The Libertarian Movement = Civilization Imploding?

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.