Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, August 22nd, 2014.


No, Ferguson Is Not a Libertarian Moment

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conservatism, Libertarians

Libertarians are a hopeful crew, always looking eagerly for their moment that never comes. Now Nick Gillespie in The Daily Beast argues that the outrage at police brutality in Ferguson is a “libertarian moment” because libertarians have been warning us about the evils of police militarization and overreach, largely as part of the war on drugs.

And that’s true; a number of libertarians have been bringing up this issue for awhile. This is also a liberal issue, but one could argue liberals have been less vocal about it, possibly because we identify other issues (such as racism) as taking up more of our attention. But this brings me to the first reason Ferguson is not a libertarian moment — libertarians have no response to racism. And it’s undeniable that racism is at the rotten core of what happened in Ferguson. Libertarians like to pretend racism doesn’t happen, or if they acknowledge it, they do so only in passing (see Rand Paul). And then the next week they’ll turn around and say they don’t support civil rights laws, because big government.

And I feel compelled to acknowledge that many pure libertarians do not acknowledge Paul to be one of them, but as I have said elsewhere, pure libertarians are elusive critters who are seldom spotted, and even then as soon as they open their mouths and take any real-world positions on anything they are found wanting. Pure libertarianism must be like a hot-house orchid that must be kept in isolated and pristine conditions and wilts as soon as you buy it and take it home.

The other reason Ferguson is not a libertarian moment is that it illustrates an important liberal principle that often libertarians deny — sometimes the worst oppression is local, in which case citizens need to look to the federal government for remedy.  And, frankly nothing in Ferguson is likely to change unless the Justice Department gets involved.

Over the past few days spokespeople for libertarianism have argued they do so care about state and local government overreach, too. But I’ve had this argument with self-identified libertarians (although not pure ones, obviously) too many times. Many of them are sincerely more supportive of state’s rights than they are of individual citizens exercising their civil liberties. And it’s too obvious to me that the modern libertarian movement was born during the desegregation and civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, when federal courts and lawmakers and sometimes Presidents forced state and local governments to extend equal rights and protections to African Americans.

That said, Beverly Mann at Angry Bear wrote a great analysis arguing that many of our self-identified libertarians are not libertarians in any but a down-the-rabbit-hole sense. This pseudo libertarianism is “a narrowly prescriptive ideology that adopts extreme economic libertarianism and certain aspects of fascism,” she writes.

It is a curious brand of fascism that is peculiarly American, in that it artificially distinguishes between federal powers and state and local ones. A veritable foundation of this ideology formally or tacitly authorizes the use of state and local government police powers—by police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards–to engage in wholesale violations of American constitutional and international human rights. …

…What most of this crowd actually is is sort of classic-fascist-light, not libertarian. By which I don’t mean that they’re Nazis; Nazism was (and is) only one brand of fascism. I mean fascism more along the lines of the Benito Mussolini or Francisco Franco variety—a pairing of a muscular state police force left to its own (and the dictator’s) devices, and moneyed interests whose support the dictator an his party needed. Modern U.S. neo-federalism, a.k.a. “states’ rights!”–i.e., the right of state and local government officials and employees to violate individual, non-Republican humans’ constitutional rights—is libertarianism only in a George-Orwell-comes-to-Madison-Avenue sense, but it underpins much of Tea Party/Supreme Court libertarianism, if only ostensibly.

Do read the whole thing. But when the organs that claim to speak for libertarianism often are largely sponsored by the Koch brothers, what is one to think? Where in America is this pure and not corporate sponsored libertarianism found, unless you go full la-la and point to the Bundy Ranch militia?

And for years we’ve been dealing with conservatism that isn’t the least bit conservative. Richard Hofstadter’s pseudo conservatives took over American conservatism and drove traditional conservatism out of the movement some time back. And now we’ve got this weird coalition of pseudo conservatives and pseudo libertarians making up the dominant political power in this country. And if this is what we’re calling libertarianism, they’ve been having their moment for quite some time.

But if there are some pure libertarians out there who actually care about real individual freedom and the rights of unarmed black men to walk down a street in their own neighborhood without being killed by police, I sincerely apologize for making fun of you. But do take care if you leave the hot house.

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