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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Ilana Mercer and The Paleolibertarian Ideal

posted by Jack Kerwick

Former National Review contributor John Derbyshire has recently penned a review of Hans Hermann-Hoppe’s latest book.  Doubtless, the latter is a worthwhile read, for the Austrian school economist who authored it is a thinker as original as he is erudite.  But it is not Hermann-Hoppe or his work to which I wish to speak here.    

The point that needs addressing in Derbyshire’s review pertains to, not so much Hermann-Hoppe, but the school of thought—the “paleolibertarianism”—with which the reviewer associates the latter. 

VDARE.com contributor Arthur Pendleton once referred to paleolibertarianism as “the once-promising intellectual movement that stayed true to libertarian principles while opposing open borders, libertinism, egalitarianism, and political correctness.”  It is with approval that Derbyshire quotes Pendleton on this score.  Yet immediately afterwards, he laments the virtual extinction of this fine tradition, adding that “even persons knowledgeable about the pond life of dissident conservatism might pause when asked to name a current paleolib.” 

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However, all is not lost, Derbyshire assures us, for there is at least one proponent of paleolibertarianism left standing, and his name is—what else?—Hans Hermann-Hoppe.  As it turns out, this much vaunted tradition “is not dead” after all.  In fact, so “long as Hans Hermann-Hoppe “is with us,” Derbyshire joyfully concludes, paleolibertarianism promises to be “flourishing” and “vigorous [.]”

Fortunately, for Derbyshire—and, for that matter, the rest of us who share his affection for “this once promising intellectual movement”—things are even better than he thinks: there is more than one paleolibertarian left.

In particular, there is one self-avowed “paleolibertarian” who regularly reaches a vastly larger audience than that reached by Hermann-Hoppe or any other academic writer, an audience composed of those who are “knowledgeable about the pond life of dissident conservatism” as well as of those who have no such knowledge.  Interestingly—strangely?—Derbyshire and his colleagues at VDARE are among its members.

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The name that is, if not above every other when it comes to all things paleolibertarian, at least near the top, is that of Ilana Mercer.

For years, Mercer has authored a weekly column—“Return to Reason”—at the very popular World Net Daily website.  The most casual perusal of her archives there readily reveals that she is as ardent a champion as any of that tradition that Derbyshire and Arthur Pendleton applauded for affirming “libertarian principles while opposing open borders, libertinism, egalitarianism, and political correctness.”  But if, per impossible, this isn’t sufficient to convince the terminally ignorant, then perhaps the fact that Mercer also pens the “Paleolibertarian Column” at Russia Today (RT) just may do.   

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Of course, these aren’t the only two publications that have supplied Mercer with the opportunity to introduce paleolibertarianism to the world. Her work has appeared in a staggering plethora of places over the 15 years or so that she has been writing.

And she has authored two insightful books: Broadsides: One Woman’s Clash with a Corrupt Culture and Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Peter Brimelow, VDARE.com editor, wrote the Forward to the former.  Derbyshire wrote a sterling review of the latter.

Brimelow and Derbyshire are men whose tastes are as refined as their intellects: both of Mercer’s books, their marked differences in objectives, content, and structure notwithstanding, are exemplary exhibitions of thought that is at once clear and courageous.  As such, they are richly deserving of the praise that Brimelow and Derbyshire bestow upon them.

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But, presumably, there is—indeed, there must be—another reason to account for why Brimelow and Derbyshire—fans of the classical liberal tradition, both of them—were as enthusiastic as they were over Mercer’s works. 

Simply put, for all of their differences in tone and emphasis, Broadsides and Cannibal are equally animated by one and the exact same conviction. 

It is the conviction on the part of their author that a world in which men and women are free to order their lives in accordance with their own moral purposes, not those of the governments under which they live, is an ethical ideal worth aspiring toward.

It is the conviction that America’s founders were correct in perceiving an inseparable relationship between the liberty for which they risked their lives and a government divided—exponentially divided—against itself.

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It is this conviction that explains why everyone who is familiar with Mercer’s thought locates it squarely within the classical liberal or libertarian tradition. Yet to look at it more deeply—though not much more deeply—is to see why it just as solidly compels us to locate it within libertarianism’s paleo strain.

Whether addressing a broad range of issues in an equally broad range of arenas—as she does in Broadsides—or shedding blood, sweat, and tears to draw the Western world’s attention to the systematic injustices to which her native South Africa is daily subjected—as she does in Cannibal—Mercer is forever cautioning readers against succumbing to the contemporary Western temptation to indulge in abstractions.

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To put it another way, she has been laboring tirelessly to remind us of something that this generation of liberty’s defenders are all too ready to forget: liberty is as dependent upon historical and cultural contingencies as is any other artifact.  And it is just as fragile.

It is this insight on Mercer’s part that informs her opposition to America’s foreign policy of “spreading” democracy no less than her equally impassioned opposition to our domestic policy of promoting unfettered immigration from those cultures that know nothing of the habits of liberty.

Mercer articulates as systematic an account of paleolibertarianism as any to be found.  Yet she is no mere system-builder.  Rather, it is an intense self-consciousness—of her views, yes, but, just as tellingly, of her life experiences—that accounts for Mercer’s unrelenting pursuit of the logic of the paleolibertarian ideal: an ideal of liberty brought down from the clouds to the nit and the grit of the history and culture from which it emerged.

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John Derbyshire and all lovers of liberty should sleep comfortably.  Yes, paleolibertarianism remains with us. 

And as long as Ilana Mercer continues doing what she has been doing, it promises to remain with us for quite some time to come.

originally published at The New American 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beyond Obama’s Words: The Philosophy Behind Redistribution

posted by Jack Kerwick

Whether he is at a conference of like minded colleagues, speaking to Joe the Plumber, or making campaign stump speeches, Barack Obama has expressed time and time again his preference for “redistribution.”  Every time he calls upon “the rich” to “pay their fair share,” he reveals his desire to confiscate the resources from some in order to transfer it to others.

Though the stuff of sound bites, voters need to realize that words like “redistribution” and “fairness” serve as windows into an entire ideology, a left-wing ideology that has long since become the prevailing orthodoxy of the contemporary academic world.

The demand for “fairness” is the call for equality, it is true.  But equality here is conceived very differently from how Americans have traditionally thought about it.

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In fact, the conception of equality held by Obama and his ilk is not only different from that affirmed by America’s founders and their posterity.  The two understandings are mutually antithetical.

Historically, when Americans have affirmed equality, it has always been equality under the law of which they spoke. As such, equality is inseparable from freedom or liberty as Americans have understood the latter. 

That is, the equality—like the liberty—that they prized was held to consist in a system of formal procedures to which all citizens were equally bound.

But procedural notions of equality, liberty, and justice the Obamas of the world disdainfully dismiss as “mere formalism.” 

True justice, true freedom, true equality, they insist, must be “substantial.”

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The work of superstar academic philosopher Martha Nussbaum provides as unadulterated an illustration of this view as any.  Nussbaum thinks that to determine whether a society is just or not, we need to ask: “What is each person able to do and to be?” 

To put it more bluntly, the justice of a social order is to be measured in terms of the opportunities that it supplies to each of its members to develop their “capabilities.”  Liberty, that is, consists of “substantial freedoms” with which the members of a decent society should be equipped.

Nussbaum sets her sights upon “entrenched social injustice and inequality, especially capability failures that are the result of discrimination or marginalization.”  With an eye toward rectifying these miscarriages of “social justice,” the government, she declares, must aim “to improve the quality of life for all people, as defined by their capabilities.” 

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To no slight extent, the seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke influenced many of America’s founders.  Locke was a prominent proponent of the “social contract” theory.  The idea behind the concept of the social contract is that institutional arrangements are just as long as they have the consent of those who are to be governed by them. 

Nussbaum rejects traditional social contract theories.  She maintains that the latter fail to insure “fair treatment” to the citizens of other societies, our own disabled citizens, and (“nonhuman”) animals. 

This is another way of saying that traditional social contract theories fail to guarantee equality—or “social justice.”

Unless the “deep asymmetry of power” that exists between parties to any social contract is corrected, true equality and justice promise to remain forever elusive.  There are asymmetries of power between, on the one hand, the disabled, members of the Third World, and animals and, on the other, the able, Westerners, and humans, respectively.

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These asymmetries of power, in turn, are morally unacceptable inequalities that the proponents of procedural equality—what we have traditionally described as “equality under the law”—not only ignore but perpetuate.

We have, then, no morally defensible option but to treat justice, freedom, and equality as substantive. 

In case there is any confusion over how Nussbaum (and Obama) understands equality and justice, Nussbaum states her account in plain English: Justice depends upon “outcomes”—not, primarily, procedures.

She draws us a picture.

“Suppose we are dividing a pie, and we want to divide it fairly.  One way of thinking about fairness is to look to the outcome of the division: the fair process is the one that gives us equal shares. Another way of thinking about it is to look at procedure: the fair division may be the one in which everyone takes a turn with the knife.”

Nussbaum favors the former.

And so does Obama.

This is what voters must recognize.  

 

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Exorcising Neoconservative Ghosts

posted by Jack Kerwick

A couple of weeks ago, while on Meet the Press, Peggy Noonan offered some advice to Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

Romney, she said, “has to kick away from and define himself against what happened for the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency [.]”

I couldn’t agree more. 

As Noonan rightly observes, not only did Bush’s tenure culminate in “economic collapse;” it presided over “two long, frustrating wars that people think were not won.”

Romney, Noonan insists, must resist his opponents’ efforts to depict him as determined to “bring that stuff back.”

Indeed.

To hear the Republican pundits of talk radio and Fox News tell it, one could be pardoned for thinking either of one of two things.  One sufficiently reasonable inference we can draw is that the Bush presidency was not an unqualified betrayal of everything that these very same “conservative” pundits claim to affirm.  The other—the only other—proposition left for us to conclude is that the eight years of Bush never occurred.  

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But the hard, ugly fact of the matter is that the Bush presidency most certainly did occur. And for as memory-impaired as Americans tend to be, they remember it. 

This, though, isn’t as surprising as it may sound.  In fact, with Bush supporters like Bill Bennett—one of Noonan’s interlocutors on Sunday—rehashing the same talking points that figured so prominently for the better part of a decade, it would be surprising if Americans hadn’t yet recovered completely from their Bush fatigue.

Bennett asserted that we shouldn’t “throw out” the entirety of Bush’s presidency, for the 43rd president “did a lot of fine things.” 

Predictably—incredibly?—the only example of such “fine things” that Bennett offered was that of the Iraq War. “We won the war in Iraq,” he declared definitively.

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Now, whether Bennett’s judgment is accurate or not is not the issue. The point is that very few Americans think that Bennett and his ilk are correct on this score. And of those who sympathize with his position, most don’t believe that the blood, time, and treasure our country invested in Iraq was worth it. 

But it isn’t just Bennett who reminds voters of the Bush years. From talk radio and Fox News personalities to politicians like John McCain, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney himself, Republicans, whether inadvertently or otherwise, do so as well.

Whenever Republicans accuse President Obama of being an “appeaser” or of “leading from behind” on the world stage, they remind voters of just how belligerent Bush’s foreign policy really was. 

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Bear in mind, Obama was responsible for “the surge” of some 30,000 troops in Afghanistan.  He deployed soldiers to Libya to assist rebels in overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi, and invaded Pakistan to have Osama bin Laden assassinated.  Obama has also arranged for repeated drone attacks on al-Qaida terrorists in this same country.

In other words, Obama is no dove. He could never credibly be mistaken for a pacifist or even a non-interventionist.

Republicans know this.  While they blast him for being weak on foreign policy, they also describe his policies as being a continuation of those of Bush! They further concede that Obama is not an “appeaser” when they blast him for deliberately revealing to the media such national security related secrets as the drone attacks that he has authorized.

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When Republicans say that Obama is weak on national defense and foreign policy, what they can all too easily be interpreted as saying is that they do indeed want to “bring that stuff back” from the Bush years, to use Noonan’s words.  Actually, if Obama’s policies are continuous with those of Bush, but Obama is too weak, then it would appear that Republicans want an agenda that is even more aggressive than that of Bush’s. 

This is all worth bringing up.  Yet it is especially worthwhile doing so in the immediate aftermath of the American embassy attack that unfolded on our second 9/11 in Libya.

This latest event has thrust the issue of foreign policy to the forefront of an election season that has thus far involved relatively little talk of anything other than the economy.  Romney has come out forcefully against Obama’s response, in so many words repeating the Republican refrain of weakness against the latter.  Romney has been no less forceful in condemning the murderous rioters who stormed the embassy.

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Romney’s utterances here are understandable and probably, given his aspiration to unseat Obama, unavoidable.  Perhaps they will even prove to be to his benefit.

But they could also be a double-edged sword. 

In the absence of an unqualified promise to get our people the hell out of these Middle Eastern lands, it is with the greatest of ease that Romney’s tough talk could suggest to many a voter that his administration would be at least another four more years of Bush.

Since a majority of Americans will recoil from this idea, Romney and his fellow partisans may want to rethink their approach to our endless troubles in the Islamic world.

 

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Romney, Bush, and Foreign Policy

posted by Jack Kerwick

In a 60 Minutes interview this past Sunday, Barack Obama touched upon a topic that, if pursued, could very well hand him an election victory come November.

In response to rival Mitt Romney’s objections against his approach to Syria and Iran, the President responded simply: if, he said, Romney “is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.”

As long as both campaigns remain focused on domestic considerations, chances are good that the Romney family will be moving into the White House at the beginning of next year. Even foreign policy discussions don’t have to be excluded from the Romney agenda—as long as the former Massachusetts governor focuses our attention upon Obama’s failed promises in this arena.

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But if Romney insists on promoting his current strategy of depicting Obama as weak and timid with respect to America’s relations with the Middle East, then he supplies the President with a golden opportunity to invoke the specter of George W. Bush’s America.

This is the last thing that any Republican should want.    

A Republican that isn’t a neoconservative ideologue will not want for Americans to be reminded of President Bush’s foreign policy.  In fact, he will want nothing more than for his compatriots to forget all about Bush’s designs to remake the Islamic world in the image of some democratic ideal.

The problem is that the neoconservative foreign policy that dominated during Bush’s two terms in office isn’t just one policy option among others.  It is the cornerstone of neoconservative ideology.

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And, in spite of its wild unpopularity with the American electorate, neoconservative ideology remains the ideology of the Republican Party.

So, while Republicans will stop at nothing to compromise on virtually every conceivable issue, they resolutely refuse to compromise on the one issue—foreign policy—that cost them both chambers of Congress in ’06, and the presidency in ’08.

Romney should avoid like the plague the drawing of comparisons between Bush and himself.

There are two reasons for this.

First, the country has had war fatigue since the Bush era.  The average American neither understands nor appreciates why his government insists upon deploying his resources in blood and treasure in the Middle East. 

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It isn’t necessarily that the average American is ignorant of the line that Bush and his supporters have tirelessly pushed in the service of this end.  He may very well know all about our last president’s missionary zeal to democratize the Middle East.  And he may know equally well that, by Bush and his supporters’ lights, only if such a project comes to fruition can Americans bet on achieving “national security.” 

The average American knows what the neoconservatives believe.  He just can’t believe that anyone can seriously believe it.

Yet his incredulity gives way to fear once this belief becomes our nation’s foreign policy.

This fear in turn becomes paralyzing at the thought that this foreign policy should be resurrected with a vengeance in the event of a Romney victory.

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The second reason that Romney should emphatically disavow all comparisons between himself and the neoconservative Bush is a bit more theoretical.  Still, theory intersects straight through practical politics on this score.

Simply put, both morally and intellectually, there is a glaring inconsistency between calls for a more “limited” government, on the one hand, and, on the other, a more robust foreign policy.  A more robust foreign policy, after all, requires a more robust military.

Yet the United States military is the federal government. What this means is that the larger the military, the larger must be the federal government of which it is a part.

In turn, this implies that everything that can be said against big government can just as easily—and inescapably—be said against big military.

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For example, if big government is financially unsustainable, as Romney and Republicans continually tell us, then, because big military is big government, a big military is financially unsustainable.

More tellingly, if big government is a betrayal of the liberty-centered ethical vision of America’s founders, then big military is as well.

Indeed, no Republican should want for Americans to be reminded of neoconservative foreign policy this election year.

The one Republican who should desire least this least of all is Mitt Romney.

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