Friday, February 13, 2009

Liberaltarianism and Intellectual Dishonesty

Robert Stacy McCain has proved once again that he's one of the most important conservative writers working today.

In "
The Luxury of 'Liberaltarianism'," Robert mercilessly pulls the mask off the alliance between leftists and libertarians, which I've long thought has been one of the most intellectually bankrupt and ideologically decrepit marriages in recent political history. Here's the key passage attacking "liberaltarianism":

The problem with this concept was never really on the part of liberals, except insofar as they either (a) misunderstood libertarianism, or (b) simply lied about their openness to libertarian ideas. Confusion and deceit among liberals is a given. But the liberals always knew what they wanted from such a transaction: Elect more Democrats.

What did the libertarians want from the transaction? It is here that the ridiculous folly of the enterprise is found. Most of the
Will Wilkinson types are intellectuals who are embarrassed by what Hunter S. Thompson called the "Rotarian" instincts of the Republican Party. That flag-waving God-mom-and-apple-pie stuff just doesn't light a fire under the American intellectual class, which is not now, nor has it ever been, enamored of religion, patriotism and "family values."

As a political impulse, the sort of libertarianism that scoffs at creationism and traditional marriage wields limited influence, because it appeals chiefly to a dissenting sect of the intelligentsia. It's a sort of free-market heresy of progressivism, with no significant popular following nor any real prospect of gaining one, because most Ordinary Americans who strongly believe in economic freedom are deeply traditionalist. And most anti-traditionalists - the feminists, the gay militants, the "world peace" utopians - are deeply committed to the statist economic vision of the Democratic Party.
There's much more at the link, and I can't provide much value-added to the essay. My point here is to flesh out a little more the fundamental pathology of liberaltarianism, which is intellectual dishonesty.

My point of departure, as readers might have guessed, is Mark Thompson and his blogging buddies at the
League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Thompson's a self-proclaimed libertarian, and his cohorts at the blog are all over each other with intellectual glad-handing and backslapping on their bright ideas on atheism, gay marriage, humanitarian intervention, neoconservativism, and God knows what else. This cabal might well be aspiring to develop some newfangled "postmodern conservatism," but it's really all the same, as far as I can see.

An animating force for the paradigm seems to be the resistance to tradition and universal morality. This can be seen in the excursions on atheism at the blog, where we see commentary suggesting that since there's no possibility for the falsification of God's existence, those of religoius faith are essentially "
lunatics" for proposing an alternative theory of evolution in Intelligent Design. Or we can see this in the virtually unhinged attacks on neoconservatives and the war in Iraq, where E.D. Kain excoriates the Bush administration for "invading countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan in order to democratize them ..." Never mind that the origins of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq emerged out of vastly different contexts - with varying methodologies of strategic justification - the overall animus toward the forward use of state power places this "libertarian-progressive" agenda firmly in the nihilist camp of the "world peace" utopians Robert Stacy McCain mentions above.

But what's especially bothersome about these folks is the confused intellectualism on questions of moral right. It's almost stomach-churning to read
E.D. Kain's comments on Israel following this week's election: "Israel, once lively with the dream of the original idealists who founded it, has over the years become increasingly militarized, entrenched, and anti-Democratic." This is not much different from the commentary on Israel one finds at the neo-Stalinist Firedoglake. E.D. Kain, of course, has problems with intellectual integrity, as I've already noted, and he joins Mark Thompson in a left-libertarian hall of shame on that score.

It should be no surprise that these folks find inspiration in the ravings of
Andrew Sullivan, whose recent libertarian strain led him to suggest that, "Yes, Michael Phelps took a few hits from a bong at a party ... does anyone think that smoking pot would give him an unfair advantage in the pool? Please. When on earth are we going to grow up as a culture?" I guess "growing up" as a culture would mean that the majority of Americans would have to kowtow to the radical libertarian demands for same-sex marriage, which is a big agenda for the "young turks" of the right for whom "the real respectability of a solid argument is preferable to the worthless respectability one gets" by advocating for "more humane" positions on some of the most hot-button social issues of the day.

There is, in sum, a pure cowardice to liberaltarianism that's frankly revolting. But more than that, there's a fundamental ideological incoherence, if not outright stupidity. Scott Payne writes that he's moved "to question the overall usefulness of political labels ... Is anyone ever really “conservative” or “liberal” or “libertarian” all the time, ad infinitum?" Perhaps it never occurred to Scott that to be ideological is by definition to evince a consistent or coherent pattern of beliefs across a range of political issues. If one is not coherent in such a way, it makes little sense to make the case for a new ideological paradigm, for at any time when inconvenient facts or uncomfortable moral truths intrude upon the groundings of a particulary ideological framework, one could simply jettison any pretension of intellectual consistenty, not to mention moral right.

And in fact, that's pretty much what these folks are doing. As Victor Davis Hanson argued last week with reference to the hysterical ideological jockeying of Andrew Sullivan:

I am absolutely baffled how and why someone like this can continue to be taken seriously: for weeks he peddled vicious, absolutely false rumors that Sarah Palin did not deliver her recent child. On the eve of Iraq, (he now seems to suggest that he was brainwashed by, yes, those sneaky neo-cons), he blathered on with blood and guts rhetoric, mixed with fawning references to Bush, and embraced apocalyptic threats, including the advocacy of using nuclear weapons against Saddam should the anthrax attacks be connected to him. He seems not merely to support any incumbent President, but to deify them, and can go from encomia about the rightwing Bush to praise of leftwing Obama without thought of contradiction. In the summer before 9/11 he was in the major news outlets, trying to save his career after accused (accurately as he confirmed) of trafficking anonymously in the sexual want ads as an HIV-positive would-be participant in the unmentionable. (In other words, someone who was caught in a well-publicized scandal about which he confirmed its main details, without much sensitivity to human fraility, helped to spread false information about a potential VP designed to ruin her reputation.) At some point, one would think such a suspect individual would have been ostracized by sane people—or indeed perhaps he already has.
This seems to be common among liberaltarians, or postmodern conservatives, however we might identify them. E.D. Kain gave the finger to a deep-bench of neoconservative writers whom he'd asked for analytical contributions - at no charge - when he deleted his online magazine, "NeoConstant," without the decency of a courtesy notification. Mark Thompson has the gall to applaud the strategic rationality of Hamas (with an obligatory attack on Israeli's actions as "self-defeating"), and then when questioned about his argument, he cowardly throws his hands up and pleads that "I honestly don't know - or pretend to know - the answer to the situation ..."

There are a lot more issues here to be hashed out (and certainly genuine libertarian ideology may have multiple strains). But in my view, it's frankly inconceivable in terms of developing a coherent ideology to see libertarian thinkers align with nihilist antiwar leftists in opposition to a forward-based and morally-robust American foreign policy, and then watch these same wannabe ideologues align with the neo-Stalinist forces of International ANSWER in protesting - whether on the street or online - the political and moral preferences of a majority of Californians who exercized their basic political rights to protect marriage traditionalism through the interest group-system and the ballot box.

Observing and monitoring the program of this unholy alliance of left-libertarianism has truly been one of the most eye-opening, and deeply troubling, experiences of my political lifetime.

6 comments:

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

"...liberaltarians, or postmodern conservatives, however we might identify them..."

When this whole "liberaltarian" thing started, it gave me the creeps. Sure, there are left-wing libertarians. I know because I used to argue with them decades ago when I wrote for a libertarian mag. And I don't mean the right-wing anti-war libertarians like Justin Raimondo.

I soon figured out that among the "liberaltarians," there were the useful idiot types who thought with their emotions rather than logic and then there were the really creepy types who pretend to be libertarians or "anarcho-syndicalists" but are really either nihilists or hardline Marxists simply trying to destroy Western civilization.

JBW said...

Great post, Don. Really. I'm not just saying that. And you don't sound at all unthinkingly ideological nor rigidly homophobic. You're fitting into the niche you've chosen for yourself just fine. Top notch, my man. Top notch.

PJC, when we destroy Western civilization I guarantee that you'll be the last to know. Enjoy.

Donald Douglas said...

Great commmentsl, Patrick. Thanks for visiting.

Donald Douglas said...

" ... rigidly homophobic ... "

Actually, JBW, I'm not homophobic at all. My criticism all along with the left is in the argument for gay marriage itself, of which there really isn't one.

JBW said...

Homophobic, anti-marriage rights, "traditionalist", it matters not to me how you label yourself, Don. Practically every homophobe in America votes right along with you. They are a vital component of your base; a significant portion of those who agree with your whole marriage agenda. If every homophobe in this country disappeared tomorrow, gay marriage would be legal across America the next day. Tell me I'm wrong.

Greywolfe said...

I truly like this post. It very succinctly states a feeling I've had about libertarians, for some time. Maybe for me to call them a 5th column organization, might be too much, but that's how I feel about them.

Kudos on this post.