Anti-libertarian Nonsense from Sally Kohn

The silliness and ignorance some folks seem to proudly display when they rush to demonize libertarians and libertarianism never really ceases to surprise me. I suppose it should, but I can’t help being surprised by people who write about libertarianism from a place ignorance and fear. There are many sources of correct information about libertarianism. There are plenty of libertarians out there whom one could contact and to whom one could talk. Yet, over and over ignorant anti-libertarian arguments are made, often recycling the same old fear based ideas, almost as if the authors of such arguments are all part of a cult, cut off from the outside world.

The source of my surprise this week is Sally Kohn. I went to Wikipedia to find out who she is. Her page there (as of September 4, 2011) says that she is, among other things, the “founder and chief education officer of the Movement Vision Lab.” It then says, “The Movement Vision Lab is a grassroots think tank working to spread progressive ideas.” So I looked up the Movement Vision Lab online. It has a website: movementvision.org/. I have to say, if the website is any indication, the Movement Vision Lab appears to be a platform for promoting Sally Kohn. In any case, if you go to her “About Sally” page (notably, there is no “About Movement Vision Lab” page), the very first sentence there, “Sally Kohn makes the world safe for radical ideas,” is laughable in light of her attack on libertarianism. So is Sally Kohn’s anti-libertarian writing basically stirring the pot to get some attention? Possibly.

The Kohn opinion piece in question is posted at the Reuters blog under the headline “Do libertarians like Peter Thiel really want to live in America?” Right off the bat, she makes fun of the idea of the Seasteading Institute. The idea of building structures in the ocean to create mini-nation states does seem a little out on the fringe, so I don’t blame her for  poking fun at it. However, she then begins to talk as if somehow these structures are already being built by super-wealthy folks whose only goal is to escape America. They have actually not begun building yet. They’re still figuring out how to do it. And she makes it sound like people who want move somewhere else are inherently bad. Which is funny, because America was started by people who moved from moved here from somewhere else. I wonder if Kohn has spent any time questioning the loyalty and character of people like Johnny Depp who live outside the country much of the time.

Anyway, Kohn then gets to the part that frightens her the most. She quotes from a Details magazine article that explains, “Friedman wants to establish new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters—free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country.” This apparently gives Sally Kohn the heebie-jeebies. And she does not take long to jump from there to asserting that libertarians are okay with murder.

Don’t like the idea of tax dollars paying for public schools or highway construction or Medicare — or don’t like the idea of taxes at all?  The brave new floating world offers just the solution.  And if the self-appointed creators wish it, there would be no restrictions on guns or automatic weapons.  Or, for that matter, no prohibition against murder.  Pesky “moral suasion”!

Notice that she gives no evidence that these Seasteading folks would actually endorse murder. She just asserts it. Why would she make such an asinine assertion? Well, in a reply to libertarians who shockingly did not like her fear mongering, she reveals why she jumps to that assertion.

What’s more, the Libertarian Party celebrates the notion of an “armed citizenry”, abhors any restrictions on even the most dangerous of weapons, and opposes any prosecution of those engaged in “self-defense”, which is defined as including any property, etc., and not just defending one’s or another’s life.  For many people — myself included — these notions are tantamount to vigilanteism, endorsing a Wild West mentality in which might is right.

Got that? Basically what this reasoning amounts to is that because the idea of citizens having weapons to defend their life and property scares Kohn and her friends, she therefore believes libertarians are okay with murder. She is reacting not on an intellectual level, but an emotional one. Unfortunately for Kohn, this reaction becomes a springboard for her to vent more of her irrational fears about libertarianism.

Until 2006, the Libertarian Party Platform explicitly supported the right of political entities, private groups and even individuals to secede from the federal government. Fearing this seemed too extremist, Libertarians replaced that platform plank with a clause about the right of people to abolish the government anytime it destroys individual liberty — a very narrow and ominous reinterpretation of the Declaration of Independence.

Narrow and ominous? Really? Let’s take a look at the relevant passage from the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The right of people to abolish government when it is destructive to individual liberty is stated right there. There is no reinterpretation needed to see it there in the plain language of the document itself. This would only be ominous to people who want to use the government tread over the individual rights of others.

But wait, it gets better. And by better, I mean funnier. And by funnier, I mean more pathetic.

Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe.  Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”.  Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”.  Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.

Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties.  But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy.  Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda.  The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.

Yeah, Kohn actually quotes Ann Coulter, as if Coulter knew what she was talking about. Kohn’s fear of libertarians is only surpassed by Coulter’s. Ann Coulter regularly lies about libertarians and libertarianism, and does so in the column that Kohn quotes. For example, she claims Ron Paul does not want to get rid of Social Security. Coulter says, “Paul can’t even scratch Social Security and Medicare off that list by taking the libertarian position that there should be no Social Security or Medicare.” But when asked if he wanted to eliminate Social Security, Ron Paul said, “Yes, but not overnight.” Quoting Coulter on anything is like quoting the playground bully. It’s not actually going to help your argument or make you look more enlightened.

But pay attention to Kohn’s fear mongering. Lurking out there, Kohn wants you to believe,  is some secretive anti-government movement that is trying to take over government and force everyone to live in a lawless anarchy. Yes, there are libertarians who want to end government. But no, they are not out there trying to take over the country. The libertarians who run for office do not want to abolish government. Let me put this another way. If an obese person wants to go on a diet and start working out in order to lose a couple hundred pounds, that person should not be accused of wanting to commit suicide. Of course he wouldn’t be, you say. Libertarians who want to get into public office to help shrink the size of government are not trying to abolish the government. Claiming they do is like claiming the obese person losing weight wants to commit suicide. Just because you can conflate making a thing smaller with eliminating it does not mean you are correct if you do so.

And notice that Kohn wants to link libertarianism to racism and anti-gay mentalities. How silly is that? Somehow in her mind promoting individual liberty is equivalent to support for Jim Crow laws and anti-homosexuality laws. This is why I call Kohn’s anti-libertarian rant nonsense. Her whole argument is based on exactly this kind of absurd ‘up is down’ thinking. The foundation of her objection to libertarianism is nothing more than knee-jerk fear. And upon that foundation she uses ignorance and absurdity to construct an argument that is as irrationally prejudiced as the racism and anti-gay attitudes she mentions. She warns of “sinister” libertarians the way people used to warn about the ‘yellow peril.’ She suggests first that libertarians are okay with murder and all sorts of anti-American things, and then suggests that we are to fear what libertarians will supposedly do if we allow them to take over and destroy all that we hold dear.

Apparently, by “makes the world safe for radical ideas” what Sally Kohn really means is she attacks radical ideas. Few ideas are more radical than the idea of building platforms on the ocean where people can voluntarily form their own societies. As best I can tell, Kohn is someone who believes in big government and using government to control society. That is not radical. That is little more than the same ol’ authoritarian schlock that has gotten us into this mess. Don’t get me wrong. I know Kohn means well. But having good intentions is not the same as being correct. And Kohn is just plain wrong.

2 Responses to “Anti-libertarian Nonsense from Sally Kohn”

  1. Well, you pretty much summed up the gist of what I would have said in response to her too.

    When I tried linking back to the critique of her Reuters article that appeared in Reason…

    http://reason.com/archives/2011/09/02/libertarians-hunt-humansmdasha

    …the comment did not pass moderation on the Reuters site. But it looks like more than enough people (yourself included) are getting the message across to her.

    Excellent site by the way!

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