The Libertarian Horse of Troy
We all know some version of the story. In Virgil’s Aeneid the Achaeans construct a giant wooden horse. The Achaeans place the horse outside the gates of Troy. The inhabitants of Troy are confused and ask the bearer of the horse, a boy named Sinon, just what exactly is going on. Sinon tells the Trojans that the Achaeans have left him behind and that the wooden horse is an offering to Minerva. The horse, Sinon says, will bring good fortune to the people of Troy if they bring it inside the gates. If they destroy the horse, however, Minerva will destroy Troy.
The Trojans bring the horse inside the gates. Then that evening, after dark, the Achaeans spill out of the belly of the wooden horse and start killing people.
The Trojan horse is an apt political metaphor. “Libertarian” politicians, too, are no exception. The crony capitalist Koch brothers may be the epitome of the Trojan horse, dangling the lure of free markets with one hand held out while rigging the corporatist state with the other hand behind their backs. Rand Paul, a GOP politician, also whispers words of liberty while simultaneously engaging in authoritarian party politics. But is a lesser known politician, a man named David Patterson, also a Trojan horse?
You see, David Patterson is a police officer in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. In 1995 Patterson finished a B.S. in Police Administration. Patterson has worked for six different police departments in Kentucky. And Patterson has specialized in apprehending people for victimless crimes: according to his own campaign website he has “multiple awards for impaired driving apprehension.”
The Campaign Platform
Patterson’s own platform, which you should read, is vague and nonspecific. Most political platforms are phrased in such a way that they espouse goals most people agree with. No bailouts and tax reform – issues now embraced by Republican and Democratic politicians alike. Immigration reform, similarly, is a bipartisan issue. And at this point allowing farmers to grow hemp is not a controversial position.
When I visited Patterson’s campaign website it felt like the empty, bland promises of a party politician. In short, it did little to inspire trust. If a politician says, “I would end the drug war,” for example, this can mean anything. Does he mean the full legalization of all drugs, or the gradual transition of “soft” drugs such as marijuana to a highly regulated and taxed market? Or does it mean keeping certain drugs illegal, yet simply ending the current policies of enforcement? Politicians have said they wanted to “end the drug war” before. Few have stuck by that position when pressed. Many mean something very different by that phrase. Ron Paul, to his credit, famously said that he would favor the legalization of vices such as heroin and prostitution. Rand Paul, despite having said he opposed the drug war in the past, backtracked and reassured evangelicals that he would not end the drug war.
The Facebook Platform
I decided to have a look at Patterson’s Facebook. I was surprised. I expected more intangible political obfuscations. That is, I expected it to resemble the heavily sanitized Facebook of party politicians or Patterson’s own campaign website. Instead, Patterson seemed to be fairly candid. And despite his long career as a police officer Patterson seemed to have a genuine anti-authoritarian streak.
Patterson’s Facebook was full of libertarian memes and images. Many had strong anti-state, even anarchist, implications. He was calling for the full abolition of the NSA. He said taxation is theft. He quoted Murray Rothbard. That alone put him outside of the Koch and Rand Paul category.
And then it hit me. Patterson was either lying, another political Trojan horse attempting to court anti-authoritarians, or the words he was reading meant something very different to him than they did to me. This was the only way I could reconcile his behavior — his career as a police enforcer — with his political sentiments.
For example, take this image that Patterson shared:
I don’t know how Patterson interprets this, but, “if John told you that you had to obey him or he would violate you” describes the role of law enforcement. It is only through illegitimate threats of force that individuals are made to comply with unjust laws. And yet Patterson is one of the agents of enforcement. How, in his mind, does he reconcile his own career with this type of rhetoric? Does Patterson not see that he is John in this image? His choice of career makes him John every single day.
Patterson, however, is not unaware of this contradiction. If you’ve already asked yourself just how a libertarian can be a cop, well, he has an answer for you (sort of):
You may have noticed two things: he did not answer the question and he has only been a libertarian a very short period of time. Neither “I have been a ‘cop’ for almost eighteen years” nor his statement on the “many different duties” of a police officer get at the heart of the issue. This may be because it is impossible to reconcile a career that mandates acts of aggression with adherence to the nonaggression principle.
It all breaks down here. I do believe that Patterson believes some version of the things that he says. I believe that he agrees with his interpretation of the memes that make his Facebook look like Reddit’s /r/LibertarianMeme. He is not being intentionally dishonest. Patterson is stuck in the position of an individual who halfway knows that his behavior is wrong, but is not willing or able to change it. This is the precariously defensive position shared by both police officers and politicians. This position creates cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance breeds rationalization.
Here’s a rationalization that may be familiar to anybody who has spent time with law enforcement:
This might have been a great opportunity for Patterson to distinguish himself from mainstream law enforcement and politicians. Instead of playing the “cop hate” card, oft used to by police officers to gloss over why people dislike the police, Patterson might have used his unique experience as a law enforcement officer to address the issue. The individuals who were the topic of this story, Jared and Amanda Miller, were both libertarians who had libertarian rationales for what they did. This makes the event a particularly relevant issue for a politician who is also a police officer, who also claims to be a libertarian, to address. And by address I mean explain with more than a hand-wave and dismissive utterance of “anti-cop” or “hate” to describe the thousands of people who commented on the CopBlock article in question.
Patterson also seems self-unaware in some moments. While he thanks Americans on Veterans Day he overlooks that this holiday is one form of American propaganda that perpetuates a culture of warrior worship and support for foreign intervention. Many libertarians are tired of such prostrations and see them as culturally harmful. Patterson’s campaign boast of awards in “impaired driving apprehension” seems a faux pas that ignores the the libertarian rejection of victimless crimes as well as Kentucky’s own draconian DUI policies, including mandatory minimum sentences, multi-year sentences, felony DUIs, and sobriety checkpoints.
Should You Vote For David Patterson?
Patterson wants you to vote. All politicians want you to vote for them. Patterson’s Facebook is full of testimonials by and anecdotes of people who say they will vote for him. One image macro calls non-voting “surrender” and another depicts the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant throwing feces at one another. There is no critical analysis of voting itself, which also adds to the sense of self-unawareness surrounding Patterson.
That said, if you live in Kentucky and you plan to vote then Patterson is as good as anyone. That is as far as I can endorse him, because that also means that he is as bad as anyone. The trimmings of the Libertarian Party don’t turn an individual who seeks an authoritarian position of power — particularly not one who is already in an authoritarian role using violence to enforce unjust laws — into a libertarian. Anyone who expects liberty to spring forth from a police officer elected to the United States Senate is more misled than the Trojans were when they accepted the Achaean offering inside the walls.
As a final thought, I leave you with this from Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience:
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.