Knowledge 2.0.
22 September 2014 14:02 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

The irony of the left

  • Ivo Vegter
Why does the left claim to "confront fascism" when it actively supports it?

An online acquaintance of mine recently bemoaned his frustration with left-wing meetings. I just don't attend them, but he does, and complains that the left is more interested in fighting itself than in "confronting fascism".

I'm not sure what he had in mind, but outside of historical discussions involving Italy, I use the term "fascism" to denote authoritarian government that imposes ideology or morality by force. Laws and regulations that restrict personal or economic freedom are, to my mind, "fascist".

Of course, fascism was once a right-wing phenomenon, and I'll be the last to argue that the modern right isn't tempted by fascism on occasion, such as when they propose laws to enforce their notions of morality.

Most people on the right these days, however, are individualists. They abhor the nanny state. They believe in free markets because the alternative threatens their individual liberty and individual choice. They believe in deregulation because regulation is the means by which liberty and choice are curbed. They believe in property rights because without protection from arbitrary confiscation or theft, the freedom to enjoy the benefits of your own effort goes out the window. They do not wish their moral, economic or political choices to be prescribed to them.

In general, they subscribe to Thomas Sowell's aphorism: "When your response to everything that is wrong with the world is to say, 'there ought to be a law,' you are saying that you hold freedom very cheap." (Sowell is an economist, author, and senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.)

I also agree that legislators, no matter their political stripes, cannot resist the temptation to make new laws at every possible opportunity, whether to promote their own political agenda, to favour patronage clients, or enhance their personal careers.

That said, suggesting that the left naturally opposes fascism is a curious position to take. On the contrary, the left is generally the more rigidly authoritarian.

This is evident in a great number of the left's favourite government policies. If they believe carbon emissions cause global warming, their solution is to restrict carbon emissions directly by law, or indirectly by tax.

If they believe incandescent light bulbs use too much electricity, they don't argue the case by showing that fluorescent alternatives are cheaper, better or safer. They don't attempt to convince people. They move to ban them outright.

If they think it's a shame that some people struggle to afford healthcare, they impose laws that require everyone to buy insurance – whether they choose to do so or not. When that breaks the market mechanism and results in higher healthcare costs, they impose further laws regulating what kind of healthcare people may buy and where they may buy it. When that doesn't work because there isn't enough of a scarce resource to give everyone as much as they want, they impose rationing. In some of the more left-wing parts of the world, like Canada, they've had to make it illegal to be treated by a private doctor. Long waiting lists – like the bread queues of Soviet Russia – are the norm. The result is just as Winston Churchill said: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

If they believe workers do not have sufficient rights once they enter into a voluntary contract to perform a job of work, they impose additional obligations on the employer. When this results in higher unemployment, they use money expropriated from other people to create jobs that produce things those people don't want.

If they believe "diversity" is a worthy goal, they enforce it using draconian laws, combined with the bludgeon that state power is already such that it consumes half the products and services produced in our economy, and it can choose to buy somewhere else.

If they fear the health implications of this, that or the other, they simply ban them. It starts with soft targets, like smoking, but quickly escalates to elaborate laws enacted "for your own good". If you're fit and healthy, sorry, but you're going to have to abide by "trans fat" bans aimed at curbing obesity and heart disease in others.

If they fear some parents to be irresponsible, they impose regulations on every parent, including those who responsibly go about raising well-rounded children. So they ban a whole range of things they, in their superior wisdom, consider dangerous, risky or harmful. Is it any wonder that kids rebel and end up gorging themselves on alcohol or sweets when they grow up, or worse, take knives or guns to their classmates? They have never even learnt about the consequences of their actions.

If they fear money laundering or the use of cellphones in crimes, they don't investigate the crimes or trace the laundered money. They impose laws on everyone to require elaborate documentation and registration and limit what they can do with their own money. That these hurdles keep the poor out of the formal economy, or raise the price of communication for millions, is dismissed as an unfortunate consequence, forgivable because it was not intended.

Often, the intentions are good, and the goals appear noble. However, few of these laws can be justified because they protect life, liberty and property. Take seatbelt laws. Why on earth should anyone be forced to wear a seatbelt? It does not protect others. It protects only the people whom the state thinks are too irresponsible to protect themselves.

"[A] ban says, 'You don't know what is good for you so you must be forced to do what the government thinks is good for you.' The ban gets support because people generally think that while they are responsible and good at calibrating what is safe and unsafe, others are not," writes Lewellyn Rockwell, author and chairman of the Ludwig von Mises institute.

"Through this method," he adds, "all freedoms could be abolished."

The left-wing nannies who favour state control over great swathes of our lives do not subscribe to Sowell's view. Worse, they fail to recognise what Michael Barnett, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, points out: "Each and every time someone says 'there ought to be a law' they are saying that men with guns should enforce their will on innocent others."

If this realisation isn't enough to convict the left of actively promoting fascism, consider that there are so many laws and regulations in a modern society that most people break the law frequently, without consequences, and often without even knowing it.

Most of these crimes are bureaucratic, like failing to inform all the right authorities of a change of address or providing inaccurate detail on a credit or tax form. Some of them break laws you don't care about or agree with, like jaywalking, downloading copyright music, smoking marijuana, or not having a TV licence. Sometimes, there's little choice, like when a bus or taxi driver is expected to stick to a timetable no matter what, or when a bank keeps you waiting while your parking meter expires. Some are crimes you didn't know were crimes, like keeping a child home from school without the headmaster's consent, using an extension cable in your kitchen, or erecting a fence that contravenes local by-laws. Others are crimes you are unable to judge, like keeping below the correct decibel levels when you host a party.

The state cannot control free, law-abiding citizens, so it has made criminals of all of us. It has forced us to forfeit much of our liberty, supposedly for our own good. Moreover, every new law costs time or money, which hits the poor the hardest. Yet every time the state encroaches further, it is cheered on by the left.

In what way does that "confront fascism"?

  • Ivo Vegter
  • Politics
IvoVegterBW

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He approaches issues from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He grew up in the deep south of Johannesburg, and learnt his politics reading the Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad at Wits University during the early years of the country's transition to democracy. He recently left the city for the lower cost of living of Knysna, where he continues to write about everything under the sun. He is always right.

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