Monday, August 29, 2005

To Those Who Underestimate Us

The following is written in response to Bob Jones. It is his attitude I am concerned with as I believe it s often expressed in certain circles and needs to be corrected.

Next up, a couple of scruffs took turns chanting how they would wipe out the bureaucracy, taxes et al - these being the Libertarians. No lads, you won't do that, or indeed anything with your lives, unless you toss away your Ayn Rand bibles and get on with actually living.

Principled individualists may never be a significant political force. If thats the price of truth I can live with it. Others can continue their lust for power and influence and they're the ones that will have to live the consequences. You can't fake reality.
Most believers in libertarianism hold firm moral convictions. We aren't about to ditch these beliefs just because our impact isn't currently on the political radar screen. I'm interested in ideas, and the only way to change my beliefs is to attempt to reason me out of them. Marxism wasn't on the world stage until 20 years after Marx's death and Nietzche was bearly known during his time. Considering the renaissance in Ayn Rand scholarship and general trends (Atlas Shrugged is the 2nd most influential book in America), I wouldn't continue to treat libertarians or even Objectivists as a minor force. Libertarians may only be found in small numbers in the Western world but they're armed with compelling ideas that continue to influence and shape the world at the highest levels. Ask yourself, if you seek a comprehensive coherent political philosohy what is offered? Socialism / Communism / Facism / Anarchism have long been in retreat. The New Left is mainly a reactionary force (look at its opposition to globalization yet they do not really offer an alternative vision) and its intellectuals are second-raters (NoamChomsky, Howard Zinn, Noami Kelin etc) compared to the past. Beliefs like 'conservatism' or 'social democracy' do not really constitute an ideologies, unless expressed by some comprehensive thinker (e.g Leo Strauss). Those ideologies are obscure movements with very perplexing and abstract ideas. They largely exist on the fringes of intellectual life. They are also unlikely to appeal to any ordinary person (intellectuals themselves have plently of disagreement on Strauss philosophy). Popular movements like Rogernomics are certainly not ideologies but political programs, so too goes for most other labels. As I have argued before, religion is a spent force and even when theology is applied to politics it is very unclear what results from that. We are only left with post-modernism and the ideas the follow from it (relativism, multiculturalism). Yet post-modernism is under attack and we can see the beginnings of a rebellion already. Rational people find it an insulting ideology, after all, it's hard to have respect for oneself if you're moral worth is equal to that of the most pathetic and malicious of people. Likewise if Western culture is considered to be equal to archaic and primitive beliefs then most people will look elsewhere. And I think here is where libertarianism finds its followers. The fact that most people end up tempering their beliefs (selling out) to suite reality (get elected, have a bigger paycheck or whatever is involved) is to be expected. The best are always rare. Nevertheless, libertarianism has become the most powerful ideology of the right. This has been clear for a while now. Barry Goldwater was the political beginning and in the 1980s the New Right dominated (Reagan, Thatcher* etc). In the 1990s America's Republican Party in the house of representatives was represented by Newt Gingrich. Read the mans speeches and it becomes obvious liberty is of paramount concern to him. I am not arguing that the Republican party is the small-government party, it is obvious it is not. Everyone know's Bush spends like a drunken sailor. But people should know that only policies that favor small-government and the free market are conservatives hopes. Its essence and it's tradition has always been for liberty and libertarianism continues to shape it. Libertarian-minded thinkers have revolutionized the conservative movement (changing it from the party of Muldoon to that of Brash. Old-school conservatism is now found in NZ First) and to discount the influence of those today who are most consistent (i.e. radical) and intellectual is to be blind to the future. In short, the day conservatives actually achieve some substantial change for liberty will be the same day the Libertarianz start appearing on the radar screen.

One more complaint, has any critic of Rand actually read her writings? Bob says Objectivsts will never do anything with their lives, yet Objectivist 101 teaches that achievement and productivity are the highest of virtues. I would be interested to see a survey of Objectivists because I suspect that on a whole, most would be highly educated and successful.

*Both of who read and admired Ayn Rand. Conservatives who have only distain for her are those who are no better than the Left in my view.

[Update: A friend pointed out classical liberalism and libertarianism aren't the same thing. While he's right, they both make liberty the primary political value and for the purposes of this post I think they are indistinguishable]


At 10:34 PM, Blogger libertyscott said...

Ah Jones believes in liberty, he just gets saddened when he thinks politics should be as much fun, as it is serious.

New Zealand the Way I Want It was a wonderful read, and I thnk if Libz looked like we were having more fun than we are, it wouldn't hurt. Besides Bernard Darnton got published a great response to Jones in the NZ Herald today!

At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, is it possible for you to post something which doesn't reference Ayn Rand?

At 3:27 AM, Anonymous Zenskar said...

How come there are still so many libertarians in NZ? When back recently I met two grown adults who claim to be libertarians, chatting away about Ayn Rand the way the Jehovah's Witnesses do on your doorstep in the morning: affable, but in the end, bonkers. It's a bit like when you turn the radio on in NZ and here all those hits from the 80s that you haven't head for 20 years. Let's do the timewarp...

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