Libertarian History/Philosophy

Doherty on Libertarianism's Biggest Enemy(ies)

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Over at Cato Unbound, Reason Senior Editor and Radicals for Capitalism author Brian Doherty starts off a discussion of libertarianism's past and future. A snippet:

The biggest enemy of the libertarian is both optimism and pessimism: short-term optimism that, whether through moral passion or scientific certainty that the state's actions just cannot go on much longer, makes one so mad for libertarian victory now that any setbacks lead to despair and surrender-and long-term pessimism that refuses to see the enormous strides over centuries toward a more libertarian world of contract over status, of ordered liberty over unbridled tyranny, of individual choice over state pressure, and to recognize that the principles of free minds and free markets are most suited to making a rich and varied and lovable world, and thus are likely to triumph in the long term.

Read the whole thing here.

And when you're done with that, check out this fun Radar Q&A with Brian, doing his best Bernard Henri-Levy with the shirt and all (see pic to the right).

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  1. refuses to see the enormous strides over centuries toward a more libertarian world of contract over status, of ordered liberty over unbridled tyranny, of individual choice over state pressure,

    True enough, but I have a hard time seeing any strides in the West in general in recent decades, with very few exceptions.

  2. “Swarthy” would be the most charitable way to describe that photo.

    “Steve Buscemi creepy” would be the least.

  3. Happy (belated?) Birthday, Timothy!

  4. Everything I hear about RoC makes it sound good but I have a serious concern.

    Does the book focus solely on people?
    What about issues? We’re a movement committed to ideas, right?

    It’s the ideas that are going to make the world either rich and free or hell on earth.

  5. If Doherty is going to continue to rock the open-shirt look, the REASON staff should all chip in and buy him a chest-merkin.

  6. COOP- Nah, chicks dig the smooth-chested look these days.

    At least that’s what I tell myself.

  7. R C
    Off the top of my head;
    No more draft
    Airline Deregulation
    Telecommunication Deregulation

    And then there’s Nicks point about how the culture has been rolling more libertarian
    If you’re black
    If you’re a woman
    If you’re gay
    things are much better now

    And then there’s the technodeterminism point of view.
    Cell phones and this here interweb have given us far more choices over what we read and listen to.

    Sure the draft ended over thirty years ago, and there are some big caveats to the deregulation. On the whole though you still have to step back and see that things are a lot better.

  8. The biggest enemy of the libertarian is

    …the shirtless vest.

  9. Hey, back off the B-Doh! It was a Halloween party and he was going as Michael Hutchence.

  10. First glance, I saw “Doherty” and the pic of the poorly dressed man with the unruly mop of hair. I thought, cool, Reason’s got something on Pete Doherty.
    Nope, same ol’, same ol’.
    Still cool, except for the pic.

  11. You guys are killin’ me. While I did not specifically choose or provide that photo to RADAR–they apparently found it randomly floating on the Internet—I stand by it proudly.
    Trained Assassin—the book, I think, does a thorough job at both telling the stories of libertarian thinkers and institutions and explaining what they believe and why.

  12. We’re so far from libertopia, and there’s so many obvious defeats for it everyday, that it’s easy to be cynical about libertarianism’s future. But history moves only slightly faster than the Grand Canyon was carved, and over the long haul things have indeed moved in the direction of greater liberty for the human inhabitants of our big round rock, and I think that’s likely to keep going, even if the progress is obscured by 999 steps backward for every 1000 forward!!

  13. Michael Hutchence? the guy from inxs???

    that’s even more embarassing than wearing that outfit as part of your everyday wardrobe.

  14. that’s even more embarassing than wearing that outfit as part of your everyday wardrobe.

    Why? Still too soon?

  15. STEPHEN THE GOLDBERGER,

    A party’s not a party unless it ends with a nice autoerotic asphyxiation session.

  16. The biggest enemy of the libertarian is both optimism and pessimism…

    At least we still have cynicism.

  17. B-Doh,

    I’ve got your back on the Hutchence look, but the Tuxedo-No-Bow Tie thing the LAist used has got to go!

  18. Whenever I drink and chill, I do the same thing with my pants that Brian does with his shirt.

  19. But…but…I was about to PUT ON the bow tie! Photog (my lovely assistant Cloe) just caught me a bit too early.
    The Hutchins thing was a joke. I was merely dressed for quasi-comfort in a hot, damp environment in Texas off of a pal’s pile of thrift scores at a Burning Manesque event. Special reason ref: the dixie cup is (or was) filled with absinthe…

  20. The biggest threat to libertarianism is that you guys don’t seem to grasp that it’s a philosophy that’s only attractive to people who either have lots of money or expect to in the future.

  21. Ooooh, I tried absinthe a few weeks ago. I did not see the green fairy, but I would not shut up about wanting to see the green fairy.

  22. MY EYES! MY EYES! AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGG!

  23. The biggest threat to libertarianism is that you guys don’t seem to grasp that it’s a philosophy that’s only attractive to people who either have lots of money or expect to in the future.

    Funny, that leaves me out.

  24. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said “lots” of money, but enough to sit around during the day posting on blogs.

  25. To my great shame, when I see “Doherty” in the headline, I think, that Charmed chick has a book out?

  26. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said “lots” of money, but enough to sit around during the day posting on blogs.

    So that should put you right in the prime constituency, Dan T.

  27. The biggest threat to libertarianism is that you guys don’t seem to grasp that it’s a philosophy that’s only attractive to people who either have lots of money or expect to in the future.

    For some reason the people in real life I see like this are Communists or some other form of Leftist. I could be wrong about that wealthy San Francisco crowd and just be ignorant of all of the Libertarians out there.

  28. For some reason the people in real life I see like this are Communists or some other form of Leftist. I could be wrong about that wealthy San Francisco crowd and just be ignorant of all of the Libertarians out there.

    I didn’t say that if you had money, you’d necessarily be a libertarian. But it’s a philosophy that worships the power of property ownership and disdains any attempt to limit that power, so naturally not many poor people are likely to find it very appealing.

  29. Vital statistics on Doherty’s snippet:

    Words: 113
    Periods: 1

    I think the stats speak for themselves.

  30. Dan T.,

    I guess you could be right. But I thought this same way when I was poor as I do now that I am “comfortable” and a paycheck or two away from “poor”.

    Actually, my last stint at being poor reenforced the libertarian in me.

  31. I don’t know Dan,

    Every day, I am confronted with the effort the government puts into keeping poor people poor.

    I’m right now trying to start my own business – all the bullshit federal and state rules for insurance, protection money and the like are going to delay my getting a positive ROI by at least 6 months.

    Thank god I’m in a relatively unregulated line of business. If I was trying to open up a barbershop, or a massage parlor or a hot-dog stand, I would need I think at least ten thousand dollars to throw away on administrative costs.

    It’s comical how people think that an progressive income tax taxes the rich – when what it taxes are the people who are trying to become rich – i.e. the poor who are trying to better their lot.

  32. FWIW, I don’t disagree at all that the government sometimes works to keep poor people poor, although it also serves to keep them from being too poor, if that makes any sense.

  33. refuses to see the enormous strides over centuries toward a more libertarian world of contract over status, of ordered liberty over unbridled tyranny, of individual choice over state pressure,

    You know, this really deserves some honest debate. Everytime I start to agree with this, I want to say “On the other hand…” Conversely, evertime I start to disagree with the statement above, I’m equally drawn to say “On the other hand…”

    Off the top of my head, I would argue that yes, in the west, we’ve had a strong increase in “Freedom from” liberties, but a sharp decline in “freedom to” liberties. Where the balance lies, I have no idea. I would argue that this is precisely why libertarians feel conflicting emotions of elation and despair.

  34. The biggest threats to libertarianism are misapprehensions among people in general about opportunity cost and risk analysis.

    Libertarianism is appealing to those who feel like they can be better off in the future – which should be everyone. I heard a guy on NPR comment about Russia’s slide thusly “If you give people a choice between a free press and free sausages, they will of course choose free sausages.” There is almost no axis along which this preference reflects an objective benefit over medium or longer time frame.

  35. Dan T,

    I’m sorry if we haven’t done a good job of outreach to the contrarian troll constituency. We’ll endeavor to bring you guys into the tent from now on.

  36. “Hey, back off the B-Doh! It was a Halloween party and he was going as Michael Hutchence.”

    I thought all you needed to dress like Michael Hutchence was a rope around your neck and your jumblies hanging out.

  37. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you guys are the contrarian community.

  38. it’s a philosophy that’s only attractive to people who either have lots of money or expect to

    There’s something to your claim. It’s not money per se, but the more a person has confidence he or she can deal with life successfully as an independent individual, the more appealing libertarianism is.

    You could probably map out the human population onto a bell curve with uber self-confident people on one end, and people who feel highly dependent on others on the other end. The libertarians I know tend to be either highly self-confident or really into some particular activity that happens to be illegal.

    The bell curve I posit above is why I think its a waste of time for purist libertarians to hold out for a perfectly libertarian society. Probably the best we could convince the vast majority of people to accept would be about 80% freedom/20% safety net.

  39. I call foul on the Hutchence mockery (not the Doherty mockery). That guy has one of the most horrific celebrity stories I’ve ever encountered. He gets a pass for everything else he may have done just for living the last months of his life. Ugh.

  40. I call foul on the Hutchence mockery (not the Doherty mockery). That guy has one of the most horrific celebrity stories I’ve ever encountered. He gets a pass for everything else he may have done just for living the last months of his life. Ugh.

    So,
    1. It is too soon.
    2. I don’t know anything about this other than how he was found. From the way you react, I think I would like to keep it that way.

  41. Dan T,

    Do you sincerely not know what “contrarian” means, or are you just being contrarian about it? It does not mean merely holding an unpopular opinion — it means reflexively opposing whatever the prevailing opinion is.

  42. Hmm, on second thought, if you’re a person who lacks self-confidence, and someone opens your eyes to what a scary jungle big government can be (being drafted, being audited by the IRS, getting stuck in Walter Reed Hospital, etc.), you might not think a libertarian world is so bad.

  43. highnumber:

    It isn’t too soon, but man that guy had a rough spot. If my True Hollywood recall is correct, it went something like this:

    He was hit by a car in … Amsterdam? … and wound up with brain damage. His pleasure interpreting center was damaged, causing the world through all senses to be ‘dull and lifeless’. He went around for a while trying to spike it with drugs, then killed himself. I didn’t google or anything, but I know E! wouldn’t lie to me …

  44. Mike,

    As a good friend of mine suggests: “Libertarians would win if everybody who proposed a regulation had to first be arrested then spend one night in jail. They need to understand what the force of law means.”

  45. JasonL,

    That’s not really sordid at all, as I feared.
    It’s sad.

  46. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you guys are the contrarian community.

    Speaking for the regulars– if I may– we resemble that remark.

  47. and wound up with brain damage. His pleasure interpreting center was damaged, causing the world through all senses to be ‘dull and lifeless’.

    Hmm, sounds like a confrence of Vegetarian Environmentalists.

  48. So after his pleasure center was damaged he was left looking for a new senasation?

    As for E!, why would trust anyone who would have you believe that Tara Reid is “hot” and “entertaining” and qualified to “host” a “show?”

  49. No more draft
    Airline Deregulation
    Telecommunication Deregulation

    Alright, I’ll give you those two, and throw in the deregulation of the common carriers and the restoration of (certain) gun rights at the state level.

    I suspect, however, that the regulatory state is a hell of a lot bigger now than it was in the ’60s, before all that happened.

    And then there’s Nicks point about how the culture has been rolling more libertarian
    If you’re black
    If you’re a woman
    If you’re gay
    things are much better now

    See, I see libertarianism as a philosophy about the role of the state. Its great that the culture is getting more tolerant of some things, and some of these are even paralleled by the elimination of legal discrimination. However, to my mind the key libertarian issue is whether state-sponsored intolerance is up or down.

    I think, in general, our civil liberties are in worse shape now than they were 40 years ago. SWAT teams, routinized random searches, speech codes and M-F, the escalated WOD, PATRIOT, etc.

    And then there’s the technodeterminism point of view. Cell phones and this here interweb have given us far more choices over what we read and listen to.

    Again, that’s all great, and I love the triumph of the marketplace as much as the next guy, but these advances outside the state sphere do nothing to diminish our increasing subjection to the state.

  50. I trust Doherty is the only Reason staffer who waxes his chest.

  51. “The biggest threat to libertarianism is that you guys don’t seem to grasp that it’s a philosophy that’s only attractive to people who either have lots of money or expect to in the future.”

    Indeed, I think libertarians are prone to an amoral, Darwinist, “greed is good” attitude that they mistake for libertarianism itself. The principle of “ordered liberty,” as conceived by the Founders, is premised on the idea that a virtuous citizenry, which honors the two Greatest Commandments, is essential to a free society. (Brookhiser’s biography of Washington, Founding Father, makes this point well, that true self-government begins with each individual citizen’s government of his own soul.)

    Libertarianism is the salutary rejection of all unnecessary government coercion, along with all other forms of unjust coercion. It’s founded on the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. We undercut that foundation, and make ourselves unappealing, when, in a misguided effort to demonstrate our libertarian bona fides, we talk and act like selfish hedonistic bastards or speak with disrespect and unconcern for the poor.

    I agree that government and government handouts are not the solution for the poor. But central to the libertarian concern, as it was to those who led the American Revolution, are taxes, and the justice or injustice of the coercive taking of property that they entail. Liberty is tied to property, but this tie is closer the less property an individual has. These truths support lower overall government spending and taxing, but also more “progressiveness” in the taxes we do have (e.g. in the form of a much higher standard income tax deduction, and the replacement of other sources of tax revenue with inheritance taxes, which are among the most progressive taxes of all). The Darwinists among us have a kneejerk reaction to progessive taxation, as it calls to mind the collectivist goal of redistribution. But this is not a matter of taking from the richer to give to the poorer, but of taking from the richer instead of the poorer.

    But alas, libertarian rhetoric typically obsesses with impediments in the way of the Randian superman, and not so much on the grievous assault on liberty that occurs each time the government confiscates big chunks of a working man’s (or small businessman’s) hard-earned labor. Democrats are known as advocates of the working man and as proponents of progressive taxation, but they don’t want so much to reduce the tax burden on the poor and middle class as they want to tax the hell out of everybody, and then give bits and pieces back to the poor in the form of government handouts.

    Who’s advocating a progressive libertarianism, which seems like it would appeal to a vast number of Americans, particularly Americans who vote? Pretty much nobody. Sounds like a wide-open opportunity for an ambitous political movement to me.

  52. “I trust Doherty is the only Reason staffer who waxes his chest.”

    I’ve heard that Nick Gillespie has a seven-inch taint.

  53. COOP,

    It’s insane, that guy’s taint!

  54. I trust Doherty is the only Reason staffer who waxes his chest.

    What about Cathy Young?

  55. …Texas off of a pal’s pile of thrift scores at a Burning Manesque event…

    Flipside?

  56. I don’t being poor or rich has got much to do with attractiveness to libertarianism – especially since most libertarians I know are on the lower income side of life. “Self confidence” is probably close to the mark. I might add that I think it has something to do with your degree of how much you lead your life based on fear or not. People who are very fear-based, poor or rich, seem to lean favorably towards the idea that an all powerful and wise state should be ready to catch them if they fall, never mind the actual record of that state or the various inefficiencies (or corruption) in the delivery of that safety bonnet.

  57. “that guy’s taint.”

    I say, “runway.”

  58. John Kindley – That was the most thoughtful examination of what I have often thought of as one of the only problems with libertarianism. Thanks for concisely putting my meandering thoughts on the subject where I could cut and paste them for future reference. Thanks!

  59. Taint reference explained:

    Mr. Show with Bob and David, Episode 28, Season 4, 11/30/98, It’s insane, this guys taint

    “Now open those legs for me… wider!… wider!!..woah not that wide kid” – photo guy
    “Fuck yeah that wide!!!! That part of his body has more personality than his whole face” – Gary, “Taint” magazine publisher
    “Gary, we can already see his bing-bong and his flabby-habby-babby” – Photo guy
    “I’m not talking about his cock and his ass imbecile. I want that… the taint.” – Gary

    “This is our latest discovery, Max Packer. He’s got something quite special” – Gary
    “I’ve got a five inch taint.” – Max
    “It’s insane, this guys taint.” – Gary

    Basically a goof on Boogie Nights. V, v funny.

    John Kindly,

    You’re more eloquent than I could ever dream to be. Well said.

  60. Suggested caption for Brian D’s photo:

    “Frampton Comes Alive!”

  61. Rob and de stijl,

    Thanks for the “Amens”! It’s encouraging to know others feel the same way about libertarianism. There’s hope for us yet!

  62. Of course, as Brian D. drives home tonight, he’ll be thinking, “Ha ha, assholes! Angela Keaton’s face nuzzles against this chest!”

  63. “We undercut that foundation, and make ourselves unappealing, when, in a misguided effort to demonstrate our libertarian bona fides, we talk and act like selfish hedonistic bastards or speak with disrespect and unconcern for the poor.”

    Who is ‘we’? Doesn’t this rest on a ‘false supposition’? That an opposition to government taxation in any form is ‘coterminous'(just had to use it once myself) with lack of concern for the poor? Perhaps I believe that the ‘poor’ – not a static body but a collection of individuals who move up or down the income scale – are best helped through other social means, other than any sort of ‘taxation’, progressive or otherwise. But if we are going to have taxation, I submit that a sales tax on all items excepting food and medicine is much fairer to all, including the poor, as it treats people with dignity, as agents of choice, rather than as helpless blank slates.

    “The Darwinists among us have a kneejerk reaction to progessive taxation, as it calls to mind the collectivist goal of redistribution. But this is not a matter of taking from the richer to give to the poorer, but of taking from the richer instead of the poorer.”

    You don’t have to be a social darwinist to oppose so-called ‘progressive’ taxation. There could be other reasons: problems with efficiency, bureaucracy, etc. Also, you are conflating ‘social darwinism’ here with objections to ‘redistributive schemes.’ I might object to redistributive schemes not because I believe in survival of the fittest but for other reasons, such as some of those mentioned above as well as their coercive nature or that while it is virtuous for better off people to show generosity it is no virtue to take from their stash to give to others.

    “But alas, libertarian rhetoric typically obsesses with impediments in the way of the Randian superman, and not so much on the grievous assault on liberty that occurs each time the government confiscates big chunks…”

    “Typically”? Not here I don’t think. Sources?

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