Sunday, June 10, 2012

Does Michael Lind hate freedom?

Finally, a post!

Does Michael Lind hate freedom?  I think there's pretty good evidence for this.

Michael Lind posed what he considered a "startling" question on Salon recently: "Why do conservatives hate freedom?"  In his discussion he properly takes conservatives to task for their opposition to the 1960's civil rights movement and their opposition to contraception, abortion, and the rights of gay people.  So far as this goes, he manages to remain fairly coherent, showing that America's founding principles are on the side of individual liberty, and that conservatives abandon these for Old Testament law in opposing civil rights.  (Unaccountably, Lind even manages to remain coherent when it comes to libertarians, whom he says are on the side of freedom -- hard to reconcile with his earlier claim that libertarians are totalitarian fascists.)  For a moment I was almost thinking that Lind might have come to his senses and was posting something reasonable.

But no..  Lind goes on.  "Since World War II, mainstream conservatives have opposed every expansion of personal liberty in the United States."  Every expansion?  Wow, that's quite a claim.  (That would almost make them "libertarians" in his earlier taxonomy!)  How could that possibly be?  Let's see.

Lind gives a list of other "expansions of freedom" conservatives have opposed, including:
Ah, I see.  Giving the state the power to set prices and production methods "increases freedom."  Giving the state the power to prohibit privately agreed upon contracts that politically connected third parties (union bosses) don't like "increases freedom."  State-imposed rewrites of mortgage contracts and subsidization of irresponsible borrowers "increases freedom."  All we need to be "free" is to give government the power to regulate us wisely.  Well, that's all nonsense -- increasing the power of the state to regulate the economy, or anything else, decreases personal freedom.

Strike one against Lind.

Lind gets especially wound up by "the appalling authoritarian conservative legacy in the realm of criminal rights," by which he apparently means conservative support for the death penalty, since it is the only thing he mentions.  Exactly how abolishing or preserving the death penalty increases freedom is quite unclear -- the arguments hinge on issues which are only indirectly related to freedom.  I have no idea how he could think that "[n]othing could illustrate arbitrary, despotic government power more" than the jury system and state appointed counsel (maybe we should have him visit a Russian or Chinese court).  But  what is particularly telling is his repeated use of the term "criminal rights."  I'm fairly certain that what Lind is referring to by "rights" is not individual rights at all, but collective or group "rights," an entirely different concept.  Hence "workers have the 'right' to some minimum wage," "labor unions have the 'right' to forbid non-union workers from working," and, of course, there's a special set of rights granted to that oppressed group, the criminals.

If conservatives oppose particular state-granted group privileges, or replacing individual rights with the alleged "collective rights" of groups, it's hardly "hating freedom."  Strike two against Lind.

But let's take Lind's point further. "[M]ainstream conservatives have opposed every expansion of personal liberty in the United States."  Oh?  What about:
  • Passing of "shall issue" concealed carry permit laws
  • Repeal of the Assault Weapon Ban
  • Writing the "Castle Doctrine" into law (much hated by those progressives who oppose our rights to defend this what Lind means by "criminal rights?")
  • Reduction of marginal tax rates
  • Opposition to university "speech codes" that restricted free speech (in every case it appears these codes are written by left "liberals")
  • Repeal of military conscription, plus amnesty for draft evaders (I don't know if Nixon and Ford should be counted as "mainstream conservatives," but they were hardly leftists or libertarians)
This last issue is quite telling.  Leftwing progressive members of Congress have repeatedly introduced bills to reinstate the draft and to institute "Universal National Service" (.g. the Universal National Service Acts of 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2010.)  Conservative Republicans have opposed these and blocked them.

Strike three, Lind's out.  These aren't minor but fundamental errors.

Lind clearly is engaging in propaganda, rather than analysis (hence his flip-flop on libertarians... consistency isn't needed, just so the message is politically correct).  There is an element of truth in his argument, but it applies to social conservatives, rather than conservatives in general.  And this truth is double edged, because culture warriors across the spectrum tend to be illiberal, intolerant, and quite willing to use the state to impose agendas.  It's not that conservatives are consistent advocates of individual liberty (they most definitely are not, as has frequently been documented here).  But conservatives are hardly alone in opposing freedom.

In fact, America's current "liberal-conservative" political spectrum is misleading at best, and often as not a tool of intentional deception.  It's not that difficult to find liberals and conservatives who work for individual liberty, and it's dreadfully easy to find liberals and conservatives who work to permanently eliminate it.  They've certainly been cooperating in the Bush-Obama war on due process and civil liberties.  (As Glenn Greenwald asks, where are the liberals now that the President has a "kill list," in which he secretly decides which Americans to summarily execute?)

A much more sensible spectrum ranges political views according to how much power they grant the state over the individual. And on that one, Lind seems to be well on the side of state power.  Ugh. 

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