[Paleopsych] TCS: Marxism of the Right?

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Fri Apr 1 20:33:19 UTC 2005

Marxism of the Right?

    By Max Borders  Published   03/10/2005

    Until [18]this article by Robert Locke appeared in The American
    Conservative, conservatives and libertarians have enjoyed a mutually
    beneficial relationship. After all, there is so much on which they

    But can it last? Distortions like this one should make us wonder:

    "Free spirits, the ambitious, ex-socialists, drug users, and sexual
    eccentrics often find an attractive political philosophy in
    libertarianism, the idea that individual freedom should be the sole
    rule of ethics and government."

    Since Mr. Locke tempers these characterizations of the lib-curious
    with the word "often," one can no more verify his claim than take
    issue with it. Still, I should mention that I know a number of
    libertarians who don't even drink caffeine -- much less smoke crack --
    due to their personal and religious choices. As one of my colleagues
    is fond of saying to those ignorant about our movement: "You're
    thinking of libertinism." Mr. Locke is, perhaps, guilty of the same

    And that's what makes this article titled "The Marxism of the Right"
    so fascinating in its contradictions. One can assume that Mr. Locke
    counts himself among those ready to wield the power of the state in
    defense of his cloudy notions of "the moral," i.e. to prevent the
    ambitious from getting too avaricious (one of the seven deadly sins,
    you know), or to keep sexual eccentrics from using VapoRub in ways
    unintended by God. If anything is clear in his article, it's that Mr.
    Locke's only contact with libertarian thought comes from "cocktail
    parties, on editorial pages, and on Capitol Hill." Consider this

    "This is no surprise, as libertarianism is basically the Marxism of
    the Right. If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely
    on altruism and collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image
    delusion that one can run it purely on selfishness and individualism."

    The notion that libertarians believe society ought to be run based on
    "selfishness" indicates that Mr. Locke frequents cocktail parties with
    [19]Objectivists, not libertarians. First of all, most libertarians
    don't think society should be "run" at all, rather -- as Hayek taught
    -- society should essentially [20]run itself. If we have the
    appropriate rules of non-harm enshrined in proper institutions,
    society is, while a complex system, a self-regulating one. The very
    notion that it can be "run" is a form of the fatal conceit, which has
    evidently entranced Mr. Locke.

    Social norms like citizenship, community, patriotism and the like can
    be wonderful (and diverse) epiphenomena of these underlying rules --
    but they are meaningless without said rules. And they don't need to be
    enforced by religious zealots, communitarians, or lesser Pat

    Mr. Locke goes on to say:

    "Like Marxism, libertarianism offers the fraudulent intellectual
    security of a complete a priori account of the political good without
    the effort of empirical investigation. Like Marxism, it aspires,
    overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to economics."

    Notice how Mr. Locke attempts to create a dichotomy through
    philosophical claptrap. First, he wants to pigeon-hole all
    libertarians into the simplistic category of a priorism. While some of
    us are Kantians or (eh hem) Lockeans, such is certainly not universal
    in our ranks. Indeed there are at least as many types of libertarian
    as there are prefixes to be fitted with "con." Are such fallacies of
    generalization typical among paleo-cons?

    Libertarian thinkers like James Buchanan and Jan Narveson, for
    example, are contractarians, which means they don't rely on a priori
    truths for their justification and are -- in many senses -- moral
    skeptics. If the charge of a priorism was meant to suggest that
    libertarians simply don't use evidence to support their claims, I
    would say that is just false -- and wonder about such a curious
    accusation coming from one who claims that the existence of
    pornography "vulgarizes" society. (I can't think of anything less
    empirically verifiable.)

    The assertion that Marx "reduced social life to economics" is amusing
    if not misguided. While I realize that Marx's labor theory of value
    was economics in some vague sense, most contemporary economists are
    reluctant to give a footnote to Marx in Econ 101 textbooks. Perhaps
    the better description of Marxist thought is an attempt to "reduce
    social life to materialism." This more accurate description of Marx
    has nothing to do with libertarianism, and with that correction, Mr.
    Locke's cutely constructed "mirror-image" theory collapses.

    Mr. Locke's biggest mistake comes in the common -- but false --
    conflation between individualism and selfishness. All we libertarians
    are saying is that we are prepared to direct our own "altruistic" and
    "collectivist" urges in ways that the government simply cannot and,
    indeed, should not. We are collaborative and cooperative -- and
    radically so. And, yes, we think that since the market in goods and
    services is dynamic, the market in making positive changes in peoples
    lives can be dynamic too. Call it Tocquevillianism on steroids. If Mr.
    Locke would like to call this a reduction of everything to economics,
    I suppose we're guilty.

    In a sense, we do believe that all human values are economic. One
    makes an economic choice when he gives his money to Bob Jones U or the
    Nature Conservancy, rather than to Wal-Mart. But if Mr. Locke thinks
    that doing "moral good" means the government should continue stripping
    resources away from people and their communities to be managed by the
    moral elite in Washington, he is more than mistaken -- he is a part of
    the problem.

    I will forego any lengthy criticism of Mr. Locke's quasi-philosophical
    discussion on the nature of "good," which terminates in this sentence:
    "Taken to its logical conclusion, the reduction of the good to the
    freely chosen means there are no inherently good or bad choices at
    all, but that a man who chose to spend his life playing tiddlywinks
    has lived as worthy a life as a Washington or a Churchill." But I will
    say that if we were all Churchills, we would have no heroes. For the
    state to get involved with trying to create Churchills is not only
    likely to fail, it is likely to infantilize a population. Do we want
    to "create" people incapable of independent action? If we are to take
    Mr. Locke's implicit rationale to its logical conclusion, we should
    expect his manual for "how to make inherently good choices and live a
    worthy life" in the next edition of The American Conservative.

    I must admit, Mr. Locke does raise some good questions about the
    nature of common goods:

    "But some [goods], like national security, clean air, or a healthy
    culture, are inherently collective. It may be possible to privatize
    some, but only some, and the efforts can be comically inefficient. Do
    you really want to trace every pollutant in the air back to the
    factory that emitted it and sue?"

    Libertarians often disagree about the nature of common goods, and a
    lot of great innovations have come out of these discussions. But these
    disagreements are no more fatal to our movement than conservatives'
    internal arguments about whether the Ten Commandments should sit in
    state courthouses or whether the war in Iraq was justified.
    Libertarians have been the ones asking whether some private roads
    might actually be a sound alternative to traffic snarls. (Only now are
    conservative politicos picking up on innovations like HOT lanes.)

    Libertarians are the ones asking if private initiatives and market
    forces will help clean the air and conserve natural lands more
    effectively (and efficiently). And while no serious libertarian
    discusses the idea of tracing pollutants back to smoke-stacks, we were
    the first to propose market alternatives to the environmental
    regulatory morass that was begun under -- and we proudly lay claim to
    insightful theories like [21]public choice that show how government
    can scarcely well provide for the "public good" even if it wanted to.

    But according to Mr. Locke, libertarians need to consider other "hard
    questions," like:

    HQ: "What if it needed to limit oil imports to protect the economic
    freedom of its citizens from unfriendly foreigners?"

    A: Why would we want to cripple our economy in pursuit of an autarkic
    fantasy? (Besides, how can vehicles without oil protect us?)

    HQ: "What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently
    educated to sustain a free society?"

    A: This is like asking whether we need a state religion to preserve

    HQ: "What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import
    cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would
    vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?"

    A: Why can't we simply have constitutional checks on redistribution?

    Granted, some of Mr. Locke's cited "hard questions" are hard, and
    we've been going over them for a long time. In addition to questions
    about genuinely public goods, we wonder about whether conscription
    might be necessary to protect our freedoms in war; or whether open
    borders without assimilation are dangerous to our institutions. Some
    libertarians are pragmatic, not just "abstract and absolutist." Most
    libertarians don't think of children as full agents deserving full
    freedom despite Mr. Locke's invented claims of libertarian "idiocy."
    And while there are some [22]extreme libertarians who are against
    state-sanctioned care for the senile or the insane, few if any
    libertarians are opposed to volunteer-driven and philanthropically
    funded care for those who represent a danger to themselves or others
    -- and this might require oversight of some form to ensure folks
    aren't harmed.

    On the question of drug legalization, Mr. Locke would have done well
    to put his pen down. Even [23]some conservatives are starting to see
    that the War on Drugs has done little or nothing to clean up inner
    cities and has created an underclass of prison inmates unnecessarily.
    The resources the state has wasted in trying to control people's
    personal lives is appalling, and its failure is evident (yes, there is
    empirical data for this fact). And "drug users who caused trouble"
    would be put in prison. Why Mr. Locke assumes otherwise is disturbing,
    because it appears he really hasn't looked to libertarian resources on
    this. Putting drug users who cause trouble into prison is a heck of a
    lot simpler and less costly than imprisoning people simply for
    possessing or using drugs -- all out of a moral imperative that is not
    universally shared.

    The sad part about this article is that Robert Locke sounds like many
    people. Behind all of his golden mean rhetoric, Locke assumes that an
    inefficient bureaucracy with a monopoly on power can not only spare us
    from the "extreme costs" of our free choices, but effectively identify
    them. Many good thinkers since Frederic Bastiat have spent the last
    century and a half showing how unintended consequences end up doing us
    more harm than good. We should wonder how Mr. Locke or anyone else
    thinks he has finally figured out how to fix complex society. This
    anointed power-class, while they usually disagree on almost every
    policy issue, does agree on one thing: that they should be in power.

    Locke believes he has reached the point of full-tilt profundity when
    he claims:

    "Empirically, most people don't actually want absolute freedom, which
    is why democracies don't elect libertarian governments. Irony of
    ironies, people don't choose absolute freedom. But this refutes
    libertarianism by its own premise, as libertarianism defines the good
    as the freely chosen, yet people do not choose it. Paradoxically,
    people exercise their freedom not to be libertarians."

    Mr. Locke should consider something more ironic. In a truly free
    society, people will be just as able to enter into collective
    arrangements with people who have also chosen to forego so-called
    "absolute freedom." Mr. Locke and I can start a Hutterite commune
    where everybody shares the work and bows hourly to a statue of Edmund
    Burke as a condition of residing there. I can't imagine why in the
    world Mr. Locke puts so much faith in democracy while simultaneously
    implying that inexpensive foreign laborers that might turn 'commie
    pink' on us should be kept out.

    Locke's economic assertions in this next passage rival those of Paul

    "There is not the space here to refute simplistic laissez faire, but
    note for now that the second-richest nation in the world, Japan, has
    one of the most regulated economies, while nations in which government
    has essentially lost control over economic life, like Russia, are
    hardly economic paradises. Legitimate criticism of over-regulation
    does not entail going to the opposite extreme."

    There is not the space here to explain the complexities of economics
    to Mr. Locke, but suffice it to say that Japan has been successful
    despite stultifying regulation, and those regulations (most notably in
    banking) are showing signs of making the country's economy
    [24]sclerotic. Russia, on the other hand, has only been "free" for
    fifteen years and has lived close to a century without the formal or
    informal institutions to make a market economy and a free society
    tick. Nevertheless, it is still growing at close to [25]six percent
    per year.

    I will close this article without addressing Mr. Locke's visions of
    how libertarianism in practice would unleash "sadomasochism" and other
    caligulan horrors. Suffice it to say that libertarians know that we
    are able to exercise self-restraint not because the Great Nanny in
    Washington threatens us with chastening, but because we belong to
    communities, families, and relationships in which the values of
    healthy living are naturally grown orders.

    Max Borders is a libertarian by day, libertine by night in the
    Washington, DC area.


   18. http://www.amconmag.com/2005_03_14/article1.html
   19. http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer
   20. http://www.abetterearth.org/article.php/876.html
   21. http://www.gmu.edu/centers/publicchoice/Booklet.pdf
   22. http://www.szasz.com/
   23. http://aei.org/publications/bookID.812,filter./book_detail.asp
   24. http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/03/07/bloomberg/sxyen.html
   25. http://www.russiajournal.com/news/cnews-article.shtml?nd=47259

More information about the paleopsych mailing list