Quebec Crackpots

Contradictions abounded at the Summit of the Americas, held in Quebec City over the weekend, not the least of which was the outrage of protesters at wire fences that separated them from the prime ministers and presidents meeting on the other side. “The fence,” expostulated a young man whose face was hidden by a green scarf, “it makes us more aggressive than we already are. It makes me feel more violent inside. I should be able to go to the other side of the fence.” Now he knows how entrepreneurs who want to market their products overseas feel when they are prevented from doing so by tariff walls. Shouldn’t they, too, be allowed to go to the other side of the fence? THE POVERTY OF PROTECTIONISM

Apparently not, but consistency was hardly this particular crowd’s forte, as they chanted “One, two, three, four – we don’t want free trade no more!” Simultaneously, their crackpot spokespersons were warbling to the media that what they wanted was “global democracy.” But the democracy of the market – in which consumer choices are votes – is disallowed. Meanwhile, Stephen Clarkson, professor of international economics at the University of Toronto, and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, was denouncing the proposed free trade agreement because it wasn’t free enough. On the PBS News Hour, Professor Clarkson complained that “The U.S. won’t give up its antidumping and countervail duty actions against its partners, so we don’t really” have free trade. Taking the example of Canadian steel, Clarkson explained that “there’s so many antidumping actions launched against Canadian steel that Canadian companies are now having to invest in the United States if they want to sell there.” It is a commentary on the intellectual poverty of protectionism that its advocates have to resort to this sort of argument, counterposing the perfect as the enemy of the good. Yet this only underscores the complete victory of the principle of laissez-faire, at least intellectually, over the special interests and their fellow troglodytes on the ultra-Left.


The basic contradiction at the heart of the anti-globalization movement, the intellectual emptiness and exhaustion at its core, was exposed in Quebec over the weekend for all the world to see. Here were black-clad, helmeted, gas mask-wearing hooligans, throwing bottles, trashing stores, and hurling tear-gas canisters back at the police, in the name of – what? There is no clear single answer coming from the collection of Luddites, dreadlocked white-boys, Trotskyites, and globalist do-gooders who converged on Quebec City to register their protest. The conventional wisdom, however, was summed up by an Associated Press article that explained it this way:

“The prospect of the huge free trade zone has galvanized a generation of activists as the Vietnam War and nuclear arms did previously. They say it is designed to benefit major corporations, not Latin America’s millions of poor.”


Let’s see if I get this straight: the protesters climbing fences, launching assault after assault on phalanxes of police, the hundreds arrested, was all over – a trade issue? This is the focus of the idealism and passion of the younger generation: how many tons of steel are to be exported to Canada? Can this really be true? I doubt whether the average protester could have articulated a message any more coherent – or telling – than the sign described by our on-the-scene Washington Post reporter,

“It’s strange what people leave behind at ground zero: chunks of concrete; splattered eggs with runny yolks; a shoe; a stuffed Barney whose eyes have been pulled off; balloons tied to the fence that came down; vomit; a sign tied to the wire fence and left as if that was the only way to send a message: ‘What is new is that the economy has engaged humans in open warfare, not just in terms of limiting possibilities in life, but on life itself.'”


The anticapitalist message of the protesters couldn’t have been phrased more aptly, for these social misfits perceive themselves to be in a war against not only economics, but geography – and reality itself. They live in a dream-world, a fog of shifting images and mental constructs, and hold contradictory notions that clash, and erupt, angrily, in sudden spurts of exhibitionistic violence. Their intellectual spokespersons only articulate the confusion of their rank-and-file followers. The opponents of the FTAA claim that jobs and investment are flowing southward, and they also claim that the poverty and joblessness of Mexican and South American workers is increasing. But they can’t have it both ways: given their zero-sum economics, someone has to win (even if, given their invalid premise, it’s as a result of someone else’s loss). The trendy-lefties pose as friends of the Third World, yet to oppose a measure that would clearly benefit the small farmers and industrial workers of the underdeveloped Southern hemisphere puts them in an awkward position. They try to obscure this contradiction with cloudy rhetoric about “defending workers rights” in Central and South America, but fail to address the question of how they will magically raise living standards without getting rid of trade barriers. They are truly in a state of “open warfare” with economics – and, as in any battle against objective natural law, this is one they are bound to lose.


Professor Clarkson was asked by PBS interviewer Margaret Warner if the elimination of all trade barriers was “a fair description of what a free trade area is,” and he replied that “it would be if it was only about trade, but these agreements are much more. They’re really investment agreements that give transnational corporations much greater rights investing in other countries.” Clarkson explains away increasing prosperity as a result of dropping some trade barriers as due to Canada’s dollar devaluation, but then goes on to say:

“So there has been a lot of trade expansion, but the public – and the reason people are demonstrating in Quebec City – the public is really concerned that we have in effect a new constitution which prevents our governments doing the kind of environmental, social, public health, education policies that it used to do. So we’ve really transformed our state as a result of signing the WTO and the NAFTA, and now this will presumably deepen and strengthen those constraints on our government.”


The intellectual opponents of global laissez-faire frame claim, on the one hand, to oppose all efforts to limit national sovereignty, yet their public rhetoric and pronouncements – even the names of their organizations – are suffused with a utopian globalism: 1960s activist David Dellinger spoke at an anti-free trade rally on the US-Canadian border under the auspices of the “Vermont Mobilization for Global Justice” and “global democracy” is one of their big slogans, right after “capitalism sucks.”


But aside from this baffling inconsistency, what is troubling about this traveling road show of “vegans” and professional “activists” is their curiously misplaced passion: if they are so goddamned concerned about the assault on national sovereignty, then where were all these dreadlocked crunchy-granola types when the most blatant and violent assault on national sovereignty was allowed to occur without hardly a peep from anyone? Somehow, the rape of Yugoslavia did not engage the imagination of these young people, at least not in sufficient numbers to be noticeable. We didn’t see black-clad boot-boys decked out in red bandannas tearing down fences and battling police in the streets during the bombing of Belgrade. That didn’t enrage them – but the prospect that a farmer in Mexico might sell his oranges in San Francisco without paying a debilitating tariff is enough to drive them into a frenzy of fury. I can’t figure it out – can you? Speaking of the Balkans: this weekend in Kosovo there was another kind of demonstration, one that, in contrast to the over-reported Quebec protest, was really about something.


While the trendy-lefty crunchy-granola crowd was basking in its own self-indulgence up in Quebec, down in Kosovo Serbs were protesting a UN-imposed customs tax on goods coming in from the rest of the former Yugoslavia. Setting up roadblocks, and rallying in the thousands, the remnants of the Serbian minority in Kosovo defended the last vestiges of their sovereignty, their history, and their dignity. For the imposition of the tax means that NATO and the UN overseers have decided to drop the pretense that Kosovo is still a part of the former Yugoslavia, in violation of the peace terms: they have also given notice that those Serbs who have so far managed to escape the ethnic cleansing campaign will shortly be delivered to the tender mercies of the Kosovo “Liberation” Army (KLA). The 15 percent tax is a painful reminder – an extra slap in the face – to the Serbs that they have, in effect, been abandoned by the “international community.”


KFOR troops shot tear-gas canisters at the protesters, who lobbed them back and refused to be moved, and UN bureaucrats were urged to stay out of the area for fear they would be taken hostage. As thousands cheered, Dragisha Djokovic, a speaker from the Democratic Party of Serbia led by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, demanded the immediate abolition of the tax and saluted the protesters, urging them to continue the roadblocks. The running battle between KFOR and the Serbs of northern Kosovo continued over the weekend, with a 62-year-old woman dying on route to the hospital after inhaling tear-gas and a man who lost a hand after trying to throw a stun grenade back at KFOR “peacekeepers.” Unlike the protesters in Quebec, the Serbs actually put up some meaningful resistance: KFOR was forced to fly in tax collectors, who could not get past the roadblocks.


The bravery of the Serbs in Mitrovica, who are locked in a death-struggle with their NATO overlords, contrasts sharply with the weekend revolutionary dilettantism of the Quebec crowd, epitomized by Roberto Nieto, 30, of the “Anticapitalist Convergence,” who pompously proclaimed: “We want to show them that some people are ready to receive pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. We don’t believe in social clauses and reform clauses. We believe [the agreement] should be scrapped. The president of Mexico said this is a luxury to demonstrate. I went up all the way to the fence. I got pepper-sprayed. I don’t call this a luxury.” But it is a luxury when you can always go back to your school dormitory, or artists’ loft, or whatever, and escape from the exploding tear gas canisters and the gendarmes coming down the street. For the Serbs of Mitrovica, there is no escape.


It is clear where the sympathies of the Quebec protesters would be if they got it into their empty heads to even take a position on events in Kosovo: by their standards, the protectionist NATO-crats are the good guys, with the dastardly Serbs standing up for free trade. This is why I hate the Left, and why you didn’t see any coverage of the Quebec farce on these pages. These pompously self-important products of Western affluence, who are so impressed with their own alleged heroism, are morally retarded: they lack even a minimal sense of moral priorities. It is somehow okay, from their warped perspective, for the West to bomb some of the oldest cities in Europe into submission, but not okay for goods to cross borders to the mutual profit of buyer and seller. With their passion directed at the dry-as-dust passages in the FTAA proposal, and their curious lack of it when it comes to the question of war and peace, the Quebec protesters (and their clones at Davos, Seattle, and other venues) exhibit a colossal failure of the moral imagination. Whether this is a product of the curious listlessness of today’s youth, the extreme passivity that makes them putty in the hands of their New-Leftish professors, or some other, more serious disability – perhaps genetic, perhaps it is something they put in school food – is an interesting question, but one that, I’m afraid, will have to wait for another column.


Meanwhile, those who follow my work may be interested to know that I have a few upcoming articles appearing in the print media: in the Summer 2001 issue of Free Inquiry my essay, “Making Progress Backwards,” an analysis of the anti-libertarian direction of the “gay rights” movement, will appear. This is an excerpt from my (so far unpublished) book, The Ideology of Desire: The Tyranny and Absurdity of Gay Identity Politics. The American Enterprise, the bi-monthly magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, will publish my review of Alan Ebenstein’s Hayek: A Biography, in their next issue. Finally, the Rockford Institute’s Chronicles – my favorite magazine – has published “Civil Rights or Property Rights,” which deals with the depredations of multicultural capitalism on our system of formerly free enterprise.


We have received a lot of letters about when and if we are going to have another conference. While this is a great compliment to the success of the last one, your overworked staff is not about to commit itself one way (or the other) just yet. However, those who must go somewhere this summer might be interested to know that I am lecturing this year at the Rockford Institute’s Fourth Annual Summer School, whose theme is “The American Midwest.” I will be giving two hour-long talks on the relationship between Midwestern populism and the growth and development of the non-interventionist movement in America, from World War I to the present day. Featuring Dr. Thomas Fleming, editor of Chronicles, and President of the Rockford Institute, William Mills, author of The Arkansas: An American River, author and Chronicles editor Chilton Williamson, and others, this conference is going to be an exciting event. Come learn about such literary figures as the novelist Louis Bromfield (who, by the way, presciently had a lot to say about the trade issue and the prospect of a hemispheric trade zone), Hamlin Garland, Sinclair Lewis, and Laura Ingalls Wilder: Come hear about the progressives, populists, copperheads, and America Firsters – the real dissidents in the American tradition. The conference will be held at the Cliffbreakers Convention Center, in Rockford, Illinois, July 24-28. Full registration including tuition, lodging, meals, etc., is $450, but there is a “commuter” registration rate of only $195. Call Chris Check for details: 815-964-5811.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].