By Robert L Capehert
RESIDENT roving correspondent over at National Review, and arch libertarian, Kevin D. Williamson, interacted with Bloomberg’s Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu, who wrote a dastardly piece of “journalism” entitled Libertarians Are the New Communists.
The Bloomberg bobble-heads’ thesis states,
“Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty, and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.”
Williamson answers, writing,
“Attention conservatives: “Extremist libertarian” here means an admirer of [Republican Sen.] Ted Cruz. The problem with libertarians, according to these gentlemen, is that they misunderstand the human condition.”
The good Mr Williamson documents that, basically, gentlemen like Hanauer and Liu prescribe that libertarians are simply about selfishness, thus “misunderstand” the human condition. One would say an old, and inaccurate attempt at a rhetorical body-slam.
Hanauer and Liu write,
Like communism, this philosophy [libertarianism] is defective in its misreading of human nature, misunderstanding of how societies work and utter failure to adapt to changing circumstances. Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution.
But it’s more complicated than that (always), writes Williamson.
But radical libertarians do not assume that humans are wired only to be selfish, nor do they reject cooperation. The opposite is the case. In fact, one of those radical libertarians — me — just this summer published a book arguing (see if this sounds familiar) “cooperation is the height of human evolution.
Williamson then quotes from his recent bestseller, The End Is Near: And It’s Going To Be Awesom: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure,
It is remarkable that we speak and think about commerce as
though competitiveness were its most important feature.
There is, as noted, a certain Darwinian aspect to economic
competition—and of course we humans do in fact compete
over scarce resources. But what is remarkable about human
action is not its competitiveness but its almost limitless
Competition is only one of the ways that we
learn how best to cooperate with one another—competition is
a means to the higher end of social cooperation. Cooperation
exists elsewhere in the animal kingdom, but we human beings
cooperate on a species-wide, planetary level, which is a
relatively new development in our evolution, the
consequences of which we have not yet fully appreciated.
If you consider the relationship of the organism to its constituent
organs, the relationship of the organ to its cells, or the
relationship of the single cell to its organelles, it would not be
an overstatement to say that the division of labor is the
essence of life itself: Birds do it, bees do it, but human beings
do it better. The size and complexity of our brains evolved in
parallel to the size and complexity of our social groups.
The argument for cooperative human action is not just economics, but biology. Our social institutions are just as much a product of evolutionary processes as our bodies are. And it is through our social institutions, not through our individual brains, that we learn to deal with the problem of complexity.
Williamson goes on to clarify libertarianism and its often-counterfeit version so often spewed by college kids choked up on weed smoke as nothing more than an Ayn Rand trip through celestial space—little more than an attention-grabbing counter-cultural rebellion against leftist peace-pipe/pc codes run-amok on college campuses.
The idea that libertarian tendency is identical to the sophomoric cult of egotism found in Ayn Rand novels is more than outdated — it was never true in the first place. Miss Rand’s fiction is part of the libertarian intellectual universe, to be sure, but so are Henry David Thoreau and Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson and Jesus. Citing as examples of libertarian extremism Ted Cruz, the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, and Rand Paul, they [Hanauer and Liu] argue: “It assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers, when, in fact they are fragile ecosystems prone to collapse and easily overwhelmed by free-riders.”
Williamson concedes society is complex. Go figure! Which is why it becomes instrumental, he counters, to have competing, multiple centers of power and influence—or shall we say Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” and “islands of separateness,” rather than the ubiquity of a single, overarching, impersonal, federal beast.
Our National Review roving correspondent then argues neither libertarian Republicans, senator’s Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, (or other enemies of the Bloomberg gentlemen’s ire) promote anything close to anarchism—the idea of a society without rules or enforcers.
One attributes of libertarian (and classical liberal) ideology Williamson does not mention, but I presume would affirm is the notion community creates cooperation in not only the free market-place, but the mediating associations inherent in societies “little platoons” and “islands of separateness,” (family, private institutions, the Church, school and sports activities, community programs, etc.) which contain “enforcing” and “rules” within their spheres of existence.
It seems both Hanauer and Liu assume nothing but the state can produce such “mediating” influences.
This seems to be both gentlemen’s greatest angst against libertarianism (or classical liberalism)—as libertarians argue that the most important notions of conduct and development norming human behaviour are produced apart from the State, not by it.
Numbers don’t lie. A quick peek-a-boo at libertarian scholar Charles Murray’s latest volume, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, argues quite persuasively that as Edmund Burke’s mediating associations within American life “come apart,” human conduct (especially interpersonal relationships) within society continues to plummet despite the authority, size, and scope of government expanding in height and depth in American life.
And where might society in the aggregate be most healthy?
Where Edmund Burke’s mediating associations have remained strong; family and marriage more or less robust, and church attendance and community involvement considered desirable—which remains truer in the upper-classes rather than the lower classes.
In other words, populations of people more than likely not to be reliant on State provisions or state sanction for a sense of “community.”
One of the things Williamson’s piece assumes, which is important, is the diversity among libertarians. Also, Williamson highlights the tendency in American political environs to talk about things without having a clue of what one is saying.
Enter, as it were, Bloomberg’s Mr.’s Hanauer and Liu. Two men fighting an effigy, not a real ideology. Alas, we must not expect much from the folks over at Bloomberg.
Straw-men rule in much of American journalism; it is important for classical liberals of all stripes to speak clearly and coherently as to what it is we believe and maybe just as important: what it is we do not believe.