A Mainstream Libertarian Almost Gets It 6

Radley Balko is one of the very best critics of the American police state of anyone who is relatively mainstream. Here he discusses what he considers to be the baffling situation of liberal media support for the drug war and opposition to marijuana legalization. His answer is that the media must not be that liberal after all.

It’s telling that the loudest voices opposing pot legalization are coming from the mainstream media, politicians, and law enforcement. The three have a lot in common. Indeed, the Prop. 19 split illustrates how conservative critics of the mainstream media have it all wrong. The media—or at least the editorial boards at the country’s major newspapers—don’t suffer from liberal bias; they suffer from statism. While conservatives emphasize order and property, liberals emphasize equality, and libertarians emphasize individual rights, newspaper editorial boards are biased toward power and authority, automatically turning to politicians for solutions to every perceived problem.

Because the left traditionally has looked to government to enforce its preferences more than the right, and certainly more than libertarians, it’s easy to see how someone might get the impression that the news media lean left. But you see the editorial pages’ lust for authority on issues like campaign finance reform, where unlike left-leaning groups such as the ACLU and the Sierra Club they almost uniformly support restrictions on political speech, despite the fact that their profession is inextricably tied to the First Amendment. This deference to authority was also on display in the Kelo v. New London case, where the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards jettisoned traditionally liberal principles such as equality and fair play in favor of a broad government power to forcibly transfer property from people of modest means to wealthy developers. That position separated those papers from traditionally progressive groups like the NAACP and the AARP, which argued that eminent domain too often enriches developers at the expense of powerless groups.

But newspaper editors’ elevation of government power above other liberal concerns is clearest on criminal justice issues, where editorial boards’ deference to police powers aligns them with conservatives about as often as with liberals. To the extent that the criminal justice system treats minorities differently than it treats the white majority (which is a legitimate problem), you’ll find newspapers registering concern along with the left. But while liberals traditionally have sought to address this sort of problem by protecting individual rights, editorial boards tend to stop at expressing concern, generally opposing any reform that would put significant limits on government power.

Balko gets it half right. Yes, the media “suffers from statism.” But that makes perfect sense when one recognizes that the therapeutic state is a core component of the Totalitarian Humanist paradigm. As Dr. Szasz said, “In the nineteenth century, a liberal was a person who championed individual liberty in a context of laissez-faire economics, who defined liberty as the absence of coercion, and who regarded the state as an ever-present threat to personal freedom and responsibility. Today, a liberal is a person who champions social justice in a context of socialist economics, who defines liberty as access to the means for a good life, and who regards the state as a benevolent provider whose duty is to protect people from poverty, racism, sexism, illness, and drugs.

The liberal media supports the drug war for the same reason they typically support gay marriage, affirmative action, expanding the welfare state, and nanny state laws ranging from mandatory use of seatbelts to smoking bans. All of these are perfectly consistent position from the totalitarian humanist ideological perspective.

This is encouraging:

For the last few months, my colleague Matt Welch has been tracking the positions of California’s newspapers on Proposition 19, the ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for recreational use. At last count, 26 of the state’s 30 largest dailies (plus USA Today) had run editorials on the issue, and all 26 (plus USA Today) were opposed. This puts the state’s papers at odds with nearly all of California’s left-leaning interest groups, including the Green Party, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Service Employees International Union, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

It is precisely these “dissident left” sectors-genuine eco-radicals, authentic black radicals, rank and file workers, sincere civil libertarians-that comprise the factions of the Left that we eventually need to bring into the Alternative-Anarchist/Pan-Secessionist paradigm. A breech between them and the Totalitarian Humanists works in our favor.

6 comments

  1. Hopefully many more people (especially in the “dissident left”) will recover from the delusion that mainstream liberalism is some how against power or is anti-authority. That idea is has been one of my pet peeves for a long time so I was glad to see Balko’s post on this issue. Also, it does not surprise me at all that the majority of newspapers would come out against marijuana legalization as civil liberties has never been something that the mainstream media has been particularly good on. The “liberal” mainstream media is not that different when it comes to law and order issues than the right. One impression that I have gotten from reading and watching news is that these liberals are usually only critical of the police and the whole legal system when it affects people who are members of the pc left’s favoured groups, this is especially true when it comes to drugs.

    What I find interesting is the patronizing attitude of the totalitarian humanists to many of the groups that they claim to speak for. A great example of this that I came across recently was in the comments section of Charles Johnson’s “Scratching By: How Government Creates Poverty as We Know It” http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/scratching-by-how-government-creates-poverty-as-we-know-it/. Note the posts of the second commenter to see what I am talking about.

  2. “Hopefully many more people (especially in the “dissident left”) will recover from the delusion that mainstream liberalism is some how against power or is anti-authority.”

    From my experience with mainstream liberals, I’d say they’re arguably closer to the “religious right” in their statism than they are to any kind of libertarianism. I’ve known a lot of people, particularly younger people, who describe themselves as “liberal” because they identify liberalism with individualism in the sense of anti-jingoism, anti-religion, or anti-law and order. When I was very young, I identified with the radical Left for those reasons. But the ACLU-like, civil libertarian branch of the Left, the “sex, drugs, and rock n roll” libertine left like NORML, genuine civil rights groups, or honest progressives (Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, or the late Molly Ivins, for instance) are very much minority and non-mainstream branches of the Left. The bulk of mainstream liberalism is race/gender/gay identity politics, eco-fascism, the therapeutic state, the welfare state, corporate-social democracy, and a liberal-internationalist/interventionist foreign policy.

    Btw, my university actually did a study on the question of ideological bias in the media and the results were what I would have expected: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2447

    What the study showed is that journalists tend to be more liberal on cultural issues like abortion or gay rights than the public at large, but are also more pro-authority, pro-ruling class, and pro-state on most other issues. (Note that I didn’t say “right-wing” because many radical rightists are anti-state, anti-ruling class, and anti-authority depending on circumstances and with varying degrees of consistency.)
    I think this reflects the class position and cultural background of journalists as much as anything else. They tend to be upper middle class professional people, and of middle class or higher class origins. They tend to possess at least university education if not advanced degrees, and they tend not to be born-again Christians or identify with working class cultural norms. So they don’t have any problems with gay people or abortion, think rednecks are disgusting, find crude expressions of racism to be uncouth, think neocon talk radio guys are vulgar loudmouths, but they still identify very much with established institutions and values and with the state’s overall legitimating ideology.

    “The “liberal” mainstream media is not that different when it comes to law and order issues than the right. One impression that I have gotten from reading and watching news is that these liberals are usually only critical of the police and the whole legal system when it affects people who are members of the pc left’s favoured groups, this is especially true when it comes to drugs.”

    Yes! This attitude is also reflected in mainstream liberalism’s attitudes on issues like gun control and self-defense rights. Liberals believe in statism as a value unto itself every bit as much as flag-wavers shouting, “USA! USA! USA!” actually do. Their particular variation of statism takes on a different form. It’s less parochial, less religious, and takes on a more multicultural and secular identity for the most part, but it’s every bit as authoritarian as any of its counterparts on the Right.

    “What I find interesting is the patronizing attitude of the totalitarian humanists to many of the groups that they claim to speak for. A great example of this that I came across recently was in the comments section of Charles Johnson’s “Scratching By: How Government Creates Poverty as We Know It” http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/scratching-by-how-government-creates-poverty-as-we-know-it/. Note the posts of the second commenter to see what I am talking about.”

    Oh, god, yes! Totalitarian Humanists often view racial minorities or the poor as the equivalent of children who are in need of rescue by supposedly benevolent, enlightened liberals like themselves. In particular, I have found this to be the case with feminists in their attitudes towards women who either disdain feminist ideology or who don’t fit into the standard feminist paradigm of what a woman should be.

    Johnson’s article is great. Too bad he’s such a PC ideologue.

  3. “The author glosses over the fact that violence and crime are very often the means of scratching by.
    Non-licensed hairdressers work out of their home all the time under the table, as a barter or cash only basis. They are available to anyone who wants to risk health problems or poor quality.”

    Obviously he’s not referring to a black neighborhood…you mess up on somebody’s hair there, you’re done for.

    Jokes aside, great articles…both from Reason and the Freeman.

  4. From the fair.org article:

    “Like many profit-sector professionals journalists tend to hold “liberal” social views and “conservative” economic views. Most of all, though, they can be broadly described as centrists. This adherence to the middle is consistent with news outlets that tend to repeat conventional wisdom and ignore serious alternative analyses. This too often leaves citizens with policy “debates” grounded in the shared assumptions of those in positions of power.”

    The article also points out the role of corporate sponsorship in selecting who gets hired & what gets published.

    The centrist position helps journalists to maintain a pose of being “objective’ and “balanced”. Outside that centrist core is a pattern similar to “vulgar libertarianism” — socially liberal but pro-big business The growth of social freedoms is not necessarily anti-corporate, since they open new market niches. The corporate sponsors of these major newspapers would no doubt be happy about honeymoon packages for gay weddings and other exciting new investment opportunities. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se — it’s one of the ways that the market supports individual freedom and social tolerance. But the corporate sponsors will also support government intervention in support of their interests, in restraint of fair competition — while resisting taxes on their own income bracket. Hence the mottled pattern of “liberal” and “conserative” bias.

    I also wonder what role the alcohol companies play in relation to suppressing drug legalization.

  5. “I also wonder what role the alcohol companies play in relation to suppressing drug legalization.”

    http://www.businessinsider.com/big-alcohol-donates-money-to-fight-legalization-of-pot-2010-9

    Remember those old TV ads that showed a frying egg with a voice over saying, “This is your brain on drugs”? Those were sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Tobacco, Pharmaceutical, and Alcohol companies were among their biggest donors, along with law enforcement organizations and others with professional self-interest in the war on drugs.

  6. The cigarette companies made a killing off the women’s rights movements by stating that one can achieve equality to a man by lighting up a cig. Also, Budweiser used a similar strategy toward African Americans with its Great African and Queens idea.

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