Header Picture

Header Picture

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Libertarian Manifesto: The Socialist View of Liberty and Libertarianism, Part I

I received an interesting opinion piece a few days ago written by George Monbiot and published in the Guardian. The piece claims that "right wing libertarians have turned 'freedom' into an excuse for greed and exploitation." I love this kind of stuff. After glancing through his bio, I determined that Mr. Monbiot is the kind of person the world desperately needs: he's driven, sincere and he's angry about everything, especially anything the private sector might have had something to do with. People like Mr. Monbiot help drive the discussion, and however much I disagree with him, his opinion helps define the differences between statism and individual freedom.

As an interesting sidenote, I got the piece from a friend who is so far from me on the political spectrum as to be practically standing right next to me on my left. Monbiots' piece is long and my responses will necessarily be long as well. The difference between the perception of libertarians by people with a statist agenda and the true ideas of liberty are far too important to gloss over, so I'll break the discussion up into three parts.

Monbiot begins:
"This bastardised libertarianism makes "freedom" an instrument of oppression. It's the disguise used by those who wish to exploit without restraint, denying the need for the state to protect the 99%."
This is actually sad to anyone who believes in individual freedom. Mr. Monbiot's world-view is that  people are pathetic and will be exploited and oppressed unless bureaucrats come to their defense. He believes everyone needs the state to protect them, but he fails to realize that states and statists are the most egregious oppressors of man in the history of mankind.
"Freedom: who could object? Yet this word is now used to justify a thousand forms of exploitation. Throughout the rightwing press and blogosphere, among thinktanks and governments, the word excuses every assault on the lives of the poor, every form of inequality and intrusion to which the 1% subject us. How did libertarianism, once a noble impulse, become synonymous with injustice?"
This is purely subjection with no corroborating facts, but it sounds really sincere and well thought out, so who can argue with it? I would have preferred to actually read actual examples of how the "rightwing press" "blogosphere" and "thinktanks" have oppressed the so-called 99%. Mr. Monbiot is taking theory and falsely applying it to reality as he sees it, which is specious at best and horribly manipulative at worst. The theory of libertarianism when brought to its extreme is in fact anarchy, but modern libertarians eschew anarchy (total liberty) for a philosophy that understands some form of state is necessary, for the good of the whole. This is where people like Mr. Monbiot get lost because they are too busy dividing people by race, or percentage, or some other theoretical divider, to the point of forgetting the smallest minority - the individual.
"In the name of freedom – freedom from regulation – the banks were permitted to wreck the economy. In the name of freedom, taxes for the super-rich are cut. In the name of freedom, companies lobby to drop the minimum wage and raise working hours. In the same cause, US insurers lobby Congress to thwart effective public healthcare; the government rips up our planning laws; big business trashes the biosphere. This is the freedom of the powerful to exploit the weak, the rich to exploit the poor.
I don't know much about the banking system in the UK so I won't comment on it. I will point out that government rules and regulations on the banking industry will be shown by history to be the main causative factors in the banking implosion in this country. I will also point out that the very same candidate who ran for president by excoriating the "banks" is now the president who sidles up to the "banks" at $38,000 a plate fundraisers. He is also the same president who is blocking at least 20,000 construction jobs to appease environmentalists who contribute heavily to him as well. While I'm at it, I'll also point out that just like I am not fully versed on the UK banking system, it is a foolish thing for someone who is not well-versed on the US healthcare system to use our current healthcare upheaval to prove his point. US insurers were lobbied by Congress and sweetheart deals were cut left and right to instantiate a healthcare overhaul that will likely never be fully implemented because of Constitutional issues and the way the state (federal government) jammed it down the throats of a populace that was in the majority opposed to it. Monbiot's definition of "effective healthcare" is antithetical to the free-market system that for 250 years made America a shining beacon of prosperity, innovation and freedom. Our country is different than yours Mr. Monbiot, and its irresponsible to infer otherwise.

As far as "big-business" trashing "the biosphere," this is really just demegoguery at its worst. I suggest Mr. Monbiot travel through China or the former Soviet Union to see how the "biosphere" was trashed long before big business was allowed to play. And government's ripping up "our planning laws?" Whose planning laws, the fringe environmentalist movement that has no other agenda but to stop progress in its tracks? These are just words strung together to get the unthinking riled up. The basis in fact is wanting to say the least.
"Rightwing libertarianism recognises few legitimate constraints on the power to act, regardless of the impact on the lives of others. In the UK it is forcefully promoted by groups like the TaxPayers' Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Policy Exchange. Their concept of freedom looks to me like nothing but a justification for greed."
I have enough trouble keeping up with all the loony movements in my own country to comment on groups in another country, but I will ask if Mr. Monbiot has ever read Adam Smith. If one truly understood libertarianism one would never use the phrase "rightwing libertarianism." There is no such thing. There is libertarianism, which promotes the freedom of the individual to prosper and pursue the maximization of their potential, and there is the stale Left / Right divisions that have clogged political thought since the French Revolution.
"So why have we been been so slow to challenge this concept of liberty? I believe that one of the reasons is as follows. The great political conflict of our age – between neocons and the millionaires and corporations they support on one side, and social justice campaigners and environmentalists on the other – has been mischaracterised as a clash between negative and positive freedoms. These freedoms were most clearly defined by Isaiah Berlin in his essay of 1958, Two Concepts of Liberty. It is a work of beauty: reading it is like listening to a gloriously crafted piece of music. I will try not to mangle it too badly.
Mr. Monbiot divulges his prejudices in the second sentence of this paragraph by painting all successful people with a broadstroke brush, surmising that wealth and success is only attained by exploiting the poor, or in the silly parlance of 2011, "the 99%." He also admits that he is firmly opposed to private enterprise by claiming all corporations are evil. The rhetoric is tired and lacking in thought, but Mr. Monbiot believes everything comes from the state, so he is at least consistent. The "millionaires and corporations are bad" philosophy gets far too much prominence from people who don't bother to understand the role the state has in oppressing freedom and liberty. It should be noted that Berlin's essay comes from the same point of view. They are confusing anarchy with libertarianism as they remove individualism and replace it with statism. History has shown this model is a failure.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When a state has absolute authority over its people, its people will not be free -- they will be oppressed. What might be helpful to one individual may be harmful to another and the power of the state becomes corrupted when it is given control over the choice.

No comments: