Fearless Prediction for 2020

The best thing about fearless predictions is that even a coward can make them. After all, no one will remember what you predicted anyway, or would care even if they did remember, so the “fearless” part of a fearless prediction is purely a vanity claim. 

With that as a preface and qualification, I will now venture to make a FEARLESS PREDICTION for the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

I predict that Justin Amash, who is apparently the only elected non-stealth-Democrat member of the Republican Party who is willing to put his independent mind above his superficial career aspirations, i.e., to expose himself to the wrath of the Mean Girl President and his millions of groupies among the Washington “elite” and the Great (Again) Unwashed, will leave the GOP this year and throw his hat in the ring as a libertarian presidential candidate. 

My prediction does not come out of thin air, of course. Amash, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, which has officially transformed itself into the House Shoeshine Caucus, has been summarily executed by his old compatriots for daring to find evidence of impeachable offenses in the Mueller report, i.e., for taking the position that Donald Trump lacks the moral standing to remain President of the United States. Whether Amash’s reading of the Mueller report is correct or not is none of my concern. I never thought Trump had the moral standing (or any other standing) to be the President in the first place. Neither, I suspect, did Amash. 

In response to Amash’s declaration, Trump and his allies, including within the Shoeshine Caucus, have apparently been discussing whether to actively campaign against him in his upcoming Michigan primary. They probably will, unless Amash turns around, apologizes, and voluntarily submits himself to ten years’ penance as Trump’s lead apologist and fanboy in the Republican Party — which I don’t believe he will do, mainly because Ted Cruz ain’t givin’ up that post without a fight.

So unless he wants to continue as persona non grata within his own party, risk losing his seat and fading into political oblivion, or simply retire from electoral politics and get on with his life (the best outcome for him, in reality), Amash has a big decision to make. I believe he will make this choice: run for the Libertarian Party.

The problem is that, although Amash clearly has libertarian leanings, his political career thus far has tended toward the old-fashioned Ayn Rand/Ludwig von Mises side of the libertarian position, which will put him quite at odds with today’s Libertarian Party vanguard, which is essentially…well, how shall we put this?…unreasoning.

What do I mean by that? What, that is, is the problem any half-rational libertarian would face within today’s Libertarian Party? I have already answered this question here in Limbo, in an essay entitled “A Nation of Libertarians and Leftists.” 

Here is my answer, as I wrote it last year:

As a young man, I was very sympathetic to libertarianism as a political movement, and even today there are many areas of common ground between my political views and those remnants of early libertarian theory which continue to survive as the tattered loin cloth of an increasingly embarrassing position. In its more “modern” essence, however, it seems that if you scratch a libertarian, you find a spiritual leftist who merely feels uncomfortable about the practical thuggery of socialism — for the time being.

Libertarians often like to normalize their position by saying they are really just classical liberals. Actually, they usually strike me as the poorly raised children of classical liberals. They see the problem of excessive and unlimited government authority, but they see it as a child would — without political nuance, historical perspective, or moral context. The problem with government authority, they effectively believe, is that it is authority, i.e., rules, structures, guiding principles. In other words, they see government as “authority as such,” i.e., merely a symbol of all authority — including even the authority of one’s own nature — and authority per se as a thing to be despised as the rival of “freedom.” Freedom, for the libertarian, is so thoroughly the single overarching good that it takes priority even over the traditionally understood premises of genuine and sustainable liberty, such as a moral or intellectual structure founded in a positive theory of the nature of human life — that is to say, of man’s proper and ultimate purpose and meaning.

For libertarians, the problem of government power is not that it thwarts the development of virtue, rational self-determination, and the private or collective quest for the human good. The problem of government power is that it thwarts one’s desire to do anything one wishes, short of directly harming another person. For all the “rational self-interest” talk they like to fall back on in lieu of religion, what today’s libertarians seem to wish to liberate most is desires — all desires, without differentiation. That is, they are not defending political freedom as the model of co-existence most conducive to the fulfillment of man’s nature as a rational animal. Rather, the liberation of desire, upon which the libertarian bases his argument against statism, has become an end in itself. Looking back to classical liberalism through the prism of the intervening historical transition away from the classical concept of virtue (“objective” human good), and toward the late modern, Nietzschean concept of values (subjective “good,” i.e., preference), the libertarian believes that the case for political freedom rests on the fact that no one has the authority to impose his values on others, i.e., that each person should be free to create his own values.

Under this “values” regime, the classical liberal tendency to believe that “People should be allowed to do as they wish” quickly devolves, in a mind without a rational view of human nature (i.e, a teleological view of mankind), into “Anything people want is good.” In other words, libertarianism’s freedom is founded less on the equality of human rights than on the equality of human goals, i.e., the non-judgmental acceptance of any human desire, as though desire, being a naturally-occurring condition, is in itself evidence of the value of an end.

In practice, given the normal tendency of the undisciplined, immoderate mind to tether its logical machinery to its strongest urge, the libertarian will typically end up rationalizing his personal preferences and desires, in lieu of truly defending natural rights. Evidence of this is the fact that the American Libertarian Party runs today on a platform the highlights of which might have been adopted by majority vote at a rock concert:

    1. Legalize drugs;
    2. Give peace a chance;
    3. Abortion on demand;
    4. Get over the old hang-ups about “traditional families” and sexual restraint;
    5. Religion and moral rules are so yesterday, but if you like them you’re welcome to follow them, as long as you don’t interfere with anyone else’s pursuit of the goals of atheistic materialism, i.e., “whatever I feel like.”
    6. If it feels good, you should be able to do it without government interference.

Abortion aside — libertarians, as alleged defenders of the right to life, are nevertheless way out in left-field on this issue, mainly for reasons derived from items 4 and 6 — you might argue that most of these items are theoretically consistent with at least some classical liberal thought. The difference is in emphasis; and I don’t mean “merely” in emphasis. Emphasis is significant here. The libertarian is not saying, “We have to defend even the rights of morally questionable people, as long as they are not hurting anyone.” He is saying, “A variety of lifestyles is beneficial to society, so who are we to say which lifestyle is better or worse?”

Consider, for example, that in the 2016 election, the Libertarians ran as their presidential candidate a proud recreational pot-smoker, who wore a T-shirt claiming that he was “running high,” and who actually seemed to be doing so on some occasions. The party was not merely saying the government has no authority in the arena of drugs (a classical liberal view). They were saying drug use is desirable, it makes one feel good, and therefore it is good, which is a very different position. Their presidential ticket was a walking advertisement for deliberate irrationalism and mindless gratification.

And this is the libertarian problem in a nutshell: Claiming to be defending the principle of individual liberty — a notion ultimately dependent on a comprehensive philosophical account of human nature, i.e., of the proper and natural human ends — libertarians in practice seem increasingly obsessed with nothing more serious than physical comfort and pleasure, a judgment-free lifestyle, and feeling groovy. More and more often, they come across as immoderate teenagers seeking to gratify themselves without regard for any authority, including even the authority of conscience, reason, or self-discipline, let alone that of parents or “society.” Government is just Mom and Dad, the old squares trying to limit your freedom to pursue all those things that you’ve heard can really blow your mind.

So does Justin Amash stand a chance as a candidate for the Libertarian Party’s presidential ticket? It all depends on whether party members are more interested in looking like a viable third party appealing to those Americans who still believe in the U.S. Constitution, or in looking like a safe space for anarchists, libertines, and potheads. 

What am I saying? Amash doesn’t stand a chance. As I noted above, his best bet would be to retire peacefully and enjoy the rest of his life as a relatively uncompromised adult. No one can be that, or at least remain that for an extended period of time, within electoral politics. No one ever has, and no one ever will.

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