Fukuyama and Libertarianism

VH1’s upcoming special, One Hit Wonders, calls to mind popular tunes by long-forgotten artists known only for one song (link2). Who can forget catchy hits like “99 Luftballoons” by Nena, “Tainted Love” (Soft Cell), “Play That Funky Music” (Wild Cherry), and “Hot Child In The City” (Nick Gilder)? But try to name another song by these groups, and you'll be stumped.

But – how’s this for a segue? – one-hit wonders are not restricted to the world of pop. They populate the neocon world too, though their hits are not as memorable. Case in point is Francis Fukuyama, the obscure State Department official whose faux-deep 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man made a splash, despite its non-rigorous, implausible, neo-Hegelian thesis. His subsequent work has never matched it in popularity or notoriety. Fukuyama’s latest offering, “The Fall of the Libertarians” (Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2002), is a weak and confused attack on libertarianism that does not endanger his status as a neocon one-hit wonder.

Fukuyama claims that libertarianism is doomed because of two apparently primary (and faulty) tenets: first, its foreign policy views; and second – get this – the libertarian stance on … biotechnology. I see. We have reached the end of history, and it is necessarily one that will be dominated by: war, interventionism – and no cloning. Sort of a constrained, and strangely selective, vision of the future. Unfortunately for libertarians, we are anti-war and pro-cloning, and thus stand athwart the new permanent direction of world history (which has ended). “Therefore,” our days are clearly numbered. Huh? Let me get this straight: our views on legalizing drugs and prostitution, abolishing regulations and taxes, etc. don’t bug Fukuyama too much, but our views on – say it with me – biotechnology, do? I repeat: bi-o-tech-no-lo-gy. Try to stifle your yawns. Apparently, biotech has become a burning issue for neocons, and for some reason they think it's become a pet issue of libertarians as well.

First, let’s take foreign policy (please). Unfortunately, and contra Fukuyama, not all libertarians are anti-war and isolationist. See, for example, Joe Stromberg’s discussion of libertarian interventionists – whom he dubs “liberventionists” – and these blogs (link2, link3) concerning the pro-war views of some libertarians, such as Virginia Postrel, David Brown, and Brink Lindsey. In fact, I would venture to say that the more pro-war type libertarians would tend to be pro-cloning, pro-choice, etc. Conversely, the libertarians who are anti-war – the paleos – are less likely to be pro-cloning. So I guess Fukuyama is attacking the modal libertarians (and leftists) on cloning and attacking the paleolibertarians on the war issue. But I digress.

Let’s grant Fukuyama that most libertarians are anti-war and anti-state. Where Fukuyama is wrong is in thinking this is some fatal flaw in libertarian thinking or that it relegates us to obscurity. Some of us might even counter that if the US had been more “isolationist,” if we had not tried to “promote democracy and freedom [sic] abroad,” if we had not so often “tax[ed] citizens” to “promote collective interests,” then perhaps, just perhaps, we would not be embroiled in as many conflicts as we currently are. And then we would not need so many taxes to support even further interventions to deal with the consequences of earlier interventions. And so on.

In any event, opposition to war and state has been with us for some time and there is no reason to think that it is all of a sudden at the end of its rope. Does anyone think we have really reached “The End of Opposition to War?” I suspect that as long as there is war, there will be those pointing out that it is wrong, just as there will be victims who oppose crime, so long as there is crime.

Bizarrely, however, Fukuyama devotes the bulk of his attack to libertarian views on biotechnology – in particular, our alleged “support” for cloning. My first reaction is: Huh? (Or do I repeat myself?) Our former federal government employee writes:

The second area in which libertarians have overreached themselves is in biotechnology. Here they join hands with the New York Times and important parts of the American left in opposing restrictions on human cloning currently under debate in the U.S. Senate. Many libertarians oppose not just a ban on research cloning of human embryos, but on reproductive cloning as well (that is, the production of cloned children).

Let’s allow that libertarians indeed oppose a federal law banning cloning (e.g., S. 790, under consideration in the Senate). Is it because we are leftists or libertines at heart? No. The simple reason is that libertarians are in favor of constitutional restrictions designed to limit government’s ability and tendency to tyrannize peaceful citizens (isn't Fukuyama?). One important restriction in our written Constitution is that it grants only enumerated and limited powers to the federal government – unlike the states, which are seen, from the perspective of the federal Constitution, as having plenary, “police” powers. The structure of the federal Constitution, along with the ninth and tenth amendments, makes this scheme clear. For the most part, the listing of rights in the Constitution and the Amendments (including the Bill of Rights) is superfluous, meant only to put an exclamation point on what is already implied in the very structure of the Constitution and our erstwhile federal scheme.

Accordingly, certain federal powers are explicitly enumerated in Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution. But if there is no enumerated power to take a proposed action, the federal government simply is not authorized to do it. Coming back to cloning – there is nothing in Art. I, Sec. 8 or elsewhere in the Constitution that empowers Congress to restrict cloning (and the argument that the interstate commerce clause empowers Congress to regulate activities that “affect” commerce is complete bunk; link2). Congress can only regulate cloning by disregarding limits placed on its power by the Constitution that authorizes its very existence. Surely it is reasonable for even neoconservatives to be a little concerned when the most powerful military and police institution in world history blatantly disregards the paper limits placed on it.

How can Fukuyama support obviously unconstitutional federal restrictions on cloning, while endorsing the “liberalism” and “natural rights” views of the Founding Fathers and Thomas Jefferson? Surely their liberalism included the original constitutional system which limited the federal government to enumerated powers. So, is Fukuyama in favor of “the American political tradition,” or ain’t he? If he is, he cannot support federal anti-cloning legislation. Or does he think the Constitution actually does give Congress the power to regulate cloning? If so, where is it enumerated? Or does he think the Constitution should be amended to eviscerate federalism and remove all limits on Congress’s power? I’m confused. Or more likely, Fukuyama, the former State Department official, is.

Fukuyama continues:

Libertarians argue that the freedom to design one’s own children genetically – not just to clone them, but to give them more intelligence or better looks – should be seen as no more than a technological extension of the personal autonomy we already enjoy. […] There is no cause for worry if eugenics is practiced by individuals. The latter could be counted on to make sound judgments about what is in their own and their children’s best interests.

Libertarians do not maintain that “There is no cause for worry if eugenics is practiced by individuals.” We just don’t think “cause for worry,” by itself, justifies making the “worrisome” conduct illegal (good thing, for I find many of Fukuyama's views “worrisome”). Rather, it is only aggression – i.e., using the body or property of others without their consent – that may be outlawed and regulated, for only the initiation of force justifies the use of force in response. Elsewhere, Fukuyama implies that “inflicting harm” justifies “government intervention.” But government intervention is always the use of force, and it is only justified in response to harm that itself involves the use of force. Harm that is not caused by aggression – for example, hurting someone’s feelings by insulting them, or reducing the value of a competitor’s company by providing a better product – does not justify a forceful response, i.e. a law.

Moreover, libertarianism does not hold that individuals can “be counted on to make sound judgments about what is in their own and their children’s best interests.” Fukuyama probably does not understand that our support of individual liberty is not contingent on the individual’s wise exercise thereof. What he seems to miss here is that just because libertarians do not believe a given federal law is justified, does not mean they think the behavior left unregulated is “just fine”. Apparently unlike neocons, we are able to separate private morals from the political question of what behavior the government should be allowed to regulate. And yet, we are the ones who are supposed to have simplistic, unnuanced views? Ah, I see.

Fukuyama also assumes, mistakenly, that libertarianism rules out any laws prohibiting some cloning related actions. He provides the following example:

A deaf lesbian couple recently sought to implant an embryo to produce a child who they hoped would also be deaf. Children do not ask to be born, of course, but it is a stretch to assume the informed consent of a child to be born deaf, or a clone, or genetically redesigned in a risky experiment.

This implies that libertarians “assume the informed consent of” the child to be born deaf, and that we would therefore oppose laws (e.g., even state law) prohibiting such actions. Since a significant minority of libertarians are not pro-choice, it stands to reason that not all libertarians uphold the right of parents to genetically harm their children. In fact, while some libertarians might oppose all laws limiting “genetic” freedom, in my view a libertarian case can be made that it does violate the rights of the child for its prospective parents to intentionally engineer a defect that the child would not have consented to. This is an open question, the answer to which is not implied by libertarians’ opposition to unconstitutional federal anti-cloning laws.

Other comments by Fukuyama are also confused and weak. For example, he writes: “Research cloning of embryos […] is a line that we should cross only with trepidation.” This begs the question by assuming “we” have to ask permission from someone before engaging in action, and that the permission-giver should be very careful in handing out this permission. But in a free society, we are not supposed to live by permission, at the whim of government. Rather, it is the other way around. Unless it can be shown that research cloning is a violation of rights, the government has no business intervening. It is the use of state action that we should endorse “only with trepidation.”

Other examples of confusion in Fukuyama’s reasoning include: “the community of interest that is presumed to exist between parents and children cannot be taken for granted [is] why we have laws against child abuse, incest etc.” Well, no. We have laws against child abuse because child abuse violates the rights of children, not because there is some “community of interest” that is “presumed to exist.”

Or take this comment:

Libertarian advocates of genetic choice want the freedom to improve their children. But do we really know what it means to improve a child? It is hard to object to therapeutic aims, such as the elimination of genetic tendencies toward diseases. […] Parents, of course, try to improve their children in all sorts of ways today, through education, resources and upbringing.

So, we don’t “really know what it means to improve a child,” yet elimination of disease is an acceptable improvement (even if accomplished through genetic engineering, presumably), as are use of education, resources, etc.? Fukuyama also says that, unlike improving kids through education, “the genetic stamp is indelible, and would be handed down not just to one’s children but to all of one’s subsequent descendants.” Well isn’t eliminating disease through biotech “indelible” and handed down to descendants? Further, I am not sure that “indelibleness” can be measured or quantified, but in any event “indelible” marks are made all the time on children and descendants by a host of neocon government laws and policies, such as: immigration policy, war, welfare, drug laws, taxes, etc.

Like other neocons who have attacked libertarianism, Fukuyama fails to mount a successful attack on liberty, individualism, and rights. Libertarianism, though outnumbered by its statist competition, is alive and well. As with Fukuyama’s premature proclamation about the “end of history,” his report of the death of libertarianism is greatly exaggerated.

May 6, 2002

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