Why Liberals and Conservatives Suck (Reason No. XXVII)

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Liberals and conservatives are working from opposite ends of the political spectrum, under opposing rationales, to reach the same end: expanded government power. As a result of the political push and pull between those advocating judicial activism and those favoring judicial restraint, two fundamental American rights-the right to earn an honest living and the right to own private property-have been stripped of vital constitutional protection, leaving entrepreneurs and small property owners especially vulnerable to backroom deals and majoritarian whims.

What he says. "He" is Chip Mellor, the head honcho of Institute for Justice, the libertarian public-interest law firm (not a contradiction in terms!) that is one of the most effective and inspiring bulwarks against tyranny big and little. Among IJ's defendants: casket-makers, hair-braiders, eminent domain victims, kids trapped in shitty public schools, and many, many others.

The above quote by Mellor–who also sports a very effective and inspiring mustache–is taken from an article in The American Lawyer that is online here.

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  1. The classic error of political thinkers: assuming that your opposition is motivated by the polar opposite of your own motivations.

    Theocrats assume that liberals are keyed up about destoying Christianity. Liberals assume Republicans desire more poverty and racial inequality.

    And now, libertarians assume that the other 99% of the country is motivated by a desire to make the government bigger.

    All it takes to refute such an argument is to say, “No, we’re not,” and dig up one example of the ACLU defending Christians, Jack Kemp pushing empowerment zones, or in the last case, a liberal or conservative working to reduce government power in a certain area.

  2. isn’t he part of some underground Constitution in Exile secret society?

  3. “…a liberal or conservative working to reduce government power in a certain area.”

    HA HA HA HA HA. Good one joe. As I was saying on another thread, only people out of power advocate restricting power.

  4. joe —

    I think that it’s more accurate to say that both Republican and Democrat politicians are the ones who are expanding government for the sake of power. I don’t think that’s true of the rank and file of either party; most really believe in what the party is doing. Only when you get to career politicians, who 1) don’t want to lose their jobs, and 2) simply like the feeling of power they get from dictating others’ lives, do we get to people who I think are basically the same with opposing rhetoric, and who actually are in it just for the sake of government power. With those caveats, I think Mellor’s right. But I think that you’re right in thinking that most libertarians are starting to think that everyone else is out to get them, too. 😀

  5. Joe,

    An exceptional example doesn’t disprove the rule. I’ll grant you this: I doubt many dems or reps are running around explicitely trying to make the government bigger, just for the sake of itself. Instead, they have their pet projects and whims…and, being of the political class, they both believe that expanding government power in their favor is the best way to achieve those pet projects.

    But, the distinction must be made between “motivation” (the term you use) and “ends” (the term Mellor uses. You swing for the fences, but miss badly. He notes that their motivational factors are opposite, but the ends are the same. You take that and turn it around to “their motivation is bigger government”. No, that’s not what he said. He said that their motivations differ, while their results (“ends”) are similar.

    One might think to read a passage more carefully before dissecting it.

  6. Evan,

    “Motivations” is not the opposite of “ends.” “Means” is the opposite of “ends.”

    He describes the enlargement of government as an “end,” which it is in fact a “means” to that end.

    That’s all I’m saying.

  7. It is a nice ‘stache.

  8. I thought beginnings were the opposite of ends and means were the processes of getting to the ends.

  9. The overall enlargement of government can be both an “end” and a “means to an end”.

    I happen to believe that it’s an “end” most of the time, meaning that it happens to be the natural result of politicians attempting to do pretty much anything. A larger gov’t might not be the specific “end” they were seeking, but it does happen.

    Far more frightening are cases like Kelo vs. New London, where I believe the council are deliberatley enlarging the powers of the gov’t in order to line their own pockets.

    I don’t believe that “99% of the country is motivated by a desire to make the government bigger.” I believe that they want certain things like national health care which will cause the gov’t to grow bigger.

  10. And now, libertarians assume that the other 99% of the country is motivated by a desire to make the government bigger.

    Only because that’s the way they act.

  11. I’m starting to think that the classic error of political thinkers is to ascribe any ideology whatsoever to anyone in office. The ideology is “How can I get reelected?” This looks like an attack on limited government because people really want to be bought off.

  12. “Do you want the moustache on or off?”

    “Off please.”

    “Too bad!”

  13. It’s all about polarization. The Dems and Repubs – insert any “opposite” groups here – are all too interested in getting “their” side to be angry at and move farther away from the “other” side. This applies to statists and anti-statists, too. Keeping us charged up and stuck to one side or another gives them… power.

    To further push the electrical metaphor…Media in general aim to provide a space for the “opposite sides” to charge up (and ionize, if you will) the individual particles (that’s you and me). Thus people who know and love each other can go from living with dissimilar views to being unable to talk about the war in Iraq, abortion (insert your “hot button” issue here), religion and politics in general. All about being on the right side, not about having a discussion that means (sorry for that word…) something.

  14. joe,

    I concur with Evan. If the word “goal” had been used instead of “end,” you would be correct. I don’t interpret the passage as meaning that libs & conservs want bigger government for its own sake. Rather, it’s the pursuit of what they want that leads inevitably to that end. And they don’t seem to mind.

    As for you accusing someone of attributing the opposite motivation of one’s to one’s political opponents, the pot very much calling the kettle black, my friend.

  15. Make that:

    As for you accusing someone of attributing the opposite motivation of one’s OWN to one’s political opponents, the pot very much calling the kettle black, my friend.

  16. grylliade – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone’s not out to get you.

    Or so the voices in my head tell me.

  17. “The classic error of political thinkers: assuming that your opposition is motivated by the polar opposite of your own motivations.” – joe

    Truly, a CLASSIC error… No further elaboration necessary, I think.

  18. fyodor,

    I know where you comment is coming from, but given the number of posters who openly, proudly declare their belief that poverty results from stupidity and laziness, I do not accept your implication that I am imagining the disdain towards the poor that motivates many conservatives in their economic thinking.

    On the other hand, I have learned enough to realize that there are numerous libetoids and even outright conservatives who do not share in this neo-Calvinist vision.

  19. What about the belief that SOME poverty results from stupidity and laziness? I’m trying to sort out my neo-calvinist credentials …

  20. Can we all just agree that IJ rocks?

  21. This entire discussion is predicated on the false assumption that there is a real distinction between action and inaction. A government exercises power in either scenario, either by preventing or permitting some form of conduct. Thus, there is no “private sphere,” as libertarianism presupposes, just a long list of behavior which is either permitted or prohibited by government. Everything is public, and thus everything is under the government power. The idea of “growing” government power is a myth.

    This rhetoric really just obscures the underlying discussion. When people argue that “the people have a right to own a gun” or “the government can’t regulate people’s private gun ownership,” they are really saying that “I think that it is good for the government to allow gun ownership because the benefits of such a policy outweigh the drawbacks.” Which, by the way, is a position I agree with.

    So rather than hide behind concepts (private sphere, rights, etc.) which are incoherent and easily discarded, the proper course of action is to advocate your substantive positions.

  22. Back when I was a stockbroker, a Jew fellow chiseler of widows and orphans, Murray, and I could break out into quite a rendition of “Bringing in the Sheaves.”
    My point, and there is one: Who is supposed to do the Lord’s work?
    Gummint?
    Conservatives?
    Liberals?
    How ’bout de Lawd heself gettin’ up off he lazy ass?
    Who is dis Lawd, some kind of cosmic Tom Sawyer?

  23. “So rather than hide behind concepts (private sphere, rights, etc.) which are incoherent and easily discarded, the proper course of action is to advocate your substantive positions.”

    Those fellas who wrote the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Fed Papers, etc., might just disagree, Chip. Excuse me if I don’t buy your whole line about “positive rights”, considering that, um, The United States of America is a Constitutional Republic, not a totalitarian state which doles out permission to take a piss or eat crackers. “Concepts” such as rights and private property are anything but incoherent, and they are not merely soomething to “hide behind”…and I’ll not discard them and, as you suggest, sit around arguing for the government to give me permission to do something. Your post is absurd, to put it nicely.

  24. chip, I think you are mistaking semantics (dosed with positivism) for something more.

    Every government has (or can obtain) the power to indulge any totalitarian fantasy. So what? The question isn’t what government could theoretically do, but rather what it does do and what it should do.

    The idea that there is a private sphere is a reflection of both fact (there are indeed vast areas of your life where the government is not coercing you) and ideology (there should be vast areas of your life, etc.).

  25. chip rubin,

    Let me get this straight: You don’t believe in the concept of human “rights”?

  26. Rights are incoherent – it is all politics. You have a “right” to do Y, I have a “right” to do X. What happens when these “rights” collide? How do we decide whose “rights” are more important? We decide politically. Every conflict involves rights (your “right” to speak conflicts with my “right” to silence; your “right” to pollute conflicts with my “right” to clean air), so when we resolve these conflicts, we really make political decisions about whose conduct is more important/valuable.

    Take abortion: the woman has a “right” to do what she wants with her body, while the fetus has a “right” to live. Is there a way to decide this one with rights discourse? Don’t we have to decide whether either party actually has these rights? How do we do that?

    Evan: Realistically, what is the difference between your position and mine? You have your list of things the government should allow and not allow, and I have mine.

    You are right to fear a totalitarian state. But the problem with a totalitarian state is that the people have no ability to control their government. Those “fellas” who wrote the Constitution solved this problem by allowing for democratic decision-making. So, in that fine tradition, let’s put it to a vote, and see who wins.

    RC: I agree with you, practically speaking, that there is a “private sphere”, but how do we decide what is “private”? Is the abortion private (like a medical decision) or public (like murder)? How about assisted suicide? Or a parent’s right to beat their kids?

    We generally determine these things through democratic deliberation (Roe v. Wade notwithstanding). Libertarianism presupposes a static, permanent private sphere, but how can it be truly private when we publicly decide what it is? Basically, what is “private” is really what the public has said is private, and thus what the public thinks is okay.

    For example, your speech is “private” until you shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, at which point it’s “public.” Thus, “private” is what we’ve determined is okay and “public” is what we’ve determined is bad. Both are just decisions that we’ve made.

    Fyodor: “Human rights” is a loaded term – what does that mean exactly? I believe that the government should not arbitrarily kill their citizens, something that most everyone would agree with. Does that make it a “right”? But then I believe that governments should provide basic human needs (food, shelter, medicine) to their citizens … is that a human “right”? How do we decide what “rights” are? By popular vote? Since rights exist to protect minority positions, is it really a “right” if we put it to a vote? I say we scrap rights discourse and just decide these things democratically.

  27. For the record, this statement is pretty much pure tripe “How do we decide whose “rights” are more important? We decide politically.”

    No, we decide those issues via our LEGAL system. (We don’t take a vote on issues of rights, unless you’re going to argue that EVERYTHING is political.)

    I’ve rarely seen the basic concepts of human rights challenged with this line of thought, that “rights are incoherent” and that “there is no “private sphere,” as libertarianism presupposes, just a long list of behavior which is either permitted or prohibited by government. Everything is public, and thus everything is under the government power.”

    I was wondering where this root argument was going, but it seemed vaguely familiar to me. Then chip rubin gives himself away even beyond what Evan spotted: “I believe that governments should provide basic human needs (food, shelter, medicine) to their citizens … is that a human “right”?”

    Where had I heard this before? Then I spotted it… It’s pretty much right out of Chapter 7 of the USSR’s constitution. http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/77cons02.html#chap07

    Article 42. Citizens of the USSR have the right to health protection.
    Article 43. Citizens of the USSR have the right to maintenance in old age, in sickness, and in the event of complete or partial disability or loss of the breadwinner.
    Article 44. Citizens of the USSR have the rights to housing.
    Article 45. Citizens of the USSR have the right to education.

    It’s been so long since I’ve actually spoken to someone with a philosophical underpinning for their denial of human nature and human rights that I almost didn’t spot it.

    Sneaky sneaky chip…

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