Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hating a government doesn't mean loving liberty.

Hating government doesn’t say anything about what a person believes. Many people seem to equate hating the state with being libertarian. But that is not the case by any means. Consider some historical examples.

When Lenin and his Bolsheviks began to impose their bloody rule on the poor Russian people—in the name of the poor Russian people—they were opposed by the “White Russian” forces. From 1917 to 1923 the "Whites" fought the new government of the Soviets. But what did they support? Few seemed to be defenders of individual rights or individual liberty. What they tended to advocate was monarchy. Instead of the Soviet whip they preferred to be lashed by the Czar.

During the Second World War numerous underground movements arose to fight the genocidal National Socialists of Adolph Hitler. In Poland the Armia Ludowa fought the Nazi occupiers. But this movement, controlled by the communist Polish Workers’ Party, was later incorporated into the Soviet organized 1st Polish Army. These “liberators” then worked to impose a dictatorial system worse then the one they overthrew. Many of these underground fighters joined the Ministry of Public Security and worked to snuff out any vestiges of individual freedom.

During the American Civil War leaders of the Confederacy condemned Lincoln as a usurper of rights and as a man wishing to trample sacred rights under foot. Some neo-confederates try to pretend that the Confederacy had some allegiance to Constitutional principles of limited government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fighting for the Confederacy didn’t just mean fighting to keep millions of human beings in slavery, it also meant fighting for a government that was as dictatorial and oppressive as anything Lincoln had done (See Southern Rights, Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism by Mark Neely, Jr.)

You would be hard pressed to find groups more anti-government than the League of the South, the Ku Klux Klan, or the Aryan Nation. They will rail about the evils of the federal government but not because they have libertarian sentiments. These advocates of hate want power for themselves and wish to use it to destroy individual liberty and rights.

While various Communist groups were attempting to overthrow Hitler, in order to set up a dictatorship of their own making, others fought the Nazis in the hopes of securing rights and freedom. Consider the heroic students who formed the White Rose, a non-violent, resistance group centered in Munich. They were opposed to militarism and supported the principles of justice and social tolerance. Hans Scholl and his sister, Sophie, were leaders of the group. Hans was perhaps inspired to oppose Nazism because, when he was 16, he was accused of violating Paragraph 175 of the penal code—the section banning homosexuality. The Scholl’s and their compatriots distributed leaflets condemning the government they were forced to live under. And they paid with their lives—they were caught and beheaded by the Nazis regime in 1943. They opposed the Nazi government just as much as the Armia Ludowa, but for very different reasons.

One major error made by some “libertarians” is that they assume anyone who opposes Obama or the federal government is pro-liberty. Clearly this is not the case. At the recent Tea Party rally that I dropped in on, the theocratic Constitution Party was there with a literature booth. You will remember they were the Party that Ron Paul endorsed. Yet this party explicitly calls for imposing “God’s law” on the country. They are theocrats, not libertarians.

Gary North, a former staffer for Paul, who hangs around with so-called paleo-libertarians, has openly called for theocracy in America. He wants a nation where people would be stoned to death for sinning against the “laws of God.” Yet he pretends to be a libertarian.

Libertarianism is not defined by what it opposes, but by what it supports. Just because someone is against the Fed, wants to reduce the power of the Federal government, and thinks taxes are too high, doesn’t make him a libertarian. Some of the biggest opponents of the Fed have been neo-Nazi, anti Semites like Willis Carto and Eustace Mullins. Yet these men were not libertarians, no matter how loosely one defines the term.

One of the problems of politically defining yourself by what you oppose, is that it may make you appear allied with some pretty odious individuals. It may be easier to find “allies” that way but it is likely to easily backfire. The Tea Party movement was formed primarily in opposition to Obama and some of his policies. But what unites these people besides a common hatred? Not much. Many of the protesters are big government conservatives who would love nothing more than reducing individual freedom in numerous areas.

More than announcing what we oppose we libertarians need to be vocal about what we support. Our agenda is not primarily a negative one, but a positive one. I am a libertarian because I believe in peaceful, voluntary cooperation. I believe in the sanctity of the thinking individual and their right to grasp reality as best they can, and their right to express their views without anyone having the right to sew their lips shut. I believe in a tolerant society where all are equal before the law. I believe in a world where individuals are free to travel and trade as they wish, where people are allowed to keep what they produce, and where no man may use violence against another except in self defense. I believe that individuals have clear, distinct rights and that no other individual, or collective of individuals, should have the power to violate those rights.

Such principles, of necessity, would require opposition to certain measures or policies. But the motivation for this is a positive one, not a negative one. I opposed the government’s war on drugs but not because the government is doing it. If a private group acted in precisely the same manner I would oppose their efforts. I hold my position because the war on drugs violates life, liberty and property. It is fundamentally an anti-rights movement of the worst kind. It is my passion for a peaceful, cooperative community that requires me to oppose the war on drugs.

Another reason I think libertarians ought to be fundamentally positive, and concentrate on what they support, is that I believe negative opposition is inherently destructive. People who are inspired by hatred have a tendency to end up hateful. I’ve seen some libertarians who want to “smash the state” but who, in failing to do that, have no problem smashing other libertarians. Their desire to hate, and to smash, becomes so consuming that they end up hating indiscriminately. I’ve seen that in some of the left anarchist groups and in some “radical” libertarians as well.

Hatred is an imperialistic motive, it always seeks to conquer new territory, and it seeks to expand in a person’s life. There is a reason that you find bigotry against one group often accompanied by bigotry against multiple groups. The typical Jew-hater I’ve met also hates black people and gay people. The fundamentalist who despises gay rights is often equally opposed to Mormons, Jews, Catholics, and others.

People inspired by hatred easily become violent. And violence is inherently destructive. That is precisely why a libertarian opposes institutional violence or coercion. Violence breeds more violence, it takes a society on a downward spiral. Martin Luther King wisely said: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.” Action inspired by hatred teeters constantly on the edge of violence.

And that is contrary to the basic principles of peaceful cooperation that is at the heart of libertarianism. Hatred fuels hatred and evils multiply. Our first priority as libertarians is the defense of the rights of the individual, not opposition to some policy or government. Policies change, governments change, but individual rights are a constant.

What distinguishes libertarians from the anti-government crowd is not that we oppose many government policies but that we support the rights of the individual. Ours is an agenda inspired by positive values, by the love of human freedom, by our belief in the sanctity of the thinking mind, not by hatred for a president, or an administration, or any government.