Freedom and Feudalism

Today’s conservative is someone who confuses freedom with feudalism. Or, put another way, he is someone who wears a “liberty or death” T-shirt while marching in support of oligarchy.

Michael Lind points out in “Why Do Conservatives Hate Freedom?” that historically conservatives have always opposed individual liberty and supported authority. Yet today’s conservatives have adopted the conceit that they are the ones who favor “freedom” while liberals — historically, the champions of individual liberty — are cast as quasi-totalitarian “statists.” The meanings of words are turned on their heads.

If you look deeper, though, you see that the iconic imagery and language of the American Revolution represents something profoundly reactionary to today’s conservatives. These icons speak to the mythic origins of American national identity, developed in 19th century textbooks and handed down in popular fiction and Disney movies. That the myths bear only superficial resemblance to what actually happened doesn’t register with them.

American mythos congeals into a kind of tribal identity in the rightie mind. It is this tribal identity that prevents them from seeing anyone who doesn’t look and think like them as “real Americans.” The protection and preservation of the tribe is the beating heart of today’s American right.

To a wingnut, “freedom” doesn’t mean “slavery,” exactly. But it does represent a kind of unquestioning allegiance to the 21st-century version of feudal lords — the Koch Brothers, Christian institutions, corporations and the wealthy generally. These are their tribal elders, after all.

The reactionary Right has not only claimed exclusive rights to patriotic icons like the flag and tri-corner hats; they also have adopted the language of the Left about rights. But “rights” to a rightie are not about standard civil liberties, but about their childish desires  to deny equal rights to “others” who are different from them. So they call for the “right” to discriminate as they see fit.

Righties also favor the rights of institutions and authorities over those of individuals. For example, they champion the “rights” of pharmacists to not fill birth control prescriptions. They want employers to have the right to deny birth control coverage to employees. All in the name of liberty.

This takes us to the libertarian fallacy. Libertarians have been allied with conservatives for decades now. On the surface, this makes no sense. However, modern libertarianism began mostly as a backlash against Brown v. Board of Education and court-imposed school desegregation orders. So, again, it comes back to a “right” to not be compelled to do anything you don’t want to do, including respecting the individual liberties of others.

Libertarianism actually is anti-democratic, because government of the people, by the people, and for the people can become coercive. We, the People, can use government to make coal mine owners install expensive ventilation systems to protect the miners, for example. That’s coercive. Nine times out of ten, libertarians will take the side of ruthless mine owners over miners. After all, if a mine is unsafe, the miners can just quit, right?

So, while libertarians and liberals do converge on some issues — warrant-less surveillance, mass arrests, etc. — any liberal who assumes libertarians care about civil rights is a fool.

Michael Lind writes,

What would America look like, if conservatives had won their battles against American liberty in the last half-century? Formal racial segregation might still exist at the state and local level in the South. In some states, it would be illegal to obtain abortions or even for married couples to use contraception. In much of the United States, gays and lesbians would still be treated as criminals. Government would dictate to Americans with whom and how they can have sex. Unions would have been completely annihilated in the public as well as the private sector. Wages and hours laws would be abolished, so that employers could pay third-world wages to Americans working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, as many did before the New Deal. There would be far more executions and far fewer procedural safeguards to ensure that the lives of innocent Americans are not ended mistakenly by the state.

But to a rightie, that’s what “freedom” looks like.

21 thoughts on “Freedom and Feudalism

  1. Somewhere, Orwell is crying.
    He never meant “1984” to be an instruction manual.

    And the Republicans very own Abraham Lincoln was the worst abuser of peoples rights in history:
    He stepped on the rights of thousands of white citizens from continuing to own millions of black people!

    Great post, maha!
    This needs to be a “must read,” and be shared by everyone who has a spark of intelligence – which immediately eliminates Conservatives.

  2. Ask a conservative what life was like for most people when we ran the country the way they want it to be run, and what life is like for most people in countries that are run the way they want the U.S. to be run, and in my experience they change the subject REALLY fast.

  3. P.S.: While conservatives blithely trot out the term “states’ rights,” I think it was Charlie Pierce who said that, ignoring for the moment the – ahem, troubled history of the term, the question to ask is “The state’s right to do WHAT, exactly?”

    “States’ rights” flows from their lips so easily, but let Eric Holder opine that the federal government has the “right” to do something and – ouch, my eardrums just reflexively popped thinking about the jet-engine-level screeching the righties would come up with.

  4. Nod. This is clever marketing writ large, and it’s one of the things that’s kind of scary.

    I think I mentioned this here – I saw several online articles about pink slime where people would parrot the same talking point: that it’s “treated with ammonia for extra safety”. That’s, well, cunning. Technically, it’s true, like a child fibbing – mom says she “doesn’t think (I) can go” so when I ask dad, I’ll say she didn’t say I *couldn’t* – I just won’t mention she said she didn’t think I could. Yeah, pink slime is treated with ammonia for more (“extra”) safety than the hideous dangers that would be present without such a powerful treatment.

    The trouble is, if a child tells a fib like that, the consequences are dire (at least, in every healthy family I’ve ever known). Here, there are no consequences. If you get caught lying, you can either fade away or even double down, but it doesn’t matter.

    And these things matter. Mine safety matters. Nondiscrimination matters. Hell – global warming matters, and they’re as willing to lie about that as about anything else.

  5. Ever wonder why the Rethugs despise Europe? Because the Gov’ts there actually make an effort to think about their citizens. They are having trouble there right now, but, in general, if I could get work in any EU country I’d be scoring a VISA faster than you could say “bye”.

  6. Tom b,
    Me too.
    And oddly enough, with us starting to resemble Weimar Germany more and more, before the rise of you know who, and without the horrible inflation, I think I’d like to live there, or Austria.
    Somewhere near Munich, Germany, or Salzburg, Austria – the prettiest place I think I’ve ever seen, and birthplace of Mozart, my favorite composer.

  7. Fascinating, Mr. Gulag,
    I’ve never seen that side of you, before. You might enjoy Italian Switzerland better, and just visit those other places. I am descended from German and Austrian stock, so I have reason to say. Having said this, there are many beautiful and admirable things about both Austria and Germany. Just my opinion!

  8. My niece will be in Austria for a month this summer, playing oboe in an orchestra. If I had a job and some money, I’d take a vacation and join her for a week or two. I keep telling her she has to Salzburg, especially with her being a classical musician, studying for her Doctorate.

    I loved Munich when I was there in 1975, while I was still in HS. The restaurants, the Hofbrau House (legally drinking German beer at 17 – YAY!), and the museums were great – and the subways were PRISTINE! It would be fun to go back almost 4 decades later (where DID the time go?).

    Though, Lynne, ANY part of Switzerland, sounds great, too!

  9. I am right behind you guys. If I can sell enough of my stuff, the economy doesn’t tank and some of our retirement savings survives, I am off to ex-patville in a few more years. I have enjoyed our rural life, but once in a while the yearning for the comforts of civilization becomes too great to be ignored. Our culture has become so mind numbingly vacuous, so aggressively superficial that we gulp for sustenance like a suffocating guppy. Fortunately, some Hollywood celebrity has worn an unstylish dress AND gotten a bad tattoo, so I am set for a week or so.

    I haven’t been to Prague yet, some of my friends say, it’s tops, although Czech is a very tough language. Europe would be my first choice, but Costa Rica and Ecuador are supposed to be very affordable. Pre-Eurozone Greece was a lot of fun, but, you know the rest of the story. Has anyone been to Slovenia? It’s beautiful, HS&J to Italy and from what I hear, affordable.

    There is a cool site at I look at it and search for houses a few times a week and have been for years. There are affordable places there, usually country houses. I am used to having space, but, I think I’ll leave the goats here.

    I started selling this year. Our next trip will be to look at some places with the idea of actually living there instead of being tourists.

  10. Hope all you future expats will let us know where you end up. I keep thinking how good, not to mention stimulating, it would be to be surrounded by you all (yes, I picked up that in the South, when I lived there).

  11. The term ‘libertarian’ is a misnomer; really they are ‘propertarians’. Property rights are the only rights that concern them.

  12. Why move to an EU country? Isn’t that like moving from the fire to the frying pan? Move all the way to the nice, cool kitchen counter. There are plenty of great places to live, and in many of them a job is easy to get if you have a BA and you don’t mind teaching English. (I teach Law myself, a nice bit of luck, that.) I can’t speak for everybody, but Thailand works for me.

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