Thursday, July 07, 2005

Libertarian Name Games

Arnold Kling attempts to coin a new word that he hopes will scare impressionable youngsters into Libertarianism. In Fight Socienics, he attempts to equate government actions that promote public benefits at the expense of individual benefits with a diabolical amalgam of Socialism and Eugenics:

We have a healthy inclination to reject government-imposed eugenics. We need to develop an equivalent inclination to reject government regulation and spending of all kinds.

In its recent Kelo decision (see Professor Bainbridge's essay), the U.S. Supreme Court gave its approval to what might be called "Socienics," in that it put the social benefit before individual rights. When the government of the city of New London claimed that it had a higher social purpose for Mrs. Kelo's property, the majority believed that the opinion of the government officials was beyond question. In effect, the Court ruled that "there is no definition of right beyond that."

Popularity of Eugenics

The idea that reproductive decisions are an individual right, rather than something that ought to be regulated by the state for the "social good," seems well entrenched in the West today. But it was not always thus.

The science writer Matt Ridley reminds us that eugenics was a popular intellectual fad a hundred years ago. It appealed very strongly to socialists, because it put the interest of the state ahead of the individual. In the United States, eugenics appealed to conservatives, who were concerned about demographic changes due to immigrants from the "wrong" countries. It appealed to liberals, because it promised to help achieve their goal of improving well-being in the society.

Ridley recounts that England very nearly passed a pro-eugenics law in 1913. Only principled libertarian opposition served to defeat it. Decades letter, the adoption of eugenics by the Nazis served to solidify its bad reputation, although as late as 1934 eugenicists in England were holding up Nazi sterilization policies as a positive role model.

Practicing Socienics

In a sense, government taking of land from Mrs. Kelo is little different from most other forms of government policy. Elected officials and/or bureaucrats decide that they know better than individuals what is good for them. Whether they take your property by levying taxes or limit your property rights by telling you that you cannot grow marijuana for medicinal purposes, the officials are doing the same thing. They are claiming to know the social good. And they are claiming that their interpretation of the social good is more important than your individual rights. They are practicing socienics.

We've become used to reprehensible moral equivalence comparisons from liberals such as Senator Dick Durbin with his comparison of the Gitmo detention camp with Nazi death camps, but this new scare tactic from Kling is a totally unwelcome and troubling outbreak of slander-mongering from an unexpected direction. Kling is not presenting an argument but an argument-killer by comparing "government regulation and spending of all kinds" with eugenics, a despicable form of madness that equated a person's worth with their genetic "fitness". This kind of blanket condemnation without distinction, the affixing of a one word epithet to any and all policies that don't pass libertarian muster recalls such outrageous political slander words as "homophobia", "xenophobia", the once meaningful but overused "racism" and "sexism", and of course the promiscuous overuse of "fascism" and "naziism".

Certainly the Kelo case is debatable as to whether it represents government overreach or a valid application of eminent domain, but even if you hold the former opinion it stretches any boundary of reason and decency to equate the latter with either socialism or eugenics. Everyone who enjoys the benefits of our interstate highway system has eminent domain to thank for the appropriation of thoroughfares by the condemnation of city neighborhoods. However you feel about the drug laws as they pertain to the use of medical marijuana, can you really compare restrictions on its growth or use by individuals with the execution or forced sterilization of racial underclasses?

And, in probably his most egregious lapse in ethical judgement, Kling would equate the pro-life movement with eugenics. Whether you think that a fetus is a person or not, you have to credit the pro-life movement with setting the most stringent standards for justifying the intentional destruction of individual human life, which is diametrically opposite to the spirit of eugenics.

I think more highly of libertarianism and my friends and aquaintances who are libertarian to give Kling much credibility as a libertarian thinker. Kling, by inventing a new slander word to paint all those who would differ from him on questions of community versus individual values as the equivalent of eugenicists, has invoked the "nuclear option" which makes all debate with him impossible. In the marketplace of ideas, it also spells an ultimately losing option.


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