Was I too harsh toward libertarianism?
Regarding the recent discussion on libertarianism, I believe you may find this link interesting.
Also as a libertarian reader of your site, I felt you were needlessly vituperative and harsh, calling libertarianism a “transparent fraud,” etc. I don’t believe such hostility is helpful.
Anyway, thanks for your great work.
Thanks for writing.
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I called libertarianism a transparent fraud, not in order to be harsh or hostile, but in order to write what seemed to me an accurate description.
To repeat the point of my article: libertarianism claims to be a political philosophy, which means, a view of the true nature and structure of society and of the best way of organizing society. But what I realized when I wrote that blog entry is that a significant number of libertarians, perhaps most libertarians, and virtually all the Randians who write to me, do not believe in society. They don’t believe that society is an entity that has any truth in itself, that has any value in itself, that has any rights in itself, including the right to exist. They regard any political community as tyrannical and illegitimate if it exercises any power over the behavior of individuals beyond the prohibition of force and fraud. But all political communities that have ever existed, including the states, cities, and towns of the United States of America, the freest country in history, have exercised such power over individuals. Therefore libertarians are opposed to the existence of actual, self-governing communities. Therefore libertarianism is not a political philosophy, but, if anything, an anti-political philosophy. Therefore libertarianism is self-evidently not what it claims to be. Therefore it is a transparent fraud.
My statement either is correct, or incorrect. The question of whether it’s too harsh or hostile is besides the point.
John Hagan writes:
The libertarian life is a conceit, a personal philosophy that its practitioners make the mistake of trying to universalize. I’ve always looked at libertarianism as an outlet by which generally intelligent people try to justify, or sublimate, their sexual proclivities and other personal peccadilloes into some coherent form as they go about their everyday life.
Men are not angels as the saying goes, and no matter how hard most of us try to be proper family members and responsible citizens there is often a constant tension between what we wish to be, and what we are. Libertarianism seems to be a personal way people channel their inner struggles into what they think are acceptable behavior under the guise of a political philosophy.
Libertarianism is useful in my opinion because it gives context to the more unruly segments of human nature. But as far as its being a useful or rational way of structuring society, it’s an impossibility.
(Note: normally I don’t post insulting, hostile comments, such as the below from Randian/libertarian Bob A., but in this case I’m makiing an exception as he makes some interesting points such as his hostlity to my “Platonic epistomology” which is the Randians’ main obsession with me. From the Randians’ point of view, my belief that human society has an essence makes me as collectivist and evil as a Communist.)
Bob A. writes:
I wrote that blog entry is that a significant number of libertarians, perhaps most libertarians, do not believe in society.
Another lie. Libertarians do not believe in a society that allows the government to initiate force or coercion against another. How on earth do you see that as not believing in society? What this shows is that you do not believe that such a society can exist because you see the whip as a necessary part of human relations; you see the world as involving masters and subjects.
They don’t believe that society is an entity that has any truth in itself, that has any value in itself, that has any rights in itself, including the right to exist.
Minarchists and Randians do not see society as a living entity the way you do. They see society as a system of relationships between actual individuals. Of course a society has the right to exist, as long as it is a rights-respecting society. Your formulation above reveals your intrinsicist epistemology; your Platonic epistemology; ie things as having essences and forms “in themselves”. This is always the root of your objection against liberalism or “libertarianism”. You want a medieval society governed by Platonic Christian thinking. I hope you NEVER get your wish.
They regard any political community as tyrannical and illegitimate if it exercises any power over the behavior of individuals beyond the prohibition of force and fraud.
It amazes me that you think you are actually making an intelligent point with this poorly reasoned tripe. To be accurately regarded as a tyranny a society would need to have certain attributes. A society that outlawed prostitution (like ours) or pornography would not be a tyranny if it allowed freedom in other areas. But it would be a rights-violating government; it would be wrong and oppressive in certain areas. If in enough areas this oppression would continue, then it would be a tyranny. This is what is happening in America. Is this point so hard for you to understand? Must you always resort to straw men? Is that all you have?
But all political communities that have ever existed, including the states, cities, and towns of the United States of America, the freest country in history, have exercised such power over individuals.
Goodness Larry, this is pathetic. This is pure appeal to tradition. Its one of the easiest logical fallacies to reject! Just because it was done before doesn’t mean that it is right. Slavery was a universal tradition. Did that make it right? Killing adulterers was a universal tradition. Does that make it right? Well, I have a feeling that you would like to reinstate that one.
Therefore libertarians are opposed to the existence of actual, self-governing communities.
If by “self-governing” you mean majoritarian, then YES, libertarians are opposed to your view of despotic government; and proudly so.
Therefore libertarianism is not a political philosophy but, if anything, an anti-political philosophy.
Pathetic non-sequitor. Minarchists endorse a political philosophy that bans outlaws initiatory force in human relations; a society which respects the MIND of man more than any other; a society that is dedicated to the SOVEREIGN INDIVIDUAL and protects said individual from the depredations of group violence of the Leftists variety or your variety; ie your hatred of gays and women.
Minarchism / Laissez-Faire is the state of the art political system devised by the mind of man. You on the other hand Mr. Auster, are selling the same old majority rule that has been tried throughout history; and has violated the rights and freedoms of people throughout history. You are proud of yourself for this. Be proud all you want. You may think libertarians a fraud. Our judgment of you is far, far worse.
PS read the comments at the NoodleFood site for the Objectivist response. They answered all of your pathetic claims. If you were honest, you would get at least a sense that Rand’s philosophy answers your Platonic objections. But my guess is that as a 61 year old Christian man, you have bet your life on the Abrahamic mythology and Conservative ideology. For you to change now would be too painful in all probability. So I guess you go to your grave being a Christian fanatic who disbelieves Darwin, hates sexual freedom and yearns for a Christian authoritarian state. Some way to live…
Happy Holidays from one of your Minarchist/Objectivist readers.
Society as a superorganism was invented out of whole cloth by the founding “Sociologists” like Weber and Durkheim.
Margaret Thatcher said:
I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. “I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.” “I’m homeless, the government must house me.” They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.
She was, I believe, no libertarian.
(Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987.)
A person who says that there is no such thing as society is not a conservative in any real sense of the word. And, indeed, Thatcher’s conservatism was limited purely to the economic sphere. Believing in less government does not make one a conservative, since libertarians also believe in less government. The radical insufficiency of Thatcher’s conservatism is shown in the fact that in her 11 years as prime minister she did NOTHING to arrest the Third-Worldization and Islamization of Britain. This is what happens with people who think there is no such a thing as society, or who define society as nothing more than a collection of individuals. Not believing in society, they are blind to the fact that their own society has a distinctive character which makes it what it is; being blind to the fact that their society has a distinctive character which makes it what it is, they do not care about its distinctive character and they do nothing to defend it. Thus Thatcher, one of the boldest and bravest conservative leaders of the twentieth century, was not really a conservative at all, but was at least a tacit supporter of the destruction of her country and culture through mass non-European immigration and Islamization.
And please don’t tell me that she didn’t believe in Islamization, since she wanted Muslims to assimilate. A person who supports the mass importation of Muslims into her society is a person who is objectively supporting the Islamization of her society, regardless of her conscious, stated wishes in the matter.
This is one of the central themes of this website, that modern conservatism is not what it claims to be, but is a subset of liberalism, and that unless a real conservatism comes into being and gains decisive influence in society, the nations of the West are doomed.
As I said in my previous comment, it is not only libertarians who engage in the reductive individualist redefinition of society, but modern conservatives generally. In my 2002 article, “Pope John Paul II as the philosopher of neoconservatism,” I wrote:
In several recent articles, I have argued that modern conservatives are in agreement with liberals in many key respects, for example, in their support for indiscriminate mass immigration. The patriotic and Christian right, as I pointed out, backs the same open borders policy as the atheistic, anti-American left. The explanation for this paradox lies in the very nature of modern conservatism. Modern conservatism professes allegiance to moral and national essences that go beyond the liberal values of individual rights and freedoms, and so it seems conservative. Yet (and here is the secret to the puzzle) modern conservatism defines those moral and national essences solely in terms of individual rights and freedoms, which makes it, in actual fact, a type of liberalism. This combination of conservative, traditional-sounding rhetoric with liberal, individualist substance is neoconservatism, a term that can be properly applied not just to the ideology of a well-known coterie of intellectuals and journalists, but to modern conservatism itself.
As becomes clear from a reading of George Weigel’s massive biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, many of the Pope’s views fit all too easily into this broadly defined type of neoconservatism; indeed, he emerges as one of its leading exponents. I will attempt to illustrate this idea by commenting on Weigel’s account of the Pope’s speech to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, delivered in Paris in 1980. Weigel writes:
The Pope regarded his UNESCO speech on June 2 as one of the most important addresses of his life. It was very much the product of Karol Wojtyla, philosopher of culture, and included several excursions into technical philosophical language that must have puzzled the delegates who were not simply lost. At one point, John Paul, speaking in French, described the human person as “the only ontic subject of culture” … [emphasis added] To describe the human person as the only ontic subject of culture—meaning, presumably, that the human person is the only bearer of culture that has the attribute of being—echoes the approach of modern American conservatism discussed above. American conservatives say they believe in country (which makes them sound traditionalist, affirming something larger than the individual person), but it turns out that they define country purely in terms of the individual person. In the same way, the Pope says he believes in culture (which makes him sound traditionalist, believing in something larger than the individual person), but it turns out that he defines culture purely in terms of the individual person. If the larger cultural or national whole exists only in terms of the human person, then that whole has no transcendent reality of its own beyond the individuals that constitute it. This verbal allegiance to some larger whole, combined with exclusive concern for its individual members and their rights, is what we have defined as neoconservatism.
Alan Roebuck writes:
On the one hand, someone ought to point out to the Objectivists that their supremely supercilious tone when dealing with unbelievers shows their position to be extremely weak and helps guarantee them a permanent seat on the lunatic fringe. Normal people in possession of what they take to be an important truth usually try to make their ideas seem reasonable and appealing. But Randians generally curse unbelievers rather than try to persuade them.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 26, 2010 11:26 AM | Send
But on the other hand, their repellent way of interacting with unbelievers helps minimize their numbers and influence. And since they’re enemies of a properly-ordered society, we shouldn’t interfere when they hurt their own cause.