Monday, November 16, 2015

Anti-State versus Anti-Other

Republicans are doing what they so often do -- denouncing intrusive Big Government while calling for bigger and more intrusive government to crack down on immigrants, beating the drums of war, and calling for everyone to rally around the police and exempt them from any criticism.  Is this hypocritical?  I would say it is less hypocrisy than an error in terminology.  Or as this wise observer put it, it is the difference between being anti-state and "anti-other."  And here is the thing -- anti-other can easily masquerade as anti-state.  Ron Paul and his followers are classic examples.

I got a useful insight from Jonathan Haidt's discussion of the moral foundations -- particularly the foundation of in-group loyalty.  If maximizing your in-group's autonomy and sovereignty are important goals, it went a long way toward explaining to me why right-wingers are so strongly opposed to international cooperation, from the United Nations to trade agreements.  They are threats to national autonomy and sovereignty.  And it explained why conservatives are strong advocates of states' rights -- the importance of local autonomy and sovereignty.  And, incidentally, I am more sympathetic to that viewpoint than I have been in the past.  It is clear that on the matter of the euro the ignorant masses were right and purportedly enlightened elites were wrong.  Introducing a trans-national currency really was a dangerous infringement on national sovereignty that undermined countries' ability to manage their own economies and left them at the mercy of their creditors.*  In the Iraq war, the very worst insurgents were the international jihadis with no local ties and therefore no stake in the country's long-term survival.  So such concerns are legitimate, and confronted with them I (we) should give the matter greater thought before rejecting them as simple bigotry.

But too strong a focus on preserving one's in-group autonomy and sovereignty and protecting it from outside contamination can lead in a very ugly direction.  It is an obvious case of us-and-them thinking.  And it sees the state's proper role as throwing a protective circle around Us to shield Us from Them.  Superficially, this sort of outlook can seem anti-state because we don't want the state meddling in matters between Us, since the state is never truly one of Us.  Thus preserving the autonomy and sovereignty of one's in-group means minimizing the power of the state over it.  Thus the anti-other outlook can seem extremely libertarian and anti-state to the extent that it wants to deny or at least minimize state authority in dealings among Us.  But if the role of the state is to draw a protective shield between Us and Them, then there no need for any limits on its power in dealing with Them.

Note, too, that although fine distinctions among Them** are unimportant and parsing them is simply proof that the speaker is not one of Us, there are degrees of other-ness.  Us-and-Them is best seen, not as a sharp dichotomy, but as a series of concentric circles.  The outermost circle are hostile foreign powers and anyone who resembles them.  For instance, in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, a whole lot of people were unconcerned with the fine distinction between Afghanistan and Iraq, or between Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and the Taliban.  They were all Muslim, Mideastern, and enemies, so why bother distinguishing between them.  Likewise, I assume that when Mike Huckabeee responds to the ISIS attack in Paris by calling on us to scrap our nuclear deal with Iran, it is because neither he nor his supporters are interested in such fine details as that the Iranian government is fighting ISIS!  Yet at the same time, when North Korea began ramping up its nuclear program around the time we prepared for war with Iraq, there was no appetite for war with North Korea -- partly, no doubt, because such a war promised to be bloody, but also because it was obvious to even the more pig-headed that North Korea had nothing to do with 9-11 and was therefore not an obvious target for revenge.

Foreign countries in general occupy the next circle.  Here there is a tendency to see foreign countries in two categories, friend and foe.  With a foe (including countries like North Korea that we are not actually at war with, but are clearly hostile), the only options are war and complete disengagement. Friendly countries are the enemy of an enemy.  We expect them to support us in all our wars and will, in turn, support them in all their wars.  Failure to support a friendly country in its wars (either by that country or by us) is counted as a betrayal.  But the anti-other outlook distrusts any sort of international cooperation (except for fighting the same enemies) as a threat to national sovereignty. Thus they distrust not only diplomacy, but even lower level engagement, such as trade.  Here clearly the anti-state viewpoint (free trade!  No protectionism!) comes into conflict with the anti-other outlook (protect Us from Them).  That is why Ron Paul's opposition to NAFTA, or the Republican rank-and-file opposition to the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement are so important.  They are signs that a purported anti-state outlook is really anti-other.

Next come foreign nationals trying to enter the US.  And here all pretext of being anti-state vanishes. Militarization of the border, immigration raids, maximally intrusive surveillance of anyone entering on a legal visa, any number of annoying business regulations and red tape to prevent hiring anyone without a Green Card -- all these are clearly state action in its most intrusive and coercive.  They are also clear examples of what happens when the state tries to fight the will of the free market, in this case, in labor.  A true anti-state libertarian would emphasize this point.  An anti-other viewpoint may regret the regulatory burden on businessmen (many of whom are Us), but simply does not see state coercion against Them as an issue.  Likewise, we can imagine that in the war on terror, an anti-other would oppose any state dragnet over domestic telephone and e-mail record on the grounds that the state should keep its hands off me, but might have no objection to extremely intrusive surveillance over international communications on the grounds that anyone communicating with a foreign country is probably up to no good.

States' rights libertarians also look very much more anti-other than anti-state.  The underlying assumption in states' rights libertarianism is that only the federal government can oppress and that the actions of states, even if they are identical to federal actions, are inherently less oppressive.  But, although an assumption that the states can do no wrong is clearly contradicted by empirical evidence and contrary to libertarian opposition to all government, but it does fit well with the value maximizing in-group autonomy and sovereignty.  It should not be surprising that Ron Paul and a lot of neo-Confederate psuedo-libertarians belong to this tendency.

Finally, although not so Them as foreigners, fellow citizens are not necessarily Us.  I was particularly struck by this with a poster to Rod Dreher (which he wrote a separate column about, but which I am not going to go to the trouble of finding) in response to white support for black protests against the police.  The post made quite clear that the author saw the role of big city police as protecting the  SWPL (pronounced swipple.  Look it up) from the ravening black hoards and that the only authentic way any white person can respond to a police shooting of a black person is to line up behind the cops as one's own.  Questions of investigating individual crimes, making arrests, and justice to individuals did not seem to register in his view.  He did not seem to regard crimes by one black person against another as any concern of the authorities.  Indeed, it is far from clear that he even thought the urban police should investigate a crime by one white person against another.  Also unaddressed -- growing rates of interracial marriage and whether a white person may "authentically" care about a black spouse or their multi-racial children.

In short, the basic view of less government for Us and more for Them is not really incoherent if looked at from the right angle.  But from any angle, it is still ugly.

*Although, just for the record, the gold standard has exactly the same failing, and it seems strange to see Ron Paul sorts of libertarians, so prescient on the euro, fail to see the similarity to gold.
**Such as the difference between Communist, socialist and fascist; between Muslim and atheist; between Sunni and Shiite; and between any factions and distinctions of people who look vaguely Mideastern.

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