Loony And Ignorant David Brooks Attacks Snowden, Libertarianism and Ron Paul

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Brooks has a New York Times blog out in which he criticizes Edward Snowden, libertarianism and Ron Paul. The ignorance of Brooks concerning libertarianism is appalling. He should go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, search for libertarianism, and read an article or two, so that he will have some grasp of its seriousness. The very first article cites John Locke (1690) for an early statement and Nozick (1974) for a later statement; but of course there are numerous other serious scholars and non-scholars who have made contributions concerning this political philosophy.

Brooks argues that libertarians see the world a certain way because their lives are unconnected to family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world.  Libertarians, you see, are loners, he says. It’s their isolated, solitary, naked individual selves against the “gigantic and menacing state”, he believes, that makes them adhere to the “strands of libertarianism”.  This is all poppycock, an hypothesis for which Brooks has no evidence. Were Locke, Nozick and Rothbard libertarian for these reasons? Show me. Are Rockwell, Block, Hoppe and countless others libertarians because they are isolated individuals, or do they actually have a well-thought out philosophy that takes in an understanding of history, government, law, politics and other fields of study? I am sure that it would be a big surprise to them to learn that their lives have been unconnected to family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world.

Here are the words of Brooks:

“If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

“This lens makes you more likely to share the distinct strands of libertarianism that are blossoming in this fragmenting age: the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme. You’re more likely to donate to the Ron Paul for president campaign, as Snowden did.”

Libertarians are suspicious of power, not deserved authority. So were the Framers, and even moreso the anti-federalists. Libertarians challenge power that is used aggressively. So did Jesus Christ. Was he too a man unconnected from people around him? The challenge to power is for good and sound reasons, based on freedom, the importance of each person, morality, an understanding of the incentives built into power structures, and a knowledge of the historical performance of states, among other factors. The notion advanced by Brooks that libertarians are libertarians because of a lack of mediating institutions of civil society in their lives is unbelievable nonsense.

I do not know that there is a single theory of organizations and hierarchies that is typical for libertarians. I’ve used agency cost theory to point out the severe problems with the State. Butler Shaffer has a far-reaching analysis in his book Calculated Chaos, reviewed here. Hoppe has critiqued democracy. What suspicions that may result arise from well-thought out analyses, not because we are seeing life through a distorted lens induced by a paucity of social institutions in our lives.

Do libertarians have a “fervent devotion to transparency”? This is not something that particularly surfaces in libertarian publications. Their devotion is first and foremost to non-aggression and peaceable free relations among people and the organizations that people form. Secrecy is a predictable tendency of governments, I have argued in 2007. A prediction I made in that article has been borne out: “We can fully expect the U.S. state to continue to extend the powers used by the CIA to domestic matters, and if not the CIA, then other bureaucracies and secret police agencies such as the FBI, the DHS, or newly-invented or transformed bureaus of control.” Is there something wrong with wanting governments to be transparent? If a government is to be “of the people, for the people and by the people”, it has to be transparent.

Libertarians do not assume that an individual’s preferences should be supreme, or superior to the preferences of anyone else, as Brooks suggests. They suggest a negative proposition: that each person should not be subject to the aggressive powers of other people and other organizations including the state. They should be free to pursue happiness in their lives without being coercively controlled by others when their pursuits are not infringing the rights of others.

Brooks is clueless when it comes to libertarianism. He’s just fabricating wild ideas and doing a hatchet job. He’s revealing his deep ignorance.

But this is just the beginning of his claims. The rest are about Edward Snowden, whom he accuses of betrayal after betrayal. According to Brooks, he has betrayed honesty and integrity by breaking oaths of secrecy. This charge is downright stupid, because employers might be planning or have carried out crimes and, under those conditions, an oath to protect them by remaining quiet loses its validity. It is meaningless.

Brooks claims that Snowden betrayed the cause of open government. I’d like to know what avenues are open to someone who witnesses massive violations of rights by a  government that claims they are not rights violations and doesn’t listen to such complaints and won’t investigate itself? How else can government be dragged toward more openness except by revealing its abuses? I cannot make sense out of Brooks’s claim.

His next claim is ludicrous: “He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.” They will hopefully have to get court orders based on probable cause, and this will prevent the “vast data sweeps” that give the government innumerable options to go the next step into reading messages and listening to calls. Our privacy has already been betrayed by the NSA and the government.

Then comes this charge: “He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed.”

The government betrayed the Constitution, as it has been doing ever since it became the supreme law of the land, but Snowden has betrayed it? Brooks is loony. There is, furthermore, nothing whatsoever inherently wrong with being solitary, being 29 years old, making an individual decision, or making a unilateral decision about what should be exposed. There is nothing inherently right about being in a government group, being 51-70 years old, and making a group or multilateral decision about what should be exposed.

The exercise of one’s conscience and judgment do not depend on these factors.

5:40 pm on June 12, 2013