Does Libertarianism Make Sense?

TwpPorcupine800

Above: The porcupine, symbol of the US Libertarian Party

At the age of 19, I found Tibor Machan’s The Libertarian Alternative* in my university’s library. I’d encountered the idea of radically limited government in the novels of Ayn Rand, but the economic and historical arguments in Machan’s book won me over. From that day on, I voted for the Libertarian candidate in every election. In 2016, I chose Trump as the lesser evil, though I hung on to my Libertarian registration until just a few weeks ago.

Mine was not a casual commitment. In the 1980s I joined the Arizona Libertarian Party where I served on the State Executive Committee and ran for office. Though we weren’t successful except in opposing boondoggles like Light Rail–which was later built anyway–I still had hope. Someday Americans would wake up to the promise of freedom, both social and economic. That hope peaked in 2008 when the libertarian-leaning Ron Paul did well in Republican Presidential primaries. Most corporate media outlets refused to say his name or report his numbers, proving how much the Establishment feared and hated us.

At the same time, I became increasingly disenchanted with the LP’s national organization. It was filled with regime collaborators, some of whom had cheered on George W Bush’s moronic foreign interventions. Others advocated the one-sided “free trade” that devastated America’s industrial base and shipped our jobs to China. Worst of all was the financial “shock theory” wherein predatory American investors rushed in to plunder newly privatized economies such as Russia in the 1990s. These policies were disastrous for 99% of the people they affected.

I realize that the LP’s platform is too extreme for most Americans. In particular, it needs to soften its “drug legalization” plank. The point isn’t to make hard drugs more available but to remove the perverse legal incentives that make the drug problem worse. But this turned out not to be the Party’s worst problem. I’ve reluctantly concluded there are several more.

Anarcho-capitalism: Many libertarians advocate a stateless society based on human rights, private property, and voluntary organizations. It’s a wonderful idea but no one can say how we’d get there. I wrote a sci-fi book (Centrifugal Force, available at https://www.amazon.com/Centrifugal-Force-Vaughn-L-Treude/dp/0988244209) about one possible path. It was meant to be a trilogy, so the story never gets to its utopian conclusion. Though I suppose a stateless “anarcho-capitalist” society is theoretically possible, why hasn’t it happened? Free societies tend to be more prosperous, so we should have gotten there purely by social evolution. The reason is most likely that such societies are unstable. All it takes is an organized gang of criminals to murder and pillage the peaceable, mind-you-own-business citizenry on an ongoing basis. Voila, you have a “government.” The people won’t be unified enough to fight back effectively.

Big business: In Ayn Rand’s novels, entrepreneurs are mostly heroes who fight wicked governments. Reality doesn’t bear that out. Even in the golden age of capitalism, tycoons like Carnegie and Rockefeller stamped out their competition by supporting favorable regulations. At best, corporations are impersonal machines motivated solely by profit. These days it’s much worse: “woke” CEOs use the shareholder’s money to push their own political agendas. Amazingly, this is legal. They also band together to monopolize markets, increasing their power and profits. Libertarian theory claims that  monopolies are impossible, but this assumes a free economy to begin with. In the real world, politicians are only too happy to use corporations to rule us.

Immigration: The Libertarian Party platform has traditionally advocated open borders. Yes, borders are artificial, but the political situation renders this philosophy ridiculous. Our welfare state attracts the poorest and least productive to come here and be a drain on the system. So-called “civil rights” laws make it illegal to discriminate against these new arrivals even when their behavior is incompatible with our culture. But the biggest problem is that too many newcomers will change the nature of our society. Not all cultures appreciate or desire liberty. In any nation that practices universal suffrage, the most aggressive and prolific immigrants (such as Islamic fundamentalists) will seize control and erase what little freedom we have.

Race and ethnicity: Libertarians embraced the progressive ideas of human equality well before conservatives did. Though they also oppose laws against “racial discrimination,” the rationale is that free market economics make prejudice unprofitable. Behind this is the assumption that all human groups are identical in motivation, capabilities, and temperament. After much soul-searching, I’ve abandoned that belief. Though I try to judge all people as individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses, the groups they belong to vary significantly. They differ in susceptibility to disease, personal ambition, and the tendency to cooperate with others. “Equity” between racial groups is unlikely or impossible, even if inept government interference is abolished. This inherent inequality will make any diverse society a contentious one.

Though libertarianism doesn’t forbid America’s white majority from organizing to protect their interests, it doesn’t encourage it, either. In their efforts to win American hearts and minds, the LP mostly follows the progressives’ erroneous “blank slate” theory. In the real world, some groups hate freedom, and their unhappiness with our system does NOT give them the right to enslave us.

Anarcho-tyranny: The worst thing about libertarian theory is that it’s given the American ruling classes an excuse to abandon rules and tradition as they see fit. Corporations are free to plunder and treat people like property, while we individuals require government licenses and permission for every aspect of our lives. To selectively free the rich and powerful from restraint makes our oppression worse, as monopolistic companies impose their collectivist views on us. This is called anarcho-tyranny–freedom for the powerful (and their hired agitators) and servitude for the rest.

My viewpoint has evolved since 2015, when Hillary Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” speech put me firmly in the Trump camp. Libertarianism makes sense in theory, but it doesn’t cut it in the real world. The system that best strikes the balance between freedom and fairness is Populism. It’s a philosophy that puts the interests of the common people first in the tradition of the great Andrew Jackson. Yes, the man made mistakes, particularly in screwing the Cherokee, but in most issues he was on the right track. So was Donald Trump, at least in his rhetoric. As Lincoln said, we should have “charity for all and malice toward none.” That doesn’t mean we have to surrender our country to self-righteous elites and alien invaders.

Long live Populism!

* https://www.amazon.com/Libertarian-Alternative-Essays-Political-Philosophy/dp/0911012729

Image credits:

Left, North American porcupine by Needsmoreritalin at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 2008

Right, Libertarian party logo by Hdebug, original by Lance W. Haverkamp, CC by-SA 4.0 2020

Damn the Torpedoes!

Adm. David G. Farragut, ca. 1863 Mathew Brady Collection. (Army) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 165-B-1921 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 130

Adm. David G. Farragut, ca. 1863 Mathew Brady Collection. (Army)
Exact Date Shot Unknown
NARA FILE #: 165-B-1921
WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 130

Two years ago I was part of a group of aspiring writers who would follow and promote each other on Twitter as a means to get more exposure for our books. I neither expected much nor gained much from the effort. However, I remember in particular a comment that crystallized in my mind the state of the modern publishing industry. One writer (I forget her name) posted a complaint about Internet “cancel culture,” asking her fellows to weigh in on the sacrifice of free speech to the prevailing PC ideology. The response was enlightening. In the hundreds of replies, something like 90% of the writers said, “Free speech is good, but there should also be consequences.”

These writers did not refer, as an uninformed person might suppose, to laws concerning libel or the classic example of “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” Rather, they were affirming the aforementioned cancel culture, in that people have the right to say “bad” things but that being punished for said opinions – whether it’s losing one’s platform, one’s job, or even one’s bank account – is perfectly acceptable. After all, these are “private institutions” doing the punishing.

Now I’m not going to debate this issue or the fairness of “private” censorship when 90% of America’s banks, news outlets, and social media companies are owned by a tiny cabal of interconnected billionaires who are also intimately entangled with the US government. My focus will be instead on the overwhelming agreement of the majority response. Did all 100-plus of these people who said “cancel culture is OK” actually believe what they were saying? Or were they trying to curry favor with the Powers that Be, which happen to be overwhelmingly and intolerantly leftist? Many progressive writers, J. K. Rowling, for example, have run into trouble due to a single disagreement with the prevailing orthodoxy. It seems that the lesson these writers have learned is not that “cancel culture is bad because it may someday come for me” but “I need to toe the line all the more carefully and I’ll be fine.” That caution includes, apparently, avoiding any criticism of cancel culture itself.

Let’s consider this question against the backdrop of the publishing industry in 2022. New authors attempting to publish a novel in today’s social climate will notice an interesting development. Besides looking for certain genres, topics, and styles of writing, many agents and publishers are also seeking certain kinds of writers. “Marginalized voices” is a common catchphrase, which usually refers to ethnic and sexual minorities – people of color, gay, transgender, etc. Sometimes women are included in this equation, though it’s hard to imagine misogyny is an issue in an industry that is literally dominated by female executives.

What I’m getting to is this: does it make sense for those of us who don’t belong to a protected group – in particular, straight white males such as myself – to muzzle ourselves in hopes that the publishing industry will cut us a break? For blacks and gays, this may make sense, because even luminaries such as Dave Chapelle and Glenn Greenwald can be labeled as “Nazis” despite their favored identities. To be clear, I don’t fault “marginalized” writers for taking advantage of literary affirmative action; I certainly would. It would be wonderful to have my work automatically moved to the top of the slush pile. And if they do fall afoul of the cancel mob, they may be more easily forgiven; consider whether Netflix would have stood behind Chapelle if he wasn’t an African-American. (By the way, I’m a big fan of both Chapelle’s comedy and Greenwald’s clear-headed political commentary.)

As for pale stale males, like me, I believe we’re fools to comply; we should be exactly who we are, as liberal or conservative or libertarian or populist as we feel. I’m reminded of a 1960’s cartoon in which a pair of hippies are dragging a normal-looking man away by his arms. “I’m relevant, I tell you!” screams the normie. The two hippies aren’t buying it and neither will the publishers who prioritize a writer’s identity over the writing itself. Those few enlightened agents or publishers who don’t consider a writer’s politics won’t be impressed by these acts of obeisance. And honoring the progressive shibboleths will positively shut us out of alternative non-liberal institutions such as the notorious Vox Day’s Castalia House.

This may sound like sour grapes, but being a straight white male is freeing in a way. I don’t need to apologize for having voted for Donald Trump twice, for supporting America, or for opposing immigration. Any opinions I express in this column are what I actually believe, no virtue-signaling required. If the political situation continues to decline, the American Stasi might come like the hippies in the cartoon to drag me away, but I’m not worried. The reign of intolerant reality-challenged lunatics can’t go on forever.

Which leads me to the title of this article. In 1862, faced with overwhelming odds in the Battle of Mobile, US Navy Admiral Farragut is quoted as saying, “Damn the torpedoes! Four Bells! Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” The battle was won for the Union Navy, though Farragut and his men could easily have died in the effort. This motto is perfect for dissident writers of all stripes who refuse to censor themselves. I repeat:

DAMN THE TORPEDOES!

Review: City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian Poster

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Sometimes a good thing is worth waiting for. Fifty years after the debut of the French space adventure comic series Valérian and Laureline, these intrepid heroes have reached the big screen. Valerian is the creation of writer Pierre Christian and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières. The series has won numerous awards but few people know it in the English-speaking world. Though I haven’t yet read this long running series (it would give Doctor Who a run for its money) judging by the movie, it must be pretty impressive.

Valerian follows the 28th Century adventures of government agent Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and his partner and love interest, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne.) The story’s exotic settings include the giant multi-species space station Alpha and the paradise world of Mul. The film is visually stunning and replete with the usual CGI spectacle. The action is non-stop but well paced, not needlessly frenetic like, for example, J.J. Abram’s recent Star Trek and Star Wars movies.

Though “City of a Thousand Planets” is not the most inspired title, I’m at a loss to think of a better one, except perhaps “Series that Spawned a Thousand Imitators.” As I watched the move, I was struck by the number of elements I’d seen in other sci-fi TV shows and movies, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, The Fifth Element, and Babylon Five. Since the Valerian comic series has been around longer than most of them (and almost as long as Star Trek,) we can guess who was plagiarizing whom. The Millenium Falcon, to name just one example, looks an awful lot like Major Valerian’s spaceship.

Overall, the movie was quite enjoyable but no masterpiece. It couldn’t live up to its amazing trailer, which features a pastiche of the movie’s most spectacular images set to the Beatles song “Because.”

The story is interesting, though not terribly original. I correctly predicted many of its plot turns, which is always disappointing. The main characters are likable though their acting is a bit flat at times. In fact, my favorite performance was by pop singer Rihanna as Bubble the shape-shifter. In particular, I found DeHaan’s youthful appearance jarring. He barely looks old enough to drive a car, let alone pilot a spaceship. The movie’s lowest points revolve around the romantic banter between him and Delevingne, which was at times painfully cliché. The action scenes made up for that.

Flaws aside, Valerian is still a must-see for any science fiction buff, especially Star Wars aficionados who loved the originals. I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

An Auspicious Announcement

SteampunkCouple

Just your average steampunk couple

This coming weekend, Arlys and I will be appearing on two steampunk-related panels at Westercon 70 at the Mission Palms Resort in Tempe, Arizona. To celebrate, we are offering a special promotion for our new e-book, Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. This is the newest our series of steampunk adventures featuring our feisty heroine as she attends the First Epicurean Exhibition in London. This e-book will be available for download absolutely FREE on Sunday and Monday, July 2nd and 3rd. We make only one request: if you enjoy this book, please leave a review on Amazon. Even a sentence or two would be great. It would help us generate publicity and we would very much appreciate it. (Link)

Panels featuring Yours Truly are as follows:

“The Future of Steampunk in Writing,” with David Lee Summers
Sunday 11 AM -12 noon
David Lee Summers has written over a dozen science fiction and fantasy novels, including the “Clockwork Legion” series of Western-themed steampunk.

“Steampunk before it was Steampunk,” with Katherine Stewart.
A discussion of “proto-steampunk” in books and media before the term was coined.
Monday 5-6 PM

We hope to see you there!

 

An American’s Belated Thanks

In this belated Thanksgiving post, I’d like to express my appreciation of the rights we still have in America. That is not to say that they come from the government, because I believe that freedom is part of the birthright of all human beings everywhere. Still, to the degree that I don’t need to fear incarceration for speaking my mind, for defending myself and my family, and for refusing arbitrary searches, I’m grateful to the stubborn pro-freedom heritage of my people.

We libertarians sometimes forget that there are a lot of countries that are more stupid and despotic than ours. Though there are certainly several nations with a freer press and better protections against the police, the vast majority are worse. Even those countries with close ties to America, with traits we admire such as sensible policies regarding drugs and sex, are often plagued with idiotic “hate speech” laws. For all that Americans can be smeared, demonized and boycotted for expressing an unpopular opinion – think Donald Sterling, Paula Deen and the Duck Dynasty family – you can’t be fined or arrested, as you could in many European countries, even the UK.

Nor can we be punished for questioning or mocking religion, as in most Muslim-majority countries, or for openly practicing or discussing gay lifestyles, as in Russia. Though the US government has put enormous pressure on whistle blower sites such as Wikileaks, our Internet is not (yet) censored, as in China. In many places, a person can be arrested for questioning the official accounts of the Nazi Holocaust. Personally, I have no desire to deny such atrocities; people who do so are delusional. Yet such laws provide unintentional motivation for neo-Nazis, and can easily chill honest scholarship, in much the same way that Turkey’s laws against defaming the nation prevent people from discussing the Armenian genocide.

Unlike many nations, the US does not have a military draft, and we should be very thankful for that. Conscription is truly a form of slavery that allows governments to pursue aggressive wars despite public opposition, forcing young people to kill and be killed. Even Switzerland, one of the most relatively free countries on Earth, forces its male citizens to be part of its military reserve – though due to that country’s enlightened political neutrality, the mandate is not nearly as onerous as it could be.

Finally, though the police in America can certainly be oppressive and abusive, they have not yet reached the level of corruption as in Mexico and many other places. We’re not yet to the point where a group of college students protesting peacefully could be abducted and murdered en masse. Though Mexico still has its good points, the government’s draconian gun laws are a great atrocity that has, in part, allowed the drug cartels to run roughshod over the people.

As Americans we must appreciate the rights we have left, and use them on every possible occasion. We should not censor ourselves out of fear; we should aggressively defend our ability to speak out. If a “state of emergency” is ever declared, we may be among the first to be detained, but the risk is worth it.