The Moment of Truth — September 4, 2010
Libertarians And Their Sorry State
Welcome to the Moment of Truth, a stairway to another stairway.
I used to fantasize about a talismanic formula that would solve all the world’s problems: a combination of words in an essay, a philosophical locution, a hundredth-monkey style tipping point, or some benevolent cosmic principle that would be revealed by or open itself to an evolved humanity.
Now, however, in the early August of my years, I’m slightly less delusional. While it’s true that there is slightly more matter than antimatter in the universe, on Earth there are slightly more anti-possibilities than possibilities. The thermodynamic metaphor we live within is such that destruction is as easy as exhaling while construction requires work, and life ends with surrender, a final release of breath. And just as there comes a day when an organism exhales one final time, never to inhale again, it seems inevitable that destruction will have the last word on the human condition.
Life is a struggle against destruction. It is a losing struggle, ultimately. No matter how easily or blithely you may overcome your personal obstacles, in the end you will succumb to destruction. There is no magical way out of the system. Not in this world, anyway.
There are many faith systems built around belief in a magic way out. Religions abound with such errors. All totalitarianisms, based as they are on the faith that extermination of a way of thinking or an ethnic or intellectual or esthetic influence—in other words, a purgative purification—will set the world right, are all errors.
We are today living through a multivalent contest of ideologies, and the ones which have come to the fore, unfortunately, are beliefs in purification. In times of fear we revert to immature hopes for salvation. Libertarianism, Evangelical Christianity, White Supremacist Nativist Populism, and Genocidal Islam are today’s four most powerful and therefore most dangerous threats to the continuing project of improving civilization. All four are blunt instruments of a particularly immoral kind of destruction: that which purposely and unnecessarily destroys before destruction is inevitable. And being destructive, their tasks are easier than the task of preserving let alone improving civilization.
They are the four destruction-hasteners.
While Genocidal Islam is waved about as the destruction-hastener we in the West should fear most, lately it’s been directed more at other Muslims than at anyone else. Two bombs set off by Genocidal Islamists killed dozens of Shia Muslims in Pakistan recently. We can only hope this kind of violence will move Muslims to unify against the perpetrators. Maybe Muslim antagonism against the West will lessen as Muslim antagonism to Genocidal Islam increases. Because, let’s face it, with Muslims like the Genocidal Islamists, who needs infidels?
We infidels have our own purificationist destruction-hasteners to worry about. Far worse for the West than any Islamic threat right now are the other three, and they have originated in our midst, from within our societies: Libertarianism, Evangelical Christianity, and White Supremacist Nativist Populism.
The dovetailing of petro-corporatist libertarians with nativist xenophobes and neo-fascist Christians is one of the scariest things I’ve seen happen in this country in my lifetime. A Supreme Court that confuses buying-power, or power-buying, with speech is not a particularly helpful actor in this drama of destruction, either. Set on a stage operated by financial special effects wizards who turn the debt of the masses into magical millions for themselves, and played out before an audience for whom the word “socialism” is a black box of cooties, the drama is a postmodern collage even Tarantino at his most ambitious couldn’t achieve, a screwball slapstick revenge tragedy.
I say these forces dovetail, but one of the three stands out. The cohering and empowering force, philosophically and monetarily, behind the White Supremacists and the Christian purificationists is that of the petro-corporatist libertarians. Monetarily speaking, they are exemplified by two in particular: the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. A recent article in the New Yorker and a name-check by Frank Rich in the New York Times provide a nice survey of the Kochs’ machinations. The Kochs, descended by blood from rightwing enemies of the New Deal, are the notorious founders and funders of the Astroturf populist Tea Party, a Cerberus comprising the Christian, anti-foreign, and laissez-faire capitalist destruction hasteners.
Of course, to tar Libertarians with the same brush as the Kochs are slathered with is not fair. Libertarians are more than just funders of foul ideology and activism, however. Those who can’t provide millions provide instead a simplistic rhetorical tent under which foulness gathers. Such ideological cover is not always provided wittingly. There are many libertarians who sincerely believe they actually have the magic way to utopia.
Whether they know it or not, libertarians are nothing more sophisticated than oligarchists who want to feel cool doing drugs, shooting guns and going to hookers while enabling the destruction of the middle class and turning everyone but themselves into disposable slave laborers. Most of them don’t know what they are, which is what makes the movement so dangerous and vile.
Libertarians aren’t anti-state, they’re just against all laws but those of ownership and accumulation. They don’t seem to understand that, absent public ownership, those who own everything become the state, and a state run by a hierarchy of the wealthy has been tried and failed. If we’re going to fail again, let’s try something new.
Ownership has in many ways already fashioned itself into a muscular arm of the state we know as the United States. Ownership fetishism, aka libertarianism, would like to remove any aspect of the state not involved in facilitating the accumulation of wealth, a project not entirely alien from the goals of those who founded the nation.
Who exactly framed the Constitution? The unemployed? The landless? The poor? The weak? Of course not.
But why would a bunch of wealthy white men design a social contract binding their influence on government to the will of the larger populace? At first, of course, they weren’t that keen on allowing other, if weaker, hands on the levers of power. But every generation of gentry has its ideal image of itself as not merely wealthy and powerful, but justly so. By the time the Framers came of age the political philosophy of statehood had evolved to a specific moment. It had learned that the masses weren’t weak at all and could really get annoying. A need to legitimize the state in the eyes of the populace was a good deal of what “Enlightenment” meant.
Back in the 18th Century the rich decided they were rich because they were willing to open their moral merits to the judgment of the masses. These days the moral justification for wealth has devolved back to a sort of hybrid Calvinist-Nietzschian sentiment that the poor are poor because they suck and the rich are rich because they’re spectacular.
Were capitalist anarchism of the libertarian succeed in yielding its owning-class utopia, its owning-class government, its owning class state, there is no doubt in my mind that it would find itself confronted with the reality that the weight of oligarchy built on the backs of an underfed majority is insupportable, however “natural” may appear the forces by which the arrangement came about. What would happen then? The usual. Should the human species survive such an era of utopia, we would be a long time rebuilding from its destruction.
When it’s not merely a justification for leeching the wealth out from under those outside the oligarchy, libertarianism’s anti-government stance is a talismanic formula akin to magical thinking, no less infantile than the belief that supplicating statues will bring a good harvest.
Libertarians aren’t anarchists. They are royalists. And the era of the divine right of kings has been and gone. Our imagination has escaped that prison. Libertarians, knowingly or unknowingly, wish to return us to that incarceration of the mind.
A real anarchist, of which I am the only one, knows we already live in anarchy, and always have. While the systems we build or which are built around us or over us or against us may put pressure on our actions, it is our individual and collective purposes, the morality of our aims and the care, kindness and intention with which we attempt to execute them that remain in our control, and they are what really matters. No “excellence” or “ambition” or “wealth creation” trumps the fact that cruelty is immoral, nor can any economic logic can make it so.
No religious or racial logic that seeks purification can make it so either.
If allowed free reign, the four destruction hasteners lead to the fifth: feudal warlordism of the kind dominating the libertarian paradise of Somalia.
Life is a struggle, suffering is inevitable, the universe is unjust. Exacerbating these qualities and hastening the onset of their inherent destruction and suffering is simply immoral. You don’t have to be Buddha to know it. Murder, systemic impoverishment, usurping of resources and poisoning of the Earth, incitement to violence, and religious intolerance are immoral.
Government or no government, markets or no markets, churches or none, diversity or homogeneity, any permutation of these can be a tool for bringing civilization into the future. Or it can be a tool to rebuild one of our old prisons.
Of course there are other tools, some yet to be discovered. None of them are likely to be the magic cure for anything.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!