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Monday, July 25, 2005

Libertarians in Public Places: A Few Iron Laws

1. Any “big-tent” organization big enough to accommodate libertarians will soon be a big tent empty of almost anybody but libertarians.

2. Any conversational space that actively solicits contributions from libertarian voices will soon be a conversational space in which few but libertarian voices are heard.

3. No libertarian argument will ever have any life in the world except to the extent that it is appropriated by conservatives for conservative ends.

4. No libertarian will ever take any responsibility for, nor even see any relevance in, the uses to which their arguments are put by conservatives. (For Example: Staunchly “anti-war” libertarians appear to be sublimely indifferent to the extent to which market fundamentalist utopianism drove neoconservatives to attack Iraq, and set it up as a “blank slate” for crony capitalist thievery and thuggery. I leave aside the deeper perplexity that anybody who imagines sociality as a kind of Hobbesian war of all against all can be so delusive to think themselves “anti-war” in the first place. But, of course, these sorts of rampaging self-congratulatory self-oblivious puzzles of conduct and conviction proliferate beyond any sensible reckoning whenever libertarians open their mouths.)

5. One will almost never go wrong when confronted by a self-described libertarian in simply assuming that by this term they mean to say they are a Republican who wants to smoke pot legally.

6. Any figure seeking public office, whether libertarian or conservative, who tells you that government is nothing more than a vast organized gang of corrupt incompetent lying criminal thugs is announcing in advance how they are likely to behave once they have obtained power in government.

11 comments:

Kip Werking said...

About 4: Nobody really knows why the US was so bent upon Iraq. There are many tantalizing suggestions (oil, imperialism) but no solid conclusion. My favorite is Freudian: Bush saw this as personal vengeance against Saddam, the guy who "tried to kill my dad." But that is just a conjecture. Suggesting that market uponianism led to Iraq, and that therefore market utopians should share in the blame (despite the fact that libertarians almost universally abhor war and opposed invading Iraq) is just a suggestion, and a most tenuous and unfair one at that.

Your problem seems to be with conservatives, and not with libertarians. So it is strange how you try to mold libertarians into conservatives (by blaming them for Iraq, or by suggesting that they just want to smoke pot). This makes it easier to criticize them, when they are like conservatives (your real enemy). But libertarians aren't like conservatives. Indeed, libertarians are the polar opposites of the recent Republic party.

There are no prominent libertarians in US politics, and so there is little way to measure how well the government corrupts them (although, again, plenty of Reagan-style conservatives become hypocritical in this way). There haven't been many in American politics since Jefferson was president (and, without his contributions to the American Revolution, he would probably be unelectable today).

Ultimately, your comments on libertarians just seem inaccurate, unfair, and even mean. It also amazes me how people find libertarianism so repulsive, when the essense of libertarianism is freedom. Anti-libertarians are those who feel enthusiastic about forcing people to do things against their will, especially giving money to the government against their will. I have no idea why some people find this idea so attractive.

Dale Carrico said...

Hi, Kip.

Armchair psychoanalyzing is endlessly enjoyable, believe me I know, but the danger in it is that it threatens to personalize and so obscure the structural forces afoot here. The US went to war because they thought it would be easy and they wanted to steal. They looted FEMA for the same reason. Just ask Grover Norquist. Katrina's exacerbated devastation and Bush's war of choice in Iraq are two glimpses into libertopia on the ground. Take a good long look.

In a democracy we are the government, and when a libertarian or conservative expresses hostility to government it isn't an accident that this idea inevitably expresses itself as hostility to fellow citizens.

Freedom is not a spontaneous order, it arises in the context of civilization and taxes are the price you pay for civilization.

The democratic left is exactly as aware and concerned about authoritarian concentrations of power as libertarians claim to be themselves -- with the difference that the left tries to craft institutional mitigation of these dangers via separation of powers, subsidiarity, civic multilateralism, bills of rights, no taxation without representation, juries of peers, transparency provisions, etc.

Libertarians, on the contrary, declare "market outcomes" non-coercive by fiat and then advocate whatever passes among the moneyed elites and those with whom they identify as a "market outcome" at the moment as ideal and non-coercive and then assure themselves and their various dupes that this somehow amounts to a grand circumvention of the quandaries of the political realm.

That is to say, so-called libertarian analyses fail to even arrive at the point of departure of serious political analyses.

[1] Plurality is the law of the earth. [2] Reconciling diverse human aspirations devolves into violence without legitimate available recourse to law. [3] People can always retroactively justify any conduct and people with the power to get away with it usually will do so -- unless accountability is secured by institutions that are themselves accountable.

Conservatives peddle their fundamentalisms (market, religious, and social) and militarisms by appealing to the bumper sticker platitudes of libertarians. The reality of this is scarcely diminished by the hypocrisy of it, which you rightly note.

But "libertarianism" doesn't connect to reality -- there are no logically possible non-hypocritical inhabitations of the perspective. At this particular historical moment of unspeakable distress I have little patience to tease at the dime-thin differences that distinguish them from neocons and theocons. They are in bed together, they depend on one another, they are conceptually imbricated in one another. I am happy to see them go down together. And they will.

Forgive the terseness of this reply -- I'm not the least bit aggravated or impatient with you and mean you no disrespect at all -- I just have to walk out the door now, I'm running late for something!

Kip Werking said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kip Werking said...

Dale,

I very much like your blog and other left-transhumanists, and I lean left-libertarian. But I passionately disagree with your political position and I want to address the arguments you make. Much of what you write seems too quick and dismissive:

1. “The US went to war because they thought it would be easy and they wanted to steal. They looted FEMA for the same reason. Just ask Grover Norquist.”

The only support you provide for this claim is that Grover Norquist says so. I don’t know much about Norquist, but I googled “norquist iraq” and found this:

“I think Bush agreed to attack Iraq because people came to him and said, "This is a man with a history of lunging out, including at us; oh, and by the way, including trying to kill your father. We know that he had chemical weapons, and must, therefore, have the capacity to make them."

One of the real fears we have is that a small group of people like Al Qaeda could do a lot of damage -- not just with planes, but with chemical or biological weapons, certainly with nuclear weapons. So take him out as a lesson for others. I guess, to a certain extent, Libya's decision to get rid of its chemical weapons is one of the benefits of having gone after Iraq.”

I don’t see how Norquist supports your theory of why Iraq happened. He even mentions my “Saddam tried to kill your dad” theory. Please explain to me how can be so sure that the U.S. government just wanted to steal.

2. “In a democracy we are the government, and when a libertarian or conservative expresses hostility to government it isn't an accident that this idea inevitably expresses itself as hostility to fellow citizens.”

You’re absolutely right. But remember that this hostility is defensive, not preemptive. Libertarians feel hostile towards citizens who express prior hostility towards them: by trying (for example) to take their money against their will, or prevent them from watching pornography, or use recreational drugs.

3. “Freedom is not a spontaneous order, it arises in the context of civilization and taxes are the price you pay for civilization.

The democratic left is exactly as aware and concerned about authoritarian concentrations of power as libertarians claim to be themselves -- with the difference that the left tries to craft institutional mitigation of these dangers via separation of powers, subsidiarity, civic multilateralism, bills of rights, no taxation without representation, juries of peers, transparency provisions, etc.

Libertarians, on the contrary, declare "market outcomes" non-coercive by fiat and then advocate whatever passes among the moneyed elites and those with whom they identify as a "market outcome" at the moment as ideal and non-coercive and then assure themselves and their various dupes that this somehow amounts to a grand circumvention of the quandaries of the political realm.”

This is a very telling passage. And it helps support my primary argument against your view: you are attacking a straw man version of libertarianism. First, libertarians don’t want to abolish taxes. They would like minimize them and abolish frivolous or unjust taxes—and even liberals can agree that such taxes exist. Second, notice that your last two paragraphs try to show how liberals and libertarians are different, but they talk about different things (the first paragraph talks about ways to craft institutional mitigation “of these dangers” and the second talks about economic coercion). So arguing that liberals and libertarians different about the second paragraph does not (contra the first sentence of your last paragraph: “Libertarians, on the contrary”) show that libertarians differ from liberals about the first paragraph.

In fact, libertarians don’t differ in this way, they passionately defend separation of powers, civic multilateralism (considering their enthusiasm for immigration and free trade), bills of rights, no taxation without representation, juries of peers, transparency provisions, etc. Libertarians love all of them (and if you need support to believe this, just look at the LP’s platform or the wikipedia entry for libertarianism). Your (bizarre and fallacious) attempt to show that libertarians don’t defend these things betrays a deep misunderstanding, or even ignorance, of exactly what libertarianism is.

Your strange argument that libertarians don’t defend these goods (mentioned in your second to last paragraph) seems to rely upon the premise that libertarians only declare market outcomes non-coercive “by fiat.” This is a total non-sequitur. But the premise is false too. There is an obvious sense in which market outcomes are non-coercive: the market is the result of mutual agreement and persuasion, not force. I concede that the reality of scarcity and poverty presents a difficulty for this position. But even then, this difficulty does not show that libertarians do not defend (for example) the bill of rights or separation of powers or government transparency.

4. “But "libertarianism" doesn't connect to reality -- there are no logically possible non-hypocritical inhabitations of the perspective. At this particular historical moment of unspeakable distress I have little patience to tease at the dime-thin differences that distinguish them from neocons and theocons. They are in bed together, they depend on one another, they are conceptually imbricated in one another. I am happy to see them go down together. And they will.”

This, like your quick and easy explanation for the war in Iraq, is just an assertion without any argument or support. Your eagerness to put libertarians “in bed” together with neocons and theocons (despite their almost diametrically opposed platforms) is just bizarre. I have never seen this phenomenon before: someone who is so bent upon turning an imagined enemy (libertarianism) into a real one (conservativism), while exhibiting a total unwillingness to recognize the vast gulf between them.

This reply may sound adversarial or harsh. It is not intended that way. Instead, consider this an invitation to reconsider libertarianism, and join us in hating the neocons and theocons. If libertarians really do defend the bill of rights, separation of powers, and government transparency (for example), maybe they aren’t so bad.

Dale Carrico said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dale Carrico said...

Kip has replied to my last reply. I'll get through as much as it as I can stomach:

"Much of what you write seems too quick and dismissive"

Kip, I've been arguing with libertarians for over fifteen years. You joined in on this particular dog-and-pony show long past the moment I still had patience to hold libertarian hands and walk them through basics. It is honestly never worth it. Libertarians who change are rarely reasoned out of it, but suddenly grasp the significance of the fact that the world doen't look like it does on the libertopian pie-charts and to realize that all the people who seem smart and likeable seem to roll their eyes and start looking for the exits whenever libertopians speak.

Kip continues:

“I think Bush agreed to attack Iraq because people came to him and said, "This is a man with a history of lunging out, including at us; oh, and by the way, including trying to kill your father. We know that he had chemical weapons, and must, therefore, have the capacity to make them."

I'm embarrased for you, Kip. Not all "people" said this. Bush listened to the people who told him what he wanted to hear. The Administration was preocuppied with Iraq from before day one. Keep reading. You're a bright well-meaning guy, you'll figure this stuff out.

Kip then opines on Foxesquely:

"One of the real fears we have is that a small group of people like Al Qaeda could do a lot of damage -- not just with planes, but with chemical or biological weapons, certainly with nuclear weapons. So take him out as a lesson for others. I guess, to a certain extent, Libya's decision to get rid of its chemical weapons is one of the benefits of having gone after Iraq.”

Ugh, that tired ass War on Terra cowed Libya line? And are you actually flogging an al-Quaeda 9/11 connection on this blog? Take that shit to Free Republic. If you have any kind of brain, standards, or decency (and I think you do) you won't stay there long. As far as the terrorism issue goes, read my column on the subject, if you wanna:

http://www.betterhumans.com/Columns/Column/tabid/79/Column/273/Default.aspx

Kip continues:
"I don’t see how Norquist supports your theory of why Iraq happened."

Well, it was quip, not a theory, but here are some puzzle pieces for you:

Read this:
http://www.harpers.org/BaghdadYearZero.html

Read this:
http://www.pkarchive.org/column/062904.html

Read this:
http://www.pkarchive.org/column/090206.html

Read this:
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/9/2/153018/3558

I have chosen incredibly simple-to-understand columns and formulations for you.

Kip then quotes me and thereafter takes out a tiny tiny violin. First, me:

2. In a democracy we are the government, and when a libertarian or conservative expresses hostility to government it isn't an accident that this idea inevitably expresses itself as hostility to fellow citizens.

Then Kip responds: You’re absolutely right. But remember that this hostility is defensive, not preemptive. Libertarians feel hostile towards citizens who express prior hostility towards them: by trying (for example) to take their money against their will,"

Ugh, give me a break. Boo-hoo, look at all the white guys who are just so exploited and misunderstood.

If you want a blow job, hire a prostitute.

No fortune emerges ab initio from the "fountainhead" of some libertopian's indispensable "genius" -- it depends on the context of a civilization not one of them could reproduce on their own.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. You want civilization, you have to pay for it.

"or prevent them from watching pornography, or use recreational drugs."

Blah blah blah. All the serious opponents of the disastrous racist War on Drugs and the various hideous theocon censorship panic are Democrats and figures of the left. But, you know, not that reality matters or anything. This is a conversation about libertarianism.

I am quoted:

3. “Freedom is not a spontaneous order, it arises in the context of civilization and taxes are the price you pay for civilization.

The democratic left is exactly as aware and concerned about authoritarian concentrations of power as libertarians claim to be themselves -- with the difference that the left tries to craft institutional mitigation of these dangers via separation of powers, subsidiarity, civic multilateralism, bills of rights, no taxation without representation, juries of peers, transparency provisions, etc.

Libertarians, on the contrary, declare "market outcomes" non-coercive by fiat and then advocate whatever passes among the moneyed elites and those with whom they identify as a "market outcome" at the moment as ideal and non-coercive and then assure themselves and their various dupes that this somehow amounts to a grand circumvention of the quandaries of the political realm.”

Kip quite surreally responds:

"This is a very telling passage. And it helps support my primary argument against your view: you are attacking a straw man version of libertarianism. First, libertarians don’t want to abolish taxes."

I must have been imagining things when I heard libertarians bitching endlessly about taxes being theft every minute of every day of every year the whole time I've argued with them. It's nice you have apparently found some more marginally reasonable libertarians to talk to.

"They would like minimize them"

Uh-huh.

"and abolish frivolous or unjust taxes"

Uh-huh.

There's a lot more but I'm afraid I'm too bored to go into it.

Nice to hear the libertarian "party" "platform" or the minarchist faction you hang with or whatever peddles a marginally more reasonable line for the dupes than some other self-described libertarians. I leave it to you guys though to puzzle through all the dime-thin doctrinal differences that distinguish the various libertopian tribes. People of the left have far more important things to do with our time these days.

Nice to hear that in the fantasy land in which exchanges are not duressed by inequality they really truly would be noncoercive. Alas, this is the real world instead of an Ayn Rand novel.

Anyway, keep reading and keep your eyes open, Kip. Believe me, I won't rib you too much about this embarrassing phase of your intellectual development later when you outgrow it.

Kip Werking said...

Dale,

There is no need to belittle me. It’s surreal having this argument with you, and I’m not sure I should continue, because it feels more like one-upmanship and jockeying for status than an honest search for the truth. Your attempt to turn this debate into a pissing contest and respond to genuine arguments with crass quips (“If you want a blow job, hire a prostitute”) does not comment favorably on your political views. Considering the tone and maturity of your reply, I am not surprised that you have failed to convince libertarians that they are wrong, or that they have failed to convince you that they are right. If you would just approach this subject with a little more coolness and patience (and I understand you’ve been arguing with libertarians “for over fifteen years”), you might come to understand that libertarians and liberals are united in their opposition against the right—a view towards which you seem to soften, ever so slightly, at the end of your post (“Nice to hear the libertarian "party" "platform" or the minarchist faction you hang with or whatever peddles a marginally more reasonable line for the dupes than some other self-described libertarians”).

“I'm embarrased for you, Kip. Not all "people" said this. Bush listened to the people who told him what he wanted to hear. The Administration was preocuppied with Iraq from before day one. Keep reading. You're a bright well-meaning guy, you'll figure this stuff out.”

Thanks for your embarrassment, Dale. But I didn’t write that. I cited that quote from Norquist, to show that he doesn’t defend your quick and easy explanation for the Iraq war. Your citation of Norquist, of course, was just a “quip”, and doesn’t support your explanation at all. You cite four links instead, but they show, at best, that greed was but one of the motivations for Iraq. The truth is we just don’t know why Bush was so bent on invasion.

"One of the real fears we have is that a small group of people like Al Qaeda could do a lot of damage -- not just with planes, but with chemical or biological weapons, certainly with nuclear weapons. So take him out as a lesson for others. I guess, to a certain extent, Libya's decision to get rid of its chemical weapons is one of the benefits of having gone after Iraq.”

Again, I never said that. Norquist did. If you had bothered to read my post without prejudice, you would have known that.

”I have chosen incredibly simple-to-understand columns and formulations for you.”

Gee, thanks, Dale. Thanks for publicly patronizing and making fun of me. You’re forcing me to resort to sarcasm just to defend myself. I also think that you’re a bright, well-meaning chap, but I wish you didn’t act this way.

”Ugh, give me a break. Boo-hoo, look at all the white guys who are just so exploited and misunderstood.

If you want a blow job, hire a prostitute.

No fortune emerges ab initio from the "fountainhead" of some libertopian's indispensable "genius" -- it depends on the context of a civilization not one of them could reproduce on their own.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. You want civilization, you have to pay for it.”

“You’re a white guy, therefore you have no right to complain” is a total non-sequitur—as you, a white guy, would know. You continue to betray your ignorance of libertarianism, even its more extreme Objectivist variety, when you say that libertarians want to dispense with civilization. On the contrary, Objectivists are the most passionate defenders of civilization and the rule of the law. Libertarians are not anarchists. But civilizations can also become bloated and corrupt. Just as libertarians don’t advocate no-government, so too do they not advocate too-much government. Instead, they prefer the bare minimum. Before you consider this absurd, just consider some of the Bush administration policies we both (I’m sure) hate: the War on Drugs and the War in Iraq. These are both example of too much government, not too little.

”Blah blah blah. All the serious opponents of the disastrous racist War on Drugs and the various hideous theocon censorship panic are Democrats and figures of the left. But, you know, not that reality matters or anything. This is a conversation about libertarianism.”

This seems so infantile (I can picture you saying “blah blah blah” while sticking your fingers in your ear like a child) that I honestly don’t know whether you are serious or joking. Neither would surprise me. Obviously not all “serious opponents of the disastrous racist War on Drugs” (and so on) are Democrats and figures on the left (unless you include libertarians amongst them, as you should, but don’t) because libertarians, and even some conservatives, are also opponents of this War on Drugs. In fact, despite its popularity at the polls, virtually everyone I know hates the War on Drugs (and I doubt this is *just* a function of the friends I keep).

“I must have been imagining things when I heard libertarians bitching endlessly about taxes being theft every minute of every day of every year the whole time I've argued with them. It's nice you have apparently found some more marginally reasonable libertarians to talk to.”

You weren’t imagining. Frivolous and unjust taxes are theft. Libertarians who wish to abolish all taxes aren’t really libertarians, they’re anarchists. There’s a lot to be said for anarchy but I am not defending it here. Libertarians might, for rhetorical purposes, forget to qualify “taxes” with (for example) “frivolous and unjust”, but that is what they mean. Again, if you don’t believe me, check out the LP’s platform or Wikipedia article on libertarianism. Aren’t frivolous and unjust taxes theft? If the government takes my money, against my will, and spends it on Iraq, isn’t that theft? If the government takes my money, against my will, and spends it on the War on Drugs, isn’t that theft? If the government takes my money, against my will, and spends it on NASA, isn’t that theft? The list goes on and on…

”Nice to hear the libertarian "party" "platform" or the minarchist faction you hang with or whatever peddles a marginally more reasonable line for the dupes than some other self-described libertarians. I leave it to you guys though to puzzle through all the dime-thin doctrinal differences that distinguish the various libertopian tribes. People of the left have far more important things to do with our time these days.”

Well, it’s great to hear that you have more important things to do than publicly belittle your political opponents and fellow transhumanists. And it’s not fair to say that there are just dime-thin differences between varieties of libertarianism. On the contrary, I’ve shown that there are wide differences between libertarians and non-libertarians—differences on which your criticism of libertarianism depends, even if you find it more convenient to attack the straw men of libertarianism-as-conservatism than the reality.

”Anyway, keep reading and keep your eyes open, Kip. Believe me, I won't rib you too much about this embarrassing phase of your intellectual development later when you outgrow it.”

If you are so old and wise, how can you possibly not realize how pompous and ridiculous you sound?

Dale Carrico said...

God, Kip, if I had a nickel for every hundred times I've heard every argument you're making here I could pay off my student loans after one trip to the Safeway CoinStar. But the creaky clown calliope cranks endlessly on, and a new freshly-scrubbed generation of dupes and company men rises to circulate the poisonous slogans.

There's every reason to belittle you. Especially since I sense you are potentially bigger than this spew you're spewing. I mean, you're even speaking well of the terminally, incomparably, trainwreck-surpassing awfulness that is Ayn Rand? Somebody needs to talk some sense into you. But I'm not the one you want to argue with about this stuff, Kip. I wish I could get back all the time in my life I have wasted arguing with libertarian technophiliacs and the rest of your clown college. What a desolation it is.

To cling to market pieties and libertopian abstractions at an historical moment like this is honestly beyond me. Look, you seem like a very nice, bright boy. I suspect you'll outgrow this and turn out fine. If not, I fear you'll end up an evil rampaging bore, but what's another among so many?

Anonymous said...

Of course, "I've heard that argument so many times, I'm sick of refuting it" isn't a very persuasive refutation.

Ayn Rand was not perfect. For example, her philosophy was quite naive. But her writings have many virtues. For one, she emphasized the importance of reason and logic. This emphasis would be especially important to this conversation, considering the number of non-sequiturs you have made (including poisoning the well).

"Look, you seem like a very nice, bright boy."

I'm not sure why you refer to me as a boy, when I'm about the same age as you. I'm in graduate school now and, until recently, so were you. Perhaps calling me a "boy" makes it more comfortable for you to adopt a patronizing tone with me (one which, I assure you, is quite unbecoming).

In any case, I wish this little debate had been more friendly, and I want you to know that I still enjoy your blog. Maybe you can check out The Peacock's Tail some time?

www.livejournal.com/~kip_werking

Dale Carrico said...

I've linked to your blog and will read it eagerly, in the hope of hearing what you have to say about topics that don't drive me to despair and delirium (among them, why Ayn Rand's insipid monstrosities or libertarians' mean stupidities should be taken seriously by anybody with a brain or a heart at all).

Kip Werking said...

Wow! Thanks for linking me.

Funny. Although I feel passionate about politics (and the excesses of government), I almost never talk about politics on my livejournal. The closest I come to doing so is discussing patent reform.

Instead, I talk about more quirky things that interest me: the free will problem, movies, and (especially) evolutionary psychology (in particular, attraction and mating strategies). More recently, I've been discussing the psychology of humor.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy! Maybe you can give me some writing tips? I'm addicted to block quotes!