My left-leaning friends — and right-leaning ones, too, for that matter — get terribly riled up when I trot out the old libertarian line that, from our perspective, it’s hard to tell a Republican from a Democrat. I certainly can see why either of them would be insulted by the lumpification, but maybe I can lay out my argument here with a thought experiment.
A somewhat chilling thought experiment.
What if George W. Bush woke up tomorrow "reformed"? What if, instead of crowing hysterically about "Islamic extremism," bombing innocents, funding right-wing dictators and running up the national debt, Bush instead made his lame-duck presidency into a mandate for national health care, environmentalism, and urban planning — and, of course, funding left-wing dictators and running up the national debt?
Would liberals (and I use that word in the fully modern American, not the classical, sense) be unhappy because Homeland Energy was running around spying on SUV drivers to see if they brought black-market gasoline instead of state-sanctioned biofuels? Would they be appalled to see purveyors of "hate speech" sent to Gitmo? Hardly!
Some liberals would be angry, yes; the libertarian soulmates (though they may not acknowledge the bond) of the sort of conservatives who are appalled by Bush’s insistence on War For Democracy. The overwhelming majority of liberals, though, would not be unhappy with this reformed Dubya. They’d adore him — he would be Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson and FDR all rolled into one — the perfect socialist dictator.
What blue-staters and red-staters have in common — and it is a much stronger bond than the petty details of tyranny which divide them so publicly — is a love of dictatorship, a belief that if only their guys were in power all the same terrible methods developed to control people for all the wrong reasons could be turned to the service of Triumphant Good. The very reason for the red-state/blue-state bitterness is that they are fighting for the exact same prize — the control of millions of people’s lives. Those who fight for freedom stand against both of these groups — which explains both the sometimes bizarre alliances often formed between far right and far left, and the edginess of the libertarian community, where dope-smoking peaceniks look warily at their gun-toting isolationist comrades.
A Green shared with me these words from Mencken as (in her words) a "peace quote": “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” I’m sure in her mind this is Mencken speaking from the grave about the Axis of Evil and the Global War on Terrorism and whatnot, but to me it’s just as clear that he is speaking about Global Warming and Bird Flu and Peak Oil as well. It’s all of a piece when the medium is politics — it’s about forcing others to do what you think is right for them.
And, hey, maybe you’re right! Maybe the sky is falling. After all, who can dispute that there are Muslims who wanted the WTC bombed? Who can dispute that many people could be doing business in a more energy parsimonious way? The proper question of politics is not whether the world vision of red-staters or blue-staters is better or should prevail, but whether any one person or group’s world vision should be forced on another person or group. That is the only relevant political question — and to libertarians at least the answer is a loud and clear “NO!”
A libertarian-leaning colleague once said to me that “Freedom is extremely valuable, but it is not the only value.” Of course it is not; charity and mercy and bravery and wisdom are all important values, too. The vital thing, though, is that freedom is the only political value we should strive for. Pursuing values other than freedom with the tools of politics leads with absolute certainty — as long as men rule other men — to tyranny, slavery, and dictatorship. That’s why, when I look at GWB declaring War-on-Whatever, I see Lyndon Johnson, and FDR, and Stalin and Mao and… well, Big Brother, behind them all.
June 3, 2006
Susan Hogarth [send her mail] is sometimes a scientist and sometimes a copy editor. Her husband’s ingenuity and hard work allows her the luxury of living completely off the state electrical grid. Visit her website.