September 26, 2008

Libertarianism is in Denial

And I’m not just referring to making excuses for the self-destructive tendencies of unbridled deregulatory greed, or for sanctifying the incredible swelling of capital even when it comes at the expense of deepening inequalities which only translate into gaping discrepancies of institutional access and political power. Because underneath these all these denials lie a more fundamental trickery which comes to the fore once it is realized that if libertarians actually ever walked the balk they would turn their little venal crusade supposedly waged on behalf of “freedom” and “the individual” not just at government infrastructure and moral doctrine but at the “private” realm of concentrated power and wealth which dominates their own lives – as well as the very economy they want to liberate. In short, libertarians deny that the realities of overwhelming bureaucracies are not distinctly the work of “federal” planning but actually endemic to liberal capitalism itself, to both the “private” and “public” realms, where interest group bargaining and the forming of corporate cartels with high-priced lawyers have always been the norm. Ever hear of Frederick Winslow Taylor? JP Morgan? Henry Ford? Enron? The ugly truth is that the banking and financial sectors are themselves the absolute epitome of hierarchical command and control, mindless paper trails, and a bunch of middle-class stiffs in business suits whose job it is to serve The Man.

Of course, they may take home a nice pay check. That is the bottom line is it not? And why else would university departments – whole business schools even – be created and funded by private business through huge donations if not for the sole purpose of turning out data wielding control freaks steeped in the wisdom of Business Administration and Management, and who are to become foot soldiers for Hayekian class warfare? That sexy young libertarians also wear their kick-ass independence cred with honor is laughable however since the free-market panacea only pushes petty middle-class pursuits of private wealth where any and every facet of existence is subjected to charts, data, and schemes of all kinds, i.e., “the market,” in order to turn a fucking buck. Now how rad is that? And it’s not difficult at all to understand why libertarianism has so much appeal. When communitarian ethics have been rendered passé, as well as pinko socialism or any pretense for existential aesthetic rebellion, everything in the culture – especially what is “alternative” – gets marketed and ultimately normalized for mass consumption. To emphasize a point made time and time again by Thomas Frank, being blind to the primary ruling forces of business and to the totalizing expansion of corporate power which dominates social, cultural, and political possibilities is itself largely a product of those same commercial cultural industries.

The important political point in all of this is that libertarians have to face up to the fact that dissolving federal power is always bound to fail because such dissolve only ignores the very conditions that typically lead to the growth of centralization in the first place. They haven't seemed to figure that out yet. Indeed federalism was originally designed to promote self-governance by dispersing political power. But since these arrangements also presupposed decentralized local economies, the concentration of capital and economic power rendered the political schemes of the early republic anachronistic. Federalism has thus had to evolve in order to appeal – if not protect – those who were at the mercy of the whims of market forces. The alleged “business cycles” which many libertarians consider “natural” only increases the vortex of centralization and bureaucracy, public and private. Of course, everybody likes having bureaucracies, whether public or private, perform efficiently so that services can be expedited in a functional and timely manner. Yet because libertarianism is an ideology which doggedly harasses and sabotages attempts to make government agencies more effective and efficient – attacking even the very raison d’etrê of government – it can conveniently sweep into pockets the massive revenues made possible by liquidating public functions that actually are needed for any advanced post-industrial society to exist. Thus it is quite content to leave national security and electronic surveillance, the building and maintenance of bridges and roads, sanitation, the police and military, the voting booth – the very responsibilities and duties which have historically otherwise operated within a political domain accountable to citizens –to be governed instead by the private interests of shareholders. That is the issue. Libertarianism is a scourge upon the political.

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