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The denominational disagreements about what qualifies as a commandment in the famous “Ten Sayings” (known today as “The Ten Commandments”), strike me as peculiar, to say the least. As a public service, I here break down Exodus 20, from the King James Version, trying to come up with a count.

Only three of the commandments give us counting problems: the Graven Image prohibition, the Sabbath set, and the final commandment, on Covetousness. Compare traditional breakdowns (see “The Ten Commandments List“) with mine, below.

As I read it, there are 14 separate words or  phrases of command. (I have bolded those commands.) One of them strikes me (but not Catholics) as an obvious rhetorical repetition. The others strike me as distinct commands, worthy of separate attention. I have placed the Lord’s explanatory passages in red type: these are not commands, but statements that give more weight to the commands. The sub-heads are my interpolations into the text.

 

DECLARATION:

And God spake all these words, saying, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

COMMANDMENTS:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee
    1. any graven image, or
    2. any likeness of any thing that is
      1. in heaven above, or
      2. that is in the earth beneath, or
      3. that is in the water under the earth:
  3. thou shalt not
    1. bow down thyself to them, nor
    2. serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  4. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  5. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  6. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
  7. but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work,
    1. thou, nor
    2. thy son, nor
    3. thy daughter, nor
    4. thy manservant, nor
    5. thy maidservant, nor
    6. thy cattle, nor
    7. thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  8. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  9. Thou shalt not kill.
  10. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  11. Thou shalt not steal.
  12. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  13. Thou shalt not covet
    1. thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet
    2. thy neighbour’s wife, nor
    3. his manservant, nor
    4. his maidservant, nor
    5. his ox, nor
    6. his ass, nor
    7. any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

REVELATORY CONTEXT:

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

Lustration

I just placed a new word into my vocabulary.

TheIndependents

The Independents, a new libertarian show on Fox Business, is fun and infuriating. Fun, because hostess Kennedy is a saucy minx, co-host Matt Welch is always prepared, and co-host Kmele Foster is often extremely articulate and wise. Infuriating, because they cannot quite manage to have rational debate with those with whom they disagree (Kennedy, especially, too often interrupts others in the course of argument), and the format of the show often trivializes subjects by skimming over them once, hastily, as if with spatula on cream.

I mostly blame the medium. In-depth anything on TV is almost impossible. John Stossel, on his show (Stossel) tries, but most fail. I guess they lack the courage of our attentions, afraid of PBS Involuntary Yawning Syndrome.

Tonight, it was an episode focused on one issue: are libertarians nuts? This self-abuse could’ve been fun, if carried out relentlessly. But the need for witless guests (the Fox talking hair extension whose opinions on drug legalization were almost incoherent is a great, sad example) spoiled the affair. Not enough Jonathan Haidt, no need for the “Party panel.”

The on-the-street interviews were good, though, as far as they went, and I think this is where Kennedy excels as a journalist. And comedian.

And, give credit: the night’s “On the Couch” skit was hilarious, perhaps the funniest thing they’ve yet done. (Fox has not released official video clips from the episode, yet, which is why I include none here.)

But the biggest lost opportunity was regarding the Somalia Gambit, the persistent statist meme that accuses libertarians of not owning up to something they have no responsibility for: the state of the non-state society of Somalia. They laughed at the video, give them that:

Payoff? None. No discussion. Nothing substantive. Nothing, say, like this:

But what gripes me is this “anti-government” meme. Libertarians are not against government. Not even self-designated “anarcho-capitalists” are. Constitutionalists are for limited government by separation of powers. Minarchists are for limited government — by contract within a territory. “Anarchists” are for limited government, also by contract, but without established borderlines, with competition between providers of governmental services lacking any franchise territory. What libertarians are against is unlimited government, government in excess of dose, of unlimited scope and purview.

Somalia, sans a state, works remarkably well by customary law. It is far more prosperous than people think, and many of the problems in the land are caused by periodic attempts by outsiders to establish a state. Major corporations have moved in and seem to be reasonably well-behaved.

But I’m unaware of contractual government in Somalia. There are many contractual relationships. But how contractual are the relationships among folk and those who provide security, legal services, etc? As I understand it, the market is underdeveloped.

Maybe, if First World nations and the United Effing Nations can keep their blood-stained mitts off of Somalia, something a like a libertarian paradise would emerge. For now, though, the beleaguered territory lacks a number of government institutions that every libertarian I know wants.

The problem behind the charge? It’s twofold.

First, libertarians do not consistently distinguish between institutions of government (which they like, if properly formed) and The State, a “monopolistic” institution that bullies its way to establish sovereignty in a region, and invariably engages in mass expropriation as modus operandi. Too infrequently libertarians marshal the hormesis idea, that government is a good drug in small doses and dangerous poison in larger doses. So people think we are “against government.” They are misled by sloppy thinking and ill-conceived rhetoric amongst libertarians.

Second, statists of the liberals-progressive variety so hysterically lust for ever-increasing dollops of government on their social sundae that they themselves often miss the most important elements of libertarian reasoning. And thus they misinterpret libertarian fear and anger at poisonous doses of intrusive government as hatred of any and all government.

Of course, the existence of putative “anarchists” in the movement — people who oppose The State but not institutional governmental services — lends justification for statist error.

And there is nothing we can do about this, since the “anarchy” meme is deep in the libertarian tradition. Many deny that the term is misleading. (Most of my friends, for example.) For these folks, treating the State as Enemy justifies the term. Not a few get their jollies by the coolness factor they think the term bequeaths them. It makes them seem more “lefty” than they are.

In my opinion, however, what libertarian have to offer is more interesting than anarchy. But such nomenclature disputes rarely move anyone to change a habit.

So, we will have to live with repeated barrages of the  Somalia Gambit, and we will have to blame some of our own.

The recent “Ban ‘Bossy’” campaign is a fine example of clueless modern uplift and feminist-influenced do-goodism. That is, it is idiotic.

Jesse Walker, writing at Reason, makes a case for common sense:

You might be able to convince me that the term “bossy” gets applied to girls more than boys. But it’ll be hard to make me believe that people across the country are telling bossy boys they’re budding leaders. Teachers and other school staff tend to find that sort of behavior disruptive, and as for the kids — well, they’re certainly capable of following the lead of other children, both male and female, but in my experience they’re not prone to throwing around the l-word. In any event, bossiness and leadership are not the same thing.

Beyond that: Of all the things kids call each other, is bossy really one we want to discourage? Call me a crazy anarchist, but social pressure against bossing people around strikes me as a good thing.

The eloquent Mr. Walker is so sensible that I almost hate to expand on his points. But I think the witlessness of the bossy-obsessed ninnies is in danger of getting lost here. As near as I can make out, they are not a little bit wrong, they are wholly off-point.

“Bossy” is a cute word, and thus appropriate for girls. When boys behave similarly, they are called “pushy” or, more directly, “asshole.”

I wasn’t very bossy growing up, but adults and other kids often tried to make a “leader” out of me because I wasn’t bossy, but was instead usually polite, smart, articulate, and even empathic. Bossy people make terrible leaders.

The anti-bossy meme proves idiotic: these alleged adults have forgotten the difference between a competent bellwether or organizer or avant-gardist and the pushy little a-holes who get called “bossy.”

But then, the campaign seems to be little more than a typically smug Made for Upworthy meme, a way for “liberal” celebrities to feel better about themselves while they look down from on high at the hoi polloi . . . who don’t know how to raise children. Par for that course.

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The great thing about being an independent — about not belonging to a party — is that when a politician commits a crime, tells a lie, or stumbles around like a buffoon (in short, when a politician behaves like a politician) one need feel no defensiveness, not any sort of embarrassment. One can chortle and carry on.

Or, to appropriate last year’s meme:

Keep calm and chortle on!

It is the privilege of non-partisans. It is achievable by all. It takes only enough independence of mind, of spirit, to slough off party allegiance.

Resist the herd, the pack, the school of flounders. Be a person, not a party hack.

There is more than one kind of libertarian, and several uses of the term “libertarianism.”

There is, first, the distinction between metaphysical libertarianism (the doctrine of free will)  and political libertarianism (the doctrine of individual rights and limited government). I will concentrate on the political philosophy.

Then there is that curiosity of modernity, the “civil libertarian” — which stands for a person who supports a limited set of individual rights . . .  to free expression, religion, etc. These creatures are great folks, in the context of our statist age, but they usually allow all sorts of tyrannies to over-ride individual freedom. That is, most so-called civil libertarians have no trouble with the government tromping all over the right of freedom of contract. Unless, I guess, it’s about gay marriage. But hiring a worker? Forming a partnership? A business? These activities remain heavily regulated by modern states, and are a huge burden upon the peaceful and the industrious. But civil libertarians don’t even pretend to be interested. Civil libertarians are apparently lulled into the narrow purview of their dogmatic slumber by the mere existence of the first few entries into the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

It is also a point of fact that the word “libertarian” began to be used as a euphemism for “anarchist” in the early 20th century. The anarchists back then had every reason to euphemize. Some amongst them were murderous revolutionaries, and there was a major government crackdown on anarchist writing, speaking, and organizing, especially after the assassination of President McKinley. “Anarchist” became a dangerous word; “libertarian” a safe one.

But by the time the New Deal rolled around, and progressives had cleverly stolen the word “liberal” from what we now call “classical liberals,” those remaining liberals of individualist bent needed  a new moniker. And they adopted the word “libertarian.” A stroke of genius?

So, today, there are “left libertarians” of the old anarchist type, basically communists pretending to be anti-authoritarians, and there are “right libertarians” of the classical liberal type — “right” because they believe in private property. The “left” as defined by socialists were thoroughly anti-private-property, so, on that one criterion, the classical liberals can be legitimately considered “of the right.”

Of course, when it comes to authoritarianism (another possible criterion for distinguishing left and right) the classical liberals are arguably far more “left” than any practicing socialist. And on the grounds of warfare, classical liberals and some socialists often find themselves “left” outside of mainstream discussion, trying to avoid mass murder and easy justifications for warfare.

These terms “left libertarian” and “right  libertarian” are further compromised by two currents within the American libertarian movement, and can be sourced to none other than the ostensible “Mr. Libertarian,” Murray N. Rothbard. In the 1960s, Rothbard tried to make inroads on the left, and his anti-war stance contrasted sharply with the anti-communist interventionism of many libertarians hailing from America’s hopelessly confused conservative upsurge. So Rothbard was thought of, along with Karl Hess and others, to be a “left libertarian.”

During the years of his early Libertarian Party involvement, Rothbard tried to maintain a “plumb line” approach, but this did not last for long. Rothbard was captured by political entrepreneur Lew Rockwell, a former Ron Paul staffer who formed the Mises Institute, ostensibly in honor of Mises, but really promoting Rothbard. (Perhaps it would be nicer to say they captured each other.) And, seemingly under Rockwell’s influence, Rothbard lurched into what he called “paleolibertarianism,” an attempt to gain political trendiness and relevance by latching onto the paleo-conservative “groundswell,” with its inherent social conservative biases. Even after Rothbard’s death, Lew Rockwell continued, for a number of years, to excoriate against “left libertarians” within the movement who, he said, were hopelessly bohemian, egalitarian, and libertine. You know, the kind of people who could “ruin” the movement. Taint it. Give it bad press.

Amusingly, and as if in revenge upon the shade of Rothbard, a number of libertarian stalwarts obviously in Rothbard’s leaned left again. Some of them, including Roderick Long (often speaking at Rockwell’s Mises Institute events) and the brilliant writer Sheldon Richman, argued a number of points that made “the left”  somehow better than “the right.” These writers explicitly defend a “left libertarianism,” though as far as I can tell their nomenclature revisionism has all the intellectual traction of Sinead O’Connor’s shiny dome rotating on oil-covered ice.

I do find a few of their allegedly heretical positions attractive, such as Long’s case for a certain type of public property (rather than the narrow and relentless private propertarianism that Rothbard had always pushed) and their more standard, plumb-line criticisms of “vulgar libertarianism” (the too-common eliding of the difference between support for free markets and the defense of current big business). But mostly I find the new “left libertarianism” to be just more sucking up to the allegedly “cool” culture of college and media bullies. There is nothing really cool about any of the left. It’s all pretense and bluster. Further, most current distinctions between “left and right” within the libertarian movement seem silly at best and tyrannical foolishness at worst. (In the latter category I lump discussions of “privilege” and “microaggression” that burble up from collegiate progressive left.)

As I see it, “libertarianism” is a great name for a political position that some people do hold. They should have the term to themselves. Everybody else who disagrees in whole or part should let those folks have it.

What is that position? It’s the “simple system of natural liberty” (Adam Smith), and nothing but. It’s Liberty conceived as “the Law of Equal Freedom” (Herbert Spencer)  or “freedom from interference” (Henry Sidgwick) and “non-aggression” (Rothbard). It is the right to liberty construed as the only basic right, with all other rights flowing from it, grounding on it, and with this one right and the resultant rights structure determining the proper scope of government.

That’s it. I find the position mightily attractive. I judge it the most interesting political idea ever stumbled upon by Distracted Man. But I am not certain that it is workable, and believe that we are so far from it now, in political and legal practice, that I do not believe we can actually know whether it will “work” — that is, will engender a sustainable social order to the benefit of the overwhelming run of humanity.

I am, in fine, an agnarchist, as Jesse Walker once dubbed me — an agnostic about the ultimate size, scope and shape of government as delimited by individual liberty.

By my narrow definition, Herbert Spencer would likely qualify as a libertarian, but F. A. Hayek would not. French liberal Frédéric Bastiat was something very close to a libertarian, but American economists and Nobel Laureates James Buchanan and Milton Friedman were not.

Hayek and Buchanan and Friedman contributed mightily to the development of modern libertarianism, but were liberals of a very old sort. Hayek, at least, got more libertarian with age, as the Leviathan State betrayed more and more of the principles of a free society. And he saw the libertarianism’s attraction. But he was no laissez-faire liberal, much less a pure libertarian. Friedman was much closer, but more than willing to compromise with the existing order, concocting some remarkably illiberal half-measures as a way of securing a little more freedom.

Of course, classical liberals close to the libertarian position have every reason to want to be considered as part of the tradition. They are. After all, liberty is valued highly by both groups. But liberty is more integral and dominant to those who deserve the moniker. And the purer position  deserves a name.

When I was first introduced to libertarian ideas, the big split in the libertarian intellectual movement was between “anarchists” and “minarchists.” The former notion, the anarcho-capitalist idea, was ably defended in a variety of ways, particularly by Murray Rothbard and David Friedman. The nightwatchman state of the minarchists was defended by Ayn Rand (in a dogmatic and mostly unhelpful way) and Robert Nozick (in a brilliant if puzzling and problematic way). Most of my friends came away from the discussion favoring anarchy; I came away from such discussions mostly in the agnarchist position.

But in one way I was vexing to both groups. I annoyed putative anarchists by denying that their idea was well-described as anarchist at all. The anarchists I had read before reading Nozick hated the state, no doubt, but they opposed a lot more than monopoly political governance. There was a reason the first deviser of the idea of “competitive government,” Gustave de Molinari, avoided the term “anarchy.” He knew anarchists, and both he and those anarchists knew he was no anarchist. They hated private property; he supported it. They hated trade, period; he was a free trader. They hated the cops; he wanted them hired for fee, or by insurance, like the Pinkertons so loathed on the anti-property left.

And yet he had cooked up, out of the radical individualistic liberalism of his day (especially out of the ideology of such forebears as Say, Comte, Dunoyer, and Bastiat) what we now call anarcho-capitalism. A better term than “anarcho-”anything is in order. (“Voluntaryism,” perhaps? “Panarchism”?)

More vexing, I insisted that both putative anarchists and “minarchists” (a term coined by an alleged anarchist —an “agorist,” no less) promoted the same thing: government by contract. They were, together, aiming for something new and novel in political philosophy: contractual government.

The difference between the libertarian anarchists manqué and the minarchists-in-theory was that the minarchists thought they could derive a concept of obligatory political territory — borderlines — directly from the right to liberty. The attractiveness of the competitive government position is that it forsakes the mental gymnastics and (seemingly) tortured logic that would make that derivation.

From what I can tell, this argument is not over. The “anarchists” seem to have the best arguments, but the minarchists have tradition on their side. And the idea of eradicating “monopoly” political territory in a world where private property (individual territory) remains, does rub up against an evolutionary mindset, and conjures up doubts about the confidence of the anti-territorial, competitive government position.

Next to the minarchists reside the advocates of constitutional government. Whereas pure libertarian approach of liberty-alone amounts to an attack on the idea of government sovereignty (replacing it with the extremely limited-government notion of government-by-contract), constitutional government defends the idea of sovereignty as well as territory, admits of taxation, and is quite familiar to most Americans.

Constitutionalism is thus, often, the political stance — the exoteric stance — of many even radical libertarians.

The key concepts on the spectrum of politics, from a libertarian perspective, are, thus,

  1. Contract
  2. Territory
  3. Sovereignty
  4. Taxation, public “takings”  and the whole panoply beyond laissez-faire, of government-as-we-know it, including warfare and
  5. Protectionism
  6. Redistributionism
  7. Regulatory mechanisms leading to Dirigisme
  8. Socialism and totalitarianism.

How can one look at this set of concepts and not see a “slippery slope”? In jeopardy of sliding, we try to stick to some principle that might prevent the descent downwards, towards total statism.

For Molinari men, it’s an insistence that all institutions be established and maintained by explicit contract, with government territory not drawn by borderlines, and in which peaceful, law-abiding independents (those lacking institutional  backup) should be tolerated (at worst) and defended (at  best). For Nightwatchmen it may be the denial of sovereignty to any institution, including “government,” that is not derived from an individual’s sovereignty. For Constitutionalists, explicit formulated limits on the use of taxing and takings power — and the simultaneous promotion of a package of rights — is enough.

History knows few examples of contractual government. Those that start out in this fashion often export their illiberal tendencies in warfare (some pirates set up contractual governments, but engaged in criminal activity to  out-groups), and wind up accepting sovereignty notions and corrupting any actual contract with notions of territory and majority rules, etc. Or else being destroyed.

This continuum of ideas is muddied by questions of adaptation to current conditions — by preference falsification and ideological caginess. Those libertarians who aim to influence current events and political arrangements often pretend to positions they do not hold with candor or confidence: competitive government advocates pretending to be constitutionalists; minarchists pretending to be Hayekians. The reason for these compromises are clear. First, the State exists, and its current power is nearly unlimited. Even a self-proclaimed anarchist would have prudential reasons to use, say, the concept of rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights in defense of some liberties — no matter how confused by terms of art and politic perversion those rights may be.

Further, libertarians are so out of the mainstream of political discourse that it is almost impossible to get anywhere by starting with the most radical notions and demanding acceptance from others . . . who see little advantage in caving in on their confidence game of unlimited government.

So almost every libertarian I’ve talked to floats a dual system: ideal ethics and practical ethics, or, as Herbert Spencer put it, Absolute and Relative ethics. There may be no way of getting around this, even if it sets up a distinction often encountered in cults: exoteric vs. esoteric doctrine.

The real and most recalcitrant differences among libertarians-as-such are probably these questions of “radicalism vs. gradualism” (an old term from my early days in the movement). Alas, they are not well explored, in part because of the variety and vaguenesses of the philosophies libertarians bring to ground their philosophy.

Most discussions of radicalism and gradualism are horribly simplistic. And are likely to remain so for the near future.

Which is why I consider libertarianism still a doctrine in its adolescence, and why my own position remains, vexingly, that of “agnarchism.”

The advantages of a Catholic education are pretty obvious: a long tradition of thinking about philosophy, religion, history, etc. The obvious disadvantage is that a few bad philosophical habits creep in: the habit of setting up a definition and dragooning it to cast its meaning over other areas, of making definition do more work for you than logic allows.

The classic case is “man is a rational animal.” From this, neo-Thomists and Catholic neo-Aristotelians wring all sorts of putative truths, many of which strike me as spurious. Often, all that they really achieve are farragoes, curious spillovers from the initial definition — certainly not a neat-and-tidy argument.

Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, is a proud Catholic. And his habit of “reasoning” based on definitions that don’t stay put is pretty glaring. My favorite of his goofy arguments is his attack on all psychoactive drug use as “trying to escape reality,” and then arguing from there that all such drug use is morally wrong. The incrementalist idea, the notion of marginal differences, one dosage at a time, doesn’t ever really cross his mind. The fact that not all users are addicts is mostly lost on him. The more controversial notion, that not all addicts ruin their lives, is anathema to O’Reilly. He defends the War on Drugs because he thinks that all illegal drugs are wholly dangerous, their use entirely immoral, thus allowing his sympathy for those whom the war persecutes to drop to near zero.

All nonsense, of course.

Most every drug can serve a variety of purposes other than “escaping reality,” which, by the way, is not a block concept. Reality itself is quite malleable. I can adjust my attention (an old Stoic and Epicurean trick), I can adjust my actions, I can change my emotional reactions.

I can even stop watching Fox.

At what point am I “avoiding reality”?

Last night, O’Reilly restated his case for the importance of the White House’s mishandling of the Ben Ghazi attack. I agree with Bill O’Reilly on this matter. I think it is indicative of concerted prevarication and responsibility-avoidance on the part of folks at the very highest levels of American office.

Where I disagree with O’Reilly is in his insistence that the attack that killed American diplomatic personnel, and other government functionaries, amounted to “terrorism.”

O’Reilly makes much of this being “terrorism.” If Leon Panetta immediately told the president it was an act of terrorism, then this means something. Actually, it means several somethings. It means that the subsequent White House publicity that the event was a spontaneous uprising in protest of a goofy anti-Islamic video on YouTube was a concerted cover-up, just as O’Reilly says.

But it doesn’t mean that it was terrorism. Panetta can be wrong.

I believe he was wrong. Panetta saying something doesn’t make it any more so than O’Reilly repeating it, as if a mantra.

Terrorism is the use of violence against random innocents or in some similar way  in order to instill terror in a population, for political ends.

What happened in Ben Ghazi was insurrection — insurrection by people associated with terrorism, perhaps, but not engaging in terrorism as such. Attacking an imperial outpost — or the outpost of any enemy — is not terrorism. It’s old-fashioned warfare, in this case insurrection by non-state combatants against a state enterprise.

Not every bit of violence committed by a person designated as a terrorist is terroristic.

O’Reilly wants to make the “terrorism” label stick because he is, as he likes to say, a “simple man.” The complexities of reality are things he wishes to avoid. He treats definitions like addicts treat drugs. Evasions of responsibility. Escape.

According to a recent report, Mary Matalin believes that, at crunch time closer to 2016, Hillary Clinton won’t even throw her hat in the ring.

That’s my bet, too. Who will take her place, fill in the void? Al Franken?

I hope not. (Though it would be funny to see him run. Funny in a not-plotted-for-primetime kind of way.)

But what of the Republicans? Grover Norquist thinks that “six candidates have the names, staff and ability to raise money to run: Christie, Walker, Bobby Jindal, Perry, Bush, and Paul.” Note the problems of each:

  • Chris Christie: corrupt (or, “sure looks corrupt” — won’t pick up independent votes)
  • Scott Walker: hated by Democrats more than any other candidate (will have to endure horrible push-back from union folks, teachers)
  • Bobby Jindal: lackluster spokesman (yawn)
  • Rick Perry: nincompoop (Bush III, minus the dynasty)
  • Jeb Bush: Dynastic centrist (won’t pick up many independent votes)
  • Rand Paul: Sub rosa libertarian? (may scare off centrists and even independents-not-leaning libertarian)

At present (and to come full circle), Rand Paul seems to be obsessed with the Clintons. And, though that bizarre power couple may be a worthy subject for censure, worry or derision, it probably won’t play very well in modern society. Americans have forgiven Bill his philandering, and Hillary her wifely defensiveness.

Should that be the case? I am not sure. But it does seem to be the case. I don’t see Rand pushing ahead with the Clinton-bashing.

I suspect that the way ahead for a libertarian-conservative candidate is simple: bash progressives for being arrogant meddlers, puffed up with pride and pseudo-knowledge, and heedless of the common sense of the people. Destroy Obamacare. Cut down the NSA.

Would that a more straightforward libertarian candidate could become viable, but this is America, a deeply polarized country. Baby steps or none at all, it seems.

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The art of showing disrespect is integral to modern politics. Much of ideological cross-talk is made up of slights and innuendo. It is not a one-way street, by any means. Nearly everyone is guilty, and each side (there are more than two sides) has prominent members who engage in disrespect as modus operandi.

That being said, I am only going to concentrate on only one characteristic showing of disrespect, that of liberal-progressives to libertarians.

It’s in the name. Liberal-progressives (or “progressive-liberals,” or just liberals or just progressives) routinely refuse to grant libertarians their name. That is, they only with reluctance call libertarians “libertarians,” but prefer, instead, to call them “conservatives” or “right wingers” or, as in the New York Times the other day, “ultraconservatives.”

I have noticed this in private communications. While conservatives seem to have no problem addressing me as a libertarian, or a classical liberal, or an individualist — or even by my jocose favored term, “Loco-Foco” — nearly every progressive I have debated has preferred, at some point, to characterize my ideas as “conservative” or one of  its variants, or as (worse in my mind) “far right.”

This is one of the major reasons I have lost respect for the left in general. Folks on the left tend to be nasty, disrespectful, and also remarkably ignorant about the history of their preferred euphemisms and dysphemisms. In America, most of my interlocutors cannot seem to remember that my opinions were once routinely called “liberal” and their opinions were called, casually and with the accuracy of a new trend, “socialist.”

My theory has long been that this habitual mischaracterization of libertarian opinion as simply “conservative” and even “ultraconservative” is an act of positioning, an attempt to suppress in common debate the great change that occurred in the ideological climate between 1880 and 1933. During this time, those who leaned towards socialism — and by that I mean rejected the individualism of the liberal period, focusing instead on collective action over market action, and favoring an unconstrained state over constitutional government — adopted a variety of new terms for themselves. In America, these were “progressive” and “liberal.” In Europe, they were

  • Fabian
  • Social Democrat
  • Fascist

with plenty of disagreement amongst the groups. Since Fascism proved so militant and ugly, leftists have moved mountains of history and vocabulary to deny their intimate connection with this compromise group. Indeed, in America, the new “liberals” took Marxist arguments to characterize fascists as “far right” . . . which is odd, since they also placed the old liberals who believed in constrained government and private property and free trade as “far right.”

It is upon this historical lie, and ideological theft, that much of progressivism rests. Modern progressives are very much in the position of the heirs of major criminals or slaveholders: in a position hardly tenable, but you make do with what you have.

And denial is one way to handle inconvenient truths. Another is negotiation.

We shouldn’t expect acceptance any time soon.

At Mediaite, Andrew Kirell takes on the current instance:

In an otherwise innocuous Sunday profile of a Chinese dissident, New York Times higher education reporter Tamar Lewin used an age-old couching trick to brand the Cato Institute as “ultraconservative.”

What reality is this?

While describing the story of how Chinese professor and dissident Xia Yeliang was dismissed from his Pekinv University job and has taken up residency at Cato, Lewin let slip a hefty dose of ideological confusion:

The political labels of Professor Xia and the Cato Institute, in Washington, are strikingly different. Professor Xia got into trouble in China for being too liberal, while the institute is known as libertarian or — less to its liking — ultraconservative. But the professor and Cato officials say they have the same focus.

Before we get to the “ultraconservative” part, it’s also obvious that Lewin misunderstands the well-known concept that, outside the U.S., the word “liberal” is used in the classical sense; and not as the U.S. version that has become synonymous with the expansion of government.

Liberalization around the world means the advocacy for a relaxation of government restrictions on speech, business, etc. And so the views of someone who advocates “liberalization” in a country like China are most certainly not “strikingly different” from the American libertarians at Cato. Lewin missing that natural ideological fit is perhaps telling of her own biases.

But Lewin’s attempt to sneak the “ultraconservative” phrase at Cato comes off as a cheap shot, or, “an attempt to create tension where there is none,” as Tim Carney wrote of it.

No one in their right mind would consider Cato “ultraconservative,” especially when a cursory glance at their policy recommendations shows support for same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, reduced military spending, non-interventionist foreign policy, and relaxed immigration restrictions.

The point, though, is that the Times folks cannot give an accurate designation of libertarian ideas because that would cast light on their own ideological thefts, against the left’s long history of three-card nomenclature.

But I feel his pain:

Take it from this libertarian who’s been called everything from a “fascist with a bong” to a “pinko commie Obama shill,” libertarians can be touchy about ideological labeling and misrepresentation of their views. But that really doesn’t excuse such hilarious confusion from a newspaper that dedicates itself to living in the nuance.

I would like to laugh at the left’s habitual confusion as “hilarious,” but really, it is unseemly. And anyone who engages in it doesn’t strike me so much as a fool. The proper word, as used by Lysander Spooner, is “knave.”

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Julie Borowski’s Buzzfeed listicle, “7 Popular Misconceptions About Libertarianism,” does what a listicle is supposed to do: concisely address its topic. But, alas, hers may be too concise. It adds misconceptions on top of misconception, at least in a few cases.

1. Misconception: Libertarians are all potheads.
Fact: Libertarians believe that you own your body and should be free to do with it as you please.

It’s an old and idiotic charge. Bob Black, anti-work anarchist from the 1980s, popularized the meme in his put-down, which went something to the effect that “a libertarian is just a Republican who smokes dope.” It was wrong then, it is wrong now.

I do not smoke marijuana, most of my libertarian friends do not smoke marijuana. And I am not a Republican. The fact is that only some libertarians use recreational drugs. Many are like me, who foreswear most inebriates other than alcohol. Some are like Penn Jillette, who is a teetotaler on all psychoactive substances.

Ms. Borowski rightly says that libertarians support an adult’s right to take whatever drug he or she wants to. But one can support someone else’s right without exercising it oneself. Conservatives and liberals often have trouble with this notion, apparently believing that everything not forbidden is compulsory.

As for me, I may disapprove of what you take, but will defend till your death your right to take it.

2. Misconception: Libertarians hate poor people.
Fact: Libertarians believe that voluntary private charities are better than government welfare programs.

The fact, of course, may be that some libertarians hate some poor people, just as the same can be said for any other ideological group, not a few libertarians became libertarian because they want to help the poor, and think that the welfare state cultivates an entrenched dependency that increases the ranks of the poor. Most libertarians (probably every libertarian I know) hates poverty. And we want poor people to learn to work and trade their way out of it.

The key is not charity, though. The key is poor people learning skills and eschewing dependency. The biggest obstacle to both is government, namely poorly run government schools and a plethora of state-aid to the poor. The welfare state is the greatest enemy the poor have. This belief is common to nearly all libertarians. Ms. Borowski should have mentioned it.

3. Misconception: Libertarians love big corporations.
Fact: Libertarians oppose corporate bailouts.

Yes. We oppose corporate bailouts. But that is somewhat orthogonal to the charge. I love some big corporations, such as Apple, and hate others, such as Microsoft. But I am not exactly trusting of any large organization. All need to be regulated by the rule of law. That’s what laissez faire is: a lack of subsidy and an impartial regulatory agenda, based on notions of liability and equal rights and responsibilities.

Those who think the state can regulate big corporations to defend “the little guy” with micromanaging edicts and requirements usually aid big corporations and hurt upstarts that would provide competition to the big guys. There is no bigger fool than a supporter of extensive regulation who thinks he’s not the useful idiot of a big corporation. Progressives are pawns to big business. They may hate the big businesses their agenda serves so well, but that doesn’t matter: serve them they must, for the policies of preference almost always wind up helping the rich at the expense of the poor. It is an old wisdom, this. It is as old as the fight against mercantilism, which is what protectionist measures — so beloved by progressives — amount to.

One has to go beyond intentions and look at the actual effects of policy, not just the politically attractive effects identified.

4. Misconception: Libertarians are isolationists.
Fact: Libertarians want to have good relations with other nations.

The libertarian policy is known as “free trade.” Protectionism, its opposite, puts up tariff and other barriers (such as prohibitions on trade), which is the very acme of isolationism. The word “isolationism” is, in the context of peace, a perversion of language. There are folks — and, historically, were folks — who combined high-tariff protectionism with a desire for no military involvement overseas. But these people were not libertarians, and tarring libertarians with the isolationist brush is, of course, quite dishonest.

That being said, the anti-imperialism of libertarian advocacy also cuts against those who wish to intervene in some foreign conflicts. Libertarians who support a minimal state could, theoretically, support some foreign interventionism. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s raid upon the Barbary pirates was probably justified, no? Most Americans would think so. But then, what “most Americans” believe, and what libertarians believe, are quite far apart.

5. Misconception: Libertarians hate old people.
Fact: Libertarians know Social Security is a bad deal.

At this point, the “hate” meme should be called out for what it is: rank anti-intellectual demagoguery. Charges of “hate” are such a brain-dead way of expressing divergence of opinion on policy. Of course libertarians do not hate old people. Many libertarians are old themselves. What libertarians do not like is predation and parasitism. We look forward to the day when people can save for their retirements without leaching off of others, enslaving whole generations in increasingly bad deals.

And it is worth mentioning: the chief apologists for socialized retirement, the progressives, are the ones who most object to rational talk of reform, despite the instability of the system they themselves support, and in honor of FDR, take as their badge of honor. Their unwillingness for rational debate — and, in politics, any debate other than name-calling — is what is undermining the Social Security program most decidedly.

6. Misconception: Libertarians have no morals.
Fact: Libertarians just don’t want government to enforce morality.

Here we get to a classic case of sub-intellectual nonsense. Libertarians regard their view of justice as a moral one, and do indeed want the institutions of “government” to defend some moral positions. Every time we defend against murder, we are using government to enforce morality.

The difference? Libertarians hold that the structure of morality is not simple and unitary. Some moral positions deserve coercive defense, others do not. The classic expression of this idea was in the writings of Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer, both of whom distinguished between justice and beneficence. Another formulation of the notion hails from legal scholar Lon Fuller, who distinguished between the morality of obligation and the morality of aspiration, with the former legally compulsory while the latter not enforceable at law, but, instead, in other venues only, where distinct social controls reinforce morality — social controls such as censure, shunning, remonstrance, entreaty, etc.

The cultural cliché that “you cannot enforce morality” is utter nonsense, of course, and this notion needs to be discarded at once.

7. Misconception: Libertarians are pacifists.
Fact: Most libertarians believe that self defense is justified.

Indeed, libertarianism as a political philosophy rests upon the notion of self-defense as the source of any plausible government’s delegated right to coerce in defense of peaceful people. This is bedrock. Pacifism utterly invalidates not merely the state, but also any institution of law, police, and corrective justice.

Of course, what most people mean by pacifism is a faux-commitment to refrain from personal use of violence, while free-riding on the defensive activities of others, including those folks who make up the state. This is a common pseudo-progressive ploy. It is the very opposite of libertarianism.

Indeed, self-defense is a better starting point for libertarianism than Penn Jillette’s agnosticism, quoted at top: “My whole take on libertarianism is that I don’t know what’s best for other people.”

I am sometimes as skeptical on moral matters as Mr. Jillette. But I am not as certain in my agnosticism as he. I suspect that I often do know what is better for others than what they apparently know themselves. I just do not believe that my confident knowledge would reliably remain after given control of their lives. Power corrupts. Power corrupts knowledge, too. But it tends to increase people’s confidence even as it undermines knowledge. So my take on libertarianism is that our limitations are many and varied, and that obtaining power over others often increases those limitations, even as it encourages the accumulation of more power. That is why we need something more than mere limitations. We need limits. Limits on power.

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