Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Chomsky the Libertarian

Reason's Julian Sanchez on his website:

Libertarians aren't supposed to like Noam Chomsky. For many classical liberals, mere mention of his name is enough to provoke a visceral rage, matched in intensity only by the fawning adulation he receives from so many of my crunchy comrades at NYU. But for years, his books have been a guilty pleasure of mine. So how could a nice free-market boy like me find himself curled up in bed (figuratively speaking) with the radical left's most notorious demagogue?

Let me answer by way of anecdote. I recently attended a 15th anniversary gala for FAIR, the ultra-left media watchdog group, at which Chomsky was the keynote speaker. He was introduced by the spectacle of Phil Donahue, visibly humbled after his ouster from stardom by the likes of Oprah and Springer, and clearly yearning, despite his professions of radicalism, to return to the womb of the Democratic Party. Old Phil was flung from the political mainstream, he explained, by his conversations with Chomsky, which began with a single sentence, still vivid in Donahue's mind: "Never trust . . ." Big corporations? Exploitative capitalists? Nope: "Never trust the state!"

This was an "applause line," but the crowd's response was palpably lukewarm: their animus was towards capitalism, and only secondarily towards the (current, ostensibly capitalist) state. Unlike his acolytes, who play at revolution by flying to WTO protests on daddy's credit card, Chomsky is the genuine article: an anarchist. (Well, a tenured anarchist, but close enough.) And believe it or not, that puts him a hell of a lot closer to libertarians than he or his groupies dare admit.

Read the whole thing, it something you don't hear everyday. But I have to say, what i found most heartening was the final pararaph:

Libertarians have spent so much of the last decade cozying up to conservatives that the snide characterization of us as "Republicans who smoke pot" is beginning to feel uncomfortably apt. This strategy has had some degree of success (in getting funding for our think tanks, at least), but has also left plenty of "low-hanging fruit" unplucked among the ranks of the student left. How many of these kids are only a copy of Economics in One Lesson away from realizing that markets, rather than statism in the guise of "democratic social justice", are the last, best hope of the world's poor? Remember, the late and very brilliant Robert Nozick started out a socialist, only to be brought around by a libertarian friend. For all we know, his successor is standing on a protest line now, waiting to be turned. If we don't soon get over our myopic focus on the right as a source of potential allies, we may have another Chomsky to grapple with instead.

I hate to always bring it back to this, but this is exactly why these debates are so damn impotant for us. There are droves of liberals just waiting to become libertarains. Right Avi?

Thanks to Avi for the link.


Clara said...

Who says leftists really want to help the poor? Most of the ones I've met are more interested in hating rich people -- rich capitalist people -- than anything else.

I reserve the right to keep on hating Chomsky!

Damian - said...

I think leftists come in two varieties: Some are humanists who care about the poor, the oppressed, etc., and who would support policies that better the lot of these groups if only we could do a good job at explaining them. On the other hand you have the ones who despise the common folk, who think that people need an enlightened class of rulers to save them from themselves, and who are wedded to certain ways of doing things, certain institutions, no matter the consequences. (I don't know what to call the second group. Suggestions are welcome.)

Take school choice, for example. If the humanists are persuaded that vouchers deliver better results than public school monopolies, then they would support them. But the other lefties would never trust the parents to make the right choices for their kids. They don't want to empower the parents. For these people, no amount of evidence or argument would diminish their support for public school monopolies.

I'm sure Marco has the first group in mind when he talks about potential allies.

marco said...
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Clara said...

You're probably right. I guess I've mostly been exposed to the leftists who espouse bleeding-heart views so they can feel good about themselves. Meanwhile, they don't give a fig about anyone but themselves. They want OTHER people to pay yet a THIRD group of people, etc. They want freedom of speech -- for themselves. They pretend to be anti-war, but they support all sorts of violent people, so long as those people are fighting on THEIR ideological side.

Among the women, they support women's lib so THEY can go out and make the big bucks as trial lawyers or whatever -- but they hire some immigrant lady to stay home with their kids, usually paying her under the table to avoid taxes. I know dozens of leftists who do this.

I tend to think Republicans are riper candidates for libertarianism (on economic issues, certainly). I know quite a few GOPers in high places who are virtually identical to Libertarians, excluding the realm of military policy.

But of course there's lots of internal variety when you look at a huge group of people like that. I've met paleoconservatives who'd make your hair stand on end with their trade protectionism, moral fascism, and callous indifference to anyone not born on this continent. So it's not just Leftists who creep me out.

Damian - said...

That's it: Elitists! Thanks to Marco, now we have proper names for the two leftist varieties. So never mind whether someone is described (self or otherwise) as a liberal, socialist, lefty, even pinko commie--the question to ask is: are we dealing with a humanist or an elitist?

marco said...

oops, i thought i could edit my comment, but it just deleted it. Luckily have what i wrote, here it is:

I think Damian is spot on here. I have found that people who genuinely care about the issues, the humanist types, are always open and receptive to libertarian ideas, the others, not so much. To prove this example I will quote what someone said to me during a debate about school choice after I called her position elitist: "You are elitist for thinking everyone is like you. You don't admit that there are some people who are not as qualified as you to make decisions for their children." And to this I responded, "I don't think everyone is like me, I think that I am like everyone else." This, though, was still deemed elitist on my part.

But I have realized that when I get into these debates it is not about convincing the people who are screaming at me, it is to convince the people who are quietly listening in. Thankfully, there are more people listening than screaming.

On a side note, I must confess that I have appropriated two of Damian's sayings. I now routinely scoff at the "disdain for the common man" and regularly bring up the fact that "tax payers have feelings too."