Anthony Gregory, Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, discusses the worst aspects of the Left and the Right in America, and why we should aspire to liberty, peace, and freedom instead of the depredations of government.
Transcript (page all the way down for the audio):
SCOTT HORTON: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. Scott Horton Show, I’m him. Website is scotthorton.org. You can find all my interview archives there going back to 2003, more than 2700 of them going back to 2003. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at /scotthortonshow. And next up is our good friend Anthony Gregory, walking libertarianism, the litmus test, the plumb line, writer for – he’s got all kinds of fancy titles – but I’ll just call him a writer for The Independent Institute, LewRockwell.com, the Future of Freedom Foundation, and your local newspaper too. Welcome back to the show. How are you doing?
ANTHONY GREGORY: Scott, it’s good to be with you. I’m doing good. How are you?
SCOTT HORTON: I’m doing great. Appreciate you joining us. So tell me, in your opinion, which is worse, the left or the right?
ANTHONY GREGORY: Oh, I’d have to say the left.
SCOTT HORTON: And why is that?
ANTHONY GREGORY: Well, you know, the thing is, we’re seeing this more every day, what passes for the left anyway. Of course it’s not a homogenous blob, but one thing that becomes clearer and clearer in the age of Obama is there’s not a single area where these people don’t think the state should be involved, and more involved. Yeah, there are a couple areas where they say, “Keep the government off my body,” but even there they favor – they might not favor the most brutal government involvement, but they want the government subsidizing, regulating and taxing everything. And, just there’s no area that escapes their meddlesome curiosity. They just want to be involved in everything, and they have this infinite ability to ignore the evidence about the state’s encroachment into the economy and how destructive it is. I mean, just year after year we’ve had unemployment, you know, over 8%, close to 10%, and there doesn’t seem to be any relent on this.
And what really got me in the last few weeks was seeing even someone like Jon Stewart – who, as you know, Scott, he’s probably one of my favorite liberal personalities, TV personalities, though he’s a comedian, he’s probably one of the best – he was just so frightened by the sequester it was ridiculous. He talked about the sequestration as though it was some doomsday that the politicians had stupidly threatened themselves with, as opposed to being a tiny reduction in the expansion of the state. I mean, here we have the government over twice as big as it was at the end of the Clinton administration, the federal government, and anything that shaves even one hair off of the state is seen as the worst thing possible. And this kind of just invincible faith in the state for state’s sake, it’s got to be, you know, a major mark against them.
I must say, though, that the thing that really got me going against the liberals, I mean even some of the more radical left, was the reaction to Sandy Hook and on gun control. And in fact there was an article – this is getting a little bit esoteric, but I think it really, it really hits the nail, in terms of where they go totally wrong, even by their own terms. For years I’ve been complaining that no one is standing up for people who are going to prison for extended periods of time because they’re caught with both drugs and guns. Drug reformers don’t care, gun rights advocates don’t care because the other group is being implicated. And so there are people who go years and years at a time because they’re peaceful people but then they’re caught with both guns and drugs.
Well, there was an article in Counterpunch, of all places – so I’m not just talking about mealy-mouthed, you know, Dianne Feinstein voters, I’m talking about Counterpunch, the so-called radical left, and it was lambasting the NRA. It was this extended satire, this article. It was attacking the NRA and Republicans for having worked to reduce the penalties of criminals caught with guns. The idea was it was mocking this NRA formulation of the issue, like, well if someone’s caught with a gun but they didn’t use the gun in a criminal manner, you shouldn’t punish them extra for that, for just happening to have a gun. And this article was saying, “Oh, yeah, because we really believe in the Second Amendment rights of criminals, how dare we put them in prison for another seven years?” Well, I have no doubt that some of these people were caught for victimless crimes, they were ensnared by these horrible laws, and for the first time in many, many years, there I was on the side of the NRA, and only the radical left would be so bad on civil liberties as to put me in that camp.
So, that’s the other thing. The whole gun control issue. Certainly all the liberals and the progressives on the just left of center, they’re completely immune to logic and reason. I mean, here we are, and this is the beginning of the age of 3-D printing where people are going to be able to print out weapons, and they think that the future is one in which people aren’t allowed to have guns themselves but have to call the police, and the police I guess will be at every corner in order to come and rescue us when needed. So the gun control argument implicitly requires even more police presence, and on this issue they just side with all of the law-and-order types because they’re just afraid of criminals, they’re afraid of the other, and they want to use the power of the state to further monopolize weapons in the hands of the state.
And aside from the futility of it, which just shows, by the way, that this is like a moral crusade for them – you can say, well this won’t work, and many of them kind of know that it won’t work, but they don’t care – it’s just about sticking it to the other side, you know, using the force of the government to squash another side in the culture war. They’re just so immune to that.
But the other arguments that they invoke just show the moral depravity of their position, because they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, the Second Amendment will really protect us from the government. If we actually ever rose up, they would just squash us all like bugs with all their military hardware.” Which I think flies in the face of experience in America’s counterinsurgency wars. The U.S. hasn’t really been able to defeat an insurgency in decades and decades.
But it’s also an admission about how the government regards us. The government is this apparatus of military force, and if we ever try to claim our rights they would just wipe us out. And they still side with it.
And of course it’s all of these issues, the economic, this failure to understand the basics of economics, this hostility toward property rights, the culture warring, that leads them to support the progressive Democratic presidents of the last century. Their favorite presidents are almost invariably the very worst ones. I mean, you’d have to go very far to the left, or find some anomaly, to find anyone on the left who would understand, for example, why Harry Truman was so infinitely worse in every conceivable respect than Warren Harding. Right? You’d have to – it’d be difficult to find a progressive that understands that the president who let Wilson’s political prisoners out of prison, despite his many problems – and Harding had problems – is really a much better guy than the man who nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And why is that? I’m not saying that the left is as hostile to the rights of Japanese civilians not to be nuked, and yet it seems for them, and this is what’s most disgusting of all, that’s just one data point but you got to look at other data points. And for them the data points that always trump seem to be domestic politics and their view of the culture war, where, “Well, Truman’s on our side, you know, look at what he did with the Armed Forces” and all that, and, and – you know, because he’s a Democratic he’s good, or FDR’s good, or Woodrow Wilson’s good, or LBJ’s good – these people murdered millions of people! These people – and they also did the most to build up the military-industrial complex and the corporate state. Everything they say they dislike about American inequality should be blamed primarily on the progressives they love. But they love them, whether despite all this, which is bad enough, or because of a total lack of understanding, or just because of partisanship.
And, you know, it’s kind of a cheap shot, but it does bear noting that nothing has ever been worse than communism. And the communist governments of the last century wiped out 100 million people. When you go full-fledged against the market economy and try to abolish money and abolish voluntary exchange, you get the total negation of human rights in every respect, and although, you know, most of the left today are not red, they never really come to terms with that, I think. They never totally come to terms with the fact that their views really are on a slippery slope toward totalitarianism of the worst type.
SCOTT HORTON: Yeah, but isn’t the right worse?
ANTHONY GREGORY: Oh, yeah, are you kidding me? I mean, the right’s far worse. The thing about the left is what’s terrible about them is they think the state is some sort of, you know, like soft and cuddly supporter that will make everything right. Now the right, to its credit, knows what the state is, but this is what’s so scary. They love it anyway! In fact, the right’s favorite parts about the state are the worst parts about the state!
The conservatives say they’re opposed to tyranny, but they love the people enforcing that tyranny. They love the police. They’re enamored of the military. They love border control. Everything about the state that makes it the state, the coercive monopoly, the power over life and death – they just love it! They love it so much that even though they hate Barack Obama, they’re more in favor of Obama having the very worst, most menacing powers that he has claimed than the left is! They can’t trip over themselves fast enough to say that they want Obama to drone bomb even more people. They don’t trust him to take care of their health, but if you ask them should he be able to just kill them if he thinks (laughs) that he needs to, they’re all about it.
And so they know this. They love the prisons. The worst things about the U.S. government are, what, you know, the continuous perpetual war abroad that just shreds to death thousands of people – in a peaceful period! You know, at war it’s hundreds of thousands. But during so-called peace, the U.S. is constantly murdering people abroad, and the conservatives love that. And the prisons at home is probably the worst thing at home, or it’s tied. You know, over two million souls locked up in these rape rooms, and the conservatives love that, and we have those militarized SWAT police running around conducting 100 raids a day, killing one American a day, and the conservatives love that. They just love the death penalty. You can’t trust the government unless it’s killing people. And then to question it is the lowest form of unpatriotism, in their eyes.
And so, when it comes to all these issues – and of course I was talking about the culture war, but the conservatives are so – they just despise everything about the other side of the culture war as well, that they’re willing to throw under the bus everything they claim to be a principle in order to prop that up. But really, I think what they love the most of all is the violence of the state, which they know. And they say they want to limit government, but they always want to limit it to the worst things it does, which is really the cracking of skulls, the executing of people, the throwing people into cages, the deporting people – this is the stuff that they want to limit government too, at best.
And I would note that there’s something kind of – although there’s something really twisted about the left’s conception of the state as something that should primarily be a service provider, or primarily be a fair arbiter in the economy, the conservatives want the totality of the state to be weapons and war-making. They don’t like the butter as much, they just want the guns. They want to go back to what it used to be. Meanwhile, they say they love free markets, and the kernel of truth is I think they are at least marginally more hostile to the government taking over certain sectors, but they’re not free marketers in any real sense. They tend to be protectionist, certainly for labor and also for goods. They believe in licensing. And when they were attacking Obamacare, they had to contend with the fact that the individual mandate and a lot of the subsidies were Heritage Foundation and other conservative Republican ideas. They’re not good on public schools. At best, they want vouchers, which is just socialized private schools. They’re not good on free markets for drugs. They’re terrible on – they’re the worst on intellectual property. And you can’t really even have free markets when you have a huge military empire, but even if you could, they’re not even good on the other issues. They say that they’re against the welfare state, but, you know, they’re the ones who attacked Obama for supposedly wanting to cut Medicare.
So all the big features of the welfare state, Medicare, Social Security, public schools – the conservatives have at a minimum made peace with these institutions, and in fact only come up with ideas of how to get Wall Street involved so people can be making money off these institutions. And meanwhile they love the garrison state, the barbed wire state.
And then, the other point is, it’s true that nothing’s worse than communism, as I said, but a lot of things are about as bad and have plagued humanity for a very long time. If the 20th century is the indictment against the left, all the centuries before the 20th should be the definitive indictment against the right. I mean, Hitler was probably the only 20th century right-wing dictator that, you know, was in the same league as Stalin and them. But boy did he run with it, this right-wing version of socialism, and in a sense he wasn’t very right-wing. He was a throwback to older kind of pogrom-style European policies of mass murder, but he just mechanized it. And the entire period of humanity before the 20th reminds us what old-fashioned statism really is about, which is feudalism, patriarchy, theocracy, mercantilism, exterminationist wars of religion, torture as punishment and as entertainment. I mean, there’s a reason that when Rothbard wrote, you know, Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty, he really reminds us of this entire history of humanity being enslaved by a form of statism that we could very plausibly call conservative.
And so when modern conservatives say we need to hearken back to an early era, are they talking about Jim Crow? Are they talking about antebellum America when at its height there were four million African-Americans in chains? Are they talking about the days of Indian genocide or the days when a married woman couldn’t own property under coverture laws? I mean, there was no golden age of liberty in the past. Not really. Certainly not for everyone, only for a few. And conservatives seem to ignore this in a way that genuinely creeps me out. For them, it’s just an asterisk or a parentheses that there were these groups that were oppressed, but in fact they were the majority that were oppressed. You know, land-owning white men of a certain religious persuasion were not the majority at any given time. Men are only about 50%. So (laughs) the people who had liberty in the United States hundreds of years ago were a distinct minority, and even they were subject to more statism than today’s conservatives, at best the ones who believe in liberty at all, would admit.
So against the left we have all the evidence of modern left-wing statism, which is pure evil and genocidal and murderous and exterminationist. And against the right, however, we have every other form of statism that preceded it. Which really were far worse than I think modern libertarians acknowledge sometimes. And so certainly the right wing is worse, and in this country in particular I think we are more or less a center-right country, maybe that’s changing, but you know it’s all of the very worst things that Obama’s doing, those are the things that the conservatives either support or think he should be doing more rigorously.
And so, you know, I look around and I see how the things that seem to most bother them about Obama are in large part these fictional fantasies about how, you know, Obama’s gutting the military. So the question there is, well, the conservatives, they’re warmongers no matter who’s in power, where at least the liberals have the decency to be hypocrites and only support their side with the power of murder (laughs), whereas the conservatives, they seem to just believe in state mass murder as an end in itself.
SCOTT HORTON: All right, so what’s the right way?
ANTHONY GREGORY: The right way? Oh, well, it’s to eschew both of these parties, the left and the right. I know that I said the left’s worse and then I said the right’s worse, and it sounds like I can’t make up my mind. It really depends on who I’m thinking of at the moment.
But on the other hand there are good people who see themselves as being on the right, and there are good people who see themselves as being on the left, and there are people who do support – there are people on the left who care about peace and civil liberties, and more than they care about expanding the state or Team Blue winning, and there are people on the right who care more about fiscal responsibility and living in something that seems like a freer system where the state isn’t this secular tyranny that’s imposing itself in every area of their lives, and they do care more about liberty than they do about, you know, loving the cops and the military. And I want all of those people to become libertarians. I want people to reject this false dichotomy of left-wing tyranny and right-wing tyranny. Because in the end they both lead to the death camp, they both lead to mass slaughter and the gulag. You know, there’s not much a difference to them when you’re the one getting the shaft.
And so what I think is the right way is the way of liberty, which is antistatism, individual rights, tolerance, free enterprise and free association, and a world free of government privilege or persecution of economic actors, which would be a very different world, and perhaps above all, peace among all people, both within societies and between societies. We need to move away from the hostility and the hatred and the violence that are all entailed in war. And so peace and freedom are the alternatives, and we need people on that side rather than on this left and right-wing wings of the bird of prey.
SCOTT HORTON: All right, everybody. That is Anthony Gregory from The Independent Institute. That’s independent.org. You can also find his writings at the Future of Freedom Foundation, fff.org, lewrockwell.com, and all over the place. His own personal website is anthonygregory.com. Thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.
ANTHONY GREGORY: Thank you, Scott. Bye.