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In Defense of Libertarianism, from HotWired's Synapse
HotWired - Synapse (http://hotwired.com/synapse/)
12 September 1997
In Defense of Libertarianism
by Declan McCullagh ([email protected]) and Solveig Singleton ([email protected])
Libertarianism, as a rule, attracts the most strident criticism from
those who understand it the least. Expending little or no effort on
research, critics barely familiar with libertarian ideas concoct an
unappetizing stew of ideas - anarchism, egoism, and plain selfishness
and greed - and mistakenly dub it libertarianism. Small surprise,
then, that this ideological bouillabaisse tastes revolting. Such
critics aren't describing libertarianism, but their own fanciful
Libertarianism is not about anarchy, utopia, or selfishness. Instead,
libertarians simply are skeptical of "nanny government," and recognize
the many ways state power has been abused in the past. They believe
that government programs like health assistance, Social Security,
foreign aid, and corporate welfare do more harm than good. They argue
that everyone must be equal before the law, and everyone has human
rights to personal security, to property, and to free speech that the
government must protect, not violate.
Synapse columnist Brooke Shelby Biggs recently suggested that such
skepticism about authority is a sign of immaturity, asking us to
remember how we felt about authority when we were 12. "Despite the
fact that you knew exactly where everything was in your, uh ...
alternatively organized bedroom, Mom still insisted you clean it up,"
she writes. Eventually you grew out of it. Now you're an adult and can
think for yourself. Or can you? Not according to nanny government.
Together the left and the right conspire to dictate what you can eat,
see, read, smoke, and talk about. Leftists contend that the state
should regulate the economy (and technology), but not morality.
Conservatives claim that the government should leave the economy
alone, but should legislate what you're allowed to do online or in
your bedroom. Only libertarians have a consistent philosophy: The
state can't be trusted to screw around with the economy, to control
your private life, or to police the Internet.
Consider the recent bipartisan onslaughts against the Net. Democrats
have been particularly unrelenting in their attacks. President Clinton
endorsed the Communications Decency Act, signed it into law, then
dragged the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Ridiculously, he
insists that Cold War-era restrictions on overseas shipments of
encryption products are a good idea. Adding insult to injury, Clinton
has backed copyright laws that would require Internet providers to
police what their users talk about online. Then there are Clinton's
demands for more and more wiretapping authority for the FBI - a plan
that might have made even J. Edgar Hoover blush. (And this president
once taught constitutional law?)
Republicans have been just as censorship-happy. They, too, supported
the CDA, which the Senate approved overwhelmingly. Even after the
nation's highest court ruled such broad censorship unconstitutional,
some GOP senators pledged to try again. Others are teaming up with the
White House to make the Internet easily snoopable by spooks, expand
government databases, issue national ID cards, and wrest away your
privacy and freedom, one Social Security number at a time.