THE LIBERTARIAN ILLUSION
by Jerome Grapel…
Although I’ve written before about the “libertarian” concept, a recent discussion I had with a number of such adepts has propelled me into a need to respond more formally. Let’s begin with my theory as to how this trend found its traction on the American socio-political landscape.
One of the few people working in our country’s legislative body who I have a genuine respect for is a black congressman from Georgia named John Lewis. We have just celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, where thousands of civil rights marchers peacefully crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge into Selma, Alabama were brutally attacked by stereotypical white southern policemen. John Lewis was there that day, right in the thick of it all, a young man clamoring for nothing more than to be treated like a human being. As a result of such an outlandish request, he was treated like a stubborn pack animal and had his head split open by a racist billy club. John Lewis didn’t just talk the talk — he gave his blood in an all or nothing effort to be treated like a human being.
Whenever an oppressed or aggrieved group strives to overcome such treatment, it is the aggrieved group itself that must provide the impetus for change. The life of John Lewis — a man who had to stoically receive the physical beating he knew his cause required of him on that day 50 years ago — is living proof as to the Afro-American’s perseverance in this struggle. But sometimes that is not enough. Eventually, some form of “Officialdom” must help to get things over the finish line
OK, so what does this have to do with libertarians?
The undisputed patriarch and icon of the libertarian movement is one Ron Paul, an ex-congressman from rural Texas who served forever in that capacity, not to mention his perennial runs for the presidency. When John Lewis was busy getting his skull fractured on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Paul was a young doctor in his native land, a geographic location not known for its enlightened spirit. I’m not sure how much of the structural apparatus of the Jim Crow south was still functioning in Ron Paul’s district in those days, but I can say, with some degree of certainty, that the Jim Crow attitude was still abundantly in evidence. When the Federal Government began to insert itself into the civil rights movement, the bug began to crawl up the ass of people like Ron Paul. When the government began interpreting the Constitution in a way that said you must serve all reasonable people in your private businesses, that you have to hire any person qualified for a job, that you have to let everyone go to school in the same public schools, that you have to start treating someone like John Lewis as the same species as you — well — my educated guess tells me that was the genesis of the libertarian movement.
Obviously, we’ve all come a long way in 50 years and I’m not suggesting the contemporary libertarian political genre is of a racist nature. But there is enough written evidence around to suggest Ron Paul’s earliest and most fervent devotees were prototypical Jim Crow racists and it is not unreasonable to believe a lot of that is still going around in the libertarian environment. For those of you who are not racists but have fallen for this line of thinking, I’d ask you to mull that over. Your movement found its germination in an archaic, mistaken world view, not in a yearning for liberty or freedom. I remind the reader that Ron Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has received the mantel of libertarian leadership from his father, recently voiced his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, stating the “market” could handle any racism in commerce, that people would shun racist hotels and restaurants. After more than 6 years of watching the belligerence and hateful division caused by Barack Obama’s black ass presidency, I’d say it is just the opposite.
I always find discussion with libertarians to be an awkward exercise. They don’t seem to live in the real world. They seem to live in some kind of bubble of abstract notions — freedom, liberty, badda-boom. I remember an anecdote from the era when colonialism was ending in Africa. When the date announced for a certain place’s independence arrived (I think it was what we used to call the Belgian Congo), the natives began lining the railroad tracks waiting for it to be delivered. I get a similar feeling from libertarians with their unctuous devotion to freedom and liberty, as if they were commodities you could pick off shelves and throw in a shopping cart. They make arguments that are difficult to respond to, not for their wisdom, but because they lack any nexus to reality. It’s like discussing last year’s World Series with someone who says, “The Royals lost because their uniforms are blue”. Like huh? When a libertarian rejects a cooperative universal health care system because it destroys their “freedom”, one can only respond with the same dumbfounded stupor. It’s like, please, will you go ask any Canadian or Englishman or Frenchman if they feel “oppressed”, or if they find their “freedom” being taken from them when they use their national health services? Quite the contrary, I can’t think of anything more LIBERATING than to know you have access to professional medical attention from the day you enter the light to the day you return to the darkness.
Perhaps the most sacred concept in the bubble of libertarian abstractions is the holy cult of the — drum roll please — INDIVIDUAL. They worship this ambiguous idea in much the same way a Devil Worshiper might prostrate himself before a Satanic Deity. They find mysterious forces everywhere denying them access to their true inner self, as if a zoning law or EPA regulation were severing them from the brilliant “individual” they are, as if the government was keeping them from finding a cure for cancer or creating a new school of artistic creation.
OK, you want to talk about the “individual”? Let’s talk.
Human beings are some of the most social animals the world has ever known. We seek each others company, approval and inclusion to an almost neurotic extent. We hang out in packs, groups, crowds, mobs, cities and urban conglomerations of massive density. We seek out collective identities and want to be associated with them. We are herd animals not solitary predators. We are wildebeests and impalas, not panthers or coyotes. Much more often than not, we want to conform, to be part of the group, to take our fulfillment from the security the group provides. We even invent artificial venues to appease this yearning. Go to any Major League baseball game on a warm Friday or Saturday night. You’ll see 30, 40 thousand wildebeests all covered in the same color clothing, wearing the same home team caps and paraphernalia, worshipping the local home run hitter hero with a communal devotion that is almost spiritual. Even my generation, the counter culture rebels who questioned everything, who tried to break cleanly with the past, who shot the bird, naively, immaturely, at the heritage passed down to us — even us, hippies and freaks, sure, we rebelled, but we did so in packs, as a tribe, as an army. Take a look back on the footage from Woodstock or Altamonte. The sub-cultural style or “look” is so uniform it would be difficult to recognize a runaway son or daughter in such a monotonous plain of humanity.
Yes, each individual is unique, just like every impala is unique. But we human beings generally seek the warmth of the herd more than our individuality.
If you are a libertarian getting angry reading this, perhaps I can make you angrier by saying this: your precious individualism already exists in you as it should exist and whatever the government does or does not do has little bearing on it. In fact, you have it ass backwards: if you want that freedom and liberty you so covet for the individual, you must begin by constructing a healthy societal foundation for it to grow in. Individual freedom is an outcast in a society that does not provide the basics of good nutrition, decent housing, adequate clothing and proper education to as much of its constituency as it can. In a world filled with 7 billion people; with nations of hundreds of millions of inhabitants; on a globe whose technological complexity is so inter-related and integrated, the creation of a healthy societal foundation cannot be accomplished without an important organizational apparatus, something far beyond what just the “market place” can provide.
In the end, the libertarian idea is an illusion. It is vapor. It offers nothing. It creates nothing. It destroys, takes away, says “no” to everything. The only thing it would accomplish is a vicious Darwinian struggle that human intelligence has been trying to harness and control for countless millennia. It would negate just why it is we’ve so triumphed as a species. It is the perfect example of “be careful for what you wish for”.
14 thoughts on “THE LIBERTARIAN ILLUSION”
I didn’t get a chance to read your article until early this morning. It is magnificent in so many ways. Well put together, smooth flowing, exciting and interesting. Thank you.
I like your approach to the subject matter. Individual freedom is only acquired via attaining a Self-Realized or Self-Actualized state of consciousness. Our culture does not advance development in these areas. Narcissism, self-centeredness and other ego saturated approaches towards life are prioritized. Is it surprising that we have bred accomplished double-talkers, who skillfully market creative ways to take care of themselves?
The one concern I have with your presentation is the fact that all of our government employees, at every level, for the most part, are birthed within a corrupted and in many instances dysfunctional educational system. Inherently, they are seriously flawed and unable to scientifically rally consensus for a greater good.
Therefore, they stop trying and take care of number 1.
Constructing a world class educational system that includes scientific studies that raise consciousness, awareness and analytical reasoning will be important in moving towards the goals and objectives identified in your article.
Great work. Thank you.
Blessings & Respect
Well written and to the point. I like your theory of the origins of the other “L” word, though I think it’s a bit like what happened to the “Tea Party”…It started out as an organic reaction to issues that frustrated the powerless, but was soon co-opted by those very powers. The “L” people have experienced the same co-option as the “T” people. The extreme right is still in charge and all the fantasies of individual sovereignty are just plain absurd and play right into the continued impotence of the 99%… As you may recall I tried to tackle this subject last month. but avoided the word, “Libertarian” and just described the symptoms of the affliction, infantile narcissism, but I didn’t fool the true believers… Great piece, man!
Alex, As always, thanks so much for your attention and input. I differ slightly from your analogy with the Tea Party. The Libertasrian movement WAS instigated in racism, and though it has moved on from there, it still exists to some extent. I don’t think it was an organic movement from the powerless, but rather, a direct result of the civil rights movement. Thanks man, PCM.
Ahh…We are on the same page…Racism is an element in ALL the permutations of rightist ideology…The difference is that some are more subtle than others. Would you agree?
Perhaps your species, the one without a conscience, has triumphed. Mine has not.
John, As always, it is an honor to have your attention and your remarks are, as always, cogent and, as always, worth listening to. One thing I do not quite get is this: when you talk about ediucational deficiencies, and you are totally right, why do you just restrict such to “government employees”? Whatever it is our educational apparatus provides its citizens applies to all of us. And lest anyone think I believe the government is the answer to everything, I’ll say this: of couse not, the government is not the answer to everything, just as the private sector or “market is not. The task before us is to find proper usage for both, and, contrary to the Libertarian mantra, government is suited for many useful things. Thanks John.
I’ve never been much of a systems guy. Police, teachers, lawyers, doctors, soldiers and all members of government etc., etc. etc. (paradigms of every occupation and career) are soulless, passionless, lifeless entities; without the actual individuals that bring life and functionality to said endeavors.
Awakened, inspiring and energetic individuals bring quality and vibrancy to the aforementioned stations in life.
If we are not cultivating Self-Actualized and Self-Realized citizens, all that follows will suffer.
Blessings & Respect
John, So let me get this straight: you’d trust Exxon, Goldman Sachs, Siemens, and all the rest of the corporate mafia with our culture, but reject what government can do? Remember, all these Wall Street jackals are “systems” too. Now, if you think a complex, modern, interconnected, immense apparatus like how the world now operates can exist without some kinds of “systems”, you let me know. For me, the question is, how do we get these “systems” to operate positively? A difficult task, but, for me, unavoidable. Great stuff John, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate talking with you. ciao, PCM
Great piece, Jerome. I know youu appreciate focused critique more than praise, but I can’t find anything to argue against.
Unless you actually mean to blame Obama in the following sentence: “After more than 6 years of watching the belligerence and hateful division caused by Barack Obama’s black ass presidency…”
Taken out of context, that’s what it sounds like. Please confirm that the hateful division was caused by Obama’s OPPONENTS, in abreaction to everything about him, including his race, infelicitously phrased as his “black ass.”
Rick, I’m sorry if there is some ambiguity there. Of course, I don’t blame Obama for this hatred and division, it is all on his opponents. What I do blame Obama for is his inability to overcome this wretchedness, to beat it down effectively. I think he’s been weak and blew it in the first 2 years of his presidency. A tall order? Yes, but that is what leadership is all about. As always, thanks so much for your attention and remarks, it means a lot to me. ciao, PCM
Alex, Look, I’m sure we are basically in agreement here, but my point is quite nuanced. I don’t find anything about the Libertarian beginnings to be organic, or grass roots. I tend to believe it was sprung from the governmental attempt to fight racism. It spread out from there, but that was its genesis. Maybe we are just nit picking, but I feel that to be an important point. ciao, PCM
Government & the Corporate Mafia are doing well, as they always have and will. These systems and paradigms are dead. There will be no changes there; until “A Change Is Gonna Come”; but from where?
It is gonna come from new ideas, attitudes and people that will bring vibrancy back to a lifeless government and corporate world gone mad with their self-interest and self-absorption.
How will this “New Age Renaissance” be birthed? Via bold and courageous leadership that will concentrate on developing an enlightened society through employing world-class individuals to serve as teachers, mentors and counselors. They are already being paid healthy sums of money to educate our children. If they don’t like the accountability and requirements demanded of them, they can hit the road. You know: “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show”..
It’s easy to do. However, a lazy and corrupted government school system refuses to deliver. The world can change real quick, one student at a time.
Jerome, with all due respect, until you focus on creating a strong and proper foundation that will elevate the consciousness of all Americans, we will just keep spinning our wheels.
Thank you so very much for addressing this topic.
Blessings & Respect…
John, I don’t really see much in this comment. I hear a lot of fluff and kumbaya. Your second paragraph is an obvious truism, but from whoever or however these things are accomplished, it will take “systems” in order to do it. And as for a “strong foundation that will elevate consciousness”, I remind you I am Post Consumer Man. At the center of my belief system is the concept of a new paradigm for living, not one dictated to us by the consumer model. My political mutterings are only based upon the best things available to us at the moment, not my idea of how best to govern and look at the resources of the planet. If there comes a time where some kind of upheaval is the only way to this new paradigm, so be it, but I’d rather evolve towards it with the least bit of pain. Am I optimistic? No. But I’ll keep trying, and I’m sure we’d be allies in this effort, regardless of these niggling differences. Good stuff, Jerry (PCM)
I don’t know if Pip read the essay, but I went back and read it again and I’m glad I did! It was one of your best! You have convinced me of the roots of Libertarianism! I’m not sure what I was smoking when I originally read it….Your best stuff, though, was reserved for “what makes a libertarian tick” segment of the essay. The bit comparing libertarians to the Congolese lining the tracks waiting for “delivery of independence” was priceless. Your wonderfully written scolding of the absurd idea of the worship of the individual by the individual and the reality of the primal human need for social structure was superb. In fact I’m going to copy and paste this in the comments for posterity. Write on, my brother.