Vulgar Liberalism Watch (Yeah, You Read it Right)
every time... somebody says something about reaching out to libertarians, then "Libertarianism" itself is put on trial.
The problem is, the people who presume to put it on trial are usually idiots, who know as little about the history of libertarianism as they do about the history of anything else.
Case in point: Logan Ferree, in a thoughtful post in his Daily Kos diary, described the vulgar liberal stereotype of libertarianism:
White men who are opposed to taxes, have read Ayn Rand one too many times (although once might be too many times) and like their guns and the Confederacy a lot.
And that's a pretty cartoonish, not to say stupid, view for a "reality-based" movement that prides itself on its grasp of the irreducible complexity of reality and derides its enemies for black-and-white thinking.
...accepting this characterchure is like believing the description of liberals at Free Republic. Intelligent, rational liberals like ourselves can do better than that.
Can? Maybe. And some do--but all too many do not. The vulgar liberal caricature of libertarianism is, as Logan suggests, an almost exact mirror image of the know-nothingism at Free Republic. As Archie Bunker said, "People who live in communes are commune-ists!" And for the vulgar liberal, likewise, "Libertarians are just pot-smoking Republicans."
Ferree cites Battlepanda's recent post, "Two Flavors of Libertarianism," as an example of a liberal willing to acknowledge the complexity of the real libertarian movement. Sure, the Catoids and pot-smoking Republicans are out there. They're the advocates of what I call "vulgar libertarianism": a crude pro-corporate apologetic barely disguised behind bogus "free market" principles. But there's another flavor of libertarianism:
There is Free Market Anti-Capitalism and a Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left. There are libertarians that criticize big business and criticize the role that big government plays in creating big business.
There's no shame in being unaware of this current of libertarianism. What is shameful, though, is not only being ignorant, but being proud of one's ignorance--indeed, desperately clinging to one's ignorance with the fervency of bigots everywhere.
Despite Ferree's good efforts, the ignorance in some cases was invincible. Worse yet, some of it went beyond the point of sincere ignorance, and instead became evidence of bad faith. Wilson sums up, quite well, all too many of the ensuing comments on Ferree's post:
But as the comments to Logan's post indicate, just saying the word "libertarian" gets some people riled up. Libertarians are greedy bastards, end of story. Some had the attitude of, "A LIBERTARIAN is voting for us? We don't want that!"
The worst of a bad lot was philgoblue, who was apparently channelling the idiot I debated earlier at Progressive Review.
Libertarians would also be against:
The Minimum Wage
Moving in that direction is the very LAST thing Democrats should do.
When some libertarians attempted to explain their principled opposition to coercive taxation in a thoughtful way, or to point out the shortcomings of government-provided schools and roads, philgoblue's witty rejoinder was "Dumbfuck," and
because of some problems, you're for not building roads, levees and school?
Logan Ferree, perhaps acting on the misapprehension that philgoblue's ignorance was genuine or that he was arguing in good faith, tried to explain the left-libertarian position:
A libertarian would argue that if you removed all of the regulations and government programs that aid the rich and the wealthy, the little guy wouldn't need Social Security, the Minimum Wage, or Public Schools. However you're dead wrong that they'd be opposed to union organizing.
I'll make you a deal. Get the Democrats to oppose government policies that benefit the rich and the wealthy. We do away with all of the programs that create an uneven playing field in favor of those at the top.
Libertarians will vote for Democrats because they'd be the only party pushing for reducing the size of government. After we've done everything we agree on, we can agree to disagree and start fighting again.
The result was what usually follows when one casts pearls before swine:
You're An Absolute Fool.
Without the protection of the collective, the wealthy and ruthless would eat 99% of us for breakfast. See most of world history and many current Third World nations.
Ferree, finally beginning to realize just what kind of utter jackass he was dealing with, responded:
You're an absolute idiot.
Without the power and authority of the state, the wealthy and the ruthless would have no way of maintaining their control over the remaining 99% of us. See most of world history and many current Third World nations. In most of the developing world it's the state, with the support of institutions like the IMF and World Bank, that is nothing more than the servant of multinational corporations.
Wasted breath, though. People like philgoblue are so emotionally dependent on their Art Schlesinger myth about the anti-plutocratic motivation of big government, he might as well have been speaking Esperanto. You can take people like philgoblue and rub their noses in the real history of corporate liberalism, and the role of big business in setting the Progressive and New Deal agendas, and they'll just go right back to repeating their historical mythology without missing a beat.
Eugene, considerably more civil than philgoblue, repeated the assertion about anti-unionism, and added that
the "little guy" needs all those programs not because of government aid to corporations, but because of the nature of capitalism itself. Unless you're looking to abolish capitalism, you'll never be free of the need for a minimum wage or social insurance.
The "nature of capitalism itself," as it actually exists, is statist. We on the libertarian left disagree among ourselves on terminology, especially in regard to the C-word. Like many individualist anarchists past and present, I like to distinguish "capitalism" from the free market, and to reserve the former term for a system of privilege in which the state intervenes in the market on behalf of capitalists. But semantic differences aside, most of us libertarian lefties consider the size and power of corporations under "actually existing capitalism," and the extreme concentrations of wealth, to be the result of state intervention in the market on behalf of the rich and powerful. And unlike Eugene, we've actually tried to make a case for our position, rather than just asserting it.
On the union thing, Eugene was quickly confronted by a self-styled free market libertarian and card-carrying union member. And by the way, I know of at least three free market libertarians (Tom Knapp, Brad Spangler, and myself) who are card-carrying Wobblies. (Here's Knapp's post on the subject, and here are my comments.) [Note--Rad Geek emails: "Make it four, for what it's worth; IU 640, Hotel, Restaurant, and Building Service Workers here. (Which reminds me, I need to get caught up on my monthly dues....)"]
Eugene, unfortunately, wasn't having any of this; he regurgitated philgoblue's idee fixe:
I am familiar with the variants of libertarianism.... [??!] "Economic libertarians" are really greedy Republicans who want to couch their desire for exploitation in some sort of language of rights and freedoms.
And Karmafish added:
Economic libertarian... is more or less the equivalent of Social Darwinism.
In other words, "Don't confuse me with the facts. I'm comfortable with my hate." It doesn't matter how many times you produce documented evidence of free market libertarians who are enemies of corporate power, or of the fact that most state intervention benefits the plutocracy at the expense of the working class, or even that such policies were drafted by the plutocracy. They've got their fingers jammed in their ears as far as they'll go, shouting "la la la la la" at the top of their lungs.
It's so much more comfortable to believe that large, powerful corporations arose out of a "laissez-faire" economy, and that government intervention is the remedy rather than the cause of corporate power. And that the sun shone out of FDR's ass, that he was some kind of populist tribune, a "traitor to his class" who put down the "economic royalists."
Logan Ferree confronted them with the indisputable fact that many economic libertarians are neither "greedy Republicans" or "social Darwinists"; and yet they're still parroting the exact same dogma they were before, as if he'd never written the post. I repeat: beyond a certain point, you have to conclude that you're no longer dealing with genuine ignorance, but with someone who is knowingly and deliberately repeating a lie.
The one saving grace in this whole ugly clusterfuck was DawnG, who wrote:
The problem... with lumping people into categories is that it opens the door for stereotypes that, whether rational or absurd, don't fit everyone labled in that category.
I thank you for giving us some insights into the minds of a libertarian and hope you don't take the reactionary and judgemental componants of our community as representatives of the whole.