Schismatic loons

Speaking of Libertarians, it seems there are fractures among the truly free. Apparently one faction of the lobotomite Libertarian horde wishes to silence another faction. Hardliners among the Libertarian movement seem to resent the participation of some Republicans (e.g. Newt Gingrich) in public discussions of libertarian political ideals (as if they had any ideals other than entitled bleating).

Aside from being a creepy weasel, Maddow’s guest from the ninth circle of Alabama appears to advocate an interesting position…. specifically, that the party of absolutist freedom of expression should silence advocates who are insufficiently dogmatic. It seems that everyone should be free to speak their minds and do as they wish at all times and in all instances, except where such speech does not meet the standards of absolute ideological purity set out by the Libertarian Politburo, led by Premier Ron Paul. Obviously, the best way for everyone to be free is for everyone to think and act exactly the same way. Or else.

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~ by Planetologist on April 16, 2009.

6 Responses to “Schismatic loons”

  1. You clearly don’t understand libertarians. The rule is simple: ask three libertarians a policy question, and you can expect at least four answers. There are always factions, and even the members of each faction seldom agree an all issues.

    But libertarianism is about thinking for yourself, so why shouldn’t it be that way? The fact that there are boundaries around what most libertarians think doesn’t change that.

    The Republican party has, long term, been no closer to the libertarian ideal than the Democratic party. Reagan and many like him were for lower taxes, less government regulation, and a freer market economy, but they were opposed to legal abortion, opposed to teaching evolution in schools, etc. I’ve known a few libertarians who didn’t approve of abortion, but none who thought it should be illegal. I’ve known no libertarians who oppose evolution, although given the number of “libertarians” who oppose a scientific approach to “Global Warming”, there probably are some. As for the NeoCons, bleach!

    As a libertarian myself, I’ve worked to study deeper into the foundations of the philosophy, and I must admit a few disagreements with many (perhaps most) other libertarians. Nevertheless, there is no real philosophical disagreement, just issues of scientific understanding. The issue of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is an example. For many years (and mostly still today) there’s no easily found resource for the scientifically untrained to come to an understanding of the Greenhouse effect (in atmospheres). Most of the explanations (cartoons) are wrong, and insist that the reader take the cartoonist’s word for how it works. Understanding requires a considerable study of atmospheric thermodynamics.

    Of course, my own efforts (at the discussion area at Climate Audit) ended up being drowned in spam by denialists who wanted any excuse not to believe. But what I don’t believe is that most of these people are libertarians.

    • AK,

      I’m glad, despite my rants about Libertarians, that you’re willing to comment here. Despite the frequency with which I poke at Libertarianism, sometimes with tongue in cheek, sometimes not… either way, I poke out of frustration. In terms of Libertarian ideals of personal freedom, e.g. legalization of drugs, absolute freedom of private thoughts and personal behavior that doesn’t harm others, all that sort of thing… I’m totally down with that. But when these guys start talking about privatization of the interstate highway system, and the like, I have to wonder if they’re off their meds. It just doesn’t seem to me that they’ve thought through the implications of the policies they advocate. I’m not sure what their ethical principles are, beyond some inchoate, atavistic desire to escape responsibility. They seem to just hate the idea of a government of any kind, like some sort of sublimated adolescent resentment at authority… rebels without a cause.

      I prefer to consider questions of public policy based on whether the results are empirically beneficial or not, not just in terms of GDP but also in terms of minimizing human suffering and maximizing the potential for human achievement across the board. Humans are social and hierarchical, like dogs or wolves… we just are. We’re not solitary like tigers. We band together with bosses in charge of groups, pretty much automatically. We have to deal with that fact, not pretend it isn’t there. In the absence of a rational, accountable government, you will always have petty, self-appointed bosses trying to fill the void. Warlords, mob godfathers, crony plutocrats, neighborhood gangs, use whatever name you want… those types of might-makes-right governments will always be there, waiting for a chance to take over, unless we all work very hard to keep them at bay. Sometimes I think the Libertarian party just wants to look the other way on that issue, and pretend we really can have some kind of anarchic, Jeffersonian elysium without laws. Sorry, but I just think that’s a childish fantasy. If we weren’t paying taxes we’d be paying private fees for the same things, to feudal lords. We tried that, for about 1,500 years in Europe, and it did not work.

      • Planetologist Please Note! These are my opinions and don’t necessarily represent those of any arbitrarily chosen libertarian (or anyone else):

        [W]hen these guys start talking about privatization of the interstate highway system, and the like, I have to wonder if they’re off their meds. It just doesn’t seem to me that they’ve thought through the implications of the policies they advocate. I’m not sure what their ethical principles are, beyond some inchoate, atavistic desire to escape responsibility. They seem to just hate the idea of a government of any kind, like some sort of sublimated adolescent resentment at authority… rebels without a cause.

        The basic libertarian philosophy is that the individual should be free to do anything that doesn’t violate the rights of other individuals. Governments, like any other organization, only have “rights” as inherited in some way from the individual(s).

        It’s when it comes to what “rights” are that things get disagreeable. Leftists (my term, what Americans call “Liberals” although AFAIK in Europe “Liberals” are basically libertarians) tend to think in terms of collective “rights”: those of “society”, various interest and ethnic groups, etc. Libertarianism, per se doesn’t actually forbid such “rights”, just insists that only such “rights” as can be inherited (in the C++/Java sense) from individuals should be recognized (or enforced). But libertarianism, per se doesn’t necessarily mandate a specific social contract, and many different opinions exist among libertarians regarding the ideal social contract, how to migrate from the current state to the ideal, and the relative desirability of various other social contracts.

        In the ’70’s (when I started and gave up bothering with the “Libertarian Party”), most libertarians defined the individual’s right to do anything that didn’t “initiate force or fraud” against other individuals. Of course this requires some real twisting to make it fit property rights, especially intellectual property. Because, of course, most libertarians define the individual as including his/her property. The party itself was loosely divided into two wings: minarchist and anarchist. (I’m an anarchist, sensu Bob Heinlein’s “rational anarchists” in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress“: No matter what governments are in place and recognized, the reality is people and anarchy. IMO this remains true even in such conditions as the Byzantine Empire, the Soviet Union, and Xin China. The opportunities for individual actions and consequences remain, with only a difference in degree from Somalia.)

        The libertarian position regarding government is a direct response to the leftist tendency to assume that the government can/should be responsible for administering the “rights” of “society”, while ignoring how execrable a job governments have actually done overall in this regard. It’s easy to hold libertarian ideals responsible for e.g. Iraq, but totally incorrect since the (“Republican”) Bush administration was a big-government, anti-freedom, advocate of “crony capitalism” which is only a distant cousin of the free-market capitalism advocated by libertarians and other (US) fiscal conservatives. (AFAIK “Conservatives” in Europe are still stuck in the “aristocratic” era.)

        Minarchist libertarians believe that there should be a government, but its functions should be limited, in principle, to only those things that cannot be handled privately. For most, this means police, military, and courts. (Most libertarians I’ve discussed it with tend to avoid the issue of legislation.) However, anything from highways (including Info) to science funding to market making could be argued for on grounds of practicality. I can’t deny (indeed will assert when prodded) that the move to “privatize” went far overboard during the ’90’s. I’ll point out, however, that privatization does not necessarily imply creating a for-profit public stock corporation. There are many examples today (fewer than a while ago) of central institutions owned by member businesses that perform a necessary function (such as managing a market) without being profit-oriented (their own profit, that is: member profits are another matter).

        The biggest problem with governments is that they hold a monopoly on their functions, while competition in the free market has been shown to be the best way to force organizations to stay (somewhat) optimized. Libertarians automatically react against the suggestion that a “social” function should be assigned to the government because of this lack of incentive (as well as in reaction to the Leftist refusal to consider the serious issues with governments). What most libertarians miss, however, is that when a “private” organization (such as a public stock corporation) comes to dominate too much of its market share (in broad terms) it has escaped the discipline of the free market and becomes subject to the same problems as governments. (They also tend to be stuck in an Enclosure-era definition of (real) property rights, having to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern scientific understanding of ecological interaction, etc. But that’s a whole blog post’s worth, some other time.)

        Leftists, OTOH, tend to ignore the reality of the discipline a competitive free market imposes on its members, pointing to non-competitive situations (straw men) as rationalization. They tend (in my experience) to go into denial when their proposals to assign some “social” function to the government is answered with references to the many, massive, failures of governments to achieve expected goals with their powers.

        Humans are social and hierarchical, like dogs or wolves… we just are. We’re not solitary like tigers. We band together with bosses in charge of groups, pretty much automatically. We have to deal with that fact, not pretend it isn’t there.

        Agreed, although I would say more like bonobos or baboons.

        In the absence of a rational, accountable government, you will always have petty, self-appointed bosses trying to fill the void. Warlords, mob godfathers, crony plutocrats, neighborhood gangs, use whatever name you want… those types of might-makes-right governments will always be there, waiting for a chance to take over, unless we all work very hard to keep them at bay.

        Thus Somalia. Most minarchist libertarians will agree with you. (I don’t, exactly, but I’ll agree that a “rational, accountable government” is one way to prevent the situation you describe. I don’t agree with most anarchist libertarians (AFAIK they call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” today) that the way to a government-free society would be easy. Take what happened with deregulation in the ’90’s and multiply it by 10-100, and that’s what you’d get.)

        Sometimes I think the Libertarian party just wants to look the other way on that issue, and pretend we really can have some kind of anarchic, Jeffersonian elysium without laws. Sorry, but I just think that’s a childish fantasy. If we weren’t paying taxes we’d be paying private fees for the same things, to feudal lords. We tried that, for about 1,500 years in Europe, and it did not work.

        I’m not sure what be Libertarian party wants, IMO party politics has its own momentum, regardless of the ideals of its members. I gave up on the Libertarian party in the ’70’s, when I saw that the “leaders” were more interested in fighting for power/position than achieving the ideals of any libertarians.

      • Interesting… that’s a nice summary, and thanks for taking the time to write it. Where someone else might have gone on a tirade, you’ve presented a clear description of what the different “wings” in Libertarianism believe. Seriously, thanks.

        I’m not sure where I’d put myself on the political scale you describe. I’m not a leftist in the sense that I think government is always the best answer…. in fact I argue quite often in my real-life professional activities against overbearing regulation and paperwork from administrative circles. As a skeptic, I try to maintain the view that empirical facts should inform all political decisions.

        For some problems a “governmentized” solution works best, such as having a US Postal Service to carry mail reliably and with minimal fuss. But even then, having private organizations like FedEx and UPS around at the same time as USPS helps to keep the USPS honest. In turn, having the USPS around keeps FedEx and UPS from colluding to jack up mail prices with impunity… because people can always just ignore them and use USPS. Ideally, the USPS should be boring, staid, reliable, and unimaginative…. as long as it works, I don’t want it messing around with loopy schemes. But, having UPS and FedEx around to try loopy schemes and see which ones work can be really effective, because ideas that work and prove themselves over time can be co-opted by the USPS to everyone’s benefit. That’s one example, but hopefully it illustrates my point about empiricism.

        I think we should have a competitive system that encourages innovation, but in instances where public management works best we shouldn’t be afraid of adopting it… or of paying to support it. Unless I go to the river and collect my own water, I have to pay someone else to get it for me. Given the choice, I’d rather have a boring but generally trustworthy outfit (Dept of Public Works) doing that, rather than some flashy private company who wants to sell me some new type of bottle every two weeks and who spends half their revenues on advertising. I just want my damn water. That’s an example where a public model is best… but even then, I can still go buy water from the grocery if I really want to. Sometimes the public model should be exclusive, with little to no private competition (i.e. the armed forces), but I agree with you that those should be exceptions… because granting anyone a monopoly is dangerous business.

        I have to disagree with you on one point, though. I hate Heinlein… based on his novels I’ve read, I think he must have been a royal jerk. 🙂

      • I thought I was going to have to reply, but I’d sound like a noob after AK’s message. I paid my dues as a Libertarian Party activist from ’92-’99. I’ve been out of the loop for the past 10 years, but I do vote for LP candidates when I can. I am happy to have read your response to AK as I was beginning to wonder if any of the skeptics whose blogs I have started reading in recent months had any skepticism for government. Correction, Democratic Party controlled government. As a libertarian, I like to think of myself as a skeptic of government.

        As for libertarian “tea party” organizers being ticked off about republicans coming in and stealing the spotlight, I can understand their frustration. The republicans talk the talk when then aren’t in power, but they don’t seem to walk the walk when they get elected. And then there is the detail of all the social conservative baggage they bring with them. I sure as heck don’t want to be lumped together with those guys, but that is what happens. “You are anti-tax? That means you must also be a gay-bashing young-earth creationist!”

      • Well, that’s one reason I find Republicans so frustrating. If they really had the courage of their convictions, they wouldn’t have to hide behind spin and falsehoods. If they really think they’re correct, and they have solid evidence to support a cohesive political/economic model that is consistent with all available data, let them make that argument. I think the Dems should do exactly the same thing. Of course I understand that politics will always be polluted by ego… to some extent that’s unavoidable, in a system run by people who win, essentially, popularity contests. But I wish more politicians would at least try to divorce ego from the proceedings and try to argue policies based on merit… as I tend to see Obama doing.

        Do I worship Obama, or think he’s some kind of prophet? No, I don’t. But I do think he sets a good example by trying to argue based on evidence, making his premises clear. If more GOP members would do that, and not simply whine about not being in charge anymore, I’d respect them a lot more. The same goes for Dems: I tend to think they have the ethical high ground, usually (Blago not withstanding), and for the most part they have the facts on their side. I wish they’d step up and state their case without being so wishy-washy. At least Libertarians, for all I give them a hard time, have the courage to state flat-out – and without apology – what they think and why.

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