Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Nothing new 

First, a brilliant post from IOZ:

American liberals like Ezra Klein are totally unable to understand why Ron Paul is always talking about taxes and monetary policy and the scope of government when, in their minds, the only thing he could possibly be saying that would attract attention and support is that he's going to end the occupation of Iraq. That's because American liberals understand the invasion and occupation as a terribly aberrant, uniquely un-American act foisted on a frightened country and unprepared world by the avatar of awfulness, notre dauphin, Gee-Dub Bush. Their liberalism is essentially personality-driven--ironically, given their loud disdain for the Bushite personality cult. It is the liberal-progressive conviction that the necessary component for good government is good people. People, you know, like them. Young progs like Klein are the worst in this regard because they've never had real jobs and have therefore missed out on the practical education that most of us get in the futility of good intentions and decent management against the systemic corruption of all large institutions. The young Democrats' faith in electoralism and disdain for any generalized critique of the American state is based on the faulty idea that if only the right people were running the policy apparatus, then the power of government would be used for good and we would only invade countries when, you know, it was really important. They are naturally immune to the idea that good managers cannot buck institutional imperatives, putting their trust, as they do, in people power and, lord help us, the "democratic process." They are interested in "good government," not "limited government," and the argument that all governments seek inevitably and inexorably to expand their own power is impossible for them to grasp, because, after all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, QED.

People like Ron Paul confound them by insisting that horrors like the Iraq invasion and occupation are necessitated by the system itself. Foreign aggression is endemic to powerful nations and empires, and the United States is surely the former and--can anyone dispute this anymore?--surely the latter as well. And from such ideas comes the general libertarian critique of government: that if you empower the government to do something, it's going to do it. If you empower the government to collect information on its citizens, it isn't only going to collect the minimum necessary to pay a social security stipend. It is going to collect as much as possible. If you create and fund a vast military establishment, the state is going to employ it. Why do we have this magnificent army, Madeline Albright notoriously mused, if we're not going to use it? The libertarian says neither ask what you can do for your country nor what your country can do for you. He says instead: How can we most effectively circumscribe the power of government so as to prevent the very possibility of invading Iraq, of setting up a ubiquitous surveillance state, of deciding to use eminent domain to subsidize strip mall develoment, and so forth and so on. The libertarian doesn't believe that so long as you're careful and make sure that good people are strolling the Aaron Sorkinian halls of power, snapping dialogue here and there, then all will be well. He does not share the Progressive's Soviet confidence in the power of good management and planning.

But even the libertarian position has at its core the flawed idea that state power can be constitutionally constrained, that if we write it down and enforce it vigilantly, the state can be confined to a limited sphere of acceptable action that will secure life and liberty and property and a few other basic rights. Yet in order to achieve even these limited ends, the libertarian concedes that the state must at least be granted a minimal monopoly on the use of force, and in particular the use of deadly force, and in that exchange he gives up everything in return for nothing, for the moment he hands the gun to the policeman and says, "Protect me from thieves," he has handed the state the mechanism through which it will go on to invalidate all its bargains and charters with its citizens.

One may say that some libertarians don't go in for any state power, that they believe the glib witticism much beloved by certain Americans since the time of Thoreau: "That government governs best which governs least." But even if libertarians say this kind of thing, they are de facto apologists for state power, because libertarian thought starts and ends with the supposed "free individual," who needs to get out from under the thumb of "the state." But if you believe that "individuals" exist [they do not--name one human being that ever lived apart from other human beings] then you believe that, fundamentally, nothing ties people together apart from contractual, legal arrangements that are extrinsic to naturally separate persons. In other words, you believe in some kind of instituted power that binds people together, people who would otherwise be apart. This is all a fiction. But it is the fiction that defines the state--as the supposedly "necessary" evil that we must all accept, in however limited a fashion.

Ron Paul, despite his admirable positions, is part of a long line of angry libertarians whose politics are fundamentally cruel and loveless. Like all libertarians, he has no interest in thinking about community not as a legal entity, but as the body of human relationships, outside of which is only death. Paul wants a small state, which leaves "us" alone, and he cares nothing at all for those who are not "us"--the foreigner, the poor, the sick. This is, at least, cruel; given the real nature of "us"--meaning the real power of U.S. citizens--this is cold-blooded brutality.

The good impulses of libertarianism--the desire to limit the state--can only be preserved if true liberty is imagined--liberty to live not as "free individuals" but as fellows in a community.

To quote the professed anarchist/pacifist Dorothy Day:

...Love of brother means voluntary poverty, stripping one’s self, putting off the old man, denying one’self, etc. It also means non-participation in those comforts and luxuries which have been manufactured by the exploitation of others. While our brothers suffer, we must compassionate them, suffer with them. While our brothers suffer from lack of necessities, we will refuse to enjoy comforts... We must keep this vision in mind, recognize the truth of it, the necessity for it, even though we do not, cannot, live up to it. Like perfection...

If these jobs do not contribute to the common good, we pray God for the grace to give them up. Have they to do with shelter, food, clothing? Have they to do with the works of mercy? Father Tompkins of Nova Scotia says that everyone should be able to place his job in the category of the works of mercy.

...Banks and insurance companies have taken over land and built huge collective farms, ranches, plantations, of 30,000, 100,000 acres, and have dispossessed the poor man. Loan and finance companies have further defrauded him. Movies [and] radio have further enslaved him...

If we examine our conscience in this way, we would soon be driven into manual labor, into humble work...

Poverty means non-participation. It means...regional living. This means fasting from tea, coffee, cocoa, grapefruit, pineapple, etc., from things not grown in the region in which one lives. One day last winter we bought broccoli which had the label on it of a corporation farm in Arizona or Texas, where we had seen men, women, and children working at two o'’clock in the morning with miners’ lamps on their foreheads, in order to avoid the terrible heat of the day, which often reached 125 degrees... We ought not to eat food produced under such conditions...

Poverty means having a bare minimum in the way of clothes and seeing to it that these are made under decent working conditions, proper wages and hours, etc. The union label tries to guarantee this. Considering the conditions in woolen mills, it would be better to raise one’s own sheep and angora goats and rabbits, and spin and weave and make one’s own blankets and stockings and suits. Many groups are trying to do these things throughout the country, both as a remedy for unemployment and for more abundant living.

...And when we look at the dirty streets and lots in our slums, the unpainted buildings, the necessity of a nationwide housing project, the tearing down that needs to be done (if we do not in the future wish to have it done in the hard way and have them bombed down), then we can see that there is plenty of employment for all in the line of providing food, clothing, and shelter for our own country and for the world.

Poverty means not riding on rubber while horrible working conditions prevail in the rubber industry... Poverty means not riding on rails while bad conditions exist in the coal mines and steel mills. Poverty means not accepting that courteous bribe from the railroads, the clergy rate. Railroads have been built on robbery and exploitation. There are stagecoaches, of course, and we are only about a century past them. But pilgrims used to walk, and so did the saints. They walked from one end of Europe and Russia to the other. We need saints...

How far we all are from it! We do not even see our infirmities. Common sense tells us, "Why live in a slum? It is actually cheaper to live in a model housing project, have heat and hot water, a mauve or pink bath and toilet, etc. We can manage better; we have more time to pray, to meditate, study. We would have more money to give to the poor." Yes, this is true according to the candlelight of common sense, but not according to the flaming heat of the Sun of justice. Yes, we will have more time with modern conveniences, but we will not have more love. "The natural man does not perceive the things of the spirit." We need to be fools for Christ. What if we do have to buy coal by the bucket instead of by the ton? Let us squander money, be as lavish as God is with His graces, as He is with His fruits of the earth.

Let us rejoice in poverty, because Christ was poor. Let us love to live with the poor, because they are specially loved by Christ. Even the lowest, most depraved--we must see Christ in them and love them to folly. When we suffer from dirt, lack of privacy, heat and cold, coarse food; let us rejoice...

Poverty and manual labor--they go together. They are weapons of the spirit, and very practical ones, too. What would one think of a woman who refused to wash her clothes because she had no washing machine, or clean her house because she had no vacuum, or sew because she had no machine? In spite of the usefulness of the machine, and we are not denying it, there is still much to be done by hand. So much, one might say, that it is useless to multiply our tasks, to go in for work for work’'s sake.

But we must believe in it for Christ'’s sake. We must believe in poverty and manual labor for love of Christ and for love of the poor. It is not true love if we do not know them, and we can only know them by living with them, and if we love with knowledge we will love with faith, hope, and charity.


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