Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Open Letter to Glenn Beck from a Radical Libertarian

Mr. Beck,

Watching you on (a rerun of) Freedom Watch this Sunday made me feel kind of bad. You see, for the past several months, I’ve been one of those libertarians who, I think rightly, have been denying your status as a “libertarian.” Some of the positions you’ve taken on various issues have been highly unlibertarian and the way you have conducted yourself in the past has reflected poorly on libertarians. I think I can speak for all libertarians when I say that we are repeatedly marginalized and have to work very hard to get our voice out and have our opinions given any kind of consideration. When, in the past, you have used sensationalist libertarian rhetoric while advocating unlibertarian things, I think it should be clear why many libertarians are so upset with you.

Still, I personally try to remain amiable to anyone whether or not they advocate for liberty. I just don’t want anyone trying to pass themselves off as something they are not. However, I’ve been hearing some decent things about you and from you. Though maybe not libertarians, and if so, definitely not radical ones, my parents like you. Plus, you’ve recommended some books, not my favorites, but good starts -- The Road to Serfdom and Atlas Shrugged -- and seem to have taken meaningful steps in the right direction especially when it comes to civil liberties and foreign policy. I took special note as I heard you say the “people” would provide for education, heath care, etc. That’s exactly the truth and I would like to hear similar things from you more often.

As should be expected, given your past, I’m still skeptical, but I find no joy in putting down those who may actually be a benefit for the cause of liberty. What I think most libertarians who are skeptical of you are worried about is your sincerity. After all, it does appear awfully convenient for you to start “finding the light” only at the end of the Bush years and right on into the Obama years.

By writing this letter, I hope to explain what will probably be necessary to gain the respect of many of us. Though I do warn ahead of time that among radicals like myself you probably will not receive our full respect unless you were to openly advocate for anarchism (and not some strawman of it) on your TV show. I don’t expect you to go that far and, if you don’t, that’s alright -- there are many respectable libertarian minarchists. What I want to offer is insight and, hopefully, you will take it into consideration. My intention is not to demand that you become a radical or an anarchist. Your reasons for advocating liberty should be your own and you will do liberty a service by being as honest about your positions and the position of others as possible.

The first request is for some apologies. During the Ron Paul presidential campaign there was a money bomb on November 5th, 2007 -- yes, Guy Fawkes day. On that day, you called Ron Paul’s supporters “terrorists.” This was uncalled for and terribly inaccurate for several reasons:

  1. It was called the rEVOLution because the message was about non-violence.
  2. Most Americans had/have no clue what “Guy Fawkes Day” is and were only using November 5th as an allusion to the popular film V for Vendetta.
  3. If Guy Fawkes was really a “terrorist,” how far off does that make any of the American revolutionaries? Your use of the word “terrorist” was both sloppy and insulting.

It would also be nice to hear an apology for how you treated Debra Medina with regard to the 9/11 conspiracy. As much as you bring up various conspiracy theories on your show, you didn’t give her much leeway for such an ambiguous answer. Besides, how does an opinion on 9/11 have any bearing on the validity of someone’s policy positions? It’s like using someone’s choice of toothpaste against them on the issue of the Drug War. And for the record, I am not a “truther.”

In 2007-08, I was a supporter of Ron Paul for political office. However, I am no longer a proponent of political action as I find it to be antithetical to libertarianism. The reason, then, for asking for apologies in these respects is to get you to acknowledge even further why there are so many Glenn Beck skeptics. You don’t deserve respect when you completely strawman the positions of others and you need to apologize for having done so.

I have heard you make various statements about anarchists which make absolutely no sense. Most anarchists are libertarians of various stripes, and the political philosophy most consistent with libertarianism is anarchism. If you want to call yourself a “libertarian,” it seems reasonable to expect that you would know a little more about libertarianism than what you might hear about it from a news snippet. Failure to go all the way will not preclude you from libertarianism, but openness to the ideas of others would be nice. Libertarianism has an interesting history and you should be knowledgable of it and open to the various interpretations of it if you ever want to be remembered as one of the few who fought for real and eternal liberty.

It should go without saying that if you wish to call yourself a libertarian you need to take libertarian positions. One such position, which you may have already taken but I have yet to hear, is complete opposition to any drug prohibition. This is an important sign of a real libertarian because 1) it is an unpopular position, 2) it exemplifies a concern for individual liberty, and 3) prohibitionism has been demonstrated to be a massive failure when put into practice. Another issue that you need to lighten up on is the immigration issue. Borders are not libertarian. If you wish to advocate for such a thing, be sure to understand you are deviating from the advocation of individual liberty. Libertarianism is not a nationalist philosophy. It is far more humanist. Any arbitrary, imaginary line drawn around geographical regions for the purpose of limiting access to unused land is not libertarian. Please understand this. You also need to fully understand libertarian anti-war sentiments and our advocation of civil liberties, though, as I mentioned above, you seem to be learning.

Your sensationalism and anti-“progressivism” need to go. Your language needs to become more precise and more open. You single out “progressives, socialists, and communists” without distinction. I understand that you are trying to be entertaining, but if your goal is to promote liberty, scaring the crap out of your audience does not seem like it will be very effective. “Progressives, socialists, and communists” include many people who are allies to the libertarian movement. As you use it, progressivism began around the turn of the 19th century as big business and government co-opted Marxist rhetoric to promote fascist policies. But most people calling themselves “progressives” today are not the progressives of yesteryear. This needs to be taken into consideration when you try to label “progressivism” as the ultimate enemy. Today's progressives can be dedicated anti-imperialists and pro-civil liberty activists and allies of libertarians with regard to various causes. Also, “socialist” and “communist” can describe libertarians. That’s the beauty of libertarianism after all -- that people can form into any economic arrangements that they’d like. Such a libertarian communist has written about this to you before. Conversely, there are plenty of proponents of “capitalism” and “free markets” who favor plenty of government intervention. These are not friends of libertarianism for more than just advocating for government, they also besmirch the name “libertarian.” I'm afraid you may have fallen into this category multiple times.

Libertarian economic analysis tells us that the politically well connected get rich without contributing to society. Given the size of the government, it is apparent that much of the concentrated wealth in this country and around the world is a result of statism. We do not have and have never had an adequately free market. All the misallocation of resources and buddy-buddy contracts lead to the relative impoverishment of those who actually do the work and contribute to society and this leads to many of the problems that we have today. Before being so quick to blame the poor or the unproductive for their own misery, look first at what might have caused their predicament. You’ll likely find that at the end of the trail is government in collusion with big business.

As mentioned above, you need a broader understanding of libertarianism. Read some more radical libertarians and anarchists. I would suggest David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Kevin Carson, Sheldon Richman, PJ Proudhon, and many others. If you sincerely want the truth, you’ll find much more by diving deeper into this rabbit hole.

Alongside Night author J. Neil Schulman has expressed interest in having you act in the theatrical adaptation of his book. Such participation may be seen as a good faith effort on your part, especially since the book is favorable toward anarchism.

I could probably go on, but I’ve made my point. Anyone out there who is willing to do the libertarian philosophy justice will be an asset, but doing it justice entails representing it truthfully and in a dignified manner. If you can be more open minded and less inflammatory you may find that us libertarians will be more willing to accept you as one of our own. But you have to earn it. Libertarianism is a struggle against concentrated power and violence and any libertarian worth his weight in salt is willing to join in the struggle. Are you willing to do justice to our movement? Or will you be content to corrode it with non-sequiturs?

Thank you for your time,
Chris George

Note: Glenn Beck's email is me@glennbeck.com if you'd like to email this to him.