Bush Reelection Silver Lining #324: Self-Identified Libertarians Who Give a Crap About People Suddenly Realize They Are Actually Liberals
Election 2004, 14: Abandoning Libertarianism
[…] watching the various critiques of the first Bush administration has left me feeling that there is no response that is both distinctively libertarian (that is, basically not justifiable in any other framework) and worth a bucket of warm spit. This is where I break most decisively, I think, with the idea that the big priority is to work for a reduction of state power. I agree that it would be well to have a smaller, much more tightly bounded and governed state. But I also think that the way the state operates matters: the sort of social stability that Hayek describes as crucial for the useful operation of markets calls for honesty, consistency, competence, and other virtues in government. The thing is, making that happen requires serious, detailed engagement with the operations of government. You have to find representatives interested in the subject, and staffers who can do the job right, and there are volunteer positions that gotta be staffed, and oversight, and a whole lot of things that can’t be done by people who are standing aloof casting aspersions on the whole thing. […]
Finally, my vision of…hmm. This is all tangled together. My sense both of what I’d like to see and what I see happening now that alarms and angers me seems increasingly out of whack with libertarian priorities. I’m deeply bothered by the stagnation and backward movements in most people’s incomes, and increasingly repelled by anyone who prattles on about booming economies as those aggregate sums mattered more than real people’s lives. I’ve become persuaded that strong unions are correlated with other things that matter to me, like fewer abusive class-action lawsuits; I don’t know if it’s correlation or causation, but I’m willing to experiment, and if it is correlation, nonetheless, building the conditions for better unions seems likely to also help those other things. I am appalled by the state of health care in America, and feel about the existing system of insurance much like I do about NASA’s manned space program: sure, in theory it could do better (since it has in the past), but it has not and shows no signs of really wanting to improve, and I’ve reached the point of feeling that they’ve had their chance and blown it. Education is in a mess, and the more evidence I see from how vouchers, charter schools, and other alternatives do, the more conflicted it is: each approach can do good, but summed up it’s not enough.
It’s true that the existence of a powerful state makes it possible for the robbing plutocrats to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. But then history shows us that they did quite a lot of harm with weaker state machinery, too. Tyranny and the craving for power find a way, somehow. I simply don’t see any feasible alternative to stopping them, nor to dealing with a lot of other real problems, than the machinery of the state, and the older I get, the less willing I am to watch people I care about suffer in the here and now. People are more real than speculations about what future generations may observe. Possibly not enough libertarians have themselves lived in real deep misery; possibly they just have different temperaments than I do. I don’t feel comfortable on the sidelines of society, and I find that the people who are engaging both through the state and through other means with the stuff that concerns me are, once again, liberal or left-wing.
I have no memory whatsoever of why I put Out of the Darkling Wood in my newsreader or who the author is (I’m sure there’s a gaming connection), but I thought this was very cool.
I’ve found myself repeatedly consoling really miserable liberal friends in instant messages and the like with thoughts about good things that this defeat may do for progressive causes in America and the Democratic party. I’ll add this to the list. There are way too many good smart people out there whose keen minds the American Left needs who have been sucked into Libertarianism, which just strengthens the Right because for all their talk about being orthogonal to the left-right axis on the world’s smallest political quiz, Libertarianism tends to carry a subtle indoctrination towards voting Republican, and the Movement Conservatives love and encourage that. If we get a few of them on our side in reaction to the Bush reelection, in reaction to seeing what 21st-century Republicans are really all about with respect to liberty and wise government, it’s another point of consolation in a dark time.