THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 495, November 30, 2008
"The Thought Police have arrived."
Statists Make the Best Libertarian Activists
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
In your list of the best advocates of liberty, you probably wouldn't include Statists. And yet, I'm suggesting that perhaps the best hope for liberty is to be paradoxically found in the repulsive activity of the Statists. Bear with me here, my point is nuanced.
One of the ways that the more absurd forms of Statism helps us is by their self-ridicule and self-destruction. According to Karl Marx, capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. I would suggest that the Paternal State not only contains the seeds of its own destruction, but is skillfully plotting it. I would further suggest that this is evident to most liberty-loving people, although at the same token we are stuck in a bind that prevents this optimism from trickling down into our everyday outlook.
Our bind is that our way of viewing the political world is simultaneously both our curse and our greatest advantage. On the one hand, we win because we are right and we judge the behavior of State. On the other hand, we lose because the state dominates us and others in practice. It is a tension which forever seems to bind us to be predominated by pessimism and hopelessness. I think, though, that we need to start coming out of our pessimism. Do we not see some element of truth in what Victor Hugo said? "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come"
Perhaps our problem is that we easily take our eyes off our principles and get lost in tedious issues. This might mean that while we should still press on in the individual struggles and grievances, we have to keep our eyes on the more macro-oriented aspects of our ideas. We need to look at the structure of the State and see promising things, namely that there is something inherently flawed in the State and it will work to our advantage. The State is not a perfect archnemesis, it makes mistakes and it can be absurd at times. We might even need to learn to laugh at it sometimes.
Our camp would do well to laugh occasionally. It might result in less in-fighting. The power of humor and satire is unparalleled. It is evident to me that Mark Twain did more for the cause of libertarianism and against the State with two quaint sentences than most of us will do in a lifetime of hemming and hawing! Oh, and after watching the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, we really need to learn how to laugh. Talk about an absurd drama. We knew for quite a while that John Barack McObamaCain would win. Isn't the absurdity of the recent election a good advertisement for the point I'm making? Now that the more socialist candidate won, perhaps we will be even better positioned to see what I am saying worked out in the real world. Not that John McCain wouldn't have messed things up too.
The State, to borrow a phrase from Hugo Drax in Moonraker, perpetually appears "with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season". Except that James Bond comes and goes, but the Paternal State seems to be here to stay. It's coercive possibilities are endless and ingratiating. In using imagery to describe it, we need to be decidedly less senile (or infantile) in our apprehension of our "enemy". I put enemy in quotes, because I use it in a loose sense, not to describe a conflict of personality or animosity but rather a conflict of ideas and principles.
While the image of The Big Bad Wolf, or the sneaky and murderous Badger (if you are into Japanese fairy tales) may very well be a helpful analogy for the Paternal State, I think it would be good for us to acknowledge a more comical vision of the "enemy". We know and guard against the nefarious aspects of Big Brother's personality, but perhaps we would do well to focus and ruminate a bit more on the absurd and comical personality defects of the State. And part of this just might be seeing it, in some limited ways, as one of our best agents for the cause of liberty!
I would suggest that there are at least two senses in which statists "make" the best libertarian activists. First, their absurd and horrid policies push people, who perhaps would not apprehend the virtues of liberty, to become libertarians. Second, they provide us with a ready-made humorous caricature which is more ridiculous and absurd than what we could have had made up ourselves. When Jack London wanted to further the idea of Prohibition, he had to personify alcohol as a fictional character named John Barleycorn. We don't have to do that. Neither do we need to do "street theater". We have a voluntary real-life actor in our screenplay. The State will vindicate our ideas, and perhaps even provide us with that deep belly laugh that we've been waiting for for so long.
Push onward for liberty, and be pessimistic at times if you wish. Just never forget to see the story line, the "enemy" who is comically participating in his own defeat. Marxists don't have a monopoly (no pun intended) on narratives. In the narrative I'm watching unfold, Statists really do make the best libertarian activists. As gruesome and immoral as some Statist antics may be, the joke is on them. I don't mean that we should be caustic or disrespectful, far from it! A little tasteful levity may help support our good ideas and curb our pessimism. Perhaps the best reason to laugh at them is that they would prefer that you fear and not laugh. Maybe that radical lefty Abbie Hoffman did get something right when he said that "sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger".