(About a 7 minute read)
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” — Carl Sagan
It seems so strange how reliably we humans can be duped again and again and again by the same ancient tricks. I think it’s especially true that each generation in turn falls for the same cons as its parents once fell for. But I notice so many individuals never learn much either, but over and over become marks for, at most, marginally different scams.
Maybe more so than most things, it’s so true of politics. I’m sure you will agree with me that easily up to three-quarters and probably more political promises are broken. And, beyond promises, it’s so simple to dupe the people into supporting things that are not in their own best interests to support.
Want to start a war — even an unjust war of aggression? It’s not hard. Label some group or nation an enemy, an existential threat, tell the people they are in imminent danger of attack, and denounce any domestic opposition as fools and traitors. Nothing more is needed, but it works, and it’s so frequently used again and again almost without fail.
In Animal Farm, George Orwell warned of the one of the oldest, most dangerous, yet effective, tricks in anyone’s political playbook. It’s as simple as going to war, and it’s basically a bait and switch con. Portray yourself as a common person, an ally of the people, and viciously denounce the current ruling elite as oppressors. Then foment a revolution promising freedom and liberty from their oppression. When the people succeed in overthrowing the old oppressors, pull the “switch” and become the new oppressor.
Which brings us to the actual focus of what I wish to discuss: I believe a rock solid argument can be made for asserting that extreme right libertarianism easily lends itself to being used as a mask for the sort of bait and switch con George Orwell described in Animal Farm, and is therefore an inherently risky political ideology — in much the same way that Marxism is in practice
In my opinion, it’s the perfect tool for the job. And I think that’s despite — or more likely, even in part because of — the great attractiveness of the libertarian principle, “maximize individual human freedoms and liberties for everyone as much as practically possible.”
Superficially, it would seem obvious that the libertarian principle does not allow for either an oligarchy or a tyranny of one. After all, how can you possibly have either an oligarchy or a tyranny and still maximize human liberties for everyone? It just can’t be done.
But as Animal Farm teaches us, it can indeed be done if the “for everyone” becomes merely a ploy, merely smoke and mirrors, in some group’s or person’s political tool kit. And I submit, there is nothing intrinsic about extreme right libertarianism that would serve with much effect as checks on any group or individual wishing to use the ideology as a ploy to gain dominance over all.
Surely you are now thinking, “But what about other groups or individuals? Wouldn’t they be natural checks on the ambitions of other groups or individuals?” Up to a point, I agree with you. But only up to a point. So long as folks remain more or less equal in wealth and power, they can — and probably would in actual practice — serve effectively to check each other’s ambitions to dominate everyone.
Yet how often can you honestly say such a state of affairs has ever been long maintained by any society in human history — apart from small bands of egalitarian hunter/gathers? Even a fairly shallow study of history quickly reveals the trend is almost invariably towards increasing disparities of wealth and power until at some point a ruling elite emerges that — over time — becomes smaller and smaller in number until only a few or one remain who then dominate everyone. Over and over that’s been the story of humanity.
Of course, you might now think, “All of that’s nice, but it’s also beside the point, because all one really needs is a constitution full up with strong checks on balances on political power. Hah! You fool, Sunstone! Got you there for sure!”
Upon due reflection, I am sadly forced to reply, “You’re absolutely right. I cannot for the life of me think of any answer that defeats you’re point. Gods, but how I hate you and will now live out the remainder of my days bitterly wishing the hamster you kept as a kid had died even sooner!”
Just teasing! The truth is I believe it simply naive to imagine a constitution — any constitution — could long withstand being subverted if and when there arose such a great disparity of wealth that one person or a group of people could buy the government despite any attempts by much poorer people to stop them. “Well, what if the government is so weak, so powerless, that even if some person or group controlled all of it, they’d never be powerful enough to truly dominate the nation?
As an aside, you so often hear surprisingly earnest variations of that sentiment these days! “Let’s keep the government weak in order to make it powerless to enslave us.” I say “surprisingly” because it is astonishing how very little people think through to see weakness of that idea these days. I have no explanation for that. Even perfectly intelligent people do it.
Of course, the obvious thing is that if the government is truly weak, then it becomes easy to over match it, and then either with or without its apparatus go on to take the whole country — assuming only you have a great enough advantage over others in wealth and power. But even if the government has, say, a strong military and is therefore not truly weak, you are at most only set back until you can marshal enough resources to seize it one way or another, along with control of its military.
The point of all this has been to first present the notion that extreme right libertarianism is a risky investment if you are genuinely interested in both yours and others freedoms and liberties, and a ready and handy mask to hide behind if you are truly only interested in maximizing your own. Second, that it provides no effective guarantees against either tyranny or oligarchy, ultimately because it provides no checks on the historical tendency in any given society towards increasingly vast disparities in wealth and power.
Somewhat in the imagery of Animal Farm, extreme right libertarinanism is the perfect tool for the new pigs to rise up, overthrow the old pigs, only to then become just like the old pigs.
Comments? Questions? Cake recipes? Descriptions of new and exciting depravities? Invitations to listen to you play Bohemian Rhapsody using only a tuba?