The Republican Party

Cut tax and spend less.

And Heed the Word of the Lord.

But mostly, cut tax.

The Democratic Party

We must tax the rich.

Unless they’re in Hollywood.

Then we’re conflicted.

Libertarianism

Cut Government Waste!

Like useless departments that

Monitor spending.

The Tea Party

We hate government

Unless it does what we want.

So… basically… yeah.

Moderate Democrats

We can disagree

On Reagan’s policies, but

His hair was perfect!*

Neo-liberalism

Globalism good.

If there’s more to it than that,

We don’t want to know.

Liberal Progressivism

We’re disappointed.

We won’t vote for Obama.

Kucinich ’16!

Moderate Republicans

We’re not Democrats.

No, really, we promise you!

Not the same at all!

The Alt-Right/”Manosphere”

We strongly believe

We’re slaves to biology.

Go build some robots.

Objectivism

We are all selfish.

It worked great in the novel.

Check your premises.

Anarchism

Why do we have to adhere to this stupid form? We will use however many freakin’ syllables we damn well please!

*Apologies to the late, great Warren Zevon for stealing this line.

Say this for Thomas Friedman: he was right that Michael Bloomberg could unite moderate Republicans and Democrats. I think that they, along with all the libertarians, agree that his soft drink ban is rather absurd.

The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited…“–The New York Times.

I know Republicans–particularly those in the “Tea Party” faction–will say otherwise, but in my experience there are precious few Democrats who will draw a line in the sand and fight to the bitter end to prevent the sale of medium-sized soft drinks. Yes, liberals want to regulate big business, but it’s Kochs, not Cokes, that they are concerned with.

No matter how hard Friedman wishes upon stars, (specifically, these stars)* Bloomberg isn’t going to be President, because banning soft drinks is not the sort of thing that the average voter takes kindly to. It is saying not merely “I know what is best for you,” but “I cannot permit you to even have the chance to act otherwise.”

Is there anyone who doesn’t already know that drinking carbonated corn syrup is worse for you than drinking a bottle of water? I very much doubt it. It can be inferred from the scientific principle that everything that tastes good is bad for you.

It would be different if the ban was on selling the stuff to kids. That would be something people could understand. But if a consenting adult wants to drink a gallon of sugar water, who can say that person hasn’t the right to do so?

Are there any other instances in history of unhealthy beverages being prohibited? Any famous ones that didn’t work at all? Someone should investigate that.  In the meantime, you have to wonder just how much this can possibly change obesity in New York City. Maybe Bloomberg should eliminate all forms of public transportation in the city instead, thus forcing people to exercise. (True, they could try driving. But this is New York City we’re talking about.)

Of course, this isn’t in any way a massive infringement on New Yorkers’ rights. They’re not even banning all sodas; just certain sizes. What could be wrong with that? The mayor himself commented upon the sheer banality of his plan:

“Your argument, I guess, could be that it’s a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32 ounce,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a sarcastic tone. “I don’t think you can make the case that we’re taking things away.”

He’s right, you know. It doesn’t even make a difference! A trifle, nothing more!

Hey, wait, why do it then? And why tell the portly partakers of Pepsi the loophole that they just have to buy more drinks? I mean, is he serious about matters of public health or not? This is where trying to be a centrist gets you into trouble: you end up doing just enough to annoy the Republicans without solving the problem the Democrats want solved.

I rag on the libertarians a lot on this blog, mostly because I used to be one and I can see so many of their errors. We need government regulation to protect the public health. We need it for big things that private industry might cut corners on, such as making sure that the sewer system and the drinking water system are two distinct things.

But not this sort of thing. This stuff makes the libertarians feel justified. I realize that the government feels like it ought to do something, just to make sure it still can, but in this case it really would be better to just put up some posters telling people to eat and drink healthy stuff, silly as that may seem.

*This is what I am alluding to regarding Mr. Friedman

In the first three parts of this series, I have established what I see as the logic of the American political system as it stands today.   Now, we need to examine the flaws and the potential dangers in this system.

It is first of all the case that nationalists—as opposed to patriots, the distinction between which you can see analyzed here or here—have been on the losing end of things since the 1960s.  Cosmopolitan liberals have been gaining since then, and this the nationalists will not abide.

But still, the clear winner over this time period has been the materialist business interests, for whom the nationalists vote based on their promises to cut the size of government, and with whom the cosmopolitans are obliged to compromise in the interest of seeing their gains on social issues protected.

The Thomas Frank question is: why do the nationalists continually vote for the anti-government big money people when they never do actually do anything to help the nationalists in their quest to abolish gay marriage, feminism, and secularism and restore militarism, flag-waving culture, traditional families and Christian dominance?

One hypothesis is that the nationalists are, by and large, ignorant hicks.  They certainly do hate the education system, bastion of liberalism that it allegedly is.  Thus, they can be duped every four years by some businessman who spouts slogans about “family values” and “sanctity of marriage” and who once elected cuts the capital gains tax and curtails welfare benefits.

When you add in that most nationalists are rural, and that many of them are Southern, where the schools have never been as good as the North or West, it looks compelling to say that they are just easily-tricked bumpkins.  Some liberals pity them, some liberals mock them; but they are seen widely as buffoons.

There is some evidence against this hypothesis, however.  That is why I read the works of Oswald Spengler or the political writings of H.P. Lovecraft.  They were both nationalists and, abhorrent though their views may be to me, there can be no doubt they were very intelligent men.

Moreover, you can see intelligent, educated nationalists even in the present day: a loose association sometimes called “the alt-right”.  I had a brief exchange with one of their number, OneSTDV, that some readers may recall.

Many of them are quite intelligent and well accustomed to philosophical debate and reasoning.  And they hold political views which I think many people supposed were now extinct in this country.  For example, they are fairly open about their admiration for fascism. They are more reactionary than most liberals can even imagine.

There are a few mainstream figures as well—Pat Buchanan is one—who may be classed as reasonably well-educated nationalists.  So, it is possible for such people to exist. Their philosophy is surprisingly intricate, and they can prove quite formidable in debate.

Given that, why keep voting for the materialist business interests, which care nothing for nationalism except insofar as it dictates the currency whose flow dictates their actions?  Well, in some cases, the nationalists don’t.  But in general, the reason is simply that both sides have common cause in that they hate the government. (With the exception of the military, in the case of the nationalists.)

They have different reasons: the nationalists hate it because it is populated by liberals.  (Most Republicans in government are far too liberal for their taste.)  Materialist corporate-types hate it because it has the power to take their money.  This fact means that business interests have a much easier time compromising with government than nationalists do.  Business wants to keep the government from getting its money; nationalists hate the actual people in the government .

Nonetheless, the nationalists’ plan is therefore rational: allow the Randian-minded businessmen to screw with the government long enough and it will eventually become weak.  Once it is weak, they will be in fine position to send in a candidate who really does mean to take us back to the 1950s. But clearly that day has not yet come.

Liberals are semi- cognizant of this threat, but it is very difficult to make the connections and realize that the nationalists may not be merely an angry group of people, but actually followers of a philosophy; one that is internally consistent and entirely antithetical to liberal values.

When I had my exchange with OneSTDV, many of his readers commented on my blog.  Interestingly, the topic that they focused on was this part:

[OneSTDV’s] belief that blacks are inherently inferior to whites intellectually. He calls this idea “Human BioDiversity” or “HBD”. I call it “racism” myself, and I believe it to be false.

Most of their comments centered on this point, and there was a lot of back-and-forth about the validity of it. One thing that caused some confusion—and this is my fault—was disagreement over whether “HBD” was the same thing as “racism”.  To my mind, they amount to the same thing: the belief that different races are in inherently different in non-trivial, especially mental, ways.  Now, some HBDers seemed to object to my effectively calling them racists, but I didn’t mean to imply that they are all klansmen; merely that they see race as an important factor in determining how well a person’s mind functions.

That’s an aside, but I wanted to get that bit of terminology clarified before proceeding.  What was especially interesting to me about the response to my OneSTDV post was a comment by “Ken S”:

“I am a fairly liberal HBD’er and I also frequently find OneSTDV’s blogging distasteful.  But don’t let that turn you off from finding out more about this viewpoint, there is much evidence in support of some of the non-political tenets of HBD…

While I like might like what you have expressed in the context of the arts, this is not the proper context that HBD lies in.  HBD itself is a scientific idea and the politics expressed at blogs like OneSTDV are responses to scientific data that question whether or not current social policies are doing more harm than good.  Even if he is wrong about the politics it would not make him wrong about the scientific findings that he uses to support his position.”

I also discovered the writings of a blogger named “John” at the sadly now-removed blog Stream of John, who also holds fairly liberal political views while still agreeing with the validity of “HBD”.  (I assume that he discovered my blog through reading OneSTDV)

Together, these two go to demonstrate a very interesting point: agreeing with the HBD hypothesis does not automatically determine one’s political beliefs.  After all, if these two can be liberals while still agreeing with the HBD view of things, it shows that there is no political philosophy that automatically follows from it.

Which is interesting, for it implies that OneSTDV and I would still have cause to quarrel even if one of us were somehow able to persuade the other on issues of race.  More broadly speaking, it shows that the divide between cosmopolitans and nationalists runs much deeper than even racial issues.

At bottom, these are whole philosophies of life that clash; they cannot be reduced to beliefs about race, or gender, or economics or any of the other issues.  The philosophical battle encompasses all of these.  If this hypothesis is correct, it in turn implies that there will never be consensus, and thus there is constant tension the political system.

How did I not hear about this sooner?

Curses! They knew my one weakness! Now I’ll have no choice but to vote for Ron Paul. Even if he’s not actually running as an independent come November, I’ll still have to write his name in.

Okay, I’m just kidding. Don’t worry. But really, this is bizarre. It figures to easily surpass Deus Ex as the best video game for Ron Paul fans, I’ll say that much. I don’t know if it’s a joke or not, but in my opinion, it doesn’t really do wonders for the Paul’s image as a “serious” candidate.

Read more about it here.

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t anything about Constitutional law or any of the precedents involved in the present Supreme Court case on Obama’s health care plan.

But this Mother Jones article by Adam Serwer about it seems pretty vapid to me. Why, Serwer criticizes Solicitor General Verrilli, the guy defending the law to the court, for coughing. So what? Did his arguments make sense? He complains that Verrilli gave “a rambling, apprehensive legal defense” of the law, but doesn’t offer specifics as to what that means.

Well, read the transcript and make up your own minds.

One other thing: at one point, Chief Justice Roberts said:

You say health insurance is not purchased for its own sake, like a car or broccoli; it is a means of financing health care consumption and covering universal risks. Well, a car or broccoli aren’t purchased for their own sake, either. They are purchased for the sake of transportation or in broccoli, covering the need for food. I — I don’t understand that distinction.

Verrilli answers:

The difference, Mr. Chief Justice, is that health insurance is the means of payment for health care and broccoli is (interruption) And — and broccoli is not the means of payment for anything else.

Well, I suppose we could have a barter system, and maybe broccoli would be then. But we don’t. We have a fiat currency system. Currency, in fact, is a means of payment for things. And who is in charge of the currency? Yes, indeed; the government is. The government regulates the currency market. Does it compel everyone to have currency? No, not exactly, but see how far you get without it.

Now, even more specifically, does Congress have the power to regulate currency? Oddly enough, it does under the Constitution, but it voluntarily ceded that power to the Federal Reserve. Even more strangely, many of the libertarians I know who oppose the health care law because of the power it gives Congress also support abolishing the Federal Reserve and giving much greater power back to Congress.

As I see it, according to Libertarian logic, one or the other is unconstitutional, but not both. Of course, it could be neither. In fact, I rather think it is neither, and that both the Fed and Obamacare are quite alright. But it’s only right to offer you fellows a chance. I keep hearing you say you want to end the Fed and strike down Obamacare and it makes me curious.

But like I said, I’m no lawyer. I’m Joe Moron, the blogger. So, to you lawyers out there: explain the flaws in my thinking.

There’s a scene in the video game Jade Empire when the character Sagacious Zu is warning the protagonist about the ruthless tactics of the evil Lotus Assassins, and after he’s done describing them, he concludes, in shame and anguish:  “I should know. I… I was one”. I have always loved the way Robin Atkin Downes says that line, and it’s been running through my head as I’ve been thinking about libertarians lately.  I don’t mean to imply that libertarians are evil. They have a lot of good ideas. But they aren’t as brilliant as they think.

What set me thinking about this was reading this article at Fox News by Wayne Allyn Root about the “Ron Paul phenomenon”. It’s a rather weird article, but Root is pretty much right when he describes what the young people like about Congressman Paul, writing: “Like Ron Paul, young people want government out of their bedroom and wallet. They crave economic and personal freedom.”

True, but it deserves a little elaboration. Having been one, I am pretty sure I know what’s going through the minds of those young people who are supporting Ron Paul. It’s something like this:

Well, the Democrats and Republicans are both corrupt. I’m not gullible, so I’m not going to buy into either side of this false dichotomy. I am more sophisticated than that. I am going to choose a different way, a way that is like neither of the parties, but new and different. I am a rebel! 

Yes, I remember it well. I thought I was a genius for figuring out that the Democrats and Republicans were not perfect, and that blind allegiance to either would not do.

Of course, it doesn’t do have blind allegiance to the trendy thing that everyone who’s too cool for the two party system is doing, either. It took me only four or five years to figure out that it was suspicious how mainstream we supposedly radical libertarians were. And also how little impact we had.

My first thought on considering this was a predictable conspiracy theory about the libertarians being used on an ad hoc basis to give whichever party was out of power a credible group to ally with, without actually giving that group anything in the way of a share of power.

I think many a cynical libertarian would agree with me wholeheartedly about this. And I still believe it to be true. However, my real break with the libertarians came next, when it occurred to me that the reason this happened was not because we libertarians were pure martyrs, cruelly tricked by the denizens of a fallen world, but rather because we really were just a bunch of people who thought we were much cleverer than we actually were for combining the Republican economic policy with the Democratic social policy, and worrying about the government’s power all the time.

I admit it took me awhile to get here. Like most libertarians, I read Ayn Rand early on in my college career. Unlike most libertarians, who are usually quite impressed with her at first, and only later qualify their admiration, I knew from the beginning something was amiss with her philosophy. Lest I sound like I’m bragging, I don’t think it was because I was smarter than anybody else; I think it was more that I have an instinctive rebelliousness that tells me to say “not X” to anyone who forcefully tells me “X”. And what Ayn Rand forcefully told me was “$”.

But, that was just the beginning. Not all libertarians believed in the “almighty dollar”. Most of them did not, actually, and were much more reasonable and accommodating than the strident Rand.

Unfortunately, it gradually became apparent to me that, in their present form, most libertarian policies did lead to the tyranny of the almighty dollar, even if they didn’t quite see it that way, or even mean for it to happen. Or as Oscar Wilde said:

“For the recognition of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is. Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an Individualism that is false.” 

A beautiful sentiment–ultimately wrong, of course, but beautiful. Wilde misdiagnosed the problem in his society almost as badly as we libertarians did in ours, but in completely the opposite way. Private property is not the problem, as Wilde thought. And it’s not the solution, as libertarians think.

This is the heart of the matter. The libertarian policy is implicitly that private property–particularly money belonging to corporations–is the most important thing there is. However, experience will show that while it is an important thing, it is possible to construct a scenario in which private property rights are never violated and yet have a dysfunctional society. Which suggests that there are other things that are also important. (A good example of this is the debate over the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)

Of course, the reason we all got into this private property craze was that if private property rights could be violated by the government, it gave the government a lot of power. And the government, we reasoned, could abuse that power. Well, well, it’s been known to happen, so it’s not a bad thing to fear.

Unfortunately, the libertarian policies seemed to me to lead into situations where private-property is overvalued. (This phenomenon is closely related to the way the “neoliberal project has embraced the commodification of literally all human interaction”, as Freddie DeBoer so brilliantly put it.)

It is true that, if I were forced to choose a President from the current GOP field, I’d still probably vote for Ron Paul, even though I think those newsletters released under his name are quite disgraceful and his economic policy is insane. This tells you something about my opinion of the rest of the field. But the fact is, I’m not forced to choose from among the GOP field, and thus there’s not much reason to consider it further.

I have previously pointed out that the problem with government in this country is not tyranny, as Tea-Partiers often wildly claim. Rather, the way in which the government is most likely to negatively impact an innocent person in the United States is through the bureaucracy.

Having said that, it’s clear that bureaucracy is one of the best problems to face from a government. Not only that, who oppose it, especially Libertarians, often tend to forget why it exists. What I mean is that bureaucracy and government wastefulness often are talked about as if the latter is a result of the former, though in my experience many irritating bureaucratic rules and regulations exist precisely for the purpose of preventing the waste of resources.

This is why it rings hollow to me when politicians promise to end waste and to reduce the size of government. Sometimes it is necessary to grow government to combat waste.

So, I’ve been reading some of the works of Albert Jay Nock today. He’s not a very well known writer anymore, but, as Wikipedia puts it:

“Nock was an important influence on the next generation of American thinkers, including libertarians such as Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Frank Chodorov, and Leonard Read, and conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Jr..”

Given all this, I thought I knew about what to expect from him. But I was, at least partially, wrong. He seems to me a great deal smarter and more thoughtful than Rand or Buckley, and while he certainly does espouse many libertarian ideas, his philosophy seems much more nuanced and carefully thought out than most of what we consider “libertarian” thought today. This passage, from perhaps his most famous book Our Enemy, the State gives you an idea of what I mean:

“The State had by no means always kept its hands off trade, but it had never countenanced the idea that its chief reason for existence was, as we say, “to help business.” The merchants and financiers, however, had precisely this idea in mind. They saw the attractive possibilities of production for profit, with the incidence of exploitation gradually shifting to an industrial proletariat. They saw also, however, that to realize all these possibilities, they must get the State’s mechanism to working as smoothly and powerfully on the side of “business” as it had been working on the side of the monarchy, the Church, and the large-holding landed proprietors.”

It’s difficult to argue, given the title of Nock’s book, that he considers “the merchant-State” as he calls it, a good thing. Yet hardly a day goes by without some Libertarian and/or Republican demanding that our state do precisely what is described above. For example, this Washington Post article quotes Governor Rick Perry as saying on Friday:

“‘I am a pro-business governor and I don’t make any apologies to anybody about it. I’m going to be a pro-business president and I won’t make any apologies about it.'” 

Unless I am badly mis-reading one or the other, I see no way to reconcile those two lines of thinking.

It’s not that I agree with Nock’s philosophy; for he makes what I think are many naive errors. Also, many of his ideas will strike the modern reader as sexist and racist, although what I have read of his so far is no more so than was typical of the prevailing “wisdom” of his day, and at times perhaps even a little less so.

It’s just that, whatever his flaws, it seems to me that Nock put a lot of thought into his worldview, and consequently his work reads more like someone who was honestly trying to figure out how the world worked as opposed to the “I command you to be independent and obey me” attitude of Ayn Rand’s crowd. 

The long and short of it is: I very much doubt if any of the people who profess to admire him today have read his work beyond a few carefully selected quotes.