January 9th, 2014

Liberty: the great dividing line

Commenter “DNW” has a question:

How in the world could these [liberal and leftist] others not value liberty and voluntary association as the very premisses that made human life worth living? But they obviously don’t…

We now have a situation wherein the classic justifying predicate of this polity and our civil association – the preservation and enhancement of personal liberty – has been officially abandoned by one major party and a large portion of the electorate, in favor of a fascist scheme of state enforced social solidarity and life-energy redistribution.

I can’t speak for all liberals, “progressives,” or leftists. Now do they even speak for each other, because there’s a great deal of variety among them in how far they want to go to stifle liberty, and how much they value liberty.

In my own family of origin, for example, there was quite a variety of points of view on that score, especially if you included distant relatives. My own father and mother were garden-variety liberals (“liberals” as defined back then, which was not as leftist as now). But the very-extended family included leftists various and sundry, including those who were Sovietphiles and even a few later on who were Maoists.

Talk about fun! Family gatherings involving this larger group (which occurred quite infrequently) usually featured—after a few hours of conviviality—a degeneration into shouting matches over politics. I wish now I had paid more attention to the details of the content. But even as a child I heard enough to be both vaguely entertained by these arguments and repelled by them. The latter emotion won out, in part because of the arguments’ repetitive nature (nobody ever convinced anyone of anything) and in part because what the leftist branch was saying seemed so dogmatic, unreasonable, and manifestly wrong to me.

Those of you who lump together leftists and liberals may be surprised to hear that the arguments between the two wings of my family were so bitter (there were one or two conservatives, too, who had married in). But the liberals and the leftists were at loggerheads, the liberals believing in liberty, capitalism, and that the USSR was a totalitarian slagheap of a police state up to no good in the world, and the leftists believing that the true liberty lay in defeating capitalism, and that the Soviets were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

That was in the 50s and 60s, of course, and a little bit in the 70s as well. The mainstream of the Democratic Party, which my parents then represented, has moved to the left over the ensuing years. Some of the liberals I know have moved to the left with it, but some have not. And in the last couple of years, as the assaults on liberty have cascaded, I have noticed that the liberals I know seem to divide naturally into two camps: those who love liberty and to whom it is important, and those who do not and to whom it is not.

I don’t know the relative size of the two groups, because I don’t seek out political discussions with my friends and family; I don’t want get-togethers to degenerate into the useless, repetitive, unproductive arguments I witnessed in my youth, which they easily could, with me now as the sole conservative. But I know that those two groups exist, and I think that what differentiates them are (a) the person’s need to control others and/or society; and (b) the degree that the person thinks he/she can do so effectively and get the desired results.

Among most of my friends their motives are “good”—that is, they want people to be happier, healthier, and in general just better. Some leftists I know have the same motivation (I would add that most of the people who think they are doing good are also motivated by the need to feel that they are good people for wanting that). But many leftists—we’re talking about quite a few of the leaders of the movement, and certainly people such as Stalin—have a different motivation: they are motivated almost purely by the desire for power and control.

There is an unholy alliance between the two groups. The first is the much-larger pack of would-be do-gooders who believe that liberalism is the way to go about it, whose minds are formed by a combination of their families growing up, present-day peers, the MSM, eduction, politicians, literature, the entertainment business, and in some cases their “progressive” churches and synagogues. The second is the smaller but extremely influential group of leftist activists, some proudly out as unrepentant “progressives,” and some just quietly going about their business, some motivated by the desire for power/control plus the idea that they’re doing “good,” and the rest just wanting the power/control part.

Back when Mayor Bloomberg of New York was heavily engaged in banning Big Gulps, I had some discussions with a couple of liberal friends about it. Some were offended by what Bloomberg had done, although others were in favor. That was one of the strongest demonstrations I’ve seen of what I have come to consider a very important and somewhat invisible dividing line between those liberals who love and value liberty and those who do not. You might call them the non-statists (or perhaps the less-statists) and the statists. Don’t forget, too, that there are statists on the right, too, although in my experience there are far fewer.

But it was the Sarah Conly book that really crystallized things for me. Remember Conly, author of Against Autonomy? I can think of no better demonstration of the statist impulse plus the supposedly do-goody one combining to create a vile synergy. And who better to explain it all but Ms. Conly herself:

I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your own decisions, is overrated—that the common high evaluation of the importance of autonomy is based on a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.

If you want to know how a person can justify such tyranny to themselves, that’s how. How they can be so stupid as to believe it a good idea (assuming that Conly does believe it rather than merely mouthing it in order to get a lot of publicity and maybe even power one day) is another, more mysterious question. It’s a question I have yet to answer to my satisfaction, actually, but let’s just say that I’m beginning to think the desire for liberty versus the desire to control others might just be something innate.

The sad thing is that even those liberals who love liberty are for the most part voting for people dedicated to ending it.

[NOTE: I'm gratified to see that the majority of the Amazon reviews for Conly's abominable oeuvre are mostly very negative.]

32 Responses to “Liberty: the great dividing line”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    ” In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.”

    Ah it is said in a great truth that when you do not believe in God you will believe in anything. And that includes the evil of others and the greater evil of government.

  2. Ymarsakar Says:

    Why in the world would the Leftist alliance, the alliance of enslaving humanity, be for liberty?

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    The sad thing is that even those liberals who love liberty are for the most part voting for people dedicated to ending it.

    There’s a significant difference between a slave master class that likes liberty for themselves, and the same class that likes liberating their slaves too.

  4. T Says:

    At the basis of every leftist argument is a false premise and Sarah Conly’s argument is no different:

    I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your own decisions, is overrated . . . [it] is based on a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation . . . .”

    So we are bad at making effective desicions. So what? Where is it written that our decisions must be “effective” and precisely who is it that is tasked with deciding whether those decisions are effective or not? Oftentimes the unintended consequences of “bad’ decisions lead to results better than the “effective” decision would have produced, and unless Ms. Conly has her own demonstrably effective crystal ball neither she nor her “infallible” government are any better at making such decisions.

    Furthermore, it is risible that anyone would argue that governmental decisions are “more effective” than decisions made by individuals closer to the source and that government, therefore, makes fewer mistakes. For that to be true, there would have to be no such thing as government waste, no such thing a government corruption. All Ms. Conly is doing is shifting the decision making capability from the individual to the government and in her mind, this passes for logic!

    That reveals the false premise and the statist intentions of her not very veiled position.

  5. Gringo Says:

    The sad thing is that even those liberals who love liberty are for the most part voting for people dedicated to ending it.

    I am reminded of a friend who defines himself as a blue dog Democrat, NOT a San Francisco Democrat. Repeat: on a number of occasions he has emphatically stated he is NOT a San Francisco Democrat, NOR has he ever been one. Repeat.

    One time I brought up SanFran Nan’s infamous quote about needing to vote for the bill [Obamacare] so we can find what’s in it.

    He replied that legislators can’t be expected to read bills. There are others more knowledgeable, he said, who can recommend to the legislators how to vote.

    So, even though he isn’t a San Francisco Democrat, he lets a San Francisco Democrat lead him around by the nose.

    Unlike Neo, I didn’t grow up knowing any Reds. But I had experience with the anti-anti Communists. I recall a family friend saying that Americans were just as bad as the Russians- which so shocked me that I remembered it 50 years later. [Most of the shock came from my growing up among a fair number of Iron Curtain refugees.] Over the years, the family friend had made numerous trips back to the old country that his parents had emigrated from, meeting all the cousins, aunts, and uncles. Not until several decades into his visits to the old country did he find out that during WW2 a communist partisan from his father’s family had executed a member of his mother’s family. This communist partisan later rose high in the Nomenklatura- I have found his name in Wiki. Just as bad? I think not.

  6. mizpants Says:

    I know a lot of liberals of the kind you describe, people who instinctively love liberty. They don’t go along with leftists, but they tend to be self-deprecating and apologetic about it. Oh, they say, I don’t go THAT far. But…
    The implication is that if they were only braver and less compromising, they WOULD go that far.
    Their mistake is to see themselves and the authoritarian leftists as being on a continuum, while in fact they are different in kind and not in degree.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    mizpants:

    Their mistake is sometimes (and this was my mistake, when I was a liberal) to not be paying all that much attention, and to not think it all through to its logical consequences.

    I always knew the far left and I parted company, big time, even back when I was a liberal. Maybe that’s why I ended up a changer.

  8. mizpants Says:

    Well, Neo, you were ahead of the game even then, which is why you changed.

  9. DNW Says:

    “If you want to know how a person can justify such tyranny to themselves, that’s how. How they can be so stupid as to believe it a good idea (assuming that Conly does believe it rather than merely mouthing it in order to get a lot of publicity and maybe even power one day) is another, more mysterious question. It’s a question I have yet to answer to my satisfaction, actually, but let’s just say that I’m beginning to think the desire for liberty versus the desire to control others might just be something innate.”

    I suppose it’s dully persistent of me to repeatedly ask questions for which there is no answer; or at least not the kind of answer which I seek for moral reassurance: i.e., that there is a common humanity, possessing a constellation of objective moral principles common to all; and which the statist himself merely transgresses, rather than stands completely outside of.

    But it may not be the case that there is any reassurance to be had at any level.

    If the reluctant suspicion of Neo and many others that in some humans “the desire to control others might just be something innate” is correct, the hope for a collectively intelligible explanation (for both them and us) of the moral bases and predicates of the progressive programmatic (or agenda or whatever), may be nothing more than just that; wishful thinking.

    Whatever the case, the current political progressive, with his strict materialism and his evolutionary values paradigm, seems fundamentally untroubled as a matter of principle with the concept of breaking eggs, or populations, in order to make – or programmatically evolve as they might put it – the social omelet the progressive craves.

    He may feel fastidious about it at times, but no objective principle can be said to be violated in his managing a population toward a particular configuration by whatever means are necessary or expedient.

    All those references to “pain” and to “the good” turn out to be nothing more than rhetoric – vocalizations intended to elicit a desired emotional response or behavior on the part of the target, rather than to really explain or justify.

    And, because nothing of nature in the progressive worldview is purposive in any morally conditioning sense, the progressive sees no need for any of his personal cravings to be analyzed for their correctness or alignment with some naturally occurring or existing higher standard. All hierarchical structures of interpretation are done away with as mere conventions … the phenomenal world is taken to actually be value-flat; value empty in fact.

    The term “good” becomes a synonym for “I want” and “I want” becomes a “brute fact” in the language of current philosophy; uninterpretable and unreference-able in terms of its ordinate-ness or rightness with anything other than other equally poised brute-fact-desires existing on the same plane.

    When you come up against a “person” like that, what are your real options when it comes to associational strategies?

    I wish I knew.

    What I do know is that we recently had more personal liberty and autonomy and fewer compulsions than we now have under law, and if progressives continue to have their way, we will have progressively less and less liberty in the future.

    Who would find such a life humanly worthwhile?

  10. Matthew Says:

    It’s interesting reading Sarah Conly’s comments after literally finishing Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society. Conly seems to have the view that a certain minority of people have a tremendous amount of knowledge over the majority. The view that Sowell’s book shows to have been disastrous. Those in power are just as fallible (if not more so) than average people, but their mistakes effect the whole of society while that of average people is more limited. Also a person has more pertinent knowledge on how to live his own life than some third person.

  11. Conrad Says:

    I’d highly recommend Thomas Sowell’s book “A Conflict of Visions,” which explores the evolution of the philosophical underpinnings of leftist and conservative thought.

    I’m no Tom Sowell, but it seems pretty clear even to me that lefties don’t really believe people should have the right to make what they consider to be “bad” decisions. They are fine with nanny-state food and health regulations to try to legislate healthier lifestyles. They are fine with all manner of commercial regulation, subsidies, and government takeovers to force people to buy the right things or keep the right businesses afloat. They don’t believe in free speech for people who say things they find offensive. And they want to use the power of government to make sure that certain groups have jobs and incomes despite the failure of society as whole to reward them with jobs and income.

    The only arguable sphere in which lefties support individual choice is in the area of sexual/reproductive rights. But even that may be illusory: I have no doubt that if America had an overpopulation problem, it’s the libs who would be advocating forced sterilization and compulsory abortion, not conservatives.

  12. T Says:

    Conrad,

    (@ 4:12) “I’m no Tom Sowell, but it seems pretty clear even to me that lefties don’t really believe people should have the right to make what they consider to be “bad” decisions.”

    This observation is evinced by the Sarah Conly quote above. I repeat that the great fallacy is revealed by the question, “Then who has the right to determine what a bad decision is?” Why, they do through their running of the govt of course.

  13. Matt_SE Says:

    As Neo-neocon stated, lefties don’t think through their arguments. This is what enables Orwellian doublethink, for instance; two passionately-held ideas that should be mutually exclusive, but only if one takes them to their logical conclusions.
    Every position is a matter of emotion. Does it feel good, at least for now? Then it is good.

    In my experience, there’s no point in arguing with liberals because their premises are different than mine. These are things that many people take it for granted that we share. Not so.
    -Are people innately good or bad? Either? Both?
    -Is “greed” good? (see: Gordon Gecko speech, or Danny Devito in Other People’s Money)
    -Is there a God?
    -Is there objective truth?

    Until you agree on the ground rules, there’s no point in debating liberals. This seems like re-inventing the wheel every time you debate, because IT IS! It’s like pulling teeth to have to go through this every time.

    Even if you agree on certain premises, it can be bad: if there’s no objective truth then everything is solipsism, which is itself nihilism. No point in debating if you believe in nothing.

  14. Mythx Says:

    I have worked in government for the last 20 years. An I have seen most points of view. But the problem with how many liberals think is that once the accept a certain premise they tend not to review it. Hence we get the continued creeping problems.

    1) we have to help the less disadvantaged (pick any one)
    2) it then becomes their business to keep people from becoming disadvantaged.
    3) Add in new disadvantages tangentially related to old disadvantages
    4) Additional behavior must be enforced to prevent said disadvantages.

    Rinse,soak repeat.
    They never consider that #1 in not completely true or that in many cases is impossible to overcome.

    With crime statistics down from 20 years ago by all measure my job should be less busy. But by the sheer volume or work its not. It has drastically increased as people no longer expect emergency services but social services as well.
    When I get around to writing a book I will have to keep the strangest stories to myself simply because no one will believe them.

  15. Mythx Says:

    failed to proofread again…sigh i need to stop rushing these things

  16. Joe Says:

    I grew up in Humboldt County, California in a very non-political family. I recall being very confused as I became politically aware. The racist, sexist mill workers where my dad worked turned out to be staunch Democrats. Meanwhile, the hard core hippies seemed, in retrospect, to be way more libertarian than anything.

    I now see that part of that is a function of the fact that Ronald Reagan was president. I wonder how those same hippies would have acted were a liberal president.

    On the other end of the political spectrum, I have seen conservative opinion towards law enforcement (my profession) morph from reflexive support in GWB’s time to sometimes feverish suspicion since Obama was elected. When you occupy my lowly place in government it is amusing to read it implied that the president has somehow affected your judgment. At least liberals are generally consistent in their use of police to explain away all inequality of outcomes.

    At any rate, it all makes me even more puzzled at the voracious appetite for power amongst leftists. Don’t they know it won’t always be them at the reins?

  17. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “At any rate, it all makes me even more puzzled at the voracious appetite for power amongst leftists. Don’t they know it won’t always be them at the reins?”

    Ah but you see, leftists know that those on the right believe in judeo/christian principles, in reason and logic and cognitive consistency. In classical liberal principles.

    The “dialectic of the left” expresses it perfectly; “When I am the weaker, I ask you for mercy, because that is your principle; but when I am the stronger, I show no mercy and take away your freedom, because that is my principle.” Louis Veuillot (The dialectic of the left)

  18. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    In regard to neo’s perspective, I share it both in perception and personal experience.

    I have posted the following quotes many times but they are particularly relevant to this post. Truth is eternal and ever worth reflecting upon and now, more than ever, we all realize the truth that liberty requires eternal vigilance.

    “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties:
    1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.
    2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not [always] the most wise depository of the public interests.

    In every country [and time] these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.” –Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1824.

    “There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” – Senator Daniel Webster

    “Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” – Robert A. Heinlein

    Just as every generation, in every time and place, produces a certain percentage of human beings of the criminal mind-set, so too does it produce a certain percentage of people who lust for control and power.

    “Professional liberals are too arrogant to compromise. In my experience, they  were also very unpleasant people on a personal level. Behind their slogans about saving the world and sharing the wealth with the common man lurked a nasty hunger for power. They’d double-cross their own mothers to get it or keep it.”  - Harry S Truman, from a 1970 interview

    The left is composed of people who, to one degree or another, reject what is, who believe at least subconsciously, that they “know what God would do . . . if only God had all the facts of the matter”.

    This divide among men is, at base not a political problem, the ‘politics’ of the matter are outward symptoms. The crux of the problem is a spiritual one.

    “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.” C.S. Lewis

  19. Don Carlos Says:

    “…a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are.”
    The “We” I understand to mean people, Homo sapiens all. From this We our regulators are drawn, and will be drawn. Our government is peopled by members of the larger American We, not exclusively the Harvard We, Wisconsin We or Princeton We, though that day may come.

    Conley’s thesis reminds me of Apartheid South Africa, where the Wes were the whites, South Africa was thriving, and I am sure she loathes that political period.

    Are our governing Wes afflicted with the same exaggerated belief in their rationality than they actually are?
    The answer is so obvious the question should never have been posed.

  20. Beverly Says:

    Geoffrey, here’s another quote for you: “It’s better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” –The Devil (per J. Milton)

    Whittaker Chambers got it right: Communism is mankind’s second-oldest faith: “Ye shall be as gods.” And our oldest temptation. This, he avers, accounts for Communism’s power and its incredible hold over the minds of its devotees.

    Chambers also had no patience with hair-splitting between “communism” and “socialism,” recognizing, like Vladimir Lenin, that they were the same thing, but socialism is just a slower and sneakier way to get to the same Prison Planet.

  21. Beverly Says:

    One more quote: Winston Churchill called Communism “a ghoul descending from a pile of skulls.”

    He knew what they were in the earliest days of the Bolshevik revolution: this is the reason Obama and Co. hate him. He knew what they are.

  22. Beverly Says:

    One last thought: These idiots who think that the government numpties are brilliant Philosopher Kings who are the brightest and best of humanity, naturally fitted to rule over their inferiors, are the same ones who are outraged at the recognition of any natural, real superiority of mind.

    Paul Haggis, Oscar-winning screenwriter, thought Christianity and Judaism were stupid religions. So what did he do? why, this genius decided that L. Ron Hubbard, for chrissake, was the REAL Messiah. His piece in the New Yorker about his disillusionment with Scientology is mind-boggling: don’t these people ever think?

  23. Beverly Says:

    For what brilliant lefty lad wouldn’t prefer L. Ron Hubbard, hack writer of cheesy science fiction and tinpot fraud, to Jesus Christ? Need you even ask?

    Now they all have Body Thetans swarmin’ in their bowels. . . .

  24. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Friday morning links…

    The War on the Way We Were:  When I first heard that the newest mayor of New York’s first action in office was to denude the city of horse-drawn carriages, I thought it was probably a joke. I figured some card over at Fox News or The Wall Street…

  25. Trimegistus Says:

    I don’t see any real distinction between liberals and leftists. They both vote for the same corrupt, evil politicians, they both make excuses for the corruption and incompetence of those politicians, and they both spew hate and contempt for anyone who doesn’t agree.

    The fact that liberals are motivated by stupidity and wilful self-deception while the leftists are consciously doing evil doesn’t seem to be a distinction worth noting. The results are the same.

    We have to destroy them. We have to end their control of media and academia, and we can’t be squeamish about the methods we use. Lies, personal attacks, blackmail, threats, cybernetic attacks — nothing can be off the table, unless you think that being nice is more important than your children being free.

  26. Don Carlos Says:

    Agreed, Trimeg, agreed.

    Sarah Conley is on a year’s leave from her job as an Assistant Professor at Bowdoin. Granting an Asst Prof a year’s leave for non-medical reasons is basically unheard of.
    In her case, the reason seems to be she is penning another Best-Seller, dripping with virtue: “One:…”, in which she reasons (reasons?) that governments should determine the number of children allowed a woman or a couple. Too bad she is too young to have sat down with Mao, no?

  27. WalkingHorse Says:

    There is reason to believe that every form of Statist ideology is a false front for the desire to control other people. It is as simple as that. A charitable assessment is to think that people harboring this motivation suffer from a curious admixture of insecurity, hubris, magical thinking, and self-deception. Or they are simply evil.

    Advocating tyranny on the excuse that people make mistakes or irrational choices ignores the healing effect of experience. As the old say says, the child, once burned, loathes the fire. Experience is a harsh, but effective teacher, and it is folly to avoid the truth that the bulk of what we know was gained by the hard and sometimes fatal experience of our predecessors. It also conveniently ignores the fact that tyrants make the most monumental mistakes, which usually result in famine, revolution, and mass graves.

    “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”
    – Robert A. Heinlein

  28. T Says:

    “There is reason to believe that every form of Statist ideology is a false front for the desire to control other people. It is as simple as that.”

    Walkinghorse,

    You are correct and succinct. It IS as simple as that.

  29. Ymarsakar Says:

    Slave masters need slaves. If they can’t have em, they will buy them. If they cannot buy them, they’ll just breed them. Nothing difficult really.

    For those that haven’t heard, http://www.bookwormroom.com/2014/01/08/democrats-sacrificing-american-lives-for-political-expediency/

    We sort of knew about this all along, didn’t we.

  30. Eastwood Ravine Says:

    This article reminds me of that one speech in 2012′s Avengers.

    http://youtu.be/X1C6kqXT9XU

  31. rickl Says:

    Great post, neo. I linked it at Ace of Spades, and also called attention to the comments.

    I see that a couple of others have already mentioned the famous Heinlein quote, so I will leave this one from George Washington:

    Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

    But he was just a dirty old white slaveowner, so what did he know?

  32. Ymarsakar Says:

    We’re going to tear down FDR’s image too.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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