Power: Why the Right Fails at Individualism

Over their dead hands.  Don’t tread on them.  They see themselves as freedom-fighters; advocates for the individual against the power of a distant, corrupt government. The impulse which prompts in them skepticism over the value of giving government power over their daily lives is a healthy one.  Unfortunately, for them it carries with it a giant, gaping blind spot:  corporations.

A wholly-formed individualist would shudder at the idea of ceding our institutions to whoever can wrangle up enough wealth and power to dominate them.  He would scoff at the idea that we should gut democratic provisions that prevent such concentrations of private power from ruling over us from afar, passing down feudal edicts from behind gated privilege.  He would favor legal measures that make individuals the decision-makers in their lives rather than governments OR corporations and robber-barons.

The ranks of the right do not contain many of these wholly-formed individualists.  But it is bursting with half-baked ones.  Ones who viciously hate the idea of another man having power over them, but only so long as that man is foreign or a government official.  If he comes in a business suit with shiny shoes, the previously rugged individualist pretends not to notice him and signs away control of his life without protest.  This is Atlas’ true Shrug – the shrug of indifference as control over the individual is given away for free to Madison Ave, Wall St., K Street, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Tyson, Dow and Exxon-Mobil.  The right constantly reminds us that our government is corrupt because politicians take money from private power in exchange for favors, and while they bravely stand against the government for taking the cash, they never cease to defend the rights of the private powers that pay the bribes.

They do not recognize their true enemy:  concentrated power.  Yes, we really should prevent our government from becoming too powerful.  But we should do the same for ALL institutions.  Our local police shouldn’t have too much power over us.  Our military shouldn’t have too much power over us.  Goldman Sachs shouldn’t have too much power over us.  Microsoft and Google shouldn’t have too much power over us.

Someone who doesn’t recognize their own enemy is extremely valuable to that enemy.  So these half-baked individualists have been employed to huge success by the most powerful organizations in the world:  corporations.  Today they have “tea-parties” in which they participate in an absurd game of charades in which it’s an affront to their freedom for government to implement a safety net, but not for Monsanto to become lord and master over their farmland.  They draw a meaningless line between public and private power, benefiting no one but the wealthy elite.

It seems to me that someone truly interested in maximizing the power of individuals over their own lives would generally accept the idea of using the democratic process to limit others’ power over them.  But this is not the case with Republicans and Libertarians today, because they see the democratic process ITSELF as too powerful, while transnational corporations escape their eye.

They insist that they love freedom.  But to them, freedom is a symbol, not anything real.  It’s a pin that they wear, a sticker that goes on the back of the Tahoe, but little more.  It’s a song to sing, a flag to wave, a self-image.  An uninsured woman with breast cancer is “free” only so long as she is not saved by tax-funded medical care.  A mother whose child died from Ecoli contamination is “free” only so long as the company who killed her child is not hindered by safety regulations.  Our children are only “free” so long as companies are allowed to advertise junk to them.  As such, the freedom they advocate is that enjoyed by rats in a dark sewer.

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  1. infidel on December 20th, 2009 4:05 pm

    A libertarian will tell you that the important point is negative vs positive liberty. The government power is coercive, while the private power is voluntary. I.e. you can choose whether or not to buy from Wal-Mart, or whether or not to invest at Goldman, so their power exists only insofar as freely-choosing individuals choose to do business with them. Whereas the government power is forced upon the individual by his fellow voters.

    So, from a Libertarian perspective, it is coercive for the government to FORCE you to pay for that woman’s breast cancer treatment. It’s simply not fair. Yes, it’s sad that she has cancer; cancer is sad. But part of its sadness need not be that it invalidates the rights of an individual to decide for himself whether or not to pay for someone else’s cancer treatment rather than save up to pay for his own if he should need it.

  2. ClayBarham on December 20th, 2009 4:44 pm

    GO TO PERSON
    Every family should have a “go to” person who can give answers to political and issue concerns, as suggested by Rush Limbaugh. Learning how means starting at the roots, the beginnings and differences between two sides of the same coin, which is all there is. One side is long established, where the few rule the many, irrespective of their labels. The other side is the newest, that of individual freedom and limited government. Why do many follow each side, and why the conflict between them? What side do current issues come from, such as health care, cap and trade as well as amnesty for illegal immigrants? What side of the coin most impacts the lives of your family, to whom you provide the answers? Call up claysamerica.com for the roots of both sides and improve your understanding of the issues so you have the answers. Claysamerica.com

  3. ziege on December 20th, 2009 5:37 pm

    That's great, Clay. But does it have anything to do with the post, or are you just spamming ads for your book?

  4. John Galt on December 20th, 2009 9:25 pm

    As a libertarian, I can tell you that the difference you are seeing here is the difference between the ideas of POSITIVE and NEGATIVE liberties. Government is coercive. No one forces people to do business with Wal-Mart or Goldman or Monsanto. Those companies have “power” because of the actions of free individuals making their own choices. Government power over your life is not because of your own choices, it's because other people got together and voted for it to have power over you whether you like it or not. That's the difference, and that's why libertarians and conservatives fear government power far less than corporate power. The market has mechanisms built in that ensure that if a company goes against the interests of the people, it fails. Governments have armies and guns to ensure that they CAN go against the interests of the people and not be brought down.

  5. ziege on December 20th, 2009 10:14 pm

    John, I am of the opinion that it's false to draw a line between positive and negative freedoms and then place government on one side of it and corporations on the other.

    Because millions of other people patronized Goldman, AIG, et al, now I am forced to deal with the consequences. Because other people do business with Monsanto the way they do, family farmers are put out of business by gene patents. Voters can form “tyrannies of majority” whether they vote in the ballot box or with their dollars.

    As it stands today, private concentrations of power have far more control over American society than the government does. When the Federalist papers were written the biggest concentration of power was enjoyed by European monarchies, so they were viewed as the biggest threat to individual liberty. The Church was second, and as such was still viewed with suspicion by many of the framers. Today, private corporations have surpassed both churches and governments, yet libertarians seem to cling to an anachronistic view of them as “businessmen” who are simply good men out to work hard and earn money. This is nonsense. Libertarians need to get out of the 18th century and at least make it to the 19th.

    I will, however, credit you with being about 8 centuries ahead of the religious right :P

  6. ClayBarham on December 21st, 2009 9:58 am

    Just trying to get people to have perspective, learn the roots of their libertarian beliefs and be able to confront the “enemy” with more confidence, and yes, to push the books as well.

  7. ClayBarham on December 21st, 2009 3:58 pm

    Just trying to get people to have perspective, learn the roots of their libertarian beliefs and be able to confront the “enemy” with more confidence, and yes, to push the books as well.

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