My First Instinct as a Libertarian Is an All-Consuming Contempt for Politics

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Tunku Varadarajan:

My first instinct as a libertarian is, of course, for Republican victories everywhere…

Of course?

No. I can see cheering for divided government on Election Night. I can see hoping for a GOP Congress to counter Obama’s historic expansion of the federal government. But there’s no reason a libertarian’s “first instinct” should be to root for Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). And it’s certainly not obvious enough to merit an of course.

Varadarajan then writes:

The big-government Bush Republicans have already been punished; now it’s time to get rid of the big-government Democrats—i.e., all of them.

I’m fine with everything after the semicolon. The problem is that to “get rid of the big-government Democrats” inevitably means replacing them with Republicans. The label “big-government Bush Republicans” implies that there’s an alternative sort of Republican. Time and again, they’ve proven there isn’t. The Republican Party was and is filled with big-government Republicans, before, during, and after the eight years that Bush was president. There are some genuinely limited government Republicans, just as there are some Democrats who give a damn and are willing to fight for civil liberties. But they aren’t in the leadership, and they won’t be calling the shots in a new GOP-led Congress. Even now, in the minority, with public sentiment pretty solidly against Obama, all but assured of big gains this November, the GOP figureheads still don’t have the guts to name specific federal programs they’d target for spending cuts.

Varadarajan’s full column is about why he can’t support some of the crazier GOP candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino. I actually disagree there, too. And hell, in the spirit of bipartisanship I’ll go ahead and endorse Alvin Greene in addition to Paladino and O’Donnell. Politics is a ridiculous profession populated by ridiculous people. Maybe if we elect increasingly clownish candidates, the public will eventually come to realize this, and finally realize that it’s probably not a good idea to put larger and larger portions of our lives and livelihoods in the hands of people who have achieved success in a field that rewards character traits you spend your entire tenure as a parent trying to teach out of your kids.

I’m kidding about endorsing Greene, O’Donnell, and Paladino, but only because their election would give them actual power. But I see no particular reason to root for their opponents, either.  And I see no reason to instinctively cheer for Republicans over Democrats. Or vice versa. At least electing transparently crazy people will make us more cautious about how they use their power.

Me, I’m cheering for elections to matter less, and for politicians to have less impact on my life. I dream of waking up to find the results of the November 2 election on page A-10 of my November 3rd newspaper—because no one cared, because very little was at stake, because we stopped pinning our hopes and dreams on the results of a perverse process dominated by generally horrible people who have made a career of accumulating power for the sake of accumulating power.

Incidentally, this is also how you “get money out of politics.” You make politics and political outcomes less important. I’m amused by people who are surprised that as the power, scope, and influence of government grows, interest groups are correspondingly willing to spend increasingly more money to purchase a piece of that influence. I actually once heard a prominent lefty journalist express this very sentiment. They’re shocked by this!

It’s even cuter that they think they can continue to expand the size, scope, and influence government and prevent the government from being corrupted . . . by giving the same government yet more power, in this case to prevent itself from being corrupted. Inevitably, these new powers then manifest as new restrictions on our ability and freedom to criticize politicians. Because that’s the solution to the corruption of our politicians: Less criticism of politicians!

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit. So I’ll stop. But more, somewhat better organized rambling on these themes to come.


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83 Responses to “My First Instinct as a Libertarian Is an All-Consuming Contempt for Politics”

  1. #1 |  JS | 

    Fascist Nation “Don’t Vote. Or don’t complain—after all, nobody put a gun to your head to voluntarily participate in a process you knew to be rigged from the start.”

    I like that one way better than the usual “You can’t complain if you don’t vote”

  2. #2 |  DarrenG | 

    For most of its history as a monopoly, no, U.S. Steel was not a government-protected monopoly.

    And as others have explained, Microsoft did use outright coercion to prevent PC manufacturers from shipping computers with other operating systems or browsers, even to the point of charging a Windows licensing fee for systems that shipped without Windows.

    It’s really not hard to find many, many examples of successful rent-seeking and constraints of choice initiated by private enterprise without any assistance of the government (or even despite resistance by the government).

  3. #3 |  Kicol | 

    delta

    There is no such thing as a “Superweed”. The weeds didn’t become resistant to all pesticeds or grow 20 feet tall. The weeds mentioned are becoming Roundup-Resistant.

    This means Monsanto is loosing market share because farmers have to go back the solutions they had before – Manual Labour or other chemicals. These chemicals are competing products; Monsanto doesn’t sell stronger pesticides.

    Also Roundup-Ready resistant weeds even worse for Monsanto as it makes it’s Roundup Ready genetic traits less desirable. It is banking on it’s genetic traits for it’s future.

  4. #4 |  Stephen | 

    I do vote mainly just to vote NO on all the bond issues that are tacked on to the end of the ballot. (but you have to watch out for those no=yes bond issues)

    Maybe if all libertarians and anarchists wrote in Mickey Mouse for all the spots on the ballot it might draw some attention but I think that has been tried already.

  5. #5 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Radley: “Me, I’m cheering for elections to matter less, and for politicians to have less impact on my life.”

    I’ll raise a glass to that! Inspiring stuff, Radley. Mind you, this is from a former Progressive/Democratic Socialist who helped vote Obama in back in ’08.

    I didn’t really buy into the hopey/changey hype, but perhaps I expected a bit more. Yet the foreign wars continue. As does the drug war. And the corruption and secrecy have yet to abate. Where is the candidate/party that will actually promote transparency? Who will seek to represent and not “rule” us? Who will seek to empower people instead of the state? The answer, it seems, is NO ONE.

    A line from a John Lennon song comes to mind: “the dream is over.” Obama was a media sensation, but he is addicted to the machine. But he’s just one of many. I will not be voting in the mid term elections. I doubt I will vote in 2012. Consider me a non-voter. And I will complain as much as I please!

  6. #6 |  Stephen | 

    Now you got me thinking if it is possible to change my name to “none of the above” and start a write in campaign. Run for everything with the promise to do absolutely nothing.

  7. #7 |  JThompson | 

    Hell I can’t even tell the difference between Obama and Bush. My biggest issue is civil liberties: if anything Obama’s actually managed to be worse. Given how bad Bush was on that front, that takes some freaking doing.

    As far as I’m concerned both major parties are about equally terrible for more or less the exact same reason and I hope they both lose.

  8. #8 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    @43 DarrenG

    Will all Libertarians who think like DG says you think in his last paragraph please post.

    Darren, I’m not sure you understand what exactly silly Libertarians think.

  9. #9 |  shecky | 

    As if folks needed another reason to write off self described libertarians as Republicans who just want to sound cool…

  10. #10 |  DPirate | 

    Good rambling.

  11. #11 |  Flash Bazbo | 

    I think this is the best summation of my libertarian tendencies that I’ve seen so far!

  12. #12 |  LibertarianBlue | 

    Yea he support for Eminent Domain thug Carl Paladino makes me sick. Varadarajan is just another pissant conservative calling himself a Libertarian when in fact he knows nothing about the philosophy.

  13. #13 |  JOR | 

    Well, voting can change some things. It can change which goodies are allocated to which political players, who in particular gets sweetheart deals, etc. That sort of thing matters to some people (not least those who stand to gain or lose particular favors).

    Won’t change the things I see as important though. So I don’t do it.

  14. #14 |  Rob McMillin | 

    Aw, hells yeah.

  15. #15 |  Andy | 

    Radley, you deserve at least one dissent. So here’s mine – if you minimize the apparent importance of government in people’s lives, you just conceal the nastiness of people in power. The only reason we know about the nastiness of government is because people have the ability to snuff it out. Systems of governance are always complex, and enable nasty people to do nasty things. Without a focus on a government, you miss it all, but you still feel it’s effects.

  16. #16 |  Salvo | 

    65 posts and not anybody mentioning the obvious?

    You want a more libertarian government, get out there and work your ass off to get libertarian candidates elected. No, you’re not going to get the big offices overnight. But start with the local offices. Build a grassroots movement. Run for your local school board, city councils, etc.

    Or alternatively, whine about how Democrats and Republicans suck.

  17. #17 |  DJB | 

    My First Instinct as a Libertarian Is to vote against all incumbents.

  18. #18 |  JOR | 

    If you want a more libertarian government (or rather, a more libertarian society), work to make people less governable.

  19. #19 |  Madbiker | 

    @JOR: as long as the majority of our kids are in public school, they will learn compliance and become easily governed.

    Destroy the current educational system, and you remove an underlying cause of the complacence, ignorance, and apathy people feel.

  20. #20 |  JOR | 

    Well, that’d certainly be helpful, which is why I’m fairly sympathetic to the homeschool movement, for all its problems. Of course, all of the little things that help are going to be full of problems. Let a thousand flowers bloom and all that.

  21. #21 |  Davis | 

    But they can lobby the government for expansive patent protection, then have you arrested for using the wrong seeds.

    This is probably not the best example of what you’re getting at. There is no criminal liability for patent infringement, only civil liability. And while interest groups clearly have been successful in lobbying against patent law changes that reduce the scope of patent eligible inventions, it’s not clear that any of the (relatively minor) changes made in patent law since the 1952 Act provided any additional protection to a company like Monsanto. At most, a 1995 amendment clarified the already arguable point that a bioengineered plant is not patent ineligible for obviousness.

    Put another way, I’m not sure how you’d write a Patent Act that protects other inventions while excluding Monsanto, short of making ad hoc amendments to address each objectionable class of results.

  22. #22 |  Justin | 

    The politician, at his ideal best, never even remotely approximated in practice, is a necessary evil; at worst he is an intolerable nuisance.

  23. #23 |  Enjoy Every Sandwich » Blog Archive » Week in Review | 

    […] Balko, whose first instinct as a libertarian is an all-consuming contempt for politics, sums up my feelings about the upcoming elections: Me, I’m cheering for elections to matter less, […]

  24. #24 |  Johnny Pez | 

    The only coercive power any of these corporations have would be power that they’ve bought from the government.

    Wrong. The problem, Mr. Libertarian, is not government; the problem is power. You think that if you get rid of the government, you’ll get rid of the power with it. Wrong, and again wrong. Government is only a tool. Those who possess power will always find a way to exercise it; take away the government, and the powerful will find some other tool to use.

  25. #25 |  JOR | 

    #74

    I agree, to an extent. (Surprised?) Well, anyone with hands to kill with has power. The problem is not power, per se. The problem is accountability. Or rather, lack of it. People who can use violence without fear of retaliation. Of course, we have a word for an institution (or group of institutions) that can use violence without fear, and almost by necessity crowds out any competitors in its territory: government. It’s true, in a sense, that government is not the real problem: the real problem is that people think there has to be someone who gets to throw people around or lock them up without fear or responsibility – so even if you got rid of the government, it’d just be, effectively, replaced with a new one.

    But as shallow as I think libertarians’ thoughts on this matter can be, I doubt any of them here would really dispute this.

  26. #26 |  Paul Antosh | 

    You think that if you get rid of the government, you’ll get rid of the power with it. Wrong, and again wrong. Government is only a tool. Those who possess power will always find a way to exercise it; take away the government, and the powerful will find some other tool to use.

    Johnny,
    I don’t know of any Libertarians or Anarchists who believe a state-less existence will remove all “power”. Who is telling you this?

  27. #27 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #74 | Johnny Pez — “Those who possess power will always find a way to exercise it; take away the government, and the powerful will find some other tool to use.”

    I agree with you Johnny. Violence is a constant in human interactions. The issue is not whether one can eliminate violence/power, but how one manages it. By instituting government, one provides an incredibly powerful catalytic tool to those who exercise violence. The violence concentrates in these few individuals and magnifies beyond all proportion, leading to global wars, nuclear weapons, rigged financial systems, slavery, etc.

    Without government, you are correct — those motivated to violence will still seek power. But without the tool of government, in an anarchic society, the ability to reach beyond the individual level of violence is dramatically reduced.

    The most destructive individual non-State mass murderer can claim maybe hundreds of victims. How many victims can the most destructive individual State mass murderer claim? Tens of millions?

    What a no-brainer. Unless one is one of the State murderers of course.

  28. #28 |  Johnny Pez | 

    But as shallow as I think libertarians’ thoughts on this matter can be, I doubt any of them here would really dispute this.

    Sure they would. Go back and reread Balko’s quote. He’s saying that government is the source of all power. I’m saying, no it’s not, power exists independently of government. As for accountability, I’d rather face a government that’s accountable to the people than a transnational corporation that’s accountable to nobody.

    The most destructive individual non-State mass murderer can claim maybe hundreds of victims. How many victims can the most destructive individual State mass murderer claim? Tens of millions?

    So, would I rather deal with a million little Hitlers or one big one? It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to me.

    Though I can see how your automatic equation of government with mass murder influences your thinking. It’s an interesting perspective.

  29. #29 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Go back and reread Balko’s quote. He’s saying that government is the source of all power.

    I have failed in the above assigned quest, Mr. Pez. Cannot find.

  30. #30 |  Nick T | 

    #65 Andy,

    Your point is fair and correct, but there’s a flipside tothat exact point which makes all the attention to politics a problem. 1) Politicans have big heads and egos and think it’s there job to solve more and more problems cuz so many people voted for them and love them and everyone they interact with kisses their ass – they’re celebrities! They can’t be constrained by cute little things like the Constitution or State governments.

    2) All the attention inevitably gets distorted into a massive soap opera where personalities, style and narratives matter more than reason or facts. Sure the media “cares” about politics but only insofar as politicians seem “crazy” or flawed, or bombastic, or bad guys and good guys. Principled, logical politicians like Ron Paul or Russ Feingold make no news, because their ideas have explanations.

    We might have a media and society (somewhat) very interested in politics but we also have an incredibly dumb (to the point of embarrassment and disgust) national debate. So take your pick.

  31. #31 |  Nick T | 

    Also many people have talked about a none of the above campaign or a dung beetle party, I was also thinking of a ham sandwich campaign. Anyone doing naything like this?

  32. #32 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #78 | Johnny Pez

    CinCA: “The most destructive individual non-State mass murderer can claim maybe hundreds of victims. How many victims can the most destructive individual State mass murderer claim? Tens of millions?”

    JP: “So, would I rather deal with a million little Hitlers or one big one? It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to me. Though I can see how your automatic equation of government with mass murder influences your thinking. It’s an interesting perspective.”

    The million little Hitlers negate each other, Johnny. That might make a difference to you if you were conscripted to the combat infantry against the real Hitler. And Hitler was only Hitler because he captured (democratically!) the apparatus of State. Without that State apparatus, Hitler is an unknown artist/soldier, probably never murders a soul in his entire life.

    As for my automatic equation of government with mass murder, I missed something. That something is your evidence to the contrary. I mean, 180 million murdered by various States in the 20th Century alone would be considered reasonable evidence, no?

    But then, maybe I’m misinterpreting the sarcasm I read in that last sentence of yours.

  33. #33 |  Andy | 

    #80 – thanks, that makes sense, I will think on it. I have a very hazy but real rejoinder in mind, but until the time that I’m mature enough to articulate it, I’ll stay quiet :).