Monday, March 07, 2005

Thank goodness for society--run by us "decent" folks

Eccentric...crazy...vulgar...deluded...fraudulent...abstract...absolutist...
bizarre...idiotic...cruel...naive...contemptuous. Paleoconservative Robert Locke uses these words to describe and debunk--he imagines--libertarianism.

Like Marxism, it aspires, overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to economics. And like Marxism, it has its historical myths and a genius for making its followers feel like an elect unbound by the moral rules of their society.

As my free-spirited English professor says, "What is this mythical beast, society?" If Locke strives to defend plain ol' tyranny of the majority, he shouldn't mince words.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the reduction of the good to the freely chosen means there are no inherently good or bad choices at all, but that a man who chose to spend his life playing tiddlywinks has lived as worthy a life as a Washington or a Churchill.

"Worthy" is an awfully loaded term, but I'd argue that the underachiever has just as much right to play games all day -- assuming he isn't stealing to fund his unproductive lifestyle -- as the next guy has license to think lofty thoughts and spur a nation to action. Who's to decide which life is more worth leading?

Libertarians rightly concede that one’s freedom must end at the point at which it starts to impinge upon another person’s, but they radically underestimate how easily this happens. . . . Consider pornography: libertarians say it should be permitted because if someone doesn’t like it, he can choose not to view it. But what he can’t do is choose not to live in a culture that has been vulgarized by it.

Well, that's the price you pay for living in a truly tolerant society. You just might brush up against someone on the street and see him wearing a bow tie--ugghh--or hear him talking about catching the latest Kiss concert. Or making dinner plans with his gay lover. Oh, the agony!

Empirically, most people don’t actually want absolute freedom, which is why democracies don’t elect libertarian governments. Irony of ironies, people don’t choose absolute freedom. But this refutes libertarianism by its own premise, as libertarianism defines the good as the freely chosen, yet people do not choose it.

This proves something, but it isn't the fact that people yearn to be bossed around. The pattern of voting for collectivism proves that people will take as much as they can, even if if means robbing another of the fruits of his labor. In other words, people are selfish. In a libertarian society, we'd acknowledge that and address it head-on, instead of dressing it up as altruism and concern for "the community".

Based on the facts of history, Locke claims that a libertarian state can only arise through a kind of coup. I disagree. The future will bring more individual liberty -- heck, it's already happening -- most likely through incremental changes. As a few towns/states/nations scale back the shackles of authority, they reap the visible rewards that only freedom yields. Other communities say, "I'll have what they're having." It's happened within the U.S., and within the world as a whole (usually propelled by American strides toward freedom).

Libertarians are also naïve about the range and perversity of human desires they propose to unleash. . . . They assume that if people are given freedom, they will gravitate towards essentially bourgeois lives, but this takes for granted things like the deferral of gratification that were pounded into them as children without their being free to refuse.

I was waiting for him to compare rational human beings to children. Really, just waiting.

They forget that for much of the population, preaching maximum freedom merely results in drunkenness, drugs, failure to hold a job, and pregnancy out of wedlock.

As countless scholarly works have shown, these terrible, terrifying side effects (Is that all he's got on freedom-as-risky? That's it?) of individual liberty are more often the direct consequences of government action. Liberal politicians decades ago implemented a welfare system that rewarded joblessness and illegitimate children; we're still paying for this mistake. The artificially high cost of drugs induces addicts to steal for money. If Locke thinks this sort of behavior is typical of rational human beings guided only by their internal value systems to pursue happiness and amass wealth, he needs to get out more.

2 comments:

marco said...

great line: In a libertarian society, we'd acknowledge that and address it head-on, instead of dressing it up as altruism and concern for 'the community'.

Adam Scavone said...

right on Clara..

"Liberal politicians decades ago implemented a welfare system that rewarded joblessness and illegitimate children; we're still paying for this mistake. The artificially high cost of drugs induces addicts to steal for money."

I'd just like to add that some good, solid empirical evidence (see Reinarman and Levine, Crack in America for starters, and Jacob Sullum's Saying Yes has more references) that people brought up in communities where theft and cheating others is abhorred and in which achievement is looked upon with respect and rewarded duly rarely steal to support their often also highly burdensome drug habits.

In other words, as much as it pains me to say it, we could maintain drug prohibition (ouch - that hurt) and massively reduce the problems associated with both drugs and prohibition by kicking people out of subsidized housing projects and destroying the twin cultures of entitlement and dependency.