It used to be that conservatives held one piece of high ground in the long running intellectual civil war in the West, that began in the Enlightenment. Conservatives, for all their faults, maintained that the ruling elite of any society had a duty to safeguard the interests of the people. That was the check against social experimentation and the wholesale overturning of traditional institutions. The interests of the people demanded prudence and a deference to the people’s traditional ways of living.
Looking back at the intellectual battles in the West, since the Enlightenment, the one thing the sides were forced to agree upon was that the duty of the state, the ruling class and social reformers, was to safeguard the interest of the people. After all, what would be the point of establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, if it immiserated the proletariat? It was not just a material argument either. Much the critique of communism from the Right was on aesthetic grounds. Communism was the triumph of the ugly and vulgar.
That’s probably why libertarianism was always on the sidelines, more of a commentary than a serious political philosophy. That is the correct way to view libertarianism. It was a set of running commentaries on the great works of political economy produced by socialists, communists and Marxists. Frédéric Bastiat does not make a lot of sense in isolation. His significance is only in contrast to 19th century industrial socialism and the reaction to it from the Right. Libertarianism is the peanut gallery of the Enlightenment.
It’s why, in the fullness of time, the story of the collapse of mainstream conservatism will include a chapter on the error of fusionism. By grafting onto the Right, libertarian arguments about economics and individual liberty, the Right invited a cancer that gnawed away at its legitimate claims to proper elitism and traditionalism. In other words, they forfeited the one piece of high ground they held. You see this in the debates over immigration. The so-called conservatives no longer have the tools to argue the issue.
This piece at Reason Magazine is a good way of understanding the problem. Nick Gillespie is not a serious person, but he is one of the leading voices of American libertarianism. He is embraced by the so-called conservatives a fellow traveler, even if they have minor quibbles. His response to the immigration debate is a dog’s breakfast of mendacity and incoherence. The most charitable way to view his article is that he has never bothered to examine the issue, so he is pulling this out of his ear.
Of course, this is mostly true. Libertarians have not spent a lot of time thinking about immigration and that’s because they long ago embraced the materialist view of humanity that animated left-wing ideologies since Marx. From the perspective of modern libertarians, people are just interchangeable meat sticks with no intrinsic value. The measure of a man is his economic utility. A factory worker from Bangladesh is no more or less useful than one from Bangor Maine. Whittaker Chambers was right about them.
It is when they are forced to address an issue like immigration that something else is revealed about libertarians. They are not honest. That which contradicts the faith is denounced or discarded, Gillespie’s first point is an example of this. It used to be a article of faith that the laws of supply and demand apply to everything, including labor. Therefore, the only reason business would want foreign labor is that it is cheaper. The reason they like illegal foreign labor is that it is even cheaper than legal foreign labor.
The innumeracy is one thing, but Gillespie is also conjuring a straw man. Yes, wages are one element, but no one makes that the focus of their brief against open borders. He also relies on two logical fallacies that gets a college sophomore flunked out of class. “Virtually all economists, regardless of ideology, agree that immigrants, both legal and illegal, have little to no effect on overall wages” is not an argument. It is a recitation of a spurious Progressive talking point that has shot down many times.
The mendacity is on full display when Gillespie addresses the rule of law. The very core of the libertarian critique of socialism is that it does not abide by the orderly administration of the law. Socialism is an ends justifies the means philosophy, so it cannot, by definition, respect the law. It is why flouting the law can never be tolerated. If a law is found to be unjust or improper, then there is an orderly way correct the error, a lawful way to address the natural mistakes that arise in any social organization.
Gillespie’s argument, with regards to illegal immigration is an embrace of anarchy. In this case, he thinks the immigration system is inefficient or incompetent, so that justifies the wholesale abrogation of the law. No reasonable person would argue the immigration system is logical or coherent. That’s the reason for this reform effort that is at the heart of the national populism. By cavalierly rejecting efforts to reform the law, embracing a form of deliberate chaos, Gillespie reveals libertarianism to be nothing more than anarchism.
This gets back to the original point. The legitimacy of any ruling class lies in its execution of its duty to its people. A monarch loses his crown, and maybe his head, when it becomes clear that he is serving a narrow interest over the general good. The current managerial class is losing its legitimacy as it becomes clear that it not longer sees itself as having a duty to the people. A stable society is one that embraces a bi-directional hierarchy of duties. There’s no place for selfish, materialistic creeds like libertarianism.
This is something the alt-right gets that no one bothers to notice. They often talk about this duty that a people have to one another and their posterity. It’s something that the Founders understood, which is why they wrote this in the preamble of the US Constitution. This is why so many of the alt-right started out in libertarianism. They learned all this stuff about the Founding and natural rights, then figured out that modern libertarians really don’t believe it. It was just a sales pitch to move product. That’s why we have an alt-right.
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