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Why liberals hate liberty

Well, really, I don't think we do, though I do have a friend who would ask "what's so big about freedom anyway?" I'm not sure if he was being Socratic or not.

But I've seen lots of libertarians say we do. I think mostly because those libertarians are rather dogmatic, to put it politely, and view less than 100% support as hatred, vs. the reality of liberals liking freedom but also liking children to get a fair chance in life, even if that means someone having to pay taxes.

Buuut... you know Patric Henry? Founding Father, famous orator, supposedly said "Give me liberty or give me death!"? Know anything else about him? What state or even region he was from? I didn't, until earlier tonight.

I might have heard he was from Virginia, but I didn't usefully know that; I might well have guessed New England. But he was Virginian. A Virginian tobacco planter and slaveowner. Owned several dozens of slaves, in fact. So much for that liberty, eh? To be fair, he did write letters that showed conflict about it, and viewing it as a lamentable evil... but one he couldn't see doing without, and he didn't free his slaves even in his will.

And there's Jefferson, who ended up with more slaves than he started with, and only freed his relatives. Which puts a lie to a conservative claim that he couldn't free his slaves, due to entailment due to debt... And as President, some years after those words about Life and Liberty, he withdrew John Adams's recognition of the ex-slave state of Haiti. Not just a personal weakness, but a systematic orientation toward the cause of slavery.

A while back I read _The Ancien Regime in Europe_, and there was a recurrent theme of centralizing kings being opposed on the grounds of 'liberty!'... that is, the liberties of the aristocracy, starting with not paying taxes.

The end point of all this is that while I'm not sure how big a consideration it really is, there's a fair historical case to be made that the people who *talk* the most about liberty are often the most active in oppressing others themselves. Slaveowners talk about liberty nearly as much as slaves do. Which can created some jaundiced cynicism and suspicion of those who shout about liberty today. It's not perfect, after all slaves do talk about liberty too, but still.

Modern libertarians aren't slaveowners or feudal aristocrats, of course. OTOH, they do often talk about how government distorts markets and causes corruption and rent-seeking... while loudly insisting that today's rich people can't be dispossessed of any of their wealth, despite the logical inference that much of it is ill-gotten gains via government-enable corruption and rent seeking! And they're equally comfortable with people owning tens of billions of dollars -- the lifetime earnings of 10,000 people -- while others go hungry. Not *happy*, they'll talk about charity and such, but no systematic changes. So yeah. It's not owning people outright, but it is shouting loudly about liberty while defending vast de facto class privilege coupled with human misery.

So if liberals don't seem impressed with libertarian arguments about freedom... that might be part of why. Especially when they often hear libertarians talking more about cutting taxes and preventing universal health care rather than about reforming municipal zoning and business restrictions. I.e. talking more about helping those already highly privileged than those more substantially suffering from ill-justified restrictions of freedom. I know some libertarians do talk about those, but you kind of have to go looking for them.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/366433.html#comments


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 29th, 2013 06:48 am (UTC)
I'm reminded of Samual Johnson's comment:

"How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"
Jun. 29th, 2013 09:45 am (UTC)
Wow, I'd not run into that quote before, and it's wonderful. Chalk another point up for Samuel Johnson.
Jun. 29th, 2013 08:46 am (UTC)
Adams also managed to run his farm w/o slaves in the first place.
Jun. 29th, 2013 02:53 pm (UTC)
Indeed. Loewens (I learned about Henry from LMTTM) said early American foreign policy to Haiti was shaped by whether the President was a slaveowner: Washington hostile, Adams friendly, Jefferson hostile again. Also that slaveowner concerns soon turned policy in general from "rah rah democracy" to imperialism, but that'll be for when I blog the chapter.
Jun. 29th, 2013 08:51 am (UTC)
Libertarians tend to be consistent about the war on drugs, which is a huge invasion of liberty. As far as I can tell, you have to be well left of liberal to be likely to oppose the war on drugs.

Also, why would libertarians be enthusiastic about giving more power (in the form of money) to the government, which is at least as much of a public hazard as rich people?

Or.... might it be more effective to work on a coalition between the people of good will among liberals and libertarians than to build up the dividing line?
Jun. 29th, 2013 09:59 am (UTC)
I don't see much basis at all for such a coalition. Sure, it's a logical coalition if the biggest threat to a nation's populace is oppression by an authoritarian government, but that's not the case in the US. Instead, it's pretty clear that the biggest problems facing the US are record levels of economic inequality combined with the sorts of plutocratic control of government that such high levels of inequality brings.

I've encountered libertarians who are concerned about these issues and a few who even go so far as to advocate the elimination of corporate personhood, but they are well further out on the libertarian fringe than liberals who oppose the war on drugs are out on the liberal fringe. Instead, the mainstream libertarian view is a hard-line anti-taxation stance that makes the above problems even worse and whose primary outcome is making the ultra-wealthy even wealthier.

In fact, I'm not certain I agree with your statement "you have to be well left of liberal to be likely to oppose the war on drugs."

If you (as I do) put Obama as dead center on the political spectrum (calling Obama a radical leftist, a socialist, or anything similar is clearly factually incorrect), with the tea-baggers as the far right and the various groups who took part in Occupy as the far left, being anti war on drugs isn't all that far too the left - IME, it's pretty mainstream among a number of the more liberal democrats I've met as well as people further to the left.
Jun. 29th, 2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
I'm not talking about a total coalition, I'm talking about cooperation on compatible projects.
Jun. 29th, 2013 10:00 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's impossible, but the approaches by many libertarians make it difficult to have the discussion in the first place. I gently steered a number of my libertarian-leaning friends and acquaintances towards Gary Johnson, for example, since it shut up many of them about Ron Paul, but my own anecdotal experience is - the instant I'd start talking about ending the War on Some Drugs, it became a screed about how all instances of government are very bad. Ending the Drug War is near and dear to my heart due to the direct damage to friends and family, but for man it seemingly can't be decoupled from ending the social safety net and ignoring environmental damage.

I think there are organizations which effectively bridge those areas so the conversation is held between individuals, such as George Soros-affiilated Drug Policy Alliance.
Jun. 30th, 2013 03:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm used to libertarians being very pure, principled, dogmatic, and philosophical. Especially around BHL, they don't think like liberals and have trouble understanding them. Liberals I'm used to being a lot more pragmatic and even ad hoc about things; leftists who think like libertarians end up as Greens or Marxists...
Jun. 29th, 2013 03:02 pm (UTC)
I hang around a fair bit at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a site supposedly about finding libertarian solutions to the social justice problems liberals worry about, though I can't say they've produced anything impressive. I have however seen lots of "building up" done by the libertarians: one of the main bloggers and some of the commenters repeatedly say that liberals don't really care about the poor, just about inflating government power. And that we hate liberty. And various other insults that start with 'statist' and go from there.

I note that among public figures, Matt Yglesias is as market-friendly a liberal as they come, but he seems to firmly identify as a liberal, not as a libertarian. Perhaps because he can have pragmatic arguments with liberals, while among libertarians he'd be trapped in philosophical disagreements about taxes.

I don't think it's hard at all to find liberal people who are for legalizing marijuana, at least. Hell, initiatives have actually been passing in multiple states! It's hard to find elected Democratic politicians who do so, but most of them aren't all that liberal, probably because they have to get elected.

As for libertarians and drugs, they may be consistent about it, but they're not necessarily loud about it. The liberal image of a libertarian is anti-tax and deregulation, not dedicated anti-WoD crusader. Glenn Beck and Ron Paul and the Tea Party don't exactly help, there.
Jun. 29th, 2013 03:52 pm (UTC)
I do think there's a wide streak of "we're not authoritarian, we're just trying to help" among liberals, but I don't think it's all liberals.

Karl Hess said that American political parties tend to have authoritarian and anti-authoritarian factions, and this seems reasonable to me.
Jun. 29th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC)
That's interesting, and I think in general both among Republicans and Democrats what I see is the more centrist members are also typically the most authoritarian - Centrist democrats tend to be far more authoritarian than people considerably more to the left, and the most centrist wing of the Republican party are the neocons, who are also the most authoritarian, while the tea-baggers have essentially no views in common with lefty Democrats, but are definitely significantly less pro-government than the neocons (although in their case the difference between anti-government and anti-authoritarian becomes important). I'd never considers that the centrist-fringe axis and the anti-authoritarian-authoritarian axis were the same, but they seem to be to at least some extent.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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