The Social Justice of a Police State

Fareed Zakaria recently published a piece, Incarceration Nation, that points out there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America – more than 6 million – than were in the Soviet Gulag Archipelago at its height. The imprisonment rate in the US is approaching 1 per 100 which is generally an order of magnitude greater than the other western-styled democracies around the globe. Zakaria notes that this gap between the US and the rest of the world is relatively recent phenomenon. Thirty years ago, at the start of the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” the US incarceration rate, though at the outer bounds, was nonetheless in line with other civilized democracies. Since then, however, the US incarceration rate has more than quintupled.

I mention the Zakaria article because it offers a relevant contextual backdrop to this recent Cato Unbound essay, A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism, by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi. Both of these authors are academics involved in the so-called “Bleeding Heart Libertarian Project” to marry distributive justice to libertarian political theory. The preferrred distributive justice paradigm is the Rawlsian one. The intent of their essay is to demonstrate the compatiblity of this paradigm with a historical weaving of the (classical) liberal tradition. The corollary is that libertarianism, as typically defined, is a departure from this tradition. It is proposed then that a sympathetic adaptation of Rawls will right the course of a proper libertarian political theory.

Frankly, I would not dispute the primary thrust of the essay: that a “non-bleeding heart libertarianism” is a departure from liberalism. I would qualify this agreement by noting that a “non-bleeding heart libertarianism” is not a modern development. Historically, libertarianism is rooted in a rejection of any normative social contract rationale for obedience to the State. Of course, we are talking about a different history than the highly selective one outlined by Zwolinski and Tomasi. However, it is not my intention to adjudicate libertarian history in this post. I’ve previously given my account of this history here and here. Instead, I will only point out there is a reason why libertarianism departs from liberalism: namely, because liberalism inherently violates its own constraints regarding the artificiality of the State and politics. By artificiality, we mean the State is not supposed to become the source of government. At the very least, the State should avoid the evolutionary equilibrium of becoming the total source of government(i.e., a Police State). However, Zwolinski and Tomasi’s essay demonstrates how easily distributive justice can legitimize a police state and provides yet another example of bleeding hearts not exactly bleeding for everyone.

The Zwolinski and Tomasi essay begins with an erroneous, straw-man premise:

To the extent that respect for property leaves some individuals poor and destitute, individuals might be called by a sense of charity and beneficence to respond. But the moral justification of free market institutions is logically independent from any claims about the effects of those institutions on the material holdings of the poor.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Zwolinski and Tomasi mischaracterize the libertarian principle. Enforceable moral claims of any property rights regime are not independent of the material holdings of agents. Indeed, the libertarian principle is actually a moral constraint against property rights regimes. If agents are worse off under the regime than they would be without the regime, then there is no moral obligation to obey the regime. This moral constraint illuminates an essential distinction between libertarians and progressives. Libertarians are not intererested in distributive justice correcting unjust regimes. The correction is the abolition of these regimes. I would argue the classical libertarian position–if we were to,say, follow Bastiat–is that any property rights regime that requires distributive justice to retain legitimacy is probably corrupt. Following Bastiat, we would identify distributive justice as a form of bribery against defection. I would add that these bribes are much more directed at the “middle class” than the so-called poor. Thus, we can expect the so-called “social safety net” to largely consist of an array of middle-class subsidies and not a device or thing designed to minimize a worst-case condition.

Zwolinski and Tomasi identify Rawlsian justice as the “gold standard” of contemporary social justice. But as I havepreviously discussed, Rawls later modified his methodological approach to defend his principles of justice. David Friedman, in his critique of Zwolinksi and Tomasi provides a clue to the problem with Rawls’ original approach. Writes Friedman:

And one implication of that version, taken as literally as I have been taking the natural rights alternative, is that it is better to have a world where everyone is at a utility level of a hundred than a world with one person at ninety-nine and everyone else at a thousand. I have never yet been able to figure out why anyone takes either the derivation or the conclusion seriously.

The answer to Friedman’s criticism is that Rawls’ formulation was actually challenged. In particular, John Harsanyi’s “originalist position” maximized aggregate utility(straight utilitarian). Indeed, Harsanyi’s version exposed the problem with the “Veil of Ignorance” as a normative construct: it lacked a plausible risk aversion model. Rawls’ “Maxmin” version is equivalent to infinite risk aversion. Harsanyi’s “max utilitarian” is equivalent to zero risk aversion. Neither infinite nor zero risk aversion is plausible. The VOI instrument has to establish the appropriate level of risk aversion in the original position that falls somewhere between zero and infinity. Obviously, then, the VOI does not yield unique solutions and thus loses its normative power.

Friedman’s primary criticism of Zwolinski and Tomasi is that the Rawlsian conception doesn’t actually link to the historical utilitarian foundations of “classical liberalism.” But John Harsanyi’s formulation directly casts the Originalist Position in such utilitarian terms. And it is this utilitarian casting which more or less demonstrated that the normative foundation of Rawls’ theory was built over a house of cards.

Rawl’s modified approach to his theory of justice was developed in his later book, “Political Liberalism.” Political Liberalism more or less concedes the lack of a rational foundation for a unanimity regarding hypothetical justice principles. Political liberalism is an explicit shift from the rational to the “reasonable,” a shift from justice as “moral” to justice as “political.” It is here that Rawls lays out the ideas of the “overlapping consensus” and “Public Reason.” The government stays neutral between competing moral foundations. Justice is a “political product” defined by the overlapping consensus of moral dialogue. Reasonable discussion is supposed to validate Rawls’ principles of justice. In practice, however, it merely roots justice in the cultural war. So, the gold standard of contemporary social justice turns out to be the overlapping consensus between Rush Limbaugh and Daily Kos. This, of course, is a farce. But it only points out the inherent flaw of “Public Reason.” Public Reason has nothing to with liberal justice; instead it is entirely rooted in a communitarian war over “recognition.”

The Zwolinski/Tomasi essay makes it clear that “recognition” plays an important in who “qualifies” for justice. They propose a rather high barrier of entry to qualify for being “poor.” Evidently, “Poor” excludes the social rift-raft and the unemployed. To be properly poor means to be employed. But this is a silly and obviously artificial exclusionary construction. An obvious solution to maximize the condition of our properly defined “poor” would be to simply to maximize the barrier of entry to qualify to work. A “social justice claim” reduces to a protectionist claim, which is often the case. This type of protectionism becomes particularly insidious when you consider that who is legally “recognized” to work in a National Security State becomes a matter of public debate of an overlapping consensus between Rush Limbaugh and Daily Kos. This is hardly justice; rather, it’s a moral perversion.

In the past I have discussed the concept of the “Pink Police State.” The Pink Police State, like all police states, delineates a clear demarcation of privilege between the professional classes and those who are shit out of luck in terms of inclusion in the club. In other words, it is “the illegals,” the scapegoats, and the “unrecognized” who take the full brunt of a police state. It breeds a permanent underclass. The Pink Police State, however, is a type of classification that likely portends a flourishing recognition of a “libertarian” professional class. This professional class will spare no opportunity to equate unprecedented recognition with an unprecedented condition of human liberty. And the primary aim of this community will be recognition, not justice(or reform). In this vein, the Bleeding Heart Libertarian Project simply appears to be an exercise in professional recognition. It is difficult to take seriously claims of distributive justice in a police state, particularly if the “bleeding heart” concern for the poor excludes the very victims of this police state. But this is exactly how a professional class can babble about social justice in an underlying context marked by an unprecedented political economy of a prison industrial complex.

The West is accustomed to regarding “Police States” as restricted to non-democratic states, but “voting” has nothing to do with its definition. The definition is as follows: (1) undue restrictions on the freedom of mobility, the freedom of transactions, the freedom to work (2) perverse rates of domestic incarceration (3) system-wide domestic surveillance organs engaged in domestic spying in all aspects of the social, economic and political life of its citizens. The makeup of these organs will usually entail some degree of a secret police and an unaccountable intelligence complex (4) the militarization of the borders (5) an arbitrary distinction between law and the exercise of power by the executive agency (6) a militarization or para-militarization of “law enforcement” (7) a social context where the government actively propagandizes a permanent enemy, a permanent threat, a permanent war (8) a social context that glorifies the organs of authority, “the men and women in uniform.”

The United States is a Police State. And the Pink Police State that will be its social justice…


“The Penalty of Treason is Death”

So proclaimed supposed left-winger Bill Maher to the applause of his supposed left-wing audience Friday night. The question: a brief consideration of Ron Paul’s critique of Obama’s assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Seth MacFarlane commented that while he trusted Obama with this power, he would be troubled with the exercise of such power by someone like Michelle Bachmann. Salman Rushdie, apparently unbothered by any consideration of irony regarding unilateral issuance of death edicts, informed us that those who commit treason forfeit any claim to rights, a comment which prompted Maher’s succinct editorial conclusion: “…And the Penalty of Treason is Death.”

That was the cue for the audience applause, but it also served as a reminder that what supposedly passes for “liberal” is usually anything but. The liberal would have corrected Rushdie that US presidential edict is not sufficient to establish the crime of treason. It has to be substantiated in open court. And the liberal would have reminded Bill Maher that death is not the only the punishment prescribed by congress for this crime. The penalty for those convicted is either death or imprisonment not less than five years. However, the liberal would also be quick to remind both Rushdie and Maher that “treason” hitherto has been a very rare charge/prosecution in American history, with conviction even rarer still, and execution yet even rarer. Indeed, there have been as many pardons1 of “treason” convictions as executions.

Convicted and Executed:
Herbert Hans Haupt: German-born naturalized U.S. citizen, convicted of treason in 1942.

Civil War:
(i)Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt, conviction by military tribunal concerning the Lincoln Assassination
(ii) William Bruce Mumford: convicted of treason and executed for tearing down a United States flag

John Brown Slave Revolt(technically, tried by the commonwealth of Virginia and not the Feds):
(i) John Brown
(ii) Aaron Dwight Stevens

Those pardoned of the crime of Treason
(i) Tokyo Rose, pardoned by Gerald Ford
(ii) Tomoya Kawakita, deported by JFK in lieu of execution

Civil War:
(i) Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and other leading confederates given amnesty from indictment or trial of Treason by Andrew Johnson

Dorr Rebellion:
Governor Thomas Dorr, guilty treason verdict in 1844 anulled in 1854

Whiskey Rebellion:
Philip Vigol and John Mitchell pardoned by George Washington

The liberal, then, rather than clapping to Maher’s assertion, dampens the Obama celebration with the point of objection: “Actually Bill, up to now in American History, the penalty of Treason, as a convicted crime, has just as likely resulted in a pardon than execution. This is what is supposed to separate us from the barbarians, such as Iran, right Salman?”

Then the liberal, amidst the onset of partisan booing, proceeds to set the actual historical and legal meaning straight: this power the US Executive claims actually has nothing to with usurping the constitutional parameters of treason. It goes way beyond that. It’s claim of extrajudicial power to murder overturns the entire liberal legal tradition. We’ve returned to the original historical meaning of “outlaw,” which denoted someone declared outside the sphere of legal protection. Any person saddled with this designation was fair game, meaning anyone was “legally” sanctioned to do anything they wanted to against that person, including murder.

The liberal legal tradition ultimately derives from the principle of the Great Writ, habeas corpus, which subjugates any “legal sanctioned” punishment to due process. This simply means that the State, the King, or the Authority cannot sanction any punishment against the accused as “legal” without “due process,” that is, without some mechanism in place for the accused to challenge the accusation. Habeas corpus puts an end to the historical meaning of outlaw because the State does not have the legitimate power to legally define someone as “fair game.”

The liberal will then point out the final egregious error of the partisan Obamatard defenders, such as Mother Jones. If you are liberal, it is far better to deal with a Bush/Cheney regime that operates under a unitary executive principle that any action by the President is legal by virtue of the office itself than with an Obama regime that legitimizes it under the “rule of law.”

Let me spell out the problem for liberalism: The “rule of law” under the “liberal State” has now re-legitimized the old historical legal concept of the “outlaw,” a legal concept, specifically, it’s abolition, that more or defines the raison d’etre of the liberal State itself.

Mother Jones attempt to legitimize Obama under the “rule of law” only reminds us of the validity of the libertarian critique. The “rule of law” phrase itself means shit; the historical definition of “outlaw” was enforced by two thousand years of interpretation regarding the “rule of law.”

Eventually, the honest liberal comes to understand that “eternal vigilance” largely means nullifying the “rule of law.” “Outlaw,” however, cannot be nullified in the court. The American revolutionaries, under charge of “outlaws,” didn’t nullify it in King George’s court of law. They nullified it on the battlefield.

Here’s the current reality. The people of the world, under the rule of “American Exceptionalism,” now largely despise their governments. Thus, there shouldn’t be any surprise that the US wields the greatest unaccountable secret intelligence/military complex in the history of the world. And it shouldn’t be any surprise that American law now has resurrected the historical legal sanction of “outlaw.”

In the end, we should understand what is meant by American Exceptionalism: the liberal legitimization of “outlaw.”

1 The term Pardon here, for brevity, has a more expansive meaning than it’s actual technical meaning. In this context, it refers to pardon, deportation, amnesty, or anullment.

Our New Net Zero Immigration Nirvana

Two years ago at Freedom Democrats, I posted an article on Libertarianisim and Immigration that sort of languished at the time. A year later, my republishing of the article managed to achieve some degree of notoriety with Less Antman’s endorsement.

The argument made in that essay was simple. Freedom of movement, freedom of contract are essential to any libertarian social theory and any (i) welfare argument (ii) cultural argument (iii) property rights regime argument against these essential liberties would result in:

(i) a dreadful social welfare
(ii) a dreadful culture
(iii) a dreadful property-rights regime

And I named “names” regarding the origins of these “libertarian arguments” against these liberties. And I concluded that these arguments were nothing but a welfare costly form of collectivism.

Now, two years later, we have an “empirical moment.” As the NY Times reports, we now are experiencing net zero immigration flows.

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

The decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark. The Mexican census recently discovered four million more people in Mexico than had been projected, which officials attributed to a sharp decline in emigration.

What are the reasons for this sharp decline in immigration? According to the NY Times:

(i) Economic, demographic and social changes in Mexico
(ii) a piss-poor performing, Papers-Please US Political Economy

What our current conditions in this net zero immigration environment?

(i) Budget Deficits at a minimum as a result of net-zero influx of unskilled immigrants no longer burgeoning the welfare rolls and sucking up public monies?
Nope. Budget Deficits are at an all-time high, indicating that perhaps Public Debt has little do to do with labor migration

(ii) Unemployment at record lows, real wages at record highs, particularly at the low-skilled end, as a result of net-zero influx of unskilled immigrants no longer competing in the labor market
Nope. Unemployment at record-highs, real-wages, stagnant.

(iii) Access to Medical care up, cost of services down as a result of net-zero influx of unskilled immigrants no longer inflating demand for services?
Nope. Medical inflation still at roughly double digits. Medical tourism abroad still on the rise.

In short, there’s no empirical argument that our net zero immigration environment has improved social welfare. Indeed, this net zero immigration environment has coincided with a rather dramatic worsening of overall welfare.

The obvious question then is why is this outcome something that is desirable to enforce and with the current condition already being net zero immigration, why is this enforcement effort being dramatically ratcheted up with Real ID and E-Verify systems consolidated under the auspices of DHS?

For libertarians it’s a question with an obvious answer. There is no welfare argument against freedom of movement, freedom of contract. If you want to experience a true welfare State, defining a “welfare State” to be a “mechanism of redistribution,” then no better way than totalitarian control of the freedom of movement and the freedom of contract. And this totalitarian control is a Papers-Please Political Economy.

The loss of economic welfare from the Papers-Please Political Economy is the obvious rejoinder to Milton Friedman’s “welfare argument.”

Hoppe’s “invited-contractual property rights” schema, as an absolutist dogma, results in a Papers-Please Political Economy. It’s only “enforceable” indirectly, via a totalitarian control over a general freedom of contract. It’s an utter violation of the libertarian principle and the Lockean proviso.

And the likes of Hoppe have to explain the social and demographic changes in Mexico while coming to grips with the fact that it is the conservative, evangelical Christian culture that is pushing/enacting things like E-Verify.

Finally, Rothbard. Rothbard, in his later years, would oppose immigration on the grounds that it would serve partisan political ends. And it is true that the likes of the Political left largely support immigration on the grounds/perception that it would reinforce a demographic trend that would lead to political domination. I would dispute that Prima facie assumption on the grounds that no one wants to migrate to a political economy that serves corrupt political ends. I used to argue this point frequently at Freedom Democrats, against both progressive assumptions and those underlying Arnold Kling’s “One Party State.” On this matter, the current condition speaks for itself.

The Pink Police State

Although I have often used the term “Pink Police State,” I didn’t coin the term. Credit goes to James Poulos who actually credits Marilyn Manson for the inspiration. Poulos dug back to the “Dope Show” from Manson’s late 1990s “Mechanical Animals” to throw pointed bombs at Reason’s “Libertarian Moment” thesis a few years ago. Even though Matt & Nick’s book is “new,” the thesis is old staleness in the pages of Reason Magazine.

Poulos railed against a “cultural libertarianism that is snowballing while the snowball of political libertarianism rolls deeper into hell.”

I couldn’t help but think of Poulos after hearing Michelle Bachmann recently address the Sarah Palin rivalry to the media by retorting “the media would love to see two girls come together and have a lesbian mud wrestling fight, but I’m not going to give it to them.”

Revolutionary Wave: the Crack in American Exceptionalism

A spectre is now haunting Northern Africa and the Middle East–the spectre of the collapse of the American-aligned Arab Nation State. What started from a single act of self-immolation by a fruit stand operator in Tunisia has now metastasized into a full-blown revolutionary wave that has spread to Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. Ben Ali has already exited to Saudi Arabia and Mubarak may now follow. If Mubarak goes, expect the gated cul de sac community of former dictators in Riyadh to grow.

The US Political class reaction, as one would expect, has been dissonant. Two days ago, the official talking points of the Obama Admin were expressed by Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.


“Our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

Is Mubarak a dictator? Joe Biden

“No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some… of the needs of the people out there.”

Now the talking points have changed. The New Talking Points are that Obama has been secretly ahead of this issue for two years. Wikileaks cables are now appearing that suggest that the US has been providing material support to pro-democracy groups in Egypt. The Washington Post, the leading establishment cheerleader on the point that the Wikileaks cables have never provided anything new, is now suddenly promoting the WikiLeaks Egyptian Cables. Of course, there is news that Egyptian police are using U.S.-made tear gas against the demonstrators. And the US annually funds 1/3 of the Egyptian military budget–the same military that would be used in a crack down.

In the US, there is a certain irony that this Revolutionary Wave, full of “anti-government rhetoric,” follows on the heels of our own establishment political class ranting against the evils of anti-government rhetoric–it threatens civility, the established order, and it portends violence against the Political Class. The irony just thickens the air with more choking cognitive dissonance that is already replete with it. Wikileaks is now good. But we are nonetheless torturing a US Soldier to turn on Julian Assange so he can be extradited to the US for espionage. The US now claims that the Egyptian government’s control of telecommunication services abridges fundamental, universal rights, but Hactivist Anonymous, attempting an old school circumvention of these controls with respect to the Egyptian context, is being hunted down in the US by the FBI and DHS.

One of the more absurd things is the attempt by neoconservatives to expropriate the Revolutionary Wave as validation. What a brazen attempt to rewrite their history and intellectual intent. The Revolutionary Wave is threatening American-aligned Arab States. Neoconservative doctrine called for the explicit use of “benevolent US Military hegemony” to force a “democratic pro-American re-alignment” of non-American aligned Arab or Muslim states. The primary motivations were the security of Israel and the security of petroleum production. The “Domino Effect” was supposed to topple Iraq, Syria, Iran, Lybia, etc and install a pro-American aligned government in Palestine. It was not meant to topple Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc. The Revolutionary Wave is actually a repudiation of Neoconservative doctrine, and in particular, American Exceptionalism. The likes of Elliott Abrams instead try to pin this on the failure of “Arab Exceptionalism.” I don’t think so.

In historical context, the modern Arab State has it’s origins in the post WWI European partitioning of the old Ottoman Empire that resulted in a patchwork of territorial protectorates under the colonial thumbs of the European powers, particularly Britain and France. Post WWII signified the end of this colonial rule, meaning these “protectorates” became more or less independent states. Some, like Egypt, overthrew their monarchies and established a more “western” conception of a State. But this “independence” was relatively short-lived. Most, in the end, would become either Soviet or American “client States. This was the “cold war.”

Egypt, for example, became more or less a Soviet-client under Nasser but then, under Sadat, flipped to the US. After the assassination of Sadat, Mubarak would continue Egypt’s status as an American-client State.

Iraq, interestingly, was an example of an Arab State that actually never was either a Soviet or American Client State. It played both off each other. But it’s invasion of Kuwait, which threatened the US’s crown jewel Arab Client State, Saudi Arabia, triggered the Bush I “New World Order,” which was international sanction of US hegemony in the Middle East. It signaled the end of the cold war. The Soviet Union would soon be done. But Iraq actually didn’t topple. And there were still former Soviet-client States(e.g, Syria), that needed to be re-aligned. So, enter the Neoconservatives who viewed Iraq as the catalyst in a Domino theory to trigger full US alignment.

But US Military hegemony in the Middle East has ended up triggering a different sort of “domino effect.” The Revolutionary Wave is a revolt against the corrupt oligarchy of American-aligned regimes.

“Stability” is the buzzword, but I would suggest a more accurate term: “resiliency.” How resilient now is the DoubleThink of American Exceptionalism?

The Triumph of Incoherence

Whenever I read Andrew Sullivan declare the triumph of something, I prepare for the cognitive dissonance to follow. He is a master in that art. So, what is one to say about this Sullivan effort, The Triumph of Libertarianism?.

The Triumph of Libertarianism. Really?

What is libertarianism? It is governance by laissez-faire civil society. It is anti-Statist.

Who in their right mind is going to claim that we are riding a crest of anti-Statism? Indeed, it’s precisely the opposite. We are riding a crest of putrid statism, particularly with regard to the political economy of the permanent war State.

Let’s look closer at Sullivan’s little blurb. What is he actually identifying libertarianism to be? Easy…Friedman’s 2nd Generation Chicago School, or if you prefer, “Friedmanite Liberalism.” And what are the defining characteristics of this?

Income tax rates are way down. Numerous industries have been deregulated. Most price controls have been abandoned. Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining. Trade has been steadily liberalized. Simultaneously, the intellectual climate has shifted to be dramatically more favorable to libertarian insights. Wage and price controls were a standard tool of economic policymaking in the 1970s. No one seriously advocates bringing them back today. The top income tax bracket in the 1950s was north of 90 percent. Today, the debate is whether the top rate will be 35 percent or 39 percent.

Sullivan then informs us that a liberal today can safely spout Friedman. This, I gather, is the reason for the “triumphalism.” But then Sullivan can’t help himself and veers off into some tangent about Thatcher and Reagan. Opines Sullivan:

It is to see libertarian ideas as an ideology, not a useful way to critique excessive and counterproductive government intervention, when appropriate depending on the circumstances. Again, Reagan did not say “government is the problem,” he said, “In our present crisis, government is the problem.” The present crisis of 2010 is not the present crisis of 1981. And the failure of the conservative imagination in understanding this is one of the right’s deepest current problems.

I’m not sure what Sullivan means here. I think he is saying that the key to being a “triumphant libertarian” and a good conservative is a proper imagination necessary to divine Reagan; apparently, this is critical for determining when price controls constitute good public policy.

But enough with Sullivan. He is actually getting the “liberal stuff” from Tim Lee, The Return of Bottom up Liberalism. So let’s take a took. Lee uses an obscure post by whiny academic lamenting the lack of a robust “leftist” blogosphere. For Lee, this is a cause for celebration. That the lefty blogosphere is dominated by “neoliberals” like Matt Yglesias is proof positive of an “impressive libertarian winning streak.” Matt Yglesias represents the “Triumph of Libertarianism.”

Lee uses this post, No enemies on the Left, as proof positive. Writes Lee:

One way to interpret this is to say that Matt is a moderate libertarian with a redistributionist streak, but I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. Rather, what’s happened is that liberalism in general has internalized key libertarian critiques of earlier iterations of liberal thought, with the result that a guy with a largely Friedmanite policy agenda can plausibly call himself a liberal. And actually, this shouldn’t surprise us at all, because Friedman called himself a liberal too.

Well, you can call Yglesias a “moderate libertarian,(the now defunct “liberaltarian”)” if you like, but I would also point out that he also lugs around a pretty sizable authoritarian streak. Yes, he may question occupational licensing from time to time, but he also waxes poetic about Blackwater. IOZ calls him an odious, totalitarian, albino squirrel for a reason.

Using the likes of Yglesias to pound chests and declare the return of “bottom-up liberalism” is exhibit A of what I call libertarian incoherence(i still haven’t got around to publishing part II of my three part series regarding the “Trouble with Liberty.” Part II deals with this exact issue).

“Bottom-up Liberalism” is the rehashing of the “enlightenment distinction between civil society and State.” Libertarianism historically proper had done away with this delusion of this distinction, jettisoning the State in favor of laissez faire civil society. For reasons discussed in this post, libertarianism in the United States in the 20th century became associated with restoring this distinction. Today, led by Cato acolytes, this “restoration project” is usually discussed in terms of marginal tax rates and “deregulation.” Tim Lee is another perfect example. Cast in these terms, the “restoration project,” whose roots derive from the Mont Pelerin Society, is declared a success. But I don’t see it that way. I look at the the National Security State, the Military Industrial Complex, and the evolution of the most vast State intelligence apparatuses in human history, and I see abject failure.

Nick Turse’s The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives destroys any pretense of any “enlightenment distinction between civil society and State.” Turse’s scholarship is analogous to some extent to the New Left’s deconstruction of the myths of corporate liberalism. In this case, however, the radical non-libertarian left takes down the “restoration project.” I’ll give ya’ll a clue here. It’s not the likes of Chris Beam or any other from the bevy of establishment progressive writers who actually take down Cato. It’s Nick Turse.

Tim Lee writes historical revisionism like this:

Wage and price controls were a standard tool of economic policymaking in the 1970s.

That’s a half truth. They weren’t really “standard tools;” rather they were last ditch desperate measures to stabilize the crumbling Bretton Woods regime. Bretton Woods transitioned to Chicago. And Chicago hit the wall in 2008. TARP, the bailouts, the increased monopolization of money and credit were measures to stabilize Chicago in an analogous way that the wage and price controls of the early 1970s were invoked to stabilize Keynesian Bretton Woods. But this type of stability comes at the price of resiliency, meaning that increasingly draconian measures have to be employed to stabilize against increasingly minor shocks to system. The system has to transition to a new “regime.” But what alternative rules-based “capitalist regime” is there to transition to? (1) Oligarchy (2) Anarchy

So, I would suggest why there is good reason to be afraid of this massive National Security State, Intelligence Apparatus that has evolved. And when I read Wilkinson or Drum on these matters, I will point out that they engaging in an anachronistic debate–debating Keynes vs Hayek with respect to regimes that no longer exist.

A coherent debate would be around what type of regime you want to live under going forward. But don’t expect oligarchy vs anarchy to be the topic of polite political debate…

Respectable Bomb Throwers

A former fellow contributor at Freedom Democrats has composed two recent posts, My respectability vs. their legitimacy and Are you on the inside or the outside?, that cautions against radical politics moving from an abstract layer of persuasive speech to one advocating criminal activity. The underlying factor here seems to be that WikiLeaks is raising the stakes, making the abstract suddenly tangible. An abstraction is now drawing some blood…it’s a threat. The cautionary thinking here is not to overplay the hand, not to resort to advocating the equivalent of anarchist bomb throwing, which could not only make one the target of the police(the police state) but which could also threaten to criminalize the abstraction itself, or at the very least, banish it from the topic of polite society.

Now I both agree and disagree with Ricketson. I agree that “anarchist bomb throwing,” whether it’s actually throwing bombs, or executing DDoS attacks against digital targets, is a loser strategy. You can try to cast these things into a type of “civil disobedience” rationale or justify them as defensive actions against Statist aggression, but the bottom line is that they are ineffective and counter-productive. And Ricketson’s point about the “mainstream’ should be taken to heart. The thing about “American radical libertarianism” that separates it from “anarchism” in general is that in America, radical libertarianism is more or less “liberal anarchism, ” and liberal anarchism has never sought to eradicate the “petty Bourgeoisie” as a precursor to some new social order. Indeed, Liberal anarchism embraces the “petty bourgeois” tradition and embraces it as a mainstream tradition. This to no end infuriates a larger segment of anarchist radicals who operate outside the “liberal anarchist tradition.”

Where I disagree with Ricketson perhaps starts with this quote by Janet Napolitano:

“The old view that ‘if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won’t have to fight them here’ is just that – the old view,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told police and firefighters recently.

Ricketson takes his alias from Benjamin Tucker and those who are familiar with libertarian history know that Tucker, after he left the United States and emigrated to France, actually supported World War I on the basis that the German glorification of military culture was such a threat to the “petty bourgeois” liberal tradition that it had to be opposed, even by force. Here I am reminded of the old Barry Goldwater joke, “vote for Goldwater and we will end up in Vietnam.” Well, a wag or two have been known to crack back in the day, “we voted for Goldwater and sure enough, we ended up in Vietnam.” To Tucker’s Ghost I would crack, the United States went to war and yet we ended up with the very thing you dreaded.

As Orwell brilliantly elucidated, permanent war is the permanent war of the ruling class against it’s own citizens. It is a destroyer of liberalism. It is the National Security State, not anarchism, which is the threat to the mainstream of a “petty bourgeois” polite society. The horror is to contemplate just exactly what is to become of this “mainstream” under a censorship regime, when uncensored abstraction itself, by definition, is a threat.

In a permanent War on Terror, terrorism is not bomb throwing, rather it is any ideological challenge to the “Status Quo.” When Janet Napolitano states that the guns have turned inward, she doesn’t mean they are pointing at some random asymmetric violent threat, rather she means they are pointing at any systemic abstract threat to the Status Quo. They are aimed at any “institutional alternatives” to the status quo. If these “institutional alternatives” draw any blood, that is, threaten the Status Quo, those guns will fire…and it would be impolite in polite society not to pretend otherwise.

Respectability=see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil…