Libertarianism is not the preserve of the right

3rd November 2000

THE word infamous is never used these days to describe a person. You never hear of someone being described as “infamous” as the opposite to famous.

Mary Ellen Synon has probably changed all that. She was at once propelled into mass circulation laced with popular loathing. No wonder she’s gone to ground.

In the week after her descent into media hell every Saturday and Sunday paper had a biography of her. In every one she was described as a creature of the right, even extreme right.

Her politics were said to be informed by free market ideology.

Mary Ellen Synon is actually a libertarian. I can tell because I’m one too. The difference is that she is a right-wing libertarian and I’m a left-wing libertarian.

A libertarian, as opposed to a liberal, professes the importance of individual liberty and the right of people to control their own lives without state or external interference.

When built into a right-wing ideology this amounts to a fervent belief in the free market. The idea is that left to its own devices society will find its own level. Those that are more suited to a particular job will oust those less successful and that society as a whole will be better off.

Free marketeers point to the superior economic performance of capitalist economies to economies that are centrally planned. De-regulation and privatisation is the modern stamp of this ideology.

Nothing too scary about any of that and in fact most left-wing parties throughout Europe are busy implementing these policies.

Now Mary Ellen has been variously described over the past week as a conservative and/or a fascist. Both of these descriptions are wrong. She’s obviously not a fascist as she is completely opposed to the power of the state and she’s not a conservative as she rejects the current political equilibrium of social democracy. It’s not the “end of history” as far as she is concerned.

She despises leftists and feminists. Any form of collectivism enrages her and political correctness sends her into apoplexy.

All of this is clear from her writings. What isn’t clear is what she was actually trying to get at in her article on the paralympics.

Firstly, within the idea of libertarianism, anyone can organise any games they bloody well like.

Secondly, if you don’t want to watch them then switch the TV off. (Mary Ellen doesn’t even have a TV).

Thirdly, and most pointedly, the Olympics is not in any way, shape or form an egalitarian idea. It’s about giving gold medals to those who get to the line first.

The vast majority of disabled athletes will return defeated and empty handed. What can a voracious right-winger have to complaining about that? Survival of the fittest, etc.

In other words even within the framework of her own ideology Mary Ellen was talking bollox.

The bit she’s missing is the desire of the vast majority of people to accord each individual an equal humanity. Not that people shouldn’t be judged but that they shouldn’t be pre-judged.

And the idea that sport is only for the best is a logical nonsense. How are you going to find the best if you don’t allow widespread competition?

And, believe it or not, some people play sport because they enjoy it.

So there was nothing libertarian about Mary Ellen’s piece. The right’s version of libertarianism is fundamentally flawed because it fails to place the individual in a social context.

You can’t be free on your own. A recluse isn’t free. A recluse is someone who’s afraid of and segregated from society.

In our city many people have pursued their own dreams to the exclusion of the reality around them. They live in the land of tall walls and big gates.

But when you leave people behind they have a knack of coming after you. You get your Beamer robbed or your son is mugged in the city centre.

Just remember that when the right promises you the pursuit of happiness.

As well as that…

Bin the Sindo

The biggest laugh of the whole Synon affair was Aengus Fanning trying to make out that her column was just one of a broad range of views in the Sunday Independent.

Bar An Phoblacht, which lays out its stall, there can’t be a newspaper in Ireland with a narrower agenda.

This is the paper that has taken national self-hatred to its pinnacle. No aspect of Irish life is left unloathed, no bad news left unused in the rush to show how backward, bad, unfashionable, immature, corrupt, uncool and less worthy we Irish are than everyone else.

There’s no bottle half full as far as Aengus is concerned.

And so, I have to say, I enjoyed the whole affair tremendously.

But can people not see that all Mary Ellen Synon did was put her toe marginally over the line? This wasn’t an aberration, this is the stuff that the Sindo specialises in.

And Irish people lap it up. All those people who went on the radio to say they wouldn’t buy the paper again – what about every other week? It’s a bit rich to start complaining now.

It’s time a large number of people in this country lifted their standards. You have to be able to find a newspaper that has something good to say about people. And about Ireland.