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George Monbiot, one of my favorite Guardian columnists and author of several best-selling books, equates libertarian car use with conservatism. Furthermore, he says that unfettered motoring causes conservatism.

Anybody can see that the red areas on the map are, for the most part, rural and suburban, places, or non-places, as J.H. Kunstler would say. They are where extensive motoring is mandatory. We also know that our liberal political base is largely in cities and towns where alternative transport most likely exists. But is it a stretch to infer a cause and effect relationship between driving and libertarianism, toryism, or even republicanism?


They call themselves libertarians; I think they're antisocial bastards

..... It is about the rise of the antisocial bastards who believe they should be allowed to do what they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences. I believe that while there are many reasons for the growth of individualism in the UK, the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold here begins on the road. When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become. The car is slowly turning us, like the Americans and the Australians, into a nation that recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people's actions. We drive on the left in Britain, but we are being driven to the right.

Certainly moving about in a metal and glass environmentally controlled room encourages isolation from those around us. In fact the modern luxury car that so many aspire to is simply a device still better at separating us from the world outside. With climate control, sound proofing, interior air filters, a cocoon of air bags and a concert class stereo there is darn little to connect the passenger to the outside world. But can the isolation of driving really turn Brits into, gasp, Americans?

Driving down a typical American suburban collector road during rush hour will convince anyone that most drivers do see the world as an obstacle. And sitting at a traffic light watching them pick their noses, apply makeup, or stuff egg sandwiches into their faces demonstrates the regard they have for their counterparts. These are not members of polite society. Such a civil disconnect cannot be anything but a manifestation of hyper-individualism run amok.

It is strange to see how the car has been overlooked as an agent of political change. We know that the breaking of the unions, the dismantling of the welfare state and the sale of council houses that Margaret Thatcher pioneered made us more individualistic. But the way in which the transition from individualism to the next phase of neoliberalism - libertarianism - was assisted by her transport policies has been largely ignored. She knew what she was doing. She spoke of "the great car-owning democracy", and asserted that "a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure". Her road-building programme was an exercise in both civil and social engineering. "Economics are the method," she told us, "the object is to change the soul." The slowly shifting consciousness of the millions who spend much of their day sitting in traffic makes interventionist government ever harder...

The American example is interesting. Over the past few decades, as car ownership became cheaper, public transport became scarcer, and homes were built further from cities, the populace swung to the right.

I told a conservative friend that I often rode a bicycle to the store. He said, "Around here only the destitute do that." Hmmm.

It shouldn't be hard to see how politically foolish are the current government's transport policies. The £11.4bn that it is spending on road building is an £11.4bn subsidy to the Conservative party. However much Blair seeks to accommodate the new libertarianism, he cannot consistently position himself to the right of the opposition. The longer he sustains Thatcher's programme of social engineering, the more trouble he stores up for his successors. Every branch line that is closed, every bus that is taken off the road, every new lane that is added to a motorway hastens the day when the Tories get back behind the wheel.

So there you have it, when we build new roads instead of public transportation systems we also build the opposition. When we don't raise gas taxes to cover the cost of building roads and parking lots we subsidize conservative recruitment. When the cost of the environmental damage, air and water pollution is borne by everyone rather than by those who drive the most we are contributing to the GOP.

Do you agree?

Originally posted to Chris Kulczycki on Wed Jan 04, 2006 at 03:37 AM PST.

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