Ferguson Agonistes

by Jonah Goldberg
Much to liberals’ chagrin, race riots are not noble “happenings.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reid Er (and people with less odd names),

I’m writing this “news”letter from the back patio at the Hotel Portsmouth which, not coincidentally, is in Portsmouth, N.H. If you follow me on Twitter, you’d know that. You’d also know that I’ve already had a martini (or two).

So if this “news”letter ends a bit incoherently with lots of slurred typos (“yoos sink Hayek wasn’t a Whig? Sat’s craszy talk”) or boisterous claims (“I killed the original Mr. Peanut in a duel! He had it coming, he puts Brazil nuts in everything!”), that’s probably why.

It’s been a crazy week. The Fair Jessica, the kid, and the dingo have all been out of town and things get kind of weird when I’m left alone (even the Couch felt unsafe). I had to clean the domicile for the house-sitter. I didn’t want her to open the front door and retch like a rookie cop at a horrible crime scene in bad movie. The tidying process mostly involved collecting all the dog toys strewn about (“Don’t forget all the empty bottles. You coulda started a bowling league, using them for pins.” — The Couch). Still, I thought it would be fun to mess with her a bit (actually it’s “sitters” — a very nice young lady who works at AEI and her husband). I have a lot of fake blood from Halloween (the Goldbergs were a zombie flight crew), so I figured I’d leave a bloody knife lying on the laundry room floor with a note that just read “Oh no. It happened again.”

Can’t wait to see if she texts me with any questions.

Ferguson Agonistes

I have to confess I am very late to the Ferguson story. I tend not to follow these kinds of events too closely when they break, because they always seem to go the same way. What am I supposed to say? If the cop did something wrong, he should be punished for it. If he didn’t, he shouldn’t be.

But even if he did something wrong, rioting is almost never justified. It can be more or less understandable depending on the circumstances, even forgivable I suppose. But never justifiable, never mind permissible. Why should the crime — real or alleged — committed by person X make it okay for person Y to do harm to person(s) Z? No one has ever been able to explain that to me.

And I grew up in New York City in the 1970s, when race riots were a thing — though not as much of a thing as they were in the 1960s. And that’s part of the problem. In the 1960s, you could see the point of race riots (though less so in the North where they were quite common). But by the 1970s, liberals had incorporated race riots into their mythology as noble “happenings” even though the romance of rebellion had lost its plausibility. And by the 1980s, tragedy had been fully swamped by farce. It is an axiomatic truth going back to Socrates: Nothing can be wholly noble if Al Sharpton is involved. Nonetheless, it was amazing to watch New York liberals act like battered spouses as they tried to explain why blacks are right to loot while at the same time they shouldn’t do it.

I haven’t followed the details well enough to have an informed opinion on what actually happened. But, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the easy part. I’m wholly with my NR colleagues on this. There should be an honest investigation. If the officer unlawfully shot an unarmed man, he should face the consequences. If he didn’t, there should be no (criminal) consequences. How this is a complicated issue intellectually is a mystery to me. How this has become a complicated political problem, sadly, is not.

This Is Different

All of that said, I think the Ferguson story has become more interesting and significant than the usual spectacle of this kind. The timing coincides with the ripening of an argument on the right against the militarization of U.S. police forces (led by Radley Balko as far as I can tell). It’s funny how unaware so many liberals are that this conversation was even taking place on the right. Liberals have been mocking libertarians for years as paranoid lunatics. Oh you want to live without government? Move to Somalia! Oh wait, when did the cops get tanks? (Some wag on Twitter made this point but I can’t find it now.)

It looks like the Missouri Governor made the right call bringing in the state police and Captain Ron Johnson, an African American from Ferguson. I’m sure the guy is qualified and he seemed pretty impressive from what I’ve seen and his decision to demilitarize things as quickly as possible was inspired. But part of his success stems from the fact he’s black. And that’s okay.

I think this should be an educational data point for those who think any nods towards racial diversity are ideologically suspect. I am as against racial quotas as anyone, but the idea that police forces shouldn’t take into account the racial or ethnic make-up of their communities when it comes to hiring has always struck me as bizarre. A Chinese-American cop will probably have an easier time in Chinatown than a Norwegian-American cop. A bilingual Hispanic cop will have similar advantages in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. When my dad was a kid in the Bronx, it was not uncommon for a cop to give a teenager a well-intentioned smack as a warning and leave it at that. But forget the smack. Today, in many neighborhoods, if a white cop even talks harshly to a black kid, it might immediately be seen as a racial thing. If a black cop said the exact same things, it might be received differently.

One last thought. While some uncharitable folks might find a way to blame Obama somehow for the chaos in Missouri, I don’t think that would be fair. This sounds like a local issue. But it has become nationalized by the media, and that’s not good for Obama. Chaos at the border, tear gas in the streets, crucifixions in the Middle East, ebola scandals, a “booming” economy where no one feels the boom: These all contribute mightily to the sense the planet is going ass over tea kettle and are not the sorts of things that incline people to be happy with the status quo.

Libertarians in the Mist

My column today (well, tomorrow from where I am sitting) is on Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece  on the alleged “libertarian moment.” Before I go on, I will confess to a bit of embarrassing vanity here. I look fantastic in my Star Trek uniform. But that’s not important. I will admit I wish Draper had talked to me. I’ve been debating and writing about libertarians and conservatives for almost 20 years. I’ve debated Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch — among others — on the subject, and I’m at a loss to count how many times I’ve written about it. All I know is that whatever the number is, it passed the minimum threshold for my wife to make fun of me about my obsession about a decade ago.

Random morning circa 2002:

 Me: What should I write my column about?

 The Fair Jessica: Hey, why don’t you write about fusionism again while I eat a bowl of broken glass?

There are so many things I couldn’t get into in my column. So let me just rant about them bullet-point style (it helps if you say “bullet-point style” like a badly dubbed Shaolin monk in a Kung Fu movie — “Oh, your bullet-point style is good, but mine is bettah!”).  

Libertarianism is popular now because it is cool to say you’re libertarian even if — indeed, especially if — you are not libertarian. I’ve spoken at about 100 college campuses and I’ve made this point almost every time. Libertarianism is a bigger threat to conservatism among young people than liberalism is because given the culture today libertarianism is easier than conservatism. To be a conservative you not only have to judge people, you have to judge people out loud. And making judgments about right and wrong is a sin in today’s secular culture. A libertarian can argue with his poli-sci and economics professors by day and be a party guy by night. “Socialism is stupid” in the classroom and “Who’s up for getting high?” in the dorm.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about libertarianism is its blind spot about the importance of community. Ayn Rand and Barack Obama share the view that there are only two important institutions: the individual and the state. The difference is Rand thought the state is evil and Barack Obama thinks it is awesome. The truth is closer to the middle. Well, let me modify that. The state in the Bismarckian/Wilsonian sense sucks. But government is not evil. Oh, it can be. But it needn’t be. Sure, semantically you can make the case that it is a necessary evil, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Nothing truly necessary can be evil. Gravity is not evil. Food and shelter are not evil. There are things we need to do collectively. That’s why the Founders wrote the Constitution. Its genius lay in the fact that it understood that government is necessary but not sufficient for a good life.

Let’s talk foreign policy. Rand Paul’s foreign policy isn’t libertarian because there is no such thing as libertarian foreign policy. Oh, sure, the majority of libertarians are either non-interventionist or isolationist (more the former than the latter), but the reason we call those ideas libertarian isn’t because the internal logic of the philosophy requires non-interventionism or isolationism. It’s because that’s where non-interventionists and isolationists have found a home. This understandably will offend many libertarians who are sincere non-interventionists. But the fact is that there is a very clear demarcation between the international realm and the national realm. How we order our internal arrangements must be different than how we order our external ones. Inside the fortress we can believe in maximalist notions of individual liberty. But the Constitution (libertarian-ly understood) by definition doesn’t apply to individuals or nation-states outside our borders. Contrary to the claims of many hawks and neoconservatives (not the same thing!) as a matter of fact and logic no libertarian is an isolationist. Isolationists do not believe in free trade or open borders. Q.E.D.

Non-interventionism’s moment is probably starting to wind down. I’m pretty sure it cannot withstand sustained news cycles of jihadists burying children alive and crucifying Christians. Non-interventionism seems brilliant when intervention is — or seems to be — a bad idea. Rand Paul has benefitted enormously from the relative calm we’ve been living under for the last several years. As Seth Mandel explains in a really insightful post, “A stable global order is a great time to be a noninterventionist.”

Oh, for you constitutionalist libertarians, you might ponder the fact that the reason we swapped out the Articles of Confederation for the Constitution was that the Barbary pirates were getting all up in our business and we needed to pay for a navy to open a can of whup-ass on them.

When it comes to the federal government in the domestic sphere, I’m pretty damned libertarian. But I am also damn near a hippy communitarian when it comes to everything else. The libertarians in Draper’s essay talk a great game about individual liberty and there’s no end of sneering  at social conservatives. But in a truly free society individuals would be free to live conservatively. Far more important: They would be free to live conservatively in groups. We call these groups “communities.” That means in a free society some communities would be free to establish rules that other people would find too constraining. What breaks my heart about Draper’s essay is that it buys into Obama’s view of society: Individuals versus the state. Bollocks. In such a denuded society the federal government will inexorably take charge of things it has no business taking charge of. Too many liberals and libertarians share the view that the government in Washington is the only government in the game. I agree entirely with libertarians that the feds shouldn’t be in the business of telling anybody how to live. But local communities should have enormous — though not unlimited — latitude to organize around principles that some libertarians, conservatives, and liberals don’t like.

Another point (which I’ve made 8 trillion times). Liberals aren’t libertarian about social issues! Libertarians don’t believe in speech codes. They don’t believe in racial quotas. They don’t believe in cigarette bans. They don’t believe private citizens should be forced to do business with people they don’t want to do business with. They don’t believe in socialized medicine or limits on soda sizes. I have contempt for both liberals who claim they are libertarians and for libertarians who find common cause with liberals who refuse to acknowledge this fact. Claiming to be socially liberal but fiscally conservative is one of the great dodges in American politics. But it pales in comparison to claiming that you’re socially libertarian when you’re in fact socially authoritarian.

One last point. Let’s assume that Draper is right. This is the libertarians’ moment. Well, I’ve got bad news for my libertarian friends. That moment will last exactly as long as, and no longer than, it takes for libertarians to actually take power. The instant there is a libertarian president or a libertarian majority in Congress, liberals will immediately and passionately denounce libertarianism as evil, cruel, sexist, and racist. This is the story of progressivism and it will never change. Any non-progressive movement that gains power becomes The Enemy. If Rand Paul is the nominee, I guarantee you people will look back on Draper’s piece as a set up. Liberals do this all the time. They designate out-of-power factions as the good conservatives or good right-wingers, because that makes them sound open-minded (“I don’t hate all conservatives, just the ones in charge.”). But then once they have a chance of seeing their ideas implemented, the fearmongering begins. If Rand Paul’s the nominee, the New York Times will be bludgeoning us with bones from his father’s closet until Paul is a Klansman. Remember, this is the crowd that told us Mitt Romney gave some woman cancer. People forget that liberals loved neoconservatism in the 1990s when it was out of power. Once it was in power (or perceived to be) under George W. Bush, it became foreign and scary and “Straussian.” Today green-eyeshade Republicanism of the Nixon-(Poppa) Bush variety is all the rage. But when Nixon and Bush were president, liberals shrieked “Fascism!” Liberal nostalgia for Reagan or Goldwater is remarkably hard to reconcile with the way liberals treated Reagan and Goldwater when they were in power.

Progressivism, stripped of its philosophical flare is ultimately and irreducibly about power. Any idea, movement, or politician that threatens the power of progressives and the(ir) administrative state will be cast as the greatest evil in the land. Libertarians who think otherwise are betraying their own anti-utopian creed.

Various & Sundry

Zoë Update: As of this writing she is wending her way with the Fair Jessica to Spokane. She had a wonderful couple days in Montana. I can’t wait to see her. Once I am out in Washington State with her, expect more Zoë tweets.

In case you missed it, here is my case for why the Pope needs ninjas.

Here’s my cheery column on the long war coming.

A decent society would ban this now before it starts happening here. Seriously, you can’t unsee what is at the other end of this link (and it’s safe for work).

22 Unusual and Creative Aquariums.

Go Randy! Go Randy!

If liquor bottles had brutally realistic captions.

This is not Zoë trying to save a fish.

It’s begun. Cat holds owners hostage in bedroom.

New Japanese man-bra helps owners with “moobs.”

Dog does not want to share her toy with a fox — and rightly so!

Sometimes you just need your Mickey Ds.

Child mayors are so last week . . . Now we have dog mayors (won by landslide).

Cute or not?

Do Dogs Get Jealous? A Study

Kids grow up fast nowadays.

Next time it might be nice to warn the passengers that the pilot has one arm.

Australian hospital accidentally declares 200 patients dead.

Alleged killer asked Siri to help him hide his roommate’s corpse.

There’s a clear cause and effect here.

Easy dieting: man gets drunk every time he eats.

Depraved child is contrite for her sins (‘your picture went away . . . foweva’).

Cat reveals true colors: stands for Russian national anthem.

McDonald’s forced to apologize after customer finds Swastika in her food.

The chicken that lived.

Arizona math teacher arrives drunk to class and keeps drinking.

Why Chinese students are winning.

Superhuman dog balances 100 different fruits and vegetables on his head.

A cow with an identity crisis: thinks she’s a dog.

Kittens reenact Fifty Shades of Grey trailer

Dedicated McDonald’s customer uses the drive-thru while strapped to a stretcher.

Okay, that’s it. I can’t tell you how giddy I am to reunite the whole family. (“You just did” — The Couch.)