“Legislators and revolutionaries who promise equality and liberty at the same time are either psychopaths or mountebanks.”
To cover this expansive topic as efficiently as possible, I’m going to begin by clarifying my position with two points.
I. Firstly, allow me to preempt those who might respond simply by naming some horrendously statist position that many right-wingers support.
The support of mainstream conservatives for authoritarian policies is a real and pressing problem, and I am not suggesting anything like the contrary.
I’ve written quite a bit against the prohibition of drugs, prostitution, and all manner of libertine pastimes. These issues are not trivial. Libertarians should not abandon them. I will happily affirm my libertarian stance on them in front of a group of elderly Rick Santorum supporters or whomever you wish.
I do say, however, that I could do so in a way that many of them would find appealing. Moreover, I maintain that I’ll have far more luck convincing the Santorum supporters to decriminalize hard drugs than you will convincing an equivalent bunch of Obama supporters to let you own an automatic weapon.
Think about it for two minutes. I’ll tell my audience “the government should not punish taxpayers to protect drug users from making poor choices in their own homes”. What will you say?
Invoke slave rebellions or whatever historical event you like. In their eyes, the government has never truly been the primary antagonist. The government didn’t enforce slavery, they imagine, so much as it allowed slavery to occur. The problem was never that the government did too much, but that it did too little. Mainstream leftism, in the very marrow of its bones, is the ideology of the modern state.
Then again, I may be giving you too much credit. You probably wouldn’t even broach the subject of gun rights with the Obama supporters. You’re not ‘that kind of’ libertarian, after all.
II. My argument that leftism is comparatively statist by nature assumes two relationships – one between egalitarianism and the left and another between non-egalitarianism and the right.
By egalitarianism, I mean the descriptive position. I do not mean a preference for equality of opportunity, especially given that most egalitarians are A-okay with 8-to-1 racist discrimination. On the contrary, I mean someone who is inclined to view unequal results as proof of unequal opportunity.
This association is well-supported. Karl Marx repeatedly predicated his ideas on the notion that humans were blank slates – excepted from the laws of nature via egalitarian fairy dust. For example, he sought to bring about “the disappearance of all culture” and to “abolish countries and nationality”. He promoted the “abolition of the family”, a unit that “will vanish as a matter of course when its complement [capitalism] vanishes”.
These were viable goals to Marx precisely because he saw no innate human predisposition towards favoring one’s own community or family. He even criticized those who would “transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property”.
Conversely, figures from Paul to Burke to Kirk anticipated the action of nature upon human behavior. It is this conclusion’s steady affirmation by modern empiricism that Marxists have built an entire ivory tower of pseudo-philosophical ‘anti-scientism’ to escape. Moreover, it was vital to the survival of their ideology that they do so.
There is a reason Murray Rothbard described egalitarians as “spoiled children”, “profoundly anti-human” and “profoundly evil” creatures who have “a fair chance of destroying the very universe that they wish to deny and transcend”. Egalitarianism, necessarily, justifies the violence of the state.
Suppose that a maximally libertarian society has been achieved. Because humans, contra Marx, are not magical blank slates, people will continue to produce different results in different areas. Women, at least by way of getting pregnant more often than men, will continue to spend comparatively less time working and consequently tend to earn less than men in the same jobs.
To anyone who subscribes to something like the Kirkian principles of imperfectability and variety, all is well. To an egalitarian, however, the varying per capita incomes of men and women constitute prima facie evidence that women are being robbed or defrauded via an insidious patriarchy. An egalitarian who compensated women using a system of corrective redistribution would therefore simply be defending women from theft. If egalitarianism is true, in fact, it would be un-libertarian not to continually take this money back from the hegemonic thiefmen – creating a de facto state.
From pogrom era anti-Semitism to progressive taxation, Westerners have cloaked violence in virtue by assuming that anyone who is better at something than someone else must have cheated somehow. By casting government violence as defensive rather than offensive, egalitarianism serves as the best possible moral justification for statism.
When egalitarianism is dismantled, the state’s veil of legitimacy is removed and it can clearly be seen as simply initiating force against innocent people. It’s for this reason that I believe conservatives are, in the generality, far more amiable to liberty – even in areas where we might expect more success with liberals.
You don’t need to go back to the Old Right to find a tradition of right-wing non-interventionism. Revisit 2000’s Bush-Gore debate and you’ll clearly see a Democratic Party that wanted to police the world more and a Republican Party that wanted to police it less.
Like many libertarians, I didn’t watch this debate when it aired because I was 10. Instead, I was given a warped education in foreign policy by the post-9/11 triumph of Cheney-style neoconservatism. Having come into politics under the Bush Shadow, my generation has, perhaps, a more skewed understanding of the left-right spectrum than any other in American history.
Young libertarians expect to connect with the left on foreign policy because Bush is still blocking our view. We don’t stop to ask ourselves why the Bush-era anti-war movement totally vanished after an even more interventionist president came to power.
I propose that the anti-war left we think we remember never really existed. It was populated largely by people who imagined that Bush was Reagan Come Again and posed a threat to their redistributive programs. Moreover, if you think hard, you’ll recall that alongside criticisms of the Iraq war as oil-driven, one could often find creepy implications that countries other than Iraq much more urgently needed to be invaded.
Sure enough, as conservatives show signs of returning to non-interventionism, the left has returned to its more overt internationalism. Even at the height of American support for the Iraq War, I don’t imagine that many College Republicans were chalking “Hussein 2003” around campus. Yet, at my university, “Kony 2012” chalking abounded after a viral internet video harkened back to a certain English poem.
C.S. Lewis’ observation that “It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies” is here especially relevant. Even the most bloodthirsty right-winger will be satisfied when all potential threats to their nation have been eliminated. The bloodlust of the New Left, however, will only be satisfied when there are no more Joseph Konys – in other words, never.
Leftist warmongering is infinitely more dangerous because it immutably denies the very “structure of reality”. Its passion can never be reasoned with and its violence never exhausted. Unlike Cheneyite jingoism, its goal cannot, in even the remotest of possibilities, be attained while free human beings still live on the Earth.
I received some enlightening feedback when, in 2011, I argued in my school paper that prostitution should be decriminalized. I wrote:
In 2005, a Yale behavioral scientist trained a group of capuchin monkeys to use money. To receive food, monkeys had to turn in coins that visionary Keith Chen provided them. Trading in more coins meant getting more food.
It wasn’t long before Chen observed male capuchins paying females for sex. It got so bad that Chen had to separate the monkeys. “It wouldn’t reflect well on anyone if the money turned the lab into a brothel”, said a 2005 New York Times article on Chen’s research.
Even among monkeys, trading sex for resources doesn’t seem to be a novel idea. In 2008, Animal Behavior published a paper called “Payment for Sex in a Macaque Mating Market”. It showed that, in the world of Indonesia’s wild monkeys, the going rate for paid sex increases when the number of available females declines.
Prostitution cannot be blamed on our media or culture; it is older than either. Prostitution is natural. It is an inevitable consequence of our ability to fulfill basic needs through negotiation.
When I argue that a particular behavior is natural, people often spuriously assume that I’m offering a moral defense of the behavior. On the contrary, it’s simply more prudent to recognize that a behavior is likely to occur than idealistically insist it be made to disappear.
As far as academic institutions go, mine is reasonably conservative. Most of the opposition my column received, however, came from self-styled feminists. They asserted that, whatever my monkey studies might indicate, no human woman could possibly wish to be a prostitute. That some women are prostitutes, then, is proof that they’ve been forced into the profession and require the salvation of legislation.
My critics used an egalitarian assumption of sameness to justify government imposition of a personal choice. To them, criminalizing prostitution is not the offensive action that libertarians suppose it to be, but a defensive reaction to artificial inequality.
Notably, I did receive one email from a concerned Christian. He proposed that legalizing prostitution would weaken the family. I replied with something to the effect of “Are you suggesting that, if prostitution became legal, good husbands and fathers would patronize prostitutes? That good wives and mothers would become prostitutes? Anyone that would engage in prostitution, were it legal tomorrow, is not of good moral character today”. He conceded that I’d raised a good point and we went on to have a pleasant exchange.
This latter respondent, like myself, subscribed to the principles of variety and imperfectability – and they ultimately worked to undermine his social authoritarianism. Conversely, the opposite principles – sameness and perfectibility – supported the social authoritarianism of my feminist critics.
Moreover, even where liberty and the left are potential allies on paper, they are enemies in practice. To a libertarian it is certainly a condemnable injustice that gay couples, for example, are often subject to a different tax code and can be prevented from visiting one another in the hospital.
The politically correct left, however, does not particularly concern itself with these areas. Instead, it leaps straight to expelling businesses and prosecuting people over personal opinions.
On those issues where it could comfortably advance liberty, the left soon regresses into its authoritarian comfort zone. It is a machine that simply lacks the hardware to increase freedom.
Since 2003, there have been no laws against sodomy in the United States. In 2013, however, it’s illegal to say “sodomite” in Canada.
In any search for potential libertarians, the right to own a weapon should be a central focus. The maintenance of any other freedom imaginable, after all, is entirely contingent on the right to defend it. It’s difficult to start a business, for instance, if you’re dead.
Consequently gun rights, more than any other single issue, are a good general indicator of one’s inclination towards liberty.
After the Aurora massacre, the repulsively archetypal Jason Alexander opined “a crowd of people firing away in a chaotic arena without training or planning – I tend to think that scenario could produce even more victims”.
Alexander felt, apparently, that it’s better to let a massacre of children run its course unopposed than risk “making things worse” by allowing an action with the potential to stem the slaughter. I find it difficult to imagine a more thoroughly evil or less libertarian position.
Likewise, Democratic State Senator Evie Hudak recently told a rape victim “chances are that if you had had a gun, then he would have been able to get that from you and possibly use it against you”.
Whenever I hear some libertarian suggest that leftists are our natural allies “on social issues”, I think of comments like these. It doesn’t matter one iota if gays have the right to marry if they don’t have the right to live. It doesn’t matter if a woman has the right to make decisions about her body if she has no ability to decide who has access to it.
Gun rights may be the only issue on which Republicans are consistently better than Democrats, but it’s the most fundamentally important issue there is.
Allie Young – who was wounded in the Aurora shooting and survived – was one of my residents at KSU while I worked as an RA. In a recent interview, Young said “I don’t think gun laws would help… I got my concealed license a month after everything happened to me. I’m very strongly convinced that people kill people, not guns”.
Government is not the best answer, Young seemed to think, when people are the problem.
On the other hand, if people are never the problem, government invariably becomes the solution.