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Some months ago on another forum I received the following message from a right wing friend of mine – a very articulate and dynamic individual who sometimes comes here to post. We debate a whole gamut of topics, but they tend to revolve around an ongoing discussion as to whether freedom/liberty meet more opposition from the left or right. We on the left love to argue that the conservative would keep the government out of your wallet but invite it into your bedroom. The right looks to hate speech codes and demonstrations aimed at silencing conservative speakers on college campuses deemed reactionary or racist. Leftists have called for censorship of Mark Twain for overt racism. Right wingers call for banning of, well, everything from Where the Wild Things Are to Judy Blume. This gentleman and I have argued the issue in much detail, and ultimately whether the concept of freedom in inherent in free market ideology or whether authoritarianism exists independent of any particular economic framework.
In that context, I received the following message.
Funny, a leftist professor friend of mine sent me this. Hey Eric? If
they weren’t enemies and the Left wasn’t against the idea itself, the
Left wouldn’t attack freedom as a “fetish”.
This is an admission that you’re not involved in some “complicated
relationship” with freedom: it’s just not in your interest.
The problem is, he didn’t read his leftist professor’s link very carefully. Maybe he should have suspected something given the source. It happens to the best of us. My response:
Jim, did you even read that piece? First of all, it was an argument for freedom. Secondly, the context of the term “freedom fetishist” was a designation given to “libertarians” who want to keep the government out of the bedroom. Hello Jim! That’s your side.
But just in case he was mixing things up, I decided to google the term. I noticed also that the phrase wasn’t hyperlinked. It cooked up 9 hits, including your friend’s article. All 9 hits are to professed libertarians embracing the term in defiance of some force of political correctness which has labeled them as such. The problem is, there is no such reference from anybody on the left, pc or otherwise.
So then I looked up “freedom fetish.” It all began with this WSJ op ed piece, a very well thought essay on the limitations of the libertarian philosophy. The title arose from this paragraph.
On the one hand, libertarians make a fetish of freedom; it is their totalizing goal. On the other hand, libertarians depend on the family–an institution that, in crucial respects, is unfree–to produce the sort of people best suited to life in a free-market system (not to mention future members of their own movement). The complex, dynamic economy that libertarians have done so much to expand needs highly advanced human capital–that is, individuals of great moral, cognitive and emotional sophistication. Reams of social-science research prove that these qualities are best produced in traditional families with married parents.”
Oh, by the way. The article first appeared in Commentary. The author, Kay Hymowitz, is a conservative.
So maybe somewhere the left does say that equality and freedom are enemies. But that’s not what you found. Your “freedom is fetish” meme? Again, that’s your side, not mine.
I’ve encountered atheist conservatives who basically argue that if you removed some of the religious authoritarianism from the equation, conservatism would be left with a libertarian slant. True to a certain extent, but not all secular conservatives are libertarian. At its core, conservatism is premised on the “prejudice” proposed by Edmund Burke, a quasi-ecological view of society which holds that the organic nature of enduring institutions mandates their perpetuity for the sake of order and the health of the society. The rules and mores of society which seem anachronistic and arbitrary to the “age of reason” premised liberals have evolved with society and become so integral that their sudden removal or undermining can cause serious upheaval and even the unraveling of social order in which the weak are protected. Even my friend, who says it’s leftists who hate freedom, laments the loss of stigma to control behavior. The problem is that stigma carries power and is carried by power and often requires government backing, in the form of blue laws or some sort of moral code enforced by sanctions, since we obviously can’t be trusted with pure reason. Life would be “nasty, brutish, and short.” So goes the argument.
I would agree certainly that rational minds can hold this view. But it is, by definition, authoritarian as opposed to libertarian. It makes sense that a conservative would call a libertarian a “freedom fetishist.”
Tomorrow night, if I get the chance, I’ll take inventory of left and right wing expressions of authoritarianism and libertarianism to continue the discussion. I suppose we should consider whether Stalinist Communism, in practice the most authoritarian left wing ideology, is so by nature of components of the ideology itself, or by the circumstances it inevitably brings about (such as a “vanguard party” with no checks or balances other than the “force of history”).