Saturday, September 13, 2008

Undead ideologies (and how to combat them)

It's hard to believe sometimes. Just 18 years ago, one half of the planet was suffering under socialist gridlock. Finally, the pressure became intolerable and the masses flooded the streets, demanding liberty. Those bureaucrats and apparatchiks who would mercilessly beat down riots a couple of years ago were now stuck; nobody had confidence in their empty promises anymore, the vast majority didn't care about obeying orders. This proved the crucial point that government solely rests on the good faith of its subjects.

The Soviet Empire imploded pretty soon after that. Maybe it was this unexpected vanishing of their ideological adversaries that left liberty-oriented people worldwide in a shock at the wrong time. All the rhetoric about how the USSR would outperform free markets, about a thriving socialist commonwealth, happy people everywhere, suddenly clashed with reality. Poverty-ridden peasants in a run-down environment with feces spilling out of the sewers (sorry for being that graphic here) were on the TV screens of middle-class people in the free world. Soon after, gulags and all the other cruelties of Comrade Stalin and his fellow revolutionaries ascended from the Soviet archives. Word of socialist tyranny was spread around everywhere.

Socialism, to put it mildly, had failed epically, and everybody knew it.

Not even two decades later, socialism appears to be as fit as a fiddle. While politicians in the US still feel a need to employ liberty-related rhetorics ("the ownership society" etc) to sell their collectivist concepts, goold ol' Europe is increasingly lusting for the total state, both in practice and in speech. In an odd and alarming way, it reminds me of the time between World War I and II, when fascist-authoritarian statists would battle state socialists on their quest for power.

But why, I often ask myself? We had fascism in various colors, it failed. We had socialism in various colors and it failed as well. Shouldn't we move on, then, just maybe?

The reason why we still have to deal with a false dichotomy between fascism (better known today as neoliberalism or neoconservatism, the fusion of state and Big Capital) and socialism (the expropriation of capitalists by the state) is the lack of libertarian courage, especially in Europe, to present solutions which do not include state action. More generally spoken, libertarians lack attention at all. Libertarians had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to step into the spotlight and show the way. After all, libertarian theory is one of the most sophisticated and straightforward doctrines out there. But did they?

Fortunately, in some cases, it was done for them by others. I'm thinking especially about (and please don't hate me for saying this) Larry Hunter's Contract with America. Even though conservatives are scorned as impure renegades among a number of libertarians, we owe them a favor for pushing liberty, at least in a rhetorical way, when the time was right.

Some claim this actually hurt the cause of liberty since it watered down its original meaning. While that may be true, it caused , in my opinion, a more important thing to happen, it laid the foundation for a more advanced libertarian philosophy among the general public. How do you think was Ron Paul able to rally so much support with so little backing in the mass media? He simply reaped the fruits of a decade of conservative inconsistency: while people did desire liberty, they realized that Republicans, though they liked to talk about it, wouldn't support the idea in office. Paul appeared to be a guy who would, having a pretty much pro-liberty voting record and resembling the philosophy of individual responsibility in his own life.

If Ron Paul tried to communicate his radical classical-liberal philosophy with the average European audience, he wouldn't find too many listerners I'm afraid. A mass-movement as it has formed in the US could hardly be reproduced. After literally a hundred years of fascism, socialism, social democracy and big government conservatism, people have been alienated from liberty. An approach would have to begin softly, it should believably champion improvements of the situation for the poor, the unemployed and those who live on state welfare, and it would most likely require a popular national figure. Tough job.

The US are a number of steps ahead in the process. After getting people warmed up for liberty in the 90s, now they are being moved to the streets to demand it loud and clear, just as the inhabitants of the Soviet Union did. And as the American Empire crumbles, the next step would be the formation of local landowners' associations (as is already happening in so called Gated Communities) to create alternative forms of organizing society on a small scale until the state, with increasingly shrinking resources and compliance, simply becomes a minor nuisance like bad weather.

But what do we do about all those expensive and worrisome leviathanic projects in the meantime? As for centralized Europe, I can't really say. US citizens should try to fend them off by electing trustworthy people into local offices. "Electing the good guys" is easily said, but it's a lot easier within your community than on a state or national level. As an example of how that would work out, a number of cities and communities have refused to engage in the surveillance activities prescribed by the Patriot Act. Remember, central planners may command a lot, but enforcement is an utterly different topic.

Thus, my three-stage plan for liberty is:

1. Get people excited for it - show them specific examples where more liberty and less state may be beneficial, and try to avoid too much radicalism. You don't want to scare them off.
2. As soon as a general tendency in favor of liberty is recognizable (e.g. in the rhetorics of politicians, rants of your fellow citizens), shift up gears. Make the case for uncompromised classical-liberal statehood. Totally discredit the idea of "more government", energize people even more.
3. When government has lost its glamor, replace it. Make government services dispensable. Openly compete in core fields like security, "public goods" provision like energy production (with cooperatively financed renewable energy, for example) or social security (neighborhood trust funds, or whatever comes to mind).

Be creative. It will be rewarded.


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