In The First Circle Bookclub!
Ah, the denouement.
We’ve had some time to catch up, I hope (and if we fell behind schedule, I hope that the book held your interest enough to keep going despite the schedule). Over and over again, there were themes of the tiniest nooks and crannies the government stuck its nose into, themes of what the government claimed to have jurisdiction over, themes of what people were willing to live with, and through, and what they had to do in order to survive a sociopathic government.
This was one of the books that made me sit down and really explore the questions of “what is my relationship to authority? What is its relationship to me?”
Behind the cut, you’ll find a handful of omphaloskepsis on Libertarianism. You’ve been warned. If you wish to just jump ahead to the comments, I’d be delighted to read the questions that this book inspired for you, when you had a few minutes to staring at the bedroom ceiling, driving between errands, or walking to and from the water fountain, I’d like to know what did you think about the book as a whole? Can you believe that this only came out in 1968?
Most importantly: What questions started haunting you?
Back in March, in one of Kuznicki’s threads, the topic of how different folks came to Libertarianism came up. The general assumption out there (and we saw this back again last month with our discussion of Corey Robin’s article on Nietzsche being one of the fathers of Libertarianism via, you guessed it, the Austrian school) is this: People become Libertarians because of Economics.
This always strikes me as alien because I didn’t come to my Libertarianism via the big guys who everybody talks about when they talk about the economic fathers of Libertarianism. Heck, neither did I come to Libertarianism via The Mother Of Objectivism. I came to my Libertarianism via a handful of thinkers who, it seems to me, rarely come up in the discussions. Voltaire. Camus. Solzhenitsyn.
Not necessarily because they came out and said “Human Beings Need To Be Free To Drink Big Gulps” but because they wrote some amazing works that make me sit down and ask questions that haunted me. As such, I have to say that my Libertarianism isn’t Economic. It’s Existential. Now, of course, when you think about that stuff for long enough and go where it takes you, you do happen to end up with something a lot closer to Austrian Economics (with a handful of thoughts from the Monetarists) than to, say, Keynes… but that’s the cart. It’s not the horse.
So it’s through that particular weedy garden that I walked through to get where I am… and, as such, when I encounter cases such as “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission“, my response is going to start with “THE GOVERNMENT CENSORED A POLITICAL MOVIE??? IT’S ARGUING THAT IT COULD BAN BOOKS???” rather than with questions of money being speech or corporations being people. Those questions seem so small compared to the question of the government censoring a political movie. In arguments over the recent PPACA and whether or not we, as a society, have a compelling interest in your food choices, my inclination is closer to asking “by what right do you have the authority to tell me what I can and cannot eat or drink?” than to point out that provision of the public good does give us, as a society, some input. (Indeed, The Pirate Guy had the comment of the thread when we discussed Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban being overturned.) And then, when I stop asking about whether I can tell you that you can’t buy a Big Gulp, I turn my eye to the War On Drugs and see how very many things we throw people in jail for enjoying. And I look at the numbers of people we’ve imprisoned in the US.
And even when it comes to something as silly as 3D printing of handguns, I come back to one of Solzhenitsyn’s quotations from The Gulag Archipelago:
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
And it’s with those thoughts do I realize that, in any given power dynamic, there’s the person doing the telling and the person being told. Prior to reading Solzhenitsyn, I was a lot more likely to take as my assumption that I would be one of the people doing the telling and, more than that, one of the *GOOD* people doing the telling. Look, drugs are bad. We need to keep prohibition up because drugs are bad. We need to protect children from these dangerous ideas… I understand that adults can probably handle them but we have a responsibility to children to make sure that they’re not exposed to anything toxic until they’re old enough to handle it. I even found a mini-essay I wrote about gun control (I used to be for it). The point of the essay was that we could trust our authorities in the absence of ubiquitous handguns among our kinsmen than we could trust our kinsmen with ubiquitous guns in the absence of our authorities.
And, yes, there’s a tiny bit of Rage Against The Machine in there too.
In any case, I hope that you enjoyed the book (or if “enjoyed” is the wrong word, I hope that your experience of the book was beneficial to you). And so I will ask one last time:
You, yes you! What did you think? What scenes, phrases, thoughts stuck out for you?