Losing Liberty

There was a time the word liberty actually meant “liberty.” Y’know, as in “the state or condition of people who are able to act and speak freely,” or “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control,” as it says in the dictionary. Between the baggers and the randbots, however, it now seems to refer to maintaining power over others, especially in the sense of being the despot in a despotic state or the privileged class in some feudal system.

For the dim, this new usage of liberty is, of course, a grand bait-and-switch. You might have heard of those guys in Germany several years back who called themselves the “national socialists” even though they hated socialism. Socialism was popular; co-opting the label was a good marketing strategy. Now liberty is the logo being used to package plutocracy, and it has been working pretty well.

Via Annie Laurie, see Homophobia, racism and the Kochs: San Francisco’s tech-libertarian “Reboot” conference is a cesspool by Mark Ames. Reboot is a tech-valley conference sponsored by the Koch boys, and Ames finds it remarkable that one of the keynote speakers is Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Since coming to Congress, she co-sponsored a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, voted against bills that would protect the LGBT community from hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace, against the equal pay bill for women, against federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and she opposes legal abortions in the case of rape or incest (unless the mother’s life is in danger). The Pensacola Christian College grad did, however, co-author a bill “recognizing Christianity’s importance to Western civilization.”

By the old definition of the word, nothing at all in Rodgers’s background says “liberty.” Liberty, to the American founding fathers, was about empowering people to throw off the shackles of despotism, which is “a system of government in which a ruler has unlimited power.” Liberty in the Koch boy’s world, however, is the concentration of power in some dominant class, so that it freely may exploit everything and everyone else for its own enrichment.

Ames, for example, found some pretty nasty things lurking in old back issues of Reason:

And then there’s the uglier, darker side of the Kochs’ libertarianism on display in Reason’s archives: the fringe-right racism and fascism that the movement has tried to downplay in recent years to appeal to progressives and non-loonie techies. Throughout its first two decades, in the 1970s and 1980s, Reason supported apartheid South Africa, and attacked anti-apartheid protesters and sanctions right up to Nelson Mandela’s release, when they finally dropped it.

In May 1976, just before the Soweto Uprising when South African police slaughtered hundreds of black youths — Reason’s South African correspondent, Marc Swanepoel repeated a common theme in Reason’s pages: libertarianism and the white race are one and the same:

“Let the people who advocate immediate majority rule in South Africa and Rhodesia take note. It would be very nice to have a minimal libertarian government and that is what South African libertarians would like to achieve. But as long as the choice is between being governed by a relatively informed white minority and a Socialist black majority, ‘apartheid’ in South Africa will stay.”

Throughout the 1970s, Reason’s pages dripped with racist justifications for apartheid, on the racial-economic theory that whites stood for free market libertarianism and individual liberty, while blacks were genetically predisposed towards socialism and looting. Therefore, libertarians could not support majority rule, which was merely a trick to destroy libertarianism.

To be fair, it should be noted that many of the commenters accuse Ames of cherry picking and misrepresenting Reason. However …

There are different threads of libertarianism, of course. The Koch boys are mostly updated McKinley-era Gilded Agers. I’ve said before that Ron/Rand Paul libertarianism, or what might be thought of as the populist wing of the movement, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. President Eisenhower’s sending of troops to enforce a school desegregation order pulled all kinds of triggers in people who were not just racists and segregationists. These were people who had grown up listening to Grandpappy expound Gone-with-the-Wind revisionist history of Reconstruction, when Ulysses S. Grant sent troops (including colored regisments!) into the South to force white people to eat radishes (out of the gardens they still owned) or starve. The hardened attitude that “government oppression” is something only the federal government can do, while rooted in old “states’ rights” theory, lives and breathes today mostly because of the post-Brown v. Board of Ed period. This I have seen myself.

And then there’s this (emphasis added):

For Reason’s libertarians and pro-apartheid whites, this was the great tragedy that loomed: the loss of their free-market paradise, their “liberty,” to black majority rule. Majority rule and socialism were one and the same; for Reason, apartheid was the only thing safeguarding “liberty.” The logic was insane; but it was accepted as a matter of faith in the pages of Reason.

It’s important to never forget that libertarianism is, ultimately, anti-democratic and opposed to representative government, which some of us think of as the foundation of liberty. As Erik Kain wrote awhile back:

I don’t want to live in Libertopia. And while libertarians may say they don’t want to live in my welfare state either, at least I can say “Then go vote against it.” In Libertopia no such option would exist. That doesn’t smell like freedom to me.

The Ames article is a Part I, and the Part II promises to be more about whether Koch-style libertarianism and Silicon Valley libertarianism really are that close of a match.

But while I’m on the subject …

I’m sure I complained about it at the time, but one of the most surreal things I ever found in Reason was a 2010 article titled The Truth About Tibetan Buddhism. If one did not know the real truth about Tibetan Buddhism one might think the author, Brendan O’Neill, had a point. Basically, O’Neill went to Lhasa and noted that Tibetans there didn’t seem happy, and assume this was because of Buddhism, not Chinese oppression.

He recounted an interview with a monk without noting that the monk would have been supplied by the local Communist Party. The interview couldn’t have happened otherwise. Indeed, any monk who was not a good Party member was rounded up and shipped out of Lhasa back in 2008. The monk repeats standard Chinese Communist Party revisionism about the role of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism, which O’Neill accepts at face value.

He describes the temples in Lhasa as “golden Buddhas surrounded by wads of cash,” without mentioning that the these days the temples essentially are run by the Party as tourist attractions, and the monks are employees who run the temples under Party direction and live on stipends from the Party. (For the real truth about Tibetan Buddhism, see “The Disneyfication of Tibet” by Pearl Sydenstricker.)

For something like this to be in the allegedly anti-Communist Reason is, as I said, surreal. What’s actually going on in Tibet is big-government oppression on steroids, yet the words “China” or “Communist” did not appear in the piece at all. If Tibetans are being oppressed, it is only Buddhism oppressing them, O’Neill says.

Granted, O’Neill is a professional troll who writes really stupid things. But Reason published this. Reason allowed itself to be a conduit of Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Is this because they are so insulated from real oppression they no longer recognize it? Or is it because in their hierarchy of causes, weird Asian religions are worse than a totalitarian government that has been pretty good at making money in recent years, after all …