George Bush, Closet Anarchist

sherriffBushThe Idea: The actions of George Bush suggest a frontier-mentality faith in the individual’s ability to do anything better than the state. But the plan built on that faith is so naive, unworkable, and tinged with religious fanaticism and intolerance that it should be easy for opponents to present a vastly better one, much more to the electorate’s liking, yet still based on faith in and respect for the individual.

Lately this article by Mike Gecan in the Boston Globe has been generating a lot of blog buzz (formatting seriously messed up, but this seems to be the only version online). I thought it was interesting, but not for its main message (that Bush opponents don’t take religious faith seriously and hence alienate swing voters). The message that interested me was that Bush opponents don’t take faith in the individual seriously.

Now I know George Bush is hardly your poster boy for libertarian anarchism, but think about it a minute. Almost everything he has done is consistent with a (naive, idealistic) faith that individuals left to their own resources will do a better job than institutions. He destroyed the governments of two nations and has left them to rebuild themselves. He wants to dismantle government and social institutions like social security. He would like to privatize education. He seems hell-bent, with the assistance of Ayn Rand’s most devout worshipper, Alan Greenspan, on bankrupting the US government so that it will no longer be able, or trusted, to do anything. He chants “freedom” and “democracy” with absolutist fervour. In his abhorrence and distrust of government and central authority, he sounds not at all unlike Timothy McVeigh. He is fiercely opposed to gun control of any kind. In the mistaken belief that there is such a thing as a ‘free’ market economy, he espouses deregulation and a private ‘ownership’ economy. On the surface, his beliefs and actions are entirely consistent with libertarian-anarchist philosophy. His decisions are those of someone who thinks even no government is better than the tyranny of Saddam or the Taliban — and better than the governments of Iran, Syria, and most of the other nations on the planet. He has enormous faith in the “little guy’s” ability to rise from the ashes, as long as institutions of power and interference are kept at bay.

So what about the Patriot Act and his opposition to the right to die, to abortion and to gay and lesbian rights? My sense is that he is very much an ‘ends justifies the means’ guy — he evidently has no qualms about stealing elections, lying and committing fraud to achieve a ‘higher goal’. So what is the ‘end’ of the Patriot Act? Simple: The expulsion of those who threaten the master plan of needing no government in America. And in his philosophy, the right to die, to abortion and to gay and lesbian rights are moral evils, not rights at all, and it’s deplorable that they are being upheld by government institutions — the judiciary and the constitution. In Bush’s perfect world, those that espoused such evils would be reformed, dismantled, executed or cast out by right-minded Americans, and he obviously fiercely resents public institutions that prevent divine law from being carried out. So running back to Washington to sign a bill to smack the judiciary for upholding the right to die is morally justified, while the millions being slaughtered in Darfur should be looking after themselves and ridding themselves of yet another loathsome government that sponsors such atrocities, rather than expecting some other government to intervene. Every man for himself. (Women, well, as the Bible tells us, they’re moral slackers and should do what they’re told.)

There’s a bizarre consistency to all his actions. Yes, I know he has a psychopathic personality, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of assembling a cogent moral philosophy and using it to drive his agenda forward. Remember, that German lunatic in the last century also had a consistent and quite persuasive, well-intentioned moral philosophy.

The answer, as Gecan suggests, is that opponents need to provide a cogent moral philosophy that is simple, consistent with different American political frames (all styles of progressives, and libertarian conservatives — the authoritarian conservatives are beyond reach) and demonstrably more workable than Bush’s McVeigh-style extreme anarcho-libertarianism. That shouldn’t be too hard to do. It should be built on community rather than just individual, and on autonomy rather than charity, which would place it right in the American philosophical heartland and co-opt the great bulk of those who voted for Bush. And it need not be heartless or un-humanitarian — it merely needs to devolve its heart and its humanity and its economy to the local community, and distance itself from centralized command-and-control institutions. And what about the terrorist threat? As the Internet model has shown, the best way to protect yourself from attack, short of miraculously solving the problems and diseases that cause perpetrators to launch them in the first place, is to move everything out of the centre, to the ends, so no single offensive can cause much damage, and so that resilience is high and almost instantaneous.

Anarchism is a great theory. But we can’t get there the way Bush is trying to get there. Progressives, like conservatives, should have faith in the individual — to realize a fraudulent, ill-conceived and naive moral philosophy tinged with vicious religious intolerance when they see it, and to see the value of an alternative that is devolutionary, respectful, unpatronizing and generous.

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6 Responses to George Bush, Closet Anarchist

  1. Jon Husband says:

    I know this sounds trite, but it really is amazing what has happened in the past 5 years or so .. and that *they* have gotten away with it thus far … and that so much polarization has surfaced so quickly … I assume it’s been latent since the civil rights battles of the 50’s and 60’s and the Vietnam era. The complexity of how to begin some process of (I don’t even know the appropriate word … recuperation, remediation, fundamental change, etc. ??) regaining some ground for civil society and the means and social capital that will have to deal with the challenges of the next decade or two … are staggering. You’ve given us some tasty food for thought, Dave.

  2. Evan says:

    Almost everything he has done is consistent with a (naive, idealistic) faith that individuals left to their own resources will do a better job than institutions.Oh, I don’t think so. I think everything he’s done is consistent with a (vicious, horrifying) faith that people should be subservient to an imperial aristocracy.

  3. Yenayer says:

    Maybe, to be an “anarchist” like Bush is, depends on your starting point. If you start with a billion dollar in your bank account ( like Bush and his friends ), you can easily embrace Bush “anarchist” philosophy. But if you don’t have a penny … ;-)

  4. Kevin Carson says:

    I think the reality is just about the opposite. Bush, Reagan, Thatcher, and other neoliberals use phony “small government” rhetoric to package a massively state capitalist agenda. “Deregulation” can more accurately be called “reregulation”: a shift of the regulatory state’s activities in a more corporate-friendly direction. “Privatization” of government activity leaves a larger share of functions under nominally private direction, but operating within a web of protections, advantages and subsidies largely defined by the state. Spending cuts on social services have been more than offset by other forms of spending that subsidize the operating costs of corporate enterprise.The Neoliberal Myth of Small Government

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Yes, I was being a bit mischievous in this post. It was an exercise in trying to see through a neocon ‘frame’, and this is as close as I could get.

  6. Kevin Carson says:

    They’re certainly wide open for ridicule. Max Sawicky had a post a while back mocking the Bushies for being anti-government except when it came to providing prescription drug benefits, regulating local schools, etc., etc., etc.

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