Tyranny From Soft to Hard, Part 1

TyrannyThumbby N. A. Halkides
It is generally understood among Conservatives that freedom in the U.S. (and Western Europe) has been gradually eroding for a long time and that now, in the age of Obama, it is under concerted attack. The specter of tyranny has become all too real to those who know how to see. Yet despite this, the idea of living under an actual dictatorship still seems somehow fantastic to those who have few definite political convictions and who do not closely follow current events.

What even Conservatives and other freedom-lovers may not fully understand is precisely how the process is taking place, that is, how we are “progressing” from liberty to servitude (the true meaning of progressivism, by the way). It is my hope to focus attention on this topic by considering some of the characteristics of a free society and how they gradually mutate into those of first a “soft” tyranny and then those of a “hard” one so that we may better fight the growing statism of our times.

To begin with, I would like to present eight essential characteristics of a society and how they differ in three different stages: first a free society, then one which is in the process of devolving into statism as the collectivist/progressive ideology begins to take hold (“soft tyranny”), and finally the “hard tyranny” of a Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany when individual freedom has been completely abolished. After that, I will look briefly at each characteristic in turn and identify the trends that are pushing us along The Road to Serfdom, to use F. A. Hayek’s memorable phrase.

Characteristics of a free society:

1. Business regulation is minimal; people are free to open a business and run it as they see fit without interference from the state.

2. “Public health” is confined principally to the control of communicable diseases: quarantines, vaccination programs, inspection of restaurants to prevent infection, etc.

3. The individual’s personal life (including his business) is off-limits to government officials. Development of private property does not require government consent; individuals are free to enter into contracts of mutual benefit; employers are free to hire whomever they wish and charge whatever the market will bear for their products.

4. All laws passed by legislative bodies directly accountable to the people.

5. The effective rule of law and not of men.

6. Full freedom of speech: the individual can say whatever he wishes without fearing punishment for the content of his speech. This freedom is not lost by individuals who have banded together as corporations to go into business – a key point in the modern world when publishers, radio and TV stations, etc. are all incorporated.

7. The right to bear arms fully respected. No infringements such as arbitrary restrictions on certain classes of firearms or magazine sizes, and no registration of guns or gun-owners.

8. “Crime” means only an act which deprives an individual of his rights. It does not mean any action of which the government disapproves.

Characteristics of soft tyranny:

1. Business heavily regulated but still under private control in a more than nominal sense. Increasingly difficult to get new business ventures started because of government regulations of all kinds, from labor to environmental.

2. “Public health” begins to be construed not as combating communicable diseases, but as the private health of individuals considered collectively. This leads to nanny-state control of diet, exercise, “bad” habits, etc. Private health care still available but much government involvement, to the extent that markets are badly distorted.

3. Numerous petty regulations limiting options in one’s personal life – arbitrary building code restrictions, inability to negotiate voluntary agreements (contracts) of mutual benefit between two parties (e.g. employment agreements and health insurance contracts). Businesses not free to hire and fire at will but forced to bargain collectively with government-sanctioned unions and to engage in “affirmative action” to achieve racial quotas. Largely the consequence of an administrative state, where laws are passed by officials not directly accountable to the people.

4. The existence of an administrative state, with bureaucrats possessing de facto legislative authority but without any accountability to the citizens who are expected to obey their laws.

5. The rule of law (power strictly controlled and not arbitrary; government officials severely constrained in their official acts) may be weakened, but still effectively restrains government in many particulars.

6. Freedom of speech still exists but is now under attack on multiple fronts: the argument from intimidation in the form of “political correctness”, baseless accusations of racism, and actual disruption of speeches the Left dislikes are all techniques employed to browbeat its critics into silence.

7. Partial gun control – some arbitrary restrictions on types of firearms and who may own them, but citizens still armed. Characterized by government “allowing” citizens to retain arms not as a right but as a privilege which politicians may revoke when they please.

8. The definition of “crime” slowly expands to cover situations other than the violation of individual rights. This typically goes along with the attacks on freedom of speech and gun rights; thus “hate speech” is considered unprotected and it becomes a “crime” to possess magazines with more than x rounds of ammunition, etc.

Characteristics of hard tyranny:

1. Business completely under government control. Favored citizens (e.g. party members) may be allowed a small amount of autonomy and a large amount of wealth. Government decides which products are to be produced.

2. Socialized medicine, with government making all medical decisions and in complete control of the medical profession.

3. No-longer-petty regulation of every aspect of the citizen’s life: from childhood education to adult vocation to healthcare, the important decisions are made by the state.

4. Administrative state without any constraints whatsoever. This usually takes the form of unaccountable bureaucrats supplemented by commissars and all under the control of one central authority.

5. The rule of men and not of laws (arbitrary power in the hands of both elected and unelected officials). Rule of law replaced by rule of men. Government officials wield arbitrary power – “the law is what is two lines above my signature” – Saddam Hussein

6. Outright censorship, especially of political ideas.

7. Strict gun control (firearms possession severely restricted or banned outright).

8. A class of political crimes, that is, conduct the government disapproves of but which does not violate private rights. Political “criminals” may be sent to re-education camps, imprisoned, or executed.

Although the forms are somewhat different, these hard and soft tyrannies have something in common: officials possessed of arbitrary power, that is, the coercive power of the state no longer restricted by objective, clearly-written laws designed to protect life, liberty, and property. Such arbitrary power is used, rather, to impose the will of the official upon the citizen. • (1879 views)

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24 Responses to Tyranny From Soft to Hard, Part 1

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A truly excellent article, Nahalkides. This spells it out very well. My first inclination is to slip into my third-person Leftist voice (my Michelle Obama voice) and tell you why all those things you call “Soft Tyranny” are really so very very good and nice. And there are far too many people who would now look at that list and not only have no problem with it but think that it was quite nice.

    I heard on Rush Limbaugh just yesterday that Michelle Obama wanted us all to drink water or something. This is not her job. This is not the job of government to tell us what to eat. But it is the job of the nanny. It is the job of those whose main conceit is that they can, and ought to, tell others how to live.

    Looking forward to Part 2. I hope others will hit the “Like” and other share buttons for this. It should be widely disseminated.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Fascism has been defined in some dictionaries as an economic system which features private ownership but government control. One might say that the Fascism of Italy was somewhere between Soft and Hard Tyranny, whereas Nazism was definitely in the Hard Tyranny category (though not quite as far along as Communism was in that era). I will note that the US was never a pure free society, because there were always some laws banning immoral conduct and even free speech was never totally free (e.g., libel laws).
    The aspect of accountability (to which Barack Obama is allergic) is an important one. While incarcerated at Nuremberg, Hermann Goering explained to the psychologist (Dr. Gilbert, who wrote a memoir of his service there) that under Weimar, the government had accountability but no power. The idea of the Fuehrerprinzip was to reverse that, which meant giving the government power without accountability.
    Bureaucratic rule-making goes back a century or so, and should never have been considered constitutional. By the time Obama came in, we already were developing most of the characteristics of a Soft Tyranny (as Goldberg pointed out in Liberal Fascism). Obama, however, has sought to maximize this (which is why I routinely refer to him as the Fascist Messiah), moving us well along the way to Hard Tyranny (though we aren’t quite there yet).
    The aspect of censorship, incidentally, is one reason why I have no use for so many libertarians who consider liberal Democrats a reasonable alternative to the GOP. No matter how bad the latter can be, they do at least accept freedom of expression in a way that few liberals do. This, combined with the liberal desire for gun prohibition and their increasing hostility to even the civil liberties involved in the legal system, should make them inherently an unacceptable choice for any libertarian.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Ditto.

    • CCWriter CCWriter says:

      I respectfully submit that any “libertarian” who considers “liberals” (the non-classical kind) to be libertarian is no libertarian.

      By the way, as to point number 2, I’m particularly concerned with the sly redefinition of “public” to mean not that which directly affects others but just anything at all the government wants to get its hands on and control. It’s now a pretext for controlling people’s freedom of association, work and commerce. Why is the distinction between public and private so hard to understand?

      I do think there are elements on the right (I’m not saying everyone) that bear some responsibility for having taught citizens to be acquiescent to soft tyranny–or at least ought to help people unlearn it.

      • MarkW says:

        I have sometimes stated that the only difference between too many liberals and too many conservatives, is which aspects of your life they want govt to control.
        Conservatives have a tendency to want govt to control your social life, drugs, sexual conduct, etc.
        Liberals have a tendency to want govt to control your economic life.
        To a libertarian who just wants govt to leave him alone, it’s hard to determine which group you are going to give your assistance to.
        There’s an old saying:
        Conservatives want govt to be your daddy.
        Liberals want govt to be your mommy.
        Libertarians want govt to treat them like an adult.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Ayn Rand observed this over 60 years ago. Her conclusion was that liberals, being totally materialistic, are concerned with control over the economy; whereas conservatives, being religious/moralistic, are concerned about control over personal behavior. She wasn’t entirely right, but there was certainly a great deal of truth in her argument.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          There’s an old saying:
Conservatives want govt to be your daddy.
Liberals want govt to be your mommy.
Libertarians want govt to treat them like an adult.

          Well, that’s not how I would put it.

          Liberals want government to be their mommy. I agree about that. But I would say that both libertarians and conservatives want government to treat them like an adult. Or, better yet, they want them to treat them not at all accept via legitimate functions of government.

          Most people in government come to the mindset that the citizenry are lesser people. Whether they think of those people as children or not, I suppose that varies. But there is always a certain amount of contempt or a “better-than-thou” attitude that builds up.

          The ruling class mentality just goes with the job of being in government. This is exacerbated because, quite frankly, government tends to attract the busy-body types.

          There are, of course, legitimate government functions that can, and often are, performed by mindful people who do, more or less, a day’s work for a day’s pay.

          But you’d have to be born on another planet not to recognize how government has become a self-sustaining “jobs” program of its own. Even according to some honest Democrats in California, the public employee unions are squeezing the state dry and are the one who really run things.

          I don’t want government as a mommy or daddy. I want as little government as possible that is consistent with good order. Libertarians are often naive about what functions are necessary. And it is surely true that many conservatives put an importance on morality.

          And yet, I would at least say that conservatives are honest about this. There is a morality implicit in, say, the libertarian desire to legalize all drugs or any other desire they have. We can argue about whether these politics are good or not, but they do reflect a moral vision.

          So to say that libertarians are any less moralizers than conservatives is very flattering, but untrue. We just perhaps have a different emphasis. A conservative, one would imagine, puts emphasis on “thou shall not kill” or “thou shall not steal.” And if a conservative is perhaps not thinking so biblically, he will tend to think in very common-sense American terms such as that if you want to eat, you must work.

          But compared to the socialist vibe in the Left which is hostile to wealth and wealth creation, and sees everyone as a victim of the very people who are responsible for lifting society out of the gutter, there is theoretically very little difference between conservatives and libertarians — at least regarding the large issue of whether we are to be a nation of people following their own light or a nation of people who are own locked, stock, and barrel by the government.

          What libertarians miss is that it is not so much government itself that is the problem. But what powers it has and what its intentions are. Government is much like the second amendment. We should have the right to own guns. But there is no guarantee about how those guns will be used.

          It’s the same with government. We need it. But like a gun, it is a dangerous thing if pointed in the wrong direction. And large or small, local or national, most government right now is pointed in the wrong direction.

          • CCWriter CCWriter says:

            Brad, I agree with most of what you said, but I have to take issue with the suggestion that when a libertarian wants something legalized (decriminalized may be a better term) that it is based on their personal “desires” to do whatever it is or a judgment that the thing in question is “good.”

            At least for a genuine libertarian, such a position comes from the distinction between governmental control and societal control, and the idea that optimum social control (whatever that might be) tends to be more harmed than helped by tight governmental control or involvement. We don’t deny morality and certainly don’t stand 180 degrees from conservative morality. Libertarians aren’t by definition invested in some anything-goes scenario. A healthy civil society wouldn’t allow that; all kinds of institutional and informal checks and balances and pressures on individuals’ behavior come into play, when government doesn’t try to monopolize that area (like overriding rights to determine what may be done on one’s own property–if we own the pool, we can make rules that you keep your bathing suits on and keep out of the opposite gender’s locker room, otherwise no parent in their right mind would let their kids go there).

            In fact many libertarians are quite sympathetic to many aspects of conservative morality, particularly responsibility and acceptance of consequences of one’s behavior. We just think laws cannot confer virtue and rather get in the way of its cultivation.

            (Of course you could argue that the above makes me not a libertarian but a conservatarian. You’d have to ask other libertarians whether they have trouble accepting what I said about morality.)

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I get your points, CC. I was just reacting to Mark’s condensed version.

              I really do think many libertarians don’t think that they’re imposing their morality on anyone. But they are. And that’s fine. As far as I can tell, there is no completely neutral morality. Every cause has an effect. I think it is up to everyone to accept this. There is no Utopia. If you want to legalize drugs and make them therefore legitimate in the minds of people to use, you have to own the wreckage this will bring to far too many lives and the general ugliness and coarseness it brings to society.

              Many on the Left (especially those who change the word “secular”) really do think their ideas are so natural that they is no imposition at all.

              But they live inside a bubble of conformity. When I hear even a Christian talk about the wonders of “diversity” I don’t generally sit there like an idiot and nod my head. I would say something such as, “It’s ‘diversity” if you have some wife-beaters in your group. It’s ‘diversity’ if some of you congregation are child molesters.” Etc.

              Diversity is a bullshit made-up word that means nothing except to those who have been programmed into the cult of “diversity,” as many people have today. But we don’t want “diversity.” Humans have never, ever lived with such a stupid ideal, that variety itself, rather than the quality of a thing, mattered.

              Those who spout “diversity” when it comes to people aren’t looking at people’s hearts and souls. They’re simply using them as fashion statements. It’s a shallow mindset.

              But I digress…maybe. The world is full of social standards. I’m not against social standards. I don’t even object to the fringe Paulbots having their weird standards.

              What I object to are social standards that are thinly veiled government standards. What we are ultimately fighting is the very possibility to for their to be such a thing as private standards, of a life outside of the state. And we’re losing that battle.

              Conservatives (ideally) want to impose a very specific morality upon society via government: If you want to eat, work. If you break the law, prepare to pay a penalty instead of blaming someone else. And certainly a general American identity is good. But all the horror stories of Orwellianism and collectivism is when the government gets its hooks so far inside of people that we become mere cogs of a machine. And we have to be, because in order to survive inside and under Really Big Government, you must cooperate with it.

              And that’s what I see many of the writers doing at NRO. They are totally oblivious to the dynamic. And I sometimes wonder if American isn’t worth at least doing a little bit of homework in this regard. Apparently that is often too much to ask.

              • CCWriter CCWriter says:

                “If you want to legalize drugs and make them therefore legitimate in the minds of people to use”

                See, libertarians don’t agree that the one is tantamount to the other. This is one of the ways of thinking that I think constitutes the unconscious acceptance of Progressivism that the larger conservative side would be better off without: the laws seen as a wish or a message, irrespective of their effectiveness (versus unintended consequences) and the need versus ability to devote enforcement resources and yet stay within the bounds of the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights.

                Whereas, libertarians believe that what you correctly cite as “private standards” can do much better at improving society and should be what people look to as guidance for right and wrong. We’re not invested in a free-for-all outcome; we may even have more faith than you do that conservative morality will prevail if simply demonstrated and articulated. (And by the way, “If you want to eat, work” is a law that needs no government enforcement–only for the government to refrain from undermining its operation in reality along with private efforts to deal with legitimate exceptions.)

                The notion that a libertarian would object to such standards, given that they are voluntary and from the ground up and hinge on individual moral choice and are found to be valuable through real-world experience, should be recognized as obviously untrue.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        CC, the brainwashing of people is just so heavy now. I used to wonder about how people could buy some of the BS that they do. But there’s a fairly good article at NRO called Losing Men. It’s an interview by Kathryn Jean Lopez with author Helen Smith about her new book, Men on Strike.

        Long story short, the propaganda that people have crammed down their throats now is very thick. In fact, I would say it is obviously cult-like.

        Add to this the ascendency of feminism and the diminishment of men. This will sound sexist to the untrained ear, but women don’t know everything. Men have some very good traits that society needs. And if we lose those traits, we get what we get now which is this creeping nanny state where Mother Government will take care of our every little need.

        That is the reigning paradigm. And it is tough to push back against because the paradigm has been heavily influenced by, and associated with, the very goals and identity of modern women themselves. To push back against this agenda, as we’ve seen time and again, is to risk being painted as a misogynist. Or someone who doesn’t care about the poor. Or someone who doesn’t CARE (“care” being the operative feminine/feminist word) about fill-in-the-blank.

        This is one reason that I am such a champion of man-like women such as Sarah Palin. Men have become so marginalized that it is likely now that only through these kind of brave and strong women can the weak, fuss-budget, narcissistic, and liberal-fascist “feminine” aspect we call “female” be refuted.

        As long as males are diminished, it is impossible to have a liberty-based society. It generally is men, not women, who are the risk-takers. That doesn’t mean that women can’t be risk-takers too. But we need only look at the evidence of our eyes to see that it is a NANNY state we are moving to, not a DADDY state.

        And there would be risks as well if we did move to a DADDY state. Nazi German, in many respects, was an expression of socialist man. And whether it’s socialist man or socialist woman, they’re both bad.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The problem I had wasn’t that some libertarians thought modern liberals were libertarian, but that they considered the Democrats an option even in the lesser-evil sense. They fail to see the explicit fascism inherent in the modern liberals’ rejection of dissent. (In FOSFAX, I’ve had a feature for several issue in which I list examples of two things: liberal hostility to dissent, and liberal cognitive dissonance. I can fill several densely-printed pages each issue with examples of both.

    • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

      I agree, especially with your comments on Libertarianism.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Okay, Nahalkides, I’m going to do it. I’m going to show you why “Soft Tyranny” is not only not tyranny, but a Good Thing®.

    1) Business must be regulated by the government because business is driven by greed and the profit motive. Although there can be waste and fraud in government (as there is in any human enterprise), government is not beholden to profit so it’s motives are inherently positive and constructive, especially when government is run by Progressives instead of those on the right who are beholden to corporate interests.

    2) People’s bad health habits don’t just effect themselves. They effect all of society, especially now that we are headed toward an enlightened and equality-based health care system as with the NHS in England in which not just the rich and privileged can receive the best of care. And this means that it’s no longer a private matter if you don’t take care of yourself. Your bad habits are going to cost others money and thus take resources away from people who, through no fault of their own, need medical care.

    3) See answer #1 and #2. Because business is inherently driven by the profit motive toward exploitation and greed, the government must step in. We are no longer the Wild West. Government can, and should, help to rectify all the excesses of business and provide for the better sharing of resources. We are now an information-based society. We have the ability now to be able to codify, systematize, and improve nearly all aspects of life. Why should some business somewhere be allowed to do something if there is already a proven and better way to do something, especially if it is safer, more healthy, and more equitable?

    4) Those “unelected bureaucracies” are still your fellow citizens. And they are still beholden to elected officials. Plus, just as with Supreme Court judges who are appointed for life, it is a benefit, not a flaw, that these various commissions are not subject to partisan or narrow political machinations. Such committees, agencies, and authorities are free to make decisions based upon what is best, not what is political or expedient.

    5) Laws have always been open to interpretation. That is nothing new and is not the “rule of men.” It is men and women who must inevitably interpret whatever laws are passed. Instead of weakening government, this strengthens the process since human discretion and intuition can be used instead of taking a cold, one-size-fits-all approach.

    6) It used to be called “free speech” to have a “white’s only” sign on your restaurant door. It used to be “free speech” to call women “tramps” or “sluts” and to otherwise verbally berate them. What you call “free speech” is simply the right to act like a barbarian. There is nothing novel about filtering out speech whose only purpose is to inflict emotional distress.

    7) Surely the Founders did not think that a citizen should own a tank or a hand grenade. Restrictions on weapons is not an “if” question but “how much.” And given the amount of crime committed by guns which have little or nothing to do with the maintenance of some kind of “militia,” it’s only sensibly to conclude that outlawing the ownership of guns is connected to controlling crime and has nothing to do with constitutional questions which are now out of date with today’s realities.

    8) See answer #6. It may not seem like a crime to some to use the n-word or to pollute a river for profit, but it is so under any reasonable definition of the world. What you see as a growing menace of expanding or changing definitions of rights is simply the smoothing over of the rough edges regarding some ugly, destructive, or abusive things that we could all do without. An “individual right” makes no sense if you’re not safe in your own home, have no food on the table, have no job, or are suffering from a debilitating disease.

    All of the above is what a clever Leftist would say. But you usually don’t get clever ones as much as you get radicalized, emotional, mindless talking points. Even then, the radicals do become very adept at hiding behind this kind of deceitful rhetoric. You can obviously see that I’ve read enough of it myself.

    • CCWriter CCWriter says:

      Brad, I was about to say, what the Internet really needs is a tag/font style for sarc! I don’t know what it might look like but we soooooo need it.

      True, so few liberals will express their real view so civilly and honestly, at least on NRO. Perhaps because we could, with equal civility, rebut their points.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That’s a good idea, CC…unless, of course, you’re being sarcastic. And then I’m not sure. 😀

        But I write crap like that and there is a risk. Because (at least in my own humble opinion) it’s fairly convincing, how would anyone know that my conservatism isn’t a put-on?

        Well, I just tend to agree with what Rush Limbaugh and others say. Conservatives know liberals better than liberals know themselves because conservatives (or libertarians) do not have the luxury of living in an ideological bubble safe from other views.

        Plus, conservatism (or libertarianism) is a rigorous and well-established ethical-economic-political-social philosophy. It does not have the same incoherence as the make-it-up-as-you-go-along “Progressives” stance where the depth of their philosophy, such as it is, can often be summed up in one word: “Forward.”

        Third, (which relates to the above two), conservatives are used to defending their point of view with reason. But the Left (because they so often live in an ideological bubble) are not well practiced at defending their own views…assuming they even know what those views are. All they need to know is “not that.” And if that is the basis of your belief system, you do not really know your own stuff. But the rest of us do, all too well.

    • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

      Brad – you anticipate the Lefty response very well indeed. You show very deftly just why these people are our implacable enemies, and no compromise with them is possible.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    Responding to CCWriter above on the notion that legality implies approval, this is unfortunate but nothing new. I read once the observation that while people don’t commit crimes because they’re wrong, it’s the illegality that teaches people that they’re wrong. This is why I like to think of “decriminalization” rather than “legalization” for such things as drug use.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It’s a fine line between individual liberty and the guardrails that we need to put up in order to live in a good and free society. There is no freedom in anarchy. If one is not safe to walk the streets, one is not free.

      This is a lesson that is generally lost on many libertarians. Again, I would vote for Rand Paul in a heartbeat because his libertarian excesses would be just what we need, operationally speaking, in order to stand any chance of repealing and dismantling the nanny state.

      But as a matter of philosophy and coherent principles, I’m often surprised by how naive libertarians are about their own sort of Utopia that will somehow self-assemble if we leave any and all choices to people.

      I would like to think that a proper conservative philosophy is sensitive to the needs of individual liberty while not going off half-cocked and naming every instance of the state enacting some prohibitory law as some egregious offense on eternal liberty. It’s a wonderful Utopian idea to think that man can live in a state of perfect harmony absent all laws (as many libertarians believe). But that’s not the case.

      And I know that CC doesn’t hold to this form of libertarianism. And yet unless you recognize the fact of “guardrails” and the role of law in forming a good society, then it isn’t all that much different. It’s a sensitive subject in regards to how, why, and how much we should, via government, impose guardrails. But the fact is, we must.

      And it is quite true that putting condemn dispensers in high school bathrooms is an implied green light to kids to have premarital sex. And it’s the same regarding legalizing drugs. The legalization of drugs is such a stupid and destructive issue, it really does ruin the credibility of many libertarians. I wish they spent as much time defending the freedom of people to do what they want with their own front yards, then I might take them seriously. (I’m still chuckling about a friend of mine who goes out in the dead of night to trim branches on his tree — one small trim at a time — to try to get around the environmental Nazis. He lives on the shoreline.)

      But the emphasis on the legalization of drugs just makes libertarians seem like children who have never grown up and are always chafing at parental authority, which they now transfer to the state.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The science fiction writer Jack Chalker, in a panel on libertarianism at a Louisville SF convention, opined that in fact libertarianism is inherently leftist because leftism is based on the idea that if you get rid of some X, the world will be a perfect place. In the case of libertarians, this is government (although, properly speaking, this is anarchism rather than libertarianism). I think he more accurately is describing utopianism, which is admittedly heavily associated with the Left.
        The biggest problem actually comes up with national defense. A lot of anarchocapitalists seem to think that a libertarian society can’t be conquered because there’s no government to surrender to the enemy (apparently they’re unaware that Nazi Germany was able to occupy many countries whose government never surrendered, starting with Poland). David Friedman refuted this idiocy, pointing out how an enemy could simply wipe out one city after another until the remaining ones finally surrendered.
        But that’s one thing libertarians (like liberals) often can’t seem to grasp. There’s real evil out there. Harry Browne once wrote up a fantasy of visiting a libertarian society in Europe who experienced both Nazi and American occupation during World War II, with the same results both times. That’s one reason I never considered voting for him.
        And, of course, that gets back to the inability of too many libertarians to see the implications of modern liberalism.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Good thoughts, Timothy. I think I’d like to add some of your reading material to my list. 🙂

          One of the interesting dynamics of America is her can-do optimism. It’s, of course, not true that anyone can grow up to be president. Some just don’t have the talent or, through no fault of their own, the brains or basic social skills. But, in theory, it is true. There is, or should be, no official societal constraints on who can be president (within legal Constitutional qualifications).

          Contrast this with who can be the next king or queen of England. That is an entirely different system. Merit alone will never get you there.

          And America is, or should be, a meritocracy. It can be a compassionate meritocracy, as it actually was before socialism and The Great Society which politicize (and thus ruined) true compassion. But Obama is an evil lying sack of Marxist excrement when he equates the free market (and thus a free society) with “every man for himself.” Such words are the clarion call of the demagogue.

          We do, of course, form governments as a way to protect ourselves and thus provide us with some things. That was the main impetus of the original Constitution. Regulating (as even making regular and even between the states) was certainly a factor. But I think the main factor was the growing awareness that with France, England, and Spain all very powerful, and very proximate, that the individual states were easy pickings if they were not united.

          But America was never to be a “social experiment” in creating Utopia. If anything, the Constitution itself ratified that the business of America was business. And this has worked very well. This kind of “build it yourself” optimism was very attractive to people, and a great method with which people could improve their lives.

          This is the heart and soul of American Exceptionalism. They didn’t have quite this thing in any other place in the world, particularly Europe. Many places were constrained by archaic social conventions (especially superstitions of class) and various things. The sky was not the limit. Your station at birth was.

          So despite the truly extreme hardship that people faced by coming to America and basically starting over, they preferred it to their dead-end lives in Old Europe.

          But we are now losing the sense that America is a blank slate upon which to write our own lives, which is a very large implied optimism. It is the optimism of knowing that one can be more and have more than one has now. Contrast this with, for example, the Untouchable class in Hinduism — or the growing underclass of welfare dependents which happens wherever the Left and socialism go.

          But in America of today, there is the growing expectation of Utopia, that things can be provided for you by the government, and should be; that all, or nearly all, of the hard realities of life can be smoothed out. I think this attitude infects libertarians to some extent as you pointed out in the idea of getting rid of some X will make a perfect, or nearly perfect world.

          I think, if anything, the Christian tradition (as practiced before today) was a very healthy influence and did not set up people with the expectation of Utopia. In fact, one of the favorite things that I read in “Albion’s Seed” was how the Puritans could never, ever, be surprised at any of man’s depravities because they had no illusions about what man was capable of.

          And we’ve lost much of that sober outlook as the naive among us race for a social Utopia, free from harm. And that’s just not possible. People have to work. People have to take risks. People have to fail.

          This is all summed up in Thomas Sowell’s wonderful book, “A Conflict of Visions,” in which he describes the main difference between those with the “Utopian” vision on the Left and those with the “constrained” vision on the right. Those with the constrained vision are not pessimists. In fact, they built this country via rampant optimism. But they realized that life is full of trade-offs, that you can’t have everything, that life just comes with inherent duties and responsibilities that can’t be wished away.

          None of this is an argument against improvement. In fact, America was founded upon the idea of the sky being limit. But it was never founded on the idea that there also wasn’t gravity, friction, and heavy clouds that were inherent obstacles to flight. But today I think both libertarians and the Left have lost respect for this fact. And this is exacerbated by politicians (mostly on the Left) who are more than happy to promise the sky at someone’s else’s expense.

          One of the underpinnings of the Jeffersonian idea of religious liberty was the idea that only a free people could fulfill their god-given talents and their duties to God. This is also part of the American ideal. We are not meant to be sheep. We are meant to some extent to have to struggle because struggle not only is inherent to our existence, it is necessary to becoming more than a sheep.

          And little of this has to do with overcoming normal external guardrails and constraints, although such things can be adjusted when they are unjust or excessive. But ultimately America is about a personal struggle. And I suspect, as is typical with human nature, that instead of meeting the challenge of life by initiating an internal marshaling of one’s energies, too many look to removing what they see as the outside constraints holding them back.

          Thus much of the right/left battle is one of attitudes and expectations. And having bad or unreal expectations or attitudes can be very detrimental to the human soul, our ability to achieve, and to our happiness itself.

  5. RobL_V2 RobL_V2 says:

    Bulls eye article, I could write a book exposing the truth behind assertion #2. You wouldn’t believe how rampant leftism is among our health care ‘professionals’. (actually I guess you would…)

  6. Pingback: Tyranny from Soft to Hard, Part II | StubbornThings.orgStubbornThings.org

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