Sunday, 5 June 2011

Liberty ship of fools

Maybe I've been politically naive. Recently, I'd assumed there was an alignment between vocal libertarians, and influential right-wingers (both politicians and members of the banking and business establishment). After all, the UK coalition government's slash and burn approach to public services is the sort of thing you'd expect to delight people who think that the state and all its works are intrinsically evil and should be shrunk as fast as possible. On the other side of the Atlantic, the influence of the Republican Party's teapot tendency would seem to indicate the same direction of travel. Adam Curtis's outing of Alan Greenspan as a former disciple of Ayn Rand seemed only to confirm the traction that libertarian ideas had already gained at the highest levels of the establishment (OK it probably wasn't news to a lot of other people, but it was an eye-opener to me).

Left-wing fantasy novelist China Mieville begs to differ. He's written an essay picking apart a bizarre libertarian project to build a colossal floating city of a ship that would be part trading estate, part luxury gated apartment block, part exclusive leisure complex, part duty-free shopping mall and part (so the blurb seems to imply) offshore tax haven. This Randian fantasy of a cruise liner on steroids was scheduled to have set sail in 2003, but realising the dream has been a bit harder than the project's backers anticipated and, to date, completion of the Freedom Ship, as it's called, remains a dream. Mieville's thesis is that the libertairans behind this project aren't really a powerful elite, or even truly aligned with the really rich and powerful, but deluded idealistic second-raters chasing rainbows whilst the truly pragmatic, ruthless elite get on with helping themselves to the wealth of nations, unhindered by any romantic libertarian notions of being too pure and self-reliant to suck the state's teats dry when they can get away with it:

Libertarianism is not a ruling-class theory. It may be indulged, certainly, for the useful ideas it can throw up, and its prophets have at times influenced dominant ideologies—witness the cack-handed depredations of the “Chicago Boys” in Chile after Allende’s bloody overthrow. But untempered by the realpolitik of Reaganism and Thatcherism, the anti-statism of “pure” libertarianism is worse than useless to the ruling class.

Big capital will support tax-lowering measures, of course, but it does not need to piss and moan about taxes with the tedious relentlessness of the libertarian. Big capital, with its ranks of accountant-Houdinis, just gets on with not paying it. And why hate a state that pays so well? Big capital is big, after all, not only because of the generous contracts its state obligingly hands it, but because of the gun-ships with which its state opens up markets for it.

Read the whole article here. In the libertarian fantasy, Atlas Shrugged, Randian ├╝bermensch John Galt shrugs off the stifling bonds of the state to construct a paradise fit for entrepreneurial heroes. Building a real, floating  libertarian paradise has, so far, proved beyond the resources or abilities of the John Galt wannabes. Maybe, as Mieville suggests, this is because the real-life libertarians aren't as potent and superior as the fictional libertarians they're trying to emulate. Maybe, they're just big capital's useful idiots. Given that some of the highest profile cheerleaders for libertarianism include Sarah Palin, hardly the sharpest hunting knife in the pickup truck, and James Delingpole, once memorably described as 'the stupid man's Niall Ferguson', I don't think we can dimiss this notion out of hand.

The heads up on the China Mieville piece and spot-on characterisation of James Delingpole came from Blood and Treasure.


Meridian said...

Actually the darling of the true Libertarian in the US is probably Ron Paul. Which tells you everything you need to know about Libertarians.

Andrew King said...

Indeed; to be fair Palin's always been more of a Tea Party mascot than any kind of coherent thinker. I just couldn't resist mentioning her because of the way some libertarian 'thinkers' go all mushy for her and how they fondly imagine she 'drives liberals crazy.' No, James, what she really does is drive satirists crazy by constantly outdoing them with her unconscious self-mockery.

As for Ron Paul,he's not such an easy target, but he's rather more worrying in the sense that he's not yet attained the status of internationally recognised joke figure, despite such charmingly idiosyncratic positions as being opposed to ffederal 'flu innoculation programmes because 'the government shouldn't be in the medical business.' The progress of his 2012 candidacy should be ... erm ... interesting.

Meridian said...

Of course I know have to link to this:


Meridian said...

"now" dammit, not "know"