Tuesday, December 1, 2009
There has been a movement recently among conservatives to identify as libertarian while at the same time blatantly illustrating a total lack of understanding of what libertarianism is. Basically, it occurs when a particularly staunch conservative is railing against some perceived socialist/communist/atheist/islamist/fascist threat and then, as if to remind us that his opinions are not grounded in partisanship (which they are), he adds, "and I'm not just saying this because I'm a Republican. I'm a libertarian." Another thing we can credit Glenn Beck for, by the way.
Here's the problem: what these conservatives are really advocating when they talk about states' rights and small central government is not really libertarianism, its more anti-federalism. Libertarianism is, at is most basic level, the belief that government should not legislate social or economic freedoms. Its more or less a kind of organized anarchy. There are plenty of reasons why that system wouldn't work, but there's no reason to go into that because its not a system that these fauxbertarians are really advocating; ask someone claiming libertarianism if they are in favor of global isolationism, or legalization of all drugs, or gay marriage. You'd be hard pressed to find one that says yes.
The big difference between real libertarianism and anti-federalism is that the latter doesn't support the elimination of government from citizens' lives, just the elimination of the federal government. Its really an ideology of convenience; most of these so-called libertarians were not in favor of states' rights trumping federal law when Bush was President. Rather, its a situation of not wanting the other guy's government to be in control, which signifies a lack of respect for the way our government works in my opinion, but that's another story.
Setting aside the transparent reasoning for supporting anti-federalism, what the fauxbertarians exhibit in their outspoken support of state supremacy is a total lack of knowledge of history. While no other country that I can immediately think of has tried a style of anti-federalist government in modern history (I suppose feudalism might count if you want to go further back), the United States actually did try confederacy as a style of government. It failed miserably. In 1781, our young nation ratified the Articles of Confederation. By 1788, the founding fathers had already convened to replace it. As a Federal Union, we have lasted 221 years. As a confederacy, we lasted 7.
The problem with that Articles was that giving such great power to the different states while giving so little power to a governing body over them allowed each state too much freedom to act in their own personal interests without regard to the common good. States were free to tell their armies what to do without having to confer with other states. They were free to refuse to pay federal taxes. They were free to print their own currency and refuse to accept the currency of other states. The "United States" was more like a collection of 13 individual nations than 13 parts of a whole. Anti-federalists either do not remember learning about this time in school, or they simply refuse to acknowledge it. But just like each individual citizen has a responsibility to maintain personal order for the sake of society, each individual state had a responsibility to maintain order for the Union. And also just like individuals, without some form of governing body enforcing basic laws, there was no incentive for these states to do so under the Articles.
Anti-federalism does have one thing in common with libertarianism; both systems function on the belief that people or individual states are inherently fair and self-regulating and will ultimately make the correct decisions without being forced, and that acting for personal gain and prosperity can be achieved without harming the overall welfare of society. As history has shown us repeatedly, this is not the case by any means. The vast majority of people are short-sighted and self-serving. Allowing a system like anti-federalism to become the rule of the land would lead to eventual collapse. We tried it for 7 years before the founding fathers realized that. We teach our children in schools to learn about government from the fathers' decisions, so why do so many refuse to learn this lesson? Anti-federalism doesn't work.
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