I suppose I shouldn’t be singling out Ron. I do so only because of his recent reiteration of the item on his bucket list having to do with the abolition of the disaster agency FEMA. But there are other libertarians running amok: his son Rand Paul and Paul Ryan, to name a couple. Apparently the name Ayn never really caught on with the libertarian crowd. Eric Cantor qualifies too, though his name indicates an absent genetic strain of libertarianism, or else his parents were lazy.
Though the Republican Party and conservatism more widely have largely adopted this “philosophy” now, libertarianism long resided well on the fringe of far right economic theorizing, regarded as too bonkers for classical or conservative economists. Though popularized by quasi-respected figures like Milton Friedman and not respected tent evangelists such as Ayn Rand, it only recently became the default economic position for Republican politicians and the Republican rank and file.
According to the selective Republican version, all government is demonic of course except for the parts that subsidize or bail out global corporations, wiretap your phone, or feed the aerospace-defense maw through the ever popular Pentagon. Ron Paul’s version is less impure. While corporation-friendly, the bona fide libertarians don’t think much of defense and military involvement either. With Paul, it is the purism and sweep of his lunacy that endears him to his cult no doubt.
For decades, the Libertarian Party placed candidates for local, state and national office on voter ballots, never managing more than a miniscule fraction of any vote. And there’s a reason: very few Americans prefer the pure and severe libertarian world. It no longer matters, since libertarians concluded that ditching the unpopular Libertarian Party brand name and working within the Republican Party was strategically wise, and they were right. They’ve ingratiated themselves with Republicans, appearing even farther to the right than hard shell Reagan conservatives or establishment conservatives like Dubya. And if the Republican right does a single thing well, it is finding new ways to move itself farther right.
Mr. Paul chose the invasion of Hurricane Irene as his ideal opportunity to reiterate his previous call for the abolition of FEMA, declaiming a “rugged individualism” that never actually existed; and frankly, besting the rest of the Republican field in terms of straightforwardly regressive nostalgia and historical dementia, saying, “We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960.” Not to be overly picky, but he really ought to settle on a single date, since 1900 and 1960 have the occasional dissimilarity. But while garden-variety Republicans insinuate the glories of 19th and 18th century halcyon days that weren’t, Ronnie blurts it out.
Succinctly, it should be remembered that many of our ancestors came here specifically for the free, government-provided parcels of land; and that railroads, agriculture and oil, the fulcrums of our economic growth all were heavily subsidized. Essentially, the rugged individualist myth is pure hooey, then now and forever.
The absolutely monumental asininity and stupendously laughable obliviousness of this religion by another name, are reflected in the assumption and in the assertion that in the era prior to the American safety net and progressive regulation, Americans accepted or even welcomed their sad lot of unnecessary misery and preventable struggle on the basis of principle, embracing draining hardship while living the dream of an abstraction of rugged individualism. Yes, laughable.
Citizens did not eschew the benefits of organized government action to address fundamental and manageable difficulties of life because of ideology, but because the means, technological, organizational and economic did not exist to do otherwise. Industrialism and technology made us affluent, innovations in everything from agriculture to transportation to machinery as the result of industrial and technological advancement providing the wealth upon which governments could draw upon to better people’s lives.
The goal of economies is the meeting of human needs. There is no other reason the economy or even economics matter, except in their relation to the needs of human beings. Neither pure mechanical efficiency nor some fidelity to abstraction or theory is anything but secondary to the overriding human practical component of economics. Libertarianism has one value only: markets, and the utopian belief that all things governmental interfere to the detriment of economic production. No other moral, social, cultural, artistic or human values pertain. And it is the pernicious sterility of this vision that has caused it for so long to be regarded as simply foolish and unpalatable to American voters.
But the worst condemnation of libertarianism is that is unfaithful even to its own stated and advertised principles, which are “liberty” and “free markets.” Proselytizers of this point of view are fazed not in the slightest by the fact that with regulations all verboten, monopolies grossly distort markets in every conceivable way. Today’s libertarians, perhaps taking their cue from Milton Friedman have not a discouraging word to say about global corporations and concentrated wealth that are anathema to the Enlightenment origins of market capitalism, as is concentrated wealth in any form.
You won’t hear a libertarian mention that advertising, as pervasive as matter itself, manipulates consumer choice, manipulating the market away from anything remotely resembling supply and demand. If libertarians cannot even remain faithful to the idea of genuinely free markets, what good are they at all? And in fact, in this day and age, whether it is libertarianism or Republican libertarianism, it is nothing more than a convenient smokescreen for entrenched power, for the whimsicality and priorities of wealth and capital: the diminishing of labor and the value of work.
And while Ron Paul has cultivated the image of a lovable little eccentric, when it comes to civil rights, he is a poisonous little toad. He continues to defend the ideological purity of the resistance to civil rights legislation providing full and equal democratic, social and economic rights to black Americans, resistance based on property rights and states’ rights, a truly demented interpretation of both; and likewise, another smokescreen: this one for segregation and enforced discrimination. Worse, in their benighted theoretical purity, libertarians have a tendency to take the side of the South in the American civil war, favoring the low-tariff South over the protectionist North. This nicely clarifies the libertarian lunacy: free markets and slavery winning in a knockout over emancipation and high tariffs. The liberty portion of libertarian has to be one of the more criminal misnomers in the history of the universe.
Particularly insidious is the view inherited from Ludwig Von Mises and the Austrian School, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism that the wealthy and capitalist producers are a worthier class of human being than all the rest. The poor are derided as morally unworthy and undeserving of more than the meanest existence. With their lavishing of glory on wealth and power, and scorn for the rest, these “philosophies” are no more than feudalism, mercantilism and aristocracy rebranded for “modern” times.
More damning, there’s an ugly history of libertarian involvement with, and affection for dictatorships, more emphatically dispelling the mythology that libertarians love “freedom” and “liberty.” As Michael Lind of Salon has catalogued, this history includes libertarian icon Ludwig Von Mises’ affection for Mussolini (Michele Bachmann recently bragged she was reading Von Mises’s work while on vacation). Here is what Von Mises wrote in 1927:
“It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”
Frederick Von Hayek, another leading light of libertarianism, along with Milton Friedman had pronounced public sweet spots for brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Friedman made laudatory speeches in Chile, while Von Hayek made numerous personal visits to Pinochet himself. Friedman advised the regime, and Margaret Thatcher called Chile a “remarkable success.” Taking away citizens’ rights, jailing them and killing them and enforcing strict authoritarian rule were merely footnotes to these lovers of liberty, as long as business and bankers could do anything they pleased. Still, the Chilean economy crashed and burned in a blaze of libertarian glory in 1982.
Still Pinochet has a lasting legacy at the libertarian CATO Institute, where a member of Pinochet’s cabinet, Jose Piñera is a “distinguished fellow” and co-chairman of its Project on Social Security Choice.
Incidentally, Pinochet’s regime, so beloved by fellow-travelling libertarians, came to power in a military coup and ruled through military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. In 1998 Pinochet was accused of human rights violations by the Chilean government and arrested in London. He later died before he could be tried in Chile for the more than 300 crimes with which he was charged. Investigations revealed embezzlement and deep involvement in the illegal drug and gun trades. During his reign of terror 2,279 people were official murder victims of the Pinochet regime. 30,000 political prisoners were tortured.
Judging by their words, historical interpretations, their endorsements and their affections, if libertarians are really for freedom and liberty, Ron Paul is eight feet tall.