Monday, May 4, 2015

When Libertarians Overgeneralise and Simplify

Since the 1950s Libertarianism and its variants have gone more and more mainstream in the US. There are a number of reasons for this including, most importantly, the realignment of the political parties in America. From the 1960s to the 1980s Democrat promotion of civil rights drove a wedge in that party eventually driving White Supremicist Dixiecrats and their heirs and the John Birch Society, that society that once damned Republican Eisenhower, a commie dupe, and other ideologies of its ilk, into the Republican Party. Over time the Republican Party that had once had a strong federalist and progressivist wings became more and more the party of states rights, libertarianism, and White men.

Now don't get me wrong, I have some sympathy with some libertarian critiquess of modern America and the modern world, critiques libertarians share with leftists including Marxists. Here is where I agree with many Libertarians and their fellow travelers. Clearly, as the evidence has shown for hundreds if not thousands of years and still shows today across the Modern West, the police power of the state, broadly defined, is used against minorities (ethnic, racial, and ideological, i.e., dissidents) and the poor. This is clearly why so many Black men, unarmed Black men in many cases, are being shot by one of the police arms of the state, the police. When it comes to minorities one of the functions of the police apparatus is to keep these in order regardless of how it does it. The poor numbered among the dominant group (Whites in the US) generally imbibe the fiction that the actions of the police powers are always legitimate and that what they do, even when they are killing unarmed people (speaking of the killings of the unarmed today marks the 45th anniversary of the murders of two men and two women by National Guardsmen at Kent State University). They, in other words, blame those being brutalised for their own brutalisation. The police, of course, know they can get away with murder because so many buy into this legitimate ideology and, of course, because of the presence of racism and prejudice amongst the dominant group.

Here is where I disagree with many Libertarians and their fellow travelers. Beyond the police function to maintain "order", i.e., to maintain those in power in power and to keep minorities, ethnic and ideological, down, the police do engage in other more understandable and reasonable activities. So too do nation-states. Nation-states build roads, pick up the garbage, build schools, and institute safety nets for those in need. The problem with the libertarian conceptualism of nations and states is that it is too Manichean, too binary, too liberty and freedom good, governments which are all the same, bad. Instead of this Manicheanism conception of the state one has to conceptualise governments as lying on a continuum. At one end of the continuum are autocratic regimes who nakedly use police power and police violence for their own benefit. At the other end are elected authorities who are much less autocratic and tyrranical than those at the other end of the continuum and who do serve the public good if imperfectly. Humans are, after all, imperfect. There is, in other words, a difference between Nazi German, the Stalin era USSR, and the governments of Denmark and the US just as their are differences between the states of Denmark and the USA.

What I find particularly humourous about libertarian political culture in modern America is that so many of those libertarians and their fellow travelers who are part of the dominant group economically and politically and culturally scream about how poor, poor pitful them they are being tyrranised by the evil state. But when those who are really being tyrannised (minorities in particular) by the state are being brutalised they seem to disappear along with their critique of government abuse of power into the woodwork. These libertarians, in other words, seem to be using libertarism less as a critique of state power and its abuse of that power against minority others than as a cover for their own narcissitic pursuit of monies and wealth. Libertarianism, then, seems less an ideology of critique than a cover for narcissists and their self centred pursuit of wealth, power, and the ability to do whatever they want to do despite the consequences and the impact of what it does to others in the broader overlapping communities in which libertarians live and act.

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