The Absolutely Goddamn Final Post-Mortem on Goldberg vs. Gillespie…

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The Wash Times writes up last week's America's Future Foundation debate twixt Jonah Goldberg and me on the dread issue of whether libertarians are really a candy or really a gum really part of the right (or something like that):

"I think the problem with many libertarians nowadays is this idea of culture libertarianism," Mr. Goldberg said during the debate. "This idea that we can all be our own priests, that we can all define our own selves, that not just the state, but tradition and authority of any kind somehow should have no real sway over our lives. Those type of libertarians aren't part of the right at all."

Mr. Gillespie drew applause from the crowd by countering, "If not following in lock step some kind of … tradition makes me not a member of the right, I'd rather be wrong."

In a postdebate interview, Mr. Gillespie said, "One of the marks of libertarianism is that we recognize that people can choose among past traditions for whichever one works best. Different people value things differently, and the sign of a good society is one that allows as many people as possible to pursue the good life."

More here.

Audio/pics of the damn thing here. More here. Even more here.

NEXT: Hillary Clinton Is Still Right On This One

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  1. really a candy or really a gum

    Like Razzles?

  2. Nick,

    The question is; is libertarianism about government or society? If it is about government alone and ensuring that government does not unduely interfere with people’s lives and freedom to form associations and traditions, then it is certainly part of the right. If libertarianism is about society and tearing down all conventions and traditions in addition to advocating that government stay out of people’s lives and do nothing beyond ensuring freedom, then it is most certainly not part of the right.

    What did you mean when you said, “If not following in lock step some kind of … tradition makes me not a member of the right, I’d rather be wrong.”? Do you deny adherence to any tradition? Is your social philosophy just “if it feels good do it?” Do you believe that tradition has any value? What is wrong with following tradition lock step if it is the right tradition? I suppose the complete denial of the value of culture mores and traditions is not an unreasonable position. That said, however, a lot of people, who consider themselves to be libertarians now, would not meet your definition.

  3. John,

    How about following the traditions you agree with and ignoring those that you don’t? Following a tradition that you don’t believe for tradition’s sake strikes me as cowardly and foolish.

    Libertariasm is not about tearing down conventions so much as allowing people to go against convention if they choose without being criminals for doing so.

  4. What is wrong with following tradition lock step if it is the right tradition?

    You missed the point. It’s not an individual tradition that’s necessarily right or wrong, it’s the idea that one should walk (march?) in lockstep with it because it is tradition. The latter position is Goldberg conservatism, in which an idea possesses some sort of intrinsic merit because it’s old.

    Libertarian social philosophy merely acknowledges that merit does not exist in direct proportion to age. This is a long way from “if it feels good, do it.” Libertarians would also acknowledge that what arrangements work for some may not work for all. It seems almost trite to offer this as an example, but the sort of tradition that conservatives would like to preserve is traditional gender roles. Staying at home with the chillun’ might work for some women, but hardly for all. Libertarians merely admit that people are more than capable of making decisions for themselves about such matters.

  5. “a lot of people, who consider themselves to be libertarians now, would not meet your definition.
    What is Gillespie’s “definition”? Wasn’t ge explicit in saying “Different people value things differently, and a sign of a good society is one that allows as many people as possible to pursue the good life”? It seems the only people who wouldn’t fit that definition are those who seek to control behavior that doesn’t affect them.

  6. “If libertarianism is about society and tearing down all conventions and traditions in addition to advocating that government stay out of people’s lives and do nothing beyond ensuring freedom, then it is most certainly not part of the right.”

    if a tradition cannot exist without locksteppery, then it is clearly flawed. if it cannot exist with competition, then it is flawed. rinse and repeat.

  7. It’s official: The HTML strikethrough-text gimmick is no longer side-splitting hilarious, like it used to be on the 700 other Nick Gillespie posts that used it.

  8. It seems the only people who wouldn’t fit that definition are those who seek to control behavior that doesn’t affect them.

    Which brings us back to the question of whether libertarianism is directed primarily at limiting government power in society (the narrow definition of “seek to control”) or whether it is about reducing the influence of all organizations/institutions/traditions over individuals (the broad definition).

    Personally, I think we have our hands full with the first. We are losing the battle with the forces of state jackbootery so badly, I can’t imagine why anyone wants to go haring off after the lesser evils of tradition and voluntary organizations.

  9. Hey Nick,
    I still want to know what the toys for small children were.

    In the past post mortems I accused Goldberg of being a closet libertarian. I have since read most of the stuff he’s written this year over at NRO. Jonah is a lot deeper in the closet than I suspected. All his columns are firmly planted on the right. His internal schism can be found, but you have to look for it. His affection for libertarians, and especially whatever animosity he’s developed for conservatives, is buried.

    There are two features of Jonah’s work that I think account for this. First, when it comes to foreign policy, he is four-square rooted in the ‘what’s good for Israel, is good for the US’ camp. And by ‘good for Israel’ he means ‘kills Arabs’. Second, even when he’s addressing a domestic issue, he’s inevitably attacking teh libruls, or at least a liberal strawman. So he wastes little verbiage articulating policy that might taste sweet on a libertarian tongue. All of which makes his remarks at the debate all the more intriguing. At this point I honestly don’t know if he was just blowing sunshine up our ass. Or, if my previous analysis was correct (he’s a libertarian living in a conservative house) and after a few beers at the libertarian bar, he indulges his inclination to camp it up.

  10. Replacing “bullshit” with ellipses in Nick’s quote is … well, bullshit. It totally emasculates what was a potent retort.

  11. Gillespie: for heroin and incest.

    How’d they know?

  12. Libertarianism values individual liberty. It has both broad cultural implications, as well as specific specifications for political policy. Unlike conservatives, libertarians by definition favor limited government. Conservatives favor limited government only when someone else is in control of it. In other words, when a conservative says, belief in small government is a feature of the right, he’s lying.

    Nick is correct when he says the essence of conservatism is nostalgia, the delusion that things were better a few decades ago. A few decades ago, conservatives valued segregation as a valued tradition. Now conservatives value huge progressive political programs, social engineering, and government regulation of every conceivable activity. After a hundred years, it has become an American Tradition.

  13. So exactly how are concepts such as ?liberty?, ?free markets? and ?property rights? not traditions that Libertarians want to force everybody else to adhere to?

  14. So exactly how are concepts such as ?personal liberty?, ?free markets? and ?property rights? not traditions that Libertarians want to force everybody else to adhere to?

  15. The Gillespie HTML strikethrough is a time-honored custom here on HnR much like Dave Barry’s trademark “I am not making this up”, or Tony Stewart climbing a fence after a NASCAR win, or the yelling of “Freebird” at concerts.

    Why do you libertarians have such a bias against traditions?

  16. Dan T.
    Those are libertarian traditions, (but as I posted above, no longer American traditions). Libertarians would “force” everybody to adhere to them because they are the unalienable rights that government is ordained to protect, not because they are traditions.

    Equating libertarianism with bohemianism is just bullshit. Only a conservative attempting to justify their own embrace of bigotry would ever even make such a baseless accusation.

  17. This idea that we can all be our own priests, that we can all define our own selves, that not just the state, but tradition and authority of any kind somehow should have no real sway over our lives.

    Replace “real sway” with “final say”, and I like Jonah’s definition.

    Dan,

    So allowing people the freedom to choose their own path is equivalent to enforcing a tradition in your mind?

  18. How exactly does one force liberty, free markets, and property rights onto another person?

    “If you don’t exercise your freedom to speak your mind, why, we’re going to throw you in jail!”

    “You, you will go out and get a job and be successsful, or so help me God we’ll round you up and send you to the camps!”

    “Buy this property and do whatever you want with it, or the repercussions will be more than you can handle!”

    Dan, you’re a fuckwit.

  19. @ S.R. Chamberlain

    You missed the point. It’s not an individual tradition that’s necessarily right or wrong, it’s the idea that one should walk (march?) in lockstep with it because it is tradition. The latter position is Goldberg conservatism, in which an idea possesses some sort of intrinsic merit because it’s old.

    No, I think you’re missing the point. You speak of “tradition” as if it merely consisted of superficial things like saying grace before dinner, or clinking glasses before saying “Bottoms Up!”, or putting up a Christmas tree. You (not to mention Gillespie and Goldberg) are missing the implications of tradition in a larger sense.

    For example, regard for private property rights is a tradition. There’s no inherent superiority of one man’s assertion that private property is sacrosanct, and another man’s assertion that all property is theft. There have been societies based on a tradition of private property, and societies based on a tradition of communal property. But obviously, a community of people, some of whom respected a tradition of private property, and others whose traditions included helping themselves to any random unused resources would come into conflict rather frequently.

    In the United States, driving on the right side of the road is a tradition. In the UK, driving on the left hand side of the road is a tradition. Now, I can’t particularly see where either tradition offers any advantage in utility, but that isn’t the point. The point is, consensus adherence to the tradition allows everyone to be able to predict the behavior of others, and allows large volumes of cars to use the roads reasonably safely. Obviously, people who favor an non-traditional interpretation of traffic laws and drive on the wrong side of the road are a hazard to everyone else.

    The regard for tradition isn’t merely a statement of “Well, we’ve always done things this way, therefore we always have to do things this way”, it’s a recognition that traditions represent the shared understanding and consensus that allows large numbers of people to deal with each other with a minimum of conflict. Also, it’s a recognition that, on a planet that’s been home to more failed civilizations than successful ones, if you have one that more or less works, you might want to think twice about altering it’s fundamental traditions without an understanding of what role those traditions play, or having a back-out plan if your bright idea goes south. Traditions, frequently established through trial and error, have often enough been established by being what was left over after Darwin took his cut.

    It was actually a pretty funny debate. You had Goldberg, defending tradition without really grasping the concept or being able to articulate it’s value, and Gillespie blithely waving his hankie at him, equally oblivious as to what he was dismissing. I suppose Gillespie more or less won the debate, just by virtue of having popped off more fine-sounding and crowd pleasing platitudes. Although if you were looking for reasons you might want to become a libertarian or a conservative, it was pretty thin gruel, all the way around.

  20. Thank you RC Dean.

    You are the only person to whom my comment did not go right over their head.

    Dan T,

    For once I agree with you. The whole “we don’t have traditions” argument is rediculous. Even a negative is still, in being the absence of something, in some sense a positive statement.

    As far as traditions go, I think Hayak justified them as well as anyone. Hayak talks about the collective wisdom of groups. Over time people try different traditions and some work and some don’t and the ones that work last longer to such an extent that people forget why they were successful or desireable in the first place. There becomes a collective wisdom of the experiences of society.

    Libertarianism does not and should not mean libertinism and the rejection of all societal conventions in addition to the rejection of the very idea of social restraint and mores.

  21. Hey, what about traditions like rational thought? Scientific inquiry? Allowing men to act in their own rational self-interest?

    You know, all those traditions born of The Enlightenment that the right, in a post-modern orgy of stupifying proportions, have completely turned their back on?

    (Intelligent Design, anyone?)

    From where I sit, libertarianism has roots that are tied to the traditions of reason and rational inquiry than the right as it currently exists.

    Or perhaps you’d like to point out the last time when a mainstream Republican quoted Locke or Bastiat.

  22. You are the only person to whom my comment did not go right over their head.

    Ah I see. I don’t agree with you, therefore I must not posses the intellectual wherewithal to comprehend you.

    Hayak talks about the collective wisdom of groups.

    Right, and that wisdom is the result of allowing each member of the group to follow his own path. But it is folly to declare that it is wisdom to blindly follow the group. And it is tyranny to declare that all must now follow the group.

  23. My understanding of libertarianism is that it is based on a concept of liberty that is defined as being free from coercion. Arguably, any issue that does not involve coercion would fall outside the purview of the philosophy. Since government is the institution that is assigned with (or assigns itself, depending on your point of view) exercising and defining the sanctioned use of force, libertarianism is generally concerned with governmental policy and that only.

    So perhaps Gillespie erred by not answering Goldberg by saying that libertarianism simply has nothing to say about whether individuals should follow tradition or not, as long as the government butts out of the decision. But I can understand and sympathize with Gillespie for giving the answer he did. The answer that libertarianism has nothing to say would likely have seemed uninspiring and evasive, and worse may have seemed to concede Goldberg’s implied argument that tradition should be respected for its preeminent value as a guiding force from society onto the individual. Once that is conceded, libertarians are backed into the corner of arguing that individuals have a right to be stupid. And it’s true, they do. Libertarianism is based primarily on the rights of the individual, regardless of the individual’s wisdom. But you’re not going to convince anyone that a set of principles are worthwhile in their own right if you can’t show they likely have some sort of utilitarian value as well.

    Oh my, this is a long subject. Suffice to say that noncoercive sanction for noncoercive behavior does not violate the letter of libertarianism, but it may very well violate the spirit of it. Thus, a libertarian is putting himself in a difficult and not likely popular or persuasive position if he draws the line at coercion but appears too timid to address the larger issue.

    I would also like to echo those who point out that there’s a big difference between not following tradition lockstep and wanting to tear down all tradition.

    But that said, part of the whole purpose of advocating the following of tradition is so that individuals will have a purportedly reliable guide without having to figure it out on their own. While advocating the individual’s independence of tradition does not inherently imply the rejection of any and all practices or beliefs that have a tradition to them, it does imply a rejection of tradition in having a preeminent role in guiding the individual’s decision making process. Once one can choose from traditions, they are traditions in the sense that they have been around for a while, but not in the sense that they play an authoritative role for the individual, which I think is part of how we think of the word.

    Whew. Well, we could go on about this forever, couldn’t we?

  24. Agree with SR Chamberlain above. I see little value in traditions just because they are traditions. The myopia of conservatives is they can’t see past the institution and to the desirable effects, so they can’t tolerate changes to the institution.

    Marriage comes to mind. What is destabilizing about family units of two adults for support who happen to be of the same gender? To the libertarian, this just seems random – like a prohibition against eating pork.

  25. The whole “we don’t have traditions” argument is rediculous.

    Who posted that? I see nothing resembling “we don’t have traditions”, just that the individual should make choices for himself about which traditions to adhere to, and which are outdated nonsense.

  26. John, I don’t know why you’re so aghast at Gillespie’s comments about tradition, given that you openly and flagrantly flaunt the traditions of proper spelling and grammar nearly every time you post.

    /Yeah. I’m a dick.

  27. mediageek,

    🙂

  28. “If not following in lock step some kind of … tradition makes me not a member of the right, I’d rather be wrong.”

    Um, strawman anyone? I’m sorry but Jonah said nothing of following anything lock step.

  29. Some people seem to be arguing with people in their head.

  30. John, et al,

    I don’t think Gillespie was addressing the poor quality of tradition. After all, Libertarianism to me seems very traditional in their support of the Constitution, which is about as tradditional as you can get in America. But the implications Goldberg was saying was that the tenets of conservatism is the Republican platform and what they deem to be “traditional”, not necessarily true tradition in alot of cases. After all, in ancient Greece, gay cohabitation was normal and possessed all the equivalent rights of marraige for the day, which Republicans feel is an affront to “traditional values”. Gillespie implied I believed that he had his own mind about what values were to be held, traditional or not, and if not following strict “republican traditional values” meant he could not be considered conservative, so be it.

    I think that was the implication of that particular exchange, but I’m no good with words, so I could be wrong. I feel we should honor the ancient tradition of grunting for communication.

  31. kohlrabi,

    Goldberg: “This idea that we can all be our own priests, that we can all define our own selves, that not just the state, but tradition and authority of any kind somehow should have no real sway over our lives.”

    I think this quote clearly implies that tradition should have an authoritative role over the individual such that the individual should have no choice but to follow tradition in an obedient manner. Thus, while the phrase “in lock step” may be a melodramatic way to paraphrase Goldberg, I don’t see how it’s inaccurate.

    Re-reading Goldberg’s quote reinforces my belief that Gillespie was right to stress the individual’s right to decide for himself. Of course, it largely comes down to what the nature of this “authority” is that Goldberg speaks of and how it is enforced.

    Either way, I should say that I personally think that libertarianism is not a part of the right. It clearly overlaps with the right and is not inherently at odds with it, but it is not some sort of subset of the right but rather stands apart from it as an independent point of view. Unless we use the word arbitrarily (which may very well be), conservatism is based on the notion that the way it was done before is better. The classic liberal view of individual rights is the one aspect of the past that libertarians are wedded to. As for the rest, libertarians are for allowing people to decide for themselves, within that framework. Decidedly not conservative, at least not strictly so, even if one advocates that tradition is bountiful in its ability to guide those decisions.

  32. kohlrabi,

    I think you have it backwards, Goldberg is the one erecting the straw man.

    “This idea that we can all be our own priests, that we can all define our own selves, that not just the state, but tradition and authority of any kind somehow should have no real sway over our lives.”

    If you listen to the entire debate it is clear that Goldberg is equating libertarians with libertines (strawman). Nick’s use of the word “lockstep” is directly to the point. Although Jonah doesn’t use that word, there is no ambiguity in his appeal to tradition while expressly rejecting the need for more substantive support.

    Jonah is saying, the fact that it is a tradition means that it should be respected. Nick retorts, you need to give me a better reason to respect something than “it’s a tradition”.

  33. i look again and I see how that’s kind of a stretch, in fact it looks nothing like the arguement, but i can’t imagine that Nick is trying to express anything but common sense, that tradition of the right defines the values of those who consider themselves to be a part of it lockstep. Nick advocates thinking and rationalization before agreement, so while he agrees with much that is traditional, he wants a period of time to decide for himself whether what is traditional is correct for him.

    Translation into Neanderthalic speech
    Ooog urgh uhuh mroo urnt mugh mugh

  34. Hmmm, re-reading Goldberg’s quote again, I’m confused. How can “authority” not “have [any] real sway” over people’s lives?

    That said, the operative word in Goldberg’s point about tradition is “sway” rather than “authority”. That said, I can see that perhaps Gillespie should have said that as long as government does not coerce the individual, libertarians have no problem allowing individuals to decide how much “sway” tradition will have over them.

    The more I examine Goldberg’s quote, the more I realize it largely comes down to semantics and that there really was no satisfactory way for Gillespie to answer other than to ask Goldberg to define his terms, which of course would have been very unsatisfactory. 🙂

  35. I think this quote clearly implies that tradition should have an authoritative role over the individual such that the individual should have no choice but to follow tradition in an obedient manner.

    Ok, but there’s “authority” that you follow voluntarily, because you value/trust/rely on its guidance, and there’s authority that will crack your head and throw you in jail if you don’t do what it says.

    For the former, you do have a choice, and I think by definition people have the choice of whether or not to follow traditions that are not ensconced in the law and enforced by the state.

    Things like private property and driving on the right side of the road are not really “traditions” – they are the law of the land.

    There is a difference. Its not hard to figure out whether a given pattern of behavior is based on “mere” tradition or on state enforcement/coercion.

    Frankly, I find the kind of lashing out at all forms of tradition and authority that some like to indulge in to be pretty adolescent, and one that does a lot to alienate potential allies from what should be our core mission of (re)establishing limited government.

  36. … libertarianism is not a part of the right. It clearly overlaps with the right and is not inherently at odds with it…

    fyodor,
    You think so? Where is this overlap? I can think of several issues we are inherently at odds over. Indeed, I can’t think of any we aren’t.

    Re: parsing the semantics,
    I think you are dwelling too closely on one quote. Listen to the whole debate. You will see that Jonah repeatedly says ‘authority and tradition’ and Nick repeatedly replies ‘Who’s authority? Which traditions?’

  37. Pig Mannix:

    For example, regard for private property rights is a tradition. There’s no inherent superiority of one man’s assertion that private property is sacrosanct, and another man’s assertion that all property is theft. There have been societies based on a tradition of private property, and societies based on a tradition of communal property. But obviously, a community of people, some of whom respected a tradition of private property, and others whose traditions included helping themselves to any random unused resources would come into conflict rather frequently.

    Okay, I’m going to go through this slowly, because it’s still escaping you. I remarked that traditions do not have intrinsic merit, and that some traditions may make sense and some may not. Your example above is perfect. Private property isn’t good because it’s a tradition (or not); it’s good because it benefits the greatest number of people most of the time. (One need only look at these specters of alternatives that you’ve raised in order to see the point.) We don’t seek as libertarians to enforce the former view because it’s our tradition, but because we’re committed to the prospect, borne of research and enough public policy debates to fill the Library of Congress, that most people will make the proper decisions about their own self-interest. To see the point, I urge you to look at any society that has tried to enforce consensus on how people live their daily lives. How has it worked?

    I fail to see how you’re getting around the argument, raised on this very thread, that adherence to tradition (or “shared understanding,” as you attempted to declaw it) results in anything remotely resembling justice. Fifty years ago, shared understanding meant that the African-Americans in this country sat at the back of the bus and drank out of separate water fountains because their spit was too dirty to mingle with the spit of us clean white folks. “Trial and error” established this as a traditional cultural consensus. Are you willing to admit you think this is a just process?

    As for that “trial and error”, you do realize that the very process is contradictory to tradition, right? “Trial and error” suggests that tradition is open to modification, which is the animus that prompted your long and somewhat incoherent rant against my earlier post. When does a “tradition” become established and impervious to further modification? When you decide that it is so? But isn’t this merely using the very reasonable faculties that I suggested in my post we should use to critique tradition?

    It’s really a rather simple concept. It’s amazing to me that more people don’t quite grasp it.

  38. Fyodor,

    “libertarians have no problem allowing individuals to decide how much “sway” tradition will have over them.”

    Exactly spot on.

    Anyway, Jonah did NOT make a strawman because he qualified by saying:

    “Those type of libertarians aren’t part of the right at all.”

    In which case he is right.

    Warren,

    I have not read the entire debate and look forward to it. Maybe the context will change my opinion, though given the excerpt here, I’d have to agree with Jonah. I think the idea that for me to support legalizing something, I also have to celebrate it is damaging to libertarianism and I think this is what Jonah is getting at. I can be an Orthodox Jew against porn and drugs and still think they should be legal. I’m no less Libertarian and I suppose I’m also conservative. Hence I’m politically liberal but culturally conservative.

  39. Movements that have tried to uproot traditions by fiat, traditions that have worked well over time, that have involved millions of dispersed actors in decision making and trial and error processes have not faired so well. I’m thinking of traditions such as the market, property rights and the common law, marriage, and religion, etc. Let’s compare the American Revolution to the French and Communist revolutions. The American Revolution sought to fulfill and further realize enlightenment processes and traditions begun earlier in Europe. And thus, it was highly successful. The French Revolution was a complete rejection of the old order, of the old traditions, and so were the later Communist Revolutions which also sought to ban religion, an important cohesive and stabilizing force in society. All those radical revolutions failed spectacularly. Libetarians, especially those influenced by Rand, would do well to remember this lesson.

    That being said, Chamberlain does have a point that because traditions have worked fairly well doesn’t mean that they are always right – as working well could in some cases mean they have worked well to keep some groups down. Perhaps these two ‘traditions’ need not be mutually exclusive- we should keep in mind the importance of how traditions represent the distilled wisdom of millions (paging Doctor Sowell) of people but also that our reliance on tradition should be weighed against our rational judge of the moral as well.

  40. Private property isn’t good because it’s a tradition (or not); it’s good because it benefits the greatest number of people most of the time.

    S.R,
    I just can’t let that stand. I agree with you that Pig Mannix is way off base. Especially the way he confuses the value of convention with the value of tradition. However, libertarians value individual liberty, and it can not be said that ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ is a libertarian value. Indeed libertarians explicitly reject such reasoning. For example, what if a cure for cancer was found, but it could only be manufactured by the human body and only under intense stress. Furthermore suppose that one individual, kept alive but continually tortured, could supply the medical needs of all mankind. Under a greatest good paradigm, it would be permissible, if not required, to torture a lone individual in order to alleviate the suffering of countless others. Such a solution could never be tolerated under a libertarian regime. It’s an interesting question of whether libertarians would even allow an individual to volunteer for the job.

  41. Yes mediageek, you are a dick, did I spell that correctly?

    I guess what bothers me most about Gillespie’s statement is that it was so poorly thought out. It just a cheap line given to get the applause of the masses. “Yeah man, I ain’t going to be bound by no tradition.” Whatever. Look at what Goldberg actually said, “that not just the state, but tradition and authority of any kind somehow should have no real sway over our lives.” Goldberg is not saying that tradition and cultural mores should be a tyranny. Rather that they should have some sway and authority, meaning we just don’t throw them out and defend anyone’s right to do anything for sake of libertarianism. If anything libertarianism is the affirmation of those mores and societal traditions over and above government coercion. There is a real argument to be made that governmental coercion makes individuals lazy and morally dependent on the government and laws to do things that civil society ought to be doing. You may not agree with that point, but that is what I think Goldberg was getting at and he deserved a better response then “If not following in lock step some kind of … tradition makes me not a member of the right, I’d rather be wrong.”

    And yes mediageek, you are a dick. Did I forget to mention that?

  42. John,
    You are flat out wrong. You are looking at two quotes out of context, that do in fact summarize both participants positions quite well, and parsing them too finely. Listen to the whole debate and you will hear how Jonah insists that libertarians reject all tradition and authority. To him Nick is a hypocrite for having traditions and values. In his mind, failing to uphold the same traditions as he does, is equivalent to rejecting all authority.

    Nick for his part, repeatedly states that there are traditions libertarians respect. However, he insists that they be respected for their merits and not simply because they’ve been bequeathed by tradition.

    “If not following in lock step some kind of bullshit tradition makes me not a member of the right, I’d rather be wrong.” – too right.

  43. Which is more fatiguing?
    Listening to people crying for political government to solve problems with roots in political government, or, trying to explain to them how those problems are rooted in political government.

  44. @ S.R. Chamberlain

    To see the point, I urge you to look at any society that has tried to enforce consensus on how people live their daily lives. How has it worked?

    Every society has to some degree enforced consensus on how people live their daily lives. They’re called “laws”. Show me a society that works without them.

    I fail to see how you’re getting around the argument, raised on this very thread, that adherence to tradition (or “shared understanding,” as you attempted to declaw it) results in anything remotely resembling justice. Fifty years ago, shared understanding meant that the African-Americans in this country sat at the back of the bus and drank out of separate water fountains because their spit was too dirty to mingle with the spit of us clean white folks. “Trial and error” established this as a traditional cultural consensus. Are you willing to admit you think this is a just process?

    a.) Explain why it’s unjust. And then explain where you acquired your theory of justice, and why it’s the “correct” theory of justice.

    b.) Trial and error got us from that point to this point.

    c.) For someone who’s opposed to the authority of shared understanding, you’re certainly relying heavily on it. You’re assuming that shared understanding is sufficient authority to prevent me from doing something audacious like mounting a defense of Jim Crow laws.

    d.) It was unjust only if you accept the axiom “all men are created equal”. If you’re looking for a political system that “works”, I’ll point out that feudalism was stable for over 1000 years. Feudalism, obviously, did not accept that axiom, and still had a run over 4 times longer than liberal democracy has had. Obviously, utility is not your criteria for justice.

    As for that “trial and error”, you do realize that the very process is contradictory to tradition, right? “Trial and error” suggests that tradition is open to modification, which is the animus that prompted your long and somewhat incoherent rant against my earlier post. When does a “tradition” become established and impervious to further modification?

    When did anyone suggest traditions are impervious to modification? I simply suggest that should an interested party or parties wish to do so, the burden of proof is on the party submitting the modification that said modification is an improvement.

    @ R C Dean

    Things like private property and driving on the right side of the road are not really “traditions” – they are the law of the land.

    How and why did they become laws? Did some legislator dream them up out of whole cloth, or did the laws reflect common practice?

  45. It’s not tradition qua tradition that libertarians reject, it’s lockstep qua lockstep that we reject. It’s amazing how many people presume to treat people like an unthinking being.
    It’s conservatives who are hypocrits for touting morality but propound law, for they are two different and not particularly compatible things.

  46. Our story so far…

    Assertion

    Quibble

    Irrelevant jargon- based postulation

    A priori claim unrelated to the facts of the case

    Quibble re: jargon

    Personal anecdote

    Irrelevant historical reference

    Tendentious assertion apropos of nothing

    Refutation of a priori claim

    Pedantic “clarification” of jargon

    Wholesale reinvention of jargon

    Pointless, snarky, “parody” from bored jackass

  47. Condescending summary from pompous blowhard that obscures important disagreements over the role of tradition

  48. Pig Mannix,
    You are actually speaking in support of Nick’s point. Nick’s point is that traditions are not to be followed blindly, but to allow them to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The scientific method is used not because scientists conspire to use that method based on pronouncements by Isaac Newton, but rather because the scientific method remains the best means to get scientific facts and truth.

    Jonah is operating from the belief that if it is a tradition, it’s good. Nick is operating from the belief that if it’s a good tradition, it will stand up to competition and win in the marketplace of ideas.

  49. @Mo

    Jonah is operating from the belief that if it is a tradition, it’s good. Nick is operating from the belief that if it’s a good tradition, it will stand up to competition and win in the marketplace of ideas.

    Take my example of the Americans who, by law and by custom, drive on the right-hand side of the road, as opposed to the British, who drive on the left-hand side of the road.

    Even granting that there’s no inherent superiority of one tradition over the other, how do you reasonably set up a competitive situation between the two?

    The point here is, while one tradition isn’t any inherently more “right” than the other, they’re disasterously incompatable.

    The moral of this story is “people can choose among past traditions for whichever one works best” is not necessarily always an option. In this particular case, the traditional approach makes sense for no other reason than that it *is* traditional – that is, people, through years of habit, will intuitively do the correct thing. And the fact that every driver on the road shares the same set of assumptions about the “correct” side of the road to drive on (blindly following lock-step tradition) prevents a lot of mayhem.

    So, yes, while it isn’t universally applicable, Goldberg has a point. There are traditions that are good simply by virtue of being traditions.

    Too bad that point doesn’t make a particularily good bumper sticker.

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