Posted on 18 December 2008.
Over at Culture11, John Schwenkler pours some cold water on the idea that, all other indicators aside, this is a libertarian moment:
Gillespie and Welch insist, however, that this is only the beginning, and that serious political change isn’t that far off. They point to the decline in voter identification with the two major parties, the splash made by Ron Paul in the 2008 Republican primaries, and the increasing frequency with which pundits identify themselves as “libertarian” as evidence that something is afoot. “The generation raised on the Internet has essentially been raised libertarian,” they write, “even if they’ve never heard of the word.” And so no matter how safe things might seem right now, no one in Washington should get too comfortable: “when the gap grows too wide between voter desire and government policy, between the way people actually live their lives and the way government wants them to behave, then a situation that looks stable can turn revolutionary overnight.” The cultural changes Gillespie and Welch describe are the natural breeding ground for the political shifts they hope for.
That’s certainly one way that things might go.
But it’s also possible that something quite different could happen. A generation accustomed to carving out its own private spheres of freedom no matter the external circumstances might ultimately be one that lacks the revolutionary impulse that Gillespie and Welch assume is the natural outgrowth of a “hyper-individualized” culture. This is especially true when it comes to things like military policy and the drug war, where the worst effects of our government’s actions are borne primarily by those in society’s lower echelons: so long as no one takes serious steps toward instituting a draft or arresting a third of our high school students for drug use, you won’t find many people agitating for revolt. And it’s not that easy to start a revolution when you can’t pull away from the X-Box.
The first thing to note is that there are many libertarianisms; and while they often go together, they don’t necessarily. Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party candidate and Truther, is broadly a political libertarian, but he is certainly not a cultural libertarian. Cultural libertarianism, like its political sister, risks the same sort of reductionism: as political libertarianism often teeters uncomfortably close to anarchism, so cultural libertarianism leans towards libertinism (which, incidentally, is often confused with libertarianism, and thus leads to irrational hatred of libertarians from many conservative circles, even though they broadly agree on politics). Yet libertinism is a much easier trap to fall into than anarchism. Anarchy requires societal change, while libertinism only requires personal change.
Getting back to Schwenkler, the issue here is involved with the “liberating” force of technology, where we can quite literally enter different, almost entirely free worlds whose limits are dictated by your bandwith. What defines a “libertarian” moment — and more pertinently (and philosophically), is the perception of freedom more important than the actuality of freedom?
Taking this to its natural dystopic end, it implies a world of pink goo and Our Savior Ted. This doesn’t make the concern any less pertinent, though. For what if real political doesn’t result in a person’s sense of freedom or liberty? Conversely, suppose a society of technofiends feels more free in a world of WoW 5 and Call of Duty 12 that bans political parties. Who cares if there’s a federal curfew if no one wants to go out anyways? In fact, taking Schwenkler one step further, you might almost say that cultural libertarianism is hindering the cause of political liberty (or that a virtual liberty is hindering the cause of ‘actual’ liberty — whatever these incomplete terms mean).
Should libertarians be striving towards this latter world, or the former? Viscerally, striving towards a perception of liberty seems wrong, but I can’t quite figure out how to refute it.
Posted in Current Affairs, To the Right
Posted on 22 November 2008.
As direct broadsides tend to do, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jillian’s post; specifically, I’m thinking about the repeated, huffy assertion from the Left that “Obama is not a socialist,” which while true, is also surprising in how vehemently such a notion is rejected.
For libertarianism proper, there is a certain end of Liberty. To reach this end, there are certain means that are proposed — repeal the PATRIOT Act, legalize medical marijuana, lower income tax rates, and such.
And while I just got off of a tirade against teleology (and I am still strongly against such narratives), to govern effectively you must have a broader vision of what the Polity should be. Failing to have broader goals leads to governing a la Tom Delay or Lyndon Johnson (what is the deal with Texas?), where the exercise of party power becomes more important than any political ideas. Call it Pragmatic Teleology, as paradoxical as that term may be. Or maybe, a Time-Relevant Teleology.
I don’t see this on either side. No single policy, be it health care or defense spending or “service” programs, should be an end in of itself. Obama’s platforms are means — but to what? What are we trying to get here? Simply overturning the “Bush legacy” is rather small, and still leaves us with a draconian drug war. Trying to be Sweden?
So to all those from either side, tell me — what is the equivalent to libertarianism’s Liberty? I think much of the concern about Obama (at least, my concern about Obama) is that I don’t know what he’s getting at. One day he’s preaching xenophobia circa 1890, the next day he’s urging forgiveness for former drug users (while appointing Eric F—ing Holder), but by the end of the week unveils a plan for “mandatory service.” Simultaneous columns call him a “pragmatist” and a “revolution.”Â What does this all mean? And yes, I’ve read “The Audacity of Hope” — it had about as much cohesion as a Saltine in water.
So I’ll end this in the same way that I ended my last post on the matter. Social democrats, leftists (I try my best to not use the bastardization of the term “liberal”, which properly refers to the free-trade, anti-war policies of the Whigs), Republicans, and pragmatists the world around — what is it?
Posted in Current Affairs, To the Right