Charles Murray is out with another book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. I haven’t read it because no one is paying me to. There are too many great books that I will never have time to read. I’m not going to waste my time reading yet another of his screeds. Let’s be clear what he’s all about. Most people know him from, The Bell Curve. As a result, most people think of him as a racist. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I have called him that myself. But it isn’t quite appropriate. Murray doesn’t care about race. Like all of his books, The Bell Curve was making a social argument for conservative policy. In that particular case, he was arguing for an end to affirmative action.
This new book is more practical. He argues for a kind of civil disobedience. He wants some billionaires to pony up some money for a legal defense fund that will allow companies everywhere to break the law. This act of widespread law breaking will thus paralyze the system and the long promised libertarian utopia will at least be at hand! Some people seem genuinely concerned about it. Sam Seder and Digby spoke about it at some length on The Majority Report on Tuesday. But I don’t think there is much to worry about here.
Matt Bruenig tackled the issue last week with his usual finely tuned analysis, Charles Murray’s Abracadabra State. He noted that Murray’s legal defense fund would constitute insurance. And in most areas, the courts have already made insurance against law breaking illegal. Now it is possible that the court system would allow conservatives to get away with such a scheme. But that would be because the courts wanted the same thing that the conservatives wanted. That, of course, does not seem likely. Even conservatives judges bristle when conservative activists try to mess with their power.
To me, Murray’s idea is just a systematic approach to what conservatives have long been doing. We have seen two major challenges against Obamacare. But the truth is that conservatives have filed hundreds if not thousands of similarly frivolous lawsuits. And they were all taken care of very quickly. And it goes back much further than that. Conservatives love to rail against “activist judges,” but for the last 30 years, it has been the conservatives on the bench who have been activists. There are very few people in the federal courts who would be seen as liberal outside our own skewed definition of the term.
I think that Brian Beutler is exactly right, Charles Murray and the Right’s Plan to Subvert Democracy. But even that gives the conservative movement too much credit. Despite their constant claims to the popularity of their cause, conservatives gave up on democracy over two centuries ago. This is one of the great burdens of being a conservative. If you are serious, you have to admit that the people are not on your side. And that means abandoning the idea of democracy. And that means you want something like a philosopher-king. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Instead, it would just be a king — some better than others. But most conservatives are fine with that — just as long as they are part of the aristocracy, and they are allowed to keep stealing from the poor.
Murray’s subtitle is telling, “Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.” It’s interesting how conservatives see liberty as being whatever it is that they want. It’s never thought out. I would like the liberty to live anywhere that I want and to hunt and gather. But Murray would say: no, no, no! That’s because the kind of liberty I’m talking about interferes with the kind of authority (property rights) that he believes in. Murray doesn’t believe in liberty, though; he believes in a system of government that is more attentive to the interests of his class. Of course, he’s living in a dream land. There is no government that could be more attentive to the interest of his class than the one we have in the United States — at least one that wouldn’t cause a revolution.
See also: David Frum Summarizes Charles Murray