Contraceptives, Immigration, and the Great Libertarian Convergence

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A plausible interpretation of America and the world at the moment is that the imperatives of the 21st century global marketplace are so powerful they trump anything religious and political leaders say or do.

Techno-economic change does not, to be sure, trump anything and everything that nature might do. We recently had the near-miss of the stormy sun disrupting our electric grid and plunging us into the 18th century, and experts think there’s a 12 percent that could still actually happen over the next decade. That’s a lot more scary, if you think about it, than the possible long-term effects on the climate of anthropogenic global warming, although I’ll admit there’s an inconvenient truth or two there, too.

There’s also, of course, the disturbingly successful indifference of Putin and ISIS to the market, and the maybe more disturbing agility by which the Chinese manage to be both authoritarian nationalists and techno-cagey capitalists.

Still, there’s plenty of evidence that capitalism—despite lots of blips here and there—has won. On the strength of that evidence, we are seeing a kind of libertarian convergence in the behavior of the two major American political parties. We read that the Koch brothers, who understand themselves as humane social liberals on issues such as same-sex marriage, are moderating the Republican agenda by working to rid the party of its reactionary social/cultural conservatism.  The Republicans should restrict their message to the issues of cutting taxes on “job creators” and eliminating as many government regulations as possible—including getting rid of the basic arbitrariness of affirmative action quotas and any laws privileging the rights of unions over the rights of free individuals to work.

The strength of the Republican Party, it’s increasingly seen, is in branding the progressive Democrats as the true reactionaries, as working to prop up safety nets, entitlements, and such that are unsustainable in view of our demographic trends and the competitive global marketplace. True progressivism is affirming market-driven technological progress.

I’m tempted to add that that means true progressivism is in the direction of anarcho-capitalism and transhumanism. And the truest progressives are futurists such as Silicon Valley’s Peter Thiel and the libertarian economist Tyler Cowen. The truest think that technology and markets, by overwhelming nature and politics, benefit everyone, even or especially the poor.  These progressives are for liberty and against collectivism of all kinds, beginning with democratic politics and civic devotion.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that everyone with libertarian inclinations lumps citizenship in the same category with union membership and socialist comradeship. I’m sketching the extreme or consistent position here.

Concomitantly, the influence of Silicon Valley on the Democratic Party has deflected that party somewhat from the aggressive politics of redistribution and toward an acceptance of the relatively low taxation and property rights as ways to unleash the unlimited benefits of techno-innovation. The Democrats, in the mode of Bill Gates and his Common Core, may be more about using the power of the state to modify the market to better secure the blessings of Silicon Valley’s mega-entrepreneurship and mega-data, as well as about developing government-corporate partnerships to deploy techno-expertise in the service of nudging ordinary people in the direction of predictable productivity.

Consider that the Democrats have now decided to focus their campaign on two fronts. The first is against the Hobby Lobby decision and for the right to personal autonomy, beginning with government-mandated free contraception. The point of the contraceptive mandate is the guaranteed detachment of the sexual behavior of free persons from the hard responsibilities of birth and death. That detachment is one way among many that government can promote the health and safety of the particular persons alive right now. It’s also a way of allowing women, just like men, not to be stigmatized as breeders for the state and to be free, just like men, to be unencumbered productive workers.

Young people voting Democratic these days are not doing so, we often read, out of “social justice” concerns understood as sensitivity to the plight of the poor. They believe that government can’t do anything more than it’s doing now and will certainly end up doing less on the “welfare state” front. What they want is to be protected from any legislation that originates in the animosity of conservative moralism. With the ambiguous exception of being soft environmentalists, they aren’t progressive or even liberal in the FDR sense at all; they’re not for devoted citizens supporting the evolution of the cooperative efforts of government supplanting the competitive selfishness of the market in solving social problems.

For Democrats, progressivism now mostly means progress on the autonomy front, making individuals better able to determine their own personal identities free from relational or governmental bullying. So there is a place for government in making sure there’s no discrimination of any kind against gays and so forth, even a place for stigmatizing traditionalists on the speech front since traditionalists may be prone to expressing residual religious or cultural animosity. Academic freedom, in this view, can allowably be displaced to some extent by academic justice.

Plenty of libertarians, to be fair, mock this sometimes bureaucratically overbearing trumping of freedom by justice-defined-as-autonomy. It remains the case, however, that the Democrats’ autonomy line can be expressed in ways libertarian economists can affirm. It’s about freeing people to choose in accord with their personal preferences without being saddled with the baggage of cultural oppression.

Cowen, for example, has said that the unreserved acceptance of the “transgendered” choice to use medical technology to alter one’s biology is a good sign when it comes to real social progress. And so he strenuously objected to economist/candidate David Brat’s referring to sex-changed economist Deidre McCloskey as “him/her.” The Democrats disagree slightly with Cowen only in thinking that government—and corporations—might nudge people a bit in the service of such enlightenment. And the nudgers, after all, really do believe that cultivating that competency of diversity really is in the service of the globalized marketplace, a place where, as the libertarian futurist Brink Lindsey claims, the future belongs to those especially adept in abstract or deracinated thinking, thinking unencumbered by particularistic moral or cultural or relational considerations.

The second front in President Obama’s war on behalf of autonomy will be to issue an executive order granting immediate amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. It seems he will do so in a shamelessly highhanded way to provoke an impeachment effort by Republicans defending both our nation and our separation-of-powers Constitution.

Our President excels at campaigning but isn’t much good at governing. And all Presidents since the 22nd Amendment have had a problem finding “energy in the executive” in their second terms without the prospect of reelection as a reward for effectively securing people’s interests. Provoking impeachment is a most clever way of giving the President another campaign—a way of winning a de facto third term. It is also a clever way of highlighting another issue that he thinks will benefit his party over the long term.

Immigration, at first glance, is an old-fashioned Democratic issue. Our first African American President will use presidential leadership (invented by Woodrow Wilson and FDR) to elevate the status of marginalized and often impoverished Latinos, bringing them into a coalition in defense of big, compassionate government. Certainly this will be Obama’s most divine or uninhibited act as an agent of change that most liberals or progressives can believe in. It will be, in effect, an exercise of what John Locke called godlike prerogative overriding our Constitution’s establishment of legislative supremacy. And he will do it, apparently, without having overwhelming public opinion or a genuine sense of national emergency to justify stepping beyond the ordinary constitutional constraints of his office.

Still, the second glance is much more penetrating than the first. Opposition to unrestricted immigration in America is, at its best, on behalf of American citizens and citizenship. It is in that sense not partisan. American corporate interests want to flood the country with immigrants to depress wages by creating tougher competition for scarce unskilled or “uncognitive” jobs; it’s part of the increasingly successful campaign against what remains of industrial and other private-sector unions. The Chamber of Commerce, as much as the President, has been for that kind of immigration reform.

Not only that, libertarian economists, such as Cowen, say they want to reduce global disparities in wealth by bringing down national borders. For them, claims of citizenship are a kind of “rent-seeking,” and the devotion of citizens a kind of collectivism.  After a few drinks, when a libertarian economist echoes President Reagan by shouting “tear down those walls,” he means those political barriers that separate one country from another.

Libertarians have been writing a lot lately about the unnaturalness of national borders, as if that were some kind of big news. The point of the borders (as Plato and Aristotle first explained)—or the creation of a people in a particular territory—is to make self-government possible. The point of opposition to borders is to displace politics with economics by bringing down all moral or “regime-based” opposition to the unfettered operation of the market. This post-political thinking, of course, abstracts from even the imperatives of national security, although most libertarians aren’t so “anarcho-capitalist” that they believe in dispensing with the government’s “monopoly of violence” when it comes to defense.

To be clear, I’m for a very generous and global immigration policy, in the spirit of G.K. Chesterton’s observation that much of American’s greatness and vitality comes from being “a home for the homeless.” But there has to be a policy, one oriented around the requirements of a self-governing people. I might well support a policy of amnesty combined with real border security and a deep determination just to figure out who is actually here (as they were able to do at Ellis Island with no digital technology at all).

The idea of “guest workers” is un-American. To be an American is to be either a citizen or on the road to citizenship, not a mere producer or consumer or displaced individual. The President gives us no confidence that he’s about combining amnesty with genuine political restrictions to and shaping of immigration. It’s essential to his effort to disrupt the Republican coalition by appealing to its younger and more libertarian (not to forget corporate) elements that any such confidence in him would be foolhardy.

We can say that President Obama’s campaigns for the contraceptive mandate and immigration are ways of taking traditional liberals’ minds off the fact that he has no way of actually delivering bigger and better redistributive or “entitlement” government. In any case, they are policies that either are or can be framed to appeal to our more libertarian, abstracted or diversity-conscious, and post-political young.

We can say, in short, that these two issues serve the imperatives of the 21st century global competitive marketplace. Both are evidence of the predictive excellence of libertarian futurists such as Cowen and Lindsey. They are also reforms directed against a free, self-governing people—against legislative deliberation and compromise.

Recall, for example, that the contraceptive mandate is not even in the actual Obamacare legislation, precisely because the bill could not have gotten through Congress with it attached. And deliberation and compromise are indispensable for sound immigration policy, given that it always involves mediating conflicting principles and interests.

Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. Lawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004-09. He writes at National Review Online's Postmodern Conservative blog.

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Comments

  1. R Richard Schweitzer says

    Let us give a little further thought to how it is proposed that “autonomy” to be derived from the availability of contraceptives (and abortifacients) is to be provided.

    The recent issue on that matter concerned the imposition of an obligation on some to provide that source of “autonomy to others.

    The imposition of obligations (not voluntarily assumed, nor commutative) does not fall within any concept of “libertarian convergence.”

    Perhaps if we look more carefully at those various elements of “new progressivism” suggested as reflecting libertarian convergence when we may find is that many of those autonomies (freedoms from an freedoms to) involve the imposition of obligations on some (or many) to provide them for others (or few); and not solely through the embodiments of authority they constitute the State, functioning through mechanisms of governments.

    There is something similar to be said about self-determination of gender. The trend to recognize that as a human requirement is giving rise to the imposition of its provisions to some by others – such as in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    This may be an extension of the “Animal Farm” doctrine that all should be autonomous, but some more autonomous than others.

  2. gabe says

    “The point of opposition to borders is to displace politics with economics by bringing down all moral or “regime-based” opposition to the unfettered operation of the market.”

    OK – agreed.

    “The idea of “guest workers” is un-American. To be an American is to be either a citizen or on the road to citizenship, not a mere producer or consumer or displaced individual.”

    Not quite, Peter, and there is a long history of people residing in foreign lands that were not accorded “citizenship.

    This from the 1828 Websters Dictionary (referring to long standing English practices):

    “DENIZEN, n. 1. In England, an alien who is made a subject by the kings letters patent, holding a middle state between an alien and a natural born”

    A fair amount of legal scholarship (SSRN essays, etc) is now being focused on this “denizen” issue and may effectively counter assertions such as yours – perhaps, even birthright citizenship (some have so argued).

    • R Richard Schweitzer says

      Gabe,

      Having held back from comment on Doctor Lawler’s toe-dipping into “immigration” as a factor in “libertarian convergence,” your comment makes me recall that both Plato and Aristotle appear (to me) to conceive of the “desired” Republic or Polis as a condition that would be immutable, other than those changes occurring naturally in the commutations amongst the members. e.g., Plato would not locate the Republic in a coastal or trading zone that would be subjected to intrusions. Aristotle relies on the continuity of “virtues” (individual motivations derived from a commonality of sources in their formation). Peter Lawler refers to both.

      In our, industrialization, territorial area (in England and France as well) we observe the concerns of large segments of the population with the results of the changes (particularly reductions) in the commonality of the sources of the formations of individual motivations (the basis of cultures). Many, correctly, perceive those changes as resulting, at least in part, from population mobility, urbanization and economic dysfunctions . To add to those the effects of significant intrusions of other individuals, whose motivations have been formed from sources totally different and largely uncommon to what has previously existed here, and thus may represent a further challenge to the continuity of the existing social order and to what this current population perceives they draw from it.

      Admittedly, that viewpoint on the public’s perceptions is not easy to reconcile with the views expressed by Peter Lawler. Perhaps it can be, but not easily. But then, reconciling the particular views of articulate and influential thinkers may not have any specific significance.

      With the changes in communication and transportation we have been observing a tremendous flows will of people’s amongst regions of the globe. The motivations for those movements vary in accordance with the relative effects of the sources that have formed them. It may be that we are reaching the point where borders mean nothing more than the attitudes of people toward one another based on the degree of their understanding of the sources that form the motivations of one another.

      • gabe says

        Richard:

        ” It may be that we are reaching the point where borders mean nothing more than the attitudes of people toward one another based on the degree of their understanding of the sources that form the motivations of one another.”

        Sadly, I must agree. This is a trend that may be difficult to overcome especially when one considers how the young have been induced to believe ill of their own nation AND that a nation state is a thing of the past.
        Do they even require Plato, etc in today’s colleges. Lawler has previously noted (POMOCON) that the number of schools providing a classical education is well near zero.

        take care
        gabe

  3. nobody.really says

    Intriguing. In 1989 Fukuyama argued that the world had reached the End of History: Henceforth no governing ideology would wholly reject democracy or capitalism, though systems might still tamper at the edges. Lawler focuses on the capitalism side, arguing that both the Democratic and Republican Parties couch their policies in terms of promoting autonomy. As a general trend, I find this assessment accurate and encouraging.

    That said, I’m less persuaded by the details.

    The point of the contraceptive mandate is the guaranteed detachment of the sexual behavior of free persons from the hard responsibilities of birth and death.

    Uh … no. The ACA is designed to make health care more efficient. The contraceptive mandate is merely one component designed to reduce the cost society bears for unwanted pregnancies and childbirths by substituting the (putatively) low cost of contraceptives.

    To be sure, the mandate has garnered a lot of attention because it involves sex, and people have imputed all kinds of motives to the policy. But it’s just another policy designed to reduce the cost society bears for health care – little different than providing incentives for people to use generic drugs rather than name brand versions.

    Young people voting Democratic these days are not doing so, we often read, out of “social justice” concerns understood as sensitivity to the plight of the poor. They believe that government can’t do anything more than it’s doing now and will certainly end up doing less on the “welfare state” front. What they want is to be protected from any legislation that originates in the animosity of conservative moralism. With the ambiguous exception of being soft environmentalists, they aren’t progressive or even liberal in the FDR sense at all….

    This is a fascinating thesis I have not encountered before.

    The second front in President Obama’s war on behalf of autonomy will be to issue an executive order granting immediate amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.

    Again I have not encountered this thesis before. And if Lawler is suggesting that Obama will unilaterally grant citizenship to current undocumented aliens within the US’s borders, I doubt it.

    Oh, I agree that the Democrats trot out the immigration issue as a wedge, using it to paint the Republican Party as racist and hard-hearted. But Obama can get those benefits without taking any further action.

    We can say that President Obama’s campaigns for the contraceptive mandate and immigration are ways of taking traditional liberals’ minds off the fact that he has no way of actually delivering bigger and better redistributive or “entitlement” government.

    Odd statement. Yes, perhaps Obama can’t succeed at selling a new redistribution or entitlement program. That said, the ACA is a HUGE REDISTRIBUTION AND ENTITLEMENT PROGRAM – even if it didn’t bear that label.

    Specifically, the law’s benefits accrue mostly to people who lacked insurance before the ACA was adopted, or purchased individual policies on the open market. The law induces insurers to offer policies to these people on an open exchange. It forbids discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions. It extends eligibility for kids to subscribe for coverage under their parents’ plans. And it subsidizes insurance for the poor. All of these policies tend to benefit the poor and sick vastly more than they benefit the rich and healthy.

    True, the ACA was not sold as a redistribution and entitlement program. And the sales job was so successful that apparently Lawler missed these important aspects of the policy.

    • gabe says

      Nobody:

      I agree with a number of your points:

      Yes, ACA was and is a redistributionist scheme.
      The Democrats do (and historically) use wedge issues. Regrettably, they have proven quite successful at this.
      Your listing of the “benefits” of ACA is generally accurate.
      ACA does not benefit the rich or the healthy. (In fact, it may be argued that it will adversely impact their ability to obtain the level of care to which they have been accustomed).

      However, it is not clear that the ACA will actually improve medical care for the poor. One need only look at the VA and more particularly at the British NIH, which is simply a disaster. I will also contend that as ACA gets rolling, you will see even longer delays in “diagnostic scheduling” (in fact it has affected some of my golf partners). In my own experience managing a medical electronics operation, I can tell you that the Pacific Northwest was the easiest place to make a sale – why? – because the Canadian Health system limited the number of facilities that could purchase ultrasound imaging systems (my product). Thus, the Canadians came across the border for their scans and my local Sales Rep got rich on the business.
      So will you consider that there is some question as to whether ACA will perform as “hyped”?

      And Lawlers contention that the young are far more concerned with autonomy issues and rather disaffected with the welfare state is SPOT ON. Again, I need only use my tailgating buddies (a motley crew) as a guide. There is significant disquiet with the welfare state and even they are beginning to complain of high tax burdens. They are fairly representative of the age group.

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