David Brin: Libertarians and Conservatives must choose: Competitive Enterprise or Idolatry of Property
David Brin, a scientist and best-selling novelist, is also a leading commentator on technological trends. His non-fiction book, The Transparent Society, explores issues of privacy and accountability.
In this analysis, I’d like to focus on one of the directions that conservatism has gone a-wandering. But note first: I’ll try to do this without taking a single position that could fairly be called even slightly left-of center - by the old standards at least.
My entire critique will be from what used to be a completely conservative perspective. You’ll know this by the historical figure whom I cite above all others.
…anyone who actually reads Adam Smith also knows that he went on and on about that “fair and open” part! Especially how excessive disparities of wealth and income destroy competition. Unlike today’s conservatives, who grew up in a post-WWII flattened social order without major wealth-castes, Smith lived immersed in class-rooted oligarchy, of the kind that ruined markets, freedom and science across nearly 99% of human history. He knew the real enemy, first hand and denounced it in terms that he never used for mere bureaucrats.
When today’s libertarians praise the creative power of competition, then ignore the unlimited propertarianism that poisoned it across the ages, we are witnessing historical myopia and dogmatic illogic, of staggering magnitude.
Hence, at last, the supreme irony. Those who claim most-fervent dedication to the guiding principle of our Enlightenment: competition, reciprocal accountability and enterprise — our neighbors who call themselves conservative or libertarian — have been talked into conflating that principle with something entirely different. Idolatry of private wealth, sacred and limitless. A dogmatic-religious devotion that reaches its culmination in the hypnotic cantos of Ayn Rand. Or in the Norquist pledge to cut taxes on the rich under all circumstances — during war or peace, in fat years or lean — without limit and despite the failure of any Supply Side predictions ever, ever, ever coming true.
An idolatry that leads, inevitably to the ruination of all competition and restoration of the traditional human social order that ruled our ancestors going back to cuneiform tablets — Feudalism.