Liberty and Power

The Young Fogey has done a good job of covering a number of things in the wake of the election.  Spirits do seem to be running high in the libertarian camp this week.  Among the items I found fascinating was this video featuring a discussion from awhile ago between Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Sarah Palin:

Judge Andrew Napolitano goes to great lengths to find out where these three politicians have common ground, where they can work together to build a practical political coalition.  Someone in the course of the conversation said that if another man agrees with you 80 percent of the time, he’s your ally and not your enemy.  I’d say it depends on how essential the other 20 percent is.  Even Ed Rendell, who was also interviewed, was able to agree with much of what was said in the earlier segment of the show.  Keep an eye on him as a potential challenger to Obama if the situation for the Democrats doesn’t improve.

There have been many fears that the whole Tea Party phenomenon could be co-opted by the mainstream corporatist right.  This is a possibility not to be discounted, and in fact it seems to me that it’s already happened to some undetermined extent.  Another seemingly as-yet unexplored possibility also looms, however:  Assuming a candidate with unassailable libertarian credentials is elected to the White House in 2012, will he or she be able to resist the allure of power?  Will anarchists like me suddenly begin to defend the State because there is someone in place with whom it’s easier to have a measurable degree of sympathy?  If this seems ridiculous, think of where the Reagan movement started, and where it ended.  The only thing holding it all together was a smug optimism about America being the greatest country on earth.

This is not to say that I find faults in the characters of the Pauls or even of Sarah Palin; I’m in no place to judge any of their souls.  But the corruption that comes from power is part of human nature.  Look at where the modern Left has placed itself:  some of the hippies burning draft cards in the 1960’s are now in the Congress, routinely voting to extend hopeless foreign military ventures.  Many of the other “draft-dodging” (good for them!) hippies are voting for these Congressmen, and with little sense of reluctance, to boot.  Will today’s libertarian movement end up the same way?  Ayn Rand’s libertarian credentials are highly questionable; nevertheless she’s certainly on the rightward side of the political spectrum and joined happily in the clamor for small government during her lifetime.  Yet, she ended her life advocating for compulsory military conscription.  Will today’s libertarians, after a possible political victory, go down in a similar moral defeat?

Fritz Wunderlich

I just had my first voice lesson in about six years.  It was long overdue:  In the haste of doing my job it can be easy to forget how to use the voice properly.

Amidst the after-lesson chat, I was offered a CD of Fritz Wunderlich singing an assortment of solo works.  He has a thrilling instrument.  I had heard his name, but I’m not sure I’d ever heard his work.  It’s worth a listen.


A revolution?

The elated and the dejected have now offered their initial reactions to the election.  One wonders what everyone is getting all excited about.  What election has ever really changed much in this country?  Forget the rhetoric; study the implementation of policy, which is where the real answer to this question lies.  Even FDR continued many of the policies of Herbert Hoover, who, contrary to popular belief, got the whole business of economic interventionism started.

I got home from work last night after changing a flat tire, turned on the television, and there was Wolf Blitzer interviewing Eric Cantor, a Republican congressman.  Blitzer gave Cantor two opportunities to enumerate areas in which the Republicans would propose spending cuts.  Cantor demurred both times, and offered the exceedingly timid suggestion that spending be returned to 2008 levels.  The GOP has been campaigning on this promise of faint hope.  Shame on the American people that it worked; after all, George W. Bush outspent Lyndon Johnson, so returning to 2008 spending levels isn’t exactly the dawning of a libertarian Utopia.  I heard from one Democrat who hyperbolically called himself “suicidal” at the election results.  Seriously?  A group of candidates is elected that only wants to rollback spending to levels from two years ago, and this is considered a threat?  Take out health care, and much of the other spending can be chalked up as continuations of monsters that the Republicans created, like stimulus packages and illegal wars of foreign aggression, which Obama has happily continued, although under a euphemism in the case of Iraq.  At what level does this represent a fundamental rejection of the policies that have been going on?  Most of this strikes me as being noise.

Based on his comments during his press conference, Barack Obama doesn’t seem to think that this election represents a rejection of his ideas, and he may be right.  After all, the Republicans can’t really get serious about ways to make government smaller; they were, in the main, elected on broad platitudes, which I grant is nothing unusual.  Oh, and by the way, they apparently mean it this time, just like they did in 1980 and 1994, and we all know what happened then.  But this time they really mean it.  Obama rightly remarked that most people are not ideological.  I quite agree, though I would go further and say that most people haven’t the will to be literate in the exchange of fundamental ideas, and this would seem to me to lead to a more volatile electorate in general.  He who cannot grasp ideas will cling to a personality, and if things don’t go well, he’ll dump that personality for another.  Place not thy trust in princes.  Stupidity creates instability.  People may reject Obama’s policies in many instances, but I’m not sure they could say why they feel the Republicans have better ideas.  I fear there’s just a feeling that it was time for someone else to win.  It’s the American way of guarding the shallow mainstream, the much-hallowed middle.  Or shall I call it the muddle?

There is nothing in polite conversation these days that can offend people more certainly than the articulation of a discernible idea.  You’d be better off using the several forbidden early Anglo-Saxon words than expressing any worldview whatsoever.  American politicians, being in the business of guarding their positions, know this, and so I don’t expect anything to change much soon.  At the same time, while I have no love for any politician, I don’t allow my heart to be troubled at movement this way or that.  Life will go on, and when it comes to the doomsday scenarios such as a possible dollar collapse, I am at peace with the fact that both parties have contributed and will continue to contribute to this eventuality.  Fatalism isn’t as scary as it might seem from the outside; I sleep perfectly well at night.  It seems to me that the really important things in life are not the grandstanding of politicians, but the unassuming work that most people do day in and day out  so that they can support their families (and the people living on the dole).  I’m thinking of people like the guys who just fixed my tire and got me new windshield wipers.  They’re the real problem solvers of the world.

If not voting, then what?

I’m often confronted by people who insist that it’s my duty to vote.  When I respond that voting, to me, is irresponsible since it only reinforces an irreparable system, they say, “Well then what do you do?”  My response usually elicits guffaws of disbelief:  I say that I engage in the discussion of ideas, in the exploration of what kind of situation would best establish order in society.

People don’t seem to understand that one’s fundamental ideas are of utmost importance and that everything flows from them.  What looks like building castles in the air is actually putting a floor under our feet, and it would be foolish for me to do something—like voting—that would undo my other efforts.  The pragmatic man does not see this problem; he thinks that he’s solving the problems right in front of his face.  The difficulty I have is that most self-described pragmatic men don’t stop to think about whether an entire situation actually works.  “This is what we’ve got to work with,” they say.  They are expedient, not pragmatic, and in the process they perpetuate the Samsara cycle of State-sponsored rule, since voting is the certificate of legitimacy in a democracy.

There is one weakness in my argument, since it presupposes that people will actually listen carefully in a conversation.  I don’t see much evidence of this these days, and this kind of selective deafness probably contributes to poor leadership.  Voters cast their ballots in secret, and, similarly, a kind of hush descends over the American political debates:  vast swaths of political possibilities are all but prohibited from discussion by peer pressure.  A prevailing prejudice against philosophical discussion also contributes to this.  We are stuck at the sensate level, and we are paying the price for it.

But the only way forward is to continue discussing ideas.  No one will change if we just give up.  No one will see a different way of looking at things if those outside the inch-deep mainstream don’t speak up.  And with that happy thought being said, I’ll close with a cynical thought from Mencken:

“Now and then, in a human body otherwise apparently healthy, certain lowly varieties of cells run amok and begin assaulting their betters: their aim is to bring the whole body down to their own vulgar and incompetent level. The result is what is called a cancer. In the social organism the parallel phenomenon is called democracy. The aim of democracy is to destroy if possible, and if not, then to make ineffective, the genetic differences between man and man. It begins in the political domain–by setting up the doctrine that one man’s opinion about the common affairs of all is as good as any other man’s–but it always tries to extend itself to other and higher domains. In a democratic society it is more hazardous than elsewhere to show any oddity in conduct or opinion. Whoever differs from the general is held to be inferior, though it may be obvious, by any rational standard, that he is really superior. People who live under democracy tend to wear the same kind of hats, to eat the same food, to laugh at the same jokes, and to admire the same mountebanks. They become, as the phrase has it, standardized.  Their laws lay heavy penalties on any man whose taste in reading, in drinking or in any other private avocation differs from that of his neighbors. Life tends to be regimented and unpleasant, and everyone is more or less uneasy.”
–H.L. Mencken