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(This essay originated as a response to a Libertarian commenting on another Libertarian’s Facebook page, making the familiar argument about why Jeffersonian democracy, emphasizing minimal government, was both the intention of our Founding Fathers, and is the best form of government possible.)

As you might have gathered, I like the dialectic, so here’s both the antithesis to your thesis, and the synthesis of the two:

Adams, Franklin, and Hamilton wanted stronger central government than Jefferson did (thus, the first incarnation of our perennial, unintended and undesired,l two-party system was Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans v. Hamilton/Adams’ Federalists, the latter pretty much meaning the opposite of what it does today: a strong federal government). The country was a product of these competing views, and has continued to be carved on the lathe of a similar dichotomy throughout its history, to excellent effect. The Constitution itself was the first victory for the “stronger federal government” side, requiring convincing a population that considered each state a sovereign…, well, “state,” in the original and still used sense of a sovereign political unit.

These arguments to a reluctant public were made, most cogently and famously, in The Federalist Papers, a collection of essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay arguing for the need to create a sufficiently strong central government. This was in response to the failed Articles of Confederation, which did not provide a sufficiently strong central government.

The history of the country ever since has been one of a punctuated growth in power of the central government. I know that I just stated your major contention, but I don’t see it as a necessarily bad thing, or a betrayal of our founding philosophy: It is, rather, the articulation of lived history with founding principles, since the latter guided the process and form of the former. We retained strong protections for individual rights within the context of that strong federal government: Free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to organize, freedom of press, freedom of religion, protections from police (i.e., state) overreach into our private lives.

In fact, the stronger federal government has been primarily responsible for, and grew in response to the demand for, the extension of those protections of individual liberty; extending them to categories of people to whom they had been denied, and extending them to protect people from the overreaches of individual states as well as the federal government.

The genealogy of Libertarianism, and the argument on which it depends, while exalted by its association with Jefferson, is in fact characterized more by its defense of inequality and injustice (see also The History of American Libertarianism). From the ratification of the Constitution to the Civil War, it was the argument of slave owners resisting the abolition of slavery, the southern statesman John C. Calhoun famously arguing in Union and Liberty that a commitment to “liberty” and to the protection of “minorities” required the protection of the “liberty” of the “minority” southerners to own slaves! This argument was the argument of the “states’ rights,” small federal government ideological camp. That camp lost by losing the Civil War and by the abolition of slavery.

From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era, the states’ rights, small federal government ideology was invoked to preserve Jim Crow and resist the enforcement of Constitutional guarantees to protect the rights of minorities (in the modern sense of the word), especially African Americans. That camp lost by a series of Supreme Court holdings (most notably Brown v. Board of Education) and the passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (by which President Lyndon B. Johnson knowingly and willingly lost southern whites, who had until then formed a major branch of the Democratic Party, to the Republican Party, where they have since resided, and continue to comprise a large portion of the adherents to this perennial ideology).

Contemporary Libertarianism is the logical next step in this progression, after having resisted the abolition of slavery in the name of “liberty,” and the passage of Civil Rights legislation and Court holdings in the name of “liberty,” it now opposes the further confrontation of the legacy of that racist and discriminatory history by insisting, falsely, that “we’re all equal now, so any attempt to address, as a nation, the injustices still embedded in our political economy and culture is a deprivation of the liberty of those against whose interests it is to do so.” In other words, just as in those previous incarnations throughout our history, this particular concept of “liberty” still means “my liberty to screw you.”

Libertarians, conveniently, don’t see it this way, because it is a passive “screwing,” one that involves leaving in place institutionalized, but not legally reproduced, inequities and injustices. It is, as it has been before, the insistence that “we’ve done enough, and need do no more,” just as the defenders of slavery considered acquiescing to a national constitution was enough, and the defenders of racism considered acquiescing to abolition was enough, modern Libertarians think that acquiescing to a formal, legal end to racial discrimination is enough,and that it is an affront to their “liberty” to attempt to address as a nation, as a polity, the non-legally reproduced but deeply entrenched inequality of opportunity that persists in our country (see, e.g., The Paradox of Property).

This national commitment to ever-deepening and ever-broadening Liberty, including equality of opportunity without which liberty is, to varying degrees and in varying ways, granted to some and denied to others, involves more than just the African American experience: It involves women, Native Americans, gays, practitioners of disfavored religions (such as Islam), members of ethnic groups who are most highly represented in the current wave of undocumented immigration (such as Hispanics), basically, “out-groups” in general. It’s no coincidence that Libertarianism is so closely linked to Christian Fundamentalism and militant nationalism: It is an ideology that focuses on a notion of individual liberty that is, in effect and implementation, highly exclusive and highly discriminatory. (There are, it should be noted, branches of Libertarianism which are more internally consistent, and, at least, reject these overt hypocrisies, while still retaining the implicit, passive, retention of historically determined inequality of opportunity described above.)

History has demanded increasing centralization of powers for other reasons as well: an increasingly complex market economy with increasingly difficult-to-manage opportunities for centralized market actors to game markets in highly pernicious ways (due to information asymmetries); increasingly pernicious economic externalities increasingly robustly generated by our wonderful wealth-producing market dynamo (see Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems and Political Market Instruments); in general, a complex dynamical system that is highly organic and self-regulating, but not perfectly so, and without some pretty sophisticated centralized management is doomed to frequent and devastating collapse.

(This is why, by the way, every single modern developed nation, without exception, has a large administrative infrastructure, and had in place a large administrative infrastructure prior to participating in the post-WII explosion in the production of wealth. The characteristic that Libertarians insist is antithetical to the production of wealth is one of the characteristics universally present in all nations that have been most successful in producing wealth.)

The tension between our demand for individual liberty and minimal government, on the one hand, and a government adequately large and empowered to confront the real challenges posed by our increasingly complex social institutional landscape on the other, is a healthy tension, just as the tension among the branches of government is a healthy tension. We don’t want one side of any of these forces in tension to predominate absolutely: We want the tension itself to remain intact, largely as it has throughout our history. Through it, we took the genius of the Constitution, and extended it to constraints imposed on state and local as well as federal government, recognizing through our experience with the institution of slavery that tyranny doesn’t have to be vested in the more remote locus of government, and the resistance to it doesn’t always come from the more local locus of government. And through it, we took the genius of the Constitution, and extended it through the lessons of history and the pragmatic demands placed on our national self-governance by the evolution of our technological and social institutional context.

The pragmatic, moderate, flexible, analytical implementation of our ideals that has resulted, protecting the true liberties that we treasure, extending them to those who were excluded, deepening them in many ways for all of us, and allowing, at the same time, for us to act, as a polity, through our agent of collective action (government), in ways that serve our collective interests, is what serves us best, and what we should remain committed to, with ever greater resolve.

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I’ve frequently encountered the argument that any reference to the legacy of history, to continuing evidence of a racially differentiated distribution of wealth and opportunity, is irrelevant because: 1) “I’ve never owned any slaves;” 2) everyone has the opportunity to succeed in America today, and it’s entirely the fault of those who don’t succeed if they fail to take advantage of that opportunity; and 3) the statistical trends are a result of sub-cultural problems that are the fault of the people who are suffering from them. All three of these rationalizations contain errors that are easily demonstrated.

One commenter insisted that the past is remote and irrelevant, that it is full of discredited ideas and so why should we turn to it to understand anything about the present or future? My answer was that disredited past ideas and well-evidenced past realities are two distinct things, that I am not arguing that we should be bound by past beliefs —far from it— but rather that we should be informed, in part, by past realities.

I do not oppose developing state-of-the-art new ideas and insights. Indeed, that’s what I live for. I’m a student of the ever-evolving explosion of human consciousness and its products. But those are all part of a historical process. They do not just exist in the present; they emanate from the past.

Even aside from the persistence of racist attitudes, of actual prejudice and discrimination (which are far more prevalent than some are willing to admit), there are other mechanisms by which past prejudice and discrimination continue to have present consequences. Children inherit from their parents a variety of legacies which are differentiated by history, passed down through the generations, legacies which include material wealth, social and institutional connections and privileges, and habits of thought and action adapted to and conducive to the social and material context of previous generations. Those who inherit more material wealth, richer social and institutional connections and privileges (such as ivy school “legacies,” in which the children of alumni receive preferential treatment in admissions considerations), and are socialized into the patterns of thought and action incubated in and conducive to socio-economic success, are clearly advantaged over those who inherit less material wealth, poorer social and institutional connections and privileges, and are socialized into patterns of thought and action adapted to and reproductive of relative poverty.

Paradigms persist even when we are no longer invested in their persistence. It is not enough to eradicate racist laws, or even racists attitudes, to eradicate the effects of racism. It requires a social investment, based on a recognition of a social responsibility.

There is an economic concept called “path dependence,” which refers to the tendency to remain in sub-optimal paradigms due to the up-front costs of paradigm shifts. For example, if there is new physical plant that produces something far more efficiently than what had heretofore been used, any calculation of the benefits of replacing the old with the new includes the huge up-front costs involved, and, even if there are huge long-term benefits to be gained, if the up-front costs are onerous enough, those benefits might never be pursued.

This can take many forms, from changing physical plant, to changing forms of government or economic systems, to changing understandings of reality. All of these confront various kinds of path-dependent resistance.

Here’s a very simple (and trivial) example: The “QWERTY” computer keyboard arrangement (named for the first five letters, from upper left, on the computer keyboard). If, for some purpose, someone needed to know why computer keyboards, in the present, are arranged that way, they would not be able to discover the answer by limiting themselves to consideration of present reasons why it might be so. The reason, rather, lies in the past: It minimized the jamming of mechanical typewriter hammers. It is a present reality, determined by past circumstances.

There are limitless other examples, in limitless arenas: The human spine has its shape because we evolved from walking hunched over (from four-legged, going further back), to standing upright. The spine wasn’t designed from scratch, but rather took its form from successive developments that built on previous conditions. And it is a sub-optimal design, leading to a lower back that is weaker than structurally necessary. The past is present in the present.

The notion that meeting current and future challenges requires thinking in the present and in no way benefits from understanding the past relies on a false dichotomy: Acting in the present and understanding the past are not incompatible, and, in fact, to do the former well, you have to include the latter in your approach.

Those “vague events of the past that really have no bearing” (as one commenter put it) are not so vague, and not so irrelevant. Such assertions conveniently ignore the statistical fact that the two most historically oppressed racial groups in American history, African Americans and Native Americans, are far more represented among our impoverished than random chance would allow. Why? Surely those who deny the relevance of this fact aren’t explicitly arguing that those racial minorities just happen to have an excessive amount of non-meritorious people among them, that they are “inferior” races. But it’s hard to see how their argument can be based on anything other than an implicit assumption to that effect.

The argument that members of those races have individually failed to take advantage of the opportunities available to them doesn’t address the statistical reality that so many more individuals from those races have failed in this way than individuals in the race that historically oppressed them. What a coincidence that the descendants of those who were enslaved and conquered are, on average, so much “less meritorious” than the descendants of those who enslaved and conquered them. Just highly improbable random chance, no doubt, and in no way involving those vague and irrelevant facts of history.

And the argument that it is a subcultural phenomenon begs the question: Why these subcultures and not others? Will those arguing this position really stand by the claim that it’s just a coincidence that the subcultures burdened with these problems just happen to encompass the populations we massacred, enslaved, and oppressed for centuries? Or will they admit that, to the extent that a mediating cause of social problems borne by these populations is subcultural in nature, the development of such subcultural dysfunction has as a first cause the centuries of oppression in which it was incubated?

The argument that some once disadvantaged ethnic groups have prospered, so why don’t these, doesn’t cut it either: There are many variables in play, and they lead to a wide variety of outcomes. Two major factors come into play: 1) No other disadvantaged population was ever quite so extremely and enduringly disadvantaged as the two I’ve named, and 2) the fact that there are circumstances in which countervailing factors overcome the liabilities of prejudice and discrimination doesn’t negate the existence and salience of prejudice and discrimination. In the case of generally new waves of exploited and impoverished immigrant groups who then prosper later, combinations of economic factors, less entrenched discrimination, and cultural characteristics particularly conducive to success can all come into play.

Just as some formerly underprivileged groups prosper, so do some individuals from underprivileged backgrounds, not because all is well and everyone has an equal chance, but because other factors intervene to counterbalance the injustices that really do exist. An individual might have gotten lucky by having exceptional talents, or exceptional mentors, or other bits and pieces of countervailing good luck.

But these bits of greater good fortune overwhelming an unjust situation don’t excuse the perpetuation of the unjust situation. There were slaves that escaped and prospered as well; that doesn’t mean that slavery was just fine, because, after all, some born into it prospered. The injustice isn’t erased by some fraction of those who escape it. And the fact that our current distribution of wealth and opportunity is unjust is conclusively proven by statistically significant differences in average outcomes for large populations on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender.

The purpose of understanding the past isn’t to change the past, or to apportion blame, or to cultivate a sense of guilt and a sense of victimhood, or to suggest that descendants of victims of injustices necessarily deserve reparations beyond a commitment to erasing the legacy of those injustices, or to suggest that any inequality itself is unacceptable. The ultimate goal isn’t to recognize the role of history in forming the present, but rather to mobilize that knowledge in service to humanity today and tomorrow.

Who cares why the keyboard is as it is, or the human spine is as it is, or the inequitable distribution of opportunity in America is as it is, unless there is some present use for that knowledge? In the former two, there really isn’t, because we are willing (or have no choice but to) accept the current state, and so how it became so is of little practical relevance. But, if there were a question of fundamental justice involved, of human rights and human dignity, then it would be relevant, as it is in the last mentioned case.

Letters on a keyboard aren’t conscious and don’t care where they’re located. Human beings are, and do. The “QWERTY” of the distribution of wealth and opportunity has a relevance that the “QWERTY” of the location of keys on a keyboard doesn’t. And the relevance of the history that created that distribution of wealth and opportunity is that it exists, that the injustices of history have not been erased by time, that they are still embedded in the chances of birth. A commitment to our most basic values compels us to face that fact and deal with it responsibly, rather than deny it and pretend that each person fares only according to his or her own merit and effort, despite the overwhelming evidence that that just isn’t so.

It is not merely, or even primarily, to demonstrate the relevance of past racial discrimination to current inequitable distributions of wealth and opportunity that we should be informed by this presence of history, but rather to demonstrate the existence of social and economic injustice itself. I might be inclined to argue that those who are impoverished in America, or struggling in circumstances characterized by poorer than average opportunities to thrive, regardless of their race, are by-and-large victims of ill-fortunes that were not their own making, and did not enjoy a true equality of opportunity such as we, as a people, should be striving to realize. I might be inclined to argue that our policies for addressing these injustices shouldn’t be racially targeted, or race-conscious, but rather address the problems themselves that are disproportionately borne by members of some formerly oppressed races, and by doing so address the injustices at their root, as they occur, rather than superficially by the categories in which they most prevalently occur.

But the people who deny that the injustices of the past have any relevance to the injustices of the present are doing so to argue that there are no injustices in the present, or at least no injustices of a kind that incur any social responsibility borne by us collectively as a people and a nation. They argue that those who are poor are poor because they lack merit, lack resolve, lack something that those others who are not poor have, in complete defiance of the evidence.

The number one predictor of future wealth is the wealth into which one is born: If you are born into a wealthy family, you are likely to become a wealthy adult; if you are born into a poor family, you are likely to become a poor adult. There is far less social mobility than our mythology pretends (indeed, less even than in the more liberal countries of Western Europe). When one’s fate is largely determined by the socioeconomic class into which they are born, there is less difference, in terms of social justice, between our current political economy, and the more unabashedly inequitable systems of the past. Obviously, the ideal of equality of opportunity is far from being a reality in this country.

One of the fundamental challenges facing us as a people is to recognize this, and continue to strive to remedy it. In America, too many people hide behind a political philosophy that allows them to “have their cake and eat it too,” to enjoy the benefits of living in a society without undertaking any of the moral responsibilities that that incurs (see The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism  for a discussion of a different aspect of this overly-convenient and pernicious blend of individualism and nationalism). It is time we once again heeded John Donne’s famous admonition that

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

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There are many possible ideologies regarding the relationship of the individual to society (see for instance, Individual & Society: Conformity v. Accommodation, and the essays linked to therein, for discussions of this relationship). Among them are the notions that the individual exists independently of the society, and the society is a mere vehicle in service to the individual (what we’ll call “individualism”), and the notion that individuals have no identity other than their identity as members of a discrete and exclusive society, with members and non-members sharply distinguished (what we’ll call “nationalism”). At a glance, one might imagine these two ideologies to be mutually incompatible, and that would be good, since both are brutally deficient, each in its own way, particularly in their more extreme forms (i.e., when individualism is so extreme that equity and fairness cease to be valued within the society, and when nationalism is so extreme that compassion and humanity cease to be valued without). But, remarkably enough, it is possible for them to coexist within a single ideological package, a package which manages to combine the worst of both worlds. First, let’s examine the worst of each world.

Though revisionists abound, the characteristic that marks the Nazi movement of 1930s Germany as a movement to be reviled for all time was its ultra-nationalism, which blossomed into racism and genocide. “Ultra-nationalism” is not the same as “collectivism” or “socialism,” but is rather a sharp distinction being drawn between those identified as members of the nation, and those identified as foreigners. Ultra-nationalism is ugly enough when “foreigners” are identified as those residents of other nations, regarded as of less importance or value than the residents of one’s own nation, leading to aggressions such as “lebensraum,” Hitler’s policy of expanding into Eastern Europe in service to German “superiority.” But it is particularly ugly when directed against those identified as “the foreigner within,” authoring domestic policies of rounding people up, throwing them into detention centers, and removing them in one way or another, that should revolt all decent human beings. (I will return to this in more detail in an up-coming post, and to the speeches and testimonies at the Familias Unidas event yesterday, on June 25, at Bruce Randolph School in Northeast Denver).

America has long flirted with its own version of Ultra-Nationalism. “Patriotism,” which is almost universally lauded in America as a virtuous affection and respect for one’s nation, is a relatively benign form of nationalism, but the line between it and nationalism’s more malignant incarnations is fuzzy and frequently crossed. Not surprisingly, many of those most ostentatious in their demonstrations of patriotism are also most inclined to indulge a demeaning and even belligerent attitude toward foreigners, more often implicit than explicit, but erupting into the latter at the slightest provocation.

Ironically, those Americans who are most strident about the evils of a government used as an active agent of public will tend to be blithely indifferent -or, more, subscribers- to the ultranationalism laced through the American psyche. They are not opposed to our government kidnapping foreign citizens off of foreign streets, holding them indefinitely, sometimes in secret installations, and either torturing them or rendering them to other governments to be tortured, all on wisps of frequently manufactured evidence that wouldn’t even rise to the level of “probable cause” in America (a policy in place throughout the Bush administration, as part of our “war on terror”).

Nor are they in any way outraged by the fact that their own government rounds up people from their homes and jobs in America and places them in detention centers, marking them for removal from the country, people who go to church and commit no crimes and contribute to the economy, mothers and fathers and respected and beloved members of our communities. They support this policy, indeed, demand that it be ramped up manifold, because they define some as members of the nation, and some as foreigners living among us, and by virtue of this definition feel no debt of decency, no recognition of de facto membership in our society, no compassion for the children left fatherless or motherless or the communities left with holes in them, no unease at the brutality or inhumanity of it….

I already wrote of the limited but still horrifying similarities between our current attitudes and policies toward undocumented residents of our nation and that infamous previous chapter of human history in which a population within the nation defined as “foreign” was rounded up and marked for removal (see Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding). And I have discussed the observation that one of the most fundamental distinguishing frames between the right and left in America today is the frame of “in-groups and out-groups” versus the frame of inclusiveness (see Inclusivity & Exclusivity), part of a larger defining distinction regarding the perceived relationship of the individual and society (see. e.g., Individual & Society: Conformity v. Accommodation, Liberty & Society, Liberty & Interdependence).

But American conservatism is built on another pillar as well, one which should be antithetical to ultranationalism, but is somehow amalgamated with it into the worst of all worlds. That second pillar is “extreme individualism,” the belief that the state (i.e., federal government) can never be used as an agent of the polity, serving the interests of the citizens of the nation and of humanity in general. By means of this combination, our government is prohibited from performing any positive or life-affirming function, either for its own members of for others (declaring the former to be an infringement on individual liberty, and the latter to be irrelevant), but is charged with acting aggressively against certain categories of outgroup members (e.g., non-citizens, suspected criminals, etc.), or refusing to protect other categories of outgroup members (e.g., gays, the poor, etc.), in service to a narrowly conceived and largely erroneous national interest divorced from any sense of humanity either to its own citizenry or to “foreigners.”

This marriage of extreme individualism and ultra-nationalism is perhaps the most inhumane and predatory ideological concoction imaginable. It informs an attitude which, on the one hand, preserves unlimited social injustice by simply defining it out of existence and, on the other, promotes unlimited belligerence toward all those defined as non-members of the nation (whether they reside within the national boundaries, or beyond them). It preserves the implicit racism of disregarding the legacies of a racist history, using a perverse definition of “liberty” to prohibit addressing those legacies of racism. It sets America up as a fortress from which we can exercise our military and political power in whatever ways we choose, tempered only by our own interests (and not by any concern for humanity). And, perhaps most unsettling of all, it rationalizes (and clamors for an increase in) domestic policies that bear an uncanny resemblance to Gestapo agents rounding up Jews and Gypsies during the Holocaust.

As Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It is particularly telling that, despite the current right-wing revisionism that defines fascism as a left-wing movement, this famous quote, if only you replace “Jews” with “Hispanics,” perfectly describes right-wing America’s current and traditional out-group targets.

The extreme individualism rationalizes the preservation of existing inequalities and injustices, identifying them as something that we cannot address as a nation, because to use our agent of collective action (i.e., our government) to do so would supposedly infringe on the individual liberties of those who are at least tolerably untouched by those current inequalities and injustices. But the ultra-nationalism adds to passive indifference to injustice and suffering an active aggression in service to in-group members and antagonistic to out-group members, permitting limitless crimes against humanity, as long as the humanity against whom the crimes are being committed are not members of their in-group.

The history of Americans using the concept of “liberty” to justify exploitation and oppression is an old and well established one. The famous antebellum southern statesman John C. Calhoun, in his tome Liberty and Union, perversely argued that the “liberty” of southern slave owners to own slaves could only be preserved by protecting the “minority” (i.e., southern states) against the majority (i.e., northern states). The “states’ rights” doctrine was born and thrived as a preservation of slavery doctrine, and I have seen comments by some modern Tea Partiers that continue in precisely that same vein (one insisting that the Union prosecution of The Civil War was a crime against the southern states) .

This tradition continued after The Civil War and emancipation, in the form of Jim Crow. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, many racist southerners saw the attempt to impose civil rights protections on southern states as an infringement on their liberties. Rand Paul, a Tea Party icon, voiced his own reservations about The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he admitted he would not have been able to support at the time. After all, his brand of “freedom” means the freedom to deprive others of theirs, or the right to deprive others of their rights. This is the true meaning of Tea Party individual liberty, an old and discredited concept that has a long and sordid history in this country.

It is a movement which dismisses and continues to trample upon those already trampled upon by our history, and which justifies dismissing and trampling upon those that are not defined as a part of our history. And it is a movement that we as a people must confront and challenge and extricate from our national politics and our national psyche with all of the force of reason and human decency we are capable of mustering, because we are sliding deeper and deeper into a national identity that will condemn us to being reviled and disdained by future generations around the world, as one of the examples of a nation that came to embody belligerence and irrationality and inhumanity.

This is not who and what we are. This is not who and what we should choose to be.

(See A Frustrated Rant On A Right-Wing Facebook Thread for a reaction to the aspects of this ideology which facilitate the accelerating concentration of wealth and opportunity in America.)

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

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(The following is a series of posts I made on a Libertarian’s Facebook page. Ironically, the owner of the page, while lost in the morass of Libertarian nonsense, seems to be a fairly decent fellow, as some are, which only adds to the poignancy of the tragedy, since we are capable of doing great violence to one another without even possessing the emotional disposition to do so. But the fact that we as a country can be in the grips of this self-destructive mania is simply too much to bear. How on Earth do we shake some sense into these blind and destructive fanatics, trying to do their own re-enactment of history’s most tragic chapters?)

I don’t copy and paste anything, Rick. I live, learn, study, contemplate, and comment. There are several values that merit our attention, not just the maximization of aggregate wealth (though that is one as well, since indeed it is important to maintain a political economy that produces wealth robustly). This country has been moving in a highly regressive direction in terms of social mobility and social justice, increasing the extent to which the condition you are born into determines your opportunities in life.

In reality, the number one predictor of future socio-economic status in America is one’s socio-economic status at birth. This is a statistical fact. To argue that it is irrelevant because some minority of people succeed in changing their socio-economic statuses, which to the irrational means that there is no social injustice in America, neglects that the members of that minority benefited from some good fortune or combination of good fortunes that the rest did not: Great parents, a great mentor, exceptional natural endowment, chance circumstances, etc.

A commitment to equality of opportunity (not equality of outcome, as you insist equality of opportunity means) requires not relegating certain classes of people to drastically reduced chances of success in life due to the chances of birth, even if additional chances save some small subset of those disadvantaged classes. In fact, addressing it is not just good for rectifying our endemic and growing social injustice (far greater than that of our fellow highly developed nations), but also improves aggregate productivity itself, mobilizing our human resources more efficiently and effectively.

In 2007, 35% of America’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of 1% of our population. (The bottom 40% of Americans are thrown the crumbs of .2%, one five hundredth, of America’s wealth; the next 40% of Americans share just 15% of America’s wealth. 85% goes to just 20% of Americans.) Our Gini Coefficient (the statistical measure of the inequality of the distribution of wealth) is behind all other developed nations, and is behind even Iran, Russia, and China. This is not, as your convenient mythology maintains, due to a meritocracy, but rather an entrenched and growing classism, with only marginal social mobility laced into it (this is a statistical fact, not a random assertion; America has less, not more, social mobility than all other developed nations).

You imagine yourselves to be the warriors of freedom, and those who oppose you to be “elitists,” but that is precisely backward: You are warriors of elitism, fighting for gross inequality and injustice against those who actually understand economics and history and the fact that by no measure are your assertions accurate or defensible.

Your assertion that this inequality is necessary to the robust production of wealth is, like the rest of your assertions, simply wrong. The United States, despite its off-the-charts inequity in the distribution of wealth, has only a middling per capita GDP in comparison to other developed nations, below many that are far more egalitarian, and not significantly above any (see A far smaller portion of Americans participate in that wealth, however, than do those of those other countries.

In other words, you are fighting for ignorance in service to human suffering, and calling it a noble ideal. Freedom, prosperity, justice, are far more complex and subtle ideals than you recognize, and, in your shallow world, you therefore sacrifice the realities on the alter of your false idols. There is no real freedom when the circumstances of birth are so highly determinant of one’s future prospects, and when participation in a society’s prosperity is so skewed by the chances of birth. There is no justice when the descendants of those who were conquered or enslaved not so many generations ago are statistically extremely overrepresented among those who do not partake of that prosperity and opportunity today. There is only an implicit racism in insisting that we live in a meritocracy, and that if some races and ethnicities are overrepresented in poverty in our country, it must be that they coincidentally are just lazier and less meritorious than the descendants of the former elites. Yeah.

The depth of your irrationality in service to your inhumanity is simply mindboggling. Don’t get me wrong: There are no simple answers. The market economy is indeed a robust producer of wealth, and the problems and challenges we face are not easily solved. But we must first, as a nation, as human beings, be honest about what those problems and challenges are, rather than conveniently defining them out of existence and turning a blind eye to the real injustices and inhumanities that we are blithely reproducing and deepening.

The way to approach this ongoing endeavor of ours is to understand economics (the real discipline; not the archaic caricature on which you rely), and history (again, the real discipline, not the information-stripped caricature on which you rely), and all other disciplines relevant to our shared existence, and to treat the challenge of self-governance as non-trivial, not reducible to a few neat, ideological platitudes that adherents claim are ordained by God or by Founding Fathers, or by something other than what works and what’s just and what’s wise.

You rely on caricatures of our wonderful (though human, historical, and imperfect) founding document (the U.S. Constitution, which was drafted to strengthen, not weaken, our federal government, a strengthening eloquently argued for in The Federalist Papers by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay). You ignore those clauses which don’t suit your ideology, and ignore our system for interpreting the Constitution, insisting that your nonsensical interpretation should prevail, thus only destroying the document and nation you claim to serve. It’s a tragic comedy of ignorance and inhumanity, one that loses its comic value when you take measure of the real human suffering it imposes and preserves, and the damage it does to us as a people and to our children’s prospects in the future.

Let’s not forget the real human measures of your regressive ideology: We have, in comparison to other developed nations, the highest infant mortality rates, the highest poverty rates, the highest homelessness rates…, a tribute to a society in the grips of an inhumane mania that has no connection whatsoever to reality, or to justice, or to reason, or to compassion, or to anything to which human beings ought to aspire.

Here’s the story you folks need to live: And here’s the historical reality you ignore: Here are the cliches and caricatures on which you rely:,,, And here is a guide to the rational, compassionate, historically and economically literate, humane, and truly progressive alternative: Finally, while you are crowing about the brilliance of your shriveled and inhumane little platitude-driven blind ideology, here are some examples of what a real, growing, contemplative, informed understanding of our world looks like:,,,,,,,,

What we are and what we are capable of, as human beings, is incredible. But it is not served by your flattened and stripped parody of the intellectual product of a historical moment, rather than the living, growing reality that those ideals gave birth to. Our liberty isn’t served by the absurd farce that popular government and strivings for social justice are its enemies, but is rather most pointedly threatened by it. As Sinclair Lewis poignantly observed: When fascism comes to America, it will come carrying the cross and wrapped in a flag. And for all your rhetoric deluding yourselves that you represent its opposite, you are nothing if not the unwitting (though eagerly exploited) agents of fascism, freeing those who wield the political power of concentrated corporate wealth from any restraint of popular regulation and oversight, demolishing problematic but indispensible popular government in preference for the tyranny of unfettered concentration of wealth and the real political power that it wields.

You are clueless, and dangerously so, threatening this nation, and, to some extent, this world, with your belligerent ignorance, trying to obstruct all thought and analysis and compassion and human decency in service to your mania. Good God, it’s just too much to take! Get a frickin’ clue already.

(See The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism for a continuing discussion of the precise ideological components of the dysfunctional ideology I am confronting in this post, and Dialogue With A Libertarian for a response to a comment that gets to the heart of the logical and empirical fallacies on which libertarians rely).

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Extreme Individualism was dead. Even Economics, the most individualistic of Social Sciences, knew that it was dead. But Abandoner Screwage didn’t. (“Abandoner´s” real name was “Abner,” a Tea Partier who attended Sarah Palin rallies in a Medicare-supplied “Hoverround,” along with hundreds of others similarly equipped, like a confused geriatric biker gang).

Abandoner saw the ghost of Extreme Individualism everywhere, as if it were alive and well. He saw it in a century-old non-empirical Austrian economic philosophy and in a century-old poorly written and conceived novel expressing an adolescent superiority complex. He saw it in his caricature of the American Constitution, and in fabricated economic principles that no living economist actually adhered to. He saw it in his door knocker, heard it ringing all his bells (like a drunken hunchback defecting from another novel of the same era), filling his dreams with the slack-jawed stupidity of blind fanaticism.

But Abandoner didn’t realize that Extreme Individualism itself knew that it was dead, and that it wanted Abandoner to know it as well. For the Ghost of Extreme Individualism was ashamed of itself, and longed only for peaceful oblivion.

Extreme Individualism’s Ghost clanked its chains in Abandoner’s 3000 square feet of well-apportioned and larded living space that Abandoner knew he deserved by being born into an affluent family (or by being fortunate in other ways, but never primarily by the mythological “merit” with which he always rationalized the inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity as inherently just, in much the same way that landed aristocracy had in centuries gone by). The Ghost passed through the door into Abandoner’s room, howling and rattling and moaning, and in general giving Abandoner that warm fuzzy feeling of being favored by a dead and discredited idea.

But the Ghost of Extreme Individualism was repentant, and introduced itself to Abandoner by declaring the error of its, and his, ways.

“Business!” the Ghost cried. “Mankind was my business! The common good was my business!” The Ghost looked out the window and saw the misery that it and its past adherents (now moaning specters floating through the air) had wrought, all tortured by their inability to work toward instituting the public policies that would help alleviate that suffering, the policies that they had all so rancorously opposed in life.

“You will be visited by three spirits,” Extreme Individualism’s Ghost told Abandoner. “The first will come when the clock strikes one. The second when the clock strikes two. And the third when the clock strikes three. Heed their lessons well, Abandoner!”

Abandoner fell asleep trembling at the thought that his beloved dead and discredited ideology had turned on him, and awoke at the stroke of one to find himself confronted by the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Past. The spirit was simultaneously old and ageless, quiet and strong, unpresuming and relentlessly imposing. But it was filled with sorrow and regret, for it knew that ages of suffering that it had failed to prevent had cost so many so much.

“Touch my robe, Abandoner, and I will show you your predecessors in elitism and oppression, in indifference to the unjust suffering of others, in rationalized selfishness and implicit cruelty.” The spirit took Abandoner on a tour of human history, showing him how private property came into being and passed from hand to hand through military conquest and theft, how titles of “nobility” assumed by thugs and descendants of thugs sought to rationalize and justify that distribution of wealth, how the evolution of democracy and capitalism, though generally improvements on what had preceded them, still largely preserved the injustices of past distributions of wealth and opportunity, and how those who were left to suffer in poverty and despair were usually guilty primarily of “being born into the wrong womb,” as much in the present as in the past.

The spirit shamed Abandoner by showing him that even the thugs of the past were more convinced of their social responsibility than he was, the Roman and Medieval aristocrats who understood their “noblesse oblige” and paid for public works and public feasts and alms for the poor with their own money, not as a charitable whim to satisfy or not as they please, but as a sacred (quasi-legal) obligation that would have brought disgrace upon them to fail to fulfill.

The Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Past showed Abandoner the American Revolution, on which Abandoner based so much of his self-justification. The spirit showed both the ways in which that revolution served to defend the current and potential wealth and power of its mostly landed aristocratic perpetrators against the British attempts to protect the Indians of the newly acquired Ohio Valley, the captive African population, the Scotch-Irish rural poor (who sided with the crown), and the French Catholics of newly acquired Canada from the avarice of the colonial coastal landed gentry; and the ways in which its underlying ideals were far more committed to the common welfare and the ideal of equality (as well as a commitment to continuing political progress rather than enshrinement of that moment in history) than Abandoner’s self-serving parody of those ideals recognized.

The spirit showed Abandoner the struggles for justice and equality that followed, struggles often opposed by oppressors using precisely the same language and ideas as Abandoner himself; the struggle for abolition of slavery, which Southern slave owners ironically decried as an attack on their liberties; the struggles to respect the rights of the indigenous population, to secure for women the right to vote, to overcome the legacies of history which deprived some of rights and the most basic of freedoms in the name of service to the “liberty” of others.

Abandoner watched the slaughter of innocent indigenous women and children in the name of “liberty” but in service only to the theft of their land. He saw slaves whipped, husbands separated from wives and mothers from their small children in sales designed to increase the master’s wealth, all in the name of “liberty” (as argued, for instance, by John C. Calhoun in his tome Union and Liberty, using language and arguments identical to those used by Abandoner today). He watched the denial of real, lived, shared liberty in the name of his false, greedy, oppressive and destructive mockery of the word. And he couldn’t help but be moved, for his self-serving ignorance and avarice could not withstand the onslaught of reality presented by this Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Past, a spirit who showed the blaring absence of all that it stood for, a surging sea of ignorance and malice rationalized by the convenient idols of petty and shrivelled souls.

Abandoner awoke again in his own room at the stroke of two to find a bright light seeping through the cracks in his firmly closed door. He opened the door to find the robust and hearty Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Present sitting on a raised chair surrounded by bounty, raucous laughter on his face and on his lips.

“Come in, Abandoner!” the spirit bellowed with resonant good humor. “Come in, and partake of our shared feast! Plenty flows from my horn when more are more disposed to share with others, and even deprivations are borne more lightly when borne together!”

The spirit showed Abandoner the rest of the developed world, less diseased by Abandoner’s miserable and miserly ideology than America. In these countries that share many of the same values and ideals, but have been spared the misfortune of enshrining them and thus reducing them to parodies of themselves, poverty has been virtually eradicated, there is less violence and more personal security, health care is universal and less expensive to provide and health outcomes are better by almost every single statistical measure (including public satisfaction), self-reported happiness is higher, and there is greater rather than lesser ability to prosper by virtue of one’s own efforts.

“The folly of condemning THAT, while embracing THIS…,” cried the spirit, showing Abandoner his own hyper-individualistic society, the one that Abandoner himself had helped to shackle with the rotting corpse of Extreme Individualism, with higher rates of poverty and all the social ills that accompany it: Higher infant mortality rates, poorer health, less happiness, poorer educational performance, more violence, more suffering. “This is what you are fighting to enshrine as the perfection of human genius! Clinging to a fictionalized past to impose greater suffering and less joy on a population ridiculed and pitied by all others of comparable economic power! Shame on you, you shrivelled little excuse for humanity! That poor child you’ve abandoned to your false idols is worth more in the eyes of God than all you self-satisfied misanthropes combined, who claim that the suffering of others is no concern of yours!”

The spirit showed Abandoner the other America, the one which Abandoner did not define, filled with many who accepted salaries far lower than they were capable of earning in order to do good works for others’ benefit, the teachers with advanced degrees, the public interest lawyers earning a fraction of what their peers in private firms did, the workers in non-profits and social services struggling to stem the tide of social indifference that Abandoner, with his every word and breath, struggled to preserve and perpetuate.

“Join them, you petty little parasite!” intoned the spirit. “Join them in the shared feast which you choose instead to horde and call your own!”

Abandoner saw joy; joy in the faces of a teacher who inspired a child to learn rather than despair, to aspire rather than prey on others; of the social worker who helped another child find safety and love; of those who fought to govern themselves with compassion and empathy for one another rather than with individual avarice and mutual indifference; of those who were blessed by the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill and appalled by the specter of Extreme Individualism which so smugly and callously opposed it.

Abandoner couldn’t help but feel their joy, the celebration of humanity’s shared existence, the knowledge of belonging to something larger than himself and lovingly shared rather than being the covetous hoarder of something smaller and jealously guarded. He fell asleep with that joy dancing in his heart, truly light-spirited for the first time for as long as he could recall. He fell asleep knowing what it means to thrive, something that requires generosity of spirit, something that is the fount of true liberty.

He awoke at the stroke of three to see the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Yet to Come standing beside his bed, a lithe form and beatific face, but human rather than ethereal; a mild satisfied glow in its eyes and a slight knowing smile on its lips, unburdened wisdom and contentment dancing across its features and flowing through its every movement and gesture. It was filled with passion but not anger, knowledge but not arrogance, reason but not certainty, imagination but not superstition, humility but not fear. It was what Abandoner would have dreamt of being, were Abandoner wise enough to understand the meaning of human potential.

The spirit stood before Abandoner saying nothing, piercing him with its gaze. Abandoner felt profoundly naked, trasparent, revealed. He felt foolish and small, which, of course, was precisely what he was.

“Are you the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Yet to Come, whose appearance was foretold to me?” Abandoner asked, having wanted to invoke his customary bombast, but finding himself unable to, knowing now what a farce it had always been and would always be.

The spirit didn’t move, didn’t answer, didn’t even nod, but its smile seemed just a bit more intent, and its eyes to sparkle just a bit more brightly.

As Abandoner gazed into that face, he saw a future he had been unable to imagine, a future in which liberty and mutual responsibility were inseparable ideals, in which the interdependence of all was understood and acknowledged, in which freedom was heightened and enriched by transcending the shallow pretense that its exercise by each occurred in a vacuum, and recognizing instead that no one has the inalienable right to (for instance) contaminate another’s air and water any more than one has the inalienable right to put a bullet in another’s chest.

The spirit took Abandoner on a tour of a future devoid of both ostentatious wealth and abject poverty, a world of mutual care and support, a world not cleansed of human foibles but rather adapted to them. People lived to celebrate life, to discover and expand and enjoy and assist others in doing the same. Their work was both more productive and more satisfying for the value and respect that others gave it. Entertainments were edifying and enriching rather than mindless distractions that sapped the soul. Robust and knowledgeable discussions were commonplace, sometimes heated debates, but almost always reverberating with reason and imagination and goodwill. There was greater joy, greater health, greater mental health, less suffering, less abuse, less neglect, less violence, more freedom –real freedom, the freedom born of nurtured human consciousness.

But then the spirit showed Abandoner a different future, or perhaps the inevitable road to the one he had just shown, a road whose length would be longer or shorter depending on the choices of those who comprise it. Abandoner saw all the Tiny Tims that would die because of his callous insistence that denying health care to those who can’t afford it is a requisite of “liberty.” Abandoner saw all of the violence and suffering and heartbreak that could have been prevented, that had been prevented to a far greater degree in places less in the thrall of his shallow and life-denying ideology. He saw that it was real, that the tormented howls of a parent who lost a child to violence that could have been prevented, to a disease that could have been cured, to abuse or neglect by another that a society that placed greater value on empathy would have avoided by investing in its avoidance, were all real, and he  knew that each and every instance was a crime against humanity, a crime for which Abandoner and all like him shared a portion of the guilt.

The spirit led Abandoner to a large book on a book stand, like a relic of a previous age. Abandoner’s trembling fingers reached out to trace the embossed letters that formed the title on its cover: “Humanity.”

The book suddenly flipped open, pages fluttering by as Abandoner recoiled in fear. Then the flurry ended and the book lay open, the spirit glancing suggestively at the revealed page.

Abandoner, quaking with fear, leaned over the book and read history’s judgment of the movement to which he belonged. He read how he and his kind would be as disdained by future generations as all others of similar disposition had been before, for just as those before had hidden behind distorted ideals, it was not “liberty” for which these shallow and selfish people were really fighting, but rather injustice and inequality.

History has always condemned the brutal, self-serving disregard for the welfare of others that litters its pages, and it condemned Abandoner. He was just another foolish adherent in another chapter of the long and tragic tale of Man’s Inhumanity To Man, and the false idols he gloriously cloaked himself in were just another swastika, another sickle-and-hammer, another white hood, another brown shirt, another tool of another Inquisition, another blind faith denouncing heretics while obstructing the less stagnant and reducible truths of Reason and Goodwill. He had wasted his life as just another dupe of ignorance and belligerence, and if he were remembered at all, that’s all he would ever be remembered for.

“Spirit!” cried Abandoner. “Are these the shadows of things that must be, or can I, if I change my ways, change what is written in that book?!”

The spirit looked into Abandoner’s eyes, and spoke for the first and last time. “What do you think Freedom really means?”

Abandoner awoke on Christmas morning, a white blanket of snow covering the Earth, and a weight lifted from his heart. He felt free, freer than he had ever felt before, free of a pettiness that had imprisoned him more securely than bars or chains ever could, free to work for the common good, free to be a part of something bigger than himself. He knew that individual generosity was a part of it, something that was as important as any other part, that he had to help others of all ideologies to understand that. But he knew also that it isn’t enough to express that generosity just as a bunch of atomized individuals, that it must also be expressed as a part of our shared existence, that we also each have a responsibility to work with all others so inclined, and to try to convince all others to become so inclined, to reach down into the systems that order our lives and refine them to better express that generosity of spirit that he had been shown by the three spirits who embodied it, not in defiance of individual liberty, but in the ultimate and most meaningful service to it.

Abandoner abandoned his old way of thinking, and gave his name new meaning, for he abandoned ignorance and belligerence; he abandoned extreme individualism; he abandoned fixed and inflexible, rigid and unsubtle ideas that do more to shackle otherwise free men and women than any other agent of oppression; he abandoned the struggle to impose injustice and suffering on the world, and joined instead the struggle to liberate ourselves from the constraints we have imposed on ourselves, together.

And he was forever loved and respected for having done so.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

(For more precise, analytical discussions of the logical and empirical errors of extreme Libertarian/Tea Party ideology, see the other essays in the fourth box at Catalogue of Selected Posts: “Political Fundamentalism”, “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, Small Government Idolatry, The Tea Party’s Mistaken Historical Analogy, The True Complexity of Property Rights, Liberty & Interdependence, Real Fiscal Conservativism, Social Institutional Luddites, The Inherent Contradiction of Extreme Individualism, Liberty & Society, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” American Political Edition (Parts I-V), An Open Letter To The American Far-RightA Frustrated Rant On A Right-Wing Facebook Thread, The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism, Dialogue With A Libertarian, More Dialogue With Libertarians, Yet Another Conversation With Libertarians, Response to a Right-Wing Myth, and The History of American Libertarianism. For an alternative vision, based on the realities of the complex dynamical systems of which we are a part and how we can most wisely and effectively articulate our own individual and collective aspirations within those systems, see the essays in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts. For some insight into the nature of those complex dynamical systems and our place in them, see the essays in the first box at  Catalogue of Selected Posts.)

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