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Commentary
Charley Reese Charley Reese

Why I am not a libertarian

Published April 15, 2001


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 Charley Reese

Not only is no man an island, but no man is self-made.I'm going to tell you why I am almost, but not quite, a libertarian.

First, capitalism, unless moderated by Christian virtue or government, is just as brutal and cruel as communism.

I know that's hard for baby boomers to believe. After all, they grew up in the incredibly prosperous post-World War II United States. Most have never experienced really hard times. Most have not bothered to read much history or literature. Many were content to believe the fairy tales woven by Ayn Rand and her cohorts.

Try digging coal for a few pennies a ton in an unsafe mine where you are forced to buy your own tools. Try imagining a disabling injury and, instead of receiving workers' compensation or disability insurance, your broken body is just tossed off the company property.

That's capitalism.

Try a six- or seven-day work week with 12-hour days, a pittance for wages, in a hellish and unhealthy environment and absolutely no benefits.

That's capitalism.

You can still see pure capitalism in places such as Calcutta or Mogadishu. Capitalism is great if you're the capitalist, just as communism is great if you're the commissar or the party bigwig.

I wonder how many Americans would be willing to cut and sew a pair of finished blue jeans for 75 cents in a sweltering, bug-infested building. How many pair do you think you would have to cut and sew in order to feed your family?

Those $30 to $50 pair of jeans we wear were made by what amounts to slave labor in Central America or Asia.

I've never been a union member and don't intend to be one, but I can at least appreciate the struggle that union men undertook to improve the lives of working men and women. I guarantee you that without the "threat" of unionization, most working men and women would see a quite different face on their employers.

And that may not be too far off. Under phony free-trade deals, unions are being broken and pressured by the movement of and the threat to move factories overseas. Anybody who expects real compassion from a corporation would mistake Hannibal Lecter for a vegetarian. Unfortunately, the union leadership is so infected with socialists that they would rather pursue their ideological goals than look out for their members.

So, although I strongly believe in the maximum possible freedom, I also believe in community and in responsibility to that community. Not only is no man an island, but no man is self-made. Some people are just good at forgetting all the people who helped them get where they are.

If you aspire to total freedom and want to be entirely self-made, then go to a deserted island and live entirely off your own labor. If you survive, you can claim to be a self-sufficient person.

But don't live in a community with all its protections and benefits, don't go to public schools, ride on public roads, enjoy the benefits of publicly provided clean water and sanitary sewers and proclaim yourself an individual who owes nobody anything. That's just bravo sierra, and you know it.

Freedom is not a virtue per se. It can mean the freedom of the strong to bully and enslave the weak. It can mean the freedom to exploit the poor, to despoil the land and the water, to turn your back on the oppressed, the sick, the dying.

That's why, instead of a libertarian, I fall in with those old-fashioned conservatives who believe in ordered liberty, strict observances of the Constitution and a mind-our-own-business foreign policy. Don't confuse me with the neo-conservatives who like big government and imperialism as long as they run it. Most of those guys are just ex-Troskyites, anyway. And don't confuse me with chamber-of -commerce conservatives who say that anything good for big business is good for the country. That's horse manure.

At the same time, I'm definitely not a socialist. An ex-socialist, John Dos Passos, has remarked that the world was becoming a museum of socialist failures. And so it is.

The idea of a mean, something-short-of-pure, unregulated capitalism and pure, over-regulated socialism is what we should strive for.

Reach Charley Reese at 407-420-5315 or creese@orlandosentinel.com

Copyright © 2001, Orlando Sentinel


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