Our Libertarian Age.

I stumbled upon another great long read. It’s too good not to distill into a few readable points, for many don’t have 2 hours to sit and read it and absorb. The author makes such great, unorthodox and profound points, that it needs to be made available to a busy reader.

  1. After the end of the Cold War many thought that, perhaps, now was the “end of history.”
  2. Everyone got busy with either building democracy or bringing democracy overseas; the triumphal tandem of democracy/liberal economics began its march around the world.
  3. The end of the Cold War, however, left an ideological vacuum. When the two opposing views were in constant struggle it kept the ideologies in good shape, prepared to constantly explain and defend their worldview. When the need for the intellectual debate disappeared, so did the thinking and the rigor.
  4. This lack of political adversary led to disappearance of ideology that required some kind of intellectual/historical/social basis and replaced it with dogma that needs no basis.
  5. Speak to modern day students about ideology and you will be faced with blank stares. Sure, they know a thing or two about fascism – “evil”, or communism – “a few good things”, but they are in no shape to carry any sort of thoughtful discussion with arguments that are routed in history and tradition; what’s worse they even lack the curiosity to do so. “Societies are too complex, human motivations too various, and institutions too opaque for us to get a static picture of reality or discern the invariable laws governing it.”
  6. The new, reigning “hegemonic worldview” – “democratic capitalism” for Americans and “neoliberalism” for Europeans postulates that the concept of democracy is the only political form that can claim global recognition today and treats as axiomatic the primacy of individual self-determination over traditional social ties. This is our new Libertarian age.
  7. It’s libertarian by default: whatever has before restrained an individual autonomy – ideas or beliefs or traditions – all of that has atrophied. Libertarianism does not tolerate any customs or national or social peculiarities. Self-determination trumps all. I think of any political mess today and I can trace it all back to the idea of self-determination: ISIS, Syria, Ukraine. They all have something to say, grievances to address and to dismiss it is to invite the ire of libertarian dogma.
  8. The distinction between ideology and dogma is that ideology, however flawed, masters the historical forces, tries to understand them first and then shape the society. Current-day libertarianism is supremely dogmatic, and like every dogma it sanctions ignorance about the world and blinds adherents to its effects in that world. “It begins with basic liberal principles – the sanctity of the individual, the priority of freedom, distrust of public authority, tolerance – and advances no further. It has no taste for reality, no curiosity about how we got here or where we are going.”
  9. “Libertarianism’s dogmatic simplicity explains why people who otherwise share little can subscribe to it: small-government fundamentalists on the American right, anarchists on the European and Latin American left, democratization prophets, civil liberties absolutists, human rights crusaders, neoliberal growth evangelists, rogue hackers, gun fanatics, porn manufacturers, and Chicago School economists the world over. The dogma that unites them is implicit and does not require explication; it is a mentality, a mood, a presumption – what used to be called non-pejoratively, a prejudice. Maintaining an ideology requires work because political developments always threaten its plausibility. Theories must be tweaked, revisions must be revised. Since ideology makes a claim about the way the world actually works, it invites and resists refutation. A dogma, by contrast, does not. That is why our libertarian age is an illegible age.”

  10. The author then gives an example of the European Union. The integration of European states have been guided by neoliberalism. But neoliberal economic approach jeopardizes the principles of democratic self-government. Thus today we have a collection of states, each with their separate and distinct identities, tied together in an ungovernable mess. How do you turn Scots and Sicilians into compatriots who feel they share a destiny and recognize the same institutions?
  11. Americans are better at living democracy than at understanding it. They think it’s been a universal aspiration for the last two millennia, rather than a form of government that has gained legitimacy only in the past 25 years. Such amnesia spreads even into the political science quarters. Political science scholars didn’t bother to study other non-democratic forms of government, such as monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy and tyranny. Instead they placed all existing regimes on a straight line from democracy to totalitarianism and rated them. This way of thinking led them to naively believe that the fall of Soviet Union will automatically give rise to democracy worldwide. Of course, now they have been presented with unpleasant things that democratic elections can produce.
  12. Yet, in the minds of American politicians and journalists, still only two political categories exist: democracy and le deluge. Think tanks produce annual reports that rate levels of democracy in each country, ranking them from “free” to “not free”. They seem determined not to notice that since the fall of Soviet Union all kinds of different forms of non-democratic government reappeared: oligarchy in the post-Soviet states; the advance of political Islam; tribes, clans and sects in Africa, etc. How are you supposed to account for all those nuances when you promote democracy? How do you recognize that there are things, that are hard to understand for an average American libertarian, that are prized in other communities? Things like deference to tradition, a commitment to place, respect for elders, obligations to family or clan, a devotion to piety and virtue – things that individualism destroys.
  13. The truth is that billions of people will not be living in a democracy in our lifetime, or ever. And not only for cultural reasons. Without the rule of law and professional bureaucracies that treat citizens impartially, without military that is subordinate to civilian rule, without regulatory bodies, without social norms liberal democracy is not possible. So lacking all of the above, what is plan B?
  14. There’s no plan B. We can’t have a plan B before we explore the possibility of having non-democratic regimes without trying to bring them to either American or European denominator. We would have to abandon the dogma that individual freedom is the only and the highest political good in every historical circumstance and accept the trade-offs.
  15. “The libertarian age is an illegible age. It has given birth to a new kind of hubris unlike that of the old master thinkers. Our hubris is to think that we no longer have to think hard or pay attention or look for connections, that all we have to do is stick to our “democratic values” and economic models and faith in the individual and all will be well. Having witnessed unpleasant scenes of intellectual drunkenness, we have become self-satisfied abstainers removed from history and unprepared for the challenges it is already bringing. The end of the cold war destroyed whatever confidence in ideology still remained in the West. But it also seems to have destroyed our will to understand. We have abdicated. The libertarian dogma of our time is turning our policies, economies, and cultures upside down – and blinding us to this by making us even more self-absorbed and incurious than we naturally are. The world we are making with our hands is as remote from our minds as the farthest black hole. Once we had a nostalgia for the future. Today we have an amnesia for the present.”

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