June 10, 2009

Liberty, Trade, and Survival

Regarding Richard’s recent comment, I’d like to address a couple points.  Richard claims to find a contradiction in my view that liberty is an abstract concept from the Enlightenment and that it can have influence today.  (For the record, I never said it’s a “phantom of some philosophe?s imagination”; in fact, it was popularized by numerous figures.)  I see no contradiction here.  There are other abstract ideas created by Enlightenment thinkers that still have enormous influence today, e.g. equality.  And since we are still by and large operating under the paradigm of Enlightenment thought, it is unsurprising that the concept of liberty has the influence it does today.

Richard also claims that this past year “dreaded ‘globalization’ has been dramatically reversing.”  I must have missed something.  Obama has not only pledged to keep NAFTA and other trade agreements in place, but he has recently hinted at a sweeping amnesty.  I suppose it all depends how one defines “globalism,” but I see as its three basic elements free trade, immigration, and interventionism – all three of which Obama supports.

The intent of my post was to question whether “liberty” should be the highest good in political discourse.  Given that primary threat to European countries today is hostile immigration and the dissolution of historic European nations, “liberty,” I think, would rank low on my list of concerns.  And, besides, what is more likely to restrict liberty in European countries:  right-wing political parties or Sharia law?  Given the dire threat European countries now face, survival should trump an abstract appeal to liberty.

Regarding trade, Justin infers that “super-protectionists” are “national socialists.”  This, in fact, is a legerdemain often used by neoconservatives to silence anyone in the conservative movement opposing free trade.  They typically claim that free trade is essentially conservative, while only Old Labor or National Socialists would oppose it.  (I have heard Rush Limbaugh peddle similar myths.)  This line of critique overlooks the historical reality.  By and large, many, if not most, of nineteenth-century rightists in Europe were quite skeptical of free trade, and it was those on the left who supported it.  As noted by others on this site, it was in fact Karl Marx who said

“[T] he protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.”

And, as Tom Piatak has pointed out, Fr?d?ric Bastiat, nineteenth-century liberal critic of protectionism,  praised free trade as the ?peaceful, ecumenical, and indissoluble union of the peoples of the world.?  Hardly sounds conservative to me.

Finally, regarding the J. Enoch Powell quote, when Powell said he would fight for a communist U.K., I assume he meant that although governments are transient, the U.K. is a real historical nation, and that he would be fighting for the preservation of his extended family, the English tribe, and not for the continuity of communism.  The same cannot be said for the United States today – which no longer is a real nation, but an ideological empire.  So, as the U.S. continues its descent into “pomo socialism,” I might consider joining Richard in finding the nearest exit.


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