Home > LIBERTARIAN-SOCIALISM: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME
LIBERTARIAN-SOCIALISM: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COMEby Open-Publishing - Saturday 24 April 2010
Ever since the passage of the health care reform bill in America, many so-called “tea-partiers” and their supporters have been stoking the fear that this new law has somehow created a “slippery slope” that will culminate in the destruction of the Constitution, and the ascendancy of a “socialist” government.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, the “slippery slope” argument is analogous to a snowball rolling down a mountainside: the more it rolls the more snow it collects and the larger it becomes. “Tea partiers” contend that the “snowball” of health care reform will inevitably roll into a larger government and remove many constitutional rights, such as the right to freedom of religion and/or the right to bear arms, from the American landscape.
But many scholars disagree about the validity of the “slippery slope” argument. Some experts on persuasive speaking claim that the argument is a reasoning fallacy, and therefore should rarely be used in argumentation and debate. By contrast, attorneys contend that the potential for a “slippery slope” arises whenever new laws or policies are implemented.
In support of their argument, attorneys point to the series of legal cases that challenged the “random drug testing” of students who attend public schools. When first issued, these policies were limited to student athletes. The courts ultimately ruled that such testing was constitutionally acceptable because of the physical nature of sports and because student athletes “voluntarily” relinquished their right to privacy by agreeing to shower and undress in communal locker rooms. One court “opinion” even made a point of stating that the testing of student athletes did not mean that random drug testing policies would be applied to members of the “chess club.”
Yet, just a few years later, courts approved the random drug testing of students in the “chess club” and in all other extracurricular activities, claiming that by “voluntarily” participating in such activities students were also “voluntarily” agreeing to be randomly tested.
Soon this testing encompassed students who drove to school, and, in a statement that would have been laughable if not for the legal weight it carried, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago had the audacity to criticize the “slippery slope” ignited by random drug testing even as it extended such testing to student drivers.
Yet the so-called “tea partiers” were conspicuously silent during this series of cases, even though random drug testing in public schools poses a greater threat to the United States Constitution than the health care reform bill they so vociferously oppose. Without cause or even suspicion, public school administrators can forcibly remove students from their classrooms, order them to disclose personal medical information, and then compel them to urinate in the presence of a stranger.
Although unwary parents routinely accept random drug testing as a way to combat drug abuse, the true motive of this testing is to brainwash children into believing that an ubiquitous “big brother” has the power to control even the most intimate functions of their personal lives, thereby making them more receptive to further intrusions upon their rights and freedoms when they reach adulthood.
However, regardless of whether or not the “tea partiers” slippery slope argument is a valid one, they are indeed correct in asserting that socialist/communist governments do have a legacy of diminishing the rights of the few to protect the interests of the many. But it is a non sequitur to believe, as many “tea partiers” apparently do, that the passage of the health care reform bill will automatically segue into the destruction of other constitutional rights.
When I used to teach constitutional law, I would draw a triangle on the chalkboard, and explain to my students that the middle of the triangle represented human nature, while the three points of the triangle represented the three diverse interests that governments must juggle—the rights of the individual, the needs of the community, and the economic philosophy of the nation.
I would discuss how different forms of government and political movements attempted to “balance” these competing interests. Starting with the government of the United States, I described how individual rights are protected by the United States Constitution (primarily The Bill of Rights), how the needs of the community are protected by a democracy that permits the majority to elect lawmakers who will serve their interests, how capitalism (with some social safety nets) serves as the economic model, and how a “check-and-balance” system was created due to the belief that human nature is intrinsically evil and that this proclivity for evil increases as one acquires more and more power.
I would then describe how socialism and communism were founded upon the belief that human nature is intrinsically good, with the primary difference being that socialists believe humanity is still evolving towards this “good,” while communists are not as patient and endeavor to create an environment to hasten this evolution by exerting extensive control over the economy and by stressing the needs of the community over the rights of the individual.
At this point I would often ask my students the following question: “If communism was created on the premise that human nature is intrinsically good, why did this system produce so many brutal dictators?”
“Because a government that views its leaders as being basically good sees no need for a ‘check-and-balance’ system.”
It was this answer that inspired the axiom I’ve cited in several previous Pravda.Ru articles: Evil is the primary motivating force in the world, and even though people praise goodness with their words, they habitually reward evil with their deeds. Such evil is not the recognizable type that can easily be discerned. It is more seductive and frequently deceives people into believing they are doing “good” by supporting or engaging in it.
A case in point would be the current governor of the State of Texas, Rick Perry. In 2004, a man named Cameron Todd Willingham was facing execution after being convicted of murdering his three children in an arson fire. Shortly before Willingham’s execution was to take place, a fire investigator sent a report to Perry claiming he could find “no evidence of arson.”
Despite this report, Willingham was executed on schedule. Still, undoubtedly much to Perry’s dismay, the case, unlike Willingham, did not die, and a forensics commission began reexamining the evidence. But shortly before it was scheduled to question a fire expert who had also cast doubt on the arson theory, Perry replaced three members of the commission, including the chairman.
Many pundits believe that Perry did this because he was facing a tough primary election battle against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and wanted commission members who would either rubber-stamp his actions or terminate the investigation.
Yet, in a just and rational world, Perry’s actions would not be logical. After all, Texas is where there were more wrongful convictions in one county than in entire states; where an appeals court said a criminal defendant in a capital murder trial received effective assistance of counsel even though his attorney had slept through portions of the testimony; where Timothy Cole died in prison after being wrongfully convicted of rape; and where at least two men believed to be innocent, Ruben Cantu and Carlos DeLuna, were executed.
Given this sordid history, it would seem that voters would be outraged by Perry’s machinations and that Hutchison would handily defeat him. But this, after all, was Texas, the State that cursed America with George W. Bush. Needless to say, Perry beat Hutchison in a landslide.
This is the type of evil that propagates fascism. Like America’s founders, fascists agree that human nature is intrinsically evil. But instead of “checking-and-balancing” this evil, they cultivate it through a variety of methods: blaming complex social problems on convenient “scapegoats”; appealing to emotion over reason; and exploiting fear, greed, superstition and prejudice to induce a hysteria that compels otherwise rational people to do irrational things.
In fact, many of these tactics are symptomatic of the individuals and organizations currently using the “tea party” movement for financial and/or political gain, like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Bachmann, Mitch McConnell and Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose so-called Fox “News” Channel has manufactured the fear of a “socialist” nation so he, and his minions, can furtively sow the seeds of corporate fascism. In a sensible world these “tea party demigods” would not be fit to serve as pimples on the posterior of humankind. Unfortunately America is living in times when their hackneyed brand of idiocy has some perverse appeal, just as George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Eugene “Bull” Conner had appeal during a time when the exploitation of racism was the theme of the hour.
Sadly, despite the naysaying of many “tea party” activists, racism may still be the theme of the hour. As Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. recently pointed out, “tea partiers” did not seem concerned about governmental “tyranny” when George W. Bush “claimed he need not be bound by laws with which he disagreed,” nor did they seem concerned about the “budget” when Bush turned “a one hundred and twenty-eight billion dollar surplus into a four hundred and seven billion dollar deficit.”
To this I would also add that the “tea partiers” did not seem concerned about the integrity of the Constitution when Bush stole not one, but two elections. And it’s a sure bet that many of today’s anti-government protestors were the first ones to wave the flag and castigate anti-war protestors as Bush’s lies led America into the war against Iraq.
Yet, just as the best puppeteers failed to conceal the mendaciousness and ineptitude of George W. Bush, people will eventually recognize the demagogic ignorance of the “tea party demigods.”
Unfortunately, by then the damage will have been done.
Prior to the 2008 election, whenever a rich, white president failed, Americans simply elected another rich, white man to replace him. But “tea partiers” know that if Obama’s presidency can be made to look like a failure, another African-American might not be elected to that office for decades, if not centuries, to come.
As if the antics of the “tea partiers” were not enough, five of the vilest and most racist “justices” to ever disgrace the United States Supreme Court—Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy—recently handed down their Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, ruling that for purposes of “freedom of speech” corporations are “people,” and therefore can spend unlimited amounts of money to manipulate the outcomes of political elections. Although these five so-called “justices” claim that their decision will not give foreign corporations influence over American elections, even a cursory glance at how quickly Murdoch’s brand of mendacious pseudo-journalism has infected the United States foretells how much more damage is yet to come.
Of course there have been other political movements that have fit into my “triangle.” Communitarians, for example, favor the interests of the community over the rights of the individual. To distinguish themselves from socialists or communists, however, they do not concern themselves with economic matters, even though American communities are routinely devastated by corporate outsourcing, downsizing or relocation.
Libertarians, on the other hand, favor the rights of the individual over the needs or interests of the community, and some pundits have contended that libertarianism is the underpinning of the “tea party” movement.
There is some merit to this contention, given that both libertarians and “tea partiers” oppose corporate “bail outs” and “big” government, while supporting a “laissez-faire” economy that favors competition and “supply and demand” over governmental intervention and regulation.
What today’s libertarians tend to ignore, however, is that governmental deregulation was largely responsible for the recent spate of “bail outs,” because certain key businesses had grown so exponentially that their collapse could have crippled the American economy.
Still, there is a solution that can perhaps assuage the concerns of some of the “tea partiers” as well as the progressives who are now urging the Obama administration to reign in Wall Street and reinstitute campaign finance reform—measures both predictably opposed by the same venal Republican legislators who recently opposed health care reform.
It is a hybrid political philosophy I call “Libertarian-Socialism.”
Before proceeding, I must acknowledge that Libertarian-Socialism is not a new term. It has often been used to describe anarchist ideology. Like socialists and communists, anarchists believe that people are intrinsically good. They also believe that authority is largely responsible for eclipsing this good. Only if this authority is removed can individuals attain the freedom to enjoy their true nature (i.e. libertarianism), which ultimately translates into a desire to live communally and in natural harmony with others (i.e. socialism).
My definition of Libertarian-Socialism does not demand the abolition of authority. But it does require that four changes be made to current American law: The elimination of the “at-will” employment doctrine; the application of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, to the private economic sector; the creation of a “check and balance” system to control unbridled corporate greed; and the overturning of the Citizens United decision through legislation or constitutional amendment.
A major weakness of the Bill of Rights is that it only restrains the power of government. Yet most Americans earn their livings in the private economic sector, and subsequently spend most of their lives in fear of offending it. Under the egregious doctrine of “at-will” employment, an employer (save for a few exceptions) can discharge an employee at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. This means that employees who legally exercise their constitutional rights, even away from their place of employment, can just as legally be fired from their jobs if that exercise somehow offends their employers.
In a truly free nation, Americans should not have to choose between the exercise of their fundamental freedoms and the prospect of facing homelessness and hunger for doing so. Under Libertarian-Socialism businesses employing ten or more people would be prohibited from discharging any employee for legally exercising his constitutional rights, unless they could prove in a court of law that retention of that employee has resulted, or would result, in significant financial loss.
Furthermore, when the Constitution was written, America was primarily an agrarian society; therefore its founders could not have envisioned how powerful national and multi-national corporations would become. But if they feared the evil wrought by unbridled political power enough to institute a “check-and-balance” system, surely it would not offend their sensibilities to institute a “check and balance” system to restrain the evil wrought by unbridled corporate greed.
Finally, by overturning the Supreme Court’s asinine and judicially corrupt Citizens United decision, the constitutional rights of flesh and blood human beings will no longer be trampled by artificially created business entities. As Justice Stevens stated in his dissenting opinion: “[T]he distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although [corporations] make enormous contributions to our society, they are not members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by non-residents, their interests may conflict in fundamental aspects with the interests of eligible voters. . . . Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”
Naturally some will argue that imposing such requirements on American businesses will only result in their further exodus to lands where the wages are low, the safety and environmental standards are lax, and the exploitation of labor is easy.
But measures can be taken to prevent this: First, all trade treaties must be annulled. This not only creates an incentive for businesses to remain on American soil, it also penalizes the ones that have already left by reinstituting tariffs on their products; Second, American businesses shall have the exclusive right to advertise their products and services through American media, unless they manufacture and/or sell products predominantly made in other nations; Third, government agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) must be abolished. For decades such agencies have installed and supported brutal dictatorships that repressed, imprisoned, tortured and murdered members of the working class. Now it is time to create new, egalitarian agencies to carry the message of Libertarian-Socialism to other lands, and to forge new trade agreements that protect both the environment, including wildlife habitats, and the rights of the workers.
The first rule of Libertarian-Socialism states: “Whenever the power of government conflicts with the rights of the individual, the individual is the lesser of two evils.” So while government must refrain from infringing upon, or diminishing, individual rights, it must also ensure that the governed possess the economic security to freely exercise those rights.
The second rule of Libertarian-Socialism states: “Whenever the power of government conflicts with the rights of big business, the government is the lesser of two evils.” Diligent governmental oversight or control of big business makes the governed its shareholders, and gives them greater freedom and power to control the economic destiny of their country.
Libertarian-Socialism—the merging of Ayn Rand’s individualism with Karl Marx’s economics, because freedom from wage-slavery makes one free to be. And hopefully it’s coming soon to a nation near you.
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru