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Mar 25 2012

Progressive Libertarianism – Introduction

guest-blogged by W. Kevin Vicklund

With the Reason Rally yesterday in DC, and Rock Beyond Belief next weekend at Fort Bragg, Ed is on vacation.  So as I often do, I have offered to provide some content for Dispatches this week.  While I may have some one-off topics as the opportunity arises, I have a series planned on a topic that I have not discussed in the past: progressive libertarianism.

I first established an online presence back in July of 2001, when I joined the now-defunct Readerville community, a place for book lovers to congregate.  I ended up frequenting the political forum more than the book-specific forums, and there ran across my first libertarian, RML.  An American ex-pat living in the Netherlands, he stood out from the rest of the Readervillians, who were quite liberal as a rule.  While I often didn’t agree with him, some of his points resonated.  Although I ended up leaving the ‘Ville in early 2005 (in part because the proprietor was trying to emphasize the areas I didn’t use and downplay the ones I did use), shortly before I did leave someone linked the Political Compass test.  To my surprise, I tested just as strongly libertarian as liberal, both my scores being -4.92.

I gravitated to the political forums of my local rags, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.  One day, while in heated debate with Debbie Schlussel over gay rights and evolution, I stumbled across Pandas Thumb looking for the list of 300+ animal species that have homosexual members.  Note that this was in the wake of the 2004 Proposal 2, which banned same-sex marriage and, despite TMLC’s assurances to the contrary, barred any public entity from offering same-sex benefits.  I quickly realized I had found a new home.  And then some of my favorite bloggers joined ScienceBlogs, including one Ed Brayton.  I found that I agreed with Ed on politics most of the time, and he referred to himself as a libertarian, but of a different kind than the ones I’d seen before.  I started calling myself a small-l libertarian to distinguish myself from the whackos in the Libertarian Party; then a liberal libertarian.

As a result, I have spent much of the past six years thinking about how a principled liberal and libertarian viewpoint would look.  What positions should one take, how to create a coherent platform?  How is it different from a liberal, how is it identifiable as truly libertarian?  In short, what does it mean to be a liberal libertarian?  Over time, especially the past year, I have felt my position starting to solidify.  Here is where I stand now on the Political Compass:

Then earlier this month, Ed posted about the Koch brothers attempt to take over the Cato Institute.  This seemed the perfect time to start the series.  Over the course of the series, I will describe the basic principles, and then apply them to specific, current examples.  While I am writing this series, I invite all of Ed’s readers to think about what it should mean to be a progressive libertarian, even if you aren’t one yourself.  One thing I’d like to emphasize, though: this series is about ought, not is.  I’m not going to be spending time debating how to get old Cato employees on board with my ideas, at least not at this time.  I’m focusing on the principle, not the practice.

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  1. 1
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Unless you’re going to advocate progressive taxation, don’t even bother calling it “progressive” anything.

  2. 2
    Ichthyic

    I think this is a good way to define the issue, Kevin.

    Using the definition of “authoritarianism” in the sense it is used by Bob Altemeyer and other social psychologists, a good opposing term to that would indeed be “libertarianism”.

    However, commonly the people I’m acquainted with who define themselves as “libertarian” are actually rather authoritarian (they just tend to be anti-progressive and somehow define that as being “libertarian)!

    my point is, the way you have defined it here is the way it SHOULD be defined, though I doubt the use of the term “libertarian” as a political label in the US will follow along.

    We can indeed have a progressive, function, socialistic government, and support that, without defining ourselves as authoritarian.

  3. 3
    Ichthyic

    er, function should be functional. damn spell checker.

  4. 4
    leonardschneider

    Kevin, I think you and me are gonna get along just fine.

    Yeah, I’ve also had a hard time explaining myself to people who conflate libertarian theory with the Libertarian Party. Generally speaking, small ‘L’ libertarians hold to a sense of ideals and concepts which are pretty indefinable as any sort of ideology; I’ve always summed up the LP fairly simply: Objectivists with bong-breath. Sure Ayn Rand had some good things to say… But so did Noam Chomsky. Why slavishly take sides with either philosophy? (Or any philosophy, for that matter?)

    So um, welcome aboard. I’m looking forward to your posts.

    P.S.: If you haven’t read it already, check out an essay Michael Shermer wrote about the Ayn Rand Society entitled “The Unlikeliest Cult In History.” It sums up my own distaste for Objectivists better than I ever could.

  5. 5
    W. Kevin Vicklund

    I am. One of the points of progressive liberalism as I see it is to separate libertarianism from the conservative focus on fiscal issues. This is not Randian or Paulene libertarianism. It is not completely progressive, but it gets rid of the asshole factor.

  6. 6
    W. Kevin Vicklund

    Err, my comment @5 was directed at the pitbull @1.

    I hope my posts live up to the expectations of Ichthyic and Leonard. I’ve given lots of thought to the issue, but getting it on paper is very much a challenge for me. I’ll certainly look at Shermer’s essay tonight.

  7. 7
    Ichthyic

    have you read Altermeyer’s book “the Authoritarians”, Kevin?

    It’s short, pointed, based on 30 years of his research and others, and pretty much is like a rosetta stone to explain what has happened in American politics for the last 40 years.

    what’s more, it’s free!

  8. 8
    Ichthyic

    here’s altemeyer’s web, with the link to the book:

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    I think you will find it very useful in your thinking, if you haven’t already read it.

    cheers

  9. 9
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Kevin, as someone with little familiarity regarding Libertarianism, I welcome this series.

  10. 10
    D. C. Sessions

    One way to distinguish social libertarians from the more Randite variety (who are often hard to tell from old-fashioned royalists) is to subtract propertarianism from libertarianism.

    Quite a few doctrinaire “libertarians” hold property to be not only A human right but THE human right, then attempt to derive all of the others from it. Which, IMHO, give Medieval theology a run for its money in the angels-on-pinheads department.

    However, that’s my ax to grind. Please, by all means, demonstrate the edge of your own; I shall be paying close attention.

  11. 11
    Ace of Sevens

    I’m wondering about the difference between a progressive libertarian and a non-leftist liberal. Also, seeing as the term has been co-opted by people with a platform of no taxes, no government services, oligarchy for all, why adopt the libertarian label?

  12. 12
    Michael Heath

    Kevin,

    How does your use of the term, ‘progressive libertarianism’, differ from the term liberaltarianism used by liberal libertarians like Will Wilkinson?

  13. 13
    Coises

    For what it’s worth, be sure to check the Wikipedia articles on Left-libertarianism and Libertarian socialism.

    I tend to call myself libertarian socialist, though left libertarian works, too. Something about “progressive” doesn’t strike me right, but I’ll wait to see where you go with it.

    I’ve tried to compose essays about what I mean by libertarian socialist… I wish you good luck, Kevin.

    The shortest thing I can write about it is that I’m interested in de facto freedom, not (merely) de jure liberty. (By “freedom” I do not mean what’s sometimes called “positive liberty”; this isn’t really a definition, but I describe freedom as “a synergistic product of security, liberty and opportunity” — it’s what you can actually do, and hence is inherently open-ended. Alone on a desert island one has complete liberty, but little freedom.) For most Americans, economic considerations impose many more immediate limits to freedom than criminal law… though for any of us, that can change in an instant, and I suppose libertarians of all stripes find that appalling.

  14. 14
    Trebuchet

    Took the test and got -4.5, -4.21. Just a tad up and to the right of you.

    I’ve long been attracted to the concept of libertarianism. The problem is that every time I meet an avowed libertarian they are batshit insane. Maybe we need the sane ones (like us?)to come out of the closet.

    D.C. Sessions:

    Quite a few doctrinaire “libertarians” hold property to be not only A human right but THE human right, then attempt to derive all of the others from it.

    I initially read that as “Quite a few doctrinaire “libertarians” hold property to be not only a human right but THE human right, then attempt to deprive all others of it. Sadly, I find that to be not so far off.

  15. 15
    D. C. Sessions

    @13: I start by observing that it doesn’t really matter whether your choices are constrained by the State or by the party holding your debts. Same result.

  16. 16
    pinkboi

    #12

    To me, progressive and liberal have very different connotations, with liberal being more friendly to libertarianism. But like Will Wilkinson said here, liberal just might be a good term for liberaltarians (especially as “liberals” are rejecting the term progressive – one man’s trash, another’s treasure) or it might be better still to reject labels altogether.

  17. 17
    justicecallicles

    I’ve only twice seen a large number of results from the political compass test superimposed onto one graph. (One was at a now defunct atheism forum and the other I can’t remember.)

    It struck me was how incredibly linear the results were. There was a tight line extending from the left-libertarian corner to the center, after which it began to fan out a bit into the right-authoritarian. Almost nobody showed up in the left-authoritarian or right-libertarian regions, which struck me, because libertarian organizations seem to all align themselves with the right.

  18. 18
    'Tis Himself

    I’ll be reading this series with great attention. W. Kevin, there’s two things you should know about me:

    1. I have a STRONG prejudice against looneytarians. You will have to work long and hard to get me to refer to any self-proclaimed libertarian as anything but a looneytarian. I’m aware there are numerous flavors of looneytarians, but every single type appears to follow the looneytarian motto of “I’ve got mine, fuck you.”

    2. I’m a professional economist, primarily a Post-Keynesian. I’m familiar with both the Austrian and Chicago economic schools and I know the problems with each (I’ve written extensively about the Chicago Boys’ fiasco in Chile).

    Incidentally I happen to be a friend of Peter Schiff, Ron Paul’s economic advisor. My objection to looneytarians is not personal.

  19. 19
    Coises

    justicecallicles wrote:

    Almost nobody showed up in the left-authoritarian or right-libertarian regions, which struck me, because libertarian organizations seem to all align themselves with the right.

    Which might explain why nobody votes for the Libertarian party, and most of the people who vote Democratic don’t respect themselves in the morning.

  20. 20
    plutosdad

    Have you found the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog? It is pretty decent. I still don’t agree with many of the writers, but I don’t think they are selfish or crazy like many other libertarians. Plus they mention the philosophy and background to positions, not just make pronouncements like “everyone knows the market works better”

    But all in all a pretty good read.

    http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/

  21. 21
    W. Kevin Vicklund

    How does your use of the term, ‘progressive libertarianism’, differ from the term liberaltarianism used by liberal libertarians like Will Wilkinson?

    Simple. Pronunciation. ;)

    To be less glib, it should be recognizably similar to what they have written about, but reflects my own personal musings. To be honest, while I have thought deeply about this for many years, I have done little research on what others have written. I don’t expect this to be ground-shaking original thought, but rather a way to get more people talking about it.

  22. 22
    Ace of Sevens

    Communists and radfems tend to be left authoritarians. Neither is popular right now, but they exist.

  23. 23
    D. C. Sessions

    @18: please note that in these quarters, lower-case “l” “libertarian” is primarily a matter of what is sometimes called “civil libertarianism” with the economic aspects given much less weight.

  24. 24
    Michael Heath

    I find this particular political compass fatally defective for two reasons. They don’t fully survey the suite of positions that make up a political position. I don’t mean in the personal sense given that continuum aggregated to all of us would provide diseconomies of scale simply because most of us don’t weigh all the issues collectively considered. But this test doesn’t even weigh all the issues most hotly debated in the public square, it should at least include those issues. Secondly many of the questions are idiotic, such as:

    Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment.

    How about, “it depends on current conditions”.

    IIRC there’s been at least one other survey linked to in Ed’s blog before that appeared to me to be far better able to capture an individual’s representative position. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark that site.

  25. 25
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Kevin@5, alright, I’m listening, but not with much hope.

    +++++
    My understanding of a progressive libertarian is

    a progressive, who has no distinguishing differences from the average progressive (and would be recognized as such by any pollster),

    but hangs out with several libertarian friends and acquaintances,

    and thus, to fit in, learns consciously or unconsciously to strawman other progressives.

  26. 26
    llewelly

    P.S.: If you haven’t read it already, check out an essay Michael Shermer wrote about the Ayn Rand Society entitled “The Unlikeliest Cult In History.” It sums up my own distaste for Objectivists better than I ever could.

    It’s interesting, but it entirely fails address (a) Randian adulation of wealth, or (b) their basic denial of how thoroughly all human beings rely on each other.

    And Shermer wastes many words on the awfulness of Ayn Rand’s sexual activities. They fill the “sexual exploitation” bullet in his cult identification matrix. In his other writing about cults this bullet is typically filled with child molestation, forced polygamy, or affairs with dozens of women. Here it is filled with “a secret love affair known only to their respective spouses.”

    Rand’s husband, and Nathan Branden’s wife were informed of, and agreed to the affair. By contrast, Nathan Branden told neither his wife, nor Ayn Rand about his other affairs. Yet Shermer argues that her anger upon discovering Branden’s new affair was hypocritical. A total failure to understand consent; if you are not informed, you cannot consent, and thus, Nathan Branden’s second affair violated consent in a way “a secret love affair known only to their respective spouses” clearly did not. Rand’s reaction cannot be called “hypocritical” on the information Shermer presents. (But read on.)

    And the attention Shermer pays to the 25 year age difference is just ridiculous; Branden was hardly a child; he was already married, already successful – and influential enough that when the cult broke up the majority of the cult members followed him, and not her.

    That’s not to say Ayn Rand was not an exploitative cult leader with a horrid and intellectually bankrupt philosophy; certainly she was. And though Shermer seems wholly unaware of it, Ayn Rand’s own failure to understand consent is worse than Shermer’s; several of her much esteemed protagonists were outright rapists.

  27. 27
    llewelly

    The utility of using two political axi is proportional to their independence. Position on one axis should not be correlated with position on the other.

    There are a variety of websites about where a group can, one by one take the test and see thier positions plotted on the “political compass”. I’ve watched many online communities go around that block, ranging from muds and mucks, to tech blogs like /. through astronomy blogs, biology blogs, and even atheist blogs. In every case, nearly every member of the community ends up very close to a diagonal line. A bare handful of outliers will stand away from the diagonal line.

    You’ll see the same phenomenon if you apply it to the major political figures of most nations. The axi of the “political compass” a strongly correlated, and thus nearly useless.

  28. 28
    sivivolk

    Can someone clarify for me how this isn’t a desperate attempt not to use the word “anarchist”? Since as far as I can tell, a left-wing anti-authoritarian person is an anarchist (or anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-communist, libertarian communist, etc, etc).

    Is it similar to the way people have gone out of their way to describe themselves as “non-religious” or “humanist” or whatnot, to go out of their way to avoid calling themselves an atheist?

  29. 29
    theguy

    What definition of libertarian are you and the Political Compass using? You’re on the bottom-left of the graph you show, but economic libertarianism is placed on the right (they place Ron Paul all the way to the right, but almost exactly middle on the up-down scale).

  30. 30
    mattbush

    Americans tend to use the word “Libertarian” in a special way, probably thanks to the likes of Ron Paul, and I’m seeing a lot of that here.

    The left wing of the political compass has communism (Marx) on the hard left, socialism on the left, liberalism (Keynes) in the middle, economic conservativism on the right, and the pure free market (Milton Friedman) on the far right. This is because the left-right spectrum is used to describe economics, not how you feel about abortion.

    In US parlance, I’d be considered “very liberal”, but to the rest of the world, I’m a “libertarian centrist” or more commonly, a “social liberal”. That is, I rank firmly ibertarian on the Political Compass while ranking very slightly to the left of the economic centre. The political compass test doesn’t use American labels. This is from the Political Compass FAQ:

    You can’t be libertarian and left wing

    This is almost exclusively an American response, overlooking the undoubtedly libertarian tradition of European anarcho-syndicalism. It was, after all, the important French anarchist thinker Proudhon who declared that property is theft.

    On the other side of the Atlantic, the likes of Emma Goldman were identified as libertarians long before the term was adopted by some economic rightwingers. And what about the libertarian collectives of the mid-late 1800s and 1960s ?

    Americans like Noam Chomsky can claim the label ‘libertarian socialist’ with the same validity that Milton Friedman can be considered a ‘libertarian capitalist’.

    The assumption that economic deregulation inevitably delivers more social freedom is flawed. The welfare states of, for example, the Nordic region, abolished capital punishment decades ago and are at the forefront of progressive legislation for women, gays and ethnic minorities – not to mention anti-censorship. Such established high-tax social democracies consistently score highest in the widely respected Freedom House annual survey on democratic rank eg Denmark ranks 2, Sweden 3 and Norway 7, while comparatively free markets such as the US, Singapore and China rate 15,74 and 121 respectively (this detailed checklist can be viewed at http://www.worldaudit.org/civillibs.htm).

    Despite their higher taxes, the social democracies’ degree of social freedoms would presumably be envied by genuine libertarians in more socially conservative countries.
    Our point is that a regulated economy and a strong public sector are not necessarily authoritarian, and a deregulated economy with a minimal public sector is not necessarily socially libertarian.

    Interestingly, many economic libertarians express to us their support for or indifference towards capital punishment; yet the execution of certain citizens is a far stronger assertion of state power than taxation. The death penalty is practised in all seriously authoritarian states. In Eastern Europe it was abolished with the fall of communism and adoption of democracy. The United States is the only western democracy where capital punishment is still practised.

    I hope that clears things up for everyone.

  31. 31
    mattbush

    It’s also worth noting that the word “Liberal” in Australia refers to a supporter of the decidedly neocon Liberal-National Coalition. Australians tediously have to make the distinction between “Liberalism” and “small-l liberalism”.

  32. 32
    katkinkate

    When I did that test a couple of decades ago I was around -6, -4, social libertarian. Rand’s brand of libertarianism seemed to me to be more of an extreme Capitalist (R) libertarianism. I think all the extreme positions are dangerous and the best fit for a progressive, inclusive and prosperous society for the most people is in a position close to the middle, avoiding all extremes of ideology.

  33. 33
    jeremygoard

    Quite a few doctrinaire “libertarians” hold property to be not only A human right but THE human right, then attempt to derive all of the others from it. Which, IMHO, give Medieval theology a run for its money in the angels-on-pinheads department.

    I mostly agree here, but I’d say that the problem is not with property, but with natural-law ethics. On my view, quite a lot of property rights can be shown to be a good idea by consequentialist reasoning together with our best knowledge about incentives and decision-making. Like so many other things, however (“human life”, “privacy”, “free speech”, “natural environment”), non-consequentialist ethics have a way of turning “property” into a kind of sacred totem to which all sense must be sacrificed by otherwise reasonable people.

    I call myself a “moderate libertarian”, since I do tend to distrust the expectations of a lot of politically popular grand programs from the left, and also because far left friends and acquaintances usually show all the hallmarks of religious zealots who care more about the emotions of ideological purity than they do about reason and real-world consequences. In the current strategic sense, I guess I’d have to be a liberal, since the Republicans have simply eliminated themselves from the grown-up 21st century conversation by taking seriously insane views on creationism, marriage equality, contraception, and such. If they ever want to kick out the Jebus goons and come to the table with secular economic arguments about what’s best for actual people here on Earth, I might consider joining them. But I’m not holding my breath.

  34. 34
    sivivolk

    “On the other side of the Atlantic, the likes of Emma Goldman were identified as libertarians long before the term was adopted by some economic rightwingers. And what about the libertarian collectives of the mid-late 1800s and 1960s?”

    Again, what looks to me like a pretty thorough avoidance of the term “anarchist”, since Emma Goldman definitely was one, and several of the collectives referred to in those times would have identified as “anarchist.”

    Is this just an American thing, using “libertarian” all the time?

  35. 35
    Coises

    sivivolk wrote:

    Can someone clarify for me how this isn’t a desperate attempt not to use the word “anarchist”? Since as far as I can tell, a left-wing anti-authoritarian person is an anarchist (or anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-communist, libertarian communist, etc, etc).

    My understanding is that left libertarian, and especially libertarian socialist, are often considered species of (or euphemisms for) anarchist. If I recall correctly, there was a time when openly anarchist speeches and writings were illegal in most of Europe, and a primary motivation for coining these terms was to circumvent that ban.

    I would call myself a “philosophical” anarchist, but not a political one; I suspect this might be a major point dividing many left libertarians from both liberals and typical American (right) libertarians.

    Most political philosophies begin by trying to develop some rationale for why government—so long as it’s constituted according to their particular scheme—has a moral right to rule, and its citizens have a duty to obey. I call bullshit. We have no more duty to obey a law just because it is the law than to obey any other declaration of will by any powerful faction. There is no such thing as “legitimate government” (except as an empty tautology).

    But… one can recognize the practical value of the institution of government without drinking the Kool-Aid. Government will always be an evil, but at least some instances of government are less evil than any alternatives we presently know how to implement, including doing nothing to work together for the common welfare while the strong, sly and violent victimize the weak, naïve and peaceful.

    When I call myself “libertarian,” I’m describing ends, rather than means. I see maximizing freedom, in a very broad sense, as the overarching, appropriate goal of political forms (government). How that can be accomplished is dictated by reality and discovered through intelligent observation and experience.

  36. 36
    Jadehawk

    I’m going to echo other people and ask how exactly this differs from bog-standard anarchism? is “libertarian” even worth reclaiming?

  37. 37
    Jadehawk

    When I call myself “libertarian,” I’m describing ends, rather than means. I see maximizing freedom, in a very broad sense, as the overarching, appropriate goal of political forms (government).

    why? what precisely is inherently (as opposed to instrumentally) valuable about “freedom”?

    I mean, I am quite aware of the value of freedom as a means to improve human wellbeing, but what is its inherent value?

  38. 38
    Coises

    Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe wrote:

    what precisely is inherently (as opposed to instrumentally) valuable about “freedom”?

    I don’t have an entirely satisfactory answer for that. I suppose I am thinking instrumentally, in this sense: of plausible objectives at the social/political level, freedom is of value to all individuals without presuming any particular value system; thus it provides a common point for cooperation even in a heterogeneous society.

    I have a name for this: the “libertarian strategy.” It’s really just a bit more sophisticated version of “live and let live”—realizing that in the long run “winning” is almost useless politically, because it creates losers, who will have contrary incentives and will destabilize the system again. The only worthwhile social/political arrangements are those in which everyone recognizes that they are better off preserving the status quo than risking the uncertainty of undermining it. One has to work to maximize others’ freedom to effectively maximize ones own… otherwise, we spend all our time and resources fighting over who “wins.”

  39. 39
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    One has to work to maximize others’ freedom to effectively maximize ones own… otherwise, we spend all our time and resources fighting over who “wins.”

    This, of course, is half of the failure of narcisso-capitalist “libertarianism.” (The other is defining freedom solely in terms of “never being told ‘no’” rather than taking capabilities into account).

  40. 40
    Deen

    To me, once you take the anti-tax and free-market absolutism out of libertarianism, what you are left with is virtually indistinguishable from liberalism. It seems that a “progressive libertarian” is someone who should call themselves a “liberal”, but is afraid to use the term ever since the right has made it into a dirty word, like “socialist”. They may even have internalized the right wing message that a “liberal” is a person of poor moral standards.

  41. 41
    harold

    W. Kevin Vicklund –

    Although I partly agree with Micheal Heath’s point that the questions are somewhat ambivalent, I think the “political compass” is surprisingly useful.

    My score is similar to yours, except even more toward the “libertarian” axis. I’m sure almost all regular reader of this blog fall in that quadrant or very near to it. Yet I would be very unlikely use the word “libertarian”. I advise you to forget about it, as well. Since I hold “libertarian” views on just about everything except the details of how to manage the economy and common environment in a basically free market society, I used to think that they would be my allies if an administration was elected that did something like using a tragedy as an excuse to start unjustified wars, curtail human rights, and implement a “starve the beast” strategy of excessive military spending and inadequate revenue in order to set up a deficit and claims that social programs for the most needy must be eliminated. I learned my lesson.

    English words, like the words of any language, sometimes evolve in meaning. Sometimes this is due to propaganda. A classic example is the word “conservative”. “Libertarian” is another such word. In my view, it has come to refer, typically, to “one who wishes to support brutal right wing policies, while maintaining a pseudo-intellectual or academic veneer, and seeks a way to deal with the cognitive dissonance”. A second, also common meaning, is “naive young man who is somewhat progressive, but seeks the social approval of ‘cool’ authoritarian right wingers, and does not have the cojones to speak his mind, and so, pretends to ‘support Ron Paul’ as a compromise”.

    Some time ago, I had a conversation with a young libertarian on Panda’s Thumb, a PhD or post-doc in a chemistry program. I can’t recall how it came up, but my point was asking why science-educated “libertarians” might support a religious authoritarian so extreme as to deny scientific reality, when other candidates were available.

    His answer was that he “prioritized economic liberty” – code words for “I’ve got mine, fuck you”, as no-one seriously thinks that religious authoritarians offer real economic liberty – and he topped that off by making comments about the “envy” that people who support a social safety network must be motivated by.

    Basically, whether he feels callous contempt for all who are less fortunate than him, or whether he uses such expressed contempt as a proxy for expressing some even less socially acceptable bias, or both, that’s what you’re dealing with.

    It is not completely progressive, but it gets rid of the asshole factor.

    If you can do this, it would be an amazing feat.

  42. 42
    drlake

    I find the Political Compass to be itself rather simplistic and inaccurate. The basic problem is that each axis conflates two different issues, such that there are actually four variations on each axis lumped into two options.

    On the economic axis, the two axes that should be there are “Private property – communal property” and “Regulated economy – unregulated economy”. In principle, all four combinations are possible though it might be a stretch to find someone who does not believe in either regulation or private property. For example, I (like Adam Smith) strongly believe in both private property and regulation of economic activity. A traditional communist would favor both communal property and regulation of economic activity. A current Republican would apparently favor private property and no regulation of the economy.

    Likewise, the libertarian-authoritarian axis conflates two axes. In this case, it conflates social values (liberal and conservative) with acceptance of government intervention. It is possible to favor government intervention in society in support of both liberal and conservative social values, and it is possible to hold either set of values and strongly dislike government regulation of social behavior. Most modern “libertarians” seem to be confused on this issue, judging by their willingness to impose their social values on others while otherwise railing against government.

    To sum up, each axis contains a value aspect and a government activity aspect, and it is quite possible to combine almost any permutation (though some would be odd), such as preferring government regulation of the economy but disliking government regulation of social activity (the Dems, in general), or preferring government regulation of social activity and not of the economy (the GOP, in general). As such, you can get very different reasons for two individuals to be in very similar positions on the chart.

  43. 43
    Raging Bee

    There is no such thing as “legitimate government”…

    This is pure bullshit. Humans have real social-political needs that government must do its part to meet; so a government that devotes its efforts and power to meeting the legitimate needs of the people is, by definition, legitimate, at least until the people choose (by agreement) to replace it with something that does a better job meeting the same needs.

    The concept of legitimacy is FAR more important to democratic governments than for tyrannies. A tyrant can rely on charisma, brute force, appeals to tradition, or some theocratic notion of “divine right,” to keep people in line. But a democratic government cannot do its job unless the people agree that one set of institutions and procedures are THE sole and legitimate expression of the people’s will, and no other institutions have any right or excuse to exercise power over people.

    The teatards are attacking the basic legitimacy of our democratic government, and of our curent interpretation of our most basic laws. Does anyone believe their attacks will make anyone freer or safer? Does anyone believe they INTEND to make anyone freer or safer?

    If there is no concept of “legitimate government,” then there can be no democracy. The failure — or refusal — to understand this, is just one of the reasons why the political philosophy known as “libertarianism” is such a total failure. The alternative to “legitimate government” is not freedom, it’s illegitimate tyranny.

    But… one can recognize the practical value of the institution of government without drinking the Kool-Aid.

    That depends on what you mean by “one.” Maybe relatively educated people like us can think like this, but every society and nation will have its HUGE share of people who aren’t that educated, and whose reason and decency can easily be overwhelmed by shortsighted needs and fears. They may need the Kool-Aid to keep them from doing something stupid.

  44. 44
    Walton

    I’m a progressive who used to be a libertarian, and still have some degree of sympathy with libertarianism. However, the libertarian political movement as it currently exists is extremely disappointing. I’ll give you an illustrative example to explain why I became completely disillusioned with it.

    One of my major political interests, for instance, is immigrants’ rights. Undocumented immigrants, both here in the United States and in Britain (where I come from originally), including refugees fleeing horrific persecution, are dehumanized, stigmatized in the public discourse as “illegals”, and must live in fear of detention, forcible separation from their families, and deportation. The growing private immigration detention industry on both sides of the Atlantic is guilty of appalling human rights abuses. And the whole system is intrinsically racist: not only is it discriminatory in itself to exclude people from civil rights based on the location of their birth and the colour of their passport, it also amounts to institutional racism in practice, insofar as the system of immigration enforcement is mainly aimed at keeping out racial minorities from the Global South. When one asks people to defend the existence of immigration enforcement, the answer is usually either “we have to stop immigrants entering the labour market to protect jobs for native-born people” (which makes about as much sense as “we have to stop women entering the labour market to protect jobs for men”), or, even worse, “we have to protect our culture from being swamped by foreigners” (which is a nakedly xenophobic argument, but I hear it all the time).

    In theory, in a more rational world, libertarians ought to be able to join forces with the progressive left in supporting completely open borders. After all, if one applies libertarian free-market ideas consistently, there is no more justification for protectionism in the field of labour than there is in the field of trade in goods. And this is reinforced by the fact that immigration control is a violent, oppressive and intrusive form of state coercion, which gives government more power over people’s lives and costs vast amounts of taxpayers’ money (much of it channeled into the pockets of private security contractors like G4S and Serco). And, indeed, some libertarians are or were against immigration controls; Reason magazine is favourably disposed to immigrants’ rights, for instance.

    However, are most libertarians in practice doing anything about this? By and large, no. Because for the average voter, “libertarianism” in America today mostly refers to idiots like Ron Paul, who – unsurprisingly, given his past racist views – happily supports a restrictionist immigration policy and militarizing the border. And in more intellectual libertarian circles, any concern for the rights of detained immigrants typically takes a back seat to demands like lower taxes for the rich – which isn’t surprising, because libertarian think tanks are largely funded by, and responsive to the interests of, the wealthy. There’s substantial ideological diversity within libertarianism, of course, but there is no corner of the libertarian movement in which I feel at home any more; Cato occasionally produces good stuff on civil liberties, but their climate change denialism and worship of markets can get very tiresome. And don’t even get me started on Ayn Rand and her farcical cult of personality (and yes, I did force myself to read the entirety of Atlas Shrugged). So these days I find myself working with and identifying with the progressive left, primarily.

  45. 45
    Raging Bee

    It seems that a “progressive libertarian” is someone who should call themselves a “liberal”, but is afraid to use the term ever since the right has made it into a dirty word, like “socialist”.

    That attitude is left over from the McCarthy era and earlier “red scares,” when anyone who questioned the capitalist-friendly status quo was frantically demonized as a “communist.” Many of the people who currently call themselves “libertarians” are, in fact, old-school McCarthyists who never got over their hatred both of Communism and of liberals who failed to hate it as much as they do. (This is probably why the “libertarian” label seems to be so popular with immigrants from Communist or formerly-Communist countries.)

  46. 46
    Walton

    Sorry for the tl;dr. Shorter me: there are aspects of libertarianism with which I can find intellectual common ground in theory, but the libertarian movement in practice is dominated by racists like Ron Paul, climate change denialists, and the economic interests of the rich and of large corporations. For those of us who want to challenge the forms of state oppression that hurt the poor and marginalized, libertarianism doesn’t really offer very much. I have been involved in immigrants’ rights activism in two countries, attended rallies, and so forth, and I have never once met a libertarian there.

  47. 47
    Raging Bee

    For those of us who want to challenge the forms of state oppression that hurt the poor and marginalized, libertarianism doesn’t really offer very much.

    That’s another of libertarianism’s many failures: the vague, paranoid notion that government always restricts people, and that more government always means less individual liberty. The fact is, the overwhelming majority of the freedoms we take for granted today, were secured for us by the use of national government power — from the abolition of slavery (which Jefferson couldn’t do but which the government he opposed did) to the Civil Rights Act to the legalization of unions to environmental regs to public education, eletrification, telecom infrastructure, and more other examples than I have time to list here. Oh, and that whole crushing the Nazis thing — didn’t the “libertarians” of that time OPPOSE that action?

  48. 48
    Coises

    Raging Bee wrote:

    Maybe relatively educated people like us can think like this, but every society and nation will have its HUGE share of people who aren’t that educated, and whose reason and decency can easily be overwhelmed by shortsighted needs and fears. They may need the Kool-Aid to keep them from doing something stupid.

    This illustrates quite well one of the marked differences between any variety of libertarian and many (most?) non-libertarian politics: A libertarian would have a very hard time accepting that part of proper governance can include fooling the people… “for their own good.”

    Raging Bee also wrote:

    That’s another of libertarianism’s many failures: the vague, paranoid notion that government always restricts people, and that more government always means less individual liberty.

    I suppose most all libertarians — as distinguished from (political) anarchists — consider government a necessary evil. Evil because coercion is an inextricable part of all known practical implementations of government; necessary because the alternative is worse. (As Raging Bee wrote, “The alternative to ‘legitimate government’ is not freedom, it’s illegitimate tyranny”; I only object to the redefinition of “legitimate/illegitimate” and so would remove those words; otherwise, I agree entirely.)

    Typical of the political right in general, right libertarians focus on a simple set of rules and values and expect to derive everything from those, as if reality were something unpleasant stuck to their shoes that ought to be disposed of as soon as possible. “Life, liberty, property and contract!” I always thought it odd that right libertarians hold that a basic function of government is to prevent the strong from using force to take advantage of the weak, but government must not interfere with the right of the rich to use their wealth to take advantage of the poor.

    In accordance with that characteristic right-wing simplicity, the concept of “necessary evil” devolves to “whatever is not necessary is evil”: government has a duty to protect life, liberty and property, and to those ends it is absolutely legitimate; anything beyond those ends is entirely illegitimate.

    Left libertarians are a whole ’nother ball of wax.

  49. 49
    Area Man

    Gah, I really hate that political compass. It’s so simplistic and naive and wrong. It gets pushed a lot by libertarians to make other people think they’re libertarian. I mean, hey, libertarian is opposite of authoritarian! And no one likes authoritarianism. Not even the authoritarians like authoritarianism (they predictably wrap themselves in the mantle of freedom).

    On top of that, it grossly simplifies political thought by distilling everything down to two axes. Where would you put, for example, foreign policy? Foreign policy itself can’t even be simplified down to a single axis. And then there’s the pretense, popular among libertarians, that economic and social issues are completely separate, without any entanglement. But it’s just not so. Take for example the issue of an employer banning work-place religious symbols. This pits employers’ economic freedoms against workers’ religious freedoms. The prototypical libertarian sides with the employer, but it goes to show that there’s something other than freedom that’s driving them. Perhaps non-state intervention has primacy over freedom, or perhaps, as it so often seems, the desires of the powerful are given favor over those of the less powerful.

  50. 50
    Nick Gotts

    Can someone clarify for me how this isn’t a desperate attempt not to use the word “anarchist”? – sivivolk

    I first came across something very like this 2D representation of political space in a book by Stuart Christie* and Albert Meltzer, two British anarchists (an earlier edition than the one I’ve linked to); they identified their own (left-libertarian) corner as anarchist communism, but I’d say positions (like my own) somewhat away from the corner e.g. allowing a role for laws and government, could still be called left libertarian or progressive libertarian, if the l-word hadn’t been irredeamably sullied by the “I’m alright Jack” crew.

    *Christie’s autobiography My granny made me an anarchist is reputedly a good read, but I’ve never got round to it. As a teenager, he was condemned to death by garotting in Francoist Spain for involvement in an amazingly incompetent assassination plot; his sentence was commuted and he was eventually pardoned. Later he was accused of involvement with the “Angry Brigade” bombings in Britain, but was acquited.

  51. 51
    pacal

    Regarding this comment:

    “There is no such thing as “legitimate government.”"

    I tend to agree, but given my Anarchistic sympathies I would of course tend to agree.

    What absolutely floors me with so-called “Libertarians” is the absolute and resolute attitude of so many that other institutions cannot coerce people. That Corporations and businesses cannot coerce, because they are not government. Only government in their eyes has coercive power. In their eyes a corperation cannot coerce and people are “free” to deal or not deal with it. Thus the possibility that the dimisioment of government authority will go hand in hand with the rise of the coercive authority of Businesses, institutions and corperations passes them by.

    In their mindless world corperations are not government even if they function in some respects like government because they are not government. Circular logic.

    It is fascinating that in this particular branch of Libertarian lunacy declares the right to own property to be the basis of all other rights and in fact to be thee right. The obvious conclusion that those who own little or no property will therefore have less rights passes them by quite completely. They seem to have a cronic inability to see that “private” power can be coercive. But then the whole distinction between “private” and “public” is often overdrawn and so is the distinction between government and nongovernment.

    Of course what is also infuriating is “I’m allright Jack”, attitude of so many of this breed of “Libertarianism”, which for example castigates famine victims and warns that famine relief would just encourage bad behavior in the future, whereas starving would encourage people to be more frugal etc.

  52. 52
    dingojack

    “Better they should die to relieve the surplus population”.
    Scrooge was a Libertarian* (before he relented), who knew?

    :) Dingo
    ——–
    * Or perhaps Dickens had read Rev. Thomas Malthus

  53. 53
    Raging Bee

    A libertarian would have a very hard time accepting that part of proper governance can include fooling the people… “for their own good.”

    Actually, plenty of libertarians have no problem at all swallowing, and repeating, whatever lies their reactionary clients feed them. How do you think their ideology got so bogus and fatally flawed in the first place?

  54. 54
    lpetrich

    I’ve researched the question of political-quiz scores, and I’ve found some very interesting results. Density Plots of Political-Compass Scores in lovely false color. I found threads on people’s scores in several messageboards, and I created density plots of them. To avoid bumpy-looking results, I turned each score into a small blob.

    Most of the boards have scores in relatively small blobs, instead of covering the whole of the area. Furthermore, the blobs are usually longer in one direction than other.

    I’ve scored several atheist/secular-themed boards, and their scores were mostly in the bottom left, with an extension in the bottom-left to top-right direction. Some of them had a rightward tail at the top-right end. Economic-right atheists are still somewhat libertarian socially.

    Looking at various religions was an interesting story. Mystic Wicks, a neopagan one closely overlapped, but was a bit more social authoritarian. Cross and Flame, a liberal Xian one, also had a very good overlap. Some of the other Xian boards extended well into the top right, though more right than top. A Muslim one, Ummah.com was much more social-authoritian, but only a little bit more economic-right than most of the atheist ones.

    Stormfront.org, a white-nationalist/neofascist one, was also rather social-authoritarian, and it extended from economic left to halfway economic right.

    I think that my graphs demonstrate that a favorite right-libertarian position is very atypical. They think that they are bottom-right, while “statists” are top-left. The correlation goes in the opposite direction, which I think shows that many people perceive business leaders as authority figures.

  55. 55
    'Tis Himself

    pacal #52

    What absolutely floors me with so-called “Libertarians” is the absolute and resolute attitude of so many that other institutions cannot coerce people.

    Some years ago I wrote about this very thing:

    The source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is not the state but rather the business that employs them. A worker receives more or-else orders in a week from a foreman or supervisor than he or she gets from the police in a decade. If one looks at the world without prejudice but with an eye to maximizing freedom, the major coercive institution is not the state, it’s work.

    Unlike side issues like unemployment, unions, and minimum-wage laws, the subject of work itself is almost entirely absent from libertarian literature. Most of what little there is consists of Randite rantings against parasites, barely distinguishable from the invective inflicted on dissidents by the Soviet press, and Sunday-school platitudes that there is no free lunch.

    Some years ago a libertarian named John Hospers wrote an article defending work. When I read it, I was reminded of nothing other than Marxist-Leninism. Hospers thought he could justify wage-labor, factory discipline and hierarchic management by noting that they’re imposed in Leninist regimes as well as under capitalism. Would he accept the same argument for the necessity of repressive sex and drug laws? Like other libertarians, Hospers is uneasy because libertarianism and Leninism are as different as Coke and Pepsi when it comes to consecrating class society and the source of its power, work. Only upon the firm foundation of factory fascism and office oligarchy do libertarians and Leninists dare to debate the trivial issues dividing them.

    Hospers sees nothing demeaning in taking orders from bosses, for “how else could a large scale factory be organized?” In other words, “wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself.” Hospers again? No, Frederick Engels.

    “Someone,” says Hospers, “has to make decisions and someone else has to implement them.” Why? His precursor Lenin likewise endorsed “individual dictatorial powers” to assure “absolute and strict unity of will.” Lenin wrote: “But how can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one.” What’s needed to make industrialism work is “iron discipline while at work, with unquestioning obedience to the will of a single person, the soviet leader, while at work.” Arbeit macht frei!

    Some people giving orders and others obeying them. This is the essence of servitude. Of course, as Hospers smugly observes, “one can at least change jobs.” But you can’t avoid having a job.

  56. 56
    D. C. Sessions

    Some people giving orders and others obeying them. This is the essence of servitude. Of course, as Hospers smugly observes, “one can at least change jobs.” But you can’t avoid having a job.

    Sometimes the cost of changing jobs is more than you can possibly pay. A simple example is the company store system: you’re always in debt, because subsistence living costs more than you’re paid — but the Company extends credit at the company store so you don’t starve, and they never call the debts.

    Or rather, they don’t as long as you’re working.

  1. 57
    callaway warbird golf balls

    callaway warbird golf balls…

    Progressive Libertarianism – Introduction | Dispatches from the Culture Wars…

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