Dancing on Pinheads
© 2010 Ross Williams
Twenty years ago, when I was being re-investigated for one of my many security clearance extensions, I had to sit down in front of a DIS investigator and answer “No” to a whole passel of questions. Was I a member of the communist party. No. Was I a member of a church. No. Did I go to church. No. Was I a registered Democrat. No. ... Republican. No. Did I have a library card. No.
After a few hundred of these, the guy stopped reading from his script and asked in genuine bewilderment if I was involved in anything. Yes, I’m in Mensa. Did I go to any meetings. No. [I have since stopped paying dues, so I’m no longer in Mensa].
He classified me as a “non-joiner”.
There’s a reason for that: almost nothing is worth joining; everything joinable becomes a pigeon hole of mindless compulsory conformities and boring ritual sooner or later – usually sooner. Possibly the organization closest to worthiness, I thought, is the Libertarians. Libertarians, I’d learned, support the Constitution and the rights citizens have under it, and the limitations on the government imposed by it. Philosophically, that echoes my political sensibilities with crystal clarity. So, okay, I’m a Libertarian. Yet I won’t officially join.
Still, I considered myself a Libertarian for decades despite the Libertarian energy directed at guns, which is a topic that bores me to tears. Apart from shooting bottles with a neighbor’s BB gun [blue depression glass worth a fortune to an antiquer today] found in an old fallen-down house a half mile from my home when I was ten or twelve, and getting my marksmanship ribbon in the Air Farce when I was twenty, my involvement with guns has been thankfully scant.
I recognize, though, that guns are an abiding interest to many, and that a 2nd Amendment Libertarianism is as valid an opening for liberty as mine. I personally wish to be left the fuck alone and resent it when I have to justify my existence to some nosy prick or other; I am, for all practical purposes, a 4th Amendment Libertarian. So, 2nd Amendment Libertarian? ...okay. Whatever.
About ten years ago I finally looked up what the Libertarian Platform actually contained. I immediately stopped calling myself a Libertarian. Libertarians are “libertarian” in the same sense that “Liberals” are liberal. I.e., by coincidence. Rare coincidence, mostly. Most Liberals today cite and recite the political memes of a generation or more ago, usually Johnsonian or Rooseveltian idealisms long since disproven or having run their course ... which makes Liberals the quintessence of status quo conservatism. They even insist on defining today’s political issues in terms that are at least one, usually two, and sometimes three or more generations out of date.
Abortion? to a Liberal, it’s still back-alley coat-hangers and girls terrorized by a family mortified at teen pregnancy.
Race relations? institutional white supremacy and lynchings.
No; Liberals are so conservative as to be arguably reactionary, pining for the same fifties’ nostalgia they accuse everyone around them of living in. Go to your local Hallmark store, guys, buy yourself a current calendar and figure out how to use it. This “Billy Liberal came unstuck in time” thing works in surrealist post-modern literature, but as a political philosophy it is inherently dishonest.
So I started calling myself a lower-case-l libertarian around the turn of the millennium. Which is to say, I am a true libertarian and not a hidebound dogmatic pinhead.
About five years ago, out of curiosity, I read the membership requirements for becoming a Libertarian, and I was appalled and disgusted. They weren’t worthy after all. I, of course, had read various entrenched and traditional ideologues describing Libertarianism, and had heard all the cutesy put-downs. To Democrats, Libertarians are nothing more than Republicans who don’t believe in god; to Republicans, Democrats who don’t like taxes. Clever, particularly coming from the faux-dichotomist tyrants-in-training whose eyesight only seems to see black and white.
Wm F Buckley once described Libertarians as anarchists. Being one to pay no attention to Wm F, I thought little of his description. ...originally.
I still do think little of his description, not because he was essentially incorrect but because he didn’t go far enough in his unflattering depiction. Libertarianism – the Capital-L version – is not merely anarchism, but possibly the worst variety of anarchism there is: the vacuous utopian anarchism of political faeries and pixie-dust, puppy dog kisses and magical unicorns dancing around rainbows’ ends, universal peace and understanding and moon in the seventh house Aquarianism. “People” only want to be free, they opine, thus confirming they have little to no real experience dealing with the selfish asshats that comprise 102% of the world’s people; it is only governments who wish to enslave others.
They talk of “absolute liberties” that exist independent of a definition, that are absent any enforcement mechanisms, and that don’t diminish when borders are crossed – because borders represent a corrupting limitation of rights and freedoms which [they believe] are and can only be limited by one’s imagination to dream up for themselves. They talk of “theoretical” crime: actions by others which limit one’s own rightful authority to act as desired and they completely ignore the paradox that the “criminal” is simply doing the same. Government itself is the biggest criminal of all and is completely unnecessary to defend anyone’s rights and freedoms.
Capital-L Libertarianism is a mainstreamer’s version of Haight-Ashbury psychedelia.
Libertarianism – the Capital-L version – is pacifist. They require new members to take and sign some “non-aggression principle” to the effect that their future political discussion never, ever, ever sanctions the primary use of force in any endeavor by anyone. Oh, sure, they accept the concept of “defensive wars”, but they have refined the notion of what outside aggression consists to such a useless abstract that almost nothing short of Space Invaders rises to the level of aggression worthy of a Libertarian’s call to defensive arms.
Libertarianism – the Capital-L version – is also effectively isolationist. They insist they are not, yet they refuse to accept the concept of dealing with the outside world as it is, and instead demand that we – the US – impose an insupportable foreign policy on the nations of the world ... by refusing to engage those actual nations, as they are corrupt and criminal themselves. Instead we must deal directly with the people of those nations ...who are magically [like any unicorn prancing around the end of a convenient rainbow] free to act as they choose despite cultural, societal or legal constraints placed upon them by their own government. ...whom we must circumvent.
All this while decrying US foreign policy which “meddles in other nations’ internal affairs”. As if sidestepping other nations’ governments won’t be viewed as identically meddlesome itself.
Capital-L Libertarianism is, in short, reality-free political ontology; reduced-fact solipsism; self-involved navel-gazing counting the Political Rights dancing on the head of a pin. And with just as much practical application as the medieval monks’ version of the same pointless exercise. They spout facile political theory. And a thoroughly hypothetical version of theory, at that. It is useless in the real world and to real people.
I am a realist, a pragmatist, a cynic – who simply wishes to live in the political system I was promised. I know that in order to be useful, a political philosophy must be grounded in reality, even [and especially] when that philosophy is inherently idealistic. The first rule of True Libertarianism for those who would be my philosophical sibling is: in every encounter between theory and reality, theory loses every fucking time without exception.
It doesn’t matter what rights you can dream up for yourself, it only matters what rights you can define ... as long as you also simultaneously create a political superstructure which accepts those rights as defined, supports those rights as defined, and defends those rights as defined from encroachment by, among others, itself. In the real world such a political superstructure is called “government”.
There is a valid and valuable point to be made that where rights are defined but the government is either uninterested in defending them, or more interested in redefining them out of existence, the same result is seen: no rights exist [see the many Warrantless Search essays I’ve written].
And there is another valid and valuable point to be made that any right’s first defender is he who wishes to avail himself of it. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anything when the speaker self-censors in the face of opposition or shuts up at the first demand for silence. But any rights which would be used must first be defined to exist under a government willing to use its power to enforce them.
Government is, at the same time, both the worst enemy of freedom and the primary defender of it. You must have a strong and effective government if you wish to have political rights. That is not rationally debatable.
The second rule of True Libertarianism is that rights exist only for those for whom they were made. Creating rights and then spreading them around willy-nilly is indistinguishable from creating tyranny and spreading it around willy-nilly. Not everyone believes that gender equality is freedom – I know, go figure. Some people consider it a form of slavery. Not everyone believes that saying what you want is a good thing … usually those in power who don’t like being criticized and those peasants who like the ones in power.
US rights are defined as applying only to Americans – with very limited exceptions. “We the people of the United States of America”, not “We the itinerants who may happen to wander through as we please.” You start handing rights to everyone who can get here what you do is encourage everyone to get here. And while most people are fine enough, some are not and will only exploit our kindness for their own benefit. I don’t think this needs to be explained any further; if you think it does it only demonstrates you haven’t been paying attention recently. A visitor doesn’t get our rights simply because he’s here and we like him or feel sorry for him. That is anarchy.
Furthermore, when we find ourselves out and among the rest of the world, it is common to assume we take our rights with us. This is not merely more anarchy, but it is a self-righteous imposition on other sovereign nations; it is meddling in their internal affairs. US rights exist only in the US.
See Midnight Run if you doubt me.
The third rule of True Libertarianism is that the government tasked with defending our rights must also be granted certain other authorities to ensure it will continue to exist for the purpose of defending its citizens’ rights, and that its citizens will also exist to have those rights to defend. In other words, and in terms of standard PoliSci, the US government must have the latitude to operate among the world’s nations in ways that will promote US longevity and sovereignty.
In practical terms, our nation is only required to be polite to its own people; to other countries and to other countries’ people, it can be a Grade-A shit heel if it needs to be. When we invade another nation, we can be as rude and impolite, as bombastic and despotic as we wish to be. Our Constitution – the document which defines what our rights are and who they apply to – says nothing about compulsory niceness to our enemies. Or to our friends either, for that matter, though quid pro quo would suggest we cut some slack to those who are here with permission and behaving themselves.
This also means that we are free to hold anyone as an enemy we choose to. That same Constitution is silent about matters of extra-national belligerence. Sissy “non-aggression” nonsense isn’t supported by the document that defines the liberty that libertarianism would and should promote. The only thing True Libertarianism would suggest is that if the Will of The People wished to wage war on another country – whether offensively or not – that those same The People cough up the cash to pay for it and not put it on the credit card.
That’s all. There are only three principles of True Libertarianism. Again:
One: The only rights that exist are the ones that are defined to the government charged with enforcing them – and to the degree that the government fulfills its obligation faithfully.
Two: Our rights belong only to us, and only by citizenship, and only at home, and are not transferable to other people or jurisdictions by circumstance of residence or interaction.
Three: The rest of the world is often a cesspool of people, nations and cultural mindsets that see you, me, us ... and our rights ... as nothing but speed bumps on their road to whatever self-important tyranny they have set for themselves; the government built to defend our rights must be allowed to treat the rest of the world as the assholes they are when they act like assholes – which is pretty much of the time. And we need to let them do it.
The only ones the rules require the government to treat as free citizens is us. And about the only thing the Libertarian Party is correct about is that our government should really start treating us as free citizens soon. We’ve been waiting for quite a while.