We Have Always Been At War With Eastasia

In imperial China it was common to describe officials as “Confucians when in office, Taoists when out of office.” Similarly, in modern western democracies whichever party is out of power tends to ramp up the libertarian rhetoric. Hence we hear all this anti-government talk from the Republicans during the Clinton and Obama eras, but (apart from a few honourable exceptions) where was it during the Bush era? And likewise for the Democrats, in the Bush era suspicion of government power was the order of the day, but now (again, apart from a few honourable exceptions) such suspicion is dismissed as evidence of lunacy.

Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann

Olbermann and his ilk are perfect examples. Last year Olbermann used to address President Bush in terms such as these:

If you believe in the seamless mutuality of government and big business, come out and say it! There is a dictionary definition, one word that describes that toxic blend.

You’re a fascist – get them to print you a T-shirt with fascist on it! …

The lot of you are the symbolic descendants of the despotic middle managers of some banana republic to whom “freedom” is an ironic brand name, a word you reach for when you want to get away with its opposite.

Thus, Mr. Bush, your panoramic invasion of privacy is dressed up as “protecting America.”

Thus, Mr. Bush, your indiscriminate domestic spying becomes the focused monitoring only of “terrorist communications.”

And so on, quite enjoyably. But nowadays anyone expressing similar sentiments toward our current President Incarnate would get nothing from Olbermann but ridicule, outrage, and probably some veiled threats of violence.

Which bring me to my point (and I do have one, right on top of my head), which is to recommend Kevin Carson’s critique of Olbermann-style liberalism.

Also check out the latest installment of Kevin’s critique of Sloanism.

And, in mostly unrelated news, check out Stephan Kinsella’s latest piece on IP.

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33 Responses to We Have Always Been At War With Eastasia

  1. Sheldon Richman September 8, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Glad to find a fellow Olbermann (and Maddow) despiser. Olbermann is wrong to locate the essence of fascism in the mutuality of government and big business. I’d like to see his evidence. Fascist leaders saw business as a tool to advance their collectivist/militarist agendas. Big business could like interventionist protection from competition without liking fascism and all it entailed. According to Orwell, business sided with the Russian-backed communists against Franco in 1936; both opposed the radical left’s call for revolution and Franco’s neo-feudalism.

    The brush is a bit broad, but what would we expect of Meltdown Olbermann?

    • Roderick September 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

      I’d still rank Maddow higher than Olbermann — because a) she’s willing to criticise Obama for backing down on his promises to the left, while Olbermann pretty much gives him a free ride there, and b) she will occasionally interview someone she disagrees with (e.g. Tom Ridge and Ron Paul, to pick two rather different examples), which Olbermann almost never does.

      • Sheldon Richman September 8, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

        I’ll give you that, but her economic bigotry is unforgivable. She’s the one saying that the health-care debate is between those who want to fix the system and those who don’t even want the discussion to take place. She must know that is untrue. If she doesn’t know it, that says a lot about her too.

        BTW, how can I have a picture where that spooky silhouette is?

        • Brandon September 8, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

          You can’t. It’s only for special children.
          No, actually, it’s a gravatar. Register here.

        • MBH September 8, 2009 at 5:07 pm #

          Sheldon, please name for me — other than Olympia Snow — the Republicans in the Senate who (a) are not funded by big insurance or big pharmaceuticals, (b) unwilling to score political points in lieu of rational discourse, and (c) don’t have a vested interest in Obama’s proposal failing (even if that proposal were a free-market solution).

        • Aster September 8, 2009 at 5:41 pm #

          If I may ask two random questions:

          1) Are Maddow and Olbermann less happy than they would be if they were libertarians, with all that this implies? Sheldon Richman suggests that Maddow is either dishonest or culpably ignorant. I’m not certain of this (she could plausably have never heard of a libertarian alternative to the establishment options which wasn’t itself easily dismissable vulgar libertarian apologetics for the worse wing of the establishment). But, granting this is true, can philosophy genuinely demonstrate that she would be better off being a libertarian in the political wilderness than a progressive in her current situation? A eudaimonism which believes in a harmony of human interests seems to me to imply and require this claim. I am assuming here that libertarianism is formally true, but not spiritually healthier or more effective than the evidence warrants.

          Incidentally, Roderick has written open letters to establishment figures in the past. I wonder what would happen if Maddow or her equivalent was to actually hear from a rational and humanist libertarian who conclusively demonstrated the existence of an alternative free-market position in health care which clearly demonstrated both outrage at the injustice and disfunction of the American status quo, and awareness that most free-market proposals in opposition to state-provided health were precisely the classist rationalisations which most progressives expect them to be?

          I can sympathise with Sheldon Richman’s disgust with Rachel Maddow, but I personally ask the above question as someone who has known hundreds of libertarians and hundreds of progressives, and my own conclusion is that progressives are typically at least no less rational, humanistic, or intellectually honest than libertarians, and I find them far easier to relate to socially. This is not an abstract issue for me, as both my adoptive parents are health professionals working within or within the orbit of the Kiwi state health care system; both are politically engaged; both are motivated by values which I find infinitely easier to trust than those that motivate the balance of libertarianism (honourable exceptions in present company, of course, excluded).

          2) Libertarian discourse still occurs primarily (even near-exclusively) within an American context. Even when libertarianism has acheived some level of sociopolitical visibility elsewhere it looks back towards America, and is justifiably considered an American import by outsiders.

          On the issue of medical care, it’s relatively easy to argue for the merits of a genuine free market over the current American nightmare. Or if it’s socially difficult- given the popular misidentification of the quasi-fascist medical status quo with the free market- it’s at least intellectually easy, given that it’s not hard to prove that libertarianism has something better than the status quo to offer.

          But how would that argue this issue in a Kiwi context, or in a Canadian or Swedish context? Here ‘socialised medicine’ of one form or another is well established, and its superiority to the American system is blindingly evident (I speak from personal experience). Now, this does not necessarily discredit libertarianism- perhaps statism administered by neutral bureaucrats is reasonably less damaging than statism administered by corporatists seeking profit at the expense of patients, under conditions which create perverse incentives. But the rhetorical barrier is immense- simply put, I haven’t met a single Kiwi who feels deeply dissatisfied with the status quo, or who views the establishment of state-provided medicine is a hisorical bad move. Actually, some words spoken on Michael Moore’s _Sicko_ capture the mood: if the state eliminated its provision of medicine it would spark a revolution, at least in the sense that any government which proposed this policy would commit suicide and gaurantee the victory of the opposition in the next election cycle.

          Lindsay Perigo, the most visible Kiwi libertarian, laces his advocacy of a free market with random disparagement of Maoris, ‘dole bludgers’, and poor people generally- he’s advocated disenfranchising everyone on a public benefit. The average person has heard of Perigo and, not surprisingly, regards him as something like a crank… and regards libertarianism as little more than cranky and extreme class warfare, virtually synonymous with ‘neoliberal’ ‘reform’ which has had (as far as I can judge) mixed effects on New Zealand’s socioeconomic climate.

          How would one even begin a libertarian conversation in such a context? Please let me say outright that I have no interest in doing this myself- it’s socially imprudent, but in any case I don’t feel I could demonstrate the need to change the current system in utilitarian terms. If this is a “tho’ the heavens fall” case, then how did libertarianism ever get in the position of demanding justice in disregard of practical merit? On an issue like free speech or drug decriminalisation, the existential or passionate value of free choice is inescapably close to the surface. But on an issue like medical care (or, worse, employment or housing law), the alternative of a free market versus a statist order confronts the individual with the prospect of two different external systems- one a more spontaneous order than the other, perhaps, but neither a function of his or her personal will or choice. Is there even a gaurantee that the free market will offer more positive freedom than an individual than a statism informed by liberal or humanistic values? Some libertarians might argue that the latter is an impossibility, but the evidence of reality in front of me denies it. The evidence of reality also suggests that an illiberal and antihumanistic libertarianism is a very real possibility, given the hegemony of conservative values within libertarianism (others may argue this, but I have no personal doubts on this point).


          Personally, what these issues mean to me is: is there a reason to be a libertarian of which I am ignorant? I recall Dennis (Vache Folle?) claiming here that one’s self-identification as a libertarian is a matter of abstract propositional assent, but this approach has not matched by own experience with political movements; I see adopting a political label as more a matter of interpersonal commitment, and the abstract difference between political ideologies less important than the question of which cultures, classes, or sociohistorical currents one affirms or devotes oneself towards. It’s hard to understand (for instance) Orwell, Koestler, or Hitchens primarily in terms of the abstract propositions to which they would assent, and my own suspicion is that this exclusively ideological approach to political self-definition is demanded less by philosophy than by the legacy of Christianity’s fixation on belief and creed as the crucial determinant of salvation, or by modes of self-definition which reflect the standpoint of the conventional male sex role.

          I am suggesting that every political philosophy has a formal (or ‘thin’) component of abstract values and position, and a substantive (or ‘thick’) component of embedded or concrete concerns or affiliations. The various conservatisms, liberalisms, an socialisms (and fascisms and anarchisms) are fairly aware of this and attract their following as much by their social component as by their abstract component. Libertarianism, by contrast, aggressively defines itself by abstraction alone, and has let its substance be determined by expedience or convention, with the consequence that while much of what it substantially stands for is aligned in specific ways (populist and conservative), one is expected to take note of only the formal component.

        • MBH September 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

          Aster, a brief response to (1): Maddow — in an interview with a congressman last night — made a subtle point that many Republicans will oppose the bill even if it were simply designed to coordinate (without any control over) non-profit cooperatives. I think it’s fair to say that she is aware of the free-market alternative to government-run health insurance. In fact, I suspect we’ll see a different tone after Mr. Obama’s speech tonight.

          On a purely political level, the non-profit cooperatives are a divide-and-conquer maneuver which will likely work. On a purely economic level, and insofar as the government will not run these organizations, it is a left-libertarian solution. And that, I think, is part of the beauty of (2) — that libertarianism, strictly speaking, refers to a form of interaction, and not its contents.

        • Joel Schlosberg September 21, 2009 at 9:45 pm #

          Just signed up for gravatar, let’s see if it works. (And you might want to place a link to the site in a prominent place, otherwise people would have no idea you’re using it for the avatars.)

          Incidentally, I love how the video on the gravatar site features names of websites that are just slightly changed from the trademarked originals:

        • Brandon September 21, 2009 at 10:45 pm #

          No idea we’re using gravatars? Gravatar functionality is built into WordPress. There have been a couple of people who have asked about them, so those comments are available in searches as well.

      • Briggs September 8, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

        I must confess that I have found Olbermann much less watchable now that the God-King—uuh I mean Obama—is in power. Maddow is still pretty watchable for the reasons you mention.

        • Sheldon Richman September 8, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

          Brandon, I’ve registered and linked a pic. What now?

      • b-psycho September 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

        If only there were some way of getting you or Sheldon on her show…

        • Sheldon Richman September 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

          I’d have to think about it for a while. It’s not a great forum for someone of our persuasion. She controls things; she can be sarcastic; and it’s hard to make our case in a few sound bites. Presumably, she wouldn’t have us on the discuss whether the State should exist. It would be on, say, health care. Fine. But the tactic of such people is to say, “Well, sure you’re against reform. You don’t think there should be Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security either. You don’t even think there should be a government post office.” Now you’re juggling several balls at once, as her audience thinks, “Oh, one of those right-wingers who hate the poor, the sick, and the elderly.”

        • Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 11:51 pm #

          The use of concision in shows like Maddow’s make’s it very difficult to challenge conventional wisdom.

    • dennis September 8, 2009 at 6:22 pm #

      I find it so unfortunate when even the “better minds” of the left wing commentariat like Glenn Greenwald insist that the state is owned by corporations. Yes the two parties benefit from one another, but the state is and always has been the controlling partner. It often acts through corporations, and they serve as great foils in times of crisis. For all of the benefits corporations get from the state, the state benefits far more from them, just in ways that are difficult to quantify. The government connected firm is more like a favorite (or should I spell it favourite here?) pet, bloated from an excess of treats thrown its way. That said, I don’t hold the outright hostility toward corporations that many here do, though I do hold a special distaste for a select few.

      • Roderick September 8, 2009 at 6:33 pm #

        Well, given that the same people often cycle through both state and corporation, I’m not sure the state is necessarily the controlling partner. I think the state is on the whole the enabling partner, i.e., both partners depend on the violence of the state to get things done. But I think there’s plenty of push and tug back and forth — each side wants to be the dominant partner, but neither side has a stable lock on it.

        • Anon73 September 8, 2009 at 9:00 pm #

          Yeah someone should do a study on how many people in government shuffle to the private sector and vice versa.

        • dennis September 18, 2009 at 2:14 pm #

          An individual serves a different function in different contexts. When serving as a bureaucrat or elected official he holds the whip and the bag of treats, as an employee of a company he acts like a high priest who has a special relationship with the gods and is well compensated for his efforts. Those who go into government from an initial position in business might well intend to hand out favors and protections to their friends and former colleagues, but the scope of their authority is greatly altered upon election or appointment, so that while they may heap largess on their old friends (or settle some old scores) they typically become consumed by their new power and work to nurture it for its own sake. This is certainly compatible with helping their old coworkers, as the state can often act relatively efficiently through corporations.

  2. Sheldon Richman September 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Never mind. Thanks!

  3. dennis September 8, 2009 at 6:10 pm #

    I like to use the tactic of just flat out saying that every problem there is is either caused by or made worse by the state, and that even the “good things” the state does could be done better some other way and are irredeemably corrupted by having anything to do with the state. From that established starting point I don’t have to worry as much about being painted into a corner. The key is to link school lunch to a billy club crushing a young minority lad’s skull as two sides of the same coin, utterly inseparable (though obviously the abuses manifest themselves differently in different societies.)

    • Roderick September 8, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

      My tack is to insist — first, last, and always — on the claim that both Democrats and Republicans offer merely slightly different versions of oppressive state/corporate partnership, which the Democrats cloak in the false garb of anti-corporatism while the Republicans cloak it in the false garb of anti-statism.

      And if I’m asked “but aren’t there genuine differences between the Democrats and Republicans? are you saying it’s all a sham?” I answer: no, it’s not all a sham by any means — Democrats and Republicans really do, on the whole, favour somewhat different methods and somewhat different constituencies within the dominant power structure. What’s a sham is the “we’ll protect the common people from those scary _________ folks” (fill in “government” or “corporate” as appropriate) spin they put on their conflicts. The struggles are real, but they’re merely struggles within the ruling class, not between the ruling class and something nicer.

      • MBH September 9, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

        Roderick, while I’m sure you have concerns about trojan horses, I think you’ll appreciate this. For those without insurance, the plan calls for “the Exchange.” Murray Rothbard is smiling tonight:

        Creates a new insurance marketplace – the Exchange – that allows people without insurance and small businesses to compare plans and buy insurance at competitive prices. The President’s plan allows Americans who have health insurance and like it to keep it. But for those who lose their jobs, change jobs or move, new high quality, affordable options will be available in the exchange. Beginning in 2013, the Exchange will give Americans without access to affordable insurance on the job, and small businesses one-stop shopping for insurance where they can easily compare options based on price, benefits, and quality.

  4. MBH September 8, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    To Kevin: I love your piece. I agree with it all wholeheartedly. Yet, you seem to suggest that some/most agents are unaware of the system’s inherent evil. I wonder then: is it more sensible to attack the system or the agent’s (lack of) awareness? I suppose you could answer, “both,” but, what is a world, minus this system, plus members who never recognized the inherent evil in the previous system? Is not the best long-term strategy to attack belief systems rather than “the” system?

  5. Sheldon Richman September 9, 2009 at 6:19 am #

    My preferred approach to the “progressive” is to say : “Please tell me why you believe that nothing good can occur in society unless power and force bring it about. You are critical of U.S. military policy, which is the application of State force to foreign problems. So why are you not critical of the application of State force to domestic problems, for example in the area of health care?”

    • Anon73 September 9, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

      They would probably just assent to that as well Sheldon…

    • MBH September 9, 2009 at 4:49 pm #

      I like your approach Sheldon. And you’re right: what’s the difference between foreign force and domestic force? Behind the “veil of ignorance” — which “progressives” like to champion — force is force.

      Yet still, I think you’re creating a straw-man in saying that “[progressives] believe that nothing good can occur in society unless power and force bring it about.” While that may be true for the Olbermann-style liberal, it’s not true of the non-managerial-style liberal. Do all progressives = managerial style liberals?

      Health care is a great example, but not in the way you intend it. It looks like the president will support Max Baucus’ plan which will encourage non-profit organizations to network and to be run by the patients/members.

      I believe in a bridge between the Democratic Party and Left-Libertarianism. I also observe a pattern in which Mr. Obama is willing to use that bridge more often than not (though still not enough).

    • Brandon September 9, 2009 at 6:11 pm #

      I’m not sure I concede that progressives ie. left-liberals are against force used in foreign policy. Many progressives, if not all of them, openly advocate a military takeover of sub-Saharan Africa — for the best moral reasons of course.
      The reason they hate the Iraq invasion is that it was A) launched by right-wingers, and B) supposedly for the benefit of corporations.
      As long as a military intervention is for humanitarian purposes, it’s fine and dandy with progressives.
      I think the progressive would respond to Sheldon’s question by characterizing his view of government as cynical, and of society as utopian or what have you.

      • MBH September 9, 2009 at 6:37 pm #

        I see what you mean on foreign policy. Although, the progressive would probably claim that humanitarian “intervention” is self-defense — since the self is “not contained between [the] hat and boots.”

        I would agree that most left-liberals would respond that way to Sheldon’s question. But not all.

  6. dennis September 9, 2009 at 6:15 pm #

    Aster, I don’t view libertarianism as a political movement, I think of it as one position among many in my own ideology. The tenets of libertarianism are to me just like the tenets of biological evolution, and I agree with them for the same reasons, they hold up better to thoughtful examination. Obviously, one’s theory of the state has an ethical component to it that one’s belief in cosmology or evolution doesn’t necessarily have, but the core idea that a state is necessary or even the most effective method to produce certain goods or defend against certain evils seems as false to me as the notion that a god made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. I don’t mean to imply that liberals (or conservatives for that matter) are less rational, humanistic, or whatever, merely that they are wrong about one very important part of human existence.

    AS to my first point about not viewing libertarianism as a political movement, I know there are many who make it into one, and more power to them, but to me it is merely the intellectual rejection of the the efficacy of the state to accomplish what it claims to intend to accomplish, and the ethical rejection of the initiation of force. I will agree that there are other ideas which seem more compatible with these two (individualism, certain types of feminism, rejection of some silly cultural norms masquerading as morality, commitment to equal dignity being afforded to any individual who isn’t a complete asshole, etc.)

    As for your parenthetical reference to mad cow, I don’t get it. Forgive my lack of culture. Mea maxima culpa.

  7. Kevin Carson September 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    Thanks for the link, Roderick.

    That Olbermann quote on the GOP agenda as state collusion with big business, and “free markets” as just a branding gimmick, was absolutely brilliant. What has that guy on TV now done with him?

    Aster: You could probably at least make a case for moving “socialized medicine” in a marketward direction by starting with left-libertarian priorities (decentralizing control, stakeholder co-op governance, eliminating drug patents and at least radically scaling back licensing monopolies, etc.). The reduced costs would make it a lot more politically feasible, subsequently, to talk about making it a voluntary system with optional buy-in. That’s especially true if the cooperative legacy institutions were the best game in town (in terms of low monthly membership fees), and most people would be expected to turn to them in preference to other private systems serving niche markets.

    Sheldon: I think Maddow’s a lot better behaved with her guests than Olbermann is. Although Tom Ridge was clearly a hostile witness, she gave him enough uninterrupted time to make his points without badgering him. Under the same circumstances, I suspect Olbermann would have just kept screaking “Unclean! Unclean!” and forking the evil eye at him. Although she might attempt to preempt the framing with the anti-Medicare stuff, you or Roderick would probably have enough extended commentary time to present your own counter-framing (something like Roderick’s “conflation” framework and the fact that big business and big government are really on the same side, coupled with Gary Chartier’s emphasis on removing all the artificial scarcities that drive high costs, etc.). Throwing in some appropriately patchouli-scented hippie stuff about cooperative clinics, alternative medicine, etc., would also probably help to scramble the audience’s cognitive presuppositions.

    MBH: Well, the agent’s reaction depends to a large extent on the *outcome* of removing the present system. The best way to change the agent’s consciousness is not necessarily attacking their assumptions in isolation, but in allowing them to learn from experience when they see what happens when your change the system.

    • MBH September 10, 2009 at 10:05 pm #

      That’s very fair. Concepts without experience are empty. I would suppose though that the best kind of experiences are on the micro-level. Maybe something as simple as working in a non-hierarchical office. That kind of experience — while not a direct challenge to the power structures — would most certainly count as being exposed to an alternative system. From there, people can always use concepts to broaden those experiences to the macro-level. So, I’m not convinced that removing the system — as a whole — is the best long-term approach. But, you have moved me a significant step in your direction.

  8. Kevin Carson September 10, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

    P.S., MBH. I checked out your post on non-profit co-ops at Satyagraha. I don’t see the point of Krugman’s criticism. How could a public option negotiate lower drug prices, when Obama has already foresworn any such negotiation beyond the paltry $80 billion the drug companies already agreed to? That’s $80 billion over a ten-year period, BTW, when drug costs are over $200 billion in a single year.

    • MBH September 10, 2009 at 10:29 pm #

      Yeah, I don’t know. I think it would be appropriate to borrow from Roderick’s post Wild Cards. When presented with economic problems, non-Austrians — yourself excluded — tend to project expectations into experience (without the awareness of doing so).

      It’s my hope (I know… I know… I’m a sucker) that Obama will abandon HR 3200 and adopt something closer to Max Baucus’ plan (non-profit co-ops). The non-profits — without any foresworn negotiating caps — would stand a better chance at breaking down the monopolies and cartels. Not to mention that it would alleviate the fears of a trojan horse. It makes political, economic, and moral sense to me. As for Krugman, Reich, Keynesians in general, I think they’re right on stimulating demand (temporarily) but wrong on health care.

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