Monday, March 21, 2005

The click you hear is a rhetorical weapon being cocked

Babble on.

Nicholas Russon of Quotulatiousness has thrown down the gauntlet by quoting from this article in The American Conservative without further comment.

...libertarianism is basically the Marxism of the Right. If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one can run it purely on selfishness and individualism. Society in fact requires both individualism and collectivism, both selfishness and altruism, to function. Like Marxism, libertarianism offers the fraudulent intellectual security of a complete a priori account of the political good without the effort of empirical investigation. Like Marxism, it aspires, overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to economics. And like Marxism, it has its historical myths and a genius for making its followers feel like an elect unbound by the moral rules of their society.


The author admits not all libertarians profess every belief he ascribes to them, but he heads off their objections with the following glove drawn rapidly across their cheeks:

...I decline to allow libertarians the sophistical trick of using a vulgar libertarianism to agitate for what they want by defending a refined version of their doctrine when challenged philosophically. We’ve seen Marxists pull that before.


After having discussed an outrageous tax bill recently, and come to a conclusion I wasn't entirely pleased with, this line resonated with me:

And is society really wrong to protect people against the negative consequences of some of their free choices? While it is obviously fair to let people enjoy the benefits of their wise choices and suffer the costs of their stupid ones, decent societies set limits on both these outcomes. People are allowed to become millionaires, but they are taxed. They are allowed to go broke, but they are not then forced to starve. They are deprived of the most extreme benefits of freedom in order to spare us the most extreme costs. The libertopian alternative would be perhaps a more glittering society, but also a crueler one.


The entire piece is interesting reading, and the excerpted tidbits I'm tossing at you are a poor subsitute for the full argument. But I'll leave you with the following three paragraphs at the heart of the author's rationale:

Libertarians need to be asked some hard questions. What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free? What if it needed to limit oil imports to protect the economic freedom of its citizens from unfriendly foreigners? What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently educated to sustain a free society? What if it needed to deprive landowners of the freedom to refuse to sell their property as a precondition for giving everyone freedom of movement on highways? What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?

In each of these cases, less freedom today is the price of more tomorrow. Total freedom today would just be a way of running down accumulated social capital and storing up problems for the future. So even if libertarianism is true in some ultimate sense, this does not prove that the libertarian policy choice is the right one today on any particular question.

Furthermore, if limiting freedom today may prolong it tomorrow, then limiting freedom tomorrow may prolong it the day after and so on, so the right amount of freedom may in fact be limited freedom in perpetuity. But if limited freedom is the right choice, then libertarianism, which makes freedom an absolute, is simply wrong. If all we want is limited freedom, then mere liberalism will do, or even better, a Burkean conservatism that reveres traditional liberties. There is no need to embrace outright libertarianism just because we want a healthy portion of freedom, and the alternative to libertarianism is not the USSR, it is America’s traditional liberties.


I can already hear the roars of righteous indignation from OC and Monger, and can feel the subsonic rumbles as they fire up their rant-engines. I'm guessing it will take Jardine a good couple of days to calm down enough to write.

Me, I'm going to get some popcorn and a comfy seat ringside: this is going to be fun. Until I get blood in my popcorn, that is.

Babble off.

10 Comments:

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Jay beat you to this by a mile. Highlight:

What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?

How about we not let anyone vote for socialistic wealth redistribution? Isn't that a better answer?

 
At 1:27 PM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Yeah, I just don't think he really addressed the issues other than to get angry at them.

Of course, Jay does angry very, very well.

 
At 2:59 PM, Blogger Blogette said...

Libertarians are HOT and SEXY.

End of the argument.

~B

 
At 4:00 PM, Blogger Brian Mertens (Free Advice) said...

With regard to the original article, geez, I think most bloggers could have contructed a cheap reductio ad absurdum argument in way less than 2000 words.

 
At 4:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Not to quibble, but I'm a neolibertarian. I'm still hot though.

Sorry to disappoint, but the only response I have for that gentleman, be it ever so humble, is this one. You've seen it before.

"To be a libertarian is not to deny community, but to glory in the variety, the brilliance and the fragility of its constituent parts. It is to trust one's fellow human beings to be reasonable, loving social beings without the iron hand of the state warding off all contingency, all chance, all humanity, and to continue trusting even when circumstances might beg for a harder outlook. The statist shows the meanness and smallness of his world view in his desire to control and diminish his fellow beings. Whom we do not love, we do not trust."

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Jay said...

Thanks, Blogette - libertarians are selfish lovers though;)

Babbler, the comments have been open for several days on my "What's The Problem?" post if you believe the issues haven't been addressed.

Btw: one key distinction between Marxists and libertarians is that our beliefs haven't killed millions of people over the course of the 20th century.

Look folks, libertarianism isn't everyone's cup o' tea, but surely you can do better than cut and pasting this Marxism of the Right hatchet job.

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Just my two cents, but libertarians always struck me as the kissing cousins of the anarchists.

 
At 8:22 PM, Blogger Ghost of a flea said...

"I decline to allow libertarians the sophistical trick of using a vulgar libertarianism to agitate for what they want by defending a refined version of their doctrine when challenged philosophically. We’ve seen Marxists pull that before."

And we never see conservatives do this? I do not know what it takes to get published at The American Conservative but I would not accept this sort of straw man sophistry from an intro paper.

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger The Monger said...

Thanks for the bait, Damian... Lord knows I don't get to rant enough these days!

Actually, I'm not going to try to top the convincing smack-down provided by Catallarchy (with thanks to Jay Jardine for that link). What I will do is say this:

Marxism and Libertarianism, as philosophies, are similar in that neither one has seen a totally "pure" form enacted as the governing philosophy of a State.

However, various governments have put aspects of these philosophies into play in the last hundred years. You will note that those countries that have tried to implement forms of Marxism (USSR, Cuba, etc) have become charnel houses and concentration camps. Those countries that have tried to implement forms of Libertarianism (USA, Hong Kong, etc) have become, relatively speaking, free and prosperous.

I must add that I find the last section you quote ("What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free..." etc etc) to be singularly weak. Apart from its logical fallacies (including begging the question and straw man fallacies), the author self-evidently arrogates his own penchant for authoritarianism into the status of a axiom. "What if a libertarian society had to draft its citizens BECAUSE I WANT THEM TO GO TO WAR AND THEY DIDN'T WANT TO!" "What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently educated to sustain a free society BECAUSE I WANT THEM TO GET MORE LEARNIN' AND THEY DIDN'T WANT TO!" I'm sorry, Damian, but this kind of thinking would be unacceptable in a first-year medical school ethics course. "What if a patient had to be forced to take a pill, when she didn't want to? Huh? Therefore freedom is dumb. QED!" This is not a logical argument. This is merely a restatement of "conservative" (read: authoritarian) dogma. The author is saying: "based on the authoritarian premise that people need to be forced to do the right thing, libertarianism fails because it doesn't force people to do anything." Well, yes! If you accept that people are naturally chattel, who need to be whipped by their masters until they fall into line, then libertarianism won't work. You will appreciate, I hope, that some of us might reject that premise.

If this author wants to kick his little booties on the ground and have a little "no wanna libertarianism!" tantrum, be my guest. If he wants instead to engage the practicality of the philosophy of libertarianism, he might try beginning with either a defensible logical premise, or an observation of reality.

In my personal and limited experience, people who believe that individuals ought to be treated like cattle, in order to have their best interests forced upon them, are generally uncomfortable with that kind of analysis. But I live in hope!

 
At 5:01 PM, Blogger Declan said...

Maybe it's just that I have trouble taking (hardcore)libertarianism seriously but after reading your post and then visiting Robert's post about spreading ants...
(http://myblahg.blogspot.com/2005/03/blahg-bits-032205.html)

...I couldn't help wondering how the ants would be dealt with by a libertarian society.

 

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