The Libertarian Movement = Civilization Imploding?

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Obama Administration

This article on a libertarian “festival” — I’m not sure what else to call it — in New Hampshire is more amusing than alarming. But there are some alarming things in it.

Once a year for the past 11 years, this campground in the northern part of the Granite State turns into a libertarian utopia. And this year, roughly 2,000 people — mostly white men — have paid between $45 and $100 to experience for one week what life would be like without the onerous mechanisms of laws, if the market ruled to the exclusion of all else. Want to wear a loincloth and sell moonshine, shop at an unregulated market that accepts Bitcoin and silver, or listen to a seminar called “How the Collapse of the State is Inevitable”? Then this is the place for you….

… The ideological motivations, which Free Staters discuss over homemade mead and beers, are relatively easy to understand. The U.S. government suffers from low approval ratings, we have been fighting wars for years without a satisfying result in sight, and privacy is slipping away. Why not just dissolve it all — or most of it— and live as individuals? In other words, live like the porcupine: Let your lifestyle not encroach on others, but if someone comes at you, don’t hesitate to protect yourself with quills. Or your AR-15.

It strikes me that only people who take the comforts and blessings of civilization utterly for granted would think this way. It’s not surprising this crew is mostly white. One suspects if they ever got their wish to live like this all the time, most of them wouldn’t last a year. Perhaps literally.

Although there were some women present, this explains why the group is mostly male:

A tractor rumbles by, spilling brown sludge out of a bucket.

“It’s okay, it’s Agora Valley, it should be covered in sewage,” says an onlooker eating breakfast across from an outdoor tattooing station. “It’s unregulated and we have no infrastructure.”

It had been raining, so the sludge mixed well into the muddy path; the smell blended with the heady fumes of armpits, pot, and brewing beer.

I’m a resourceful person and can manage without many things, but I require plumbing. And soap. This is not negotiable. Seriously, I could see 19th century scourges like cholera and typhoid making a comeback if these guys were in charge.

Human communities have functioned with gender-based divisions of labor from the beginning of recorded history. Not all societies have divided labor exactly the same way, but usually it has been men who built the infrastructure and made the regulations. In most of human history idealized views of manhood have been associated with building and creating civilization at least as much as with war.

I assume many of the guys in New Hampshire were influenced by Ayn Rand. Weirdly, while Rand appeared to appreciate building and creating (e.g., The Fountainhead), she didn’t appear to appreciate civilization or notice that creativity and building have no value or purpose outside of civilization.

And now a collection of white guys in New Hampshire would happily let civilization rot rather than be saddled with the obligation to take care of it, and they aren’t ashamed to say so. I suspect their great-grandfathers would be mortified.

Speaking of civilization rotting, Paul Krugman notes that the “we won’t build that” syndrome is not limited to libertarians.

The federal highway trust fund, which pays for a large part of American road construction and maintenance, is almost exhausted. Unless Congress agrees to top up the fund somehow, road work all across the country will have to be scaled back just a few weeks from now. If this were to happen, it would quickly cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs, which might derail the employment recovery that finally seems to be gaining steam. And it would also reduce long-run economic potential. …

…What’s useful about the looming highway crisis is that it illustrates just how self-destructive that political choice has become. It’s one thing to block green investment, or high-speed rail, or even school construction. I’m for such things, but many on the right aren’t. But everyone from progressive think tanks to the United States Chamber of Commerce thinks we need good roads. Yet the combination of anti-tax ideology and deficit hysteria (itself mostly whipped up in an attempt to bully President Obama into spending cuts) means that we’re letting our highways, and our future, erode away.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the quality of U.S. public infrastructure a D+. This isn’t about just roads. It’s waste treatment; it’s drinking water; it’s the electrical grid and ports and air traffic and levees. And it’s roads, bridges and tunnels. We’ve been letting it all rot for years because “fiscal conservatism” doesn’t want to spend money because fiscal conservatives don’t want to raise taxes. They’re just as short-sighted and selfish as the crew in New Hampshire, although they are still using plumbing.

And someday, when they turn the designer faucets in their McMansions and brown sludge comes out, no doubt they will blame liberals.

There’s a Taoist idea that everything carries within it the seeds of its own demise. Many civilizations have died because they outgrew their food supply or because population density encouraged infectious disease (like cholera and typhoid). We’ve learned how to get around those limitations now, so there’s no reason to assume that civilization, and quality of life, are not infinitely improvable. But we may be bumping into the ultimate limits on what humankind can achieve — selfishness and stupidity.

A side note: The word husband comes from an Old Norse word that meant “male householder.” It shares an ancestral root word with house, in fact. In verb form, that word referred to managing or stewardship, a meaning retained in husbandry. For the record, wife also has Old Norse/Germanic roots but originally just meant “woman.”

Until relatively recently, western culture generally valued the male role of husband. To be a husband was an honorable thing; something to aspire to. At some point in the 20th century that changed. In popular culture now the word husband has a faint connotation of drudgery, or of being chained to onerous obligations.

The rise of the He-Man Woman Hater subculture, the libertarian Randbot subculture, and “movement conservatism” all do seem to be interrelated, largely driven by men, and tied to an erosion of the value of building and stewardship that used to be connected to cultural definitions of “manhood.” Not that I have any idea how to turn that around; I’m just saying there’s a common thread there somewhere.

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21 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Lynne  •  Jul 5, 2014 @10:15 am

    I shared this on Facebook. I hope it is read and thought about.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 5, 2014 @10:21 am

    “One suspects if they ever got their wish to live like this all the time, most of them wouldn’t last a year. Perhaps literally.”

    A year?
    Hunkered down in their little man-caves, these assclowns wouldn’t last a week because no one would want to listen to them whine from their own man-caves.
    ‘I have a mouth, and must whine – but there’s no one gonna listen to me!”

    And we’re worried about an Ebola contagion?
    Hell, the “TEH STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPID” virus is on the loose, across the whole land!!!

  3. Dolorous Stroke  •  Jul 5, 2014 @11:18 am

    Planet Money did a story on this festival a few years ago.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/07/05/137534361/breakfast-at-libertarian-summer-camp

  4. maha  •  Jul 5, 2014 @12:36 pm

    Dolorous — the comments to the story are a hoot.

  5. Stephen Stralka  •  Jul 5, 2014 @2:03 pm

    I’ve never read Ayn Rand, other than glancing through Anthem once at the library. It struck me as odd at that moment that Paul Ryan is a fan of both Ayn Rand and the Green Bay Packers. Anthem is about this collectivist dystopia where people don’t even have names anymore, just numbers. So I imagined Paul Ryan reading Anthem and then turning on the TV and watching a bunch of men running around in matching helmets and jerseys with numbers on them.

  6. Stephen Stralka  •  Jul 5, 2014 @2:11 pm

    Among other things, too, the whole thing is an insult to the memory of Franklin Roosevelt.

    Well, and Theodore Roosevelt too, for that matter. And Abraham Lincoln. And George Washington. One problem with libertarianism is that you basically have to rewrite history in order to overcome its consistent failure to support your arguments. So the Civil War was unnecessary, because the slavemasters would have freed the slaves in good time if Lincoln hadn’t been so tyrannical, and of course FDR made the Depression worse.

  7. goatherd  •  Jul 5, 2014 @3:07 pm

    I ran across this blog and this series on Hayek. Just the first few paragraphs illustrate personality traits similar to what Stephen wrote about above.

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/01/philip-pilkington-the-origins-of-neoliberalism-part-i-hayeks-delusion.html

    I have read bits and pieces of “Atlas Shrugged.” It was insufferable. The characters were cardboard cutouts who seemed to exemplify certain attributes without the suspicion of complexity or humanity. It reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ “The Allegory of Love.” He wrote about how the complex psychologically illuminating mythology of the Greeks was gradually diluted and carried forward as allegory. The sophistication and insight were chucked away and characters came to represent “virtue” and “faith.” For some this is preferable because it is so literal. Some people just don’t metaphor or nuance. It doesn’t make sense to them.

    To paraphrase a famous question, If, given the choice between attending a libertarian “festival” or having couple of root canals, which one of us would not shudder and choose the root canals?”

  8. Stephen Stralka  •  Jul 5, 2014 @4:38 pm

    Ah, now I have read The Road to Serfdom, and Pilkington’s summary is correct:

    Hayek thought that all totalitarianisms had their origins in forms of economic planning. Economic planning was the cause of totalitarianism for Hayek, rather than the being just a feature of it.

    Just note the total ignorance of the United States here. Roosevelt was intervening in the US economy at the same time that the Nazis were intervening in the German economy. And yet not only did he not become Hitler, he played a major role in destroying Hitler.

  9. Mike G  •  Jul 5, 2014 @5:13 pm

    Hayek thought that all totalitarianisms had their origins in forms of economic planning.

    Hayek was writing in the late 1940s in the turmoil-filled aftermath of WW2, so perhaps he can be forgiven for a lack of prescience — the same cannot be said for the ideologues who still obsessively quote his work today, ever so sure that any minute now food safety regulations and automobile emission controls will spawn death camps.

    Half a century of extensive economic planning in the social democracies of Western Europe (and less extensively in North America) has failed to result in anything resembling totalitarianism.

  10. maha  •  Jul 5, 2014 @7:19 pm

    Half a century of extensive economic planning in the social democracies of Western Europe (and less extensively in North America) has failed to result in anything resembling totalitarianism.

    The Randbots have defined down totalitarianism. The old definition was “a political system in which the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life.” The new definition is “they make you pay taxes and get health insurance & you have to fill out forms to buy a gun, except at gun shows.” See? Just like the Nazis!

  11. Porlock Junior  •  Jul 6, 2014 @1:02 am

    Libertarian jerks and candidates for Objectivist Jerky.

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/09/26/tax-frenzies-and-how-to-hose-them-down

  12. paradoctor  •  Jul 6, 2014 @3:40 am

    That festival sounds like it rocked. And they do have some rules, which stick. But brown sludge? Ew. The Dirty Hippies also thought bad sanitation was a way to defy the Man. The rest of us pinched our noses at that, and at the thinking that lead up to that. Is it time now to start talking about Dirty Libertarians?

  13. BlueLoom  •  Jul 6, 2014 @8:14 am

    @Stephen Stralka–

    What’s even funnier is that the Green Bay Packers are an, um, socialist team:

    ” The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.”

    WikiP

  14. goatherd  •  Jul 6, 2014 @8:26 am

    “The Randbots have defined down totalitarianism.”

    Boy, they sure have. I think some of them have incorporated the Hayek/Austrian School line so deeply in their worldview and identities, that some of the niceties that the rest of us associate with civilization, have become synonymous with totalitarianism and oppression, without any intervening process. At least, that’s how they act. For the moment, I am grateful that I am not a psychologist. A bit more knowledge of the psychology of this pattern of thought might be too disturbing.

    And now for some unrelated paragraphs:

    I may be wrong, but I think “The Road to Serfdom” was first written and published to be serialized in Reader’s Digest. That’s certainly a strong recommendation. “Brevity is …wit.” don’t you know.

    Adam Curtis did a documentary series called “The Mayfair Set” about the economic planners and policy of the Thatcher administration. They were more into the Chicago School, specifically Milton Friedman and of course Pinchet’s Chile was supposed to provide a showcase for Friedman’s theories. I guess some of the resistors who were thrown out of helicopters into hark infested waters might not have seen themselves as “Free to Choose.”

    In either case the theories didn’t live up to the real world, but, that’s not a problem for the stalwarts, is it?

  15. inwitinthemidwest  •  Jul 6, 2014 @9:20 am

    Those NH LibCamp guys need to learn to knit.

  16. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 6, 2014 @9:30 am

    Too bad Hobby Lobby won’t be able to sell then any knitting needles.

    They’ve just discovered that they could be used as abortifacient’s.

  17. Buckyblue  •  Jul 6, 2014 @9:47 am

    BlueLoom: you beat me to it. Also, too, the GBP can only stay in GB because of revenue sharing. You know, where everyone gets an equal slice of the TV pie, regardless of the win/loss record. You know, socialism.
    The comments on Libertarian summer camp are pretty awesome, and not in The Corner kind of awesome. My fav, comparing libertarian camp to the Renaissance Faire where everyone dresses up and acts like all the nasty crap didn’t actually exist. A fairy tale, where people get to pretend that life w/out indoor plumbing is freedom.

  18. goatherd  •  Jul 6, 2014 @10:17 am

    I guess growing up in an era where government policy, particularly progressive policy, seemed able to win approval and to successfully address some of our shortcomings as a society was one of the things that shifted my politics to the left. The experience of the Great Society programs and living after The New Deal, gave me the belief that governmental policy was the best tool to make our country stronger and more equitable. Beyond that, whatever government can do, it should do. These beliefs are sufficient to label me a “fascist” among the libertarian brethren.

    As political discourse seems to have become impossible in our current circumstances and our government is dysfunctional at best, I get very envious of other countries who, despite considerable political rancor, seem able to maintain the integrity of their society. This shows in the public spaces. Where we have antigovernment loons, grazing their cattle on public land without paying for the privilege others wanting to decimate the National Parks System and so forth, other countries have a sense of unity despite differences. How many armed guards would be necessary to prevent members of the 2nd Amendment community from acting out, if the building that housed our senate was adjoined by something like this?

    http://www.google.com/search?site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1918&bih=857&q=luxembourg+gardens&oq=luxembourg&gs_l=img.1.2.0l10.1245.4669.0.7932.10.10.0.0.0.0.369.1210.2-2j2.4.0….0…1ac.1.48.img..6.4.1210.0m-btwro0gE#imgdii=_

  19. Lawrence  •  Jul 8, 2014 @12:29 pm

    Libertarians are such fucking delusional fools. The porcupine lifestyle, well you had me going for a minute. Go build a cabin on Walden pond. Go ahead and take a few solar panels with you. You need some electricity to check in on the MRA chat boards. Live off the land. Sounds like a lower carbon footprint than I have, so good on you. And then…”AR-15″. There’s the tell. John Grizzly Adams Galt still needs civilization to be there for when he needs to run out to the store. The libertarian porcupine paradise still has to have a manufacturing, supply, and distribution chain for a specialized, and impossible to make by hand, product like 5.56mm rifle ammunition. (Even with a reloading press you still need bullets, a specific type of powder, and primers. So, no good) It’s nothing more than a sullen kid thinking “You’re not the boss of me.” Assholes.

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