We are all Libertarians now

Mark Lilla has a very good essay here regarding how libertarianism has become the true defining political mindset of American culture.

For me he shows how the Left and Right are really two sides to the same modernist coin. This is one reason why liberal democracy is in trouble. It is hollow. There is nothing there beyond personal self-interest, but both sides feel they should be able to regulate the other’s personal life (the Right) or the other’s financial life (the Left). The problem is that both have completely destroyed any philosophical basis for asserting anything that would compel the moral imagination to the point of restricting one’s personal “freedom.” The atomization and compartmentalization of life flowing, partly, from the Enlightenment is coming home to roost. Lilla is really just hearkening back to the very problem noted by Alasdair MacIntyre in his ground-breaking book After Virtue. As noted in the Wiki site:

Another reason MacIntyre gives for the doomed nature of the Enlightenment is the fact that it ascribed moral agency to the individual. He claims this made morality no more than one man’s opinion and, thus, philosophy became a forum of inexplicably subjective rules and principles.

We are headed for deep trouble regardless of which of these moronic/idiotic movements of either Left or Right are in power.

Here is Lilla summing up:

But the blame does not fall on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or the Republican Party alone. We are experiencing just one more aftershock from the libertarian eruption that we all, whatever our partisan leanings, have willed into being. For half a century now Americans have been rebelling in the name of individual freedom. Some wanted a more tolerant society with greater private autonomy, and now we have it, which is a good thing—though it also brought us more out-of-wedlock births, a soft pornographic popular culture, and a drug trade that serves casual users while destroying poor American neighborhoods and destabilizing foreign nations. Others wanted to be free from taxes and regulations so they could get rich fast, and they have—and it’s left the more vulnerable among us in financial ruin, holding precarious jobs, and scrambling to find health care for their children. We wanted our two revolutions. Well, we have had them.

Now an angry group of Americans wants to be freer still—free from government agencies that protect their health, wealth, and well-being; free from problems and policies too difficult to understand; free from parties and coalitions; free from experts who think they know better than they do; free from politicians who don’t talk or look like they do (and Barack Obama certainly doesn’t). They want to say what they have to say without fear of contradiction, and then hear someone on television tell them they’re right. They don’t want the rule of the people, though that’s what they say. They want to be people without rules—and, who knows, they may succeed. This is America, where wishes come true. And where no one remembers the adage “Beware what you wish for.”

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1 Response to We are all Libertarians now

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Thanks for an interesting post. The attempt to draw an equivalence between the freedom from religious and governmental authority over our personal lives and traditional, patriarchal, etc. morals and freedom from communal responsibilities to the general good, regulation of economic externalities, destruction of the biosphere, etc.. is intriguing.

    On one level, it is another attempt to blame whatever is going wrong now on those terrible 60's. At any rate, whether one buys much of this analogy or not, we have been in rebellion with freedom as our mantra since well before the revolution of 1776. And it would behoove us to take each ill as it comes, considering how ill it is and how it might be fixed, without dispairing over the whole, or bringing in tangential agendas.

    I think it is telling that the article focuses mostly (and rightly) on the tea party crazies, who are only fulfilling the total communitarian abdication by the Right dating back to Gingrich's era. The Atlantic had an incisive piece on this as well- “My country 'tis of me”. I agree with that focus, and its coda of we-are-all-to-blame-for-the-tea-partying-idiots rings hollow when we are not all to blame at all. Not remotely. We all value freedom as our birthright and etc. etc., but we also, if we have brains, freely give up a measure of freedom in return for all the communitarian benefits which the founders, among many others, have bestowed on our common culture. Memorial day is a good day to reflect on the full measure of these gifts.

    We need to think hard about which freedoms we should be giving up, in view of the continuing assult on civil liberties in the name of antiterrorism, facebook-ism, airport security, etc. And we need to think deeply about how to heal our diseased subcultures and devastated communities, such as occur right across the bay in Richmond. My leading prescription is macro-economic, in the form of pro-labor policy from the Federal reserve and government. The last decades of harsh anti-labor policy have led to declining living standards among the lower classes, a lower share of wealth, and all the obvious ills attendant. But full employment and good jobs are just one element in a larger cultural tapestry- I'd agree with that.


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