When Democrats Define Libertarianism

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While you were watching The Martha Stewart Chronicles, the lefty blogosphere (including some of its brighter lights) erupted in a short but lively session of libertarian-bashing. In the posts, and especially the comments (in which one can find many variations on the theme of "libertarians = people who want the poor to starve, and/or Republicans who like to smoke pot"), there are characterizations which, to put it politely, don't jibe with my personal observations. Those of you who enjoy posting comments might want to weigh in at the following sites:

* Kevin Drum's CalPundit ("I suspect that most libertarians would change their tune pronto if they ever had the chance to actually live in a truly libertarian society").

* Brad DeLong ("Libertarianism as we know it today shows up first in the anarchist-socialists of the late nineteenth century [left libertarians who think we can eliminate not only the state but also property] and then later on shows up in the right-libertarians who currently populate Reason [who for some reason break the dream of perfect human freedom and communal solidarity by creating 'ownership']").

* Matthew Yglesias ("Fans of gay rights are overwhelmingly people who think gay sex isn't actually wrong. Fans of drug legalization really do tend to have a 'pro-drug' point of view and not just the official private-conduct-is-private point of view. One can go on down the line like this, but the point is that liberal/libertarian views about [certain elements of] politics track libertine views about [certain elements of] life pretty closely").

* Belle Waring ("Reason recently published a debate held at its 35th anniversary banquet. The flavor of this discussion is indescribable. In its total estrangement from our political and social life today, its wilfull disregard of all known facts about human nature, it resembles nothing so much as a debate over some fine procedural point of end-stage communism, after the state has withered away").

All of which reminds me of Madeleine Albright's memoir Madame Secretary, in which she throws this anti-libertarian dart in the midst of describing a trip to Africa:

Seeing the misery these conditions caused made me think of politicians back home who belittled public service and ran down our own government institutions. I thought to myself: Let them come here to the cracked edges of the world and experience life without 'big government.' After all, there was no federal income tax in Liberia, no ban on assault weapons in Angola, no bleeding heart judges in Rwanda, no welfare system in Sudan, and no burdensome environmental controls in the Caucasus.

NEXT: More Throat Clearing

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  1. The Albright quote reminds me of an exchange I had with Michael Young in Lebanon-after I’d come to see him from two hours away in a bus that cost me $1.33 for the whole trip. I gave him Thomas Friedman’s argument-basically the same one Albright uses-where he waves the bloody shirt and says “All you libertarians, come to Lebanon and see what no government looks like!”

    His reply: “That’s exactly the opposite of reality. In Lebanon everything works except what the state is involved in. If the government ran the buses, you would have paid $15 and you’d still be waiting.”

    Comments like Friedman’s and Albright’s make a false parellel: They take cases where poorly run government properties are stolen by militias or paramilitaries, who also run them poorly, and claim that that’s privatization. It’s like saying plumbing is unnecessary because dogs and cats both shit on the ground.

  2. All of these attacks from the left should be welcomed by Libertarians. When the left directs hysterical attacks against something, it means that they are afraid of it and have no rational counter to it’s arguments. Good work, Libertarians!

  3. Yglesias’ comment about people only being for what they’re for is at least partially belied by the Reason staff itself. I’m pretty sure Chuck Freund is the only smoker on the staff-and the only who one who never, as far as I know, writes anything about smoking.

  4. Notice how Brad DeLong tries to collapse all of libertarianism into anarchocapitalism? (And doesn’t really deal with Friedman’s historical or theoretical arguments anyway.)

    And just how many people “calling for competition between private, profit-making, rights-enforcement organization” to replace government really populate Reason these days?

  5. Anyone else these days notice that Lefty types get more rabid and hysterical over libertarians than they do their conservative counterparts? It happens with greater frequency the further left you go, which makes me wonder – is it perhaps because they fear libertarianism posessing an intellectual credibility that they can just easily dismiss in conservatives?

    Honestly, why else would they waste so much venom on a set of people who theoretically espouse half of their ideas as well (assuming their same lefty types actually support social freedoms) unless they’re more afraid of libertarians than they are conservatives – especially when the former is far outnumbered by the latter?

  6. Well, SOMEONE has to try to define you guys. You don’t do a great job of doing it yourselves. I find myself on these forums one week defending against knee-jerk anti-corporatism and next week pointing out that the very same folks aren’t NEARLY anti-corporate enough when it comes to issues such as overseas outsourcing. Consistency certainly doesn’t seem to be a strong point.

    Fortunately, I don’t expect much in the way of consistency. Like everyone else, Libertarian views seem to depend upon whose ox is being gored. If it’s your own, you’re against it, if it’s somebody else’s, it’s the free market asserting itself.

    Careful, don’t step in the von Mises…

  7. I think the Left is scared because they no longer represent the progressive element in politics. Instead they represent the most conservative element in politics especially in economic matters. There is not a single idea in contemporary Leftist politics that wasn’t a mainstream idea 30 years ago. Their answer to every problem whether in education, social security, medical care, etc, comes down to “lets do what we’ve been doing but more so,” which is the essential conservative answer.

    Their essential problem is that their preferred solution to every problem, centralized bureaucratism, is failing under the weight of the increasing complexity of the world. Nobody outside a few protected niches has any confidence in it anymore.

    Meanwhile, on the Right, people are rejecting Social conservatism as state enterprise even if they choose a conservative life style for themselves.

    Once you lose confidence in the states ability to manage the economy and personal matters, you end up pretty much a libertarian.

  8. You peepulll..

    Delong and Drum, and Waring *have a good point*. I have long felt that libertarians are very much like classical Marxists, not for their particular philosophies, but for their “ahistorical reasoning*.

    I recently browsed through some recent libertarian fiction in which the phrase “it’s not a Utopia” was used twice. And if you click your heels twice, you won’t be in Kansas anymore.

    Both Marx and Rothbard are very good at criticizing the problems of their contemporaries; that’s what social critics do. But their prescriptions are equally dubious. Private armies?? (Look at history) Eliminate regulation?? (Over my dead body! Good luck trying to build your R3 apartment complex next to my R1 house, buddy, even if it *will* make you rich!)

  9. “Honestly, why else would they waste so much venom on a set of people who theoretically espouse half of their ideas as well (assuming their same lefty types actually support social freedoms) unless they’re more afraid of libertarians than they are conservatives – especially when the former is far outnumbered by the latter?”

    Well, there’s what Shannon suggests. Also, bear in mind that nobody comes down on apostates and heretics with the hysterical ruthlessness of orthodox leftists (which I don’t think really includes any of the people Matt quoted).

  10. Kerry had a real sidesplitter last summer, when he said:

    The Bush Administration agenda isn’t conservative Republicanism, and it’s not radical Republicanism–it’s extreme libertarianism.

    Wow–I’ll have some of what he’s been smoking!

  11. psst
    yeah, you
    over here
    go back and read what Ruthless posted @ 7:14

    Ruthless has been relegated to the dustbin of history while the lefty blogosphere marches on.

    It just ain’t fair.
    What about a level playing field?

  12. p mac

    “…Eliminate regulation?? (Over my dead body! Good luck trying to build your R3 apartment complex next to my R1 house, buddy, even if it *will* make you rich!)…”

    Why not? Unless you can *persuade* me to comply with your desired restrictions, why shouldn’t I? There are many highly desirable communities where apt buildings co-exist with single family dwellings (just ask joe).

  13. Ed Driscoll,
    Now that we can look forward to either Bush or Kerry for the next four years, it will sink in by October or sooner that we have the evil of two lessers bumped up a notch.

  14. Picture the upcoming Democratic convention. Insofar as the previous four years have been under a Republican administration (and the Democrat has a fair shot at it this time), the MANDATORY opening night event will be the usual Republican-Traitor chorus line: wall-to-wall policy-babes in their cocktail finest (wouldn’t Kerry LOVE to be there?) reciting the script–

    “I’m a Republican (hence my employment for the last four years), but just the other day (as I scanned the latest Gallup) I noticed the President opposes A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE (Gasp!)…therefore, I’m going to secure my employment with the next President, John F. Kerry!”

    Now we can all melt at the sight of this bi-partisan opportunism (and drool over all those sheer black stockings).

    Something similar obtains with the kind of vest-pocket Libertarianism most kids acquire in high school or college. It is seldom fun, and rarely rewarding to be a Conservative Intellectual– chicks don’t dig it, and who wants to hang around with some Catholic school instructor who believes he’s C. S. Lewis, because he drinks too much and his colleagues can’t stand him?

    But if your intellectual conscience won’t permit you to buy some form of either Establishment or Alternative leftism, how can you keep The Best of Company? Easy– be a Libertarian. You get to be a Useful Idiot…and that’s one way to be included. You get to smoke dope with the anti-globalist kids, drop X at the clubs, do lines with the guys at the office.

    You even have a way to talk to your conservative parents. (If you HAVE parents, and they work and pay taxes in the real world, then chances are they are conservative, right?)

    Social Climbing?– sure, and it is enough to make you pine for “Leave It To Beaver”, and Bob Dole’s simpler more honest America.

    Of course, to invariably turn up on some committee rigged to show that “Americans of all persuasions” deplore some highly argumentative aspect of the current administration’s policies could look suspiciously like a whore’s work.. and certainly lacks any sense of fairness, proportion or disinterestedness…but that is hardly a problem in an America which is enduring “The Culture Part II: Tolerance Lashes Out!”.

    (And it IS peer-group pressure survival in college…isn’t it nice to have this anonymous blog, where you don’t have to pretend that Noam Chomsky has a lot of good points to make? I will venture that even joe appreciates THAT.)

    This kind of accomodation and compliance requires that both parties play, however. Is says a lot for the confidence of the Democrats that they are re-buffing Libertarians at this stage of the election cycle.

    (Usually they wait till after the convention floor-show to start shitting on them…then Reason can go back to head-ling changing FAA policy regs, or something, for most of the next four years: the Popular Mechanics of American political debate.)

    They must really believe that this year they are gonna Win Back the White House for Millionaire-Social-Policy-Buffs-With-Aggressive-Hair.

    (How about those black stockings, those silk cocktail dresses? Better than the Senate Judiciary on C-Span!)

  15. Most of the posters seem to have only a foggy idea what libertarians really believe, and I disagree about us not being clear ourselves. We may not get the same amount of air time, but I haven’t found too many libertarians that won’t tell you why they think what they think if you ask them.

    We just don’t get the same amount of air time.

    Also, I noticed that some of the bloggers seem to assume that we want to use the same TACTICS that other parties employ.

    It’s not that I want to take power like the Democrats or Republicans, and then force my party plank down everybody’s throat. My objection to the War on Drugs is a natural progression from my basic philosphy of freedom.

    P.S. Regarding the Albright comment, is she suggesting that ‘big government’ come in and finish the job?

  16. I remember it this way:
    Lefty loony / Righty tighty

  17. Well, as a center-left kind of person who is sympathetic to libertarianism I have to say if you think those quotes are examples of “hysteria”, you’re nuts. They’re lively political discourse. For hysteria you have to read Ann Coulter.

    Also, re: the Lebanese bus system, here in Providence you can take a bus one hour to Newport for $1.25. It’s not the same as a two hour bus ride in Lebanon, but if you take a two hour ride anywhere from Providence you end up leaving the state.

    On the other hand, you can take the commuter train one hour into Boston for about $5.00. On the other hand, that’s still cheaper than the privately run bus that goes to Boston for about $7.00 (they had to lower their price to compete with the publicly funded commuter train).

  18. Mark Borok,
    Einstein got the idea for relativity from being a composer of Swiss train schedules.
    I’m rootin’ for you, but don’t quit your day job.

  19. Schultz says:
    “Most of the posters seem to have only a foggy idea what libertarians really believe, and I disagree about us not being clear ourselves.”

    Most posters are foggy period. That’s what makes ’em so adorable.

    Viva la fog!

  20. “I think the Left is scared because they no longer represent the progressive element in politics.”

    An (anecdote?) on this point: near my apartment there is a bike underpass with some screedy graffiti which must have been written by a leftist. What did this massively militant poet, this soldier for social justice have to say? “STOP BUDGET CUTS”. STOP BUDGET CUTS! You can’t make this stuff up folks. Doesn’t that pretty much sum it up?

    I disagree with Mr. Clothier when he says libertarians are inconsistent. In fact, I think consistency is a key attribute of libertarianism. Perhaps this is because I am a conservative though, and believe that inconsistency (more accurately the need for trade-offs to be made) is a natural attribute of any political philosophy (certainly my own) applicable to human beings.

  21. I’ve been poking around CalPundit and Brad DeLong. Being called a utopian or simplistic by people who don’t understand Public Choice or opportunity costs is fairly annoying.

    I hate that whole line of argument about libertarians believing in Magic Liberty that exists in the state of nature. It shouldn’t be that hard for people to get that the only reason we spend so much time talking about negative freedom is that we don’t think that way. Sigh.

  22. Mark,

    The Commuter Rail (purple line) from Providence to Boston is $6.00 each way. It’s a great deal–my wife takes the train to work every day–but it is heavily subsidized. The actual cost is significantly higher, and is largely paid by federal, state, and local taxpayers.

  23. Brad Delong: (from the link from Kevin Drum)

    …the right-libertarians who currently populate Reason (who for some reason break the dream of perfect human freedom and communal solidarity by creating “ownership”).

    Now, everyone close your eyes and try to imagine a private, profit-making rights-enforcement organization which does not resemble the mafia, a street gang, those pesky fire-fighters/arsonists/looters

    Human freedom is impossible without the right to ownership of property! Close your own eyes Brad Delong, and just try to imagine a free people without the individual right to ownership of property.

    But, you don’t have to just imagine the monumental human tragedies that have been part of the history of states that have disallowed ownership because there are so many real world examples since you never find the latter without the former.

    Let’s see Brad; Pinkerton’s, Wells Fargo, etc, sure don’t seem much like the mafia, or street gangs.

    Hey Kevin Drum. You say it’s Libertarians who display; “wishfulness and detachment from reality.”, and then you link to this critique??

  24. I was Censored off of Brad DeLong’s site. That’s right…the post was there, right below a very thoughtful comment by our own Jason, and now it’s gone.

    Now, maybe I’m dead flat wrong on my post. I’ve been wrong before. But you can point out my error in the blog; you don’t have to censor it outright.

    Not to worry; I copied the post before Brad DeLong’s site blasted it, and I’ve included it below for your (well, at least my) enjoyment.

    “It is an interesting fact that there are no libertarians–nobody calling for the withering-away of the state–nobody calling for competition between private, profit-making, rights-enforcement organizations until the nineteenth century.”

    That isn’t too suprising considering that the nation state didn’t really exist until the 19th Century.

    But you’re right. It is hard to find a reference showing someone “calling for the withering-away of the state” until the 19th Century. Finding a reference showing someone railing against Napoleon prior to the 13th Century is downright impossible.

    But, that’s okay. Your careful wording makes it impossible to bring up Adam Smith, Cato’s Letters and various American Revolutionaries as the ultimate begining of the Libertarian movement, and that’s the point, right?

  25. Ruthless,

    That is a good point you make to my earlier post about government’s in Africa being sanctioned gangs, and how that is no different than any other government…However, you are wrong, and this is why…

    The governments of Africa use intimidation and violence to control and intimidate the people of their nations. They use positive laws to force people into involuntary servitude and punish those who do not belong or won’t convert to their faith…That is not how Western and modern Asian governments operate…If you do not see this difference then maybe mob rule is something you never experienced?

  26. The more I think about it, the more it ticks me off. I was censored!

    Okay the post was a…little…sarcastic. He has the right to do it; it’s his site. But it sure makes me appreciate Reason all the more. I’ve posted some real zingers here, and no one has ever blasted any of my posts.

    I mean not LITERALLY.

    Real wide open discussion you got going there Brad!

  27. My post was really kind of flip (OK, very flip). I have posted a fairer one.
    http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2004/03/the_withering_a.html

    Minarchist libertarians are reasonable and have many good arguments, many of which I agree with. Anarcho-libertarians are fruitcakes, though, and I’m not afraid to say it.

  28. Over at Brad DeLong’s web site we?re having quite a display of intellectual cowardice, as they are actively removing many of the contra Delong posts on the libertarian thread.

  29. John Phillips wrote: “The debate isn’t about state versus no state, but about what kind of state we should have.”

    Um…did you actually read the debate in question? Barnett and Friedman are both anarchists, and were arguing against Epstein’s minarchist position. So the debate really _is_ about state versus no state. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  30. Belle,

    Have you actually read any of Barnett’s or Friedman’s academic work? They are both anarchist libertarians, yet neither comes off as a fruitcake. Radical yes, fruitcake no.

    I’m curious: can you point to anything either of them has actually written that would qualify not just as support for a radical position, but a generally unfounded and ridiculous one?

  31. War is typically a struggle between different forces that seek to rule others. Democracy is a way to get into power without having to kill a bunch of people. This is an improvement over other ways of getting into power (such as has been occurring in Africa and other places), but it needs to be remembered that Democracy is not at all the same thing as freedom.
    Dictators impose servility, democracy sneaks it upon us.
    The left is of the school of thought that “Freedom is slavery”.

  32. Don’t feel bad Schultz – I was censored off of Brad Delong’s site also; the same has happened to Donald Luskin.
    In the long run, fewer thinking people will visit his site and he’ll be left with what most most liberals seem to really prefer – a place where everyone echos each other and they comfort themselves that outsiders are venal, stupid, callous, selfish etc.

  33. Tim Cavanaugh writes: “Yglesias’ comment about people only being for what they’re for is at least partially belied by the Reason staff itself. I’m pretty sure Chuck Freund is the only smoker on the staff?and the only who one who never, as far as I know, writes anything about smoking.”

    Well now Tim, I’m a long-time Reason reader, and fierce libertarian who thinks prostitution should be legal. Clearly Yglesias knows how I earn my living. 😉

    –Mona–

  34. “The left is of the school of thought that “Freedom is slavery”.

    The communist revolution in Russia had this as one of its slogans. The idea being that when you are free, you are left at the mercy of economic forces. By abolishing property and money, people were thus freed from exploitation by greedy corporations and landlords. By being guaranteed a minimal sustenance, people are freed from the necessity of struggling for survival.
    However, the communists were never able to abolish the coin of political power or the laws of the market.

  35. Sam and richard: Sam said:
    “Dictators impose servility, democracy sneaks it upon us.”

    It’s like the distinction between stealing and embezzling. The secret is to not hire the “embezzlers” in the first place: don’t vote.

  36. Mona, you will have to admit that the popularity of marijuana seems to be the main camel’s nose under the tent to end to the war on drugs.
    The principled way to end the war on drugs is to call first for abolishing the FDA.
    In other words: no restrictions whatsoever on powerful drugs, placebos, rat poison, gingko biloba… anything.

  37. ruthless writes: “Mona, you will have to admit that the popularity of marijuana seems to be the main camel’s nose under the tent to end to the war on drugs.
    The principled way to end the war on drugs is to call first for abolishing the FDA.
    In other words: no restrictions whatsoever on powerful drugs, placebos, rat poison, gingko biloba… anything.”

    While I entirely agree that the FDA should, if retained, be nothing but an advisory body, I do not see that happening any time soon. Myself, I’d largely abolish the presciption drug system — won’t see that in my lifetime.

    But ending cannabis prohibition is doable. It is not just that it is popular, it is that the harms associated with it are so minimal compared to those of many other licit substances and activities, that tossing users/sellers in prisons is grossly unreasonable, quite aside from the manner in which such incarcerations offend libertarian morality. Simply put, ending pot restrictions is achievable because there are arguments available that do not require us to persuade the body politic of the merits of libertarian philosophy in order to get there.

    I have no personal interest in pot, and have seldom used it. But I can understand why its illicit status elicits particular outrage from those who desire it. Even outside of the usual moral arguments we ‘tarians make about body ownership & etc., the prohibition policy is just plain dumb, and driven by hysteria and Puritanism.

    –Mona–

  38. Firsr of all, let’s deal with what’s REALLY important: “There are many highly desirable communities where apt buildings co-exist with single family dwellings (just ask joe).” Yes, if it’s done right. However, the planning and architectural decisions that contribute to a well-laid out mixed residential neighborhood are not exactly the same as those that maximize the profitability of the parcel on which the apartment house is built. So Isaac’s point is basically correct, though the ban on apartment houses he implies is a little overwrought; with a little oversight, to make sure best practices are being followed, you can build an apartment building in a single family neighborhood and not harm the value of quality of life for the homeowners.

    As for the pings by the other bloggers, I’ve seen plenty of utopianism, ignorance of human nature, and lack of appreciation for what underlies our society’s success on this board. And as a man of the Left, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with these foibles.

  39. joe writes: “As for the pings by the other bloggers, I’ve seen plenty of utopianism, ignorance of human nature, and lack of appreciation for what underlies our society’s success on this board. And as a man of the Left, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with these foibles.”

    Honestly, I just do not see it. My own view is that minimal govt power is the best means of avoiding dystopia, but I do not believe in any road to utopia. While I have frequently encountered accusations that libertarians are utopians, so far I’ve seen no credible support for that propositon from any major (or even minor) libertarian writer.

    –Mona–

  40. “Freedom is Slavery”

    Examples:
    We cannot allow people to make their own retirement savings decisions because it would take the average person way too much work and they’d be suffering at the hands of the irrational market.

    We need an FDA to tell us what we can and cannot put into our bodies, because these things are very complicated and the average person otherwise would be unable to make such choices and would kill himself.

    There is too much variety in the products that are produced in capitalist societies. Variety only makes it harder and more painful for the average person to choose, while being an efficiency waste.

    We need an NEA to coordinate which artists get money, because the regular Joes do not know how to appreciate fine art and if left to their own will, they will simply increase the mindless drivel that passes as art in our consumerist world.

  41. joe: over the weekend we suffer from an accute thread shortage here, eh?

    Mona: “But ending cannabis prohibition is doable.” Doable is politician-speak, not principled in the least.

    Ammonium: When you tire of your nom de plume, give me first dibs. Wait… should I upgrade from Ruthless to Hydrochloric Acid?
    How about Smelling Salts? Stay tuned.

  42. Richard said:
    “African governments are not governments but sanctioned gangs.”

    Let’s see now Richard: which government is NOT a sanctioned gang?

  43. The “utopian” label is just an aspersion cast at libertarians. That avoids serious discussion.
    Libertarians DO believe that society would be much better if sanctioned extortion is removed from human relationships. Statists of all stripes believe in fear as the means to achieve social order. However, in the quest for ORDER, harmony, morality, justice, and simple decency are being squeezed our of human sensibility.
    The state has no love.

  44. Anybody notice that while most ire is directed at the lefties, the right has high-jacked and corrupted the Libertarian label?

    To me, being Libertarian is neither left nor right. It’s the pursuit of personal freedom, without harming your neighbor, within whatever government framework is at hand. Mindless pursuit of wealth does not necessarily equal personal freedom any more than mindless pursuit of social control and sense of “community”.

    It’s damned hard to apply this to a country of 300 million spread over 5 time zones. Anybody who thinks there’s one solution, principle or idealogy to make this thing work is mindless.

  45. I’m looking forward to this year’s expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban, when the U.S. will become exactly like Angola. Woo hoo!

  46. I guess Albright is clueless. No one endorces human suffering — just differ in the way to solve it.

    Maybe if private property and individual rights (such as freedom from violence) were guaranteed, these people would stand a chance.

  47. Ditto Sam on where is the love, and I notice some poor Reason staffer has been rousted out of a sound sleep to post a new thread at my urging–or it was just his time in the barrel–but this post is directed toward joe.

    joe,
    What if no new threads were ever posted?
    What would happen is that, even if the thread were 2 plus 2 equals 5, is that the solution to all the world’s problems would spontaneaously emerge anyhow.
    It would take Google to come along later and sort it out. But, hey, whassa matter with that?

    I believe, Brother, in a pattern in complexity.
    Amen. Halleleuja.

    Now on to the new thread…

  48. Add billmon.org to the list – a few days ago he came up with the theory that Greenspan’s fiscal irresponsibilities were the result of some devious Randian conspiracy rather than mere political opportunism. I pointed out that anyone who supports enormous tax-cuts and hugely increased spending, while shilling for a painfully clueless (and statist) administration is not a libertarian in any meaningful sense of the word – we’re fiscal conservatives AND social liberals, for God’s sake! Naturally, I was roundly ignored by every other person on the comments thread. I will be so immensely relieved when Bush is gone so I can stop pretending to be a Democrat and crawl back under my apolitical rock.
    And for the record, I think marriage is a broken institution (I mean, really – a social system with a fifty percent failure rate is not something people should be touting as a pillar of American life… especially when many of those people are on the wrong side of the statistics) yet I support gay marriage… just as I support drug legalisation, despite never having had the slightest inclination to take drugs myself (or marry a man, for that matter.) So take that, Matthew Yglesias!

  49. Gadfly said:
    “Mindless pursuit of wealth does not necessarily equal personal freedom any more than mindless pursuit of social control and sense of “community”.”

    Well and thoughtfully stated.
    But the battle we Hit and Runners will always face is that a majority is unable to restrict its “parenting instinct” to its own children.

  50. Ruthless writes; Mona: “‘But ending cannabis prohibition is doable.’ Doable is politician-speak, not principled in the least.”

    Listen, if you want to hold out for nirvana, be my guest. In the meantime, we win what we can, when we can. Those of us who live in the real word.

    –Mona–

  51. I have to add my 2 cents on the Providence to Boston commuter rail. It’s cheap, but it subsidize more by the other T riders than the various levels of government.

    It’s also a good excuse for Massachusetts and Boston in particular to not improve their highways and automobile infrastructure. It’s already a big pain in the ass to drive up from the South Shore and then find parking in Boston. Keeping two or three thousand cars out of the city is well worth the price of subsidizing the commuter rail.

    As for the Providence to Boston buses, sure they are more expensive, but they also run more often, for more hours than the commuter rail. God help you if you commute by train and you get stuck late at work, or you work odd hours.

  52. Mona,
    You have made me feel like Jesus–pre-Good Friday. Ouch!
    Yea, verily, those wishing to live in the unreal world must enter it through moi.

    Now excuse me while I have another bock beer to help tide me thru Lent.

  53. It may be good intellectual and debating exercies to argue with lefties and other collectivist, but don’t expect to shake their thoughtless faith as they are devout members of the cult of the omnipotent state.

  54. Rick B:

    If you are ever arguing with a social democrat, or someone further to the left, and you mention the Pinkertons as a positive example, prepare to deal with a great deal of frothing at the mouth. Especially for those acculturated to the organized labor union movement, Pinkerton is a dirty word. Of course, the unions had (or have) their own crews of legbreakers, but lefties don’t see it that way.

    It seems that we libertarians are getting one barrel of the rhetorical shotgun, the other being unloaded on the Naderites/Greenies, because those who loaded it with rock salt are center->leftists in the Democratic Party who are endeavoring to corral every anti-Bush voter in November. In “normal” election years nobody would bother trying to dissuade the few hundred thousand of us who will vote for the LP.

    Kevin

  55. Random thoughts:

    Reason is, in fact, a-historical. Though what is reasonable is not.

    The commuter rail between boston and providence is a waste of time. If you want to work in Boston, live there, don’t ask people to subsidize your cheap rent in Providence.

    Brad’s thing about perfection lying in community really ignores that communities are nothing above and beyond the interplay of individuals who populate them. The meaning of community is at stake here. Human beings are not subject to the hive mind. Fundamentally, we think alone, judge alone, and act alone.

    Last I checked, Mr Sanchez smoked. One of the few
    people who can make it stylish.

    Libertarians tend to be minarchists, not anarchists. The state has it’s place and its uses. The debate isn’t about state versus no state, but about what kind of state we should have.

  56. Joe,

    The important point is that there are going to be people of any political persuasion exhibiting the tendencies you’re calling utopian. But that doesn’t make the philosophy itself utopian.

    Of course, since utopian implies impossible, utopianiasm is merely a type of criticism of opponents of a philosophy, and therefore is meaningless except as an introduction to why one thinks that. It’s just another way of saying someone is being unrealistic. You were right to bring up that no one thinks their own philosophy was utopian, but wrong to continue harping on libertarianism being utopian. In and of itself, it’s a nonissue.

    JD and others have made a good point that the US was much closer to libertarianism for many years and thrived under it. Julian Sanchez has elsewhere made the point that even if no modern nation has followed libertarianism to a tee, some nations come closer than others, and those are the ones that do better. That’s why we find our vision perfectly realistic. That at some points individual libertarians may exhibit personality flaws that all humans are susceptible to strikes me as utterly immaterial.

  57. Ruthless writes: “Mona and others,
    I think I’m just trying to be realistic.
    The war on drugs is still raging.
    Even if mj were totally legalized–and that seems a long way down the road–we’d still have one hellacious war.
    The issue is we should demand unconditional surrender of the government after all the harm it’s caused.”

    Well, I only scored an 84 on that test for libertarian purity. So my idea of “realistic” is prolly not identical with that of some other libertarians. I admit than when I see, e.g., calls to “demand the unconditional surrender of the govt” my brain starts shutting down in automatic dismissal of what I consider an unrealistic and unproductive POV.

    –Mona–

  58. when I see, e.g., calls to “demand the unconditional surrender of the govt” my brain starts shutting down

    Oh c’mon, have a good laugh at least! 🙂

  59. Well, JD, by today’s standards the US in 1912 would definitely be considered on the cracked edge of the world.

    In the half century leading up to that we had killed hundreds of thousands of our own citizens, looted the conquered South, killed or interred the native American tribes, provoked a war with Mexico and were going into a trench war practiced with, among other things, gas. The gilded age Robber Barons ruled the roost, ward bosses were little more than organized criminals, and women couldn’t vote.

    Libertarian paradise.

  60. Schultz,

    I got censored AND blocked at Delong as well. My note wasn’t profane or nasty, just asked some tough questions, asked for some facts. Apparently, that’s just a little too tough for DeLong.

    Figures doesn’t it?

  61. Ruthless,

    A few figures for your principles:

    700,000 marijuana arrests in 1997, 87% of which were possession.

    There are at any any one time 59,000 or so people behind bars charged with marajuana offenses (12% of the Federal prison population), at a cost of about 1.2 billion a year. 37,000 or so of these are for marijuana offenses alone, and 15,000 for posession alone. These are low estimates according to some sources. This is insane.

    I fail to see how doing something that is clearly good is unprincipled, especially when it falls in right in line with your principles.

    Perhaps you are arguing against forming opinions about what society should do that are based solely on what is doable – certainly a disasterous way of thinking. But it is more absurd to only endorse that which is not doable.

  62. Make that a low-carb bock beer and you’ll be super-happy!

  63. joe

    It isn’t so much the utopianism of libertarians which is the problem as the preachiness– the moral absolutism born of eschewing any “force” in social constructs…as if you didn’t have a say in whether your neighbor trip-wires his property with barrels of Sarin gas.

    And it breeds hypocrisy. Few on the Reason staff hold with notions of convenience stores marketing hand-grenades and heroin, but because a self-styled “daring consistency” is such a selling point with the new-comer, they are apt to disguise how compromised their views have become.

    Bad faith.

  64. JAG

    The guy seems to only want to use his blog for propaganda.

    If there were a blogosphere code, his censorship would probably violate it.

    Whenever I read his blog now, I’ll feel like I’m reading an address to the members of some cult.

    Anybody who doesn’t understand the value of criticizm isn’t worth reading anyway.

  65. Sir Real writes:

    “You know, there’s something delicious about libertarians bleating “censorship!” regarding their posts to those (PRIVATE) blogs. Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean they have to give you a platform to spread it.”

    Which completely ignores:

    “Okay the post was a…little…sarcastic. He has the right to do it; it’s his site. But it sure makes me appreciate Reason all the more. I’ve posted some real zingers here, and no one has ever blasted any of my posts.”

  66. OK. Schultz, you’re a moron. 🙂

  67. T Bone said:
    “I fail to see how doing something that is clearly good is unprincipled, especially when it falls in right in line with your principles.”

    The trouble is we’re not doing something. At least not us Hit and Runners.

    In other words, we agree on the ends; our means arn’t getting us anywhere.

  68. You know, there’s something delicious about libertarians bleating “censorship!” regarding their posts to those (PRIVATE) blogs. Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean they have to give you a platform to spread it.

    When CBS declines to run an anti-Bush ad during the Stupor Bowl, it’s a private company using their prerogatives of ownership. Same difference here.

    Ah, sweet sweet irony.

  69. Mona writes, “While I have frequently encountered accusations that libertarians are utopians, so far I’ve seen no credible support for that propositon from any major (or even minor) libertarian writer.”

    Few people describe their own philosophy as utopian, no matter how lofty their aspirations.

    But since you felt the need to suggest to another libertarian that he is “holding out for nirvana,” perhaps you’re starting to catch on to where the accusation comes from?

  70. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  71. Joe,

    I think the distinction is that leftist philosophy is based largely on the notion that as long as there is suffering in the world, the government’s work is not done. Libertarianism is based largely on accepting that there will always be a degree of suffering in the world and the government must set limits on what it sets out to cure. There’s also a significant strain in leftist philosophy (as well as rightist) that postulates that if we don’t solve all our problems, we’re doomed. I was a lot more pessimistic back when I used to be more of a leftist. Mona and Ruthless appear to be debating tactics rather than the feasibility or necessity of solving all problems. I think you’ll find such half-a-loaf versus principle arguments within any community. If it’s maybe a bigger issue among libertarians than most, that might be because libertarians feel more marginalized by mainstream debate than most.

  72. joe writes: “Few people describe their own philosophy as utopian, no matter how lofty their aspirations.”

    Understood, obviously. But I am unaware of anything even implicit in the writings of libertarians that would rise to utopianism. Since I completely reject utopian thinking, I am reasonably sure I’d recognize it.

    joe adds: “But since you felt the need to suggest to another libertarian that he is “holding out for nirvana,” perhaps you’re starting to catch on to where the accusation comes from?”

    My objection to Ruthless is not that he is a utopian, it is that he is doctrinaire. He is willing to see tens of thousand continue to be thrown into prison for an immoral reason, when that can probably be stopped. All in the name of “principle.” But I doubt that he, any more than I, believes a world without the FDA would be paradise on Earth.

    –Mona–

  73. fyodor, I see libertarians blaming the world’s problems on “the system” as much as 60s leftists, and positing the replacement of that system with their own preferred, never-before-seen system as the solution to those problems.

    I’d always believed that libertarianism was a species of conservatism, with a self-image as a hard-headed rejection of utopianism. Then I started coming here. So my comments are based not on a prejudice that I hold, but on the hard facts I’ve seen that have overcome my prejudice/misunderstanding.

    Of course, there are clearly a lot of libertoids for whom opposition to leftist utopianism is the first principle of their philosophy. But the ridiculous, self-serving heights to which the “rising tides” metaphor gets stretched ’round these parts (and the glib dismissal of any possible harm caused by the elimination of programs intended to help the poor) demonstrate to me the soft utopianism of an opposition that’s never had to do the hard work of dealing with issues as they present themselves, rather than picking and choosing the most promising to take on.

  74. Joe,

    Regarding your first paragraph, I would think that applies to any political philosophy. That is, the world’s problems (or at least the extent of them) are caused by political/social philophies contrary to my own. I see nothing special about libertarianism in that regard.

    Regarding your last paragraph, you’re right that libertoids are often unwilling to think about the possible negative consequences of following their principles, which is a shame since I would certainly agree that there are pros and cons inherent to any position. Again, I see nothing special to libertarianism about that, and I wouldn’t call it utopianism per se either, maybe over optimism or idealism or glibness. I define utopianism as the notion that all problems can and must be solved. Leftists aren’t all necessarily utopian either, but I think a streak of utopianism is implied in the logic that if there’s a problem, the government can and must solve it.

  75. The US was pretty close to the libertarian ideal throughout it’s first 100 years. And the anti-Federalists in the founding generation were, basically, libertarians by another name. Hence the close relationship between conservatives and libertarians.

  76. Sir Real,
    No one said he can’t censor whats on his site, just that its a cowardly move. The problem most libertarians have with censorship is when it is gov’t imposed. Private entities are free to censor what they like. In this instance it is our freedom as well to call Brad a coward for censoring an opposing point of view.

  77. Mona and others,
    I think I’m just trying to be realistic.
    The war on drugs is still raging.
    Even if mj were totally legalized–and that seems a long way down the road–we’d still have one hellacious war.
    The issue is we should demand unconditional surrender of the government after all the harm it’s caused.

  78. Joe,

    Having just looked up the word, utopianism, and seeing that every definition involves the impossibility of the vision, I confess that it’s probably a bogus debate we’re having and that the fault lies with those who relie too heavily on their opponent’s philosophy is utopian since it is basically an erudite sounding way of saying your opponent is stupid. That is, it doesn’t prove anything, only restates that you think your opponent is wrong.

  79. “those who relie too heavily on their opponent’s philosophy is utopian” should read “those who rely too heavily on saying that their opponent’s philosophy is utopian.” Never re-write without proofreading!

  80. fyodor,

    I agree that there is nothing unique about libertarianism’s utopian tendencies. I also don’t believe this utopianism is inherent to the philosophy (as it is for Communism or theocracy). That’s why I distinguished between “soft” utopianism and “hard” utopianism. Hard Utopians put the vision for the perfect world front and center, and work to get there. Soft utopians have ideas about how to make things better, and get a little too entranced by those ideas – sort of like a 20th century philosopher who, upon discovering an interesting phenomenon (like the false beliefs colonizers hold about the people they colonized), insist on using words like “always,” “never,” “impossible,” and “necessarily.”

  81. Wow, and we get accused of being ahistorical? I wonder if Albright remembers that the US didn’t have an income tax or a Federal Reserve until 1913, didn’t have an FDIC until 1933, didn’t have Medicare or Medicaid until 1965, didn’t have an assault weapons ban until 1994. Does she think that the US of 1912 was the miserable “cracked edge of the world”?

  82. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  83. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  84. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  85. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  86. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  87. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  88. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  89. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  90. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  91. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  92. Thanks Gadfly. I don’t know what I’d do without a little criticizm now and then.

    See Brad, Is that so hard?

  93. You know…I got a bunch of messages from my friends, and it looks like every e-mail and post I sent by way of phone got sent and or posted a whole bunch of times.

    Sorry ’bout that guys. Gonna have to get that looked at.

  94. I think the H&R gnomes can safely delete multiple posts without veering into First Amendment territory.

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