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The book that continues to inspire college sophomores

C J Werleman takes a look at libertarian atheists.

In the days running up to Thanksgiving, Walmart urged its workers to donate food to their most in-need colleagues. You know, instead of Walmart having to pay said workers a livable wage. When people ask me what libertarianism looks like, I tell them that. By people I mean atheists, because for some stupid reason, far too many of my non-believer brethren have hitched their wagon to the daftest of all socio-economic theories.

It doesn’t help when atheist luminaries publicly extol their libertarianism. Penn Jillette writes, “What makes me a libertarian is what makes me an atheist—I don’t know. If I don’t know, I don’t believe….I’ll wait for real evidence and then I’ll believe.”

Oh right, because libertarianism alone among political commitments has no kind of belief at all, it’s just an empty space.

Famed science author and editor of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer says he became a libertarian after reading Ayn Rand’s tome Atlas Shrugged. Wait, what? That’s the book that continues to inspire college sophomores during the height of their masturbatory careers, typically young Republicans (nee fascists). But unless your name is Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), most people grow out of the, “Screw you, I have mine” economic principles bestowed by the Russian-born philosopher by the time they’re legally old enough to order their first beer.

Ha! Quite so. (One correction though – Ayn Rand was not a philosopher. She was a screenwriter and then a novelist.)

Atheists who embrace libertarianism often do so because they believe a governing body represents the same kind of constructed authority they’ve escaped from in regards to religion.

Which would be great if it weren’t for the tiny flaw that it’s completely simple-minded.

Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired Right is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. He writes:

“In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on. These rules don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t ‘intrude’ on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t ‘free’ of rules; the rules define them.”

And it’s simple-minded not to realize that.

Comments

  1. Argle Bargle says

    I strongly suspect that many libertarians become atheists because they don’t want anybody to tell them what to do, not their mommy and daddy, not a government and not gods. “Nyah, you can’t tell me to eat my spinach/pay my taxes/worship you. I’m a big boy and ain’t nobody telling me to do things I don’t wanna!”

  2. Octavo says

    Good article. I wouldn’t say that Rand wasn’t a philosopher, though. She was just a sloppy and evil philosopher.

  3. R Johnston says

    Argle Bargle @1:

    I strongly agree with that point. There are people who simply reject the concept that anyone not of their choosing, or in some cases anyone at all, might have authority over themselves. Atheism and libertarianism can both derive from that belief, essentially the rejection of the fact that humans are social animals.

    When religious people accuse atheism of being just another the religion they aren’t entirely wrong. Libertarians are people who embrace atheism for faith-based anti-empirical essentially religious reasons, and they are all too prominent among public atheists. The fact that atheism is the only possible rational belief regarding gods does not make atheism everywhere and always rational and nonreligious. I wish more prominent atheists would acknowledge this point. It would make it easier to see the “deep rifts” for what they are: a split between secular and religious atheists.

  4. says

    Yes, Ayn Rand was a sloppy, evil philosopher — but she was first and foremost a person driven mad by the Stalinist tyranny she grew up under, and seeking comfort in a fantasy world where government didn’t exist and private enterprise made everything wonderful. Her sloppy, evil philosophy was based on her broken thinking, and pandered to by hateful right-wingers looking for validation from anti-Communhist refugees who had no understanding of Western democratic institutions.

  5. says

    Libertarians are people who embrace atheism for faith-based anti-empirical essentially religious reasons…

    Libertarianism itself isn’t really a political philosophy; it’s a backward authoritarian religion, with its own canon of saints (“Makers of Things”), demons (collectivists, liberals, environmentalists), and unquestionable ineffable supernatural entities (the “Invisible Hand”). They took the basics of ECON 101 and elevated it from a general set of principles for understanding economic activity, to a religious doctrine that trumps all other knowledge and is applicable to ALL human activity. Listen to a libertarian talking about how regulations make evryone poor by crippling Free Markets, and you’ll hear the same disregard for observable reality as you hear from creationists, religious historical revisionists, Wahabbis, etc. Their Holy Book contains all Truth, so they don’t even have to verify whether the real world EVER acted as their Holy Book said it would.

  6. flex says

    @Octavo

    Rand was no more a philosopher than I am, and I used to read Nietzsche and Spinoza for pleasure.

    To be a philosopher takes more than coming up with some ideas about human nature and society, saying these ideas are in fact ideals to aspire to, and convincing people you are right. That’s the modus operandi of cult leaders (who often drape themselves with the title of philosopher for the prestige it brings).

    To be a philosopher is study reality rather than dictate it.

  7. quixote says

    About Jillette’s statement, “I’ll wait for real evidence and then I’ll believe.”

    Erm, if you have evidence, why would you need to believe? Nobody “believes” in light bulbs. They’re just there. Seems like sloppy word use somewhere, or maybe, worse, sloppy thinking?

  8. flex says

    They took the basics of ECON 101 and elevated it from a general set of principles for understanding economic activity,….

    .

    With respect, the economics professors I’ve had are about as bad. I’ve taken several courses for a BSEE and an MBA and none of them covered more than the basics of macro economics. I even approached one professor and asked what he thought about Book V of The Wealth of Nations where Smith discusses investing in roads, education, and other public goods. He admitted that he had never read it.

    I suspect that the reason so many otherwise intelligent people have so little clue about the beauty of economics is that they never learn anything more than Ricaro’s general principles and think economic science has learned nothing more in the last 200 years. Once they learn supply and demand curves they think they are experts.

    Thorstein Veblen, Henry George? They’ve never heard of them.
    Keynes? Wasn’t he that gay guy? How could his theories be right?

  9. says

    But unless your name is Congressman Paul Ryan

    Or Alan Greenspan. Or the people described in Ayn Rand Nation.*

    *Which I suppose I’d recommend, though I have several problems with it, including Weiss’s annoying insistence that being a follower of Rand is somehow incompatible with being religious and that religious ideas are the natural counter to Randian thinking, despite the fact that the book provides extensive evidence to the contrary.

    ***

    I strongly suspect that many libertarians become atheists because they don’t want anybody to tell them what to do, not their mommy and daddy, not a government and not gods. “Nyah, you can’t tell me to eat my spinach/pay my taxes/worship you. I’m a big boy and ain’t nobody telling me to do things I don’t wanna!”

    And the absurd aspect of this is that the ideas, in the real world, end up giving more power to corporations, which are not democratic in the slightest (for workers or people affected by their actions) and which then exert their power over supposedly democratic governments, further weakening the say of actual people. It’s a recipe not for rebellion or freedom but for authoritarianism, as many of its proponents well understand.

  10. CJO says

    Reich:
    Governments don’t ‘intrude’ on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t ‘free’ of rules; the rules define them.”
    So true.
    Really, markets have existed historically for the purpose of ensuring sufficient liquidity and local concentration of resources in an economy for states to feed and pay armies. Economic systems associated with Libertarian anarchies are dominated by cartels, with most production being for subsistence and not directed toward a market at all. Libertarians imagine that they get to have their very own a cartel I guess. Nice work if you can get it, but I imagine the competition is rather fierce, and in the absence of a state, likely to be fatal to the losers.

  11. thascius says

    @9-You missed the point. TRUE FREEDOM doesn’t mean no one tells you what to do. It means the government doesn’t tell you what to do. If a private sector corporation tells you what to do, if you’re rich enough you don’t have to listen and if you’re not rich enough, then you’re obviously a failure and no one should care what you think anyway. These are after all, the same folks who claim that discrimination would never happen if the government hadn’t passed civil rights laws and religious freedom means your boss should get to decide whether or not you use birth control.

  12. A Hermit says

    It never ceases to amaze me that people who are sensible enough to reject belief in the magical powers of gods are so quick to embrace a naive faith in the magic powers of the invisible market fairies…

  13. Anthony K says

    Atheists are just the gift that keeps on giving.

    Book about a magical carpenter who floats into the sky after being killed for standing up to the entrenched theocracy? Impossibly stupid silly fiction for idiots.

    Book about a magical inventor who builds a machine that creates free energy but then takes off pouting because why should other people get stuff for free too? OMG The truth is a shin and Ayn Rand is a Jack Russell terrier!

  14. says

    Erm, if you have evidence, why would you need to believe? Nobody “believes” in light bulbs. They’re just there. Seems like sloppy word use somewhere, or maybe, worse, sloppy thinking?

    Everybody– well, most people– believe in light bulbs. Belief is simply the agreement that something is true. Knowledge is justified true belief. If you know something, then it’s implicit that you believe it.

    What Penn Jillette is saying– note that I’m explaining, not agreeing– is that he thinks legislation requires an undue level of certainty that he isn’t comfortable with. He doesn’t want to tell people what to do, because he doesn’t know what they should do, and he doesn’t think anyone else does either. The government is in the business of telling people what to do, and sometimes it’s wrong in doing so. Sometimes intentionally (passing bad laws for bad reasons) and sometimes unintentionally (passing bad laws for good reasons). Therefore, Penn says, the fewer the laws, the better.

    I, on the other hand, think it’s better to distinguish between good laws and bad laws, and not just aim for “small government” under the assumption that whatever you choose to cut is a-okay because hey, you’re cutting. To Penn’s thinking, government and freedom are opposites. Less government means more freedom. This is a shockingly naive and incredibly common belief among libertarians.

    To people who have thought about it a little bit more, including some libertarians, it’s clear that the amount that government spends on dictating your life has very little relationship on how free you are, as does the sheer number of laws it passes. It’s all well and good to want government to leave people alone for the most part– I want that. However, I know full well that leaving people alone sometimes requires passing laws and spending money, and what matters is what laws you pass and what you spend the money on.

  15. says

    I saw this elsewhere and concluded it’s all about ego. Some people just become atheists to be “smarter” than the average person. They become super-skeptical about the easy questions – do gods / bigfoot / UFOs exist – but fail at questioning the hard questions – how to solve income inequality, how to do social justice.

    This is why so many atheists are also sexists, bigots, or general arseholes – cause they don’t evaluate the world past “I don’t believe in gods.”

  16. says

    What flex said. Rand isn’t a philosopher merely because she had some ideas; it takes more than that. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Barnes & Noble shelves her books under Philosophy – they’re wrong.

    RB @ 4 – she didn’t grow up under the Stalinist tyranny; she left in January 1926, when Stalin was still consolidating his power. Lenin died in 1924. The Soviet Union wasn’t fully Stalinist yet in 1926.

  17. says

    @9-You missed the point. TRUE FREEDOM doesn’t mean no one tells you what to do. It means the government doesn’t tell you what to do. If a private sector corporation tells you what to do, if you’re rich enough you don’t have to listen and if you’re not rich enough, then you’re obviously a failure and no one should care what you think anyway.

    Yes, that’s what I was saying. Given that the overwhelming majority of libertarians will never be that rich (and even the very rich are affected by some corporate actions beyond their control), the overwhelming majority of market fundamentalists are arguing for their own subjugation. Not since state communism has an authoritarian and reactionary ideology so successfully duped its followers into thinking they’re antiauthoritarians on the side of freedom and progress.

  18. says

    To people who have thought about it a little bit more, including some libertarians, it’s clear that the amount that government spends on dictating your life has very little relationship on how free you are, as does the sheer number of laws it passes.

    Actually, there’s a very strong relationship between increased legislation and increased liberty. Practically every significant increase in individual liberty in history has been the result of some kind of laws: slavery in America was abolished by the US Army, and since then, we’ve had the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, environmental regs, government-funded electrification and other infrastructure, the Internet, publicly funded education, laws against employment discrimination, laws against apartheid, and a whole raft of Federal court decisions striking down laws that violated this or that right enshrined in the Constitution — nearly all of which most libertarians bitterly oppose on “states’ rights” and other asinine ideological-purity grounds.

    RB @ 4 – she didn’t grow up under the Stalinist tyranny; she left in January 1926…

    Really?! WTF, I could swear I heard someone saying she’d got her baptism-by-fire under Stalin. Not sure where or when I heard/read that though…

  19. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I just picture the libertarian atheists slamming the door to their bedroom, sitting down cross-legged on the floor in front of their record players, and blaring Rush’s “2112″ through their bulky headphones. “I totally GET this shit, maaaaan!”

  20. RJW says

    Yes, indeed, the notion of the ‘natural free market’ is a self-serving ideology of the rich and powerful, libertarianism is an ideology like any other, it’s not a skeptical position, it’s remarkable that Jillette doesn’t appear to understand that simple fact. Economics isn’t a science.

    I’ve never read “Atlas Shrugged”, the book “Objectivism” which is the authorised version of Rand’s philosophy was more than enough.

    If my memory’s accurate, Jillette is a climate change ‘skeptic’.

  21. says

    Actually, there’s a very strong relationship between increased legislation and increased liberty.

    No, there really isn’t. The fact that some very important laws have served to increase liberty does not in any way mean that the more laws you have, the freer you are.

    and a whole raft of Federal court decisions striking down laws that violated this or that right enshrined in the Constitution

    Court decisions that strike down laws are not laws. They are, rather, the undoing of laws. You’re arguing against yourself here.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the undoing of laws. The best criticism libertarians can make of non-libertarians is that they are insufficiently enthusiastic about such.

  22. Al Dente says

    One of my problems with libertarians is that so many of them think the Victorian era was a Golden Age where everyone lived happy, productive lives, free from government restraint. Sure, there were a few malcontents but there’ll always be some. The libertarians seem to think the Molly Maguires and the Pinkertons were like rival sports teams, having a fist-fight or two then retiring to the boozer to swap lies over a beer. Libertarians never seem to have heard of the Sheffield Outrages or the Homestead Steel Strike.

  23. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Flex #6 & Ophelia, #17:

    I’ll grant you that it takes more to be a philosopher than to have ideas and to try to convince others you are right.

    I even take your point about observing rather than dictating reality.

    But

    a) it’s not like she had no observations

    and
    b) it’s not like being wrong makes one no longer a philosopher.

    i still consider Pythagoras a philosopher, though his ideas on food were entirely daft.

    Although I don’t bill myself as one, if asked I would respond that i believe myself to be a philosopher: I create new knowledge, I critically investigate existing knowledge, and I do it at the level of definitions and ideas and not only at the level of operational efficiency, of easing intellectual-friction by better quantifying something already known to exist and roughly quantified.

    If I am wrong sometimes, that doesn’t make me not a philosopher.

    I don’t know a whole lot about Rand, but whether we ultimately judge her a philosopher or not has nothing to do with whether she was also a screenwriter and/or novelist.

    Now I’m going to go ritually puke just enough to make it clear I was defending the democratization of philosophy and not Rand herself.

  24. sigurd jorsalfar says

    A lot of the comments here come perilously close to saying that libertarians are ‘no true atheists’. They don’t genuinely lack belief in god, they are just in rebellion against god. Doesn’t that argument piss you off when a theist tries it on you? I think we atheists of a non-libertarian stripe should be cautious about making this argument about libertarians.

    That being said, I have to admit I haven’t read Ayn Rand. Not that I didn’t try, but after about two pages I lost interest. Nothing I’ve heard or read about her since has made me regret that loss of interest.

    I found Mein Kampf more readable, not giving up till about 15 or 20 pages in.

  25. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Gretchen:

    Court decisions that strike down laws are not laws. They are, rather, the undoing of laws. You’re arguing against yourself here.

    They certainly aren’t Statutes or Acts, but they very much are law. Although the plural would be rarely used in this case as a convention, even saying that they are laws isn’t wrong.

    Judge made law is law. Executive made law is law. The constitution and the legislative body of a country each, in their own ways, delegate certain aspects of law-making to other branches than the legislative.

  26. lpetrich says

    Over at Daylight Atheism, Adam Lee is reviewing Atlas Shrugged. The oddities and moral inversions in that book are remarkable.

    For my part, I find Ayn Rand’s beliefs a bastard child of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Nietzsche’s beliefs. Like Karl Marx, she believed that there are makers and takers, and that the makers ought to overthrow the takers who live off of their labors, though she had different identifications of them. Like Friedrich Nietzsche, she idolized heroic assertion, and like him, she considered her heroes to be a superior sort of humanity, exempt from ordinary moral rules and willing to do nasty things in pursuit of their aims.

  27. says

    A lot of the comments here come perilously close to saying that libertarians are ‘no true atheists’. They don’t genuinely lack belief in god, they are just in rebellion against god.

    Could you specify which comments you’re referring to? Because I’m not seeing that. It has nothing to do with gods. They’re credulous ideologues, but it’s a political and economic rather than a religious faith. They’re still atheists if they don’t believe in any gods.

  28. sigurd jorsalfar says

    Could you specify which comments you’re referring to?

    I shouldn’t have said ‘a lot’, but comments 1 & 15 stand out.

  29. Al Dente says

    sigurd jorsalfar,

    I see what you mean, especially with comment 1. However some people do not approach atheism in a logical, rational manner. There are actually atheists who are “mad at god.” I can easily see someone deciding there isn’t a god because they don’t have any emotional involvement in gods and they don’t want to go through all the religious rigmarole like paying tithes and obeying arbitrary rules. For them there isn’t a god.

  30. A Masked Avenger says

    SC, #29:

    [Libertarians are] credulous ideologues, but it’s a political and economic rather than a religious faith.

    A difficulty I see in these generalizations is that the target isn’t really well defined. For example:

    Many of the remarks here target Randroids, and hit the mark too–but Rand vehemently disclaimed association with libertarians, denouncing them as “hippies of the Right” who “subordinate reason to whims” and “substitute anarchism for capitalism.” She was an outspoken racist and war hawk, and as a result was a vocal supporter of the military state. Libertarians themselves sometimes claim her as one of their own, and there is overlap, but she’s much more of a standard-issue Republican than any sort of libertarian. She could have been GW Bush’s greatest supporter.

    Other remarks target views typical of the Cato institute, who do self-identify as libertarians–but there is a deep divide amongst self-identified libertarians, and yet all are painted with the same brush as the Koch brothers’ minions. If would be a “no true libertarian” fallacy to dismiss those self-identified libertarians as not “real” libertarians, but it would be equally fallacious to equate all of them with what some of them call “the Kochtopus.”

    Still other remarks seem vague as to precisely what they’re aimed at, since they invoke exaggerated generalities. In fact they sound a bit like straw men–e.g., that libertarians want poor people to die in the streets, like the good old days–but I assume that it’s meant as a rhetorical exaggeration rather than literally. I.e., that “they may not realize it themselves, given their blind faith in markets, but the logical consequence of following their beliefs would be worse for the poor than what we have now,” or something to that effect. But it’s not possible to reverse-engineer comments of this type to figure out what it is specifically that libertarians are thought to believe or stand for.

    Still other remarks are obviously targeting these college kids, “at the height of their masturbatory careers,” who think, “Nyah, you can’t tell me to eat my spinach/pay my taxes/worship you. I’m a big boy and ain’t nobody telling me to do things I don’t wanna!” This is probably the most commonly encountered “libertarian,” and I use the scare quotes because they do self-identify as such, but are basically just pot-heads who dabble in libertarian cant, and probably identify as both objectivists and libertarians, with a minimal knowledge of either subject.

    All of the aforementioned types are derisible, but for different reasons. Seeing them all tarred with the same brush makes me want to say, like the scientist in the Far Side, “Yes, they’re all fools, gentlemen. But the question remains: What KIND of fools are they?” They’re different kinds of fool.

  31. says

    Government created the corporation.
    Corporations give limited liability, individual shareholders are not held responsible.

    Want government out of business? Excellent. No more corporations, no more limited liability (just private agreements between individuals instead, no liability protection.)

    Have fun with THAT, Libertarians.
    Enjoy getting sued because you own Apple stock and three people got lemon iPads.

  32. A Masked Avenger says

    Jafafa Hots, #34:

    Want government out of business? Excellent. No more corporations, no more limited liability (just private agreements between individuals instead, no liability protection.)

    This is a good example of the “broad brush” affect I mentioned in #33. The Cato Institute would be aghast at what you’re saying, because they support corporatism: the use of government power to bolster corporate monopolies and profits (not coincidentally, including those of the Koch brothers’ corporations).

    A significant faction of “libertarians,” however, would give a hearty “Amen!” to your comment (unless they’re atheists, of course). They regard government action to limit liability, reinforce monopolies, fix prices, etc., to be the antithesis of what they stand for. They would condemn the Cato Institute and its supporters as faux libertarians, and would offer as evidence their support for government action to benefit particular businesses. Folks of that persuasion would be annoyed that they’re being mocked for a position they do not take, and in fact abhor.

    Where those libertarians might disagree with commenters here is in the assignment of blame: we would tend to condemn corporations for seeking these government favors and privileges. They would reply that we’re blaming the recipient of the loot more than the actual looter–i.e., that as long as we grant this type of power to politicians, they will continue to use it to create favored classes in exchange for their own wealth and power. They would argue that if we “throw the bums out,” or change the rules, the outcome would only be to change which classes get which favors, as they and politicians continue colluding to game the system for their own mutual benefit.

    Disclaimer: I agree with your comments complete, and I also agree with libertarians of the latter persuasion when they condemn corporatism and “rent seeking” in all its forms. I’d even go so far as to say that I agree absolutely that power itself is at the root of the problem. I wouldn’t, of course, leap to their conclusion that abolishing power is the solution, or even that it’s possible to do such a thing. I’ve never seen an adequate answer for the counterargument that abolishing power merely creates a vacuum that new agents of power will promptly fill.

  33. says

    A difficulty I see in these generalizations is that the target isn’t really well defined. For example:

    Many of the remarks here target Randroids, and hit the mark too–but Rand vehemently disclaimed association with libertarians,…

    These distinctions and battles are discussed in Ayn Rand Nation, which I mentioned @ #9. They’re as tiresome as the distinctions and battles between different rightwing Catholic sects (which similarly are all wrong and harmful).

  34. says

    Government created the corporation.
    Corporations give limited liability, individual shareholders are not held responsible.

    Want government out of business? Excellent. No more corporations, no more limited liability (just private agreements between individuals instead, no liability protection.)

    And, in the meantime, is revoking corporate charters at all legally feasible?

  35. A Masked Avenger says

    SC, #36:

    These distinctions and battles are discussed in Ayn Rand Nation, which I mentioned @ #9. They’re as tiresome as the distinctions and battles between different rightwing Catholic sects (which similarly are all wrong and harmful).

    Depends on your purpose, I guess. All religions are stupid; if you want, you can dismiss the whole lot of them as “Jesus freaks.” You’ll piss off the ones who are Muslim, and Shinto, and Baha’i, but so what? Who cares if you piss off a bunch of Jesus freaks anyway? Because, “Boo hoo! My brand of stupidity isn’t exactly like what you just described! Boo hoo!” Stupid Jesus freaks, and their stupid pilgrimages to Mecca…

    If you’re actually debating with a specific batch of Jesus freaks–the ones who like to travel to Mecca, for example–then it becomes worthwhile to identify the target a bit more accurately. By calling them “Muslim” instead of “Jesus freaks” for example. And by mocking the Quran, rather than the Gospel of Matthew. That sort of thing.

    Alternately, if you have the slightest interest in influencing the marginal Jesus freak toward a more rational path, you would again want to show at least enough empathy to address their actual views, and to avoid othering them more than you really have to.

    I realize that this thread is not a debate with particular libertarians, and neither is it intended to educate or influence any libertarians in particular; it’s more of a place where the choir comes to preach to each other, and blow off a bit of steam by mocking libertarians generally. I get it, and I’m not trying to derail that. I just can’t completely join in, because I find some of them much more derisible than others of them, and find some of them to have their hearts more or less in the right place, despite coming to some faulty conclusions.

    SC, #38:

    Let me introduce you: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/

    Thanks! I had a poke around, but the top-level link means a bit more reading than I have time for right now, to track down “answers to the counterargument that abolishing power merely creates a vacuum that new agents of power will promptly fill.”

    The site, and some of your earlier comments, suggest that your views are something like left-Anarchism, or libertarian socialism (where I don’t know enough to pick the exact label, and don’t mean any insult by the ones I picked). There’s certainly something there that resonates with me; I’d definitely agree with Bakunin that “the most ardent revolutionary,” granted power, would become “worse than the Tsar himself.” I freely confess, though, that I’m not deeply read in the subject.

  36. doubtthat says

    The functional difference between glibertarianism and nihilism is close to zero.

    I was just speaking with a fellow attorney who is a big Ron/Rand Paul supporter and a self-professed libertarian. The funny thing is that we agree on Step 1 of many issues:

    -government spying is an absurd violation of our rights
    -bank bailouts just served to enable the unethical and likely criminal behavior that played a huge role in the collapse
    -we shouldn’t be engaged in silly foreign wars
    -the drug war is stupid…etc.

    On all of those issues, we’re basically in agreement that our government handled and continues to handle those issue poorly. The difficulty comes immediately when he tried to explain how to correct these things.

    His solution to the problem of bank bailouts was…to just let them go under. Fine, I say, but then something has to take it’s place. We just had a fiscal collapse, how will the country keep running?

    He refused to admit that this was a problem until I asked him how farmers would continue to exist. They buy seed on credit and pay back the loan when the crop comes in. If there is no entity in existence that can offer that first loan, how are people going to plat crops.

    His answer, stunningly, was that the government should have loaned it directly. Yes, indeed, I say, welcome to the wonderful world of progressivism.

    He was infuriated with his own answer, but literally could not come up with another explanation. He was smart to understand what a non-starter private lending would be, given the recent, you know, Apocalypse in the financial sector.

    They’re like pissy high schoolers who are too cool for everything: this sucks, that sucks, this is gay, that’s lame…yet they never actually explain how anything could possibly work in their world, save for some nonsense about the gold standard.

  37. says

    Depends on your purpose, I guess. All religions are stupid; if you want, you can dismiss the whole lot of them as “Jesus freaks.” You’ll piss off the ones who are Muslim, and Shinto, and Baha’i, but so what? Who cares if you piss off a bunch of Jesus freaks anyway? Because, “Boo hoo! My brand of stupidity isn’t exactly like what you just described! Boo hoo!” Stupid Jesus freaks, and their stupid pilgrimages to Mecca…

    Knock it off. No one here has done that. (By the way, once you actually accept the comparison between your political-economic doctrine and religious faith, you’ve pretty much forfeited the intellectual debate.)

    Alternately, if you have the slightest interest in influencing the marginal Jesus freak toward a more rational path, you would again want to show at least enough empathy to address their actual views, and to avoid othering them more than you really have to.

    My discussion of faith, part one.

    Thanks! I had a poke around, but the top-level link means a bit more reading than I have time for right now, to track down “answers to the counterargument that abolishing power merely creates a vacuum that new agents of power will promptly fill.”

    Then stop talking and read. :)

    The site, and some of your earlier comments, suggest that your views are something like left-Anarchism,

    Anarchism is left anarchism. I am an anarchist.

    There’s certainly something there that resonates with me;

    :) I’m not surprised in the least.

    I’d definitely agree with Bakunin that “the most ardent revolutionary,” granted power, would become “worse than the Tsar himself.” I freely confess, though, that I’m not deeply read in the subject.

    I can’t encourage you enough to go back there and keep reading – especially Kropotkin and Goldman. I wouldn’t dwell so much on market fundamentalists using the rhetoric of freedom if I didn’t know that behind many people’s interest was a genuine longing for freedom and democracy. Anarchist history has been so hidden, and I’m confident that if many people who subscribe to libertarian-type ideas really knew about it they’d understand.

  38. Al Dente says

    Nice to see a libertarian has decided to rebut all the anti-libertarian rhetoric by playing No True Scotsman and accusing the anti-libertarians of not knowing how True Libertarianism™ works. Mike Huben’s Non-Libertarian FAQ discusses these points:

    It’s hard to clearly define libertarianism. “It’s a dessert topping!” “No, it’s a floor wax!” “Wait– it’s both!” It’s a mixture of social philosophy, economic philosophy, a political party, and more. It would be unjust for me to try to characterize libertarianism too exactly: libertarians should be allowed to represent their own positions. At least two FAQs have been created by libertarians to introduce their positions. But the two major flavors are anarcho-capitalists (who want to eliminate political governments) and minarchists (who want to minimize government.) There are many more subtle flavorings, such as Austrian and Chicago economic schools, gold-bug, space cadets, Old-Right, paleo-libertarians, classical liberals, hard money, the Libertarian Party, influences from Ayn Rand, and others….

    This diversity of libertarian viewpoints can make it quite difficult to have a coherent discussion with them, because an argument that is valid for or against one type of libertarianism may not apply to other types. This is a cause of much argument in alt.politics.libertarian: non-libertarians may feel that they have rebutted some libertarian point, but some other flavor libertarian may feel that his “one true libertarianism” doesn’t have that flaw. These sorts of arguments can go on forever because both sides think they are winning. Thus, if you want to try to reduce the crosstalk, you’re going to have to specify what flavor of libertarianism or which particular point of libertarianism you are arguing against.

    One major problem with libertarianism is it’s utopian. There never has been a libertarian society. Certain parts of libertarianism have been tried, I alluded to the basically unregulated free market of the 19th Century in my post @23. But societies tend to reject libertarian economic ideas because they’re great if you’re on the top but horrible if you’re not. William Blake’s “dark satanic mills” were not just a figure of speech. When the vote was extended to working men in both the US and Britain in the late 19th Century, legislation like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Trade Union Act 1871 started to regulate free markets.

    When libertarians are asked for examples of how their ideology would work in real life, they either can’t offer any examples or they can only point to rejected economic models. Most libertarians take their ideas on faith. Most atheists reject faith as the basis for anything.

  39. Dunc says

    One major problem with libertarianism is it’s utopian.

    Utopianism isn’t necessarily a flaw, as long as you understand what utopias are for. They’re not destinations, they’re cardinal points. Of course you can never actually achieve a utopia, but that doesn’t mean utopian ideas can’t be useful.

    I’d say the problem isn’t that it’s utopian, it’s that (in its most commonly encountered forms) it’s a very silly, badly thought-out utopia.

  40. Stacy says

    Both SC and Al Dente seem to think A Masked Avenger is a libertarian. Xe isn’t one. Xe’s just trying to discuss specific libertarian beliefs (and their internecine disagreements.)

  41. A Masked Avenger says

    Stacey, thank you for #44. Al Dente’s #42 was infuriating, and it helped a lot to see that someone at least wasn’t leaping to a conclusion I’d already contradicted in advance. Again, thanks.

    SC, #40:

    Knock it off. No one here has done that…

    I’m not sure why my analogy confused you: it in no way implied that libertarianism is a religion. It meant neither more nor less than that you’re lumping together things you oppose, even when this results in mid characterizing many of them, and that that’s OK in some contexts and unhelpful in others.

    An equally serviceable analogy is “woo” in general. It’s well and good to lump all woo-believers together, but if you mock them for their asinine belief in homeopathy, you’re lumping in a large subset that rejects homeopathy. Likewise “conservatives,” many of whom would agree with you on many subjects. Likewise progressives, for that matter, whom you might tend to describe in positive terms when in fact many are horrible on women’s issues. It’s easy to treat people as interchangeable members of a class–exactly the way many conservatives do with women, people of color, and atheists–but there are some reasons not to do that. It will be as effective in persuading them, as the conservatives and theists are in persuading progressive atheist women after first reducing them to generic tokens.

    In this thread specifically, the assumption is repeatedly made that libertarians are corporatist, when in fact there are three similarly sized subgroups: college stoners who don’t even grasp the topic of discussion; followers of Glenn Beck, the Cato institute, etc., who are indeed corporatist; and a group loosely associated with Lew Rockwell who condemn corporatism as vehemently as any progressive. Recognizing this is not the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, Al Dente: in fact ignoring the ones that don’t fit your characterization is precisely No True Scotsman, and it’s you, not me, who is doing it.

  42. says

    I’m not sure why my analogy confused you: it in no way implied that libertarianism is a religion. It meant neither more nor less than that you’re lumping together things you oppose,

    Where, specifically, did anyone do that? Where did someone say that all of these groups shared exactly the same ideology? What has been stated and implied is that the views in practice lead to similar ends, and I’ve said that the various distinctions they like to make amongst themselves for general purposes are as important as those among rightwing Catholic sects (not all religions or all woo, so knock that off). There are circumstances in which the differences might be meaningfully relevant, but in a general discussion such as this they might not.* (In fact, I think it’s quite helpful to consider them all under the even larger umbrella of the Right.) I’ve also noted that the distinctions are discussed in detail in the book I cited above, so I would appreciate it if you would stop implying that I’m unaware of them.

    In this thread specifically, the assumption is repeatedly made that libertarians are corporatist,

    Where? Where have people argued that all libertarians are corporatist? You’re confusing the argument that in practice these groups and organizations serve particular interests – of corporations and the very rich – with the argument that they’re all ideologically devoted to supporting those interests in a particular way. That’s the opposite of what I said in my first post: I was talking about how some are attracted to these movements because they perceive them as antiauthoritarian and rebellious, but in practice they are anything but, as many others in the movements, including many of the leaders, fully recognize.

    * Note that the OP describes Shermer as becoming a libertarian after reading Rand, despite the fact that these sects are traditionally mutually hostile.

  43. says

    @sigurd jorsalfar:

    My #15 didn’t say that. Sorry if it was somewhat vague.

    I just stated simply that a lot of atheists and skeptics stop evaluating the world when the harder questions come around. They’re indeed atheists, but when they come to a conclusion that makes them smarter than a majority of people, they stop caring about approaching the rest of the hard questions with skeptical inquiry.

  44. says

    From my link: in the interview, Shermer talks about

    how he would prefer religion and the private sector to help the poor as opposed the government providing for the welfare of the economically disadvantaged. He defends the growing disparity between the super rich and the very poor, and the position that most poor people in the West deserve their lot in life due to their own bad decisions.

  45. flex says

    @Crip Dyke, comment 24,

    Philosophy, as she is practiced, is a formalized system used to explain underlying aspects of nature. In particular, to identify connections between different aspects of nature. This doesn’t mean that philosophers are always right in their identifications, only that they are trying to create system to explain it.

    Pythagoras is considered a philosopher because his idea of the underlying, unifying, concept of nature being similar to vibrating strings can be used to explain commonalities within nature.

    I think, and as far as I know I’m alone in this thought, that Plato’s Parable of the Cave was miss-understood by my high school philosophy teachers. In my opinion, Plato was not hypothesizing a higher level of reality, where ideal forms exist. Plato was using a metaphor to illustrate that there are common attributes which allow us to see an object as a chair even if it is also a cane-backed, or windsor, or lazy-boy, or even a step-stool. But a step-stool, while it shares some ideal characteristics of a chair, it also shares some ideal characteristics of a ladder. It is this idea of an underlying commonality which is important to understand.

    The scholastics put the christian deity as the underlying commonality to understand the world, until William of Ockham (himself a very devout man), suggested that multiplying causes without justification does not add to an explanation.

    More modern philosophers have developed even more formalized systems. Like George Boole, who developed his symbolic algebra in order to systematically analyze philosophical questions.

    As our knowledge of the nature of the world grew, philosophy split into different specialties. Just like other fields of knowledge; engineering split into civil, mechanical, electrical, etc.; biology split into dozens of specialties; as did physics, mathematics, every field aside from theology . A single philosopher could no longer know all the developments of philosophy, so the field split into phenomenology, epistemology, ethics, etc. Philosophy because a group effort rather than an individual one.

    Whatever else Rand was, she did not create a coherent explanation of commonalities found in nature. Rand did not uncover some insight into human behavior. Rand did not propose some system of reviewing and analyzing reality. Rand did not add to human knowledge, or develop any new or unique ideas. Rand was a selfish person who noticed that aggressively selfish people are wealthier than less selfish people. This isn’t new, much of civilization has been devoted to formulating rules to limit the actions of people like Attila the Hun.

    Since Rand, many disciples of the Randian world-view have been learning that civilization really is a good thing, that they rather like it, and are creating exceptions to the notion of unlimited selfishness. Rand’s fictional characters felt it was okay to destroy civilization simply because they were not recognized as Übermensch. Today’s Randian’s have largely acknowledged that police, courts, law, and even some other limited government is often a good thing to have.

    Maybe in another 40 years they will recognize that freedom really comes from a reduction in fear and an increase in opportunities. And that government can be a very powerful force to reduce fear and create opportunities, or create fear and reduce opportunities. We are our government and we can make into whatever form we want. Reducing the power of our government takes our ability to create our own future, to reduce our own fears and increase our own opportunity, away from us and places it in the hands of corporate interests; which we will have no input or control over. Large government is neither good, nor bad, but we make it so.

    I don’t know a whole lot about Rand, but whether we ultimately judge her a philosopher or not has nothing to do with whether she was also a screenwriter and/or novelist.

    I completely agree. We can judge Rand as a philosopher by whether she practiced philosophy. She didn’t.

  46. R Johnston says

    sigurd jorsalfar @25:

    Libertarians can be perfectly good atheists; what they can’t be are secularists because their belief system is faith-ridden through and through. They are deeply religious folk, bent on rejecting empirical reality, substituting received “wisdom,” and forming public policy based upon that “wisdom.” Their reasoning is flawed in the same way that all religious reasoning is flawed. While it may be possible that they compartmentalize, there’s no particular reason to believe that their atheism, when they have it, flows from sound analytical reasoning as opposed to the same flawed religious premises–the rejection of authority and the denial of the existence of collective action problems–that are the basis of their libertarianism.

  47. says

    But…but…Liberty! Self-determination! FREEEEEEEDOM!

    Have you ever noticed that the instant you criticize libertarianism, its proponents quickly wrap themselves in the virtues of liberty? Never mind that it’s only freedom for those wealthy enough to not have to worry about making their mortgage payments or feeding the kids this week or having enough bus fare to get to their minimum-wage job.

  48. says

    A difficulty I see in these generalizations is that the target isn’t really well defined.

    I’m talking about the libertarians who MATTER: the ones who have knowingly lent their anti-government ideology to the radical right’s efforts to roll back all of the social, economic and political progress we’ve made since the Civil War. I’m talking about Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Alan Greenspan, Mitt Romney, the segregationists, militia loons, McCarthyists and Southern nationalists to whom they pander, the lying manipulative shits in the Cato Institute, the Koch Brothers, and all of the plutocrats who have financed and guided the libertarian movement to serve their own ends. Is that specific enough for you?

    All of the aforementioned types are derisible, but for different reasons.

    They’re not the same, but they’re similar, and most of the flaws we’re attacking them for are common to all of them to some degree.

    I just can’t completely join in, because I find some of them much more derisible than others of them…

    I feel the same way about the Communist movement — but it doesn’t make communism any more plausible than it currently is. Yes, there are some really good, smart and compassionate communists — but there were rarely enough of them to make the movement any good for Mankind, not since the 1930s at least. (And even that is more than the libertarians can say.)

    One major problem with libertarianism is it’s utopian. There never has been a libertarian society.

    Actually, there have been a few libertarian (or at least almost-libertarian) societies — like the USA under the Articles of Confederation. Or Somalia. But every time such a society is created, people start moving AWAY from it every chance they get.

    An equally serviceable analogy is “woo” in general. It’s well and good to lump all woo-believers together, but if you mock them for their asinine belief in homeopathy, you’re lumping in a large subset that rejects homeopathy.

    And those who reject homeopathy would agree with the attacks on homeopathy — and maybe they’d start thinking that the same logic used to debunk one form of woo might apply to other forms as well. Not sure what the problem is there.

    In this thread specifically, the assumption is repeatedly made that libertarians are corporatist, when in fact there are three similarly sized subgroups: college stoners who don’t even grasp the topic of discussion; followers of Glenn Beck, the Cato institute, etc., who are indeed corporatist; and a group loosely associated with Lew Rockwell who condemn corporatism as vehemently as any progressive.

    Which of those groups actually have influence in US policy debate? I haven’t heard a peep from those followers of Lew Rockwell, so it really doesn’t matter how right they are. Our criticisms are directed at the libertarians who we ARE hearing from, and who ARE having real effects on our society. The other guys you blather about have had no beneficial effect, and are nothing but window-dressing, adding nothing but a veneer of respectability to a movement that is, and always has been, a huge and well-financed fucking scam.

    Have you ever noticed that the instant you criticize libertarianism, its proponents quickly wrap themselves in the virtues of liberty?

    Actually, PZ, they’re wrapping themselves in the shell-game of “We’re such a diverse bunch, you don’t know who you’re criticizing! Look at all the irrelevant factions your criticism doesn’t apply to! Look at this nobody over here! Look at the shiny thing over there! You have to specify who you’re talking about, and whoever you specify isn’t who you should be talking about!”

  49. culuriel says

    If Penn Jillette wants evidence that unregulated markets don’t protect people’s health, lives, or even provide a widespread decent standard of living, he could check out the works of the muckrakers Upton Sinclair and Ida B. Wells. Or he could look at countries today that don’t enforce environmental, life safety, and economic rules, and tell me which one he would prefer to work in. We already know what the wealthy would do if we let them.

  50. says

    Pinochet’s Chile was an attempt to put these general principles of “economic freedom” into practice, advised and supported by the likes of Friedman and Hayek. Naomi Klein describes this and other cases in The Shock Doctrine.

  51. says

    If Penn Jillette wants evidence that unregulated markets don’t protect people’s health, lives, or even provide a widespread decent standard of living…

    …then he’d have found it already. If he’s still saying shit like “I don’t know” or “I don’t think anyone else knows” or “I’m still waiting for evidence,” that means he’s lazy and unwilling to check his prejudices against reality. If he hadn’t identified as an atheist, would any of us have any reason to take him seriously?

  52. A Masked Avenger says

    Raging Bee, #53:

    And those who reject homeopathy would agree with the attacks on homeopathy — and maybe they’d start thinking that the same logic used to debunk one form of woo might apply to other forms as well. Not sure what the problem is there.

    If the hypothetical woo-believer has just read about what a fuckwit he is, on account of his non-existent belief in homeopathy, then good luck expecting him to calmly extrapolate from your anti-homeopathy argument to the rest of his dodgy ideas. You may or may not have noticed that people tend to get pissed off when things are falsely attributed to them. You may never have noticed it, since this doesn’t ever happen to women, atheists, liberals, and people of color.

    Actually, PZ, they’re wrapping themselves in the shell-game of “We’re such a diverse bunch, you don’t know who you’re criticizing!…

    In context, it sounds as if you’re talking about me. I’m not a libertarian. Kindly fuck off.

    SC, #46:

    Where, specifically, did anyone do that? Where did someone say that all of these groups shared exactly the same ideology?

    You just moved the goalposts: I never said that anyone “said that all of these groups shared exactly the same ideology.” What I said was that the term “libertarian” is being used in a loose way that lumps together some extremely divergent views, including some that are antithetical to the way they’re being characterized. You moved the goalposts to a new position that anyone can be comfortable with–even, say, a hardened racist: even the most hardened racist will freely acknowledge that not all African Americans are “exactly the same,” ideologically or otherwise.

    The more reasonable question, “where, specifically, did anyone lump together incompatibly disparate groups under one label,” has already been asked and answered. For starters, Ayn Rand was not libertarian, hated libertarians, and was a vocal war hawk. Treating her and her followers not only as libertarians, but as the type specimens of libertarianism, is an egregious example of what I’m talking about.

    I’ve also noted that the distinctions are discussed in detail in the book I cited above, so I would appreciate it if you would stop implying that I’m unaware of them.

    I didn’t say, or imply, that you are unaware of these differences! In fact I was careful not to do that. See, I read when you wrote, “These distinctions and battles are discussed in Ayn Rand Nation, which I mentioned @ #9. They’re as tiresome as the distinctions and battles between different rightwing Catholic sects (which similarly are all wrong and harmful).” I not only read it, I fucking quoted it. So I understand perfectly well that (1) you express awareness of the differences, and (2) you regard those differences is relatively unimportant.

    I replied that it’s perfectly OK to disregard the differences, and therefore lump them together for rhetorical purposes–depending what those rhetorical purposes are. If your purpose is aimed at other people who already agree with you, to mock, or blow off steam, or whip up the troops, or whatever, then it makes perfect sense to do so. If your purpose in any way involves educating those others, though, then a different approach might be called for. One that respects them as individuals, rather than dismissing them as a homogenous other. Kind of the way that you would expect to be treated by them.

    While I am not a libertarian–thank you oh so fucking much for paying attention when I said as much at the start–I’m nevertheless unable to join in the othering, for reasons I’ve been perfectly up front and not at all coy about.

  53. Argle Bargle says

    In this thread specifically, the assumption is repeatedly made that libertarians are corporatist, when in fact there are three similarly sized subgroups: college stoners who don’t even grasp the topic of discussion; followers of Glenn Beck, the Cato institute, etc., who are indeed corporatist; and a group loosely associated with Lew Rockwell who condemn corporatism as vehemently as any progressive.

    Lew Rockwell is an anarcho-capitalist. The difference between him and a corporatist is like the difference between a high church Anglican and a Roman Catholic, i.e., supposedly major in name but in reality so minor as to be indistinguishable.

  54. says

    SC: Chomsky pretends to support “anarchism,” then he goes on to admit that it wouldn’t work:

    And it provides devices to constrain the much more dangerous forces of private power. Rules for safety and health in the workplace for example. Or insuring that people have decent health care, let’s say. Many other things like that. They’re not going to come about through private power. Quite the contrary. But they can come about through the use of the state system under limited democratic control … to carry forward reformist measures.

    So there we have it: someone who calls himself an anarchist admits that “anarchism” is nothing but an empty word for a meaningless concept that has no relevance in the real world. You’d make more sense advocating “divine right of kings” — at least that gives you a government that can keep order and get things done.

  55. says

    Avenger, we’re “othering” the libertarians for the same good reason a neighborhood of Jews would “other” a bunch of nazis: because they’ve been “othering” us, and because their antics are part of a very real threat to the free society and liberties we hold most dear. That’s a damn good reason to “other” someone, and I, for one, see no need to make any apologies for it.

    I’ve been listening to libertarian bullshit since 1978, and I know that libertarians are bigots (with a longstanding base of bigots), and I, as a liberal, an environmentalist, and the son of two Federal bureaucrats, am one of the targets of their bigotry. I and others like me have been equated to Hitler and Stalin, and accused of wanting to take Mankind back to the Middle Ages. There’s no reason why anyone who still wears that label deserves any respect.

  56. Anthony K says

    I just hope that, despite all their differences, libertarians of all stripes can come together to live in disharmony on Peter Thiel’s Freedom Island. Better stay close to land, though, in case being a tech whiz doesn’t somehow automatically translate into superlative seamanship. (Which apparently, it does not.)

  57. says

    If the hypothetical woo-believer has just read about what a fuckwit he is, on account of his non-existent belief in homeopathy, then good luck expecting him to calmly extrapolate from your anti-homeopathy argument to the rest of his dodgy ideas. You may or may not have noticed that people tend to get pissed off when things are falsely attributed to them.

    The category appropriate to your analogy isn’t woo generally but alt-med or sCAM. All proponents don’t believe in the same brand of alt-med, and some might reject the particular form advocated by others, but they all push in the same general direction and the promotion of any form supports the others.

    If there were an OP about atheists who promote sCAM and people started criticizing or mocking homeopaths or antivaxxers, it would be perfectly valid and useful, even though there are sCAM proponents who don’t agree with these specific flavors. If cancer quacks then appeared to express their indignation about alt-med being mischaracterized by referring to homeopaths and antivaxxers, we’d have something to say to them.

    You may never have noticed it, since this doesn’t ever happen to women, atheists, liberals, and people of color.

    You’re grouping together categories that shouldn’t be. Women and people of color are not specific social movements, and atheists don’t fit either.

    You just moved the goalposts: I never said that anyone “said that all of these groups shared exactly the same ideology.” What I said was that the term “libertarian” is being used in a loose way that lumps together some extremely divergent views, including some that are antithetical to the way they’re being characterized.

    It’s the same thing, and I’m saying that’s false. The views we’re talking about aren’t extremely divergent. Second, no one’s views are being mischaracterized.

    You moved the goalposts to a new position that anyone can be comfortable with–even, say, a hardened racist: even the most hardened racist will freely acknowledge that not all African Americans are “exactly the same,” ideologically or otherwise.

    Again, this is dumb. As more than one person has tried to explain to you, we’re talking about a specific movement with a broadly shared ideology. The appropriate comparison is not to African Americans or women but, for example, to feminists (which is still too broad of a collectivity to compare with libertarianism, but whatever). There are certainly different types of feminism, and many bitter disagreements amongst feminists about strategy and tactics, but there’s also a broadly shared range of views and goals in the movement. It’s true that people can and do find some feminists somewhere who hold silly views and attempt to paint all feminists with that brush; but it’s also perfectly valid to consider feminism as a single movement for purposes of support or criticism or just general discussion and to talk about feminism referring to powerful and well-known feminists and feminist organizations. That’s what’s happening here.

    The more reasonable question, “where, specifically, did anyone lump together incompatibly disparate groups under one label,” has already been asked and answered. For starters, Ayn Rand was not libertarian, hated libertarians, and was a vocal war hawk. Treating her and her followers not only as libertarians, but as the type specimens of libertarianism, is an egregious example of what I’m talking about.

    What the hell? As I said above, the OP describes Michael Shermer, a libertarian, as becoming one under the influence of Rand. The people we’re talking about obviously recognize that the distinctions you’re trying to make about “extremely divergent” views aren’t all that significant when it comes down to it, even if they fight amongst themselves like religious sects and carry on over particular labels.* So if you want to point out how egregious talking about broadly shared ideology rather than picayune differences is, go take it up with Shermer.

    I not only read it, I fucking quoted it. So I understand perfectly well that (1) you express awareness of the differences, and (2) you regard those differences is relatively unimportant.

    I regard them as wholly unimportant in this context. The problem is that, whatever you quoted, you continue to imply that I and others are ignorant of these distinctions and internecine squabbles rather than considering them irrelevant to the general consideration of the movement and its effects.

    I replied that it’s perfectly OK to disregard the differences, and therefore lump them together for rhetorical purposes–depending what those rhetorical purposes are. If your purpose is aimed at other people who already agree with you, to mock, or blow off steam, or whip up the troops, or whatever, then it makes perfect sense to do so. If your purpose in any way involves educating those others, though, then a different approach might be called for. One that respects them as individuals, rather than dismissing them as a homogenous other. Kind of the way that you would expect to be treated by them.

    I don’t accept that these are the only two options (although the first is pretty much the case by default, since – thankfully – there have been no libertarians commenting here), and that we can’t have several purposes simultaneously. But I’ll enlighten you with some history: I’ve been arguing with libertarians of various stripes at Pharyngula since before the 2008 presidential elections. Several years ago, on a post mocking some Christian bigots, a young man showed up to make somewhat similar comments to yours, the difference being that he actually was a conservative Christian. He stuck around, going through various iterations of “classical liberal,” “paleoconservative,” general libertarian and so on, as several of us (especially strange gods, a former libertarian) bashed away at his beliefs, including when he tried to argue that his particular flavor of libertarianism allegedly wasn’t what we were talking about. Because he’s a really good person and intellectually honest, he critically examined his beliefs. He’s now a pretty radical leftist and immigration lawyer.

    It’s just one case, but what you’re making is the standard accommodationist argument applied to libertarianism. “You’re saying all religious people believe the same things and are equally dangerous. You’ll never get people to abandon religion by mocking and criticizing it, especially when many religious people who might be reading don’t see themselves in your portrayal. You’ll alienate people.” The problem with that argument is that it isn’t true. Different styles work for different people, and there are numerous cases of religious people becoming atheists and rightwingers turning left after engaging with the sorts of comments on this thread. Does it turn some people away? Sure. So does every approach. No approach works for everyone. But it’s illegitimate to suggest that it’s generally inappropriate or to insist that we tailor our approach to every hypothetical reader individually, as if that were possible. If you think you have a better approach, by all means put it in practice.

    You continue to be tiresome and repetitive, and I’d suggest to you that your own approach here hasn’t been effective, so I’m through trying to interact with you. As a feminist and an atheist, I’m very tired of this condescending “I’m just a disinterested observer trying to help you improve your approach” nonsense, especially since the disinterested observer part so often turns out to be false. The last thing we need is another version.

    * In looking for the Robin articles about Hayek, I came across numerous sites arguing about whether Friedman and Hayek were libertarians. The whole thing is such a tiresome distraction.

  58. spartan says

    ” Rand isn’t a philosopher merely because she had some ideas; it takes more than that. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Barnes & Noble shelves her books under Philosophy – they’re wrong.”

    Why are they wrong exactly, what is it that disqualifies her? I don’t think I’ve ever seen Objectivism not referred to as a philosophy, and it seems odd that the person who is largely responsible for that philosophy is not a philosopher herself. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry for Rand starts with, “Ayn Rand (1905–1982) was a philosopher and a novelist who outlined a comprehensive philosophy, including an epistemology and a theory of art, in her novels and essays.”, but they are apparently wrong. Was Jimi Hendrix a musician even though he couldn’t read music and didn’t study music theory or classical music?

  59. says

    SC: Chomsky pretends to support “anarchism,” then he goes on to admit that it wouldn’t work:

    And it provides devices to constrain the much more dangerous forces of private power. Rules for safety and health in the workplace for example. Or insuring that people have decent health care, let’s say. Many other things like that. They’re not going to come about through private power.* Quite the contrary. But they can come about through the use of the state system under limited democratic control … to carry forward reformist measures.

    So there we have it: someone who calls himself an anarchist admits that “anarchism” is nothing but an empty word for a meaningless concept that has no relevance in the real world. You’d make more sense advocating “divine right of kings” — at least that gives you a government that can keep order and get things done.

    What are you talking about? He says no such thing. Anarchists reject both states and private power. What Chomsky is saying there is that at present in our society governmental power – because it’s subject to more democratic control – can be used to advance some anarchist (and general social justice) goals and to contain in some aspects the worst abuses of private power. Under these conditions, and given that representative governments have at least the broad basis of popular sovereignty and human rights – anarchist movements have a better field to work toward more direct democracy and greater public control. (Of course, the danger always exists that popular governments will coopt these movements in reformist and statist directions, but that’s not sufficient to reject them in favor of private power. No intelligent anarchist thinks that a rightwing coup in Venezuela would be preferable to the democratically elected government, but that doesn’t mean that we think the system there is preferable to anarchism or that governments are or will always be always needed.)

    He doesn’t say anything there about anarchism not working. He’s talking about how people can seek to advance anarchism under existing conditions of state and corporate power. Anarchism isn’t chaos and disorder – it’s democracy taken to its rightful conclusion. It’s about building up real democratic organizations in a context of hierarchy and authoritarianism.

    *He’s referring to corporations/businesses here, not people. Is that what led to the confusion?

  60. The Yeti says

    @Raging Bee, #62

    Did you really just compare libertarians to Nazis? How absurd. I would also be curious to hear how you think that libertarians who hold different political views than you somehow present “a very real threat to the free society and liberties we hold most dear.” The fact that you classified Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and Alan Greenspan as “libertarians” just illustrates that you don’t even have a clear idea of what libertarianism actually is. It is also notable how you have completely unjustifiably smeared all libertarians as bigots You and some of the others commenting here kind of sound like left-wing versions of Ann Coulter or Michael Savage, I guess it is just easier to smear your ideological opponents than it is to have a reasonable discussion.

  61. says

    Oh, I will say one more thing:

    If your purpose in any way involves educating those others, though, then a different approach might be called for. One that respects them as individuals, rather than dismissing them as a homogenous other.

    One of the most important points on which I seek to educate people about libertarianism (all flavors) is precisely the one I raised in my first post. I know that there are many in the movement who are greedy and uncompassionate, like Shermer. But I think that in many cases – especially because they’ve heard so many abstract arguments that sound good when not compared with reality – libertarians genuinely believe they’re working for freedom and against authoritarianism. I think many who mean well would be anarchists or social democrats if they knew about those movements and understood what libertarianism is about in practice.

    That’s part of the reason I insist on calling those distinctions into question and pointing to the broader ideological camp and to real-world effects. I think many people honestly don’t realize what harmful ideas they’re promoting and how they serve various interests even when they don’t recognize it. If it were me, I’d want people trying to show me that.

    Kind of the way that you would expect to be treated by them.

    I think I treat them exactly as I would expect to be treated: as an intelligent person who is always open to learning and revising my views. Over the course of engaging on blogs I’ve gone from someone who ate other animals to a vegan who puts animal liberation at the center of my life. I disliked animal liberation activists when they commented, but I learned from them and have now thanked them for contributing to my growth and for helping me make my actions consistent with my values. I don’t know how much success I’ve had trying to change people’s minds about psychiatry and psychiatric drugs, but I can say that I’ve been honest and treated people as reasonable adults.

    And I like this approach.

  62. daniellavine says

    spartan@64:

    It depends on what you mean by “philosopher.” If “philosopher” just means “has an entry in SEP describing the person as a philosopher” then you have a circularity problem with your definition but you can at least make the case that Rand was a philosopher.

    However, it’s certainly acceptable to have more stringent criteria for what constitute “philosopher” than that in which case Rand either would or wouldn’t qualify depending on what those criteria are.

    Her analyses aren’t the least bit rigorous from what I’ve seen. She doesn’t seem to grapple with alternative philosophical theories to her own. She seems to have simply dismissed criticism instead of responding to it with reasoned argument. Perhaps in the Nietzchean sense of unapologetically creating new value systems she was a philosopher, but she certainly wasn’t a philosopher in the sense that we usually use it (i.e. an academic analytic philosopher).

  63. Al Dente says

    The Yeti @66

    The fact that you classified Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and Alan Greenspan as “libertarians”

    While Romney isn’t a libertarian and Ryan might not be, Greenspan self-identified as a libertarian.

  64. says

    Did you really just compare libertarians to Nazis? How absurd.

    Given the various far-right interest groups who have supported the libertarians — and whose policy ideas are excused by libertarian ideology — the comparison is not at all absurd. I stand by it without flinching. Libertarians show the same backwardness, the same ridiculous hatred of liberal governance, and the same unflinching support of private plutocracy that every other fascist movement has shown. Only the trappings and mythology are different.

    It is also notable how you have completely unjustifiably smeared all libertarians as bigots…

    The ones who are most relevant in policy debates are indeed bigots, and the money that makes them more than just another loony fringe group is very effectively spent to support bigoted and backward policies.

    The fact that you classified Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and Alan Greenspan as “libertarians” just illustrates that you don’t even have a clear idea of what libertarianism actually is.

    That’s exactly what the True Communists said whenever anyone talked about the real-world consequences of the regimes they supported. It doesn’t rescue the Communists, even though they at least started out with good intentions; and it sure as hell won’t rescue the libertards.

  65. John Morales says

    I tried to read Atlas Shrugged as a youngster, but I found it silly and boring to boot — too boring to finish.

    (And it was in the science-fiction rather than the philosophy shelves)

  66. says

    Was Jimi Hendrix a musician even though he couldn’t read music and didn’t study music theory or classical music?

    Whatever you choose to call him, his music sucked. The same is true of Ayn Rand’s “philosophy.”

    (NOTE: the former opinion is, admittedly, partly (only partly) a subjective judgement; but the latter is based on a demonstrable disconnect between Rand’s thinking and the real world, and on demonstrable fallacies in her reasoning.)

  67. says

    Anarchists reject both states and private power.

    Which makes anarchists utterly useless in the real world. The only known antidote to private power is a strong state actively intervening to change human behavior. If you reject state power, then all you have left is a laundry list of gripes and no solution.

    What Chomsky is saying there is that at present in our society governmental power – because it’s subject to more democratic control – can be used to advance some anarchist (and general social justice) goals…

    Anarchist goals are NOT the same as social-justice goals. If Chomsky conflates those two things, then he’s just plain senile.

    Anarchism isn’t chaos and disorder – it’s democracy taken to its rightful conclusion.

    Bullshit. Anarchy will lead to chaos, which in turn will lead to some form of tyranny. And no, the rightful conclusion of democracy is not anarchism — it’s a system of well-ordered liberty with an elected government strong enough to keep its people’s worst impulses under control. Anarchism will never be viable until human nature changes beyond recognition. And when Chomsky advocates any use of state power to check private power, he admits this.

  68. John Morales says

    Raging Bee @74:

    Anarchists reject both states and private power.

    Which makes anarchists utterly useless in the real world. The only known antidote to private power is a strong state actively intervening to change human behavior. If you reject state power, then all you have left is a laundry list of gripes and no solution.

    You’re labouring under the misapprehension that the only two possible types of power are those to which you refer as “private” and “state” — but not all private power is individual, nor is all collective power statist.

    What Chomsky is saying there is that at present in our society governmental power – because it’s subject to more democratic control – can be used to advance some anarchist (and general social justice) goals…

    Anarchist goals are NOT the same as social-justice goals. If Chomsky conflates those two things, then he’s just plain senile.

    Perhaps, but then, that which you have quoted did not claim it was.

    Anarchism isn’t chaos and disorder – it’s democracy taken to its rightful conclusion.

    Bullshit. Anarchy will lead to chaos, which in turn will lead to some form of tyranny. And no, the rightful conclusion of democracy is not anarchism — it’s a system of well-ordered liberty with an elected government strong enough to keep its people’s worst impulses under control. Anarchism will never be viable until human nature changes beyond recognition. And when Chomsky advocates any use of state power to check private power, he admits this.

    Again, you are not contending with the actual claim you quoted.

    (Tsk)

  69. says

    Which makes anarchists utterly useless in the real world. The only known antidote to private power is a strong state actively intervening to change human behavior. If you reject state power, then all you have left is a laundry list of gripes and no solution.

    This is false. I’ve provided the link to the Anarchy Archive well above. If you read even a small representative selection of those works, you’ll see how wrong you are.

    Anarchist goals are NOT the same as social-justice goals. If Chomsky conflates those two things, then he’s just plain senile.

    So you’re telling me, an anarchist and an expert on leftwing movements, and Chomsky, the most well-known anarchist on the planet, that you know what anarchism is about better than we do, after demonstrating your ignorance on this very thread. That’s extremely arrogant and silly. Don’t you think it would be better to take some time to investigate and learn before making such claims? (John’s right, by the way – what you quoted does not conflate the two: I was trying not to suggest that anarchism has a monopoly on social justice goals.)

    Bullshit. Anarchy will lead to chaos, which in turn will lead to some form of tyranny. And no, the rightful conclusion of democracy is not anarchism — it’s a system of well-ordered liberty with an elected government strong enough to keep its people’s worst impulses under control. Anarchism will never be viable until human nature changes beyond recognition. And when Chomsky advocates any use of state power to check private power, he admits this.

    He does not. This is based on your misunderstanding both of what anarchism is and of what Chomsky is specifically arguing there. Anarchists (the vast majority) do not advocate simply tearing down the existing system – one of oppression, exploitation, and inequality – and hoping something will emerge to fill the void. Anarchism is based on what’s called prefigurative politics: building the society you want to see – one based on equality, democracy, cooperation, and rights – within the one that exists. So it means creating horizontal, democratically controlled organizations and practices in a variety of spheres within the existing society which will form the basis of an anarchist society.

    This is of course incredibly complicated and difficult. The world that exists is one in which states and corporations are extremely powerful, and anarchists have to work within it. In this world, private power (capitalist corporations/businesses) is implacably hostile to our goals and determined to advance its own destructive ones. Governments, relatively more amenable to popular control, can sometimes protect people from the worst of private power and in some cases allow for the emergence of grassroots power. So, for example, in Venezuela, social medicine programs and communes, while remaining more generally within the state structure, offer spaces for the achievement of social justice goals through anarchist arrangements, protected to some degree from the Right. Recognizing this doesn’t mean that we think states are necessary for the continuation of such social arrangements, particularly when corporate power is no longer a factor. We don’t. But we have to work in the world that exists, and in that world states, in addition to oppressing people and supporting private power, can also sometimes be of positive value.

    (And I find your use of “order” and “control” in describing the rightful conclusion of democracy fairly amusing.)

    It’s valid* to make an argument – though it would have to be significantly more developed than yours – that states are necessary to lasting human well being. Based on my knowledge (and not on an image of humans as perfect or perfectible, whatever might be meant by that), I disagree with this. It’s not valid, though, to try to make an argument about the feasibility of an anarchist society by claiming that no general anarchist societal vision or practices to create that vision exist.

    Anyway, I don’t generally return to older posts to continue to comment – I just happened to see John’s comment among the recent ones. So I probably won’t be back.

    * But wrong. :)

  70. says

    This is false. I’ve provided the link to the Anarchy Archive well above. If you read even a small representative selection of those works, you’ll see how wrong you are.

    Does this archive contain references to HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE that proves me wrong? If so, please quote those historical instances specifically. Otherwise you have no case.

    Anarchism is based on what’s called prefigurative politics: building the society you want to see – one based on equality, democracy, cooperation, and rights – within the one that exists. So it means creating horizontal, democratically controlled organizations and practices in a variety of spheres within the existing society which will form the basis of an anarchist society.

    Pure fucking word-salad. In the real world, “democratically controlled organizations” don’t mean shit unless they have power to enforce people’s rights and coerce whoever chooses not to cooperate — and history shows that there will always be such people. This is why “anarchism” is such an empty, useless concept when applied to whole societies.

    Again, you are not contending with the actual claim you quoted.

    Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better. But it’s still false.

  71. says

    So you’re telling me, an anarchist and an expert on leftwing movements, and Chomsky, the most well-known anarchist on the planet, that you know what anarchism is about better than we do…

    No, I’m telling you that anarchism is crap, and meaningless in the real world, regardless of how much of an expert you and Chomsky are on it. Just like I’m willing to tell an expert on $cientology that $cientology is crap too.

  72. says

    So, for example, in Venezuela, social medicine programs and communes, while remaining more generally within the state structure, offer spaces for the achievement of social justice goals through anarchist arrangements…

    Your shining example of “anarchism” comes from VENEZUELA?! A country with a powerful state that routinely suppresses opposition parties and closes opposing newspapers? That’s fucking hilarious. You just proved yourself wrong more eloquently than I ever could.

  73. spartan says

    Whatever you choose to call him, his music sucked.

    (NOTE: the former opinion is, admittedly, partly (only partly) a subjective judgement;

    I see. I’ll add ‘subjective’ to the already long list of things you don’t understand very well then. Unless you’d like to offer up what part of your opinion is not subjective.

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