Liberty for all

December 24, 2009

“When I am old, I shall write criticism; that will console me, for I often choke with suppressed opinions.”

Gustave Flaubert in a letter to Georges Sand

I feel compelled to unburden myself on the topic of libertarianism.  There are all sorts of people who describe themselves as libertarians, and it’s hard to make sense of the mix.

  • You have gun-obsessed Rambo-wannabees like the guy who created the picture here (Click on it to visit his blog if you have a robust tolerance for the way out!).
  • There are folks like Clint Eastwood who once remarked, “My political philosophy is simple.  Everybody should leave everyone else alone.”  Yep, good one, Clint.  That’s a real roadmap for governing a modern industrial state of 300 million.
  • There are those inpsired by the crackpot intellectual, Ayn Rand, who at least must be granted the credit for inventing a new literary genre, the philosophical soap opera.
  • And then there are thoughtful people, like a fellow I work with, who are quite reasonable but seem to revel in the libertarian cachet of ornery contrarian thinking.

I often find myself in agreement with specific critiques of libertarians, whether they are left-libertarian nearly-anarchists or right-libertarian, free market ideologues.  In fact, many of the respectable, i.e., rational and scientific, critics of the global warming point of view (AGW) are, in fact, libertarians.  But, in the end, I find it to be a bizarre and utopian political philosophy that is in full denial of the facts of human history.  As a point of view that influences the political choices you make, yes, I can see that, but anything more…?  Closer to wacko.

For libertarians of all stripes, the state, um…I mean, THE STATE, is the greatest evil.  The state, and “collectivist” actions that seek to improve life, or enslave others.  I’m all against enslavement, but I rather like improving life, even if the agent is the evil state.  Libertarians would say that’s a Faustian bargain, bound to end in the Gulag or the death camps.

Why The State?  Why not money?  Isn’t that the root of all evil?  Or…language?  Without language, no state, no money!  It’s a rather simplistic point of view.  Are they realistic in their expectations of what would succeed the present situation of vigorous state activity?  Do they care?  Do they want to revert to pre-industrial, geographically isolated “eco-regions?”  I dunno…

Sure, some state solutions fail.  Bureaucracies are cumbersome and can mutate into strange things that frustrate the very improvements they were created to bring about.  What else is new in this, the fallen state of mankind?

As a practical political philosophy, liberatarianism is hokum.  People advocating it are either naive or dishonest.  Naive if they believe that a general attempt to apply libertarian principles would result in anything other than the most powerful economic and political forces capturing the state and bending it towards their own ends, which is what they are always trying to do; or dishonest because they are part of those forces and they see libertarianism as a nifty way to pursue that goal under cover.  Mostly the former, I think, because corporate and political power has captured so much of state power today, that libertarianism is probably more of an annoyance than a help.


“A dagger at my heart…”

August 21, 2008

Once again (see this post) I return to the story of mass arrests in NYC – peaceful protesters, or people not even demonstrating, hauled into the precinct station, some of whom were held for days.  Only two people tried – acquitted of course – in proceedings that surely must have been absurd to witness given the evidence available that totally undermined all of NYPD’s claims. Everyone else released, no charges.  Why were they arrested?  HYSTERIA!

The New York Times has been following, and sometimes editorializing about the process by which the lawsuits against the city are being settled.  Today, it describes how at great cost in legal fees and staff time, after much stalling and stonewalling, the city is paying out millions of dollars to settle claims related to its violation of civil rights.  Of course, the NYPD admits no wrong doing – state organs never do.

The article quotes the fellow shown in the picture above:

Then they started arresting us, one by one. At that point, I got emotional — I could not believe in my country, in my city, I could get arrested for doing absolutely nothing and standing on the sidewalk,” Mr. Shirazi added.

Are there any lessons from the day? The Law Department said the $2 million payout did not mean the police had done anything wrong. “This settlement was reached without any admission of liability on behalf of the city and the individual defendants,” said Ms. Halatyn, the city lawyer.

The Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

Mr. Shirazi said that as he was being handcuffed for the first time in his life, he told the officer that the plastic cuffs were squeezing him. “He said, ‘You should have thought about that before you came out this morning.’ It was like a dagger in my heart, that a police officer of my city would come up with anything like that.”

In what does patriotism and love of country consist?  Following orders motivated by unthinking fear or hallowing and practicing the ideas that gave it rise in the first place?


His Master’s Voice

May 24, 2008

Very nearly at the end of Grossman’s monumental novel, Life and Fate, the main character, Victor, a Jewish physicist gets a phone call.

He is a brilliant scientist, but a little too free with his thoughts and his talk. He has said things, made jokes, even about Stalin!, that a more circumspect academic would have avoided. His thoughts, well…he knows what was done to the kulaks, he knows the vast, murderous injustices of the Great Terror of 1937, he doesn’t believe in those sham trials of the old Bolsheviks…NO! But for the most part, he’s been careful, and there’s his work to keep him busy during the war.

His makes a breakthrough in his study of the properties of the atom. People are ecstatic, they hail him as a great successor to the quantum pioneers! But there is that matter of nationality…Rumors grow. Some people make criticisms of his work – too Idealistic, not properly Leninist/Marxist/Materialistic. Influenced by foreign elements. And his stated belief that physics knows no party? How can a true communist say such a thing?

He is denounced at a meeting that he refuses to attend. He will loose his position. He grows depressed as he sits at home, waiting for the knock on the door of the men who will take him away in a Black Maria to the Lubyanka, the interrogration hell of the secret police organs. After all, the former husband of his sister-in-law , a fanatical Bolshevik from the early revolution was just hauled in. Hadn’t Trotsky, long ago, praised an article he had written? He philosophizes, contemplates love – he wants them to come for him so it will at least be over!

Ah, but Grossman has other things up his sleeve as he dissects and portrays the ways the State can crush all life out of a man, and not just by killing him.

Victor gets a call from Stalin. Just a brief hello. “Your work is on a very interesting topic. I hope you have the resources you need.” The world has turned completely. From being about to topple into the abyss of the Gulag, Victor is now a privileged genius to be pampered, feted, trusted, and consulted. Why? The State has realized the importance of nuclear physics for its own ends – nothing to do with pure research. Russian scientists and policy makers are aware of the possibility of a nuclear bomb. They have their plans.

Victor need tell no one. Everyone knows of his call soon enough. They smile now, instead of looking away. They hug him, congratulate him, when before they denounced him. But there’s more…

Victor starts to get used to his new life, his freedom to work, the fast cars taking him to important meetings where everyone works cooperatively. The respect of his peers and superiors, not to mention his subordinates. Yes, he still knows what went on with the Ukraine famine, the forced collectivization, the disasterous fiasco of Stalin’s stupor when the Nazi’s invaded. He knows all that, but he is proud, elevated, to have been singled out by the great leader. He doesn’t think about those things so much…

All because he heard his master’s voice…


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