Prometheus on a Hill of Fire


People often accuse libertarians of being "atomistic individualists." In an interesting post over on the Light of Reason blog, Arthur Silber observes that sometimes it's a fair cop, and argues for the importance of keeping one's eye on the cultural contexts that shape people.

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  1. I don’t know if the responder that Silber is responding to himself is so much atomist as he is plain unsympathetic. After all, the unidentified responder has his own view of what’s good and what’s not good for our culture, i.e., he’s against ideailzing Monroe for her image as a “helpless victim of society” and her inability to take the responsbility expected of a grown adult. Personally, I think he has a point up to a point, but at the same time there’s something that inherently touches the heart about people who have difficulty coping. I think the way out of the paradox is to recognize that identifying with and sympathizing with an icon’s tragic life and nature should not be the same as embracing pitifulness as a desirable coping mechanism to life’s slings and arrows.

    I don’t know if anyone is truly atomist. Even if some stress the importance of the individual, even they likely recognize that individual decisions add up to cultural norms.

  2. “…the principles I advocate can only be applied in a specific context at a specific time. The overall context, including significant cultural factors, must always be kept in mind as well.”

    Ahh yes, spoken like a true pseudo-libertarian. Freedom is fine until it becomes inconveient to the collectivists, cowering in their basements, in fear of communists, terrorists, drug addicts, homosexuals, and other hobgoblins floting about in their lifeboats.

    Call me an atomist, but I don’t think ANYONE has the moral sanction to decide when I can exercise my rights. Otherwise, they’re no longer rights, but “privlages” that the state can give or take (mostly take) at their pleasure.

    I take it all this talk about “rights” become passe in our utilitarian times, even amoung those who proclaim to be “libertarians?”

  3. Geez Mark. I think you missed the off ramp leading out of the Social Contract a few miles back. I think that’s what the sign said, anyhow…

  4. Mark, I don’t think you get Silber’s point. He’s not making the utilitarian point that rights are to be sacrificed in certain contexts. He’s making an enriched philosophical point that freedom cannot be defended except by adherence to a larger cultural context that makes its achievement and sustenance possible. This is a potent weapon against those who think that we can simply transplant individualism to a tribalist, collectivist culture and impose freedom politically, without any kind of corresponding cultural transformation. It hasn’t worked in the former Soviet Union; it won’t work in Iraq. It’s high time that libertarians grasp the comprehensive nature of the revolution they seek, and forge a battle across political, social, economic, cultural, and ethical boundaries.

    I call this “dialectical libertarianism”; Silber calls it “contextual libertarianism.” Either way, it’s a call for freedom with all its supporting foundations.

  5. Wow, talking about lack of reading comprehension. Mark, you better go back and take another look at the article.

  6. Someone needs to read Smith’s work on the sentiments. 🙂

  7. “Many pro-war libertarians focus only on our right of self-defense, and on our need to destroy our enemies — without considering the system in which those principles will be applied, the nature of the players involved, and how that system itself may render all such efforts unsuccessful, and will likely hasten the growth of an even more destructive and powerful central government here in the United States.”

    That’s ridiculous. A pro-war liberatarian could just as easily say that an anti-war libertarian’s thinking is dominated too much by the usual suspects (the US government and corporate power,) and not taking into account the international context (whatever we could call it) as it works now, including terrorists, renegade states, nuclear proliferation, etc. People simply disagree over how the system works, and which parts of it are more dangerous, helpful, etc.

    Diving into the comfort of saying people who think differently are misinformed, not considering all the relevant factors, or just not as smart as you can only get you so far. Value judgements and disagreement are here to stay.

  8. Hmmmmm… Now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I did jump the gun quite a bit. My only excuse is that I had just gotten up and read the blog in question and the material I quoted seemed to me a defense of the “utilitarian” school of libertarian thinking. My apologies to Mr. Silber.

    I better start a self-imposed program of not responding to blogs only after I’ve had my morning cup of coffee.

  9. Why do sleeping pills only work for about four hours?

  10. Thanks for posting a link to an excellent article!

  11. Early in the article, I decided this Silber fellow is whiny and self-righteous. When I got to the part where he claims that what conservatives “really want” is a “theocracy”, I decided he is a loon as well.

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