Neither Left Nor Right

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I have always
taken it as a good thing that libertarians are detested by both
the left and the right. To me it is proof positive that we libertarians
are in the right. After all, both the left and the right are fundamentally
the same — authoritarian statists who wish to use the force of government
to make society in their own images and to compel others to live
in ways that they approve of. And let's be honest, both the left
and the right do truly hate us and whatever we may ostensibly have
in common with either — say free markets with the right and human
rights with the left (of course neither really supports either except
in qualified and conditional ways) — what they find detestable about
us involves fundamental differences which can never be overcome
as long as they remain "left" and "right," as
long as they remain wedded to that dialectic.

I'll be honest,
at this point in my life I find political philosophy to be tiresome
or maybe I have just become tired and lazy. Beyond considering the
merits of minarchism versus anarchism I don't like to go much into
any of it anymore. Debates about the implications of the privatization
of this particular thing versus government control of that seem
to me pointless. From my perspective, if you believe you own your
own life, if you believe in liberty, there is nothing to debate.
You are never going to convince anyone who doesn't believe in or
understand liberty in a meaningful way to come over to your side.
At best, the arguments will all be utilitarian in nature and both
sides are going to make counter arguments which are often essentially
meaningless — what if this scenario occurred or what would happen
in that particular circumstance.

Don't get me
wrong, I very much enjoy watching YouTubes of my libertarian heroes
— most associated with Lew's site and Mises and way too many to
mention. And, of course, the great Dr. Paul — but when I see a libertarian
debate a statist of whatever stripe the futility of it is tiring.
It is as though they are talking different languages. It is particularly
trying when I see what we often refer to as a "beltway libertarian"
(think Cato, Reason) debating a main stream "progressive"
or a main stream "conservative." The feeling I get is
that they are pretending at disagreeing, both of them really committed
to never changing anything fundamentally.

The bottom
line is that I have been troubled by the inability of libertarians
in general to make any substantial inroads into the minds and hearts
and thinking of most Americans, which is fairly ironic when you
consider that the values on which this country was founded and the
values continually espoused when speaking reverently about this
country are distinctly libertarian values. Funny how they sound
so foreign and unfathomable (and dangerous), except in the abstract,
to so many devoted Americans. It's fine to talk about dedication
to liberty, but it's something else altogether to actually consider
living by the principles of liberty. It strikes me that whenever
libertarians and those who are suspicious of libertarians talk they
invariably talk past each other. It strikes me that our approach
as libertarians has been off the mark. We are never going to win
by talking principles and philosophy. The only way we are going
to reach those who can not hear us now is to show them what they
are missing and what they are losing by being afraid to seriously
consider liberty and the kind of world they could inhabit by embracing
the principles of liberty.

Also invariably
critics on the left accuse libertarians of being "selfish"
and "greedy" and being for rich people and against ordinary
people. This charge is so far off the mark and beside the point
it is almost impossible to respond to. It's like accusing a computer
of being short. It has nothing to do with what a computer is. But
we get stuck in those kinds of arguments. For me, the best or at
least most effective argument for libertarianism is that it is the
one approach to governance that has the greatest hope of producing
a humane society. The problem is to find a way to explain to people
why that is so. "Progressives" like to consider themselves
humane and singular in their concern for their fellow man. I don't
doubt the good intentions of those who consider themselves progressive
(although, given the history of mankind you would have be somewhat
dim to believe collectivism of any sort can lead to anything except
misery and misery primarily for the most vulnerable and unconnected),
but they seem not to be able to see the implications and unintended
consequences of their philosophy.

Moreover, they
tend to be primarily concerned with how they feel about their supposed
altruism rather than the actual consequences of their initiatives.
There are multitudes of examples of the way good intentions and
supposedly progressive legislation has led to the suffering of those
it is intended to help. This current recession/depression is a typical
example, due in large part to the "ownership society"
initiative which was intended to put anybody who wanted into a home
of their own. It sounded good, but where are so many of those people
now? How many of those people who could not pay their mortgages
with their teaser rates are now on the street and have nothing?

This new healthcare
plan will almost certainly lead to the same sort of thing. How many
small businesses will go under or not be started at all and how
many other businesses will cut back, all of which leading to job
losses for those who need jobs the most. Again, the most vulnerable
will end up suffering for the good intentions of those who think
they know best how to arrange society. And then there is the current
hysteria over global warming — sorry, climate change. How many of
those who can least afford it will suffer the consequences of programs
like cap and trade or carbon taxes? The list is really endless.

For many progressives
it all seems to be about how they feel about themselves and the
sense of self-righteousness that their "generosity" affords
them. Of course, self-righteousness is hardly the domain of the
left. Having lived through the reign of terror of the "religious
right" and their devotion to their belief that they are God's
true representatives on earth, well, it was scary stuff. The left
thinks they are on the side of the angels and the right thinks God
is on their side. Libertarians don't presume that they can divine
the intentions of the almighty beyond the fundamental belief that
we are all created equal and are endowed by our creator (whatever
"creator" means to you) with certain inalienable rights.

The central
libertarian principle is the principle of nonaggression. Taken to
its logical conclusions it pretty much covers everything that is
the cause of so much consternation in the life of our society. You
would think that no one could possibly have a problem with this
principle, but many people do. In order for the nonaggression principle
to mean anything you have to believe you own yourself and, by extension,
that you own the fruits of your endeavors. For any statist/collectivist
self-ownership is conditional. In other words, you only own yourself
to the extent society says you own yourself which is really the
same as saying you don't own yourself at all. You can make the decisions
about your life that society/the state says you can make. Ultimately
and inescapably, in the statist's view, society/the state owns everything
and anything you own, including yourself – you only own conditionally.

If you follow
that logic then society cannot aggress against you since they own
you. They cannot aggress against your property, since it is really
society's property. It is amazing to me how many are comfortable
with this perspective on things. Without self-ownership the nonaggression
principle means nothing. It may be that people don't generally recognize
how they are owned by society/the state and unless they are personally
and painfully inconvenienced by their lifetime indenturement or
their serfdom. Until it is your property being appropriated by the
state by eminent domain and until it is you who is prevented from
finding relief from your illness by laws dictating what substances
you may or may not ingest into your own body you can continue to
pretend to yourself that you are sovereign over your own existence.
You can argue until you are blue in the face that conscription and
income tax are both forms of slavery and are unjust in their conception,
but until people feel it in their gut, they won't get it. It's just
the price we pay for being "free."

If you ask
virtually any American if they are free the vast majority will tell
you yes, this in spite of the multitude of ways we are not free.
Most Germans thought they were free under Hitler. You are free only
to the extent the government and society does not want anything
from you beyond what you are already willing and ready to give and
if you were to decide you were not willing and ready to give those
things you already do, you would quickly see how free you are not.
My argument and the argument of most libertarians is that personal,
individual liberty over all aspects of our lives is the only way
to achieve all the legitimate, defensible desires of both the right
and the left. It is the rational hope for ever having a humane society
with liberty and justice for all and the only way for both the right
and the left to ever get the things they claim matter to them is
to risk embracing liberty in all aspects of life.

This is what
we are not communicating to those who oppose us. What they don't
see is that we want all of the things that they legitimately want,
but we actually have a way to achieve it. If you want social justice,
it is only liberty that can give it to you. If you want prosperity
and opportunity and sustainability, if you want equality (in a legitimate
sense), if you want peace and commerce and goodwill between men,
liberty is the best hope for achieving those things. Libertarians
are also often accused of being utopian and that for real liberty
to work we must all be men of goodwill and compassion. This is exactly
wrong. It is those who think they can fashion society to fit some
ideal they imagine who are utopian. Libertarianism is the only political
philosophy which actually takes into account the fallibility and
corruptibility of man by recognizing that the last thing we should
do is give men power over the lives of other men. If man cannot
be trusted to govern their own lives as the left and right believe,
then how can they possibly be entrusted with the power to govern
the lives of others? They like to believe that the best and the
brightest will gravitate toward positions of authority over others.
Talk about utopian. The message we need to get across that we have
not is that it is liberty with all its implications — for each of
us individually, for commerce and enterprise and for everything
else — that is the best hope for the kinds of society both the left
and right dream of. A society where all men can live in peace and
prosper and pursue happiness and find social justice and equal opportunity
and learn to love his fellow man. There is a reason why that ubiquitous
Ron Paul Revolution sign had the word love highlighted in it. If
you really love your fellow man set him free to chart his own course
and to follow his own dreams instead of some dream the collective
has dreamed for him. Set people free to be everything they can be
and the human race can achieve things we can now only dream of.

January
2, 2010

Doug
Carkuff [send him mail]
lives in the southern tier of central NY, and has worked as an analytical
chemist and researcher for a pharmaceutical company for 25 years.
Has a 17-year-old son of whom he is very proud. Dreams of owning
40 acres and having a couple cows and herd of goats.

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