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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

The Strange Ontology of The Freedom Lovers

One point that stands out to me is the strange ontology of the right. In their world, the abstraction "freedom" has a very real substance. Thus, they think, it's self evident that more of it is good, less of it is bad, the same way a liberal might think about food and shelter. I suspect that conservatives conceptualize "freedom" as gold bars, piled up in the vaults of some people, but not others.

We can see how this gold bar conception plays out with the ultimate lack of freedom: slavery. For a liberal, a slave suffers deeply when he is permanently severed from his loved ones, leaving his wife and children behind when he is sold down the river. A conservative agrees that it is a bad thing, but they don't see the pain in his eyes, they see a white slave master taking away the imaginary gold bars that represent "freedom."

This "gold bar" theory of freedom leads to absurd conclusions, both about how the world is and how it should be. 

North Dakota is the most "free" state in America, way more free than Massachusetts (stuck in bondage down at #30), according to the "Mercatus Center" at  George Mason University (free to be a mediocre commuter school). But can you think of a way in which it is true that someone is better off in North Dakota than they are in Massachusetts? I can't. In Massachusetts they will be richer, healthier, better educated, safer, more satisfied with their job, more likely to be married, less likely to have children out of wedlock (and less likely to be a bastard)... The list goes on and on and on. All the stuff that conservatives of the Father Knows Best variety valued are more available in Massachusetts than in North Dakota.

But today's conservatives don't want to take us back to the 1950s. Rather, they want to go waaaaaayyy back. Back to Scotland, and the great libertarian, William Wallace (as imagined by Mel Gibson), crying out for "FREEDOM!" Do they realize the year was 1305 (Mel enjoyed the medieval lack of highland black people, certainly) and the fight was about kings paying feudal homage to each other? Is that what is so great about North Dakota: the Lords and Ladies are vassals to no one...?

I may be malnourished, orphaned, pregnant, and covered with mining waste, BUT I BOW TO NO MAN!

 Update: Krugman, reading Thoma, sees a different historical parallel: The splendid monarchs of pre-revolulutionary France.

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