the limits of one's property rights, associations, public speech, and even private opinions in the name of combating “discrimination.” But it also means being willing to consecrate all with which the state has blessed him – including his wealthy, property, and even his own life or the lives of his children, if necessary – to the prosecution of wars of “liberation” abroad.

This gospel of “liberation” was first preached by the rulers of revolutionary France, as David Bell points out in his valuable book The First Total War (about which I'll have more to say on a future occasion). But because of Lincoln's war, the government ruling the United States of America would eventually become the most powerful and aggressive promoter of that doctrine (once other contenders, such as the Soviet Union, dropped out of competition).

(Continues after break)

"I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo," wrote English historian John Dalberg Acton in a November 1866 letter to Robert E. Lee. Lord Acton recognized that the triumphant Union embodied the same revolutionary doctrine of "liberation" through aggression that had propelled Bonaparte's campaigns.

In a December 1866 letter to the English historian Lord Acton, Robert E. Lee presciently lamented “the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

Once a government gets in the business of “liberating” people through aggression, it will only get out of that business if forced to through external conquest or national bankruptcy. The latter is nigh on arrival, making the former -- which, as Lincoln himself observed, was once all but unthinkable -- a dim but valid possibility, albeit in the form of re-possession by foreign creditors.

Such as the consequences of Establishment-approved "libertarianism," as preached by seers and savants such as James Taranto.


*The Framers understood that the central government, particularly its instruments of coercion, would be the single greatest threat to destroy what Hamilton called (see the Federalist, essay number 8) the "civil and political rights" of individuals. This is why the political instrument called the "Civil Rights Act" is a masterpiece of Orwellian manipulation.

Dum spiro, pugno!


Scott Lahti said...

Are you ready for a good chuckle? My years-long habit of contributing credited story links to "Best of the Web Today"

came to an abrupt halt this fall when I found my emails blocked via a dedicated bounceback...I guess JT's loss is Dan McCarthy's, Lew Rockwell's, BK Marcus's, Rod Dreher's, Kenneth Anderson's and Andrew Sullivan's, et al, gain...

Tom Eddlem said...

Funny. I asked Ron Paul about herion vending machines near a school when he was campaigning for president in 1988. He was speaking at Harvard University, and his reply to my question was perfect: States can handle any necessary regulation of that, but it shouldn't be on Federal Government property.

Anonymous said...

The estimable Mr. Grigg is quite right that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 amounted to "enlisting the power of Beelzebub to cast out a smaller devil." While most agree with the result (the elimination of "petty apartheid"), the means employed -- the destruction of states rights -- have given us an omnipotent federal government which now dictates everything from the drinking age to toilet tank capacities to the design of drivers licenses, and has implemented a parallel system of criminal law. Freed from the institutionalized discrimination of Jim Crow, blacks as well as whites now face a far more comprehensive tyranny.

A key precipitating factor in the civil rights struggle was the Supreme Court's May 1954 ruling, in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, that "separate but equal" schools for different races are inherently unequal. Factually, the assertion is unchallengable. I recall as a child in public school being exhorted to take care of our schoolbooks, since the Negro schools would inherit them after our school got new ones.

But from a libertarian perspective, government should have not been involved in running schools in the first place. In the South, government schools were being misused to propogate cultural values such as racial segregation. One of the first pitched battles of the civil rights movement was President Eisenhower's dispatch of federal troops to Little Rock in 1957, to open Central High School to the 'Little Rock Nine.'

Predictably, now that the fedgov has gotten firm control over public education, government schools are being used to teach other cultural values. Public schools are leading-edge adopters of drug tests, video surveillance, ID cards, and warrantless searches. Instead of teaching racial segregation, public schools now teach government worship and unquestioning obedience to authority.

Is this really an improvement?

dixiedog said...

I think Ilana Mercer's one-two interview with Paul Gottfried about his book Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right explains a lot about what's going on with "the Right." Nothing really new, per se, in my view that I didn't already at least suspect long ago, but some of the intricacies and details of how "The Right" is manipulated so easily in culture and the political arena are still enlightening and interesting to some degree nonetheless.

I think Gottfried is dead on about some of the minutiae and details of how the neocons operate and how they have, over the course of the last century, upstaged what little existed of the Taft influence in the Republican Party as a whole.

On Gottfried, according to Wikipedia: Unlike others on the intellectual Right, Gottfried has often portrayed culture and morality in contemporary Western societies as reflections of the reach of the current political administration.

Wikipedia is a dubious source at best - especially about individual people, politics, religion, and culture, IMHO - but nevertheless, if that's an accurate representation of some of his views, I disagree with that particle of it. I believe it's rather the opposite. The political administration (especially Congress and also, naturally, the entire cadre of bureaucrats/politicos who make up the various local polities, etc.) is, generally speaking, a rough reflection of the commoners who put them in office.

The same Wikipedia source also states: What has made this process especially effective has been the identification of two phenomena: social engineering with popular consent, and the advance of democratic pluralism. [emphasis mine]

Now, if that statement is the least bit accurate about what Mr. Gottfried thinks, I agree wholeheartedly. Because, as I keep reminding folk, government doesn't operate in a vacuum in a Republicratic [sic] system. But, who knows for sure, as I don't know the man personally. Anyway, Mrs. Mercer's two-part interview with Mr. Gottfried is a very interesting read, Will.

On another front, what I find most amusing, not to mention oxymoronic in the extreme, about the Ron Paul phenomenon is some of the European praise and dire hope for a Paul presidency that may signify that Americans have come to their collective senses finally about freedom and so on.

Sigh, I don't see any culture wars waging across the pond, which is to expected to some degree of course as the individual countries are largely still homogenous for now, but the old native cultures, as well as Christianity as a whole, are fast dying off and/or are heading for minority status in the next half-century. Yet, if demographics are any sign, the natives aren't reproducing at long-term sustainable levels (another sign of cultural decadence, BTW); the resettled Muslim immigrants, OTOH, are gradually sweeping aside the natives.

If I didn't believe in God's sovereign control over all things, I'd seriously believe that the formation of America was a mistake. IF many of the ones (probably libertines but they nevertheless insinuate themselves among genuine libertarians) who espouse libertarianism are to be believed, I'd certainly believe it's founding was a dire mistake and the Founders were insane. No, rather, I believe America was at its beginning a people who largely possessed the same Christian worldview. Sure there were some who did not, but that doesn't change the reality at all. The libertines, OTOH, seem to think a nation can exist that encourages a cauldron of wildly differing cultures, languages, lifestyles, and value systems to live happily together, as if they have similar overall worldviews, which is ludicrous in the extreme. The entire history of humanity defies that concept! The times throughout history that wildly different peoples and cultures have co-existed within the same nation-state were all due in no small part to authoritarian regimes of some sort ruling over them.

I've always believed you cannot mish mash wildly differing cultures and peoples together, who have their own ambitions and desires and have no interest in assimilation, into a successful and peaceful nation-state and they somehow miraculously become kindred souls in the spirit of Republicanism and become beacons of liberty. They are only held fast by an authoritarian regime, some much more so than others, of course. That would certainly explain how Yugoslavia remained "united" and manage a modicum of peace in the land. This also explains how Rhodesia and South Africa under white authoritarian rule kept the countries "united" and even wildly productive economically compared to the present, contemporary madhouse societies of Zimbabwe and South Africa respectively. Czechoslovakia is yet another and so on. Iraq anyone? Pakistan anyone? When Saddam's heavy hand was removed, the cauldron of peoples - and even peoples within a given ethnicity, who had wildly differing religious and worldviews - was fired up. If Musharaf abdicated and/or his government dissolved, does anyone really think the cauldron of tribes within Pakistan are going to shake hands and be of kindred spirits for liberty of all and they would adhere to a "live and let live" philosophy? I sincerely hope nobody is that deluded.

I probably need to clarify exactly what I'm talking about for the hysterically emotional who may stop in. The core point above is not whether authoritarian government abstractly is good or bad. I think it's bad, even deadly in some cases, for the individual people, but also for the long-term health and stability of the nation-state(s) in question as well, with the possible exception of Rhodesia and South Africa. As they were actually Africa's only two economic powerhouses and bread baskets, rather than being the current basket cases under contemporary black authoritarianism. They exchanged white authority that espoused the concept of "separate, employed, and gradually progressing individually in a material sense" for black authority espousing the concept of "unity, unemployment, and quickly digressing together in a material sense." As has been said many times misery loves company as misery hates solitude.

Anonymous said...

I always spell it: TaRANTo. The guy is disgusting, and you have done a great job exposing his latest rant.

TaRANTo always refers to "the liberation of Iraq." That is interesting, since I remember that communists would always refer to their takeovers of Upper, Lower, and Whereverslabovia as the "liberation of Upper, Lower, and Whereverslabovia." It is nice to see TaRANTo and his ilk borrow the language of the ultimate oppressors, as he and the others expose themselves.

Anonymous said...

the correct answer to the heroin question is: Only if their parents approve.

Anonymous said...

All Americans whether establishment types or independent types looking to the constitution for guidance must read analysis of that document to understand how it brought us to the police state,authoritarian state welfare state of today. Dr Rivera can read the document and make it's terms plain to everyone using not fancy vocabulary but plain reliance on the written terms contained within its pages, hard verifiable evidence. If you claim any interest in the founding documents, contact him at above and ask to read his commentary.