So says establishment macroeconomist Jeffrey D. Sachs of libertarians. His article on “Libertarian Illusions” caricatures, smears, and slanders libertarians and libertarianism. I take his remarks personally, although his attacks are on Ron Paul and libertarianism in general.
He smears and slanders all libertarians with these words:
“Racism and libertarianism have had their dalliance, as Ron Paul’s personal journey makes plainly evident. Even today, Paul opposes the civil rights legislation of the 1960s on the ground that society has no right to deny the ‘liberty’ of racist behavior. Even if Ron Paul himself is no racist, he gives comfort to racists. “
Where in the thousands and thousands of pages written by hundreds of libertarian authors over centuries is there exposited a known and established linkage, brief or otherwise, narrow or broad, between racism and serious libertarian political philosophy? Can Sachs name half a dozen prominent libertarian writers who have espoused racism? Which of them can Sachs say has tied the libertarian political philosophy to racism, i.e., to a belief that (quoting Wikipedia) ” inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination”?
He cannot do it. Libertarianism champions equal rights. It champions the person and the potential of every person to use liberty to the fullest. Libertarians would NEVER have authored Jim Crow laws or denied the vote on the grounds of race or denied equal access to public facilities depending on one’s race. Libertarians have for decades preached against the drug war, which severely discriminates against blacks and browns. The prisons are filled disproportionately with people of color. Libertarians have stood staunchly against wars initiated by the U.S. against people of color and fought to a large extent by American soldiers of color.
So where does Sachs get off linking libertarianism to racism when there actually is no philosophical or logical or theoretical link at all and no link that can be found in major libertarian books and journals of record? His attack is on Ron Paul and the Ron Paul newsletters, more of which are being publicized as I write. And attacks based on their content are going to continue in order to discredit libertarianism in general.
Ron Paul and his campaign will have to answer such questions and attacks. But whatever the answers are, I say that those newsletters are not what libertarianism is or has been, and any serious student of libertarian ideas knows this. Sachs has chosen to link racism, libertarianism, and Ron Paul. This is a low blow, and a false low blow. Libertarian philosophy does not hinge on Ron Paul’s views now or in the past or on his newsletters, whatever they may contain. Libertarian philosophy does not rise or fall with the status of Ron Paul, with his goodness or badness, with his virtues or sins, or with his success or failure as a candidate or libertarian activist. Libertarianism is a movement. It is a philosophy. It is a set of ideas. It is a field of study and research. It is always in flux while retaining a core set of ideas, much like any scientific paradigm. Racism is definitely not in the core or anywhere else in libertarianism for that matter, and it never has been.
According to Sachs, Paul is tainted by racism because he is against certain aspects of the 1960s civil rights legislation and he is in bed with racists giving them comfort, and libertarians are racist for supporting a man’s liberty to be racist. Sachs chooses to ignore the arguments against federal discrimination mandates that act on private property and private behavior. He ignores the arguments against affirmative action. He ignores the very sad and negative effects that inept federal laws on race and poverty have brought about in destroying black families and communities.
Instead, Sachs elects to take the low road and smear the man and all libertarians. He does not have the grace to say that Ron Paul is not a racist and preaches no racist ideas and never has preached such ideas. Instead, he says that “even if” he is not a racist (which implies that there is some doubt on it), he is still comforting racists. If that is true, then so are all like-minded libertarians to be classed by Sachs as closet racists. This is total malarkey.
I too think that affirmative action is a huge error and that a man has a right to do business or associate with whom he wishes and not with those he does not. Am I comforting racists? I rather doubt it. Having looked at web sites of various racist groups, my impression is that they have many other sources of belief than libertarian ideas!
But what if some racist does take comfort in the libertarian support for freedom? What of it? Ideas are the stuff of humanity and freedom. We can’t control how others think or what they absorb from the innumerable sources they are exposed to and expose themselves to. I don’t control the thoughts of racists. If they misinterpret my ideas, that’s their doing, not mine. I can’t be held responsible for what others think. My responsibility is to speak as clearly and truthfully as I can. If racists do not understand why libertarians do not want to impose racial preferences in law and if they choose to think that libertarians actually want and like racism, that’s on their heads, not on mine or Ron Paul’s.
Sachs wants to suppress the racists by force of law. He wants to bring private behaviors under public scrutiny and law. Once this boundary is breached, however, by taking away the liberty to act as one wills in private (without of course initiating violence against others), the door is open to more and more regulation of private behavior. The door is open to totalitarianism. That is the dangerous road Americans are traveling. That is the road that libertarians are against.
What is liberty if it excludes the freedom to choose, and isn’t choice always discriminatory? Doesn’t every man who marries freely choose one woman among many, and doesn’t the woman choose one man among many? If men exhibit a preference for tall women or small women or shapely women or dark-skinned women, will there be some federal law and some newly-invented crime that makes such private choice illegal and punishable? And if racists have the freedom to be racists or people have the freedom to exercise decided preferences in selecting mates, are we to sacrifice the freedom of everyone in order to prevent such choices? Are we instead to make everyone slaves who must instead obey the preferences of government bureaucrats and law-makers? For that is the alternative to liberty.
Does Sachs understand any of this? Has he explored it? I doubt this very much because it doesn’t show through in his writing. My way of thinking about it and explaining it is personal and surely can be improved. Others elsewhere surely have made these arguments more clearly and more persuasively. My point is that Sachs ignores all of this thought. Instead he simply tags Ron Paul and libertarians as racists.
I have barely scratched the surface of my problems with what Sachs has written. I will just say that Sachs manages to make out that libertarians are anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, selfish, immoral, etc.
He also manages to paint libertarians as heartless souls who place their own freedom of action above all else:
“Libertarians hold that individual liberty should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of other values or causes. Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable — all are to take a back seat.”
What Sachs means by being “sacrificed in the pursuit of other values or causes” is that libertarians don’t believe in the government making slaves out of people in order to further its own ends in the supposed name of compassion and all the rest. Sachs altogether blurs the distinction between the person and society (and government) here and elsewhere. He doesn’t realize that individual liberty is the precondition for the exercise of one’s faculties, intellectual, ethical, moral, artistic, scientific, and the rest. Liberty is the atmosphere in which we human beings have to breathe in order to engage in constructive lives.
Liberty does not compete with the exercise of compassion, or charity, or seeking justice, or taking responsibility, etc. Liberty doesn’t make any virtues take a back seat. Liberty is necessary to the realization of values. It complements values. It doesn’t supplant them. But Sachs clearly was not thinking of individual personality and the person. He was thinking of the government abridging liberty for the sake of causes that he favors, which he classifies as “compassion.”
Because Sachs thinks little of people possessed of liberty, he thinks that they will not exercise compassion. He thinks that they must be forced to exercise compassion through the government. Somehow, the very same people who will not exercise compassion as individuals want and consent to governments that force them to exercise it. They stop being persons and become citizens. This is straight out of Rousseau among other sources, but wherever it comes from, it’s close to the the heart of the disagreement that Sachs really has with libertarianism. Sachs is foursquare for coercive government imposed on the people and libertarians are not.
Sachs believes in government power being imposed and that government officials will enslave mankind for the good of mankind. He especially believes this if the officials are Democrats. To him the welfare state is hunky-dory. He should take a look at how many Democrats voted for the wars that he has been against and how many voted for bank bailouts.
It’s oh so easy for Sachs to say that libertarianism is “extreme” in its wholehearted defense of liberty. Two can play that game. The liberalism that Sachs espouses is extreme in its wholehearted support of government power and suppression of liberty. There is a helluva lot more evidence of the negative effects of government power than of liberty, and a helluva lot more evidence of the positive effects of liberty than of government power.
Sachs is operating in dreamland, it seems to me. He doesn’t want to wake up and honestly confront something that could make him change his basic political thinking. That is why he is rejecting Ron Paul and libertarianism. They are a challenge to his comfortable, conventional, and shallow notions of the individual, society, and government. His rejection in this article is superficial on all counts.9:02 pm on January 17, 2012 Email Michael S. Rozeff