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We don't need no thought control

By Michael J. Smith on Monday July 7, 2008 04:09 PM

As everyone knows by now, Barackwater's latest is an intricately nuanced stance on abortion:

I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

The spectacle of Barack trimming his sails is not, of course, very new or at this point very interesting. What struck me personally was a different part of Barack's remarks:

Strang: You’ve said you’re personally against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you propose accomplishing that?

Obama: I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think the proper role of government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those are going to be things I focus on when I am president.

Barack still at least has, I'm glad to see, a full measure of the most odious aspect of liberalism: a fervent belief in governmental indoctrination (usually referred to as "education"). Isn't it really kind of breathtaking, when you think about it, that a politician should assert that "we" -- meaning, presumably, the government he wishes to head -- ought to tell people what's sacred and what's not? Here Barack of course is departing from the liberals as regards what ought to be indoctrinated -- abstinence, forsooth! But his commitment to soul-engineering as legitimate "role of government" -- and school -- is entirely in accordance with liberal notions.

Of course it's also entirely in accord with contemporary right-wing notions. Are there really any old-style conservatives who believe that government ought to be more modest than this? If so, I would like to meet them. We might have more in common than either would have expected.

There was an exchange here a few weeks ago about libertarianism -- whether a lefty could be in any sense a libertarian, and if so, what one ought to understand by the term in that case.

I'm still groping on this question, but utterances like the one above provide lots of grist for the mill. Right-wing archfiend Grover Norquist observes that "the center right coalition in American politics today is best understood as a coalition of groups and individuals, that on the issue that brings them to politics, what they want from the government is to be left alone." Based on my own occasional forays away from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I think he might be on to something.

Maybe lefties ought to take this desire a little more seriously, and try to connect with it. The actually existing Right is not going to deliver on "leaving people alone", and liberalism certainly never will. But what really matters to us as Lefties? Is it motorcycle helmets? Gun control? Maybe we think these are good things -- but how high are they on the list? Might it not be possible to combine a greater degree of individual autonomy and privacy with the things that do really matter to us? I believe this merits some thinking about.

Comments (12)

Nope. Libertarianism is a non-starter for leftists. Just a few points:

Despite the claimed horror at 'collectivism,' libertarians share the general liberal preference for collective forms of decision-making--above all, the market. This is often legitimised by a claimed universal necessity, to 'balance' or 'weigh' preferences. This is an ancient metaphor, and very popular since Newton, but the 'necessity' is not self-evident. No-one can show why preferences should be balanced, or weighed: to want them weighed or balanced is a preference in itself, and by definition a preference for collectivism. In practice, free-market decisions are always collective: supply of one product, by one maker, to one customer is not a free market. A free market in the libertarian sense needs at least three parties: with only one buyer and one seller there is no competition. In a free market with multiple parties and mutual competition, all parties influence the final state of affairs. No individual can decide that outcome alone. While claiming to reject autocracy, libertarianism has in fact abandoned autonomy.
--Paul Treanor

[Treanor's piece is long. It prints out at around 14 pages, depending on size of type used. It is also somewhat philosophical, but not impenetrable. It is well worth a look. Of course I remain skeptical of the notion that the United States was founded as a liberal state in the way Treanor uses the term, but it has been pushed in that direction over time by hook and by crook (see postscript)].

Here is my essay posted in February 2005, that warned about the tendency of American Libertarians to reject any notion of alternative sociopolitical systems to their own. If America had a Libertarian regime right now, they would be as expansionist as the current one. If Buchanan were President, and not the current imbecile, America would pursue the exact same strategy as John Kerry. That is what the Market does, it expands. Raimondo is a Market based Libertarian, and for him the Market justifies any outcome that is a process of the market itself. Raimondo’s kowtowing to Zionist discourse ("most Jews were opposed to the war"--who sez?), is merely market promotion of Libertarian doctrines. Smearing people is imitation of Jewish/Zionist discourse, not ‘Stalinist’ as per Raimondo’s mimicry of Trotsky’s maxim. Smearing people as ‘anti-Semites,’ is philo-Semitism.
Joh Domingo

Marriage vows in an objectivist church would probably run along the lines of "Do you promise to attempt to dominate and subdue this woman until such time as you grow bored?" "Maybe." "Close enough. And do you promise to applaud this man`s production until such time as you find someone with a bigger ... corporation?" "Whatever." "By the power vested in me by having scammed you guys out of a marriage license fee, I now pronounce you man and appendage. May you be unencumbered by small persons." Having almost no idea of Rand's family life (I do understand that in spite of the "Miss Rand" references she did get married at some point) I still feel confident in saying that nobody who has ever actually raised children could ever talk about "the virtue of selfishness" with a straight face. The discipline and self-sacrifice (oh, dear!) necessary to spend ten years, part time, developing a new alloy is rather pallid beside the investment made by any mother. However, the objection never arises, since almost nobody seems to have any children. As a grandfather, I really have to pity Galt and his friends.
--Rob Slade

Well, we could mention the private huge tax people pay to mega-corps for the privilege of being on the receiving end of the biggest, most invasive, and most successful privacy invasion/behavioral control operation in human history. That's big business marketing.

And, yes, just funding better infrastructures, taxes, and jobs while shutting the hell up about "culture" might be be something to do.

Alas, my strong impression is that 3/4+ of lefties are all about "cultural" finger-stabbing...

I think the abortion is issue is allowed so much attention precisely because it is totally un important to those in power. As a libertarian, I am opposed to government action to prevent abortion but also think the issue is a genuinely controversial one (unlike universal health care, e.g.)*. That is, I don't think one's position relative to being in favor or against abortion is itself a proof of being liberal or conservative. And I think it has been a sin on the left's part for failing to recognize that anything other than an extremist position might have legitimacy. After all, surely killing an unwanted child is an evil. And admitting it may be a necessary evil is no excuse for hypocrisy.

*Incidentally,--since libertarianism has come up--if government played a legitimate role, insuring, without ulterior motive, the health of citizens would be a priority. My opinion is that as society becomes more democratic the role of government will decrease--that is to say, I doubt it will turn out that government (or institutions such as the Church or corporations) had any other purpose than a tool for obtaining power and in some cases wealth use by a small minority or individual.

plato's cave:

Recognizing the fascist tendencies of the American government (the point on which lefties and libertarians agree) is fine, but talking about big or small government is meaningless without a prior understanding of the concepts of class society and ruling elites. That's the point on which libertarians are utterly blind, or else disingenuous.

Al Schumann:

Peter, that attribution of sin on the part of the left seems lacking to me. It hinges on the legitimacy issue. The principle at stake for the majority of abortion opponents has nothing to do with the sanctity of life, potential life or regard for children. It's demonstrably an issue of punishment and control, as they readily admit once they've exhausted the hysterical sentimentalism they use as a bludgeon. That principle is unacceptable by any standards save those of cruel authoritarians and, when it becomes the governing principle, is also the primary cause of actual infanticide. There's no "extremism" to acknowledging reality.

Furthermore, the left does recognize that a minority of abortion opponents has a genuine concern. To their credit, that minority does not support or condone murder and terrorism. It can be hard to see them, however, and hard to hear them, for people who are getting ready to dodge the sniper's bullet or evacuate a building that's just been bombed. Both activities, I'm sure you'll agree, do fit the definition of "extremism". Support and offering justifications for them are also the first and last recourse of the majority of abortion opponents.

The circumstances are vexing for people determined to hash things out in good faith. Perhaps a good first step to remedying that would attributing any sin to the actual sinners.


Craig -- It isn't so much the various -isms as the underlying impulse that interests me. Partly this is because as I get older, and as the society becomes increasingly policed and checklisted, I find myself sharing the impulse, I'm a rather impulsive fellow, I fear.


I think one can make the point that centralization of power - like say, a strong federal government - always creates a potential for abuse. Some libertarians that I know make the case that one cannot always control who will be at the helm of that mighty legislative ice breaker, and what was once controlled by your side for purposes you support might revert to the control of those whose agenda you are utterly opposed to. So a strong federal government can be a double-edged sword, but I think even that argument misses the point. Our government's major flaw isn't so much the amount of power it has over our lives, as much as that it's not remotely democratic. It's tightly controlled by the overclass, which use the government a means to reaching their own selfish, destructive ends (and they do this in a manner that actually creates the illusion that there is some kind of choice to be made).

And I certainly count myself as a real "pro-lifer", as I generally oppose death however and by whomever it may be delivered or administered. But abortion, even if I was a woman, would be a pretty low priority for me in choosing who I voted for. If there was, for example, a viable Christian Socialist Party opposing abortion but steadfastly in favor of ample state support for single mothers, I would have no problem voting for them - especially if their opponents were the Democrats and Republicans (yeah, I know tautology).


"...doubt it will turn out that government (or institutions such as the Church or corporations) had any other purpose than a tool for obtaining power and in some cases wealth use by a small minority or individual"

this may contain some king kong of a social verity
but not for me ...

institutions as some hard on's
power pole
and boodle extractor
has a social not individual origin

the topdog's social agency
ought to be
just as coherently
as the sacred cow's

"the private huge tax people pay to mega-corps for the privilege of being on the receiving end of the biggest, most invasive, and most successful privacy invasion/behavioral control operation in human history. That's big business marketing."

our big trans nat corporations
are van guard orgs

taking their up to date social system
for constructing and reconstructing
little mindlets and making it explicit
and publically funded
..........and goo goo not gah gah missioned
is liberalism showing its totalizingly
human face
progressive libertarians like noam c
are just reactionary liberals


in defining moments
mpulse uber alles
i say

our most glorious act
is emegent collective ...impulse

the state busting riot...

what i notice
is a very broad under playing
of the world historical lesson
we got in 89
the fall of the stalinoid socialist kamp
at least by our friends
the libertarian small d jeffrsonian progs
that wasn't good news enough for u ????

hey real live mass scale events
orwell's nite mare
is as unsustainable in the every day world
as open smoke stack coal fired
electricity production

Michael Hureaux:

Aside from CLR James and Raya Dunayaevskaya, I always thought the Situationists were mining the libertarian content of marxism better than anyone, but none of the ideas of any of these folks have ever caught on with the "left" or "progressives" in the United States.


...After all, surely killing an unwanted child is an evil...

Only if one assigns the same status to a fetus as one does to a living, breathing, post-born child.

Only if one assigns the same status to a fetus as to the woman who carries it.

Personally, I've had it with being told (usually by men) that I need to make more concessions to the pro-life movement if I want to get somewhere, somehow, politically. I'm sick of the pro-life movement and the shaming it uses as stock in trade. And I'm sick of the finger-wagging from Democrats who pocket pro-choice money even as they sell women down the river year after year.

Ironically, on paper I should be the ideal libertarian based solely upon my opinions regarding abortion: If my neighbor wants ten children it's her business no matter what my personal opinion on her choices are. If I want ten abortions, I expect the same hands-off approach from my neighbor.

But once I try and apply the mutual hands-off approach in the real world, the attraction breaks down. Too many (usually male) libertarians suddenly forget their non-interventionist tendencies when it comes to the precious little fetus. Even those who are genuinely pro-choice will not, of course, support programs that enable equal access to reproductive services. Which means that what they really offer is freedom if you can pay, enslavement if you cannot.

This is how the Democratic approach plays out, too, of course. But Democrats have to be more circumspect in their desires or risk losing the precious flow of pro-choice money they love so much.

Lose-Lose, for women all told.

You're all invited to my Menopause Party eight years from now. Personally I'm looking forward to it more than words can say.

Nicholas Hart:

I'm obviously over-simplifying here in this limited space, and surely some libertarians will flame me for misstating their beliefs (although I would counter that if they disagree with me they don't really understand libertarianism themselves).

At its heart libertarianism is a hands-off approach to society--especially when it comes to the economy. Essentially it means we need more unfettered, unregulated capitalism. At a time when capitalism is so obviously to blame for the world's problems, this position is ludicrous. The libertarians try to sugar-coat it and win converts to their cause by espousing their virtuous support for individual freedoms.

Of course, show me a billionaire industrialist with unlimited freedom and I'll show you a million indentured servants working for starvation wages. We live in a class society. There's no glossing over this fact with platitudes about individuality and freedom. If we let those who control the means of production to have unrestricted power then the rest of us will of necessity have our freedoms curtailed.

Unless you want freedom from health care, freedom from a secure retirement, and the "freedom" of poverty and homelessness, one should not support libertarianism.

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