Blame it on the Founders
I have this gosh awful bad habit of wanting to be part of clubs where I don’t belong. When I was in elementary school, I always wanted to be part of the cool clique One day in early 2006 came when I kissed Calvinism goodbye and rightly so. As I reflect on the past in self-criticism, I believe whole heartedly that I made the right decision, that my Calvinism was holding back in not allowing me to fulfill my own potential. I know it’s not I am not articulating it very well right now, but maybe someday I will have to words to say it. Today begins a less bitter departure from the label of “libertarian”; although, I still want to hold on to the idea of limited, decentralized government that some libertarians promote. After all, the notion of the state limiting itself is not in and of itself a bad idea, as I argued in one of PJ’s original 3-part series: Limited Government and the Bible Part 1; Part 2; and part 3.
The problem is, as radical as consistent as the Left Libertarian strain of libertarianism was and as it appealing as it was for me, it did not go far enough for me. The question I keep asking and coming back to is this: What does it mean to be governed? Do public officials act alone in the managing of our lives? Are the private enterprises that seek to discipline our bodies to where their investors want them to go? Post-structalist understandings of power as interpersonal do not match the Right Libertarian view of power as institutional, while the Left Libertarians continue to struggle to find their voice. Have a problem? Blame the government! Have to pay taxes? Why that’s a form of violence?
It’s the arbitrary and disembodied definition of violence that really cut the cake for me, especially from extreme Right Libertarians. That, and their pseudo-intellectual pontifications on U.S. American history. Take Glenn Beck for instance: Teddy Roosevelt owned the label of “progressive” and therefore, all progressives in history were evil. Take an honest look at history. Question: What is the difference between Beck’s and Roosevelt’s foreign policy? Answer: Basically, nothing. They were/are both jingoists and believed in the U.S. as an active military power exerting its influence over the world. When it comes to economics, of course Beck claims “anarcho-capitalism.” Or take Thomas Woods case to bring back ideas such as “nullification” and “secession” in his Nullification. Of course, I think many would agree that these ideas are best used in self-defense when human life is at stake, like the case of South Sudan, but I do not think President Obama’s policies amount to some sort of genocide against the U.s. American people.
Which leads me to my last two points. First, many Right Libertarians believe that behind every positive claim about government, there is a Marxist or Nazi hiding nearby. This obsession with Red conspiracies is enough to drive people crazy, you know, John Birch-type crazy. The final straw, however, was the anachronistic views of history, the Tea Party’s argument that their ideas are in the Founders’ documents, and they just are not. Whether we are talking about Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists who wanted agricultural socialism (states subsidizing the slave trade) or Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who had no problem with crony capitalism, and the government cooperating with early forms of industry in the late 18th century. Reading The Federalist Papers opened up my eyes, and while it is not the perfect document, I can affirm a majority of the ideas it promotes, the federal government as a decentralized and limited national government. The separation of powers is something that no one ever talks about anymore unless it relates to how a Supreme Court case did not go in their favor. Even the cases and examples that Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison use from history (the Greek city-states, etc.) are quite selective in nature, and further proof that our existences are story-bound through and through. Allegory is everything, everything is allegory (there I go again).
Bottom line: libertarianism, story-wise, means idyllic romances with a past that never happened and fretting over a dystopian future that is only hypothetical. By the way, who doesn’t have their own version of a dystopia? What is needed to happen is a hope-filled and updated rendition of the Federalist Papers, an understanding of the ideals behind the Founders (at least the winning side, right!), which Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King Jr. tried to continue. A “Federalist” today is known as someone who believes in states’ rights but how did that happen through an honest reading of history? That just does not happen over night. That takes the power of anachronism and deception.
Quite simply put, the Federalist tradition is one that promotes the idea of a decentralized national government dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals. One of the weaknesses of Federalism that Libertarians, left and right, rightfully point out is that Federalism in terms of economics meant the federal government picking the winners and losers (crony capitalism). I would argue that the very best way to fight against public and private spheres from dominating our lives is making education available to all; after all, Christian is right; public education was one of the original dreams of our Founders and should remain a staple in our society. Secondly, on a related note, expanding the power of the electorate by giving homeless/propertyless U.S. citizens the right to vote should also be a priority. The idea that people have to own homes in order to vote in their district is archaic, classist, and discriminates against many of our veterans. Thirdly, I believe that it is important that communities start to emphasize political activism on the local level, with city council elections being on par with our votes for governor or Senator. How this happens? I don’t have all the answers, but it is worth a look.
Speaking of post-structuralism, I will end this post on bit of a light note, not to take myself too seriously:
Happy Birthday, Michel Foucault!