Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When everyone wants freedom.

At times you will find political figures who are willing to fight for freedom. Those, unfortunately, are rare occasions. Few individuals are willing to do this consistently. Most are, at best, sunshine libertarians —those who advocate freedom when it is safe and bright and appealing; when it has the sanction of the majority; when even the mob can applaud the virtues of liberty.

There are some trends that we can discern regarding support for freedom. And I should state that by freedom, I mean the right of the individual to control their own life, liberty and property, restricted only by the equal rights of others. This is classical liberalism, which is not the same thing that the illiberal Left promotes. And by illiberal Left I refer to such people as Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

On the Right we saw figures like Goldwater and Reagan, who were more liberal than not, and certainly more liberal than most on the Right. George Bush and the advocates of the Religious Right were part of the illiberal Right. Liberals want to expand freedom not restrict it. And there are people on both the Right and the Left who wish to do that.

In my view liberals on what is called the Left, and what is called the Right, are inconsistent liberals. They are advocates of freedom sometimes, and advocates of authoritarianism other times. These are liberals who fail to live up to their own principles.

Most politicians, however, lack principles. They are not advocates of great principles at all, just advocates of power, particularly power in their own hands. They are the people who see humanity as a great lump of clay and themselves as the God-chosen sculptors, with the vision and the right necessary to beat that clay into shape. And “beat” is the operative word when political power is wielded.

Most politicians, like most people, are of mixed premises. More importantly, they are people of contradictory premises. Your typical human holds political values that conflict with one another. They neatly compartmentalize these issues so as to avoid the cognitive dissonance that comes from holding conflicting values. In other words, they avoid thinking about how their own politics is a conflicting jumble of values that ultimate undermines the good values that they do hold.

Take the so-called “Tea Bag” meetings as an example. Many of these people, while shouting wildly about freedom, advocate Big Brotherism in the bedroom. They are not advocates of freedom in principle; they are advocates of their freedom, not your freedom.

That most politicians hold conflicting values of freedom is no surprise. In fact, I should not say most, I should say all. I honestly don’t know of one single prominent politician who consistently advocates freedom—not one. Some do so more than others but all apply their principles inconsistently and often, incoherently.

But there are times when most people, and most politicians, are quite libertarian, or quite liberal in the true sense of the word. When are those times? Is there a consistent pattern of activity that allows us to predict when and where someone is more likely to be libertarian? In one word: Yes.

There are two times when we know that someone will take a more libertarian position than usual. (There may be more, but there are two such occasions that I have identified and perhaps others that others would identify that I have not thought of.)

The first is what I called the gored ox issue. When an individual’s ox is the one being gored they are most likely to demand it stops. Individuals who are authors, or who like books, erotica, etc., will demand the end of censorship more than individuals who have no such interests. Farmers want the freedom to farm their land as they see best. Business owners want the right to hire the employees they think best suited for their company.

Everyone wants freedom for himself or herself. That is never the controversy. What they have problem with is freedom for others. So many authors of more erotic material may advocate hate speech regulations because they don’t write such material. Certainly the purveyors of hate typically want censorship of erotic material while demanding the absolute right to prove their own stupidity in public.

The farmer who demands the right to farm his land as he see fits may well advocate protectionist barriers to prevent the farm products of others from entering the country. The business owner who staunchly defends his own freedom of association may be quite willing to restrict your freedom of association.

Consider the misnamed book, The Conscience of a Libertarian, as an example. Author, Wayne Root, a social conservative for sure, has an entire chapter on the dangers of prohibition. Yet the chapter is not about the war on drugs, but about gambling. Mr. Root made his living convincing gamblers that they should purchase his advice—advice that many of them says is no better than average. Root’s salesmen would use high-pressure techniques to convince people to “subscribe” at high fees to Roots advice service.

A side note: I put these handicappers in the same category as many investment newsletters. When someone is making his money selling you advice on how to make money, be suspicious. If their advice were of real value then they would be getting rich, not by selling their advice, but by implementing it themselves.

The second time that we find individuals more actively promoting libertarian principles is when they are out of power. Everyone wants to deny power to his or her opponents but grab power for him or herself. Consider the perfect example of modern conservatives in the form of the Republican Party. Out of power they wail about small government.

When Big Brother Georgie was in power, over the last two terms of office, these Republicans rolled over, dropped their drawers and shouted: “Give it to me Big Boy, give it to me!” Unfortunately for us, when they got screwed, so did we. At no point did the Republicans find the guts to stand up for a single one of those “limited government” principles that they claimed to support.

The moment George Bush was consigned to the trash heap of history, and the Republicans lost control of government to the authoritarian Left, they started screaming about out-of-control government. Basically these Republicans took the government, severed the brakes completely on the downhill drive, handed the wheel to Obama and then started whining about the speed.

Labels: , , ,