May 18, 2008

Ideology and Proportion

One striking thing about the recent discussion on the alleged racial bias of Hillary voters is the venom and excessive personalization of the debate.  My defenders and I were mocked as racialists, who were supposedly incensed by Obama’s rise because his singular success is some kind of scandal, just as we were blind to the pathologies and relative low levels of achievement in Appalachia.  Neither is true. Some blacks (millions even) clearly have high intelligence and talent and the capacity to be productive citizens.  Many whites are anti-social, low IQ, poor, uncultured, and the like. This is not news.  The suggestion that it would be news, however, is a caricature and an insult.

Justin Raimondo is a libertarian and a vocal anti-war critic.  But his recent writings have revealed a stunning lack of judgment and proportion in defending libertarianism’s Great Black Anti-War Hope.  One would think that a persuasive ideology would not need to resort to so many insults and so much name-calling.  After all, those who disagree may simply be mistaken, confused, motivated by different priorities, and possessed of different values and factual understandings.  This generous interpretation won’t do.  If one thinks there is only one fair way to set up a political regime, then most alternatives are “evil,” trying to dragoon the government into forcing political enemies to do their bidding.  Opponents are described as “dividing people” from the universal appeal of libertarianism.  Thus, for Raimondo, only racialist Americans care about who their neighbors are and whether the new President has it in for their group.  Raimondo describes “peasants with pitchforks” coming after the neocons for all of their lies.  Ironically, writers who criticized Ron Paul for his dalliance with “racialists” are mocked as “Reasonoids.”  In discussing the Reasonoids, Raimondo concludes with his typical restraint:  “Well screw you, Weigel, and screw Reason magazine?Ron Paul is the future of the libertarian movement, and you are yesterday?s flotsam.”

Part of this excessive hostility results, I believe, from the total claims of libertarianism, which are made in universal terms and described as having universal appeal.  Under libertarianism there are no government-picked winners and losers; everyone is free to do as he pleases.  Raimondo says in his latest that any mention of race is political poison, because “any movement that makes a big deal about race is going to pretty much confine itself to members of one race?and that?s not a good thing, as far as the freedom movement is concerned.” If it’s all or nothing, any call for some parochial interest like that of one’s economic class, ethnic group, the interests of native born Americans, or some other particular good is a threat to the universalist ideology. Anyone who interjects particularism against this airtight, universalist system can be mocked and called names and not engaged on the level of ideas.  After all, in the eyes of a committed libertarian, all the thinking necessary for political life is complete, and all resistance comes from the same source as conservatives’ particularism:  selfish attempts to advance the interest of some small organized faction against the common good. 

The ideology of universalism, however, finds few adherents.  Libertarianism has a natural and shrinking constituency:  chiefly, it consists of self-reliant white people of an intellectual bent. But that constituency is not as pure in general as professional libertarians like Raimondo and Weigel.  Even people opposed to the Iraq War, redistributionism, and an invasive federal government might also not want to live next door to Third Worlders or hear their people insulted by the Rev. Wright.  Libertarian-leaning voters are often so disposed less because the government’s actions hurt them, than they are distraught over the alien constituency that the government is helping. Hence the effective rhetoric of “welfare queens” in the 80s.

In addition to ideas, most people are motivated by things like loyalty, wariness of change, concern for security, and concern for the lives of their children. They are put off by deontological pronouncements about how most of what government does is “slavery” and “mobocracy.”  It is noteworthy that Raimondo and his clique have written off Democrats, Republicans, Objectivists, the New Left, Black Panthers, Pat Buchanan, and the folks at both Chronicles and Reason in their travels.  In a moment of clarity, perhaps Raimondo would consider that making ideological purity and universalism more important than any other factor leads to an unviable and ineffective political movement.  Movements ultimately need coalitions, and coalitions require some cobbling together of majorities based on perceptions of their actual and particular interests, as well as the perceived antagonistic interests of other groups.  By way of example, ethnocentric arguments against the Iraq War that express the view that “this enterprise is bad for working class America and Americans, including our young servicemen, and even if we were helping these savage Arabs, they aren’t worth the effort,” are likely to be far more persuasive than the umpteenth paean to the Iraqis’ human rights that we see regularly over at, but the libertarians persist, because ideological purity as reflected in universalism is apparently more important to them than political success.

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