One other thing that was fascinating about Robert Weissberg’s “Alien Rule” article was this passage:

“Just travel to Afghanistan and witness American military commanders’ efforts to enlist tribal elders with promises of roads, clean water, dental clinics, and all else that America can freely provide. Many of these elders probably privately prefer abject poverty to foreign occupation since it would be their poverty, run by their people, according to their sensibilities.”  

Now, I could be wrong, but in context this seems to be implying that his view of Obama is much the same. Even if Obama’s administration brought about huge improvements in our quality of life, even if it increased our national wealth, Weissberg would nonetheless object to it, preferring his own “American” way of doing things to Obama’s so-called “foreign” way. (Though, as I explained, there is nothing foreign about it. It’s just not nationalism.)

And it’s hardly a surprising concept. Nationalism and Wealth are not always in alliance with one another. Wealth has a way of destroying traditions and institutions, especially if it grows rapidly. The wealth-generating process of “Creative Destruction” that Schumpeter spoke of is in many ways a threat to the very symbols and traditions which a proud Nationalist holds dear.

When I was a Libertarian, I was forced frequently to grapple with a very similar issue, and indeed I suspect it will very soon confront Rand Paul as well. The issue is: can economic incentives (in the libertarian case, of a free-market) bring about an end to the practice of discrimination based on things like race, gender, etc?

Theoretically, no profit-seeker would engage in discrimination when hiring. He would simply want to get the best person for the job, regardless of race, gender, or the rest. Yet, this clearly does not happen. Some of this can be chalked up, as Jonah Goldberg observed, to the fact that the market itself is interfered with to maintain discriminatory practices. But this fact alone is disturbing; for it means that politicians–and presumably their constituents–were willing to forgo economic well-being in order to keep these discriminatory practices alive.

This is not, I must stress, a veiled attempt to call Weissberg a racist. He says his dislike for Obama is not based on racial grounds, and I take him at his word. Rather, it is merely an attempt to show that adherence to old customs may trump economic advantage for a long period of time. Nor do I wish to imply that all traditions are bad, as racism was, or that upsetting tradition for economic gain is always “good”. After all, who but an Objectivist would hail as “noble” someone who valued money over his own country?

No, my point is simply that Weissberg, and his audience, believe deeply in certain American values. And these values, while they may hold among them Capitalism, and free markets, and through them, promoting the general economic welfare, are not merely these things; but rather a whole collection of traditions, of institutions, of symbols which are of high importance to them. And if forced to choose between mere material Wealth and maintaining their National pride, they will undoubtedly choose the latter.

The Eclectic Iconoclast has a very good post about Libertarianism that I highly recommend. This post started out as a comment I was going to make on it, but it got too long.

EI writes that Libertarians “elevate the rights inherent in property ownership above and ahead of the rights of individuals.” I take issue with this. Most Libertarians certainly do allow that you can’t just kill people for trespassing, for example. The reason they object to government intervention to say, tell white business owners that they have to let black people into their stores is simply as a matter of the precedent it sets. If the state can intervene against a person’s right to control their property in the interest of letting another person occupy that property, it means the government it means, in broad outlines, that the government may violate a person’s rights when it determines that it is in the service of the greater good.

Now, of course, this is a basic function of government. As EI points out, most Libertarians acknowledge this. Everyone would agree that the government can violate someone’s right to move about the country freely if that someone has, for example, murdered a bunch of people. Nevertheless, Libertarians are uneasy with this idea. They certainly would say the government should intervene to stop the murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan, but should they intervene to say that “you must serve all customers, regardless of race, at your restaurant”?

I freely admit that the ultimate effect of the libertarian policy is to say that in this case, we value the proprietors right over the potential customers right, but this is not actually the Libertarian objective. The Libertarian objective is to minimize government intervention. Why? Because it can lead to giving the government too much power, and that can be dangerous.

The Libertarian logic is basically that government is either (and sometimes both) evil and totalitarian, or at best inefficient, incompetent, and corrupt. Therefore, you want it to have as little power as possible.

Now, the Iconoclast does make a compelling argument that the Libertarians are, in fact, wrong in their view of the role of government. I am unsure about this aspect of the issue myself–on the one hand, I think the government is inefficient and corrupt, but on the other hand, I don’t know that the private market is really any better.

I’m amazed by the controversy around Rand Paul’s interview by Rachel Maddow the other day.I guess people aren’t too familiar with the intellectual history of Libertarianism. Now, Paul himself is not entirely a Libertarian, and the Tea Party movement that backs him is so far from being libertarian that it’s not even funny. But Paul does bring a libertarian pedigree to the table, and thus I think it is important to clearly define the philosophy which he is arguing for.

Libertarianism, as I understand it, wants the government to intervene as little as possible in the private sector, except when it is necessary to enforce laws defending private property rights. The reason for this is that Libertarians believe that government authority can be used to commit extremely evil acts, and that the government is more likely to harm people than to help them.

Many of the mistakes, injustices and downright atrocities that we think of governments committing in the past were not committed out of purely evil motivations. Rather, they were inspired by some government official who thought that more governmental intervention would serve “the greater good”. Hence, many people are leery of trusting the government with this authority, on the grounds that it sets dangerous precedents that some future government may choose to exploit.

Having said that, it is true that Rand Paul has handled the situation in a truly dreadful manner, and failed to make his argument in anything like a persuasive fashion. On her show the night after the interview, Rachel Maddow actually articulated what Paul was trying to say better than he did.

For the moment, the Tea Party and its supporters are apparently going with their standard “The Liberal Media is out to destroy us” defense.  They’re wrong. Neither Maddow nor NPR’s interview with Paul were “hit pieces”. Sure, they are all liberals, but Paul himself is ultimately responsible for the things he says, and his defense was pathetic. I confess that Maddow’s reaction to what Paul said seemed odd to me, but it seemed like she was genuinely unfamiliar with libertarianism, rather than out to paint Paul as a racist.

I suspect, however, that the Tea Party, should it gain any political power, will not follow through on the pure libertarianism that so many of its candidates and members occasionally espouse. The tea party’s support for the Arizona immigration law is best hint yet of this.

Indeed, this is the fundamental tragedy of the libertarians: they are forever being used as a tool to advance the cause of the minority party. Rand Paul’s father, Ron, got a lot more favorable attention from liberals back during the Bush years, because he was opposed to the Iraq War. He was useful for the Democrats, because he criticized Bush, yet was not himself a Democrat. Now that the Democrats are in power, the Republicans, and the Tea Party, have welcomed him with open arms, because he opposes Obama’s spending policies, yet can be called an “Independent thinker”. Will they listen to him should they regain a majority, and/or the Presidency? I doubt it.