Arnold Kling  

Arnold Kling Doesn't Get It

Are Extremists Really Happier?... Parsing Senator McCain...

John Fonte writes,

For some (clearly not all) libertarians opposition to the “state,” even the constitutional democratic nation-state leads to an affinity to transnational (as opposed to international) politics. Indeed, on Cato’s website, adjunct scholar Arnold Kling...“proposes” an “alternative ideology” that “might be called transnational libertarianism.” Ideally, in this regime, Kling declares, “governments would be local rather than national.”

Fonte's argument is that the nation state is the only protector of individual rights, and that because I do not want a strong nation state I might just as well be a transnational progressive.

I'm not frightened of foreign influence. Mexicans do not scare me. The typical, law-abiding American Muslim does not scare me. The Eurocrats in Brussels don't scare me. Unless our own intellectuals join with or appease the worst of the foreign elements, I think we're safe.

In my view, the existential threat to the dignity of the individual in the United States is entirely internal. I am frightened by Americans who look with favor on every expansion of government power and every centralization of government authority (hence my strong reaction in defense of small governmental units from John Corzine's merger mania). The view, well articulated by Spencer in a comment on this post--that our modern society requires conscious direction from government--is, alas, the majority view.

I hear the modern liberal saying, "I believe in free markets, but..." The problem is that what follows "but" is so extensive and overwhelming that it appears to utterly negate the clause that precedes it.

John Fonte thinks I don't get it. He thinks I need a to leaven my libertarianism with more nationalistic fervor. Maybe. Still, I keep thinking that "free markets, but" + nationalistic fervor = China.

I was planning on attending the symposium where Fonte will be speaking tomorrow. I hope we do not end up on unfriendly terms. After all, we may end up sharing the same jail cell in Obama's second term, assuming that by then Congress has passed a law imprisoning anyone who would question man-made global warming.

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COMMENTS (18 to date)
spencer writes:

I suggest you go back and study a little more history.

The greatest danger of your ending up in prison is if people like you who believe they have the received wisdom and are unwilling to compromise end up with political power. Back in the old days of the cold war it was common to call non-communists, leftist fellow travelers -- Lenin called them useful fools. More and more you are turning from being a useful fool for the wealthy families who subsidize George Mason to an ideological extremest much in the mold of Mao or Stalin.. People like you are the ones who create political prisons, not modern American politicians.

Yikes, Spencer! Let's take it down a notch, ok? Ad hominem attacks don't make your point any stronger. The conflation of policy and personal attacks demonstrates exactly why the government, in all its forms, is a dangerous entity: because people, who have biases and have the capacity to get angry, run it.

Chuck writes:
After all, we may end up sharing the same jail cell in Obama's second term, assuming that by then Congress has passed a law imprisoning anyone who would question man-made global warming.

Passive agressive? I mean, a joke surely, be so deadpan as to be provacative, no?

And lo, spencer was provoked. Easy does it spencer!

michael gordon writes:

A stimulating post, Arnold, including the link to Fonte's provocative paper. A few comments pop to mind, not necessarily forming a coherent argument.

1) Terminological problems, at any rate for non-Americans. Outside the US, "liberal" has a different meaning than here. It retains the 18th and 19th century meaning of limited government and free markets. Hence the related term, used pejoratively: "neo-liberalism" to refer to Reagan's and Thatcher's de-regulatory policies (actually started here in the otherwise disastrous Carter-administration) and the Washington Consensus on development.

The reasons for the difference here and in, say, Europe?

European conservatism is rooted in pre-democratic, pre-industrial societies, going back to the late Middle-Age and early modern period. It is rooted in a hierarchical view of society, paternalism, a stress on state-security, and a powerful animus against industrial capitalism, free-markets, and the rapidly growing new middle classes in the late 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. On the European continent, such conservatism easily adapted to the extensive welfare-state regulatory systems after 1945 . . . embodied, say, in Christian Democracy (Austria, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and even for a time in France --- until Gaullism overtook it in the late 1950s and 1960s). Even in the more flexible British Conservative party, there's the old Tory wing of patrician aristocrats and others rooted in the 17th century party system on one side and on the other, going back to the switch of Robert Peel (a Liberal leader) to the Conservatives in the middle of the 19th century once the Conservative Party adopted free trade.

For this reason, say, Milton Friedman --- when he was interviewed in the early 1990s by Der Spiegel, the bible of politically correct anti-Americanism, anti-Israeli sentiment, anti-"neo-liberalism", and semi-covert German nationalism --- described himself as not a conservative (in the Christian Democratic sense, he said), but as a liberal.


The US, by contrast, never had such a pre-democratic, pre-industrial, aristocratic elite rooted in agrarian land-holding outside the slave-holding South, with its power shattered in our civil war. (Nor, oppositely, have we had a socialist tradition either --- rooted in the huge class-struggles and struggles for democracy and trade-union recognition (and anti-clericalism in Catholic countries) --- that marked most of European political life in the 19th and first few decades of the 20th century.)

I have discussed our fortune in not having these powerful legacies on the left and right in several article-length posts at my web-site in 2004 and 2005.


2) I think you're right to be worried if Obama is elected president and if his coalition within the Democratic party prevails in Congress and in his administrative Cabinet and policies. Fortunately, even if these two conditions prevail, there will, I believe, be limited harm in his push for, say, extended affirmative action, support for the International Criminal Court, more redistributive policies, and the like . . . and for a major counter-balancing thrust built into our democratic system: two year elections for Congress, with likely public backlashes (particularly if taxes are raised noticeably and if immigration amnesty is passed and if the ICC proposal doesn't stall in Congress). Plus, challenges to these policies in our Federal Court system, all the way up to the Supreme Court.

After all, should Obama win the general election, it will be by a very narrow margin, and Democratic Congressmen and Senators don't want to commit hari-kari in the name of Obama-ism.


3) Foreign policy is another source of course in an Obama administration. Take Iraq. Though I didn't vote for George W Bush in 2000 or 2004, I did support the intervention in Iraq (only to be dismayed by the nonchalance and best-case thinking, reinforced by group-think in his administration, once the occupation began in April 2003).

But that's water-under-the-bridge.

Belatedly, two years later than he should have, Bush switched to the new counter-insurgency and surge policies that some of us had been pushing way before that, and they are now winning the war. Al Qaeda is on the run and in disarray there; the sectarian violence is moderating; and at least some Iraqi forces are fighting well.

Whether the Iraqis --- or any Arab country --- are capable of ever even achieving the level of a stable but half-inefficient, half-corrupt form of Latin American democracy, which at least coincides with better rights of free press and protection for women, is another matter. That's a secondary issue. What is more at stake is Obama's naive commitment to get our troops out of Iraq within 14 months or so. If he's serious, our gains could be totally undermined and leave the Middle East in turmoil and endanger a variety of our interests there and elsewhere.

And Iran's continued push for nuclear weapons worries anyone who wonders if Obama's naievete about the kind of adversary it is.

The problem is --- there are not the same counter-vailing restraints on foreign policy initiatives undertaken by an administration that there are in domestic policies. That doesn't mean there are no restraints --- up-and-coming elections are the most potent (and can be ignored by a president like Bush, however unpopular, if he isn't up for re-election), and possibly rebellion within his own party in Congress.


4) Unfortunately, Arnold, you seem to me to be at least a little naive about our adversaries and international life yourself . . . what with your transnational views of diluting the US's independence and sovereign control over our destiny, plus your preference for limiting central government . . . the latter your right, which I tend to share to a large extent, and with little spillover onto foreign policy except for what I regard as your ingenue attitudes toward the rise of Chinese power and the growing assertiveness of the oil-rich autocratic countries: Russia, Iran (where poverty is about 40% of the population, if not more), Chavez's Venezuela, and the corrupt double-dealing Wahhabi-led Saudis . . . with their big-pockets support for poisonous Islamist radicalism world-wide.

Would you, for instance, favor lifting all restrictions on US transfers of important military techology to China? If not, how would your opposition be reconciled with a firm ideological support for free-trade come what may?

Diplomacy can be useful at times with potential adversaries, but only if it's backed by potent and credible threats and carefully prepared for, assuming common interests can be identified with trade-offs and clearly monitored behavior . . . with, to boot, quickly administered painful sanctions for notable transgressions of any agreements.


5) You say, to move on, that you're not afraid of Mexicans. I'm not either. It's in many ways an impressive country, with a laudable artistic, architectural, and literary record to its credit.

On the other hand, since 1939 --- the year I was born --- Mexico's population has skyrocketed from 18 million to well over 100 million, and it probably won't level off until another 10-15 years at around 125-130 million. A population explosion of 6-fold or more in one man's lifetime!

All of which does lead to a concern: specifically, are we really supposed to remain its safety valve to compensate for its poor levels of literacy, its massive corruption (including a huge underground economy and drug-dealing on a vast scale by the authorities), lawless traditions, and economic backwardness despite some notable progress in Northern Mexico, thanks to US and foreign multinationals?

With your transnational enthusiasm, are we not building a new, increasingly large ethnic-based underclass in this country: poorly educated in an era of a growing knowledge-based economy, with illegitimacy already marking 50% of Hispanic births in this country? (Is anyone surprised that a mother-headed, single-parent family produces boys who hate female authority, associate it with all authority, treat women as ho's, and have a macho-warrior view of the world as a way to assert man-hood?)


Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor:

George Mason refused to sign the Constitution because it contained no bill of rights, so I suppose he might take Fonte's view that the nation state must secure enumerated rights.

The Sheep Nazi writes:

Boy howdy, them fellow travellers do get themselves mighty worked up over having been called fellow travellers once upon a time, don't they? No sheep for you, spencer.

Dr. T writes:

I loved Spencer's history lesson: Political prisons exist because stubborn, outspoken people make negative comments about government, and not because evil, power-mad politicians refuse to tolerate dissent. Spencer's 'reasoning' is backwards. Evil, power-mad politicians and their supporters believe that stubborn, outspoken dissenters should be jailed. Besides, prisons are great government projects that use up taxpayer dollars while serving as monuments to the power of the state.

...we may end up sharing the same jail cell in Obama's second term, assuming that by then Congress has passed a law imprisoning anyone who would question man-made global warming.
I hope to be in the adjacent cell.
Brad Hutchings writes:

The advantage of being the federal government is never having to say you failed. You just control things more in the next round. If public education fails our kids and wastes our money, we get No Child Left Behind. If Medicare becomes a giant future liability delivering mediocre care to seniors who don't have some private coverage to go with it, we get the prescription drug plan. If nationalized flood insurance doesn't keep people from building and living below sea level, let's nationalize hurricane insurance so they won't build on the coastlines where hurricanes do the most damage.

Lord writes:

I guess I would believe libertarians were for less government if they started attacking the patent system, the police, the courts, and entrenched privilege rather than catering to it.

TGGP writes:

Lord, you should read Lew Rockwell's site. Stephan Kinsella there writes not merely about patents but "Against Intellectual Property". Manuel Lora describes himself as "anti-cop". They regularly lambaste the court system. To Spencer of course that indicates they are totalitarians in the making.

Matt writes:

I am a little lost, and I tried the paper, but I am no good at political science.

But, ultimately, the only protector of human rights is human common law by custom. And it has to approach a global custom, for how else?

Eric writes:

Lord --

Really? Cato has a note on its blog today about the creepiness of the Chicago PD, one by Tim Lee about the failures of the patent system, one about the FLDS case in Texas (they side with the mothers, btw), they're against Real ID, etc., etc., etc.

What libertarian policy positions were you referring to?

8 writes:

I'd like to see Arnold assess an Obama presidency in light of America's fiscal reality. I don't see where he will even have 2 nickels to scrape together.

And then there's this: Dallas Fed CEO Richard W. Fisher said the U.S. has a $100 trillion unfunded liability.

Chris writes:

How is it that you are more frightened by make believe threats (outlawing free speech about climate change) than by the very real actions that have occurred in the current administration? Where is the outrage about warrantless spying, signing statements, torture, agressive war, ...?

Arnold Kling writes:

I am troubled by the policies you describe, and more. I think that TSA is an abomination.

The way I see it, the Republicans complain about the abuses of freedom inflicted by Democrats, but in the end do nothing about them. And conversely. It's almost as if both parties really want government to be bigger and more powerful, and just pay lip service to libertarian concerns.

Jim writes:

Arnold, how much would you be willing to bet that if Obama is elected he'll "do nothing" about warantless spying, torture and aggressive war? It seems to me you come out with a lot of cheap talk about how "they're all the same" while ignoring the ways in which they're not.

Arnold Kling writes:

I would gladly make the following bet:

If a terrorist attach on U.S. soil causes casualties during Obama's first term, then at the end of his first term the security regime in place will infringe on civil liberties at least as much as the regime that is in place when he takes office.

I would also bet that, even in the absence of a sucessful attack, he dismantles none of the TSA regulations, which infringe on law-abiding U.S. citizens 24/7.

Jim writes:

The fact that you seem to be more concerned about the 'abomination' of TSA than the war in Iraq or the potential war in Iran says to me that you really are choosing to get outraged about the issues you think least likely to change.

On the other point, I'd be willing to bet that state-sanctioned torture wouldn't be part of an Obama government's response to a terrorist attack on US soil, but it seems a bit ghoulish to bet on.

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