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Gunning for freedom, Leyonhjelm style

Senator-elect David Leyonhjelm’s comment that John Howard ‘deserved to be shot’ illustrates a problem all too often at the heart of libertarianism.

All the people at [Sale that day] were the same as me. Everyone of those people in that audience hated [John Howard’s] guts. Every one of them would have agreed he deserved to be shot.”

Strange. If the new Victorian Greens senator Janet Rice had uttered such words, declaring that John Howard “deserved to be shot”, one suspects we would have heard rather more about it than we have. Instead, the words of incoming libertarian senator David Leyonhjelm in a Fairfax weekend profile have passed almost without notice.

Leyonhjelm is a gun enthusiast. Actually, gun nut is probably a better term. He tells Fairfax “I had lots of semi-automatic rifles… every now and then I would take them out and pat them…” His position on guns is well-known — he claims the firearms deaths have not been reduced because of tighter gun laws, and charmingly exploited the murder of Jill Meagher to help argue his case. But his views on guns or any other policy issue aren’t the problem, it’s his views on democracy.

After declaring that Howard deserved to be shot when he addressed angry gun owners at that meeting in Sale in 1996, Leyonhjelm rushes to add “but not one of them would have shot him”, a statement that only confuses the issue because, if Howard deserved to be shot, it suggests a certain lack of moral courage on the part of those who believed it but then failed to do it. Presumably if someone had shot the Prime Minister, Leyonhjelm would have praised them. Instead of seeing a leader displaying real courage in delivering a deeply unpopular message to angry voters on their own territory, Leyonhjelm sees only a “bastard” and a “dirt bag”. Leyonhjelm uses similar language about the Greens: they should be tried for “crimes against humanity” for their advocacy against genetically modified food that is killing Third World children.

Leyonhjelm is sometimes big on democracy: he wants the community to decide speed limits, for example, believing they would back higher limits. But he’s not exactly consistent. The Greens in NSW, for example, secured over 1.1 million first preferences votes last September — more than twice as much as the donkey vote-assisted Leyonhjelm, but he regards them as illegitimate and criminal because of their views. And John Howard, elected in a landslide in 1996, deserves worse than being charged with crimes against humanity — his guilt has been decided and he should be shot. One wonders what other politicians Leyonhjelm disagrees with that he regards as meriting being shot or jailed.

There are many policy issues on which Leyonhjelm’s stance is appealing: as a libertarian, he is opposed to restrictions on drug use, euthanasia and gay marriage. He has savaged data retention and attacked economic xenophobia over foreign agricultural investment. But like many libertarians, especially those who get paid to espouse libertarianism, a threshold inconsistency emerges in Leyonhjelm. Freedom and democracy are fine only while they deliver the sort of results that appeal to him. It’s an inconsistency that troubles — or should trouble — each libertarian, because we are overwhelmingly people who already occupy the most powerful socio-economic status in society. We’re usually affluent, well-educated white males, people who continue to benefit from the privileged status that western culture conferred on us for so many centuries and still, to a lesser extent, does. We need governments less than anyone else, and accordingly are more prepared than anyone to view government as dispensable, even evil, except when we can ensure it serves our own needs.

That’s why, for instance, generous tax superannuation tax concessions costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars simply don’t exist for the current government, one so determined to reduce the size of government in Australia, in the same way that “unsustainable” health or welfare spending exist — they are embedded in a natural environment that serves high-income earners, camouflaged in plain sight in a way that government support for low-income earners never could be.

For Leyonhjelm, though, it seems to go further — those using government for ends that affront him appear to require extirpation from the body politic as illegitimate presences, tumours of democracy that some good ol’ fashioned lead therapy can remove. Still, at least Leyonhjelm’s stint in the Senate may serve to reveal the sordid secret to just how self-interested libertarians can be.

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  • 1
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Given libertarianism is Randian Objectivism-lite, I imagine most folks who’ve encountered a libertarian know how self-interested they are.

    Libertarians demonstrate why in RPGs, Intelligence and Wisdom are two separate character stats.

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Why should we hear about it? He’s Right isn’t he?
    Abbott and his Limited News Party can count on his vote more often than not?

  • 3
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Just shoot me.

  • 4
    Rais
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Imagine the headlines in The Australian if his name was Muhammad Leyonhjelm.

  • 5
    katas
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Leyonhjelm, will certainly fit beautifully with many of the current coalition members; some very odd oddbods abound. We do not need a longer parliamentary term with such extremists in power.

  • 6
    MJPC
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad Fairfax didn’t ask him what he thought of climate change, he may have gone apoplectic and have to be committed. Surely this is not who the average voter wanted in the Senate?
    There is something seriously wrong with the political system if nutters like this can decide policy.

  • 7
    Liamj
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    The nutcase has a regular column on The Land, which is often entertaining. Many farmers know that the yank-worshiping ‘libertarians’ are just neoliberals with farm tax writeoffs, and theres nobody better than real gun users to emasculate the boys with toys like DL. That DLs work is as a Big Ag salesman doesn’t endear him any either.

  • 8
    AR
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s rare to scratch a libertarian without finding an authoritarian beneath.

  • 9
    Andybob
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Shooting John Howard ? Libertarianism is looking better every day.

  • 10
    rhwombat
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Ab: Unfortunately, like all libertarians, it’s only talking about shooting John Howard. Libertarians are as capable of delivering on their tantrums as any other toddler.

  • 11
    Steve777
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Libertarianism allows more power to the powerful. The strong get their way, others have to live with the results. In our society, power is strongly correlated with wealth. In others, force of arms is more important. In any case, letting the powerful have their way without accountability leads to fascism, not some sort of paradise of freedom, except for a very few. Another route to the same destination is Soviet-style communism. Again, the powerful aren’t accountable.

  • 12
    Greg Ellis
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Rais (4) LAUGH!! - brilliant.

    Leyonhjelm doesn’t like government perhaps he needs to be someone nearer to the state of nature - the Australian outback, the jungles of Africa, the Himalayas perhaps - where he can be free from government.

  • 13
    bluepoppy
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Libertarians wrap their ideology in the banner of freedom of the individual when their warped view of the world would merely work to curb individual freedoms and significantly affect the poorest citizens who have no bargaining power.

    If a Labor or Greens politician made these utterances there would have been a media explosion. Even Abbott’s mispoken and misrepresented ‘shit happens’comment overly-occupied the media for over two weeks, while this comment has passed much more quietly.

  • 14
    Jerome Merriman
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Mr Keane suggests that “genetically modified food […] is killing Third World children”. Perhaps he would like to provide a source – preferably a peer-review journal article or articles – for that statement, and also review the development of vitamin-A-enhanced “golden rice”, which, by helping to alleviate the “shortage of dietary vitamin A, a deficiency which is estimated to kill 670,000 children under the age of 5 each year”, would “help prevent the cause of up to a third of the world’s child deaths”. I would argue those who, with all the scientific evidence available, knowingly prevented the distribution of golden rice for their own selfish means, would be guilty of a crime against humanity.

  • 15
    Jerome Merriman
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    If I said “everyone at the party agreed Tony Abbott and his frontbench should be taken out in front of Parliament House and shot”, certain people might grimace or go red in the face, but I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to interpret that as anything more than an off-colour turn of phrase. Offhand remarks which are clearly hyperbolic, like Mr Leyonhjelm’s above, should not be used as the basis for a serious character profile, which sadly the author of both this piece and the SMH piece seem to have done.

    Mr Keane’s point about libertarians only supporting “freedom and democracy” when they “deliver the sort of results that appeal to [them]” doesn’t seem very well thought out or evidence-based, either, considering Mr Leyonhjelm is far from a fan of what he calls “the gay lifestyle”, despite (rather begrudgingly) supporting marriage equality (in the absence of removing marriage entirely as a responsibility of government).

  • 16
    inkblot
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    @Jerome Merriman.

    Keane doesn’t suggest that “genetically modified food […] is killing Third World children”.

    He is referring to the context cited in the Fairfax profile for DLs assertion about the Greens being guilty of a crime against humanity, by denying genetically modified food to Third World children.

  • 17
    Andrew McIntosh
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    The first time I heard of libertarianism, it was from a very left wing perspective. A “libertarian socialist” was basically an anarchist from the older school - community and individual in equality.

  • 18
    Jerome Merriman
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    @inkblot Read the passage again. I read it as the author saying that the Greens were justified in being anti-GMO because GM food is supposedly “killing Third World children”. If he was just putting forward *why* the Greens are anti-GMO, he would’ve said something like “…for their advocacy against genetically modified food that *they believe* is killing Third World children”. If you repeat a highly contentious statement as fact without even qualifying it slightly, that’s equivalent to endorsing that statement.

  • 19
    Jerome Merriman
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    @Andrew McIntosh I think libertarian socialism and the type of libertarianism that Leyonhjelm’s a proponent of (probably closer to anarcho-capitalism) aren’t that different. Both are based around the “do what you like so long as you don’t hurt anyone else” principle, and really only differ in how they interpret the “don’t hurt anyone else” clause. Judging by the sort of people on their Facebook page, I think his party’s a pretty broad church – everywhere from anarchists to socialists to classical liberals to leave-me-alone individualists. I consider myself broadly libertarian (mainly because just about every other political descriptor has been irreparably tarnished), and I reckon either end of the anarcho-libertarian spectrum is preferable to what we’ve got now.

  • 20
    Mike Smith
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    There’s right and left libertarianism, and libertarianism is on the opposite of authoritarianism.

    Here’s a chart showing where our parties lie.

    http://www.politicalcompass.org/aus2013

  • 21
    Mike Smith
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    There’s right and left libertarianism, and libertarianism is on the opposite of authoritarianism.

    Here’s a chart showing where our parties lie.

    h t t p : / / w w w .politicalcompass.org/aus2013

    (remove spaces from h t t p w w w )

  • 22
    green-orange
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    @”I would argue those who, with all the scientific evidence available, knowingly prevented the distribution of golden rice for their own selfish means, would be guilty of a crime against humanity.”

    I would argue that you’re talking out of your backside. There’s plenty of Vitamin A in carrots - easier to grow than rice - and in um, brown rice.

  • 23
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    OKayyy, got it now, we have a new troll, O-G, pretending to be a brain damaged escapee from the 6 Counties (a cephalic cloacal concept if ever there were one) on Crikey, could it that old carbuncle ..mommas.. only 3 or 4 letters, help me here Crikey denizens, who was that lunatic who infested Crikey comments and esp PP…just can’t recall,.., slops more red into pint mug.

  • 24
    Desmond Graham
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm! Few basic premises - why is opposition to ‘to restrictions on drug use, euthanasia and gay marriage’ appealing as a given proposition ?

    Wasn’t ” well-educated white males, people who continue to benefit from the privileged status that western culture conferred on us for so many centuries ” earned rather than conferred ?
    The author’s premises seem set in stone - is this why the correct terminology of journalists now is commentariat?

  • 25
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    G-O, go on, tell us, you are the long lost, Reluctantly Spotted & Never Missed MJPR, a species like DH Lawrence’s Kangaroo, “… there is no female of the species…” aren’t you?

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