Democracy In Chains

There are plenty more libertarian role models available in our culture than there are anarchistic ones; and given the apparent similarities between the two concepts of individual liberty, I occasionally have to remind myself why I am an anarchist and not a libertarian. It’s the economy, stupid, and everything that flows from that.

  • Libertarians believe in the exploitation of the capitalist system (stripped of State-imposed rules and regulations) and the supreme sanctity of private property no matter how acquired; many have a tendency toward exclusionary -isms (racism, sexism, nationalism, fascism); they believe in no government other than that which protects their interests and assets (police, army, judiciary; jails);
  • Anarchists conceive of a non-exploitative production/consumption system and have a strong tendency toward inclusive community building; they believe in autonomous self-government by individuals and consensual groupings only.

We are currently living through an experiment in which the Libertarian fringe has taken control of the central government.  Earlier this year, I was read an article about how the GOP in Missouri were working to overturn a state constitutional amendment improving ethical governance that passed overwhelmingly by popular vote just a month ago. They noted:

“the Republican Party’s newfound disdain for democracy. Republican leaders across the country have tried to make voting more difficult; to keep some Americans from voting; to interrupt vote counts before they are complete; to gerrymander in the extreme; and now, in Missouri, to repudiate a constitutional amendment approved by 62 percent of the state’s voters.”

Everything in that paragraph is true, except that the Republican’s dislike for genuine democracy is hardly “newfound.” I have been reminded of this most recently through reading Nancy MacLean‘s vital Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right;s Stealth Plan For America. which is a book that every resister needs to read to understand what it is we are facing.  The thesis of the book is that current libertarian bent of the far rights financiers (a la Koch brothers and too many others) is fuelled and driven by the political-economic theories propounded by James M. Buchanan who was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1986.  Buchanan developed his theories in the 1950s and 1960s when the current wave of capitalist barons were being educated.  [Page number references are to this volume).

“Buchanan believed that “majority rule, under modern conditions, had created … a risk to capitalism … The goal of the cause, Buchanan announced … must shift from who rules to changing the rules … the cause must figure out how to put [constitutional] shackles on public officials.”  [pages xxv-xxvi]  “A government based in the naked principle that the majority ought to govern, Calhoun [had] warned, was sure to filch other men’s property and violate their liberty.”  “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” wrote F.A. Harper. Democratic government was increasing “the power of certain persons to destroy other persons.” [6, 132]  Buchanan said modern rules fail to establish ironclad rules for “curbing the appetites of majority coalitions … There are relatively few effective limits on the fiscal exploitation of minorities through orderly democratic procedures.”  [150]  “The project must aim toward the practical ‘removal of the sacrosanct status assigned to majority rule’.”  [184]

Buchanan first made his name opposing taxes to pay for schools.  If a constitution enabled what Buchanan would call socialism — “which in Virginia’s case meant requiring a system of public schools — it would be nearly impossible [to achieve] his vision of radical transformation, without changing the constitution.” [72]  An important supporter, Oliver Hill, NAACP lawyer opposed to tax-paid vouchers for private schools, opined that: “No one in a democratic society has a right to have his private prejudices financed at public expense.” [69]  This group of thinkers were often opposed to educating the masses at all. As Gordon Tullock put it: “we may be producing a positively dangerous class situation” by raising their sights. [106]

More broadly, Buchanan criticised modern economics and its value system

“because the very idea that inequality was a bad thing led to looking for remedies, which in turn led the discipline toward an applied ‘mathematics of social engineering’.” [96-97].  He  “wanted not just to rein in taxation and regulation, but also to dethrone the dominant paradigm of Keynsian econonics that was the core of the mid-century social contract.”  [136]  A later disciple, Paul Ryan said “public provision for popular needs not only violates the liberty of the taxpayers whose earnings are transferred to others, but also violates the recipients’ spiritual need to earn their own sustenance.” [213]  Liberty Fund economist Gary M. Anderson alleges that public health is nothing more than “a device use by organized interest groups to redistribute wealth to themselves.”  [214]

And Buchanan’s theories began to enter the realm of social conservatism.  A Virginia petition of the early 1960s was very clear about its position:  “Individual liberty is a higher good than racial equality.”  [94]  The Goldwater campaign of 1964 openly attacked the Civil Rights Act on Buchananite-libertarian grounds, complaining

“that it used coercive means to make all conform to the values of the majority, in violation of the liberty of the white minority that opposed it.” [84]

Buchanan eventually came to believe that

despotism may be the only organizational alternative ... There was no glossing over it anymore: democracy was inimical to economic freedom” [151-152]  Charles Koch called Greenspan and others “sellouts”  because they sought “to make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out at the root.” [135]  Buchanan “valued economic liberty so much more than political freedom that he simply did not care about the invitation to abuse inherent [as in Chile] in giving nearly unchecked power to an alliance of capital and the armed forces.”  [165]  He wrote in 2005 that those who fail to save for their future needs “are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to … animals who are dependent’.”  [214]

Given the static two-party system in the US, it came as no surprise that Buchananite disciples discovered the Republican Party as a ready-made vehicle for political advancement.

“But while these radicals of the right operate within the Republican Party … the cadre’s loyalty is not to the Grand Old Party … Their loyalty is to their revolutionary cause … The Republican Party is now in the control of a group of true believers for whom compromise is a dirty word”  [xxvii-xxvii]

Political theorist S.M. Amadae says Buchanan “was mapping a social contract based on ‘unremitting coercive bargaining’ in which individuals treated one another as instruments towards their own ends, not fellow beings of intrinsic value.”  [151]

*****

This is a significant addition to our knowledge of how the elites run our lives and what they have in store for us.  Well worth the read.

 

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