In this Opinion Journal Editorial
(requires registration), Francis Fukuyama launches yet another hastily-conceived attack on Libertarians. His attacks comes in two parts:
1. Libertarians are all isolationists, and isolationism been discredited thanks to 911
On the issue of foreign policy, libertarians are all over the map, just like the members of most of the other political parties. I know libertarian hawks, and libertarian doves. In my experience, there are more hawks than doves in the movement because libertarians generally feel that providing for the common defense is a legitimate role for government, even if we might differ on how best to achieve that (just as members of every other political party differ on the details.)
But rather than try to understand the nuances of any complex philosophy, it's a lot easier to simply lump everyone into the same category so you can denounce them en masse
. And to support this assertion in the first place, Fukuyama emits a few real howlers:
Sept. 11 ended this line of argument. It was a reminder to Americans of why government exists, and why it has to tax citizens and spend money to promote collective interests.
If anything, the message of 9/11 reinforces the fundamental ideas of libertarianism. Since libertarians generally feel that one of the legitimate purposes of government is to provide for the common defense, one of the more rational criticisms of the government in the wake of 9/11 is that it failed to do so, largely because the government has grown into such a bloated behemoth that it no longer does even simple things particularly well.
I would think Fukuyama's argument would be far more applicable to liberals who have called on government to move farther away from its 'core' purposes and into general meddling and micro-managing of our lives. In addition, it needs to be pointed out that the most consistent opposition to military spending and the intelligence services has come from the left, and not from libertarians.
And consider this offensive passage:
It was only the government, and not the market or individuals, that could be depended on to send firemen into buildings, or to fight terrorists, or to screen passengers at airports.
Two words: Flight 93
. The only terrorist attack that was actually thwarted was not the result of government action, but of individuals taking responsibility and acting heroically. And it was not the state that sent firefighters into those buildings - it was the firefighters themselves, who live by a code of honor that ensures they will put themselves in harm's way to protect us.
This has nothing
to do with government. There are private, volunteer firefighters all over the country who would do the same thing. Some of the men that went into those buildings were not even on duty, but responded because, well, because that's what firefighters do. They were shining examples of individuals making free choices to go to the aid of their fellow citizens. They were an example of what people are capable of doing without
direction from the government.
So we're left with the new government role of screening passengers at airports. I could think of a few words to describe this, but 'dependable' isn't one of them.
Yes, the American military is now fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and around the world - a move heartily supported by most libertarians.
The terrorists were not attacking Americans as individuals, but symbols of American power like the World Trade Center and Pentagon. So it is not surprising that Americans met this challenge collectively with flags and patriotism, rather than the yellow ribbons of individual victimization.
Sorry, my eyes glazed over there for a minute. Patriotism and flag-waving is anti-libertarian? If I wave an American flag in support of the country, is that an indictment of individualism? An endorsement of federal dairy supports? Just how does this statement support or refute anything? If anything, it suggests that Fukuyama has a very limited understanding of just what libertarianism is.
2. Libertarians don't care about children or the effects of cloning
Having thoroughly caricatured the libertarian position on the military, Fukuyama turns to cloning:
The second area in which libertarians have overreached themselves is in biotechnology. Here they join hands with the New York Times and important parts of the American left in opposing restrictions on human cloning currently under debate in the U.S. Senate. Many libertarians oppose not just a ban on research cloning of human embryos, but on reproductive cloning as well (that is, the production of cloned children).
Libertarians argue that the freedom to design one's own children genetically--not just to clone them, but to give them more intelligence or better looks--should be seen as no more than a technological extension of the personal autonomy we already enjoy. By this view, the problem with the eugenics practiced by Nazi Germany was not its effort to select genetic qualities per se, but rather the fact that it was done by the state and enforced coercively. There is no cause for worry if eugenics is practiced by individuals. The latter could be counted on to make sound judgments about what is in their own and their children's best interests.
This is a gross distortion of the libertarian position. There is a huge difference between supporting research into reproductive and therapeutic cloning, and endorsing the creation of children with 6-inch eye stalks and prehensile tails. But once again, the nuanced libertarian position is caricatured as a free-wheeling, anything goes attitude. That straw man is particularly easy to knock down, which is why Fukuyama set it up in the first place.
And I find it somewhat alarming that in Fukuyama's America, opposition to total bans on pure scientific research is seen as being the extremist
position. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
I don't pretend to speak for all Libertarians, but my attitude is that we should consider individual cases when they arise. We simply do not know today where this research will ultimately wind up taking us. But knowledge in itself is not a bad thing, and I damned sure don't want the state deciding which knowledge is good or bad.
Perhaps we will want to ban the selling of movie-star DNA so that people can raise their very own Woody Allens, but does that mean we also need to ban the right to screen for and remove genes that cause Alzheimers or MS?
Perhaps we'll want to ban the creation of complete human clones, but does that require also banning the ability to regenerate the heart of an infant born with a hole in his pericardium?
Perhaps such issues are clear to the geniuses who control the federal government, but I'd rather let those ideas percolate for a while as we collect more knowledge.
We are at the beginning of a new phase of history where technology will give us power to create people born booted and spurred, and where animals that are today born with saddles on their backs could be given human characteristics. To say, with the libertarians, that individual freedom should encompass the freedom to redesign those natures on which our very system of rights is based, is not to appeal to anything in the American political tradition.
And for decades we've had the ability to give people artificial legs, pacemakers, heart transplants, and to surgically correct many types of birth defects. We have the ability to surgically alter the very structure of a person's conscious mind (and do so in the case of surgery to eliminate tics and tremors). We have the ability to modify perception with drugs (and do so legally to combat depression and other mental illnesses). Is a man with two steel legs and a mechanical heart device 'natural'? I suspect that you would have gotten a different answer five hundred years ago than you'd get today.
Let me re-state Fukuyama's paragraph in a way which might be more illuminating:
We are at the beginning of a new phase of history where technology will give us power to create people born without genes that doom them to early painful deaths. To say, with the libertarians, that individual freedom should encompass the freedom to eliminate horrible, debilitating diseases which are part of human nature, that nature on which our very system of rights is based, is not to appeal to anything in the American political tradition.
That doesn't sound quite the same, does it? And yet, this is by far
the most likely outcome of the biological revolution, and not the genetic freak show he envisions. But this is a future much harder to oppose, which is why Fukuyama didn't offer it as an example.
Let me explain a bit about Fukuyama here: He is a 'cultural Luddite', which is a term few have heard because I just made it up. In 1989, Fukuyama declared "the end of history", because he felt that human society had finally discovered the ultimate form of organization - liberal democracy. The battle for the hearts and minds of the world is over, even if the Islamofascists and rulers in Beijing don't know it yet. And I suspect a lot of libertarians would find some agreement with that, even if they might differ in the details of how our liberal democracies are composed.
But for Fukuyama's statement to remain true, the fundamental nature of humanity must remain constant. Liberal democracy may be the best system for people with two hands and feet and IQ's averaging around 100. But is it the best system for booted and spurred quasi-humans with spines genetically modified for riding? This is the fear that keeps Fukuyama up at night - the fear that human nature itself may be changing. This is the same fear that caused the Luddites to burn factories. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of famous predictions going horribly awry. And so we need a powerful government to step in and protect us from change, from the unknown. Knowledge is too dangerous to leave in the hands of mere individuals. Some ideas are just too dangerous to contemplate.
I prefer a dynamic vision of the future. I prefer to believe that when people are left to their own choices they will by and large choose to improve their lot and that of mankind, and not create freakish sideshow people. I believe in the power of the marketplace to compel individuals and organizations to move in directions favorable to society. I believe that science is a force for good, and not something to be feared. And if the time comes when we start contemplating the altering of children, I believe the government has a role to play in protecting them. We are not at that point, or anywhere close to it. We don't even know if it will ever happen.
All we have today is great potential, and an unknown future. And that's all we'll ever have if the Fukayamas of the world prevail.