A Conservative Libertarian

Last year while I was on my North American adventure I had time to read quite a few books. One of these was Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas. His basic premise is that the American left, which dominates most media and academia, pretends that they are not ideological but merely pragmatic. A leftist will claim that conservatives are ideologues, bound to the dogmas of backward traditions, but liberals are simply open-minded folks who go with whatever has been proven to work. Goldberg ably demonstrates why this is hogwash, so I will not rehash his arguments here. Despite the fact that some claim otherwise, the truth is that we all have ideologies, we all have systems of interpreting what is going on in the world. For many people, these systems are unconscious, instilled in them by parents, school, peers, and media to the point where they do not even realize that other people might see things differently. (Hence the common assumption on the left that if you disagree with my tax policy you must be ignorant/racist/sexist/hateful of poor people etc.)

I was raised in a conservative home, taught in the public school system, and grew up in a very liberal area of the country. Extracting a purposeful ideology out of all the unconscious assumptions that have developed has taken a long time. When I asked, I call myself a conservative libertarian (or a libertarian conservative, depending on the context). I use these terms very specifically. In the most basic sense, a conservative philosophy conserves those ideas and traditions that have given shape to our culture and society for many centuries. Conservatives hold on to ideas that have stood the test of time. A libertarian philosophy is concerned with maximizing the liberty of the individual as opposed to the rights of the collective. These two philosophies overlap in some places and contradict in others, but overall they give me a framework for deciding if I can support an idea. They force me to ask two questions about every issue: Does this make us more free? Has this worked in the past?

Let’s take Communism as an easy example. The Marxist socialists and the Leninist Communists wanted to create a society where men and women did not need to worry about poverty or hardship. They saw their philosophy as ending in an utopia of peace and brotherhood. Laudable goals, sure. But before I sign on, I have two questions. First, does it make us more free? Well, if it works (see next question) it would free us from want, like President Roosevelt wanted. But what about our freedom of agency – our freedom to choose how to live? A Communist society is by necessity totalitarian, that is, its only hope of working requires everyone to participate. If the government is decided who gets paid what, and who lives in what house, and who sells what product, then your freedom of choice is severely limited. There is no room in a Communist state for people to make their own choices. Remember that the Berlin Wall was built to keep the Communist citizens from leaving, not to keep their capitalist neighbors from entering. There is also the fact that a state that provides for every need turns a free citizen into a slave who is completely dependent upon that state. Clearly, your freedom is curtailed in a Communist government.

Question two: Has this worked in the past? The answer to this one should be obvious. Neither the Communist societies in the past such as the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact nations nor modern examples such as Cuba or Venezuela can show the innovation, freedom, or happiness of their capitalist neighbors. Korea provides a striking example. In 1953, the two Koreas were even in technology and standard of living. Today, capitalist South Korea is an economic powerhouse and its people are some of the most prosperous on earth. Meanwhile, Communist North Korea is one of the poorest places on earth. Cuba may have “free” healthcare but their standard of living is below the American concept of poverty. Venezuela recently had to post armed guards at toilet paper factories because they could not produce enough for their citizens. China only became an economic success after Deng Xiaoping modernized the country and loosened government controls. I think it is clear that Communism has failed wherever it has been tried, and I did not even mention the millions upon millions of people who were murdered or starved to death in these nations.

What about an example that satisfies one question but not the other? Taxes tend to make us less free, but we would all agree that some level of taxation is necessary to support a government that protects our life, liberty, and property. Legalizing all drugs would make us more free, but there is a point at which they would be more harmful to society than keeping them illegal. Truthfully though, most ideas will answer either yes or no to both questions. Humans have an innate desire for freedom, so what works will often satisfy our need for liberty as well. Free people are happy people, innovative people, and strong people.

The quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin about a society who gives up liberty for security and loses both is an apt one. If we give up our freedom to choose our own medical care for the security of knowing someone else will pay for it, we will find ourselves worse off than before. If we give up our freedom to defend ourselves with firearms for the security of a militarized police force and surveillance state, we will find ourselves in more danger than before. If we give up our freedom to travel as we will for the security of keeping safe from terrorists, we will become prisoners in our own lands. The point is that freedom is dangerous and scary. Children have parents who watch out for them, take care of them, tell them what to do, and keep them safe from the outside world. The government should not be our parents. A conservative philosophy of liberty is for grown-ups who understand that they will face the consequences of their actions, both positive and negative. It is not for the timid. You have the freedom to choose to support ideologies that keep you safe from want, from need, and from fear, but beware! History shows that societies that go down that road face ruination, a lower quality of life, and degradation of the human spirit, which yearns to be free.

Immigration and the Undying Lands

I was listening to John Derbyshire earlier today and he pointed out that every mainstream article about illegal immigration is seemingly required to use the word “dream” multiple times. Supporters of amnesty and increased immigration often use the word to describe the reasons why people come to America. It tugs at the heartstrings, right? Young people, growing up in poverty-stricken countries, risking their lives to come to America, the land of opportunity?

I realized that this sort of rhetoric exposes an assumption that immigration advocates all share: that there is something special about America as a place, rather than a people. Liberals such as President Obama talk about how all of these people crossing the borders are here to improve their lives and achieve their dreams. Republicans such as Jeb Bush are convinced that Hispanic illegal immigrants will transform into Republican voters once they set foot on our soil. Libertarian open-borders advocates desire a political system that allows anyone to go anywhere. All of these people remind me of a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium named Ar-Pharazon.

Ar-Pharazon was the last king of Numenor, an island populated by a special group of men and women. They had been given this land by the gods as a gift, a reward for their solidarity with the gods and the elves in the War of Wrath and in recognition of their shared descent from the elves as well. However, they were given one command: They could not sail to the uttermost west and set foot in Valinor, the Undying Lands. Valinor was the home of the gods, and they had called the immortal elves to come west to live with them. Men, however, were mortal, and had a different destiny. As Ar-Pharazon grew old and neared the end of his life he became jealous of the immortality of the gods and the elves. He decided to go to Valinor to seize this power for himself.

Ar-Pharazon’s mistake was in assuming that there was something special about Valinor that conferred immortality upon its residents. He seemed to think that just by setting foot in the Undying Lands that he too would become immortal like the elves. He made a category error, however – the Lands were not Undying because of some special virtue of themselves, rather they were simply the home of the beings who did not die.

For more than two centuries, America has been exceptional among the nations of the earth. We have inherited a society based upon rule of law, equality before the law, freedom and liberty, a respect for hard work and individual success, and a belief in civic participation. These virtues are not inherent to the soil of America, but codified in the soul of our society. America is exceptional because it is filled with Americans. Until recently, people from all over the world came to America because they wanted to be Americans. Irish and English, German and Polish, Chinese and Japanese, Italian and Greek, they all came here because they wanted something that their old homes did not provide. They wanted a part of the virtue of America, and most importantly, wanted to become Americans themselves.

That has changed. Today, immigrants (legal and illegal) are coming to acquire the virtues of America while retaining allegiance to their old homes too. Mexican immigrants come here and work, or take advantage of social welfare programs, but they still cheer for Mexico rather than the US in the World Cup. Somali immigrants are coming to Minnesota and instead of assimilating, are looking to implement sharia law. Civil disorder and balkanization is in the cards for a nation that no longer has a melting pot.

To the left, I would ask: What do you do when the millions of people you are inviting in to share the largess of America become intolerant to gays, women, or other races? To Republicans, I ask how you expect millions of people from countries that have no tradition of representative democracy, civic participation, and rule of law to keep from voting in the sorts of tyrants who will undo these virtues? To the open-borders folks, I ask how you expect to maintain a civilized nation that guarantees individual liberty when you grant voting privileges to millions of people who do not believe in individual liberty?

America itself is not exceptional. American people have been exceptional throughout history. We inherited a belief in individual liberty and a mistrust of a powerful centralized authority that goes back almost a thousand years to the signing of Magna Carta. If we are to maintain a nation that protects freedom and liberty, than we must have a people who believe in those things. As we can see lately in Iraq and Egypt, there are no guarantees.

Racism Nostalgia

Steve Sailer compares the current racial hysteria to the UFO phenomenon:

After the 1950s, the press slowly figured out that it shouldn’t get too worked-up over flying-saucer sightings. But Klansmen on the campus of what is perhaps the most frenetically liberal college in America? How couldn’t it be true?

Seeing racists under the bed is the latest manifestation of the adolescent hysteria that triggered the Salem witch trials in 1692.

It seems as if the more that real racism decreases, alleged racism increases. Gone are the days of black people being forced to sit in the back of the bus, of segregated water fountains and lunch counters, of Jim Crow and slavery. But according to the media, we are plagued by racists as never before.

It should be clear to anyone capable of logical thought that “racism” today is not a malady of the average white man, but is instead a weapon used by the media and the Left to silence those who dare to disagree with them. Incidents like what happened at Oberlin are the norm in this pernicious environment.

The Bifactional Ruling Party

Rachel Lucas points out how mainstream Republicans are not really for smaller government, they just want to be in charge of the big one:

I was told during the election season by a few people I know personally and who read my blog that a casual observer of this space could easily come away with the impression that I’m a Republican because I oppose Obama and the Democrats and progressives. So for the record, once again: I am a libertarian. I supported the GOP candidate in the last few elections because I thought that was better than the only other viable alternative.

But I’ll never do that again. I’m never voting for someone like Romney or McCain or Dubya again; they’re just as useless as their opponents, just as happy with oppressively huge government as Obama is. Let the progressives burn it all down; it’s happening anyway and we may as well speed it up. I’d rather have the collapse come when I’m young(ish) than when I’m old and relatively helpless.

As the last election cycle played out, I found myself willing to vote Republican one more time. Mitt Romney was not a perfect conservative, but he was better than the alternative. He was better than President Obama, for sure, but he was also better than Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. I thought he might – just might – be able to postpone America’s inevitable judgment day. Alas, the American people voted for more bread and circuses as the cliff approaches. So far, it seems that the GOP’s response is to tack even further to the middle, to try and win votes as the Democrats-lite.

The end is nigh, and neither party is willing or even able to save the nation. I suppose it is time to enjoy the decline.

Islamic Intolerance

Michael J. Totten writes about culture and current events in the Middle East not from a comfortable office, but from the front lines. He has spent many years traveling through the Muslim world gaining firsthand experience with what life is like over there, the good and the bad. This week, he wrote about the bad:

Free speech is under attack in the West, and it’s under attack from abroad. For years radical Islamists have targeted embassies abroad and individuals at home for “insulting” the Prophet Muhammad. And now diplomats and heads of state from Islamist countries are using international oganizations to pressure the West to criminalize blasphemy and are even lobbying for a global censorship regime.

Just like the leftist students who took over the campus in the 1960s in the name of free speech, then began to censor disagreeing viewpoints, Islamic activists see tolerance as a tool rather than an ideal. They know that we in the West worship at the alter of tolerance, and they will use that to achieve their aims. Notice that they have little use for tolerance in their own societies. In many Islamic countries, Christianity is essentially outlawed, and converting from Islam to another religion will often cost a man his life. Anti-blasphemy legislation is an attempt to impose the will of Islam on the Western world, contrary to our beliefs in freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It is not an altruistic endeavor, it is a cudgel. The question is, are we going to be so naive as to let them use our love of tolerance to dismantle our civil rights in the name of their prophet?

“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” – President Barack Obama, in an address before the United Nations

The Demagogue Express

President Obama brings his gun control message to Minnesota, but he is light on the facts:

The speech, while brief, was marked by Obama’s trademark incoherence. Everything is “reasonable,” and “common sense,” and favored by pretty much everyone. And yet, if you actually listen to what he says, it makes no sense at all.

President Obama comes across as a poor student debater, who would rather pretend everyone agrees with him than actually confront opposing arguments. He has nothing but straw-men.

Ammunition Shortages?

John Hinderaker at Powerline wonders if there is something else behind the recent shortage of ammunition than simply increased demand:

So what is going on? In part, certainly, the perception of a potential shortage due to the policies of the Obama administration has led to the reality of a shortage, as everyone started to stock up. I can understand the mentality: if I wandered into a gun store and found that they had just put 1,000 9 mm rounds on the shelf, I would buy them all. But does that fully explain what is happening? How about the fact that government agencies are buying up billions of rounds? There have been lots of news reports and lots of rumors, but no clear explanation of why the federal government has invested so massively in ammunition–including the most popular civilian calibers–over the last year. One way or another, it seems that there is a story here. But for it to be pursued, we would need “reporters.” Remember them? Nah, that was a bygone era: you probably don’t.

Hmm.

Aurini on Women in Combat

Sci-fi writer and reactionary philosopher D.M.J. Aurini has yet another view of women in combat, along with an interesting perspective on the last hundred years of war.

 

The Myths of Gun Control

Screenwriter and former liberal David Mamet outlines a very logical case against the latest effort at gun control:

The police do not exist to protect the individual. They exist to cordon off the crime scene and attempt to apprehend the criminal. We individuals are guaranteed by the Constitution the right to self-defense. This right is not the Government’s to “award” us. They have never been granted it.

The so-called assault weapons ban is a hoax. It is a political appeal to the ignorant. The guns it supposedly banned have been illegal (as above) for 78 years. Did the ban make them “more” illegal? The ban addresses only the appearance of weapons, not their operation.

The cities with the strictest regulation of firearms, such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., have the nation’s highest murder rates. Obviously, laws are not enough to deter criminals from acquiring guns, but they seem to do a reasonable job of disarming the law-abiding citizens. Gun control advocates never seem to make this logical observation.

The truth is that guns are the great equalizer of humanity. If firearms did not exist, then the weak would always be at the mercy of the strong. Children, disabled people, the elderly, and single women would have no defense against the thugs, thieves, rapists, and murderers who seek to impose their will upon others. A gun, however, gives these potential victims a measure of protection against the monsters and wolves of society. Nonagenarians and children alike have used firearms to protect themselves and their homes from evil men who would do them harm. In short, the gun is civilization:

In a truly moral and civilized society, people exclusively interact through persuasion. Force has no place as a valid method of social interaction, and the only thing that removes force from the menu is the personal firearm, as paradoxical as it may sound to some.

When I carry a gun, you cannot deal with me by force. You have to use reason and try to persuade me, because I have a way to negate your threat or employment of force. The gun is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger, a 75-year old retiree on equal footing with a 19-year old gangbanger, and a single gay guy on equal footing with a carload of drunk guys with baseball bats. The gun removes the disparity in physical strength, size, or numbers between a potential attacker and a defender.

I like to think that most average citizens who wish to do away with firearms come to their position through a sort of innocent naïveté. The truth of the matter, however, is that the gun is more important as a tool of protection than it is a tool of destruction, and the politicians and the elites who want to do away with firearms certainly understand that. President Obama and his family are protected by armed Secret Service agents around the clock. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has introduced a new bill to ban certain guns, is also protected by armed security. Hollywood actors have armed retinues, as do anti-gun mayors such as Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Michael Bloomberg of New York. In short, the rich and the powerful have the ability to surround themselves with a small army’s worth of weapons and ammunition. When it comes to their families, the rich and powerful spare no expense in assuring their protection, but then they have the audacity to tell you, the average middle-class American, that you should not have the right to protect your family in the same manner.

The gun is civilization. A poor man cannot afford 24/7 armed security, but he can still protect his home and his family with a gun. It is the so-called progressives, who claim to champion the cause of the poor, who aim to take away that right while keeping it for themselves.

If you listen to the mainstream news, you might be tempted to say that banning “assault weapons” is a reasonable compromise. Not so. First, there is no such thing as an “assault weapon”. The term was coined by anti-gun advocated in order to frighten the uninformed. This site gives a concise demonstration of the truth about guns that the phrase attempts to obfuscate. Finally, John Hinderaker of PowerLine fisks Senator Feinstein’s bill, explaining how ridiculous her proposal really is.

Anti-gun advocates like to say that a gun is a tool with only one purpose: to harm and kill. You know what? I will grant that. Having the ability to harm and kill a criminal who intends harm to me and my family is one of the most important natural rights that we have as human beings. A government that would seek to limit or deny that ability is no friend of human rights, and should rightly be considered a tyranny.

Reactions to the Pentagon Decision

Vox Day sees a politically-correct HR bureaucracy appearing soon in combat brigades increasingly filled with women.

Steve Sailer points out that the military is not being sent to win World War II anymore, but is instead getting stuck slogging through third-world hellholes, and as such, women in combat will make little difference in the long run.

Ann Althouse has not yet weighed in with her opinion, but the comment thread features some interesting debate.

Update 1/24:

Victor Davis Hanson makes basically the same case that I do:

In a larger sense, with the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and women in front-line combat units, we have decided that the military is one with all other civilian institutions and without a particular code or caste. Fair enough — in the past, there certainly have been excellent male soldiers who were romantically attracted to one another (cf. the Theban Sacred Band) and plenty of brave and effective female pilots, snipers, and infantrywomen (cf. the Russian front after 1942), and we shall soon discover whether our more recent reluctance to follow those clear examples was absurd.

One way or another, we have now apparently made a number of assumptions: that in the next war we will see overtly gay men and women fully integrated in small ground units amid firefights and carnage at the front; that this will not affect negatively, but more likely improve, U.S. combat efficacy;and that those intolerant reactionaries who object and feel less safe or simply less comfortable will shun the military — and that the military will not suffer as a consequence of their absence, but more likely improve. If all true, then we are onto the brave new world!