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Jan 25 2012

Selling Libertarianism

Libertarianism can only be sold to people who are convinced that it is *never* going to happen and completely utterly *impossible* that their neck would ever be the one under the boot of the “free” individual actor. This is exactly why libertarianism is always bound up in the continuation of systems of oppression such as racism, misogyny, christianism, nativism, and the like. It is also exactly why libertarianism is invested in the elimination of empathy as both an individual subjective experience and as an institutional structure.

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    The libertarian explanation for how unregulated companies would be prevented from selling unsuspecting customers poison is the reality-denying “what would be their incentive for doing that?” Probe further, and they’ll tell you they have faith in people’s ability to make rational decisions for themselves, which the nanny state denies.

    They’ll also tell you libertarianism is a rational choice.

    Given these two ideas: that people make rational decisions and libertarian is a rational choice, we can only conclude that we already live in a libertarian paradise, chosen by rational people as a rational decision.

    If we are not, then one or both of those premises isn’t true.

  2. 2
    Anthony K

    I should replace ‘the libertarian explanation’ with ‘the explanation self-described libertarians give’ in the above.

    Of course, who’s going to regulate what actual libertarianism is?

  3. 3
    Barefoot Doctoral

    From 1991 -2010, I’d suggest to all my libertarian friends that they try to live in Somalia, if they want to experience a place with no government expression, and a “may the best man win” environment.

  4. 4
    Nathan

    So ridiculously wrong I don’t even know where to begin. Are you even aware of the existence of left-libertarians like Charles Johnson (www.radgeek.com), Roderick Long (www.aaeblog.com), or Sheldon Richman (http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.com/)?

    Please go to Johnson’s blog and read about both his thoughts (and more importantly, his actions) on behalf of immigrants, the poor, minorities, etc. and then tell me how you can say with a straight face that “libertarianism is invested in the elimination of empathy as both an individual subjective experience and as an institutional structure.”

    The only possible basis for anything you wrote is confusing libertarianism with Ayn Rand style objectivism, which somewhat explains the last sentence only. It would still fail to explain your notion that libertarianism is “always bound up in the continuation of systems of oppression such as racism, misogyny, christianism, nativism, and the like.” Such a statement is belied not only by the individuals I mentioned earlier, but by the entire history of libertarianism, of all varieties. I mean, even Ayn Rand was an atheist!

    Finally, I’m totally baffled as to what it means for one’s neck to be “under the boot of the ‘free’ individual actor.” The very basis of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle, which prohibits any such boot-to-the-neck scenario. Now, one could argue that a libertarian society would not actually have effective controls to prohibit such a thing from happening, but you seem to be arguing that libertarians actually support such rights violations, because they know that they’ll always be the boot and never the neck, which is absurd.

  5. 5
    Anthony K

    So ridiculously wrong I don’t even know where to begin. Are you even aware of the existence of left-libertarians like Charles Johnson (www.radgeek.com), Roderick Long (www.aaeblog.com), or Sheldon Richman (http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.com/)?

    That’s the problem with insisting that “[A]LL THE AFFAIRS OF MEN SHOULD BE MANAGED BY INDIVIDUALS OR VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATIONS”—in many cases, they don’t voluntarily learn what you think they should learn.

  6. 6
    deanaustin

    “So ridiculously wrong I don’t even know where to begin. Are you even aware of the existence of…” This is the exact same argument religious apologists used when they criticized Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”.

  7. 7
    naturalcynic

    Nathan, somewhere a scotsman is smiling.

  8. 8
    Anthony K

    “So ridiculously wrong I don’t even know where to begin. Are you even aware of the existence of…” This is the exact same argument religious apologists used when they criticized Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”.

    Nathan’s not wrong that libertarianism includes a variety of beliefs, including both left and right, and that in general, libertarians are against physical aggression and coercion.

    What Nathan and other libertarians seem to fail to appreciate is that economic coercion is as real and dangerous as any physical means, and it is this sort of coercion that I understand the neck and boot analogy is referring to.

    Undoubtedly there are some subsets of libertarian thought that considers these other forms of coercion, but the libs on the street who claim that “if you don’t like your racist boss, you’re free to quit and find another job” don’t seem to get this, and it is precisely this problem that the welfare state and government intervention is intended to ameliorate.

  9. 9
    James Sweet

    I think you’re just wrong on this one, Comrade. And don’t get me wrong, I think that libertarianism is at best a dangerously misguided form of idealism, and at worst is exactly what you say it is.

    But there are plenty of people who have been “sold” libertarianism (and I very nearly count my own self of several years ago among them) on the basis of a naive commitment to personal liberty that fails to comprehend the myriad ways in which real liberty can be subtly infringed by entities other than government. Sometimes libertarianism can be “sold” by those who are simply sick of the man — whether that “man” be government or corporations or whatever — telling them what to do.

    I have a friend who right now is waffling between Libertarian and Green. I shit you not. He belongs in Green, given his politics, but he very much sympathizes with a number of libertarian ideals. I’ve been trying to convince him that he is just being a tool of the plutocracy by identifying as Libertarian, and I think he’s starting to get it… but you’re just wrong that it’s only sold in heartlessness. It perhaps is OFTEN sold on heartlessness, but not always.

  10. 10
    Nathan

    A response to the responders:

    Post 7:
    I am not making the “no true Scotsman argument.” I do not deny that there are libertarians of all sorts. Some are racist. Some are sexist. Some are Christian nationalist. But the original post claimed that libertarianism is “*always* bound up in the continuation of systems of oppression such as racism, misogyny, christianism, nativism, and the like.” I pointed to the large number of left-libertarians as evidence to the contrary. If physioprof would like to clarify his (I assume “he” based on the cartoon drawing; please correct me if I’m wrong) comment, he is welcome to do so. As it stands, I don’t see how it can be defended. Even if he wants to weasel his way out of the word “always” by claiming that of course he really meant “usually” or “almost always,” I think I’ve presented enough alternate viewpoints to demonstrate that this is not the case. But here are some more just in case:

    http://c4ss.org/
    http://wendymcelroy.com/news.php
    http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/

    Post 8:
    Thank you for putting forth a rational argument rather than an invective screed. This is the type of thing that actually fosters intelligent discussion. I don’t want to get into a full-on discussion of libertarianism here, but I will point out what I believe to be a critical difference in our beliefs. We both want the world to be a better place, but we disagree on whether particular policies actually achieve those goals.

    By contrast, physioprof seems to imply that libertarians know damn well that their policies will screw over everyone else, but that they personally will benefit, so to hell with the rest of you. I see this type of inflammatory rhetoric more and more on the Internet (and other places) these days, and I think it’s extremely harmful. Most people genuinely believe that their favored policies will work to make the world better for almost everyone. Criticism should be leveled at the effects of policies, rather than impugning the motives of their supporters. It’s impossible to have any sort of constructive dialogue or learn anything when your attitude is “Not only are your ideas bad, you *know* that they’re bad, but you hold them because you’re a mean asshole who doesn’t care about anyone else.”

  11. 11
    triclops41

    Nathan,

    You are just wasting your time. You cannot shine a light through a shuttered window.

    Here are a few tenets that people like this simply refuse to see the folly of:

    The only way to be compassionate is to used forced redistribution.

    Crony capitalism has basically nothing to do with the willingness and incentives of politicians, and that more powerful politicians have no effect on the efforts of rent seeking you see from business to eliminate competition and screw consumers.

    Everyone who disagrees with progressives is racist and sexist, prima facie, whether or not evidence exists for such charges.

    Conservatives are wrong for thinking people are too stupid or weak to make decisions for themselves about sex or other lifestyle choices, but progressives are correct for thinking that people are too stupid or weak to make economic decisions for themselves.

  12. 12
    Jumbie

    @Barefoot Doctoral.

    Oh wow, the Somalia gambit! Awesome way to show you don’t even understand what libertarianism is.

    (CLUE: Libertarianism is not anarchism)

    Saying Somalia is a libertarian paradise is like saying Iran is a secular Islamic state and proves that secular muslims can’t create a free society.

  13. 13
    blindrobin

    If only libertarians could hear how silly the sound. Like latter day narodniki.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Note to sensible libertarians: You aren’t loud or numerous enough to completely own the label. The loons, however, are, and pretty much always have been. (I’m referring to what “libertarian” has meant in the U.S., as it has fairly different historical connotations in Europe.) But if you insist on dragging Ayn Rand into it, you are deluding yourself either about Rand, or what sort of libertarian you are.

    Yeah, I know a few people who self-describe as libertarians, but from their actual positions, I’d suggest they choose a different label if they must have one.

  16. 16
    moulton

    The current usage of the term libertarian is often muddied by conservatives who seem to want to appropriate the term rather than just say they are conservatives. It appears that these conservatives must think this is a good marketing strategy. What really surprises me is how many progressives play along spreading the conservatives propaganda about this misuse of the term libertarians.

    And it is not that difficult to tell the difference. Here is a simple quiz that while not perfect is a good first cut:
    1. Abortion; the libertarian if pro-choice; the conservative is anti-choice
    2. Same-sex marriage;the libertarian says it is none of the government’s business how many adults of whatever type want to form a marriage and just as there is separation of church and state there should be separation of marriage and state; the conservative will start sputtering about one man one woman
    3. Drugs; the libertarian will say stop the drug war immediately; the conservative just wants to ramp the failed drug war even higher

    And one more question which is not always as a good predictor but is worth considering:
    4. War; the libertarian wants to end the warmongering adventurism; many conservatives are looking for the next country to invade however there a some conservatives like Ron Paul who appear to have a clue at least on this and perhaps a couple of other items. I am not a Ron Paul fan but I will give credit on that point.

    Of course the libertarian philosophy covers more than just abortion, same sex marriage, drugs and war but to cover the libertarian philosophy will take a book.

  17. 17
    nerdC

    I do not deny that there are libertarians of all sorts. Some are racist. Some are sexist. Some are Christian nationalist.

    @10 Nathan,

    On what do you base those statements? One of the most basic tenets of libertarianism [1] is individualism. That is kind of the opposite of any kind of collectivist or tribalist thinking whether racist or sexist. Nationalism is probably in there, too. A “sexist libertarian” is about as nonsensical as “atheist Christian”.

    Well, anybody can claim to be a libertarian, but if they are a racist then I’d say they are unclear on the concept.

  18. 18
    zhinxy

    Of course left-libertarians cannot completely own the label, of course ours is a movement soaked in unexamined white male privelege, of apologetics for plutocracy, of reactionary elements galore.

    But at the same time, there is a problem with dismissing us as irrelevant, or to respond to any attempt to introduce us into the conversation with accusations somebody’s playing No True Scotsman.

    And that problem is that the vanguard of resurgent left libertarians, of “Free Market Anti-Capitalism” to use an increasinly popular term, are not on the fringes of the movement, not outsiders to libertarianism, but often right at its center.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/blog/libertarian-left/

    Sheldon Richman, author of the above article, is editor of The Freeman, an aged and – insofar as there can be respectable libertarian anything ;) – respectable libertarian publication. Which, right alongside stereotypical sorts like John Stossel publishes exciting radical leftist work by writers like Kevin Carson, of whom I cannot say enough good things, and whose groundbreaking, paradigm shifting essay “The Iron Fist Behind The Invisible Hand”

    Should be required reading for anyone on the left, or right, libertarian or otherwise.

    http://mutualist.org/id4.html

    Roderick Long, author of such reactionary, anti-feminist stuff as Beyond Patriarchy, A Libertarian Model of The Family http://freenation.org/a/f43l2.html is also a fellow at the Mises.institute. The MISES INSTITUTE! You can’t say he’s not in the club.

    Choose a different label? NOW? I’ve never been prouder to wear the label. And that pride is growing, exponentially.

    And while I understand the reticence of non-libertarian leftists, I also believe the levy is about to burst, and our message is getting out there. We’re your “new” allies. We won’t be silent. We’re here for free markets and social justice.

    We’re going to do our parts to smash patriarchy and corporatism and racism and capitalism and colonialism alongside you. And there aint nothing you can do about it.

    LIBERTY! EQUALITY! SOLIDARITY!

    EXPECT US!!!!!!!!

  19. 19
    Pink No More

    You ever notice how lolbertarians immediately scream “U DON’T UNDERSTAND OUR BELIEFS!1″ when you bring up the facts? Ever also notice how much it sounds like the old “you haven’t tasted my Jesus” urban legend?

    I’ve posited in the past that libertarianism is a religious belief masquerading as politics. I stand by that.

  20. 20
    zhinxy

    Pinkamena – Are the facts simply that we’ve got a lot of problems with privelege, sexism, racism, etc? I’m the first to say that we do, and libertarian defensiveness around this is pathetic.

    Are the “facts” that libertarianism can’t be sold to anybody who can’t see non-statist oppression, or evil by a non-statist actor?

    Those are some pretty shoddy “facts.”

  21. 21
    nerdC

    Note to sensible libertarians: You aren’t loud or numerous enough to completely own the label.

    A lot of those who might be considered libertarian don’t particularly like the term and would rather be called liberals, but that term has been repurposed. Some of them use “classical liberal”.

    I have read, but can’t confirm, that (some) Europeans continue to use the term “liberal” to mean something close to the US use of “libertarian”. OTOH, the term “libertarian” is used there as an adjective with “socialist”.

  22. 22
    zhinxy

    NerdC – I certainly believe in Thick Libertarianism, that my commitment to such calls me to be not only a feminist, (Really, I can’t see the boot of patriarchy on my neck???), a queer activist (ditto, I feel the boot), a sex-worker’s rights ally, an anti-racist ally, a secularist, etc.

    http://radgeek.com/gt/2008/10/03/libertarianism_through/

    But to say that even if I’m commited to those things, I’m immune to racism or sexism based on my commitment to a libertarianism that condemns them is disengenuous.

    That misses the point of how endemic these things are, and how we’re all complicit, and leads into there being many genuine reasons non-libertarians have for saying we refuse to see them.

  23. 23
    zhinxy

    But regardless, what I meant with my moderated EXPECT US!! And so forth above, is that as painful as this sort of stereotyping is, as deep and wide as the gulf between left libertarianism and much of the rest of the left is, for so many good reasons (And bad) a sea change is happening.

    Soon, in not more than two decades, I would say, progressive libertarianism and big-P Progressive Liberals with good intentions will have spent much more time together in the trenches. There will still be misunderstanding. There will still be scuffling. There will still be bloody arguments about the role of the State.

    But we won’t see each other as Anathema. The cold war is over. The long and strange and interesting and warping alliance that Libertarianism made with conservativism is cracking. We’re going to overcome so much more, find ways to make alliances. These sorts of arguments are going to happen less and less.

    That’s my utopian, silly, unrealistic vision. The one I see happening. Slowly. Painfully. But happening. And things that are worthwhile aren’t gained overnight.

  24. 24
    Anton Sherwood

    Some of the definitional quarreling goes away if you treat ‘libertarian’ as a relative term, i.e., “giving more weight to individual autonomy, versus central control, than someone else”.

    1 Brownian:
    What’s rational for a specific person depends on circumstances. If you’re a politician who can spend other people’s money for your own benefit, it’s rational for you to do so. If you’re a citizen whose vote has a vanishingly small probability of making a difference, it’s irrational to make an effort to vote wisely.

    A better (partial) answer to “Why won’t selfish corporations sell me poison?” is: If you subscribe to the certification service of your choice, you’re unlikely to be told that the inspection budget had to be cut to pay for [something of which you disapprove] or that the level of purity that you ask for is unrealistic in light of the need to preserve jobs in the poisoned-food industry.

    3 Barefoot Doctoral:
    The main thing wrong with Somalia is the violence promoted by those trying to restore central government. By many measures – literacy, child mortality, telephone service – most of Somalia has done quite well without it. (So why don’t I move there? Because politics isn’t everything! I’d rather not have to learn another language at my age, not to mention a foreign culture’s notions of courtesy, and I doubt I’d like the climate.)

    5 Brownian:
    If one cares for intellectual honesty, and/or prefers not to look like an ass, one would be wise to learn – even without compulsion – what one’s opponents really say before smearing them with a broad brush.

    6 deanaustin:
    Your analogy would be accurate if Nathan were saying “libertarian policy would not have the effects you fear, as these philosophers’ arguments clearly demonstrate.” That’s not what Nathan said, by a long stretch.

    8 Brownian:
    A libertarian world wouldn’t be perfect, but perfection is not on the menu. I like to think “economic coercion” would be less effective in a world without licensing regulations designed to protect existing firms against competition, without subsidies (such as eminent domain) to well-connected corporations, and so on. (See Roderick Long’s essay “Corporations versus the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now”)

    Politicians don’t want you to become your own boss; people who owe their livelihoods to big corporations are easier to control.

    Remember that labor organizers in the Bad Old Days were attacked not only by the Bosses but by the Sheriff, and that racism was enforced by law for centuries. Would you say that enlightened legislation is more usual than reactionary legislation?

    As for welfare, I like David Friedman‘s quip: “If almost everyone is in favor of feeding the hungry, the politician may find it in his interest to do so. But, under those circumstances, the politician is unnecessary: some kind soul will give the hungry man a meal anyway. If the great majority is against the hungry man, some kind soul among the minority still may feed him – the politician will not.” (The Machinery of Freedom (1989), chapter 3 ‘Love Is Not Enough’)

    17 nerdC:
    As I understand it, individualism is the moral principle that consent can be given, and obligation incurred, only by the acts of an individual, not by membership in a group (definition made up on the spot, probably flawed). I’m not convinced that it is incompatible with racism or sexism. Enlightened people reject racism/sexism because the weight of evidence says that psychological differences within groups outweigh differences between groups, not because individualism decrees a priori that it must be so.

  25. 25
    moulton

    For those who are interested the Association of Libertarian Feminists website http://www.alf.org has articles and essays ranging from the 1970s to the current era. The articles and essays discuss Feminist issues from a libertarian perspective.

  26. 26
    lactosefermenter

    In my experience, the basic credo of libertarianism is “I got mine, so fuck everybody else”.

  27. 27
    Michael Price

    Wow, you’re so disgusting. For a start there are a lot of libertarians who point out that minarchy and anarcho-capitalism actually happened, so why wouldn’t they happen again? For a second thing “racism, misogyny, christianism, nativism, and the like. ” were all supported by the state for a LONG time. But as usual the anti-libertarians think “history” is Ron Paul’s 20 year old newsletters and nothing happened before that.

    Libertsrianism is not “invested in the elimination of empathy” hell the heroes of Atlas Shrugged had empathy. In fact they had more than the people who wanted to enslave them. In fact of course it is government that is invested in the elimination of empathy, which is why you never hear a leftist stick up for poor people who might want to drive a cab but don’t have a few hundred K to buy a license. So called Progressivism was the most racist, bigot movement of all time, but you will never hear leftists talk about that except to make excuses.

  28. 28
    unbound

    As a libertarian, are you on the side of non-propertarian or propertarian? Non-propertarian basically advocates direct democracy and group control of companies…which can work on small scales, but falls apart once you get beyond a few dozen people. It is the far smaller camp of libertarians since most educated people understand how this can’t work at large scales.

    Propertarian (much more common) is basically the whole free market shall magically resolve all issues philosophy, so get the government out of there…which works only in the ideal world of academics. It is this naive philosophy that anyone with notable experience in buying and selling any type of product or service today understands doesn’t actually work. It can only work if all the conditions of a free market economy are present…things like anyone being able to easily enter any market segment, all consumers having near-perfect knowledge of what they are purchasing, large numbers of sellers selling identical products to large numbers of buyers, etc.

    The barriers to entering markets have very little to do with regulations…the primary barriers to easy entry to a given market are predominantly knowledge and initial investment (sorry, you can’t make competitive computer chips in your home kitchen). Few consumers ever really know the details of how any product works anymore much less long term costs of even the simpler products much less more complex technology (any clue how that Blu-Ray player works, what parts are used, and where those parts come from?). Very few products are identical to each other, there is usually at least moderate differences (that Mac isn’t anything like any other PC).

    Keep in mind that the free market that is supposed to self-regulate and work wonders for everyone is based on the understanding of an ancient market that no longer exists. The free market concept is based on a bunch of farmers (most everyone can farm, so easy entry) getting together in a marketplace (lots of consumers) to sell their veggies. Anyone can tell the difference between a good veggie and a rotten veggie (near-perfect knowledge of the consumer), so malfeasance is largely impossible. Since all products are identical (a carrot is a carrot is a carrot), there are no sellers with something to differentiate their products. Every consumer has easy access to the products and will pick up the product at the cheapest price which will drive all other sellers to an ideal price that supports the demand with a given supply. And when you have all these conditions met, you find that no one is able to make record profits year after year after year.

    How familiar does that sound when you go to Best Buy or Amazon or Target or your local grocery store even? Not at all, does it? You have very few choices with various differences in the products that you don’t fully understand anyways.

    The libertarian politicians are pushing heavy deregulation not because it will create more competition (as stated earlier, regulations are not the primary barrier to market entry), but because it simply reduces the costs of the existing companies. With competition being weak (at best), prices are based on what consumers are willing to pay, so a reduction of costs is a pure increase in profits. The companies could really care less if the product is safe (of course, if the product kills 100% of the users in a short period of time, that is a different story) or if the consumer understands what they are really buying…and the big corporations will happily buy out any serious competition with the lack of regulations further ensuring high profits.

    Is this really the world you want?

  29. 29
    blah

    ‘we can only conclude that we already live in a libertarian paradise, chosen by rational people as a rational decision’ (Brownian)
    No, they have these delusions about coercion and aggression and shit. What we have is an Archist paradise.
    Dora Marsden’s ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dora_Marsden ) formulation:
    “The world should be moulded to my desire if I could so mould it: failing in that, I am not to imagine that there is to be no world at all: others more powerful than I will see to that.”
    Why shouldn’t the powerful do as they please? Just make sure you’re one of them. The only one, if possible.

  30. 30
    fredricmartin

    You know that part of the Fermi Paradox about the dangers of communicating? Libertarianism is what they’re talking about, I’m convinced.

  31. 31
    abb3w

    (Leaving a deeply esoteric argument about Libertarian conception of choice and Joseph Betrand’s Paradox for another day….)

    One of the aspects many libertarians seem to neglect in their argument is that there experimentally appear to be two distinct (only weakly correlated) types of authoritarian predisposition. There is the follower mindset of Altemeyer’s RWA scale, who think people should get in formation and march along; but there’s also the authoritarian leader mindset of Sidanius’s SDO scale — people who think that they should/would be the one at the vanguard if there’s any marching to be done. The two scales are only weakly correlated to one another. The two scales are correlated with prejudice, but of different varieties; RWA to “dangerous” groups, SDO to “derogated” groups, and both to “dissident” groups.

    Subjectively, it seems likely that Libertarians are disproportionately low-RWA, but high-SDO. (The Objectivist strains of libertarian seems particularly so, but not uniquely.) There’s also experimental data to suggest that Libertarians tend to have lower responses on both empathy and disgust moral foundations.

    Of course, much of this is somewhat ad hominem. On the other hand, when there are valid correlations of traits, ad hominem may still give legitimate Baysian inferences.

    More in theme with the Freethought blog cluster, I’ll note it subjectively seems likely a significant chunk of atheists (particularly those who actively organize into groups) may also have such a tendency. (The general tendency to low-RWA is measured; the RWA-tendency for the organized and any SDO tendencies are purely conjectural so far — I’m seeing no hits in the literature.)

    Suggested reading:
    Robert Altemeyer’s “The Authoritarians”, available via (tinyurl.com/ys2j6o)

    See also:
    “Above and Below Left–Right: Ideological Narratives and Moral Foundations”, Haidt et al (doi:10.1080/10478400903028573).

    “Right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation and the dimensions of generalized prejudice: A longitudinal test”, Asbrook et al (doi:10.1002/per.746)

  32. 32
    moulton

    I am concerned that there is a lot of talking past each other going on there

    Can I suggest the following:

    1. All philosophies should be criticised. However that criticism needs to be based on accurate and reasonable analysis.

    2. When stating that a particular philosophy holds some position please give a citation from well known and recognised books and articles recognised by the group in question. For example if one is attributing some position to those who want particular type of economic regulation then quote someone like Paul Krugman not some person from the Socialist Workers party yelling in a bull horn on some street corner. Unless of course the position you are criticiser’s is that of Socialist Workers Party. The point is to select the most coherent, well formulated and coherent articulations of a particular philosophy to criticise.

    3. See if you can hold your own philosophy to the same standards of evidence and rationality that are applied to others. This is likely more difficult than it sounds. We humans often have little narratives that we tell ourselves about how irrational, mean and greedy the other philosophy is and how ours is all goodness and light.

    4. Apply labels and categories with care and honesty. Obama is not a Socialist and Bush was not a Fascist. And the murderous reign of Stalin killing millions in the USSR is not synonymous with the current Progressive philosophy just as Somalia is not synonymous with the Libertarian philosophy. So perhaps it is time to stop the name calling and slurs and start dealing with ideas as mature adults.

    5. Make sure you really understand the position you think you are criticising and when adherents of that position are giving you lists of URLs, books and authors in an attempt to give you a more accurate understanding it might be a really good hint that you need to re-consider your original understanding since it might be in error.

  33. 33
    PalMd

    Libertarians are just anarchists with haircuts.

    Despite the above protestations, most of the supporters here are using a no true scotsman argument, or else using the idiotic-utopian argument that people won’t be violent or coercive in libertarian society.

    Libertarianism inherently favors the already-strong over the weak. It’s inherently a bad thing.

  34. 34
  35. 35
    Anton Sherwood

    26 lactosefermenter: So you’ve never met any poor libertarians? Well, now you’ve met me.

    28 unbound: Whenever I’m reminded that the market “won’t work” except in fanciful ideal conditions, like perfect knowledge, I wonder why such caveats don’t apply to politics: why it is that – despite imperfect knowledge on the part of everyone involved, and despite mismatches between the interests of the public at large and those in office – republics never make mistakes.

    33 PalMd: Repeating it doesn’t make it true.

    34 PalMd: In strawman-Libertaria, there’s no such thing as insurance and no institution gives a shit for its public image.

  36. 36
    nerdC

    @32 moulton

    Can I suggest the following:[...]

    Of course you can, as long as you don’t actually expect anybody to pay attention to them.

    Sorry about being a bit sarcastic. Discussions of politics on the Internet are seldom paragons of rational argumentation. I do not expect that to change. Your suggestions are very good. If you follow them you may learn a thing or two about what how other people think about politics and religion. But you will not often find anyone else with the same approach to it as you are describing.

    Although an occasional read of a discussion thread such as this can be informative, I think reading books is much more worth while. The author puts much more effort in to the writing. To understand a political philosophy, read the proponents. They are the ones who have

  37. 37
    parodist

    Majority rule can only be sold to people who are convinced that it is *never* going to happen and completely utterly *impossible* that they would ever be in the minority.

  38. 38
    Leo Buzalsky

    @35 Anton Sherwood says:

    28 unbound: Whenever I’m reminded that the market “won’t work” except in fanciful ideal conditions, like perfect knowledge, I wonder why such caveats don’t apply to politics: why it is that – despite imperfect knowledge on the part of everyone involved, and despite mismatches between the interests of the public at large and those in office – republics never make mistakes.

    Maybe I missed something, but who suggested republics never make mistakes??? Actually, I am one who is very much concerned with ignorance in politics, especially with those who vote! I find ignorance to be one of the biggest problems with democracy. Now, I support democracy because I cannot think of a better political system (that’s not to say there isn’t a better system out there, so I’m not committing an argument from ignorance). I do not support libertarian ideas because I do think there are better systems for the market.

  39. 39
    john@skeptivus

    What a load of horsecrap. Libertarianism is in no way concerned with eliminating empathy. In fact libertarianism is not so much a set up beliefs but rather an approach to how beliefs are propagated. Libertarianism do not believe in coercive forces upon the individual. How this can construed as eliminating empathy is beyond me.

  40. 40
    john@skeptivus

    Sorry for the typos. Had to type fast since I’m still at work. Should read is not so much a set of beliefs… and Libertarians do no believe… and How this can be construed…

  41. 41
    parodist

    If your empathy were sincere, you’d be willing to compel everyone to act on it, regardless of their feelings.

  42. 42
    john@skeptivus

    If by compel you mean use force then I completely disagree. I may think its a good idea to recycle but I’m not going to force my neighbor to do it. The act of force against another is violence.

  43. 43
    George

    If Bob goes into business, he will poison everyone he comes into contact with, because, well, ya know, that’s the way people are.

    However, give Bob a job at the Federal Bureaucracy for Rainbows and Unicorns, and he becomes a humanitarian to end all humanitarians.

    Impeccable reasoning, and in now way dogmatic and irrational like the religionists you claim to be so different from.

  44. 44
    john@skeptivus

    @George

    That would be a good argument if it wasn’t totally bat shit. Seriously, I can’t even tell which side you are on or what point you are trying to make. Was that a response to me or the OP?

  45. 45
    nerdC

    @john 42 44

    Slow down a bit there. You aren’t doing so well parsing the sarcasm.

  46. 46
    abb3w

    @39, john@skeptivus

    Libertarianism is in no way concerned with eliminating empathy.

    I believe the argument is not so much that libertarianism has the concern of seeking such elimination as an end, but rather that libertarianism tends to be a result of relative lack of such empathy.

    However, I’ve not been paying particularly close attention to this round of a very old flamewar; apologies if I misread while skimming.

  47. 47
    Anton Sherwood

    Libertarians are the cranks who refuse to applaud a policy for its good intentions.

    “See how the poor suffer! Something must be done!”

    “Better to do nothing than ‘something’ that sounds good but in fact harms the poor.”

    “You libertarians are all heartless!”

  48. 48
    PalMD

    Libertarians should be given a nice territory of their own to run their little experiment. I’ll bring the popcorn. (I’d suggest Idaho, but I have friends there.)

  49. 49
    BrianX

    You know, the “perfection isn’t possible” mantra coming from a libertarian sounds an awful lot like “tough shit if our system doesn’t work”…

  50. 50
    Anton Sherwood

    Would you take me more seriously if I said nothing would ever go wrong in Libertaria?

  51. 51
    BrianX

    No, but the mindset I perceive from the vast majority of libertarians is that it’s an all or nothing deal come hell or high water. Entirely apart from its other points, big-L Libertarianism is most often absolutist — no half-measures are to be accepted, and no deviations are to be allowed because Libertarianism is Correct. (That’s almost explicit in Objectivism.) In that regard, I would not trust a Libertarian government to say “this isn’t working” if some of its policy goals proved to be a disaster. In fact, in such situations, absolutists of any stripe tend to double down on what they’re already pushing. If a Libertarian government reflected the vast majority of people who consider themselves Libertarians, it wouldn’t be able to deal with mistakes and changing conditions any better than the Soviet command economy did.

  52. 52
    Anton Sherwood

    Libertarians are the true moderates: our aim is to expand the grey area between the mandatory (or subsidized) and the forbidden, which the ‘mainstream’ usually strives to squeeze out.

    At least if libertarian absolutism fails it won’t stop you from organizing communistic alternatives, if that’s what floats your boat — on a voluntary basis, of course. (I’m hoping for a revival of the friendly societies: a social safety net, directly accountable to its subscribers.)

    The market in Libertopia would inevitably be more diverse and therefore more able to “deal with mistakes and changing conditions” than one in which every innovation is a step in a bureaucratic minefield.

    This isn’t to say that if the Libertarian Party were in power it wouldn’t quickly find ways to rationalize bureaucracy-as-usual.

  53. 53
    Drolfe

    Most people genuinely believe that their favored policies will work to make the world better for almost everyone.

    OK. Sure. But what if they’re wrong.

    Isn’t the reason we have a mixed economy and taxation and so-called liberal politics because we tried it the other way and lots of people died? Why are libertarians ignoring history and begging to double down on shit that’s already failed?

    I mean, facts are facts. Charity didn’t feed the starving, dummies.

  54. 54
    Anton Sherwood

    53 Drolfe, please give a specific example, such as a recent famine that wasn’t caused by state policy.

    The present misnamed “liberal” orthodoxy exists because the Progressive elitists thought they could manage everything better than the ignorant common herd. Results included Prohibition, the bubble and crash of 1929, and WW2. They were wrong, and their policies remain: Prohibition II, permanent manipulation of the money supply, and now permanent war.

    If Big Brother gets it wrong and you try to ameliorate the damage, you’ll likely go to jail unless some politician can contrive a way to take credit for it. If a (genuinely) libertarian regime gets it wrong, it won’t stop you from doing something better, so long as you don’t try to force your neighbors to take part.

  55. 55
    Drolfe

    So what you’re saying is: libertarianism has never been tried (so can’t have failed). Is that right?

    Or is this just a different version of the Libertarianism can’t fail, it can only be failed gambit?

  56. 56
    Drolfe

    (But really, libertarians, why would one dispute that charity has not effectively ended hunger? I mean, why is that even up for debate? Unless, again, libertarianism has never been tried, so it’s impossible to know.)

  57. 57
    Anton Sherwood

    Drolfe: I hope that’s not what I’m saying (and it’s a mystery to me how you can read that into it). I’m saying that your objection to libertarianism seems to be that it might share some of the blatant flaws of the system that you defend.

    I’m not familiar with the phrase “it can only be failed”. Is that something like “there’s nothing wrong with democracy, it’s the voters’ fault if they don’t use it properly”?

    Can you name a policy that has ended hunger?

  58. 58
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    @zhinxy, Kevin Carson’s essay is nonsensical:

    A world in which peasants had [land, property, capital, technology, etc.], is beyond our imagination. But it would have been [imagined outcome]

    Do you not see the contradiction?

  59. 59
    BrianX

    Anton:

    Define “end hunger”. Has it been done permanently? No, but by definition no one — not even immortals, if they existed — has lived forever either. However, both government and private charitable efforts have kept people fed when no other alternatives were available. You’d be correct to point out that such efforts are often unevenly applied and occasionally rigged to shame the recipients (WIC comes to mind), but the point is, they have worked, and can easily work better given a certain level of commitment of both policy and resources. Similar results also apply to policy initiatives in finance (most notably, microloans) and academics (affirmative action, at least when applied sensibly and not as a blunt force quota system). The FCC’s Universal Service Fund probably counts as well, given that it’s probably saved a few lives and gotten quite a few people jobs that they wouldn’t normally have access to.

    They’re not perfect, and in some cases they’re just bandaid solutions to much larger societal problems, but the point is, they’re progressive policies that do largely what they’re intended to do. In other words, we have results we can point to. Do you?

  60. 60
    Anton Sherwood

    You have results you can point to, and you have results that you’d rather not point to …

    Every success of libertarianism, as such, comes from not doing harm and not getting in the way of someone else doing good. That makes them hard to “point to”, because the immediate cause of the benefit is always something else. The best I could do, I think, would be to point to cases where the state caused hunger by newly restricting some existing beneficial activity.

    I’ve already mentioned the friendly societies, many of which provided old age pensions and unemployment insurance as well as medical coverage until they were wiped out by legislative price-fixing.

  61. 61
    BrianX

    What the hell kind of fucking copout is that?!

  62. 62
    BrianX

    Also, the “friendly societies” you talk about are also wide-open to abuse in a libertarian context, and even without them can become instruments of discrimination and ostracism. Their descendants like credit unions and mutual banks and insurance companies don’t have those problems because they’re regulated the same way other businesses are and therefore can’t discriminate against people solely because they aren’t their type of people. (Or at least ideally can’t.)

    Then again, I’m pretty sure the social control aspects of groups like you refer to are considered a feature, not a bug…

  63. 63
    Anton Sherwood

    If you’d rather support a system that can take credit for saving some lives while it destroys others, which now takes credit for abolishing the same reactionary social policies that it enforced for centuries, that’s up to you; I don’t hope to persuade everyone that “first do no harm” is the better way.

    The obvious response to discrimination by one club is to start another one. The obvious response to discrimination by the state is what, to vote against it?

  64. 64
    BrianX

    Actually, if voting doesn’t work, you sue. In any case, you still haven’t actually said anything in your favor, and you’re mashing together numerous different approaches to government into one in an attempt to bullshit your way out of the debate. I’m not sure if you’re incompetent or horribly dishonest, but what you aren’t is persuasive to anyone who isn’t already a libertarian.

  65. 65
    Anton Sherwood

    You can sometimes successfully sue the state when it breaks its own rules, but you’re out of luck when injustice is the rule.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “mashing together numerous different approaches to government into one”. Are you saying it’s dishonest to treat it as the same institution when some of its policies vary? If so, oops! I’m in the habit of arguing over whether a coercive monopolistic institution ought to be tolerated at all, and you’re discussing Progressive government vs Libertarian government, i.e., which faction/philosophy does the governing. My bad.

    Or are you saying it’s dishonest to point out that the same Progressive impulse to improve society from the top (and often the same people) gave us the programs you like and Prohibition, eugenics, cartel enforcement, the inflation/recession cycle, Prohibition II, and a military empire?

  66. 66
    BrianX

    Well, yes, it kind of is. Fundamentally, you’re misrepresenting the fact that government in our society is not a monolith, and not making any distinction between what’s progressive and what isn’t. And YES, the philosophy of governance does matter, and if you don’t accept that, you are not knowledgeable enough to be arguing politics in the first place. I’m leaning heavily towards dishonest in my overall evaluation of you, unless you really are just that clueless.

  67. 67
    Drolfe

    So hold on, Libertarian government is still bad — maybe less bad — because it’s government? Is that where this is going? Is that why you can’t name an example of a libertarian government ending hunger (or let’s lower the bar to just preventing starvation)?

    Here again, libertarianism can’t fail because it’s never existed. But I think your point of view is coming into focus at last. You’re one of those taxes are evil because they fund government to oppression libertarians. The kind of libertarian that dreams of living in a shack on the side of a mountain that isn’t part of a nation, and maybe trades shiny rocks with a distant neighbor for moonshine/poison.

    See that’s the reason I’m sort of stunned and confused; I’m not used to seeing anarchism defended as libertarian.

    I’m more used to other self-described libertarians that say things like, “I agree that in a libertarian state rape is hard to prevent.” See, the state is assumed by most people when we’re talking about politics.

  68. 68
    BrianX

    Drolfe:

    I’ve heard the argument I originally criticized phrased as “utopia is not an option”, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in the wild. Anton’s treatment of the matter would seem very much in line with what I said about there being no way out of a hardline libertarian government, and it seems Anton would be very much in favor of a situation where repressive social institutions operate without interference. He’s certainly not disproving my perception that libertarianism is about nothing but repression envy.

  69. 69
    BrianX

    Actually, come to think of it, I should invoke the strong form of Poe’s Law — Anton is pretty much the perfect straw libertarian.

  70. 70
    Anton Sherwood

    67 BrianX: How do you vote so as to support the Progressive policies you like and oppose the Progressive policies you don’t like?

    68 Drolfe: Yes, I disapprove of taxation because most of it is spent to do harm. It is cruel to force people to support activities that they consider immoral. Even if I were in favor of war in Afghanistan, say, I would not force my pacifist neighbor to pay for it.

    The main thing a libertarian government can do against hunger, of course, is refrain from causing it.

    No, I do not have romantic notions of rugged post-apocalyptic individualism. I have the notion, which I believe is well supported by the evidence, that humans are generally social and don’t need to be made so by force. There is plenty of precedent for beneficial commerce – and altruism in emergencies – going on without the state, or in spite of it.

    Of course libertarians include anarchists! When you take away the parts of the State that do net harm, and then take away the parts that can be done better by the private sector, some of us find that what remains is not worth retaining an institution which is always eventually corrupted by its ability to inflict harm with impunity.

    Yes, “the state is assumed by most people when we’re talking about politics”; so’s the two-party system, but I didn’t think we were talking about hardcore libertarians within the D-R biparty.

    69 BrianX: I have already (twice) mentioned a “way out of a hardline libertarian government.” I can imagine a stateless “situation where repressive social institutions operate without interference,” but it’s hard to believe in; for a libertarian social order to arise in the first place, there would have to be a consensus against repression, else why would society give up repression’s best tool?

    But let’s say you live in Libertopia and you suffer constantly from bigotry. If you can’t find anyone who’ll hire you or sell to you without state compulsion, why would you expect the state to go against the wishes of such an overwhelming majority?

    Do you object to the phrase “utopia is not an option” because you believe that utopia is an option (and the state is necessary to reach it)? If so, for how many generations are you willing to support corruption and cruelty, in the hope that the system will reform itself?

    Or do you believe that the state is the only tool for social improvement, and therefore take the phrase to mean that libertarians willingly embrace permanent stagnation? That’s wacky. Are people not creative enough to find solutions that don’t rely on coercion?

  71. 71
    BrianX

    Honestly, Anton, after your last copout followed by your demonstration that you suck as a bullshit artist, I don’t think you actually have anything to say in your own defense.

  72. 72
    Anton Sherwood

    Oo, your inability to any of my questions cuts me to the quick.

  73. 73
    Anton Sherwood

    (er, “inability to answer any”, obviously)

  74. 74
    BrianX

    There ought to be a drinking game for the whole assumption that I’m the one with the burden of proof when you’re making the assertions. It’s so… unoriginal.

    Seriously, you’re trying to convince me of your viewpoint by attacking mine, while relying on a copout to defend yours, and then assuming I’m supposed to play along even though you’re insulting my intelligence in the process. I’m utterly baffled as to why so many of you libertarians play that silly-ass game when all you’re trying to do is spread FUD while doing as little as humanly possible to prove your own point. Do you get off on unearned superiority complexes somehow? Or is this some warped variant on Pascal’s Wager where you assume it’s your Libertarianism or “my” straw statism? Because either way, the world is not that simple.

    The title of this thread is “Selling Libertarianism”. How about “Selling used cars” instead? Your way of doing it is along the lines of “Well, your Toyota could crash any time, so what you really want is my Harley.” “But I’ve had Toyotas save my life before, and that Harley really doesn’t make me feel safe. I mean, they call them ‘donorcycles’ for a reason.” “Yeah, but think about it, you’ll be out on the open road, with the wind in your hair because you don’t need a helmet, yada yada, and besides, what about all those times that Toyotas crashed and killed people?” “Yeah, what about them? That accelerator problem was pretty well overblown in the media, and for the most part, I feel a lot safer on four wheels than two.” “Fine, you want to keep driving a big, heavy four-wheeled vehicle that might not stop, go right ahead…” “Um, I think I will, thanks…”

    And that, frankly, is giving you more credit than you deserve. But the motorcycle salesman has done nothing to address why the buyer prefers to drive a car, and has therefore utterly failed in his mission. Granted, you could nitpick the whole thing to hell and back over the appropriateness of the analogy, but no analogy is perfect, so don’t try. Point is, you suck ass as a salesman, but make a very, very convincing Kool-aid soaked buffoon.

  75. 75
    Anton Sherwood

    In a saner world the burden of proof would be on a proposal to use the threat of violence, rather than on a proposal to refrain from it. (“There’s always been a Lottery!”)

    But my aim here is not to convert anyone to anarchism, only to refute the OP’s assertion that to be libertarian one must lack empathy. (Yeah, I got sidetracked.) It was empathy that made me open to libertarianism in the first place!

    In my youth I tried to imagine a constitution for an ideal republic (and I still sometimes play that game). One point always nagged me: any government, by definition, compels some people to do things repugnant to them, if only by proxy through taxation. How can taxation be moral if military conscription clearly isn’t? So it came as a great relief when I was persuaded that the “necessary evil” is not necessary. I can live with the knowledge that you are not persuaded (and that I’m not the best advocate, much less with this fever!).

    Maybe someday I’ll find a way to advocate abolishing (or sharply reducing) the state without “attacking” the state. My attack here was provoked by the double standard of dismissing us libs with “unregulated markets can only work with perfect knowledge etc” while ignoring the same flaws (plus moral hazard) in the political process. (Writing that sentence has made me think of better ways to address the point.)

    Speaking of copouts, when you use that word do you mean my failure to say how libertaria would satisfy the assumption that only the state can address certain problems? I’m reminded of this template, and of something I once heard a preacher say: “Mohammed didn’t die on the Cross for you! Buddha isn’t waiting for you at the Pearly Gates!”

    I accept that your metaphorical car’s airbag once saved your life, yet I prefer not to ride in something whose steering and brakes are so unreliable.

    (In fact I’ve been quite pleased with my Toyota’s handling; on those happily rare occasions when I’ve needed to dodge suddenly, my next thought was “How did I do that?!”)

  76. 76
    BrianX

    You haven’t proven anything meaningful about compassionate libertarianism either. You’re still taking a “not my problem” attitude to the whole concept of a social safety net — people can have whatever they want as long as you don’t have to help them get it.

    Physioprof’s original point remains unblunted: libertarian empathy is an oxymoron.

  77. 77
    atheist

    Libertarianism in three planks:
    1. Ideas are more important than realities.
    2. I am soooooo special.
    3. We’re the elect… join our club!

  78. 78
    atheist

    @BrianX:

    Physioprof’s original point remains unblunted: libertarian empathy is an oxymoron.

    Their problem with reality is even worse.

    For instance, if you force a group of libertarians to talk about the American Civil War, their delusional ideology has no way of processing that heavy historical reality. They end up fighting over whether Abraham Lincoln was a horrible dictator who interefered with the South’s right to lawfully practice slavery, or whether slavery would have been peacefully overcome by the magical free market.

    Seriously, check it out: http://bit.ly/yjLUWm

  79. 79
    Anton Sherwood

    79 atheist: I hope you don’t mind if I leave that bait where it is.

    77 BrianX, I concede: your preference for a system that helps one person while harming two, over one that keeps hands off all three of them, is a kind of compassion to which I cannot aspire.

    I sometimes know when I’m licked. I’ll unsubscribe now.

  80. 80
    BrianX

    Damn, that’s a lot of straw scattered on the floor…

  81. 81
    Spiny Norman

    Kim Stanley Robinson’s formulation is terse and complete: libertarians are anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.

  82. 82
    James

    What about Wall street Regulations and The environment (Ron Paul is backed by The Koch brothers who owe million in EPA violations)

  83. 83
    Sheesh

    Atheist’s link at 79 is an absolute treasure. The rousing defense of treason in defense of slavery over there is amazing.

  84. 84
    Individual

    Why can’t I just opt out of your government?

  1. 85
    . . . muttered the ogre » individualism ≠ egalitarianism

    [...] Elsewhere someone wrote that libertarians cannot be racist or sexist because our defining tenets include individualism. I responded: As I understand it, individualism is the moral principle that consent can be given, and obligation incurred, only by the acts of an individual, not by membership in a group (definition made up on the spot, probably flawed). I’m not convinced that it is incompatible with racism or sexism. Enlightened people reject racism/sexism because the weight of evidence says that psychological differences within groups outweigh differences between groups, not because individualism decrees a priori that it must be so. [...]

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