A few months back, there arose a bit of a kerfuffle in the libertarian blogosphere over David Gordon’s review of Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch’s Declaration of Independents. For those who haven’t read it, that book is something of a freewheeling celebration of the spirit of liberty and independence in American culture – and a call for us to extend that spirit to the realm of politics. Among other things, the book celebrates the explosion of American microbreweries, the Velvet Underground, the X-Men, and Tiger Woods’ Cablinasianism.

To David Gordon, this was all very puzzling. After all, according to its subtitle, Gillespie and Welch’s book is supposed to be about “how libertarian politics can fix what’s wrong with America.” But for Gordon, following in the footsteps of Muray Rothbard, libertarianism is about one thing and one thing only: the proper use of force. Libertarianism is not a comprehensive ethical theory. It does not try to tell us what ideals we should aspire to in our personal lives, nor does it tell us much about the way that we should interact with other people. The only thing libertarianism has to say about our interpersonal relations is that it is wrong to aggress upon their person or property.

Thus while Gillespie and Welch see the rise of interracial marriages as something libertarians should celebrate, David Gordon is unimpressed.  “What do you think of interracial marriage? It would be hard, offhand, to think of a question less relevant to libertarianism, as usually understood. Of course, no one has the right forcibly to prevent such marriages. What more need a libertarian say about this issue?” And similarly:

 Their celebration of variety and change leads them on issue after issue to miss the essence of libertarianism, the use or threat of force. They support the free market and oppose government regulation of the economy, but this is not enough for them. Opposition to government intervention for them takes its place as part of a larger movement toward individual choice of certain kinds. “It is worth lingering a moment to marvel at the velocity of career change not available to those working in the media (and elsewhere)” (p.107). What if your ideal in life is to get a stable job and remain in it through retirement? Are you less of a libertarian than someone continually on the move?

I am reminded of Gordon’s review by some of the reactions to our recent discussion of the Ron Paul newsletters. One reaction in particular (see here for an example), was that even if the racist rhetoric of the newsletters could be attributed to Rothbard, Rockwell, or Paul himself, this does nothing to undermine the libertarian credentials of these individuals for the simple reason that there is no inconsistency between racism and libertarianism. If being a libertarian just means being committed to the non-aggression principle, then one’s beliefs about the intelligence, criminality, or even basic moral status of members of other races simply isn’t an issue. So long as one is committed to opposing the initiation of force against all persons, one has met the one and only necessary and sufficient condition for membership in Club Libertarian.

Personally, I think the Rothbardian emphasis on the non-aggression principle as definitive of libertarianism is unwarranted. And his argument for it certainly leaves much to be desired. But I do think there’s something to be said for understanding libertarianism as a kind of “thin” political commitment. We libertarians are united by a (rough) agreement on the proper role of the state in society, but we can agree on that point while vigorously disagreeing with each other about a host of other moral, religious, and cultural issues. Tolerance of such disagreement arguably makes for a more effective political coalition. And, after all, part of the appeal of libertarian political institutions is that they allow for people to believe in and live according to a diverse set of norms.

But does that mean that racism, nationalism, and a desire for cultural stasis sit just as well with the libertarian worldview as tolerance, cosmopolitanism, and cultural dynamism? I don’t think it does. However we define libertarianism, and whatever our reasons for endorsing it, we are libertarians for some reason. And the reasons we have to endorse libertarianism will often be reasons for endorsing other values, projects, or cultural practices as well. Imagine someone who endorsed the non-aggression principle because they believed it reflected the fundamental equality of persons, for example, but who simultaneously believed that white Americans were the moral superior of every other person on the planet, and who expressed that belief through a variety of derogatory and marginalizing practices. Even if such a person in no way violated the non-aggression principle, I would still say that they are not a libertarian in as full a sense as they could, and should, be. The reason is not just that they have beliefs and practices that I find objectionable. It is that they have beliefs and practices that are incompatible with the very moral foundation on which libertarianism rests.

In other words, even if we can sensibly talk about libertarianism in a “thin” sense, and even if there are virtues to doing so, we can nevertheless talk about a “thicker” kind of libertarianism as well. And we can hold, moreover, that the thicker form of libertarianism is a better, more fully consistent form of libertarianism. I borrow the term ‘thick libertarianism’ from this excellent essay by Charles Johnson (now available in hard copy in this excellent book). Here’s how Johnson describes the particular kind of thickness I’m referring to:

Libertarians have many different ideas about the theoretical foundations for the non-aggression principle – that is to say, about the best reasons for being a libertarian. But whatever general foundational beliefs a given libertarian has, those beliefs may have some logical implications other than libertarianism alone.

The idea is related to, but distinct, from Bryan Caplan’s idea of a “Libertarian Penumbra.” My point isn’t just that there are some things that libertarians simply happen to believe or like more than other people (science fiction, perhaps?), but that there are things that libertarians ought to believe or like more than others, given their foundational commitments.

Two quick caveats, in conclusion:

  1. My main point here is to defend the idea of thick libertarianism, not to explain what I think the correct substance of thick libertarianism ought to be. My own commitment to libertarianism rests on more foundational beliefs about  individualism, tolerance, skepticism about power, respect for spontaneous order, and  belief in the importance of property rights. And I think these beliefs commit me not just to libertarianism but to a certain kind of feminism and  cultural dynamism, to name just two. But that’s an argument for another day.
  2. I’m not arguing that “thin” libertarians aren’t “real” libertarians. Labels don’t interest me much. And my own choice of labels probably shouldn’t interest you much either. The point isn’t about how to use the word “libertarian.” The point is about the logic of the moral and empirical commitments on which libertarianism rests. I think those commitments have implications other than libertarianism. And that we therefore have reason – qua libertarians – to take those commitments seriously. What we choose to call people who endorse or fail to endorse those commitments is a separate issue, and one of relatively minor import.
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  • http://twitter.com/erikkain E.D. Kain

    Well said, Matt. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/RyanCCalhoun Ryan Calhoun

    This is something I have agreed with Ayn Rand on even after departing from her political philosophy a bit.  I think being a libertarian must commit you to certain philosophic viewpoints in ethics and even in the lower levels of epistemology and metaphysics.  I think a lot of problems arising from the Ron Paul mess can be attributed to ethical views that do not mix well with libertarianism.  The paleolibertarian strategy tried to attract the more conservative people who would be sympathetic to libertarian ideas, but that backfired in a lot of ways.  Libertarians got strange and unwanted bedfellows.  Rand opposed the tactics of the early libertarians for this reason, among others, and I think history has proven that appealing to collectivists of all stripes is setting yourself up for failure, because collectivist ideals will always run up against core libertarian principles of individualism.

  • John Kindley

    I don’t follow modern day racist movements, but my impression is that at least some of them, and presumably those most conscious of how unpopular their ideas are and most desirous of maintaining their relevancy, are quick to protest that they don’t claim that their own white race is necessarily “superior” to other races, and are actually inclined to cite things like “black power” and “black pride” as support for their own white racism. That is, such an “enlightened” racism would appear at least superficially consistent with the egalitarianism you claim is close to the moral foundation of libertarianism itself.

    No doubt part of the reason I’m even able to entertain the moral acceptability or rationality of such a position is the fact that I live in a society where such racism is an extremely marginalized view. (Granted, the evidence appears to strongly prove that malignant racism on the part of the dominant white culture is however very alive and well in the so-called criminal “justice” system.) Furthermore, there is logic and reason to the gripe of those who are, for example, denied government employment because of affirmative action. Lest anyone doubt where I’m coming from though, I’m for completely unrestricted immigration, and therefore strongly disagree with Ron Paul (and pretty much every single other politician) on this point.

    Another reason I’m able to entertain without agreeing with or automatically rejecting as anathema such an idea is that I can’t help but find Nietzsche’s condemnation of the State as the “coldest of all cold monsters” and lament for the “death of peoples” with their “laws and customs” in his chapter titled “The New Idol” in Thus Spake Zarathustra interesting. I’m attracted, via Albert Jay Nock, to the program of extreme decentralization advocated by Thomas Jefferson late in life, wherein all counties would be divided into wards, which would be the repository of all political authority and which would determine its delegation “upwards.” I’m attracted to the idea that in an ideal libertarian society law would be organic and customary, a la John Hasnas in his essay The Depoliticization of Law and especially a la Lysander Spooner in his Essay on the Trial by Jury. Maybe balkanization has something going for it in the libertarian ethos.  

    • Anonymous

      I’m attracted, via Albert Jay Nock, to the program of extreme decentralization advocated by Thomas Jefferson late in life, wherein all counties would be divided into wards, which would be the repository of all political authority and which would determine its delegation “upwards.”

      I’m curious what the context of this proposal was– if you replace “ward” with “council” you essentially end up with a soviet system, complete with delegated authority and nominal autonomy.  The problem with such systems is the higher levels can operate without democratic legitimacy from the ward/elector level, and having a single, atomic method of conferring legitimacy can expose the process to corruption from superior entities.  Such systems also tended to require supermajorities or acclamation in order to delegate authority on questions upward: people always threaten to leave the table if they don’t get everything they want, but everyone agrees they need a law, so the law ends up getting written by the staffs and secretaries.   This particular failure mode is called “Polish parliament.”

      The Russian state might have given councils autonomy over their particular jurisdiction, but the communist party organized itself freely and rewarded and punished people without regard for any such balkanization, and was assiduous about hiring functionary positions.  You can see a slightly similar process in the way Republican and Democratic parties are nationalized without regard for state or regional boundaries, and people running for national office will tend to abide by party doctrine over local interest, not for any particularly evil reason, but because it’s the only way to get enough votes to move any action, required or otherwise through congress.

      So basically a council system can work as long as you ban people in different wards from organizing with each other toward common national goals and against the interests of their ward ;)  Democracy is hard.

      I can see why Jefferson would come up with such an idea; even by the 1820s it was probably clear to the relevant people involved that the system was breaking down on the slavery issue and wasn’t producing workable, sustainable, definitive policy, and policy drift was just making the national problem worse, even if it preserved the status quo on the local level and seemed to be giving everybody what they wanted, state by state and county by county.

      • John Kindley

        This is interesting, and in light of your comment I now wish I’d read more closely Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution more closely, since she discusses both the soviet system as it was initially conceived and Jefferson’s ward system sympathetically, and makes the same identification between the two you do. She viewed Jefferson’s ward system as his late in life proposal to essentially perpetuate the spirit which animated the Revolution without periodically watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants, as Jefferson had earlier implied would be necessary.

        Theoretically, there’s no more inherent problem with a continent of ward republics peaceably co-existing and cooperating and confederating as there is a continent of much larger republics, such as Europe, doing the same. And I have to think the smaller the republics, and the more diffused and distributed the power on the continent, the safer the place is. As Sheldon Richman implied in a blog post not too long ago: If you don’t believe in a One World Government, you’re essentially an anarchist; and all that’s left is to haggle over the level.

        It would be important for the culture to get over its political mania of DOING THINGS, beyond providing for the common defense. I therefore think the ward system should be complemented by Spooner’s Trial by Jury, which would nip-all such non-stop busy-body legislation in the bud, and by George’s Single Tax, which would gut the exploitation at the very heart of the State.

        • Anonymous

          I’m not sure the scholarship on the soviet system was complete back when Arendt wrote “On Revolution,” much of the insight on how the gears actually meshed didn’t come to light until the collapse of the RSFSR.

          It would be important for the culture to get over its political mania of DOING THINGS, beyond providing for the common defense.

          The opposition to “DOING THINGS” has to be more carefully defined.  Failure to act on the part of one level of government is usually just an invitation for a lower level to pounce; England in the middle ages had several interregnal periods where an absent or weak central government created great suffering and tyranny, because constitutionally the king embodied the legitimacy of the state and moderated the abuses of landowners.  Similarly, a lot of minorities might like a libertarian because he’d end the federal drug war, but curtailing federal power in general might let a thousand Bull Connor’s bloom, an outcome which a lot of people might not be crazy about.

          The mistake is confusing action of a state authority with active inhibition within a state. Eliminating institutional vetos doesn’t make a state less activist, and restraining the state in the broadest sense is no guarantee of liberty.  Racism, at least as the Americans practice it, was historically an excellent example of how a coercive force can be conveyed by the federal, state, and local government, private citizens, business owners, churches, teachers, neighbors and family, all in a continuous, democratic, grassroots and self-reinforcing complex, for which patently racist state action isn’t really necessary.

          A thin libertarian probably would say this is just something we have to live with and maybe it’ll work itself out or not, because if anything else the affirmative state solution will be unsustainable; I’m pretty sure this was Arendt’s position when she formally opposed the “Brown” decision while still believing in racial equality– she wasn’t a libertarian, she just had certain ideas about how people worked.  At the same time you can see why people in 1962 were probably getting tired of seeing people, Americans, getting firehosed on Walter Cronkite every night.  200 years of federalism and states rights ideology is no match for empathy and a TV camera, and that’s a fact that I don’t think small-government advocates have ever really confronted.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

    It strikes me that Rockwell’s paleolibertarian manifesto, which I gather Rothbard was on board with,  is every bit as thick as Johnson’s formulation.  Both sides indulge in the vice of movement-ism where it’s all about who needs outreach and who needs purging.

    It’s funny, I misremembered “thick libertarianism” as “fat libertarianism”, which I think is apt. Thin is beautiful. As an individualist I purge everyone.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      I think you’re exactly right that Rockwell’s paleolibertarianism is thick too.  So is Randian Objectivism. I’m not a fan of either of those views. But it’s not because they’re thick. It’s because I think they base their libertarian conclusions on the wrong values and beliefs, and because they’re unjustifiably intolerant of dissent. Neither of those is a defect of thick libertarianism as such.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

        It looks to me like thick libertarianism simply means defining most of your social preferences as libertarian: “As long as we’re getting a libertarian club together here’s my laundry list of things I want fixed…”

        • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

          Well, no.  I thought I addressed this in the post:

          “The reason is not just that they have beliefs and practices that I find objectionable. It is that they have beliefs and practices that are incompatible with the very moral foundation on which libertarianism rests.”

          I like suburban living over city living.  But I don’t take that to have anything to do with libertarianism because, well, it doesn’t have anything to do with libertarianism!  Derogation of certain individuals because of their race, on the other hand, seems to me more tightly connected to the moral values that make me a libertarian in the first place.

        • Anonymous

          As long as we’re getting a libertarian club together here’s my laundry list of things I want fixed…

          I don’t know where “clubs” come into this; nothing in Matt’s article or in mine has anything in particular to do with things like movement strategy.  It has to do with the logical relationship between a philosophical commitment to libertarianism and a philosophical commitment to other social or philosophical beliefs. The best way to pursue these beliefs — if you want to pursue them at all — is a separate question.

          That said, the “laundry list” approach that you criticize here is specifically discussed and rejected (or put over to the margin) in the discussion of “entailment thickness” and “conjunction thickness.” (The “laundry list” approach being an instance of “conjunction thickness,” which is not really a thick conception of libertarianism in any particularly interesting sense.)

          But the point of the article is specifically that there are ways in which a “social preference” might be meaningfully connected with a commitment to libertarianism, even though it is neither identical with the libertarian commitment, nor something which is just tacked on alongside libertarianism. There are at least four other broad ways in which the commitment and the preference might be logically connected with each other (I discuss them as thickness for application, thickness from grounds, strategic thickness, and thickness from consequences; Matt’s discussion in this post is mainly drawing on what I called “thickness from grounds”). Maybe you think that these sorts of reasons are illegitimate, inadequate, irrelevant, or just a bit silly; but if you, you haven’t yet given an argument for that view.

    • Anonymous

      JTK: “It strikes me that Rockwell’s paleolibertarian manifesto, which I gather Rothbard was on board with,  is every bit as thick as Johnson’s formulation.”

      Yes, I agree with you about that. In fact I explicitly mention paleolibertarianism more than once in the essay as another thick conception of libertarianism. (As one which is in fact mutually exclusive with the left-libertarian conception which I personally endorse.) “Thick” is a descriptive term for a particular sort of argument; it’s not intended as a virtue term for kinds of libertarianism.

      JTK: “Both sides indulge in the vice of movement-ism where it’s all about who needs outreach and who needs purging.”

      Maybe. But my point in the essay has nothing at all to do with “outreach” or with joining movements.  As far as I can tell Matt’s post here has nothing to do with that either. Maybe he has views about that, but the point he seemed making here — and certainly the point I was making in my formulation of the distinction — had to do with the intellectual reasons that people who believe in libertarianism might have to endorse other kinds of social or cultural views. That only has to do with movements if you think that endorsing a view necessarily means joining a political movement trying to get it. But I don’t think that.

  • Rob MacDougall

    Ok, here is a problem as it strikes me.

    If you support libertarianism in part because you think it will lead to the downfall of socially abhorrent practices like racism, etc, then it would be weird to join forces with racists in pursuing minimal government, since those racists presumably disagree with you about the effect of the proposed mutually desired changes in governmental structure.  This seems, incidentally, to show that many of us are least weak convergence theorists rather than total modus vivendi theorists: we are uncomfortable with outcomes that are not based on reasons that are shared at least to a point.  We’d like to be able to say that our public institutions are based on shared, ethical foundations.  In other words, we wouldn’t join forces with racists, xenophobes, chauvinists, etc, even for evidently shared end points, like a government with more limited scope or power.  Theirs is a “libertarianism not worth defending.”  This seems intuitively right, and you are on to something here.

    This, however, seems to lead us to the following conclusion.  Even though we believe that racists have a (political) right to their racist opinions which we could not oppose violently, and that their right to such opinions is worth preserving, joining with them to preserve this right is something we would be unwilling to do, because in fact their reasons for wanting this right are wrong.  

    But although this position seems like it is entailed by a commitment to opposing, ethically, their racist opinions, it doesn’t seem quite right to me.  This is mostly because the whole point of a principle of non-aggression is the fact that it is (or should be) something that is universally shared by those of widely divergent viewpoints about what constitutes the good.  It is something we can all rally behind, regardless of whatever other ends we have.  So while we might not want to be associated, personally, with racists or misogynists, it seems like it would betray even more foundational commitments to fail to pursue, in coordination with them, a limited set of ends that (as we are assuming) should be universally shared, such as limiting government power.  In other words, since libertarianism is, we think, a view worth taking regardless of one’s other beliefs, it would seem slightly hypocritical to then refuse to associate with some other libertarians by virtue of the fact that they are libertarians for the wrong reasons.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      Hey Rob, 
      Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I actually don’t disagree with you here. Being a thick libertarian, I think, doesn’t mean that you should refuse to “work with” other people who share your thin commitment to libertarian ends but for the wrong (or for repugnant) reasons. Whether you should do so or not seems to me to be a mainly strategical question, not a moral one. You can think someone isn’t fully living up to their libertarian commitments, or to the commitments that underlie their libertarianism, without thinking that they should be shunned or that it would be wrong to engage in limited mutual endeavors with them. Though I guess I’m not sure it would be “hypocritical” to refuse to associate with such persons. Thinking that people should be free to act on repugnant views doesn’t entail that one should associate with people who are doing so – whether one should or not depends, I guess, on what’s at stake in the particular case.

      • Rob MacDougall

        I guess it would be “hypocritical” because I think it would demonstrate that those libertarians refusing to associate with racists for common goals don’t really believe that it is inherently good for people to not be forced into virtue.  I myself don’t want to be forced to take any particular attitude, or to show generosity or goodwill towards another race or sex.  I take pride in the fact that I do it without being forced to, and even when it harms me personally in some way.  I would work with racists to preserve my right to treat others in a less than admirable manner if for no other reason than because I think it is inherently important that persons have the freedom to be moral failures as long as they don’t infringe on others’ rights. [And I don't think having a racist attitude infringes on another's rights, even if this means the target of the racism is worse off than they would have been if there were no racists . . . if I can't make another worse off without affecting their rights, then I couldn't, for example, compete in races where I have a chance of winning, etc].  Strategy is of course important, but I think it’s important to stress that being a racist is not necessarily worse than a whole host of other things we also think it is imperative that people have rights to do.  Racism is not the only wrongheaded, unfair or detrimental attitude persons can take towards others, etc.  I am saying that those that single out racists and sexists as being peculiarly repugnant and turn their noses up at cooperation with them, even though they think that part of the purpose of libertarianism is to protect our ability to be morally mistaken, may be doing this in a self-righteous way, as though we should have rights to be wrong in all kinds of ways, but just not that way.  But as you point out, they may also just be strategizing.  

    • William Swann

      To some extent, I think the answer to your dilemma has to do with the practical existence of more than one kind of force in our society.  In other words, if government says white kids don’t go to school alongside blacks, that’s one kind of force.  If a racist were also a libertarian, and decided not to hire blacks as his employees, his decision might be wholly consistent with the principle of not using government to coerce individual hiring practices.  At the same time, it could be a real force in the lives of black folks in his community — if others in the community adhered to the same practices.

      It’s hard to square the circle of a principle of non-coercion and a level of race, gender, or other animosity that would lead you to exclusionary behavior that has at least some level of “force” behind it.  Consider what may have happened in the south if the civil rights movement had followed libertarian lines.  The Jim Crow laws would have to go, certainly, but there would likely still have been restrictions on the range of activities of blacks based on cultural norms.

      So the question would be — is the southerner who practices discrimination in his everyday interactions, but who doesn’t enlist government on his behalf, a proper libertarian?  There’s sort of a gray area here, because that person may be pushing people around, to some extent, via his private exclusionary behavior.  That would especially be the case if he lives in a context — in terms of his family, neighborhood, company, etc. — where there are fair numbers of like-minded people.   Those discriminatory choices then become a force in other people’s lives … and discrimination sort of gets pushy then.

      The other part of this involves the practical side of politics.  I don’t think you’re going to get the racists and racial minorities in the same tent — at least not in sizeable numbers.  So you kind of have to pick which side you want.  Part of the reason for the paleo-libertarian tack you guys are talking about may have something to do with the fact that conservatism has been popular in this country over the last 30 years, much of it rising out of the south (where I’m from, btw).  If you’re going to hitch part of your wagon to one side, it’s tempting to find a piece of that movement you can work with.

      • Anonymous

        (Note, I’m a progressive, but I like reading here because at this point, frankly, you guys are much saner opposition than the Republicans. I don’t want people to think I’m trolling, I’m just trying to follow this to the logical conclusion.)

        It’s hard to square the circle of a principle of non-coercion and a
        level of race, gender, or other animosity that would lead you to
        exclusionary behavior that has at least some level of “force” behind it.
         Consider what may have happened in the south if the civil rights
        movement had followed libertarian lines.  The Jim Crow laws would have
        to go, certainly, but there would likely still have been restrictions on
        the range of activities of blacks based on cultural norms.

        That’s something I have to keep thinking about every time I listen to, for example, Rand Paul open his mouth about the civil rights act. It is *clearly* possible to have exclusionary behavior that leads to ‘force’, and in fact has happened from 16870-1970, where an entire society-wide conspiracy denies groups of people their rights. Yes, part of that was due to, and in fact mandated, by the government…but a good deal of it was not. (And it’s not like the government just decided to do it for no reason and made everyone go along with it.) Result: Black people dying in the street because white-only hospitals would not treat them. (For just one example of very obvious harm.)

        At some point, to be taken seriously, Libertarians are going to have to get on board with the idea that, at some point, private action does reach the level of the public sphere. The fact that all three home building companies and all seven real estate companies in a specific city will not sell homes to black people, or transgendered people, or whoever, really does matter, no matter how it would infringe their ‘rights’ for the government to insist they have to.

        Racism is just the obvious point, because we actually did those sorts of things there as society, but it not only goes past that to other groups, it goes down to the individual level. There are plenty of places in this country where there is one place to purchase food, or one place to work, or one private entity that, in some manner, is utterly in control and you cannot function without them. (And Libertarianism seems loathe to actually have any other solution to that problem.) Or there are two or three such entities, but they have decided the same sort of people are undesirables.

        And this is especially bad when added to the call to privatize government services.

        I think, perhaps, the fact the pendulum of bigotry has swung to ‘not acceptable’ has caused people to think it’s somehow stuck over there. It is over there because a decade of protest, and then two decades of government action, forced it over there. Without government action, it will eventually swing back, and you’ll be standing there explaining to your granddaughter that the local restaurant won’t allow the [insert minority group you've never heard of] she married to eat there. Or your great-granddaughter.

        There’s all sorts of harm that people can do to each other that is not due to ‘force’, especially when the ‘harmers’ are in better economic positions. (Either singularly or collectively.)

        • Anonymous

          DavidCheatham: “Result: Black people dying in the street because white-only hospitals would not treat them. (For just one example of very obvious harm.) … 
          The fact that all three home building companies and all seven real estate companies in a specific city will not sell homes to black people, or transgendered people, or whoever, really does matter, no matter how it would infringe their ‘rights’ for the government to insist they have to. ”

          I agree with you that these things are horrible, and that they matter, and that people who do them should be stopped from doing them. But the question here is one of means — whether the means you intend to use to stop them are violent or nonviolent; whether they are governmental means or grassroots means; whether they depend on legal force or social pressure.

          DavidCheatham: “At some point, to be taken seriously, Libertarians are going to have to get on board with the idea that, at some point, private action does reach the level of the public sphere.”Well, I am not sure that I care very much about being taken seriously in mainstream political discourse. If I did, I wouldn’t be an Anarchist. But I don’t disagree with you that there are cases where “private action does reach the level of the public sphere.” But then the question is whether legal force is the only public means of addressing a public problem. I don’t think that it is.

          • Anonymous

            I find hat article very confusing.  It seems rather paradoxical to stand there and say ‘Private proper owners have an absolute right to control who they deal with, and if groups they don’t like want in, they those groups should break the law via trespassing and refusing to move until the property owners give in.’

            That’s almost the exact opposite of respect for private property rights, and a rather strange worldview. You call yourself an ‘anarachist’, and perhaps you literally mean that and think that private property is not really private property at all, but what you are suggesting is not a very tenable political position.

            …although someone should propose it to the Occupy people. ‘Hey, we’re not going to change the law to address income disparity, that would infringe on the rights of the rich to be not taxed. Instead, we’re going to solve the problem by urging you to break into and live in their houses.’

            And, of course, this utterly ignores any form of racism besides signs posted on the wall saying ‘Whites only’. It pretends there’s no such thing as secret discrimination, where companies simply don’t hire black people or pay them less, or don’t provide any service to black people normally, but when a protest groups shows up says ‘Of course we serve black people, we have no idea what you’re talking about’ and serves them until the protestors all leave, at which point they stop.

            Or banks that give minorities with the same credit history higher interest rates, which is still happening. (And not, believe it or not, out of ‘racist’ motives…but because minorities have less ability to get loans in general, so Countrywide decided it was fine if their agents decided to squeeze them harder. Supply and demand, you know.)

            All the protests did was make it increasingly untenable for politicians to hold racist positions. If we had actually stopped there, Woolworths would have unsegregated lunch counters…and black people would still not be welcome there, and all black people who tried to eat there would know that unofficial policy, even if occasionally a black person would be allowed to come in and be quickly fed while the staff stared hostilely.

      • Anonymous

        William Swann: “Consider what may have happened in the south if the civil rights movement had followed libertarian lines.  The Jim Crow laws would have to go, certainly, …”

        Not just the written laws. Lynch law too. No libertarian would oppose efforts to forcibly resist and ultimately suppress systematic violence that was committed outside the official policy of the state, but sanctioned by the dominant white culture and practiced through the dominant white civil society.

        William Swann: “but there would likely still have been restrictions on the range of activities of blacks based on cultural norms.”

        Well, that’s only likely if it’s likely (1) that the cultural norms could sustain themselves without resorting to extralegal terror against dissenters and against random victims; and (2) that there would be no other means to challenge, undermine or change those crappy cultural norms other than legislation banning them. But it’s not obvious to me that (1) is true. And what is certain, from the very history of the Freedom Struggle in the South, is that (2) is definitely false — nonviolent social and economic activism repeatedly won key struggles with no legal sanction to back them up, years before white politicos showed up to pass laws and take the credit for black activists’ triumphs.I would argue that without the laws, the social activism still would have made Jim Crow culturally and economically unsustainable and driven it into extinction. (Whereas if the social movement had sat around waiting for the laws rather than pressing ahead with their grassroots activism, they would not only not have gotten the activist victories; they would never have gotten the laws, either; because it was only the former that made the latter politically possible.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

      “If you support libertarianism in part because you think it will lead to
      the downfall of socially abhorrent practices like racism, etc,”

      My question is why should racism be seen as so abhorrent? I see it as garden variety irrationality that doesn’t hold up all that well in markets. Most libertarians must have of friends and dear family members who hold all sorts of  irrational collectivist views, views more inescapably evil than racism. Hitler is beyond the pale because he’s known as a bigot but high presidential appointees can express admiration for Mao hardly raising an eyebrow.

      The preoccupation with abhorrence for racism seems ridiculous to me. Irrationality is a fact of human life which cannot be argued away, for reasons which should be obvious. The best that can be done is to have people pay for their irrational preferences out of their own pockets. These projects to collectively reform human character are quite beside the point and irrational in their own right.

      • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

        “The preoccupation with abhorrence for racism seems ridiculous to me.”

        Perhaps this is an issue that can’t be adequately understood on the basis of mere a priori logic, but requires a certain understanding of the relevant history and sociology? In the abstract, racism might be just another kind of irrationality. But in the social reality we face in the contemporary United States, given our history, it is much, much more than that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

          Given American history why is racism more abhorrent than statism? Why should the idea that blacks and whites might want to keep to their own in a free society be labeled as filth, but not the idea not the idea that my children should be taken from me by force if I won’t submit to state parenting certification?

          Which is more abhorrent: Rockwell or Lincoln?

          • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

            I don’t think I claimed that it’s more abhorrent. Just that it’s abhorrent. I do think, for the record, that slavery is worse than public schooling. And I’d say the same thing about many lesser forms of racism as they have existed in this society. But, of course, racism and statism aren’t mutually exclusive phenomena that can easily be compared. As Jacob has noted, they tend to go hand in hand.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

            Rockwell hasn’t proposed slavery or defended it, but one of your co-bloggers has made a proposal which requires taking my children by force if I don’t submit to parental licensing.

            Which is more abhorrent, more filthy, the Ron Paul Newsletters or the parent licensing proposal?

          • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

            I don’t know why you keep looking for comparative judgments from me. I disagree with many of the statements in the RP Newsletters, and I disagree with Cohen’s proposal (and did so already, publicly, in the comments thread.

            Not sure what you’re getting at here. Is racism less bad somehow because there are other things that are also bad?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

            My point has been that the preoccupation with racism is completely overblown. You challenged that. I give you a simple choice between 1) a newsletter with some racial smack talk and a 2)  a proposal on your own blog which would be monstrous if put into practice. The former is called filth here with no objection but the latter is an “oopsie” over which there is disagreement.

            For anyone reasoning clearly the latter is far worse, yet  it seems no BHL realizes that, or wants to admit it.

            You make my point. The reaction to racism here is overblown and irrational. Not just here, of course.

          • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

            There’s a bit of a difference between Cohen and the Rothbard-Rockwell stuff. Cohen’s post recommended a bad idea, true. And the “licensing” language was especially unfortunate. But further discussion in the comments suggests that was he actually has in mind is something far less obscene. Some people might have a problem with taking five year olds away from their rapist parents. I don’t think I do. At any rate, Cohen’s a philosopher, doing what philosophers do, with about as much practical effect as most philosophers typically have. Which is to say, none.

            I think you’re still viewing the Rothbard/Rockwell stuff in too detached and abstract a way. You’re not apprceiating the way that racism works, and the culturally conditioned meanings that certain claims and ideas have in the American context. Subsequent to the Civil Rights Movements, unquestionably racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan started “cleaning up” their language to present it in a more publicly respectable way. So what we got was a system of code language – words that on their surface meant one thing, but which “everybody knew” really meant something else. Some codes referred to certain kinds of people, other codes signaled to others that you had a certain kind of attitude towards others. All of this contributed to the perpetuation of racist stereotyping and discriminatory behavior which has, I would argue,had devastating effects on its target groups. So, given all this when I see the code language being used, as it clearly is in the newsletters and fundraising letters, I get concerned. Someone who takes the language at face value and abstracted from historical and sociological reality might see that concern as overblown. But I think that’s a mistake.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

            First things first:

            “But further discussion in the comments suggests that was he actually has
            in mind is something far less obscene. Some people might have a problem
            with taking five year olds away from their rapist parents. I don’t think I do.”

            Um, that’s interesting about the rapist parents but what happens if a perfectly decent non-rapist parent declines to take Cohen’s parent test? Cohen himself likened it to getting a drivers license, and we know how that works: No License – No Drive. (Or the guns come out. I know it’s vulgar to keep bringing up the state guns but they vex me.)

            What’s not obscene about that?

          • Anonymous

            Which suggests one needs to contextualize to assess the content of these newsletters. Otherwise you could only take the quotes at face value. But that is precisely what Horwitz, Boaz and others refuse to do (or more precisely cherry pick elements of the context and build then a distorted view of it). 

            I have not seen one critique of the TNR pieces coming from the Paul and/or Rothbard Rockwell bashers on this. Yet it should be clear that several of the charges are to be answered “so what?”, that several quotes are misquotes, that there is unquoted stuff in the very same issues of the newsletters which suggest a more balanced picture than the one they describe. Instead it’s perfectly ok to repeat ad nauseam how “ugly” the letters are without making any effort to be precise in what the ugliness is, without making a fair assessment that is, as if the TNR pieces were perfectly ok in their charges.

            I do not know if I am “decoding” something here but it looks very much like the libertarian RP newsletters-bashers  are trying to appeal to some PC-driven crowd who does not care about the actual content provided it can hurt Paul and his associates, and who no doubt hold many views which are far more problematic than the worst uncharitable comments toward blacks that one can actually find in the newsletters. So that if it was obviously horrible to try to appeal to more or less racist-reactionary type of guys, it would certainly be no less problematic to do the same thing with people who sympathize with what we would consider as libertarians as apology of various institutionalized crimes, including racist legislation such as affirmative action, or bombings of various innocent brown or not so brown people around the world.

            Plus, while we’re talking about decoding and the unsaid, since forced exclusion and racist crimes are actually denounced in the newsletters while the libertarians of the newsletters-are-so-ugly-look-at-the-TNR-pieces-there-is-no-need-to-contextualize-qualify-and-explain type make no reservations regarding the charges of people like Kurchick even if they are obviously tainted by their anti-libertarian outlook (in Boaz case it was explicit endorsement of the 2008 piece), one could be tempted on the one hand to be less selective regarding the “decoding” endeavor and on the other hand to use all of the pieces of the puzzle instead of the cherry-picked ones, right?

            Speaking of codes, quotes and context, how do you “decode” this passage of the Rockwell piece on paleo strategy that Horwitz linked?

            “From a Christian viewpoint, it is certainly wrong to treat someone unjustly or uncharitably as a result of racial beliefs. It is also wrong to treat someone unjustly or uncharitably because he’s bald, hairy, skinny, or fat. But can it be immoral to prefer the company of one to the other?” (p.37 of the issue http://mises.org/journals/liberty/Liberty_Magazine_January_1990.pdf)

            I might not be sophisticated or paranoid enough to properly crack the code but it seems to me that contra-Horwitz, uncharitable lines about blacks in the newsletters do not follow Rockwell’s guideline.

          • http://profiles.google.com/entelechy77 Kurt Horner

            The reaction to racism here is overblown and irrational. Not just here, of course.
            Racism has pervasive impacts all over our society — socially, economically, in public policy. To the extent that our society is full of people (largely white males, like yourself) who think such ideas are mere “smack talk,” those trends are difficult to reverse. In terms of toxic ideas that have harmed millions of Americans through history and even today, racism is second only to sexism in how awful it is. An endorsement of racism is far worse than advocating a public policy that probably couldn’t be implemented fairly in practice. 

            Why? Because while there are good ways to integrate the fact that some people are terrible parents into public policy, there is no way to fairly implement racism — racism is inherently poisonous.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

            Rockwell hasn’t proposed slavery or defended it, but one of your co-bloggers has made a proposal which requires taking my children by force if I don’t submit to parental licensing.

            Which is more abhorrent, more filthy, the Ron Paul Newsletters or the parent licensing proposal?

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SDXFOZL2VZTEHEOX4BJRA5KCAQ Adam

          Racism is a system by which societies are organized and individuals are stratified ans sorted into different positions in a social structure based upon ascriptive characteristics. This produces certain social aggregates, aggregates which are often defined by the dominating group. 
          Racism can be rational, at least economically rational, for the dominant group or groups. Racism against black people has profoundly benefited white people in the U.S. in purely economic terms. Granted, the benefits vary at different places and times and are have not been distributed evenly among all white people. A case can certainly be made that working class white people are hurt by racism against black people. Still, historically and to some extent currently certain groups do benefit from racism in a purely economic manner. 
          To dismiss racism as a person-level irrationality misses the institutional nature of racial social stratification. Institutional racism is radically anti-libertarian as it relies of all manner of coercive mechanisms to exist and drastically limits freedom of action for the dominated group. 
          Beyond that, state violence almost invariably relies on racism for legitimization. This is not to say that racism is the sole cause of state violence BUT the most violent aspects of the state, the carceral and the military, partially rely on racism. Its very difficult to imagine a peaceful, free society made of up groups who fundamentally hate each other. Its also difficult to envision how a society with deeply institutionalized stratification based upon ascriptive characteristics could be “libertarian” unless we privilege the freedom of the dominant over the dominated. 

  • http://deepglamour.net vpostrel

    I would call what you describe as “thick libertarianism” the contemporary form of classical liberalism, which is not merely thick but thick in particular ways that are part of the liberal tradition. I think John T. Kennedy is right about the Rockwell-Rothbard-Gordon approach being just as thick. It’s just thick in an illiberal direction. When The Future and Its Enemies came out, people would ask me whether by “dynamist” I simply meant “libertarian.” I would always say that not all dynamists are libertarians, but *most* libertarians are dynamists. The exceptions (I rarely said in public) are headquartered in Auburn–something they clearly sensed, given Gordon’s review of my book. Most “thin” libertarians are far more comfortable with economic and cultural dynamism, if only through a leave-me-alone-and-I’ll-reciprocate tolerance, than the Rockwell-Gordon crowd, which is dedicated to finding a government cause for every social or economic change they dislike. (They even have problems with free trade, which is as core a libertarian issue as they come.) It’s indicative that they rarely focus on saying what good things a restrictive policy would prevent in the future.

    • Anonymous

      How does your support for interventionist policies, like the Persian Gulf War, jive with libertarianism and/or classic-liberalism? 

      • http://deepglamour.net vpostrel

        I’m not going to go into a long disquisition about why neither libertarianism (which supposedly doesn’t respect national borders) nor classical liberalism (which does recognize them, along with the contingencies and tradeoffs of history and culture) has little to say a priori about foreign policy. But at the time I wrote a fairly agonized editorial about why I supported the Persian Gulf War, which you can find in back issues of Reason. I think such questions are primarily ones of prudence, in which judgment calls about the likely short- and long-term results for liberty are important but are also just that, judgment calls. For example, I do not think it is bad for liberty, either foreign or domestic, that South Korea exists as a nation not under the rule of the latest Kim, despite the sacrifices and compromises that got it to where it is today. Neither do I regret the French government’s intervention in the American Revolution, though the French then or now might disagree. I largely lack the expertise for making judgments about foreign policy and, since I do see such matters as one of judgment, I prefer to focus on issues where I can hope to offer actual insight.

        • Mark Brady

          Virginia, in 2003 you supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Do you regret that now or do you still think that on balance it was worthwhile?

        • Anonymous

          “judgement calls.”  It matters little that the person making the call is doing so without my authority and at my forced expense?  Isn’t that utopian to believe that state actors will virtually provide for my best interest? 

    • Peter Klein

      Virginia, I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but I’ve been
      closely associated with the Mises Institute for over 20 years and I’ve never
      heard anyone there express even the slightest opposition to free trade.

      BTW, Mark Brady makes a very important point in a comment below. In my
      experience, “thin” libertarians are much more likely to be sound on the core
      libertarian issues, particularly war and peace, than their thicker brethren.
      I’ve known more than a few thick libertarians who regard it as a happy coincidence
      that liberty coincides with their own most important values (dynamism, egalitarianism,
      multiculturalism, whatever) and are willing to compromise the non-aggression
      principle if it seems to conflict with their particular vision of the good society.

      • http://profiles.google.com/entelechy77 Kurt Horner

        I think she meant immigration. Many people associated with the paleolib crowd hold deeply illiberal views on immigration policy. 

        • http://deepglamour.net vpostrel

          Thanks, Peter. I was imprecise. I should have said that the Mises Institute, or at least some vocal people associated with it, opposed actually existing efforts to liberalize trade, such as NAFTA and the WTO. They do not, as far as I know, oppose free trade as an ideal. Whether this is making the perfect the enemy of the good or a convenient sop to nationalist supporters or some combination I leave to the better informed.

          • Peter Klein

            “Whether this is making the perfect the enemy of the good or a convenient sop to nationalist supporters or some combination I leave to the better informed.” It was neither, but rather a belief that NAFTA and the WTO were actually steps toward making trade less free, rather than more free. Most scholars associated with the Mises Institute also oppose education vouchers, for the same reason. (Thanks for the condescending attitude, BTW — very constructive.)

  • Anonymous

    Matt,
    As usual, thanks for the interesting post that has given me much to ponder. I am inclined to think that your conclusion that libertarians are in some way committed to values broader than non-aggression follows only for a very narrow class of libertarians. You give as an example:  “someone who endorsed the non-aggression principle because they believed it reflected the fundamental equality of persons…but who simultaneously believed that white Americans were the moral superior of every other person on the planet [and acted accordingly].” But “fundamental equality” here is slippery. I think many libertarians would agree with the reason you cite for non-aggression, but would understand “equality” in terms of sharing the quality of being a Kantian rational agent, and thus not properly subject to coercion.

    I am not sure I see that a committment to equality in this sense gives us any specifically libertarian reason not to be racists, nationalists, etc. Of course there are good reasons to reject racism, but I am stuggling to see the connection between the ethical foundations of libertarian rights and these reasons.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      The “fundamental equality” bit was just an illustrative example, and not a very well-worked out one at that. But I think the general point holds whatever the underlying value is. For instance, I think a commitment to the value of Kantian rational agency gives one a reason to oppose coercion, and hence perhaps some reason to be a libertarian. But such a commitment almost certainly has implications for forms of behavior other than coercion. Kant himself, of course, thought it had implications for a great many things: lying, suicide, beneficence and self-development, to name only his four most famous examples. 

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the reply. I am certainly not an expert on Kant, but my understanding is that he would claim that his entire system of thought–pure reason, the categorical imperative, etc.–would give rise to defensible reasons not to lie, commit suicide, etc. I am less sure that a commitment to rational agency in the narrow sense adopted by libertarians has implications for anti-racism, anti-nationalism or the other things you originally mentioned. However, I am willing to be convinced.

        • Ken Lanterman

          Mark, Matt,
           
          Couldn’t there be at least a third flavor of libertarianism, one that’s neither deontological or consequentialist? One that’s simply pragmatic? One that doesn’t try to smuggle morality or absolutes into the definition?
           
          Years and years ago, I was on a quest to find a moral foundation for libertarianism and have given up. Part of that is due to exhaustion at not finding an satisfactory answer, but most is due to becoming more deeply acquainted with Nietzsche (perspectivism/hermeneutics), ancient skepticism (modern-day fallibism) and Richard Rorty (pragmatism and anti-foundationalism).
           
          I just don’t think we can morally justify libertarianism. I think we can certianly define it and work with each other to come to some loose agreement about whether government is necessary, and, if so, how big and whether it should focus on negative rights with a little leeway for a postitive-right-granting here and there.
           
          Maybe that’s what you are doing, Matt, when you offer a deontological definition, trying to be more descriptive and less prescriptive.  It just seems to me to go off the rails into morality-ville when you further define the non-agression princple as providing a belief in “fundamental equality.”
           
          It seems to me if we quit trying to smuggle a type of universal morality into libertarianism and view it thinly, as just a description or perspective on government, we avoid all of these endless, unfruitful arguments, and move on to those things in our lives that matter more, voluntary cooperation, treating each other with more respect, openness and yes for those who’ve find it necessary, working toward social justice.

          • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

            Hey Ken. Just to be clear, all the examples I gave were illustrative only. I don’t take the NAP to be definitive of libertarianism, and I’m not sure I would ground it in a belief about equality if I did. That was just one possible way in which libertarianism might be grounded, but I didn’t mean too much to hang on it.

            I don’t know what the alternative to a universal morality is, or if it would be at all attractive. What’s the pragmatic alternative? “Doing what works”? But whether something “works” or not would seem itself to be a moral question. So back we go.

          • Anonymous

            There are many flavors of libertarianism. I also don’t exactly what you mean by “simply pragmatic,” but it reminds me a little of the “contractualism” of Jan Narveson and Loren Lomasky, who found their libertarianism on (roughly) those principles that rational people would agree to if they knew that everyone would be bound by them.  

            I disagree with your assertion that “we [can't] morally justify libertarianism,” although I agree that any such justification will not have the force of a mathematical proof. In my book I argue that Nozick’s ethical foundation for libertarian rights is pretty convincing by the standards we normally apply to such justifications.

          • Ken Lanterman

            Mark, Matt,

            Thanks for taking the time to read my post and to respond. It’s got to be like playing multi-level chess keeping up with the debates here. 

            Anyway, to try to clear up my understanding of “universal morality” and “simply pragmatic,” both of which are related: I’m trying to say that I have yet to see a convincing argument that morally grounds libertarianism.

            All arguments that have tried — natural rights, consequentialism, etc. — eventually base their first principles on an alleged reality that may or may not exist, that must be taken on faith, especially in the case of those arguing natural rights, or in the case of utilitarian arguments, present us with alternatives that don’t reflect reality.

            So, if you find yourself in a world where there are no grounded, absolute, universal moral values, I believe you are forced, if you are to survive, to view the world pragmatically,  to behave like a man suddenly thrust into a dark room just after coming in from a sunny day. You at first walk with a hope or faith that you don’t fall down an elevator shaft or bump into something sharp; move left, move right, find what works, base your next move on that discovery, and keep moving across the room. All the while you are making moves that work, pragmatic moves, after those first few faith-based steps. Eventually you build up knowledge of the room that you can say is no longer based on faith, yet still is uncertain.

            That’s my view of a pragmatic approach to libertarianism.

            I contingently hold a set of values (generally bleeding heart)  for a host of reasons. I also, for a host of contingent reasons, hold the belief that a world with less force (government) is the best for me. 

            I may, at one time, been convinced of the natural rights arguments, at another time the consequentialist, and the like, but I no longer can take those on faith or reason. They were my first steps into the darkness that left me with a bruise or two. I’ve now found a more pragmatic way. In fact, it was a pragmatic way all along.  

            I just wasn’t aware of it, until I made it across a good swath of the room.It works for me. I don’t claim it has any force over any one but me.

            You can call that a type of morality, but it’s not one you can say is universal, absolute or grounded. And yes, it does open me up to moral relativism.

            My answer to that comes from Rorty’s belief that even though we can’t ground our values/morality, we can and do know what works for us. The next step is to explain, describe and discuss with others why we view the world the way we do and hope they see the value in our story: in this case the BHL view. 

            All we truly are left with is a hope that enough people agree.

  • Anonymous

    I see racism without aggression (selective association) as a kind of vice, and racism coupled with aggression as a crime. Racism without aggression is offensive to my sensibilities, but so are many other things that have no business being prohibited, such as drug use and pornography and holding certain religious beliefs. To think that the white race or any other race is somehow naturally superior to other races is patently ridiculous, but it’s not a crime. It’s just stupidity.

  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    “If being a libertarian just means being committed to the non-aggression principle, then one’s beliefs about the intelligence, criminality, or even basic moral status of members of other races simply isn’t an issue.”

    That’s a very big if.  But yes, if it’s true that being a libertarian means only opposing state aggression then sure, every member of a (non-state-sponsored!) KKK lynch mob could theoretically be Libertarian to the core.  Indeed, their key argument could and would be “the state should never be strong enough to prevent us from lynching African Americans any time we get bored or horny.”

    The RandPaul, if not the Ron Paul version would appear to be “the state should never be strong enough to interfere with the actions of the private militia I personally hire as when they zip-tie reporters and curb-stomp young women who disagree with my definition of Libertarianism.”

    Of course it sounds like you and I agree that Libertarianism is considerably thicker than that.  But to argue about a thickness/thinness continuum such that at some point one no longer a “real” libertarian is to invite an entire universe of hair-splitting and edge-case adjudication.  In a slightly different context I think the muckraker reporter and feminist activist Lindsay Beyerstein distinguished an exit to that kind of hair-splitting when she said that while it might not be valid to argue that, say, Sarah Palin is not a feminist if she claims she is, it’s perfectly valid to say that Palin is a really, really bad feminist.

    Bringing the Beyerstein distinction to Libertarianism resolves the “thickness” question David Gordon raises.  Ron Paul is a Libertarian in that he endorses some subset of the wide spectrum of beliefs embraced by Libertarians.  But he’s an embarrassingly bad Libertarian.

    As for Gordon’s argument that the necessary and sufficient quality of Libertarianism is opposition to state aggression, that seems as open-ended as arguing that believing in God is the necessary and sufficient quality of being a Christian.  Yes, that’s a conceivable definition of Christianity, but both Billy Graham and Muqtada al-Sadr would argue that it’s a very bad definition.

    figleaf

    • Michael J. Green

      Who said anything about opposing only state aggression?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ankur-Chawla/1318711067 Ankur Chawla


    However we define libertarianism, and whatever our reasons for endorsing it, we are libertarians for some reason. And the reasons we have to endorse libertarianism will often be reasons for endorsing other values, projects, or cultural practices as well.”

    I think this is the most important insight of the piece.  It also leads me to suspect that we are all “thick” in our own ways, and because we all necessarily have our own values, no one is really “thin” (as has been pointed out, the Lew Rockwell paleolibertarianism is also thick in that it espouses certain moral values in civil society).  But no one is really “thick” in quite the same way either.  This is why I have long reached the conclusion that speaking of libertarianism in terms of thick and thin is something of a false dichotomy.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      Thanks, Ankur. I thought of your SFL post on this topic just after I hit the “submit” button for my own post. I think I agree that all libertarians are “thick” in a way, though I think some libertarians simply don’t give much thought to the question of what values ground their commitment to, say, the non-aggression principle. But I think there’s a sense among some libertarians that it’s “un-libertarian” in some way to talk about values and commitments other than NAP. Or that libertarianism as a political philosophy has nothing to say about anything other than the use of force. And that seems to me to be wrong, and the sort of thing I wanted to strike out against in this post. 

      • John Kindley

        I can as a matter of personal historical fact directly trace my own libertarianism, and eventual philosophical anarchism, to a conscious decision I made a number of years ago to study and consider more closely the American Revolution and its ideological origins. But this in turn appears, at least in retrospect, as a continuation of a lifelong effort, dating back at least to my high school years, to understand and participate more deeply in the ideas and values undergirding the society in which I live and from which I grew. This effort was manifested, for example, in my early interest in the so-called Great Books of the Western World, my decision to enlist in the Navy at the age of 17, and my conversion shortly thereafter to the Roman Catholic Church. Part and parcel of this effort was presumably a desire to be “spiritually” united with my fellow human beings (i.e., an instinct arguably opposite of the individualism which some take to be the essence of libertarianism), and an appreciation of the role of tradition in this kind of “union.” And part and parcel of this instinct was a questioning of and liberation from false authority (i.e., usurpation) in favor of higher authority. This questioning led me over the years first from plain vanilla Roman Catholicism to traditionalist (and arguably schismatic) Roman Catholicism to Quakerism to a Christian Deism or gnosticism represented by Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and William Law.

        The point being, my libertarianism and philosophical anarchism is the result of a long and well-thought out journey. It’s accordingly “thick,” as yours is, but presumably with different values. It may be false to say that “libertarianism as a political philosophy has nothing to say about anything other than the use of force.” But what else it has to say is very likely to depend on the “kind” of libertarian you’re talking to.    

      • Anonymous

        It seems to me that anyone who accepts zero aggression on deontological grounds is implicitly accepting other “values and commitments, to borrow a phrase. At the risk of oversimplifying:

        Consequentialist: I reject aggression because I don’t want it done to me (or because it produces better social outcomes in some way).

        Deontological: I reject aggression because people are moral actors, entitled by their status as human beings to the enjoyment of their lives, liberties, and property.

  • Mark Brady

    It seems to me that many who advocate a “thick” libertarianism are rather wobbly on the principles of a “thin” libertarianism, specifically on the issue of war and peace.

    • William Swann

      I’m not a libertarian of either type, thick or thin.  I’m an independent with centrist views that often point in the direction of expanding liberty, but don’t go as far as you folks go.

      One of the things I’m a bit confused about are the views on “war and peace” of libertarians.  I would generally think, based on the principle of non-coercion, that things like the Iraq war and the Vietnam war would be out of bounds for libertarianism — thus removing two especially painful episodes from our recent history.  

      But I would think something like the Afghanistan war or the Bin Laden raid are potential consistent with libertarianism.  In the former case, al Qaida was an open partner in government with the Taliban, so it was no surprise that they refused to turn Bin Laden over and we had to (imo) go in after them.  Our mistake (imo) was losing focus and failing to finish the job.  In the case of the Bin Laden raid, the Pakistani authorities had made peace with extremists in the tribal regions and some top officials were saying that if Bin Laden was there, he could continue to live there peacefully.  It’s unclear whether the authorities would have cooperated with his capture, or if some among them would have tipped him off.  That makes for a tough choice, but it’s unclear to me that either option is inconsistent with a principle of non-coercion.  Bin Laden was continuing to plan attacks from his hideout, thus making himself a legitimate target and making a host country’s claim of sovereignty inoperative, so long as they’re not willing to turn him over.

      I’ve discussed this once or twice with folks I know who are libertarian, and in one case heard a conspiracy theory to the effect that the Bin Laden raid was faked — so that sort of derailed the conversation quickly.  I also heard an interview with Ron Paul expressing strong opposition to the raid based on the notion that we could have worked with the Pakistanis to take Bin Laden into custody.  He mentioned an earlier case in which we had done so successfully with another high-level  Al Qaida guy, but left out the fact that that was years ago, before the Pakistani’s did a dramatic policy shift vis-a-vis internal extremists.

      It sort of feels like a weird space to me.  On the one hand, my foreign policy views are moderate, and I tend not to support actions that aren’t responses to use of force by others.  On the other, I seem to have a hard time discussing this with at least some libertarians.  I’m not inclined to think that governments get away with grand conspiracies in complicated events like the Bin Laden raid, nor do I necessarily think Obama is the king of guy who would do such a thing.

      I realize those aren’t the views of all libertarians, and there’s likely a range of views in your community.

      • Mark Brady

        Thank you for your reply.  I see where you’re coming from and why you write what you do.  No time now to engage in a defense of non-interventionism but I’d like to make clear that there are many self-identified libertarians who were happy to defend one or more of the following overseas ventures: the invasion of Iraq and  “humanitarian interventionism” around the globe (Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Libya, etc.).

        • William Swann

          Thanks, Mark.  This isn’t the thread for any extended consideration of foreign policy.  It’s interesting to know what kinds of views are floating around among libertarians, though.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      Hi Mark.  If that was directed at me, it was a bit too oblique for me to catch. I’m a pretty staunch non-interventionist. Not a principled pacifist, but pretty close on pragmatic grounds. And I don’t think I’ve said anything on this blog to indicate otherwise. So perhaps you could say a bit more about what you had in mind?

      • Anonymous

        Matt,
        What are these “pragmatic grounds,” and do they not weigh as heavily against any governmental efforts at “social justice”?

        • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

          Good question, but a bit of a biggie for the comment thread. But I like Bryan Caplan’s stuff on pacifism, and find much of what he says there convincing. There are certainly pragmatic issues to be considered in the pursuit of social justice as well, but I think they’re fairly different.

      • Mark Brady

        I’ve only just read your reply.  No, I didn’t think of you at all.  Perhaps I should have!  :-)  Seriously, I had in mind bloggers on other sites.  No names, no pack drill!

        • Anonymous

          I hope not me either. (I mention it given Matt’s reference to my essay in introducing the thin/thick distinction.) I’m actually on record as categorically opposing all government wars just as such, and I stand by that.

          It’s certainly true that some people who have relatively thick conceptions of libertarianism who also have stupid views about the compatibility of libertarian rights with international mass murder. (E.g., orthodox Randians are fairly easily identifiable both as having a very thick conception of libertarianism and as being horrible warmongers.) Although I’m not sure how many of those people are people who have spent much time describing or diferentiating their conception of libertarianism in terms of a thick/thin distinction. But in any case, as I understand it, “thick” isn’t a virtue term for libertarianism; it’s just a particular form of argument (or a family of closely resembling forms of argument) that might be made to try to connect a commitment to libertarian principles with commitments to other sorts of social or intellectual projects. Such arguments may be used for good or for evil, and the mere thickness of a particular conception of libertarianism is precisely no reason at all in its favor — the reasons, if there are reasons, to recommend a particular thick conception have to come from the substance of the argument being made, not from the form that the argument shares with other arguments for a different or even opposite thick conception.

          • Mark Brady

            If I understand you correctly, I agree with you.  And, no, I didn’t have you in mind when I posted my comments.  :-)

  • David Gordon

    I’m grateful for the discussion of my review. It may well  be that the
    reasons that lead one to support political libertarianism, in the way
    I’ve characterized it, have implications for other values as well. That
    obviously depends on the nature of these reasons. But it doesn’t follow
    that libertarianism (again, as I’ve characterized it) has these
    implications.

    Also, it doesn’t follow from my contention that
    libertarianism doesn’t imply the various social values  Gillespie and
    Welch support that there aren’t objectively true moral judgments about
    the issues that concern them. Precisely my contention is that
    libertarianism isn’t the sum and substance of morality.  On my
    understanding of libertarianism, e.g., someone who refuses to allow
    members of a racial minority to eat in his restaurant has not violated
    the libertarian rights of those he turns away; but he has still acted
    badly.

    Gillespie and Welch are perfectly free, if they wish, to
    defend a thicker version of libertarianism than the one I favor.  But
    then it is up to them to argue for the particular values they favor. 
    They don’t do so but largely confine themselves to telling us about
    things they like.

    Virginia Postrel seems to me mistaken to
    suggest that opposition to her “dynamist”  views is largely confined to
    the Mises Institute.  Why she thinks that my review of her book suggests
    that I “sensed”  this  false claim is beyond me. It is entirely
    mistaken of her to say that that Mises Institute has problems with free
    trade. To the contrary, Rothbard always defended unrestricted free
    trade. What I suspect she has in mind is  that Rothbard and others at
    the Mises Institute opposed NAFTA. But the grounds for this opposition
    was that the agreement mandated various government controls over trade. 
    It is also not the case that I blame the government for every social
    and economic change I dislike; and it would greatly surprise me if
    anyone at the Mises Institute thought this.

     

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      Hi David.  Thanks for stopping by to comment!

      You write:

      “It may well  be that the reasons that lead one to support political libertarianism, in the way 
      I’ve characterized it, have implications for other values as well. That obviously depends on the nature of these reasons. But it doesn’t follow that libertarianism (again, as I’ve characterized it) has these implications.”
      Perhaps part of our disagreement is merely linguistic. I’m not sure how much rides on whether we say it is “libertarianism” that has the implications, or whether it is the values that support libertarianism that have them. At any rate, there seems to me to be a clear difference between:

      1) I believe in the non-aggression principle. And I also believe, for entirely unrelated reasons, in the heliocentric view of the universe.
      2) I believe in the non-aggression principle. And I also believe, for the same reasons that lead me to believe in the non-aggression principle itself, that racism is morally abhorrent.

      Certainly the heliocentric view of the universe is not a part of libertarianism. Perhaps the aborrence of racism isn’t either. But, at least if it’s grounded in the way I’ve stipulated above, it’s a lot *closer* to being a part.

      You then write: 

      “Also, it doesn’t follow from my contention that  libertarianism doesn’t imply the various social values  Gillespie and Welch support that there aren’t objectively true moral judgments about the issues that concern them. Precisely my contention is that  libertarianism isn’t the sum and substance of morality.”

      I agree with this completely, but don’t think it’s incompatible with what I said in the post, or in my elaboration above.

      Again, I appreciate you coming by. I met you once at a LvMI summer seminar a long time ago. You were by far my favorite lecturer!

  • http://profiles.google.com/jtlevy Jacob Levy

    I have a post about thick-and-thin in draft form, but I’m not sure when I’ll finish it.  In the meantime I want to note one strong caveat about the way racism ends up getting talked about in these threads.

    In the U.S., the white racist should be presumed not to be a peaceful, non-aggressing, non-statist, voluntary-action-only kind of racist until pretty emphatically proven otherwise.  Racism has been a doctrine of tyranny in the U.S., not a doctrine of peaceful live-and-let-live keep-to-your-own-kind attitudes.  The white racist who tells you that Lincoln was a great tyrant, or who indulges in the nostalgia of the Confederate flag, is not a non-aggressing potential libertarian who just happens to prefer his own kind.  He’s a would-be tyrant whose side lost but who still yearns for power and domination.  I have known some peaceable non-aggressing just-don’t-like-my-kind anti-Semites; but part of why I believe they were of that sort is that they didn’t put swastikas on the back of their pickup trucks.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      Yes, yes, and yes. It’s fine in the classroom to imagine various sorts of racist discrimination that is merely irrational, or that is rational but immoral in some subtle non-aggressive way. It’s also fine in the classroom to imagine politicians who act with perfect rationality and public-spiritedness. But it pays us well to remember, in both cases, that the social reality in which we dwell is far removed from these imaginary constructs.

      I look forward to your post!

    • Anonymous

      Lincoln was a white supremacist that wanted blacks out of the country. Lincoln was not a fan of chattel slavery– but was willing to maintain it if it kept the Union together.  A fan of Lincoln ought to be regarded as a ‘would-be tyrant’.  Given the long history of mass murder and destruction commited under the US banner, that flag should give pause to a true libertarian.

      Did you know that Rockwell published Gore Vidal, Chomsky and Walter Williams too? 

      • Anonymous

        3cantuna: “Lincoln was a white supremacist that wanted blacks out of the country. Lincoln was not a fan of chattel slavery– but was willing to maintain it if it kept the Union together.  . . .  Given the long history of mass murder and destruction commited under the US banner, that flag should give pause to a true libertarian.”

        That much is certainly true. And it’s a good reason not to celebrate Lincoln or the United States flag. But it’s not a reason to go around flying the Confederate flag, or otherwise celebrating that rampaging slave empire. When governments go to war with each other, the fact that the belligerent government on one side is despicable and tyrannical is not necessarily a reason to celebrate the belligerent government on the other side — they may well both be despicable and tyrannical. As a matter of fact, that is pretty much always the case. And it’s especially so in the case of the American Civil War.

        • Anonymous

          Agreed, for the most part. 
          The Confederate flag has different meanings to different people however. The semiotic intent of painting the stars and bars on the Gen. Lee– that famous car from the 70′s hit tv show The Dukes of Hazard– surely was not to celebrate a slave empire?

          One time at a Mises Institute Hans Hoppe lecture he began with ‘Today is Jefferson Davis’s birthday’.  The class cheered. To be fair, Hoppe’s colleague prods him to mention it.

          • Anonymous

            The Confederate flag has different meanings to different people however.

            Sure. But I’d have to hear what the “meaning” is supposed to be and why it is so closely attached to the military colors of a long-dead slave empire. Certainly the historical reasons why the flag is a live and potent symbol for some of my fellow Southern whites (I was raised in eastern Alabama and live there now) seem to me to have a lot more to do with the legacy of white supremacy than not. When white people tell me that they are flying that flag because they want to invoke some kind of “Southern heritage” or “Southern identity,” it seems to me that they have a pretty curiously selective picture of just what they are inheriting and identifying with. (It doesn’t seem to have much to do with the legacies of Southerners like Harriet Tubman, or Ida Wells, or Rosa Parks. Which I guess is not surprising, since none of them would be much interested in having the Battle Flag as the symbol of their legacy….)

            Meaning in any case is not just a purely private affair — whatever the “intent” behind the flag, it does also matter how other people will take what you do.

            The semiotic intent of painting the stars and bars on the Gen. Lee–
            that famous car from the 70′s hit tv show The Dukes of Hazard– surely
            was not to celebrate a slave empire?

            I dunno; I expect that the idea was to celebrate “the South.” But the idea of “the South” that is defined by the Battle Flag and by the hero-worship of a statist slaving warrior like Robert E. Lee is not an entirely separate thing from the celebration of the Lost Cause. Certainly whatever meaning was intended, it doesn’t seem to be a meaning that leaves very much room for the lives or heritage of many Southerners, most notably those who happen to be a bit blacker than the Dukes are.

    • Anonymous

      Jacob: “The white racist who tells you that Lincoln was a great tyrant, or who indulges in the nostalgia of the Confederate flag, is not a non-aggressing potential libertarian who just happens to prefer his own kind.”

      Probably not. But Lincoln was a great tyrant. Pointing this out has no necessary connection with the ugly and racist fetish for the Confederate State or  nostalgia for the bloody banner of its conscripted army.

      • Anonymous

        OK, have it your way, Lincoln was a “great tyrant.” How do you propose to describe the N. Korean nut job, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, etc.–”great, great, tyrants.” It seems to me that judgments like this leave no room for morally significant distinctions. You must think that the U.S. is a bad, horrible, terribly, nasty county, but are we the moral equivalent of N. Korea. If we knew for certain that N. Korea was preparing a nuclear strike against us, should we forego a pre-emptive attack on the basis that our society is just as evil as theirs?

        • Anonymous

          Mark: ‘How do you propose to describe the N. Korean nut job, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, etc.–”great, great, tyrants.”‘

          I am not sure why the existence of very very horrible tyrants would be a reason to qualify my blame of merely very horrible tyrants. It is not as if the language is going to run out of emphatic terms. In fact it seems to me rather more important to stress Lincoln’s tyranny than it is the others’ — since hardly anyone that I regularly talk to tries to make excuses for the Kims, Pol Pot, Hitler or Stalin, to deny that they were tyrants, or to present their rampaging political violence as a model of “leadership” to emulate. Whereas many people I regularly talk to do all of those things for Lincoln.

          Mark: “You must think that the U.S. is a bad, horrible, terribly, nasty county, but are we the moral equivalent of N. Korea.”

          I find that when people start a sentence with “You must think…” and then follows it with a bunch of superlatives, it hardly ever describes what I do think.

          I don’t have anything against the country, either in America or in Korea. But I do have something against the governments that dominates us here and there.

          I do not think that the U.S. government is the moral equivalent of the North Korean government. The North Korean government is horrible. But the U.S. government has killed far more people.

          Mark: “If we knew for certain that N. Korea was preparing a nuclear strike against us, should we forego a pre-emptive attack on the basis that our society is just as evil as theirs?”

          I don’t know where this “we” is coming from. I don’t have any armies or nuclear weapons; do you? These are not the kind of thing that societies have or control; they are the kind of thing that governments have and control. If you personally had a way to strike the North Korean government and — by hurting or killing only people who are in some meaningful way responsible for the threatened nuclear strike — put an end to the threat, then by all means you should do so. But I doubt that’s what you had in mind.

          If on the other hand your question is whether the United States government should engage in a “pre-emptive attack” on the country of North Korea — I don’t know whether you have a first-strike nuclear massacre in mind, or whether you mean a more “conventional” bombing of heavily populated urban centers — then my answer is no, they should not. Either a nuclear or a “conventional” government war inevitably means massacreing a lot of civilians, and I do not believe that they ought to murder Koreans in order to save the lives of Americans from potential threats posed by a hostile, alien third party (the North Korean government) over whom those Koreans have little or no effective control.

          • Anonymous

            I believe we have very different intuitions about self-defense. If “Joe,” a known criminal psychopath who has (as you say) “little or no control over his actions,” breaks into my house at 3am with a shotgun, I am going to kill him. I believe I am acting rightly because a completely innocent person has an inherent moral right of self defense.

            I claim that on the same logic, if “we” (the elected U.S. government) that we (the citizenry) rely upon to protect us in such a scenario, knew for certain that Crazy Mr. Supreme Leader Kim has ordered an unprovoked nuclear strike against us, our leaders “should” (are morally justified) in making a pre-emptive strike. They should try to minimize civilian casualties, but whatever the cost, they should prevent the launch of the N. Korean missiles. You disagree, right?

            I believe that the moral intuitions supporting my view on self-defense are compelling, but if you want a justification I would say that in the scenario I describe the N. Korean people have more responsibility for the crisis than do we (“nations have the governments they deserve”).

          • Anonymous

            If “Joe,” a known criminal psychopath who has (as you say) “little or no control over his actions,” breaks into my house at 3am with a shotgun, I am going to kill him …

            That’s fine. I believe you have a right to do so. The reason you have the right to shoot Joe is because Joe is threatening to shoot you. (If he is really out of his mind, then perhaps he is an innocent threat. But I think you have a right to defend yourself against innocent threats.) On the other hand if your plan were to murder a dozen of Joe’s cousins and neighbors on the off chance that it might stop his rampage, I’d say that you don’t have any right to do that. You have a right to shoot people who are threatening you. You don’t have a right to shoot innocent bystanders whose deaths might slow or stop a completely different person who is threatening you.

            I claim that on the same logic, if “we” (the elected U.S. government) …

            Well, I reject the claim that you can apply the logic of individual self-defense to government war in any meaningful way. Individuals who are drawing on their own resources to fight with each other are each of them unitary agents who make the decisions, bear the costs, dish out the violence, and take the risks of loss, injury or death on themselves. But in modern government wars it is governments that make the decisions, nonconsenting taxpayers who bear the costs, soldiers who dish out the violence and mostly nonconsenting civilians who are forced to endure the loss, injury and death. That’s not self-defense; it’s just conquest and victory through victim-swapping.

             They should try to minimize civilian casualties, but whatever the cost, they should prevent the launch of the N. Korean missiles. You disagree, right? 

            Yes, I disagree. They have a right to inflict any “cost” they want to on the North Korean governors who are actually trying to get the missiles launched. And they have the right to take on whatever “costs” of suffering or expense that they choose to take upon themselves. But they have no right to “cost” the lives of a bunch of innocent Koreans who have nothing to do with that. I think the claim that any military objective is worth achieving “whatever the cost,” if that “whatever” is really intended literally, is an appalling travesty of conscience.

            I describe the N. Korean people have more responsibility for the crisis than do we (“nations have the governments they deserve”).

            I don’t know, it seems a bit silly to me to talk up what horrible tyrants the Kims have been and then turn around and claim that their primary victims are really to blame for the actions of the government that ruthlessly dominates and controls them. But in any case, even if the victims of the North Korean government somehow bear moral responsibility for the crimes of their victimizer, “more responsibility” is not the same thing as being guilty of a hanging crime, as long as they are not the ones giving the orders, I don’t see how murdering them can be justified as an act of self-defense.

          • Anonymous

            I accept the moral legitimacy of states for the limited purpose of national defense, so I don’t see actions taken under this authority as per se immoral. You do, but I am not going to debate that here.

            You say it is “an appalling travesty of conscience” to take millions of N. Korean lives if necessary to prevent the missile launch in my scenario, but it is not apparently “an appaling travesty of conscience” to do nothing at let millions of innocent American die. I don’t see the logic of this.

            If put to this choice, I believe the inherent right of self-defense applies. I do not wish our government to  kill innocent N. Koreans, but if it is the only alternative to the death of millions of Americans, I believe this is justified.  If we, as you propose, hold to a strict policy of non-intervention, then the N. Koreans are the only people with an opportunity to rid the world of their barbarian leader. They have not done so and must therefore bear the consequences, at least relative to Americans who under your rules are not ever allowed to intervene in such cases.

            It is similar in my view to the defense of “necessity” under the criminal law. If a person puts a gun to your head and says he will kill you if you don’t kill another innocent person, if you pull the trigger the defense doesn’t work. Even if you are an innocent victim, you got yourself into the situation and can’t kill someone else to get yourself out.

          • Sergio Méndez

            “You say it is “an appalling travesty of conscience” to take millions of
            N. Korean lives if necessary to prevent the missile launch in my
            scenario, but it is not apparently “an appaling travesty of conscience”
            to do nothing and let millions of innocent American die. I don’t see the
            logic of this.”

            But Radgeek never said that. He said that you have the right to defend yourself against those actually being a threat (the members of North Korean Goverment), not every innocent bystander living in North Korea.

            Of course you claim that Nort Koreans are not innocent bystanders, but then by your own wrecked standards, it seems to me many other nations who have been subject of agresions by the American Goverments (essentally, in almost every continent of the planet), will have the right to bomb you and kill american innocent bystandards (who appear to me far more guilty of their actions of their goverment, since they actually elect it). In other words, using your own argument, you are justifying your own murder by many foreign countries.

          • Anonymous

            Please go back and carefully re-read my previous comments. The way I describe the scenario, U.S. leaders have two choices: (i) do nothing and let N. Korea lauch, which will kill millions of Americans or (ii) pre-emt and kill millions of N. Koreans (there is no “surgical strike” option). Understand?

            I agree, the U.S. is the worst country on Earth…except all the others. Cheers!

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think Sergio said anything about how awful America is as a country, compared to other countries. Why do you keep trying to make this into some kind of race to see who is the “best” or the “worst”?

            His point was that the standards you endorse with regard to killing Koreans for the crimes of “their” government abroad would also seem to justify killing Americans for the crimes of “their” government abroad.  This has nothing to do with comparative judgments of better or worse; it has to do with applying the same standards for guilt and punishment across the board. Sergio’s point is that regardless of how comparatively awesome or awful a
            government may be, when you line it up next to the other governments, the question is whether the people of the various countries that have to endure any of those governments are, or are not, the people who ought to be punished or killed for the evil or aggression of the governments that dominate them. And if you don’t like what your stated standards for answering that question would recommend with regard to American civilians, then perhaps you also ought to reconsider applying them to Korean civilians, too.

          • Anonymous

            You say it is “an appalling travesty of conscience” to take millions of
            N. Korean lives if necessary to prevent the missile launch in my
            scenario, but it is not apparently “an appaling travesty of conscience”
            to do nothing and let millions of innocent American die. I don’t see the
            logic of this.

            Because I don’t think that “millions of people are going to die either way” is a good reason to conclude “So I may as well pull the trigger myself; at least that way I get to choose the ones to die.” If you think that (1) being forced to watch millions of innocent people die, and (2) actually going out and killing millions of innocent people yourself are exactly the same from the standpoint of conscience, then I’m not sure I know what to say to that.

            But of course in any case I didn’t say that you should “do nothing.” I said that the things you do need to be limited to things you can do without massacreing millions of innocent people. Perhaps you think that this leaves nothing at all to do, but I don’t. (*) Even if it did, though, see above.

            If put to this choice, I believe the inherent right of self-defense applies.

            I agree with you that people have a right to self-defense and that it applies in a situation like this. But I don’t agree that its application encompasses killing unrelated third parties who aren’t threatening you. You can defend yourself by killing a person who threatens your life. Not by killing his neighbors until he stops threatening you.

            It is similar in my view to the defense of “necessity” under the
            criminal law. If a person puts a gun to your head and says he will kill
            you if you don’t kill another innocent person, if you pull the trigger
            the defense doesn’t work. Even if you are an innocent victim, you got
            yourself into the situation and can’t kill someone else to get yourself
            out.

            O.K. But it seems to me that that position bolsters my case more than it bolsters yours. I’m not the one trying to defend pulling the trigger on innocent bystanders here; you are. My statements about Korean victims of the North Korean government had nothing to do with a “necessity” defense — there’s no defense to be made because the millions of Korean civilians that would be killed didn’t shoot or bomb anybody in the first place. They need no necessity defense because they didn’t do the deed to begin with. Whereas when you propose having the U.S. government pull the trigger on millions of innocent Koreans, your justification is — as far as I can tell; correct me if I’m wrong — that they had to do this because somebody else — to wit, the North Korean government — is holding a bomb over the heads of innocent Americans, and the only way they or we can get out of that is to kill someone else. Well, maybe so. But you just denied that anyone has a right to save their own skin at the cost of innocent third parties’ lives.

            If those living under extreme despots know that they will not suffer
            the consequences of aggression by their leaders because they are
            innocent bystanders, they don’t have much incentive to rebel, do they?

            Seriously? Suppose that someone (let’s name him “Osama bin Laden,” after no-one in particular) were trying to justify massacres of American civilians as retaliation for U.S. foreign policy, and he made an argument like this:  “If those living under the American government know that they won’t suffer the consequences of aggression by their leaders, they don’t have much incentive to rebel, do they?” Well, actually the U.S. government gives Americans plenty of reasons of their own to rebel, and the North Korean government gives Koreans even more. (They haven’t succeeded at that yet, but that’s because a rebellion against an entrenched regime is a hard thing to pull off, not because people aren’t sufficiently motivated.) But even if they had no reasons at all to rebel, that’s not a justification for massacreing civilians until they have been properly “incentivized.”

            The reason is that those civilians’ lives are not geopolitical bargaining chips to be bet and lost. Their lives are their own. They are not yours to sacrifice for a desired political outcome, or to bargain or to trade off for the well-being or even the lives of people that you know and like better.

            (*) If you had — ex hypothesi — certain knowledge of a pending attack, you
            might start by sharing this knowledge with others, so that people in the
            line of fire might have some chance of getting away from known or likely targets.

          • Anonymous

            See below.

          • Anonymous

            One other thing I think you have missed. You accept that the N. Koreans have a right to rebel. But, such a revolution would in all probability itself lead to the loss of innocent life. Even if the rebels act so as to minimize innocent casualties, Kim will kill indiscriminately, and innocent people (those not rebelling) will die. 

            So since you say this: “civilians’ lives are not geopolitical bargaining chips to be bet and lost. Their lives are their own. They are not yours to sacrifice for a desired political outcome, or to bargain or to trade off for the well-being or even the lives of people that you know and like better.” It would appear that the rebellion itslef would be unjustified, right?

  • bobfoster

    While I’m not a fan of racism in any form, the real problem with a lot of the “paleo” racial beliefs is that the bigotry is not just expressed as personal opinions/preferences. The racial opinions and “science” are used to advocate in SUPPORT of bigger government and state violence against specific types of people. It’s a matter of the self-proclaimed most “pure” libertarians arguing that freedom is reserved for people of certain backgrounds and all others get the boot of the state. That’s not even including those paleo writers/associates who believe in transitional freedom and a stateless society for everyone, only to be later replaced by a Church State that grants citizenship only to those of a specific religion and enforces laws with punishments like stoning.

    Then there are those who make excuses for the Paul and Rothbard/Rockwell newsletters because of the “context” of the times- Rodney King and L.A. riots. Let’s claim to be individualists, except when it’s politically convenient to embrace racial collectivism. During the “context” of those times, it wasn’t just a case of “libertarians” confronting uncomfortable truths or sharing anti-PC beliefs about race, but those libertarians were supporting “street justice” in the form of police brutality and writing in favor of the police. Police should beat suspects, and that’s OK because the victims have the opportunity ( in theory) to sue the state and win ( not likely) if the abuse was not deserved. Crazy stuff.

    Meanwhile, Cato and reason, while being accused by neo-confederates of being “cosmopolitan war-mongers” employ anti- war scholars/writers who cover police brutality and work to free those wrongly convicted with fake science and racist procedures.

    • Ken S

      “Let’s claim to be individualists, except when it’s politically convenient to embrace racial collectivism.”

      This is probably the best criticism of the newsletters I’ve seen so far. Using ‘race’ as a collective concept for political purposes seems like just about one of the most non-individualistic notions possible, considering how many people belong to the few races that are out there! Libertarianism shouldn’t be a philosophy that lets you support whatever collectives you like and deride others, there are qualities to certain collectives that can make them very non-libertarian in other ways, no matter how many people state a preference for them.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_25U66WYCYXCFY7UFK6JJ3ERU2I keith preston

    Would not the proper libertarian approach to race issues simply be to remove the state from racial matters altogether and allow people to associate or not associate along racial lines in whatever way they choose? How about “separation of race and state” in the same way we now have separation of religion and state? We made a video about that a couple of years ago: 

    My guess is that minus the state trying to impose a “one size fits all” model, the kinds of institutions, organizations, and communities that might emerge in a state-free society would probably span the whole spectrum of beliefs and values: some liberal, some conservative, some religious, some secular, some socialist, some proprietarian, some racially homogenous/exclusionary, some racially heterogenous/inclusive. We can regard these in any way we wish on aesthetic or normative grounds, but does any of that really have anything to do with state abolitionism per se?

    • http://profiles.google.com/jtlevy Jacob Levy

      Not when the southern states have proven adept at strategic pretenses at non-state action.  Have a public police force that certainly never prosecutes violence against blacks.   Build a private racial terrorist army in the Klan, and then have the state in the form of public law enforcement constantly, conspicuously look the other way.  Unleash that pseudo-private violence not only on blacks but also on whites who violate the racist norms about interacting with blacks, so as to create an equilibrium in which all whites become compliant with those norms.  Opportunistically redefine the segregated public school system as a private school system in which the same money flows are directed to the same white schools.  

      Even after the end of the pseudo-private tyranny of slavery, strategic use of state inaction has been a frequent tool of racial domination.  The fantasy that what white racists are a funny kind of Amish who want to live unmolested on their peaceful whites-only compound is a source of serious confusion.  They want blacks around, and subordinated, and will use public or private violence and threats of violence to get it.  

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_25U66WYCYXCFY7UFK6JJ3ERU2I keith preston

        I’m familiar with the history you’re outlining, but I think reliance on such history renders your argument a bit archaic. The primary dangers of violence faced by black Americans today originate from either police violence (usually under cover of the various “wars on…”) or “black on black” crime (which is greatly exacerbated by the various “wars on…”). The idea that removing the state from race issues would result in a resurgence of the Reconstruction era KKK seems to be a bit of a reach.

        The Swiss model would seem to be far more appropriate.

        • Damien S.

          The primary dangers they face come from those sources after 4 decades of concerted effort by the federal government to suppress state-level local-level and private-level violence and oppression and discrimination.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_25U66WYCYXCFY7UFK6JJ3ERU2I keith preston

            Perhaps, but the “wars on…” have had the federal government as their primary sponsors and instigators. So relying on the feds to defend African-Americans against violence seems rather self-defeating.

  • Anonymous

    It’s frequently argued that libertarians cannot be racists, because libertarianism is hostile to “collectivities” of all sorts. Yet here we are told that there is no incompatibility between libertarianism and racism.

    I’ve always felt the latter to be true: libertarianism ins not just compatible with racism, it’s far more prone to and enthusiastic about racism than its rivals. “We only hang out with white people because we prefer white people, it’s like preferring classical music, none of the state’s business, freedom means the choice to attend all white schools (or all black schools) etc etc..”

    “Race” is seductive to libertarians because it looks like a natural fact–some people are black, some are white, look around, the NBA full of black guys, they are naturally better athletes, the corporate boardrooms are mostly white guys, they are natural businessmen, the jews are naturally good with money and so on, till there you are with the Ron Paul newsletters.

    I’ve no doubt there are libertarians who genuinely abhor racism as a collectivity, but the determination to “naturalize” difference is always bringing libertarians back to race.

    The egalitarian position, I’d argue, wants to say there is not such thing as race in biological fact, but the market and the law have been structured as if this natural fact existed, and the law and the market must be changed in tandem if we want genuine equality of opportunity. Egalitarians are hostile to “nature” as the ground of argument. But egalitarians lack the illusion of solid ground which libertarians take comfort in. So egalitarians love the market and exchange and negotiation over meaning, but dislike the gold standard as arbitrary. Libertarians love the market and its possibilities, but want there to be a real bottom line” which govts. can’t touch. Egalitarians are vulnerable to govt. oppression masquerading as therapeutic good; libertarians are vulnerable to status quo tyrannies being perpetuated as “freedom.”

    • Damien S.

      Err.  I don’t think egalitarians *as egalitarians* have any opinion on the gold standard.  People oppose the gold standard because it works poorly in practice and macroeconomic theory, not because it’s “arbitrary”.  It is, but so is fiat money, but well-managed, fiat money works well.

      • Anonymous

        Damien,
        You really must be kidding. The Fed was founded in 1913 and since that time we have had the Great Depression and many nasty recessions. The purchasing power of a dollar in 1913 in now less than 5 cents. If the dollar depreciated over that period at a steady and predictable rate, that would be one thing. But instead, we have had periods of intense inflation and some deflation. These fluctuations and the Fed’s efforts to counteract them by either loose or easy money always punishes some groups at the expense of others, i.e. inflation punishes retired people on fixed incomes and benefits debtors who borrowed at fixed rates, who get to pay back their creditors with inflated dollars.

        Hayek’s definition of the rule of law includes the requirement that the law be fixed and certain (as well as neutral between groups) so that people can plan their lives without unwelcome government “surprises.” By that measure fiat money is an abject failure. And, it sure worked well in the Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe, where people literally needed wheelbarrows to carry enough paper money to buy a loaf of bread. Some version of the gold standard cannot possibly be worse than the current system.

        • Damien S.

           The metals period had lots of its own recessions (“panics”) and uncertainty, and over along term shocks from gold rushes and of course the discovery of American silver.  Countries recovered from the Great Depression as they got off gold.  Gold deflation benefits those who hold gold.  And yes, fiat money has some dramatic failure modes, but they’re hardly typical.

          You do know that mainstream economists (like, say, Milton Friedman) are pretty much all supporters of fiat money and central banks, right  Do you understand why, or dismiss them as unintelligible fools?

          • Anonymous

            First, I generally don’t dismiss people who disagree with my ideas as “unintelligible fools,” but I’m willing to make exceptions. Yeah, I’m aware that support for the gold standard is a minority view, but for a long time so was the idea that germs cause disease. As Keynes himself said, “When the fact change, I change my mind, what do you do?”

            Economists associated with Mises and Cato support the gold standard, and the presdent of the World Bank, Robert Zoelick make headlines about a year ago by saying we should take a serious look. James Grant, author of the well-respected “Interest Rate Observer” also supports it. I haven’t done my own survey. There are many variations of it, not all of which involve convertibility. I am not emotionally committed to the gold standard, but I see no other way to constrain the polticians from running the printing presses. In case you haven’t noticed, Obama just asked for the debt ceiling to be raised to over $16 trillion–all of it incurred since we went off the gold standard.  

          • Damien S.

            The facts support Keynesianism; will you change your mind?  Massive US borrowing (mostly from US citizens) has not raised the interest rate; markets are still happy to shove money at the US gov’t at 2% for 10 years.   Expansion of the monetary base has not caused inflation.  And this is shared with other developed countries that borrow in their own currencies.  These facts are explained by the Keynesian liquidity trap, and IS-LM models.

            The euro is much like a gold standard for the countries on it: a money whose supply is not under their control, and is in the control bank committed to near-zero inflation, regardless of economic conditions.  The result has been crisis — sparked by Greek’s debt, but not ultimately caused by it — and severe economic contraction with resulting human misery and unemployment, even in countries which had been running government surpluses.

            Yes, the US has a lot of debt — most of it incurred since 1980 and the rise of small government, tax-cuts uber alles, ideology.  But borrowing in foreign currency hasnt’ stopped countries from going even more into debt.

          • Anonymous

            Needless to say, I disagree on the facts. For years Greece could borrow money for 10 years at very low rates; ditto Italy; ditto Spain. Then, creditors woke up, and they were dead. The NASDAQ index reached over 5000 during the dotcom mania in 2001–then it crashed and ten years later it is still well under 3000. Bubbles inflate, then suddenly pop. Markets are irrational in the short run–only in the long run do they tend towards rationality. I’m sorry, but only a very naive person would infer from the exiting rate on our 10-year that things will stay this way in 2-3 years. Or, have you suddenly become a Chicago school economist with tremendous faith in the efficiency of the market at any moment? (this is not really fair, but it makes the point).

            The Euro is certainly NOT like the gold standard because those who live under it cannot convert their euros to gold. This feature stops the printing presses and the incurring of huge debt because if citizens see this beginning they get out of the currency into gold. For me the gold standard is simply a means to an end–to keep the authorities from debasing the currency. Show me a better way and I am for it. 

          • Damien S.

            Japan has had worse debt than us for two decades, and has lower interest rates.  Markets can be short-term irrational yes, but how long will you wait before deciding another theory fits the facts better? 

            The euro periphery got lower interest rates after going on the euro, and implicit ideas that Greece et al. were now as safe as Germany, due to convergennce or assumptions of backing.  As it turned out, Greece’s governments had been lying about the numbers, which could happen anywhere.  (Hey, Enron.)  The rest started unraveling as it became clear that no, Germany and the ECB wouldn’t necessarily back everyone.  Spain and Ireland were running surpluses before the crisis, Austria is a core country with better finances than Germany — yet has also shown widening bond spreads.  The morality play of excessive government borrowing does not fit the facts of what happened in Europe.  Current account balances do.

            “The Euro is certainly NOT like the gold standard because those who live under it cannot convert their euros to gold.”

            This only makes sense if you think gold is magically ‘real’  money. 
            Yes, gold can’t be run off the printing presses.  But printing presses are not at work here.  Greece did not borrow lots of money because it was running printing presses; only the ECB can run the euro presses and it has assiduously not done so, despite that being the recommendatoin of mainstream economics.  The debt of Greece was incurred in what is *effectively* a money supply nearly as fixed as gold.

          • Anonymous

            You are welcome to your own personal “facts,” but you (hopefully) must recognize that they are highly subjective and controversial. Japan has huge debt but in contrast to most other debtor nations, it is held mostly by its own citizens, not China, Saudi, etc. And, sad to say, this burden will eventually catch up to them as well.

            We fundamentally disagree about the cause of the Euro financial problems. Creditors look at national debt as a percentage of GDP. Greece well exceeds 100% and Italy and others are getting close (as a result of extremely generous entitlement programs). Unless a country benefits from rapid growth and thus rapidly increasing tax revenues they are toast. When creditors figure out that the debt is too high relative to anticipated future revenues to permit repayment they refuse to lend at “normal” rates. So “surpluses” don’t much matter.

            If you owe your credit card company $200K in principal and $30K a year in interest, the fact that you are running a “surplus” of $10K (your income after paying all other expenses) still leaves you BK. Under a gold standard, when I see that the U.S. has $62 trillion in unfunded future entitlement obligations (not just the current printing of money), I and millions of others will demand that our paper dollars be converted into gold or silver or something tangible. This threat limits the ability of the political authorities to make promises they can”t keep and risk a run on the central bank that could prove very embarrasing.

            I am tired of this fruitless debate, so you are welcome to the last word.

          • Damien S.

            You’re the one asserting your own personal “facts”.  US debt is *also* mostly held by ourselves.
            http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/debt-is-mostly-money-we-owe-to-ourselves/

            Surpluses matter because they mean the debt is going down.  Being repaid, right then and there.

            I don’t know what BK is supposed to mean, but if you own $200,000 and $30,000 in interest, and are running a surplus of $10,000 after paying the interest, then your debt is going down. 

            The euro countries got high debt without being able to run printing presses.  This is not a personal or subjective or controversial “fact”, it’s just a fact.

          • Anonymous

            You appear to have an impressive grasp of economics. You seem to have a deep understanding of the relationship between certain economic policies and the results they will produce. I am an investor, and I would love to get the benefit of this profound knowldge.

            So, it would really help me to know the U.S. GDP for 2012, the rate on the 10-year Teasury at the end of next year, the price of gold 12 months out, next year’s CPI., etc. Can you demonstrate your vast knowledge–and help me out–with predictions of these variables?   

            BTW, “BK” is a standard abbreviation of bankruptcy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/troy.camplin Troy Camplin

    My thick libertarianism is precisely why I run the blog Austrian Economics and Literature: http://theliteraryorder.blogspot.com

    Indeed, my libertarianism is about as thick as they come — my libertarianism arises because of what I believe the nature of the universe to be — self-organizing, complexifying, and emergentist.

  • Russell Nelson

    What the hell is wrong with David Gordon? Even if I accept his definition, the state uses violence to give some people (straights) privileges that gays don’t get. It picks up a gun, divides people into straights and gays, looks at the straights, and says “You can inherit each other’s property without fee. You can make medical decisions for each other. You can both pick up your children at the government schools.” Then it points its guns at the gays and says “You fuckers? You can’t.”

    That’s classic initiation of force.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SDXFOZL2VZTEHEOX4BJRA5KCAQ Adam


    The Fed was founded in 1913 and since that time we have had the Great Depression and many nasty recessions. The purchasing power of a dollar in 1913 in now less than 5 cents”
    hey peep this: 
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_versus_nominal_value_(economics) 

    Also this might be of some help:

    http://www.bls.gov/cpi/ 

    Most nations have central banks and have had them for some time. I’m sure someone has the hard data but given that in the world we usually have roughly 180 countries in the world at any given time there are probably something like 175ish central banks over the last several decades. So lets fix the founding year of these central banks at 1913 and assume that the 175 is constant across time.
    If my numbers are right, that gives 17, 150 observations if we were to organize our central bank data set on a year to year basis. I could be wrong, but the vast majority of those 17, 150 country-years were probably not periods of run way inflation or deflation. 
    I have no special affinity for central banking but my suspicion is that Zimbabwee and Weimar are radical outliers in the type of data set that I described above. In other words, to implicitly cite them as typical cases is probably misleading. I’m not saying you are doing it intentionally and I don’t want you to think that I am “calling you out” or something. 
    I have no special affinity for central banking though my critique of the Federal Reserve is very different from yours. However, I don’t think it helps the cause to the “Zimbabwe” or “nominal=real” argument (beyond the fact that the 2011 “market basket” looks very different from the 1913 “market basket”…..) 
    More generally, I don’t find anything especially libertarian about the typical Austrian-inspired critique of the Federal Reserve nor do I think there is anything especially libertarian about commodity backed money (gold or otherwise). But maybe I don’t understand it. 

    • Anonymous

      Frankly, I think you are correct that you don’t understand the libertarian perspective on this. Its called “fiat” money because it exists by the command of the state, not by voluntary choice of the users. That’s why if you take a dollar from your wallet it will say “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.” That language is statutory. By what right does the state get to tell me what I must accept in payment of debts? By this same “logic” FDR made it illegal to own gold in 1933. How did it become the government’s business what metals I own?

      Apart from this, there is the fact that fiat currencies enable the state to incur obligations that it will be unable to honor, passing them on to future generations or satisfying them with monopoly money, also in violation of its citizens’ rights.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SDXFOZL2VZTEHEOX4BJRA5KCAQ Adam

        Mark, 
           Yes yes I understand the notion of “Fiat” money as state monopoly on money production. But I don’t think the gold standard is any more libertarian. 
           Let’s start at the point of extraction. Gold-mining is a highly authoritarian and violent industry often relying on slave-like conditions and enriching brutal regimes, especially in Africa. So at the point of extraction it is not libertarian in many situations. Granted, the US and AUS do mine a fair amount of gold, and I think Canada does too, but a large portion of the global gold supply comes from states with utterly authoritarian regimes. 
           Secondly, gold moves from the most brutal third world nations to the first world through a series of cartel-like traders and decidedly unlibertarian organizations. 
           So gold from extraction to market is essentially the inverse of what we might think of as a voluntary libertarian system of extraction, marketization and exchange. 
            The state doesn’t tell you what you can take in payment for debts. I don’t understand what you are trying to say here. There is no law saying that someone can’t pay you back in kind with their labor or anything else. Seriously, loan someone a few bucks in exchange for mowing your lawn next week or something. Its not illegal. 
            The second problem I see with the “gold standard” notion is the “standard” part. If its all about voluntary submission to a particular kind of currency there should probably be no uniform “standard”. Why should folks in Seattle have to trade in gold mined in Papua New Guinea? Why can’t they have a currency based on coffee or rare copies of Subpop LPs? 
             Would Papau New Guinea become a global super power because of its gold reserves? Nations with large natural resource endowments tend to be the most oppressive and undemocratic, I don’t think empowering them further is very libertarian. 
            I personally would not submit willingly to an international gold standard and would want some type of control and autonomy over the money that I used. Gold production and prices wax and wave dramatically over time. I would not want myself or my community to have to submit our livelihoods to the whims of a  global commodity market. 
            On your final point, the banking sector as it currently exists would surely find ways to make loans even with gold backed currency and states would still go into massive amounts of debt. Remember that many Latin American countries were indebted in other people’s money, specifically the US dollar (I think Ecuador is the only Latin American country to still use the $). So its very possible to go into huge debt as a nation without printing your own fiat currency. Quants would still get physics degrees from MIT and figure out how to make all sorts of derivatives and exotic financial instruments. 
           Of course, if gold will put an end to indebtedness this has serious consequences for economic development at the macro and meso level and innovation and entrepreneurship at the individual level. 
           To me, the more libertarian solution is a radically decentralized set of multiple currencies and decommodification at the level of communities. In other words, many currencies, many standards, and the development of social economies (ie moneyless systems of mutual aid, reciprocity etc.) at least at the level of communities.  
           I understand that you would like to see a different banking system but I don’t think the libertarian answer lies in a gold standard, especially a global gold standard. 
            I suspect we have different notions of what “libertarian” means. For me its probably closer to “anarchism” while your views see more along the lines of fairly mainstream libertarianism (yea, I know that “mainstream libertarianism” sounds oxymoronic)……
           

        • Anonymous

          Briefly:
          The problems in the gold mining industry exist today, w/o the gold standard. Such problems will probably always exist as long as it is profitable to mine gold. Thus, I don’t see why adopting the gold standard would make things worse. But for me the gold standard is just a means to an end–limiting the ability of the authorities to debase the currency. Show me a better way and I will accept it. If a currency is convertible into gold, then when a nation begins to go astray as in Latin America, citizens can demand gold and protect themselves.

          My statement about legal tender is based on 31 USC section 5103, which states:

          United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues. Foreign gold or silver coins are not legal tender for debts.

          And this essay by Hulsmann, http://mises.org/journals/jls/18_3/18_3_3.pdf supports my understanding that a private business cannot demand to be paid in gold if the customer wants to pay with dollars. But I am no expert and if I and Hulsmann have misunderstood the law, then my apologies.

          Since I am a minarchist, I do think the state is a good idea for a very limited set of purposes, and it will need to pay its obligations–I would like them to be paid in something other than monopoly money, that’s all.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SDXFOZL2VZTEHEOX4BJRA5KCAQ Adam

            Mark, 
               Thanks for replying. Your position is what I understood the common libertarian position to be. My point is that the gold standard is not intrinsically libertarian and a cool-headed look at the manner in which gold is extracted and moved to market strongly suggests that privileging gold would, on balance, move the world system into a more authoritarian direction. Gold mining is also bad for the planet but that is another matter….
               
               Then there are the decidedly unlibertarian consequences for the autonomy of individuals and local communities. I don’t see why giving more power to the vagaries of a global commodity market is libertarian at all.

               Also, you tend to employ rhetorical questions and hyperbole perhaps a little too much. Your later posts reveal a much more sensible person. Its difficult to know exactly what you are talking about when you use hyperbole or rhetorical questions so much. Generally, I find that communication is easier when folks just come out and say it. 

               Also, there are some more specific empirical parts of your argument that you might want to revisit. Again, citing Weimar Germany as a typical case is probably not accurate. Also, you should be a little more cautious about comparing 1913 price levels to 2011 price levels as the “market basket” used to calculate the CPI has changed drastically over time. This is not to say that you cannot make the comparison but you should do so with this caveat in mind. Lastly, you may want to learn a little bit about the distinction between nominal and real purchasing power and other causes of inflation (supply shocks, rapid economic growth (aka “demand-pull”) etc.). Then perhaps you could form a more coherent empirical argument to compliment your moral advocacy of the gold standard. Not trying to be rude or anything.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

            My understanding of “legal tender” is different. People are free to conduct transactions in whatever currency they want. The IRS and many state tax authorities even have procedures for taxing barter as sales and/or income.

            I take the phrase “…all debts public and private” to mean just that: debts. If I borrow money from you, or receive goods or services, and haven’t paid you for it yet, and if I offer to pay you in dollars, and you then refuse, the debt is considered to be discharged. You can’t demand, halfway through the transaction , that I repay you in gold, or euros, or chicken feathers. But that doesn’t preclude us from agreeing, PRIOR to the transaction, to any terms we both freely choose.

            I see it as a safety valve that assures that a debtor can’t be locked into perpetual debt due to inability to obtain the preferred currency of the creditor, just because the creditor perversely decides he would rather be paid in some obscure medium.

          • Anonymous

            OK, thanks for the clarification.

    • Damien S.

      Yay, a thin breath of sanity and empiricism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SheldonRichman Sheldon Richman

    Lovely!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7KIDR4QL4MUIMVKOGTCYDKP5TI reed

    Your terms “thin” and “thick” seem concerned with misguided theory.  Do you in fact know an existing segment of racist libertarians?  Perhaps a rare example can be uncovered, but I read a LOT of libertarian blogs and articles and just don’t see it in real life.  
    Actual libertarians who understand and embrace the Nonaggression Principle almost necessarily are thoughtful people who care about humanity.  They naturally tend to be accepting and even enthusiastic fans of diversity, knowing the value of positive, divergent, innovative ideas to a society based on voluntary cooperation and exchange.
    Perhaps there is some use in distinguishing political libertarianism from cultural libertarianism.  I haven’t personally seen that need manifested, though it is true that a few lines in writings from a couple decades back can be taken out of context to show a lack of cultural sensitivity today.  But libertarianism evolves with the times, as do libertarians.  If writers being harshly criticized today had the opportunity to edit their old works, I’m sure they’d gladly do it and express their ideas much more effectively.  
    That’s true of all political writing and the broader realm of literature.  It is published and doesn’t evolve, though the authors hopefully do. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

      “Do you in fact know an existing segment of racist libertarians?”

      I do. About a third of the libertarians I used to associate with have gone off the rails and spend most of their time making youtube videos argueing for “race realism” and justifying segregation. Also, when I frequented the LVMI message board, there were numerous regular racist posters. It’s not hard to spot.

  • Michael Zigismund

    The vast range of these kinds of opinions, even among dyed-in-the-wool libertarians, serves a wonderful case for voluntary contractarianism, a la Narveson or Gaus. A voluntarist world makes such bickerings as empirically testable as possible.

  • http://profiles.google.com/troycamplin Troy Camplin

    I decided to add my own two cents in regards to my own thick libertarianism:

    http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-thick-libertarianism.html

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19002050 Jameson Graber

    I think this post is spot on. Political theory doesn’t work in the real world unless it is, in some sense, “thick.” That is, the people who consent to live according to a certain political theory need to actually have previously held or newly acquired morals consistent with that political theory. Otherwise, the system breaks down.

    This is why I think F. A. Hayek was a genius for addressing the question, “Where do our morals come from?” late in his life. He saw that this was the critical question for political philosophy, and without a good answer for it, everything else is just lifeless abstraction.

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