Moral equivalence from the right

What’s a Leninist trope doing in a libertarian mouth?

It’s only routine for Leninist lunatics to claim that democracy is really tyranny because their side can’t win democratic elections. (The usual phrase is “If elections could change anything, they’d be illegal.”) And it’s only routine for libertarian lunatics to denounce all policies they dislike as equivalent to, and precursors to, Leninist tyranny: Hayek, who in his sane moments made huge contributions to social theory, did exactly that in The Road to Serfdom.

But I claim it’s weird when libertarian lunatics defend Leninist tyranny on the grounds that democracy, since it leads to the choice of welfare-state policies they dislike, is really just the same thing, or maybe a little worse, as James DeLong of the Progress and Freedom Foundation does in his defense of Google for doing business in China. Note especially DeLong’s prediction/exhortation about an anti-democratic revolt by “the young” against the European welfare state.

I agree that Google is doing the right thing, and I’m willing to listen to the argument that we ought to cut China’s tyrants some slack, given the tough hand they have to play and the good work they’re doing in developing the country economically. But for libertarians to argue that Europe and the United States aren’t actually democracies, and that therefore the West has no standing to criticize tyranny, is “moral equivalence” in its oddest form.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: