Politics & Media
Jan 30, 2024, 06:27AM

The Zigzag of Politics

From Texas to Grand Central, imperfect solutions must do.

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You never know what bizarre lawsuit, secession movement, or truckers convoy will reshape people’s political hopes and thereby even their philosophies, so we should have at least some tolerance for nearly anything that nudges society closer to freedom and farther from tyranny. Politics lurches from catastrophic event to event and from personality to personality in a way that tests the ideological models—and patience—of the philosopher, as libertarian Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick admitted in his essay “The Zigzag of Politics.”

Who could’ve foreseen 50 years ago, when a young Nozick was on his way to intellectual and academic respectability, soon routinely to be taught alongside left-leaning John Rawls as the anti-government and pro-government poles, respectively, of liberal political philosophy, that the dry, abstract Nozick of all people would today sometimes get lumped in with the white supremacists and rabid militia men—tolerant, thoughtful, Jewish, Buddhist-inflected product of the Ivy League that he was—by a left-liberal and academic establishment increasingly careening toward socialist and anti-white totalitarianism and unwilling to see merit in any other perspective, lest one thing lead to another and they end up with Milo Yiannopoulos on campus?

In other words, the truly insightful philosopher has to keep his hopes very, very low in this world and console himself with any silver lining that appears, possibly just by accident, amidst the clash of very stupid, random, and unjust philosophical forces. This humble attitude also makes any confident political prognostication absurd. Sometimes, accidental—and indeed, half-assed—reform is the only kind of improvement available to the real world.

Thus, the serene, philosophical but naive member of the establishment might think, for instance, that Nikki Haley, as the current inheritor of the markets/morals/military conservative tricorn, is what sane, rational improvement looks like in our current political system—but the honest Republican with more than a few years in his rearview mirror has to admit that when the establishment has its way, you’re more likely to get a war with Iran from her, cheered on by the likes of “sober-sounding” Mitt Romney, while House Speaker Mike Johnson finds some ass-covering way to avoid cutting a dime from money budgeted to Ukraine, Israel, Texas, or for that matter anywhere else (because God forbid the government should shut down even a tiny bit).

In the meantime, some random loon SWATs Haley, having no effect beyond giving her a brief boost in public sympathy that will ultimately not salvage her presidential campaign.

If all that’s politics as usual—and it’s by now obvious that it is—give me instead a jarring, random change of direction any old time. If the “respectable” rulers of the world aren’t going to become philosopher kings or even princely regulators—and plainly they aren’t—give me rock guitarist President Milei slashing and burning budgets in Argentina while snarling at the resulting protests, narcissistic Trump nudging House Republicans to squelch a budget deal that would’ve sent money to the Texas border and to Ukraine (neither domestic nor foreign spending by government are good things, after all), truckers trying to wall off Texas to make it an independent nation (even if for the wrong reasons), loopy Alex Jones calling for Elon Musk to become an independent Texas’ president (even if Musk, once seemingly a capitalist hero, lately sounds like not only an inept website CEO but a trade protectionist to boot), militias denouncing a proposed new anti-militia bill, and former Reagan advisor David Stockman (per his comments at a recent Reason event) backing RFK Jr. for president—even though he disagrees with RFK’s anti-immigration tendencies—because at least RFK hates the Federal Reserve as much as Stockman does.

I wonder how many QAnon supporters there are who think RFK Jr. sometimes sounding like Trump is the fulfillment of their bizarre prophecy that JFK Jr. would return from the dead to join Trump on a presidential ticket? You almost can’t blame them.

Again: you’ve mostly gotta work with what randomness hands you, and the things it hands you being unpredictable and strange doesn’t necessarily make them on balance worse than the steaming pile that the respectable folks, the “cooler heads,” planned to hand you.

I didn’t foresee New York City’s Democrat mayor, Eric Adams, cutting union-backed police and schools by $1 billion over two years or hoping to cut $4 billion in the near future, but, hey, I’ll take it, even if he blames immigrants for busting the budget and calls on the feds to hand NYC more while he’s at it. If he doesn’t get more federal or state help with migrants, he says libraries will stay closed on Sundays and there’ll be five percent budget cuts across the board. I’ll take it! I hope Biden doesn’t budge, just as I don’t want some big-spending “spirit of bipartisanship” to get the evil wheels turning in DC again anytime soon.

And if the numerous pro-Palestinian protestors here constantly clogging intersections and Grand Central with their protests lately have the unintended side effect of making Jewish New Yorkers and college students a little more averse to the left and rowdy activists, hey, that’s so good it almost makes me look upon the protests with greater sympathy. It’s a complex, interconnected world and sometimes you have to go with the tricky bankshot.

I have to admit even the people who should, by academic philosophical standards, be my archenemies, the Democratic Socialists of America, may soon do some inadvertent good, suing to overcome some typical bureaucratic hurdles placed in the way of campaigning and donation-accepting by non-major parties. Of course, being socialists, they will never learn the real lesson—that government is bureaucracy and should be in charge of nothing, whether political or financial—but every little bit helps.

So few of the pinballs zigzagging through our political system really understand their role or even their own stated philosophies. Best to just let them do their thing and hope that once in a rare while they mindlessly carom into the 100 million points bumper, to the delight of all.

Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey.


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