- It would take at least 6,300 years to reach the closest star to our sun MIT Review
- How far aggressive aliens? Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
- America’s long (and beautiful) anti-socialist history Matthew Wills, JStor Daily
- Big business got bigger in America during the pandemic George Dance, Political Animal
- Toward an a priori theory of international relations (pdf) Mark Cravelli, JLS
- A fourth way out of the dilemma facing libertarianism (pdf) Laurent Dobuzinskis, C+T
- Taobao, federalism, and the emergence of law, Chinese-style (pdf) Liu & Weingast, MLR
- A road not taken: the foreign policy vision of Robert A. Taft (pdf) Michael Hayes, TIR
One of the things that I discussed in my Ph.D. dissertation some five or six years ago was the concept of left and right in politics. In the context of my dissertation, the discussion had to do with the fact that 19th century Brazil had primarily two political parties, the Liberal and the Conservative. I was trying to find ways to make sense of these two parties. My advisor said that the Liberals were the left, and the Conservatives the right. I came to the opposite conclusion, but mainly because we were using different criteria to define what is left and what is right.
At least in my experience, people call left something that is closer or more sympathetic to socialism. Right is something that is opposite or aggressive towards socialism. This explains why most people believe that nazism and fascism are far-right movements: they are perceived as archenemies of socialists. Liberals (in the American sense) are also considered left-wing, although true liberals would not go so far as to embrace full socialism. Conservatives and Libertarians are in the right because they are more opposite to socialism. The left is also identified with revolution, for wanting to radically change things, while the right is perceived to be conservative (with a small c) or even reactionary.
Even when I was in high school, learning these things for the first time, I found them to be somewhat confusing. Really, what is the difference between Hitler and Stalin? How can it be that one is on the far-right and the other on the far-left if I perceive them to be so similar? In my 15 or 16 years old mind, a possible explanation was that left and right are not in a straight line, but in something that resembles a horseshoe, with the extremes very close to each other. I thought about that sitting in my high school History class before I read it anywhere, and it served me well for many years. All I had to do, I thought, was avoid the extremes, for they end up being equally totalitarian. For many years I thought of myself as a social democrat, in favor of a substantial welfare state and some level of economic intervention by the state, but only when market forces were unable to do their job right.
Since I truly started learning about classic liberal, conservatives and libertarians, my horseshoe theory started to make less sense. I think that the traditional way to think about left and right already makes less sense because we have to bend the line like this for it to work somehow. But also, I think that this model has a problem because we use socialism as a reference: we classify things and people as left or right depending on how they relate to people and things like Marx, Stalin, Lenin, and the USSR! Intuitively I think that there is something wrong with that. And that’s when I started to think that we should classify things as left and right according to how they relate to individuals.
Today I think of left and right according to how much freedom we are willing to give to individuals. In my mind, far-right means maximum freedom. Far-left means minimum. That’s it. Of course: Rousseau will say that people are not really free until they are free according to his definition of freedom. In a Rousseauian state you might believe that you are in chains, but you’re actually free and your process of reeducation is still ongoing. Granted, Christians think something in similar lines: you’re not truly free until you serve God. However, I think that this is mistaking freedom and flourishing. You can have whatever understanding of what human flourishing (or happiness) really means, but the point is that if you want people to be free, you can’t force it on them.
And so, that is it: when I think about left, I think about forcing on people your concept of human flourishing. When I think about right, I think about letting people free to figure this out by themselves. I don’t think it’s a perfect system. After all, am I not forcing upon people the concept that they have to find their flourishing ideal by themselves? But I avoid thinking about that. Of course, this model might make some conversations harder, because I’m thinking about Hitler and nazism as far-left movements, while a lot of people (maybe the majority) learned to think about them as far-right. But on a personal level, it has helped me to think about politics. On my part, I believe that a society where people are in general free to choose (Milton Friedman) is a better society. Generally.
I am still working from home. The weather has been spectacular here over the past few days. I immediately head outside with the kids at 5 o’clock. We just run around and play. The younger one likes throwing the football around in the grass. The older one likes to play with the ants in the cracks of the sidewalk.
I was looking forward to going to Oslo this fall, but I just received news that the event has been postponed. I’ve still got the inaugural family camping trip to Ouachita to plan, so that’s exciting.
The political landscape here is much different than it is on the west coast or in Austin. Authority is decentralized. There are more black and Mexican people here, and fewer other minorities (including Central Americans). I have more black friends now than I ever did in California. It’s odd. In some ways, the non-South is now more racist than the old South. I can’t put my finger on it but I swear it’s true. You can carry on a friendly conversation with anybody here, something that’s missing out west and up north.
My guess is that this has something to do with the fact that segregation was blatantly racist in the South during the Cold War, and Washington felt it had to do something about it in order to win friends (despots) abroad. The racism in the north and the west was less blatant, and as a result nothing has ever been done about it.
I mean, I didn’t grow up with any black people. Or Mexicans. There are tons of them in California, but they don’t live in white residential areas. Down south, at least in the parts of Texas I’ve lived in, this is not the case. There are still “sides” of town, but at least we all share the same town. There’s still racism here, but the racism is more honest than, say, the zoning found up north and out west. This familiarity between blacks, Mexicans, and whites is something you as an individual have to work hard on to achieve in the non-South.
The federal government forcibly dismantled Jim Crow. It did so only after it conveniently ignored the 14th Amendment for decades, but at least it finally did so. There’s a place for Washington down here in Texas. Decentralized tyrannies are still tyrannies. I just started watching Waco, the Netflix series. It’s good. Washington is responsible for the deaths of several innocent women and children. It’ll never pay the price. Those people were just too strange for the broad public to really give a shit.
It’s a never-ending balancing act: finding a comfortable equilibrium between federal, state, and local governance. The feds are better at protecting the descendants of slaves than the state and local governments. But the state and local governments are better at protecting non-conformists and religious extremists than the federal government.
Libertarianism hasn’t been able to shake its racist stigma yet. Sure, leftists call us racists all the time, but a kernal of truth is still a kernal of truth. I have witnessed several people I once respected sweep libertarianism’s ugly, recent past under the rug and then turn to grab their paycheck. Libertarian Inc. has its place in our society, but it won’t be effective so long as the racist label sticks with us. And the racist label won’t come off until we grapple with the brutal truth of what we’ve become comfortable with and what we will tolerate.
- What are the best arguments for libertarianism? Brian Micklethwait, Samizdata
- Federalism and the coronavirus Ilya Somin, Volokh Conspiracy
- Are we entering a new era of nullification? Mark Perry, American Conservative
- The American libertarian movement is not immune Frank Bergon, Los Angeles Review of Books
- Coronavirus rattles US national security priesthood Nahal Toosi, Politico
- Has libertarianism dodged a bullet? Scott Sumner, EconLog
- States don’t really mind their citizens dying (provided they don’t all do it at once) Malcolm Bull, LRB
- Jerusalem, riots, and Israel (from the comments) Irfan Khawaja