Do you believe in free markets? Do you believe that the state should have as little a role as possible in things like education, healthcare, and various other industries? If you are following my blog, then I’m going to assume, for all intents and purposes, that you do.
Now, have you ever driven on a freeway, used public transportation, attended a public school or college, maybe took a pell grant, or shipped something from the Post Office, collected a welfare/medicaid/social security check — or basically benefited from any government program in any possible way? Chances are all of you have. Indeed, I’d be amazed if you haven’t at all. I have as well.
Maybe some of you have even worked for the government in some capacity, whether it be at the local, state, or federal level. Or maybe you joined the army, did a stint in the peace corps, or worked with your representative.
What then does this say about our views, some may ask. Have we not plainly conceded that our core values are untenable? Have we not just validated the logical primacy of a high-tax, high-services model of government? Aren’t we all effectively hypocrites now?
If we ourselves expect that we can — that we must — completely eradicate all instances of “force” wherever they are employed by tomorrow, then the answer is yes. But is this notion itself all that prevalent in libertarian circles? My general estimation would be no. Then, the next question is: should it be? Save for the occasional anarcho-capitalist martyr, the body of work I’ve read again says no. And pure common sense agrees with these conclusions.
But suppose for a moment we were to play devil’s advocate and entertain the possibility that “common sense” doesn’t absolve us after all. As some might argue, just because we can’t completely secede from society, that gives us no reason not to try. Thus, in light of this view, it’s thoroughly tempting to feel a tinge of shame for lining up at the public trough.
Much earlier in the year, there was a post over at Boingboing accusing Objectivist founder and “libertarian godmother” Ayn Rand of this very same behavior. The charge, itself lifted from a Huffington Post article was as follows:
An interview with Evva Pryror [sic], a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).
As Pryor said, “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out” without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn “despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently… She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.
But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so.
Now then, I would preface my forthcoming defense of Rand with the following disclaimer: I have never been an acolyte of Objectivism, and I don’t really think of her as a figurehead for libertarianism at all. Nevertheless, on the present subject, I find no fault with her. Surprised?
It may be instructive to know just when, if ever, Rand thought it permissible to accept government assistance. As it turns out, she did at one point address just this very topic, in an article entitled “The Question of Scholarships,” published in June 1966 edition of The Objectivist. In her own words:
Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others–the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it.
For anyone not thoroughly familiar with Rand’s rhetoric, it may prove too strong, even distasteful, but her meaning is clear: if you have an opportunity to claim some benefit paid in part with your money, do you allow it to expire? Rand clearly thought you shouldn’t and explicitly said so. She did, however distinguish between genuine “victims” and “parasites who [clamor]” all the time for government assistance. While we might prefer friendlier language, the point remains the same. It’s not immoral to use government services when necessary, only that such a privilege is not a blank check.
The label of hypocrite may still stick to Rand, but not for the reasons previously offered. In the article cited above, Rand’s adamant denial that smoking could lead to lung cancer is appropriately scrutinized. If she is guilty of walking back from any of her statements, it would surely be this one.
If some of you think you recognize this logic, it’s no accident. Libertarian congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul has also come under flack for similar practices, albeit for acting on behalf of something bigger than himself — his constituency. And unlike Rand, Dr. Paul has had a luxury extended to him that she never did— the opportunity to defend himself.
In a 2007 appearance on Meet the Press, the late host Tim Russert questioned Paul over his proclivity for inserting appropriations in pending legislation, then voting against the overall bill.
“I put it in because I represent people who are asking for some of their money back,” Paul reasoned.
Russert alleged this was near hypocrisy. “That’s like saying you voted for it before you voted against it,” he said.
So once again, we see the same principle and hear the same criticism. Do we sacrifice our right to things our money helped pay for, even if it was collected by force? Of course not. Doing so would be a strong repudiation of the non-aggression principle. Libertarians aren’t pacifists.
Yet as articulate a response as this is, it hardly works in an actual debate. It’s too wordy, too meta, and too prone to interruption. What then would get our message across just as efficiently?
Consider the words of John Donne, the famous English poet, who once wrote, “no man is an island, entire of itself”. Are libertarians the only ones who uncomfortably co-exist with an institution of their disliking? What about the socialists, who must look to the capitalist class every day for many of the goods and services they rely on? What about the anarchists, living on communes, who still must pay their taxes and utility bills? Yes, even they use money where required. So it is with everyone, because none of us live in a bubble, and ideology doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Be careful with those who would have you think otherwise, for they are the true hypocrites. And in this identification, we are reminded of the true meaning of the word. It’s not, as commonly perceived, hypocritical to merely say one thing and do another; people aren’t perfect. What is hypocritical is to do one thing and claim the rules do not apply to you. Taken this way, the charge of hypocrisy is usually a projection on behalf of the accusers. Logic, like anything else is a scarce commodity, though sophistry abounds.
Particularly if you’ve noticed the featured post in the politics tag linking to this list of things (like drive on public roads) you must not do if you object to taxes, read this article. While I personally can square some ways of getting my stolen money back from the state (like using the roads) better with my conscience than other, more easily avoided ones (like using Medicaid), lofiliberty’s point stands: It’s not hypocritical for a libertarian to use the public services for which they are forced to pay.
Started #reading Aristotle’s Poetics. Lots of great observations. I wrote three dramas for Lent and wanted to get a sense of how this should have been done. (I was happy enough with how mine came out, but would like to know how to construct a dramatic plot next time.) I love statements like this: “A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not of itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be.” I wonder how this might apply to Genesis. Or John chapter one.
Finished #reading Hominids by Robert Sawyer. Gotta love a book one of whose characters is a Neanderthal physicist. Sawyer imagines how Neanderthal civilization might have evolved if it became dominant, and also shows our civilization from a foreign set of eyes. This was often brilliant, sometimes implausible, and overall a lot of fun.
A few Christmases ago, my nephew gave me Hanson’s book The Soul of Battle. I finally started it. I wanted to find some book reviews, and ran into this interview. Hanson discusses the decline of classical education here, among other things.
I read this in a day. I couldn’t put it down. I had seen a video on Ram Dass not too long ago and had found it intriguing. This book went deeper into several lives. It was interesting that what got Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) kicked out of Harvard was not using LSD or even giving it to students, but that they gave it to undergrads. The whistle-blower was Andrew Weil, the famous holistic doctor who is often seen on TV. Lots of interesting information. I like the blurb on the back. “Read this book and expand your mind. No hallucinogenics required.”
One statement that would be worth exploring was by the author, Don Lattin, who said that if large numbers of people now consider themselves spiritual but not religious, the life and work of Huston Smith, one of the psychedelic trailblazers, probably had a lot to do with it.
I agree. No.
…in the land of the free, should things like these even be allowed to be banned?
To answer your question: No.
This sounds promising.
hipsterlibertarian sent this to me, what do youse guys think? a libertarian/green party alliance?
i think it’s pretty badass, actually.
The two major parties clearly aren’t interested in stopping our adventurism and imperialism abroad or civil liberty-killing “security” measures at home. Why shouldn’t those of us who are work together on these issues?