Libertarian History/Philosophy

Cato's Tom Palmer on Libertarianism or Liberty

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The roundtable on libertarianism's past, present, and prospects continues over at Cato Unbound, triggered by my new book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement and by my essay "Libertarianism: Past and Prospects." Brink Lindsey and Tyler Cowen had already weighed in; now Cato's Tom Palmer does.

In Palmer's estimation, my book focuses too much on uninfluential kooks, and my essay doesn't provide cogent enough answers to what the best strategy for libertarian progress is, relying too much on gushy ecumenicism. I'll be replying to Palmer and the others at length later on Cato Unbound itself; in the meantime, an excerpt from his essay for your delectation:

At the root of what I see as Brian's error is a confusion of two related projects: the promotion of liberty and the promotion of libertarianism, i.e., the theory that liberty should be the primary (or overriding) goal of a political order. The latter, to the extent one should want to promote it, would be valuable not for its own sake (unless promoting political theories were one's hobby), but solely as a means to the end of promoting liberty, the value that is at the center of libertarianism. One way to promote liberty is surely to promote libertarianism, but it's surely also not the only way.

The question of whether one is promoting liberty or libertarianism has been with libertarians for some time. Is it "selling out" one's principles to promote incremental moves toward liberty without announcing at the same time one's commitment to a world completely free of coercion, or of the institutions of coercion? (I was a participant in that debate [pdf] — somewhat to my embarrassment three decades later — when I wrote several essays on the topic in various 1970s journals, including the Libertarian Forum.)

A quick preview of my eventual response: I was quite consciously writing a history, as my book's title says, of the self-conscious libertarian movement, which is, as Palmer rightly notes, different from a history of libertarian ideas and their progress. My new essay today on Reason Online on the death of various "isms" touches on this idea–the distinctions between ideological movements and ideas–from a different perspective.

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  1. Will there be a response to Raimondo ?

  2. Eric–Probably on the dedicated Radicals for Capitalism blog when I have time to write it…but my big point would be: my book does not have the thesis that Justin thinks it has. (In fact, I maintain my book’s purpose is not to prove a thesis, but tell a story and explain some interesting thinkers and activists.)

  3. In fact, I maintain my book’s purpose is not to prove a thesis, but tell a story and explain some interesting thinkers and activists.)

    Just like porn! All beauty and no plot 🙂

    I really need to get this book.

  4. this thread is lacking
    these comments seem so boring
    what is it missing?

  5. now it seems better
    Brian’s book sounds really great
    goes on my wish list

  6. Some HFCS
    maybe our good friend Jean Bart
    and Noam Chomsky doll.

  7. Through haiku’s power,
    Libertarianism shall
    conquer all its evil foes.

  8. Through haiku’s power
    Libertarianism shall
    conquer all its foes

  9. I have to inquire
    What’s deal with Noam Chomsky?
    You keep bringing up.

  10. these haikus show the
    disturbingly seductive
    allure of groupthink

  11. Noam is leftist swine
    So we make blow-up doll we
    Violate day, night.

  12. Why do you ask, Geek?
    do you need a companion?
    Noam Chomsky’s lonely

  13. he mentions groupthink
    while he also writes haiku
    built your house of glass?

  14. Straight? Try Hillary
    All who saw her camel toe
    Were awed by its size

  15. Noam the blow up doll
    for humping and fond’ling libs
    heather has two moms.

  16. You all perturb me
    With your corn syrup and Noam.
    I pass on offer.

  17. Haikus about old
    women’s private parts not right
    They sicken reader

  18. hey i said it was
    disturbingly seductive
    you motherfucker

  19. Rhythmic beat in brain
    from reading so much haiku
    triggering seizure.

  20. jimmy, the longer
    You frequent Hit and Run blog,
    More you’ll understand.

  21. Ai carramba! Yikes!
    Still with the haiku highjinx?
    Must…stop…but…can’t…stop!

  22. I never fuck mothers,
    Except at goldberger house,
    I make exception.

  23. Steven’s mother is
    Disturbingly seductive
    I am bound for hell

  24. Apologize to
    stephen above, I thought you
    Were addressing me!

  25. The implication
    Old women, not seductive
    Betrays narrow mind

  26. Stephen, I’m sorry.
    I did not mean to provoke you.
    Go easy on me.

  27. shit, I fucked it up.
    hara-kiri is my fate.
    self-immolation

  28. Old women sexy
    To man with well-rounded mind?
    May mine stay narrow!

  29. Emmylou Harris
    gets more and more beautiful
    as she gets older

  30. I think the way to respond to Palmer’s response is to point out that those who wish to make incremental moves in the direction of liberty will probably find their work easier going if others are making a strident case for liberty as an end.

    Even a cursory reading of western intellectual history makes it apparent that the center moves “incrementally” in the direction of the best-organized and most coherent extreme. The United States moved politically “incrementally” in the direction of the left during the decades when progressivism had the most active extreme, and it moved back when the right had the most active extreme. Was Goldwater not more useful going down to flaming defeat as an extremist than he would have been losing a closer election as some sort of Dewey clone?

  31. i forgive your quip
    because although it was harsh
    twas funny as well

  32. poor fluffy does not
    see now is not the time for
    intelligent thought

  33. Mature and curvy,
    Hotter than young skin and bones.
    Eye of beholder.

  34. I am too terminally occidental for haiku.

    Also I can’t count syllables.

    Pity me and my sterile soul.

  35. Who is E. Harris?
    Hope I’ve not ogled old flesh,
    Not knowing its age.

  36. Is it me or does
    Sex come up in every thread?
    Or maybe it’s both?

  37. alt-country singer
    made famous by Gram Parsons
    she has silver hair

  38. Googled her photos,
    Will save for use in decades.
    Just kidding, that’s sick.

  39. Is it “selling out” one’s principles to promote incremental moves toward liberty without announcing at the same time one’s commitment to a world completely free of coercion, or of the institutions of coercion?

    Am I a sell-out because I prefer incremental moves toward liberty and announce that I’m commited to a world without coercive institutions, but don’t believe that humanity will be ready for such for centuries? Or does that make me a conservative libertarian? (I fear the consequences of radical change. Radical change should be reserved for extreme situations.)

  40. Forgot about Cubs,
    Who today play South Siders.
    Must switch to TV.

  41. Old? Raquel, Anne-Margret,
    Sophia Loren. These old
    Ladies I would bang.

  42. cubbies defeat sox
    tale as old as time is long
    07 our year

  43. What is more wrong than
    Babe with “juicy” on diaper?
    Old woman with same.

  44. I can name two more.
    These two are even older.
    One is Eartha Kitt.

    If Lauren Bacall
    was feeling lonely one night
    I would share my bed.

  45. This is the Cubs’ year?
    I have heard that one before.
    I’ll still take the Sox.

  46. Guzman getting shelled.
    Mark pitching in Little League.
    Only Spring Training?

  47. Just noticed something:
    No female comments today.
    I wonder why?

  48. Oops:

    Just noticed something:
    No female comments today.
    Hmm. I wonder why?

  49. damn, sox are home team
    means this game is in Tucson
    Nick M. should be there

  50. Didn’t notice it,
    Observant fellow poster.
    Don’t chicks dig haikus?

  51. gawd i hate the cubs
    can’t even win a spring game
    football season yet?

  52. I heard Eartha Kitt sing “Mad About The Boy”
    when I was 12.

    For 40 years I have wanted to be The Boy.

  53. I was just having a dicussion with an illiberal democrat (a real asshole) who had this to say in reponse to my desire to see (L) be “allowed” to participate in the ’08 campaign debates.

    Libertarians are anarchists? Nah…

    Thoughts? Haikus?

    Message 63 of 66
    Subject: Re: news item 1
    Date: 3/16/2007 5:35 P.M. US Mountain Standard Time
    From: Rdbchar@aol.com
    MsgId: 491603:356833

    Only an idiot can believe in Libertarians. They are simplistic thinkers and are only capable of tearing down that which they cannot fully understand or deal with. It is ironic in the context of this post, but the Libertarians are probably the true anarchists.

  54. Libertarian groupthink is always so ironic

  55. Only an idiot can believe in Libertarians. They are simplistic thinkers and are only capable of tearing down that which they cannot fully understand or deal with

    I haven’t crossed the line fully (at this point a GW Conservative is a pariah everywhere) but it is disturbing to see this sentiment from liberals and conservatives alike. It is almost invariably followed by strawmen about grandmothers starving in the street while some fat guy in a tuxedo and tophet masturbates on a pile of cash stolen from an orphanage and uses it to fund his methamphetamine production company.

  56. I might have known Tom Palmer in a past life. If he had a complete set of enclyclopedias in German and English and a free ride to USC, it just might be the same guy. Been wondering for a long time.

  57. I don’t see the incrementalists and the absolutist extremists as necessarily mutually groups, antagonistic towards each other. When they are most effective, they cooperate in a sort of good cop/bad cop sort of way.

  58. Props Brian.

    Slowly making my way through the book and loving it.

    I find most ironic, and sad, that libertarians – who ideally just want everyone to get along rationally – have never managed to do that amongst themselves.

  59. Palmer’s take on the book exemplifies the problem schema theory points out: everyone brings in their own perspective, biases, training, ideas, personal history, etc. to the text they read; therefore they quite often miss the point the author was trying to make.

  60. The in fighting is ridiculous. At least get influence first. I enjoy reading Rothbard, but trying to implement policies based on his philosophy is like advocating gay marriage in Colonial America.

    I don’t think principles should be compromised, but integrated. The Neo-Libertarians (or D.C. Libertarians as I say) are really evincing something that seems to plague ideologies that are not organic: endorsement of force. I thought of all ideologies that obtain power, libertarianism had a self-check on the use of force.

    And the Free State project seems to be a failure.

    Pretty soon libertarian factionalism will rival the leftists.

  61. edit: “mutually” should be “mutually exclusive”

  62. Btw, Brian, great article about the so-called death of neo-liberalism. Wonderful phrasing. And Brooks once again misses the boat; good to see him handed his hat, er rope, or something.

  63. Just my two cents: I don’t see any “infighting” in the discussion. Brian has written a terrific book. He wrote a provocative essay for Cato Unbound that contained some statements I think are to sweeping. I commented on that for purposes of getting a discussion going. Where’s the infighting?

  64. Sorry, that’s “too sweeping.”

  65. Just my two cents: I don’t see any “infighting” in the discussion. Brian has written a terrific book. He wrote a provocative essay for Cato Unbound that contained some statements I think are to sweeping. I commented on that for purposes of getting a discussion going. Where’s the infighting?

    You got a point. I jumped the gun in my previous post.

  66. “those who wish to make incremental moves in the direction of liberty will probably find their work easier going if others are making a strident case for liberty as an end.”

    Only if the former can sufficiently dissociate themselves from the latter in observers’ minds.

    As to Tom Palmer, former life, hell, I ran into him a few times in this life in the late 1970s & early ’80s.

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