[Editors Note: This essay is part of BHL’s Symposium on Left-Libertarianism. Click on the link to see the other essays.]

Jan Narveson: “Liberty is Property … the libertarian thesis is really the thesis that a right to our persons as our property is the sole fundamental right there is” (The Libertarian Idea, 66). Conjoin this to a negative account of liberty as non-coercion and ponder a Buddhistic paradox. If freedom means non-frustration of the exercise of one’s legitimate property rights, you can be made perfectly free by being relieved of all property, including the right to your own body and life. (Just as Buddhists may say freedom is a matter of deadening your desires, so they cannot be frustrated.) Ergo, if only everyone consents to sell themselves as slaves to Leviathan, we shall enter into libertarian paradise forthwith! (Except Leviathan himself, poor fellow. But no system ensures perfect freedom for all.)

Something has slipped. Hayek can tell us what it is:

 It would be difficult to maintain that a man who voluntarily but irrevocably had sold his services for a long period of years to a military organization such as the Foreign Legion remained free thereafter in our sense; or that a Jesuit who lives up to the ideals of the founder of his order and regards himself “as a corpse which has neither intelligence nor will” could be so described. Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom. (Constitution of Liberty)

What we need is a positive account of liberty because what we want – ultimately, although we may aim at it by indirect means, by all means! – is, in fact, positive liberty (not null, non-nutritive Buddhistic substitutes for it.) Again, Hayek is on the case, articulating the relevant sense of liberty as effective autonomy:

The question of how many courses of action are open to a person is, of course, very important. But it is a different question from that of how far in acting he can follow his own plans and intentions, to what extent the pattern of his conduct is of his own design, directed toward ends for which he has been persistently striving rather than toward necessities created by others in order to make him do what they want … Freedom thus presupposes that the individual has some assured private sphere, that there is some set of circumstances in his environment with which others cannot interfere.

What we need to do, then—this is obvious to all fair-minded folk!—is build a strong welfare state, which wraps us back around to Narveson: “The idea of libertarianism is to maximize individual freedom by accounting each person’s person as that person’s own property” (175).

Of course, the parents may object to this flagrant taking-without-compensation—this engorgement of government with so many appropriated products of private labors! (Did that baby homestead itself?) Libertarianism that includes guaranteed self-ownership is the camel nose of communism, gotten under the tent of true liberty! Furthermore, it is sure to lead to rampant child abuse (why will parents care for children if they can’t own them?) Typical liberal self-defeating perverse consequences (grumble grumble, letter to the editor).

On the other hand, some may say this bold social justice scheme for redistributing wealth does to go far enough.

Why shouldn’t the idea of libertarianism be to maximize individual freedom by accounting each person’s person as that person’s own property … and also accounting that person’s bank account as containing at least $1?

Or by passing Obamacare, to ensure that the person each person gets gets healthcare?

Libertarians will want to say something shifts in principle when we pass past giving people themselves to giving people themselves plus a dollar. But I don’t think this reaction is warranted. (‘What do you take me for?’ the libertarian objects, scandalized by my increasingly obscene propositions. ‘I think we have established what you are. Now we are just haggling about the price.’ You know the old joke? Well now it’s a joke about social justice.)

Some libertarians say there is something metaphysically special about personhood (as opposed to $1) that warrants self-ownership at birth. (Government doesn’t give you you. Self-ownership is prior.) I find this line implausible because, while I agree personhood is wonderful, its wonderfulness chiefly flows from the consideration that people have the capacity to flourish as autonomous beings. What, then, is peculiarly ‘natural’ about extending to every person part of what they need, to flourish, but not the whole package? Why should Natural Law be a ceremonious half-measure? (Emerson’s dispossessed youth laments: “It appears there was some mistake in my creation, and that I have been mis-sent to this earth, where all the seats were already taken.” I can picture Nature as amoral, maybe as moral, but libertarian Nature as the moral equivalent of a chronically overbooked airline eludes me.)

It is possible to concoct a consequentialist justification for formal half-measures. But then we are consequentialists. So let’s haggle about the price.

Let’s look at the Chartier and Johnson (eds.) volume (PDF) that is the occasion for this symposium: Markets Not Capitalism: individualist anarchism against bosses, inequality, corporate power, and structural poverty. In “Socialist Ends, Market Means”, Gary Chartier argues that libertarianism is—can be, ought to be—socialism. (He admits saying so will probably cause more terminological trouble than it’s worth. So fine. Don’t call it that. No one is going to force you.)

There is good reason to use “socialism” to mean, at minimum, something like opposition to:

1. bossism (that is, subordinative workplace hierarchy); and

2. deprivation (that is, persistent, exclusionary poverty, whether resulting from state-capitalist depredation, private theft, disaster, accident, or other factors.

“Socialism” in this sense is the genus; “state-socialism” is the (much-to-be-lamented) species. (150)

Chartier’s title ought to be “Autonomous Ends, Socialist Means, Market Means To Those Means”. Libertarianism is commitment to maximizing (optimizing) the human supply of freedom (as autonomy), hitched to the hypothesis that socialism (in the generic sense) is the most likely way to do this, atop the hypothesis that market means (negative liberties all around) are the royal road to the true (generic) socialism (that is the royal road to true freedom.)

The social relationships that market anarchists explicitly defend, and hope to free from all forms of government control, are relationships based on:

1.ownership of property, especially decentralized individual ownership, not only of personal possessions but also of land, homes, natural resources, tools, and capital goods;

2. contract and voluntary exchange of goods and services, by individuals or groups, on the expectation of mutual benefit;

3. free competition among all buyers and sellers – in price, quality, and all other aspects of exchange – without ex ante restraints or burdensome barriers to entry;

4. entrepreneurial discovery, undertaken not only to compete in existing markets but also in order to discover and develop new opportunities for economic or social benefit; and

5. spontaneous order, recognized as a significant and positive coordinating force—in which decentralized negotiations, exchanges, and entrepreneurship converge to produce large-scale coordination without, or beyond the capacity of, any deliberate plans or explicit common blueprints for social or economic development. (Chartier, Johnson, 2)

Libertarianism, on this view, is an alloy of ‘high liberal’ ideals and social theory—really social prophecy. As such, it is more or less falsifiable. Libertarianism could turn out to be wrong about generic socialism being the social form most conducive to an optimized autonomy supply. It might be wrong about market anarchism being the best way to bring about generic socialism. If it turns out that state socialism, or actually existing laissez faire capitalism, or neo-feudalism, or Leninism, or Burkean conservatism, or ‘Nudge’-style paternalism administered by alien ant overlords, or expanded Obamacare, or giving everyone $1 at birth, would, in the event, optimize the effective autonomy supply, then the libertarian is philosophy-bound to run with the best plan.

Conversely, all high liberals ought to admit that if these libertarians are right—if generic socialism makes liberty, if markets make generic socialism—that’s the way to go. Probably. Fair enough.

Of course there’s more that is plausibly distinctive about libertarianism, over and against competing versions of high liberalism. Example: the main reason Tomasi is inclined to build in certain economic rights as basic, whereas Anderson is not, is that Anderson suspects Tomasi’s ‘market democracy’ will backfire in ways Tomasi is confident it won’t. Tomasi thinks Anderson’s evident preference for a mixed market approach is likely to backfire in ways Anderson thinks it won’t. So the dispute is, inevitably, an attempt to argue about means and ends simultaneously. It’s messy, but it can’t go more cleanly.

So let’s hope it goes civilly.

Having done my diplomatic best, let me piss it away. A touch of the paranoid style, if you please, to corrode that high theory gloss! I see it as my sad but scrupulous duty to drag libertarianism through the mud of hermeneutic suspiciousness.

In the Preface to Anarchy, State and Utopia, Robert Nozick reflects on what it’s like to be Robert Nozick—for it is an unusual thing to be. At first he reveled in the contrarianism of it. Then, after a while, he grew out of that, into the plain old philosophy of the thing. He was a libertarian!

Over time, I have grown accustomed to the views and their consequences, and I now see the political realm through them. (Should I say that they enable me to see through the political realm?) Since many of the people who take a similar position are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being, my now having natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company. (Anarchy, State and Utopia)

Nozick loves paradoxes. Let’s call this one Nozick’s Paradox of Presumptive Paranoia. Why do people become libertarians? They hate freedom, that’s why! (It’s not a sure bet, but as good as any.)

It’s not that libertarianism is mean. It’s that the mean libertarian—and the average and modal libertarian, by my rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation—is wobbly about that liberty business.

What was Nozick thinking? Specifically? No idea. Barry Goldwater winning in the South? Murray Rothbard grumping about Women’s Lib? But, in general, it goes like this. In America you can’t be against freedom. It would be indecent. Nevertheless, lots of people have been—and continue to be—uncomfortable about, or hostile to, effective autonomy for members of groups they feel uncomfortable with, or hostile to, or over which they have traditionally exercised power: blacks, women, the poor, homosexuals, people with strange religions or eccentric lifestyles. Since libertarianism is officially in favor of autonomy for people, and these are people, libertarianism ought to be ‘mood affiliated’, at least, with the goal of autonomy for all groups that, plausibly, have lacked it to some significant degree. In fact, the opposite has all-too-typically been the case. Partly this is due to principled opposition to leftist means, which are regarded as perversely statist. But largely it seems due to the fact that, if you want to keep some group down, libertarian market means might be the ticket. No, it’s not a guaranteed solution to your other-people-getting-free problem. But it’s worth a shot! Social Jim Crow (an extreme example, but the dynamics of the model generalize. ‘Vulgar libertarianism’ is the term some contributors to the Chartier , Johnson volume use for crypto-bossism, I guess you could call it.) Market means permit what J.S. Mill calls ‘the tyranny of society’. So you get to be anti-freedom while calling it ‘freedom’. You fulminate against what J.S. Mill calls ‘the tyranny of the magistrate’!

I am sorry to have to say it, but my considered opinion is that libertarianism is, in the psychic life of US society and culture and politics, at least as often a confabulatory reflex against freedom as it is an impulse on its behalf. A ready-made way to betray the ideal of freedom while pretending to uphold it to a heroic degree.

Roderick Long writes: “I find it preferable to talk of vulgar libertarianism rather than of vulgar libertarians, because very few libertarians are consistently vulgar” (208). I prefer it the other way round, because there is no interesting vulgar libertarian theory, so in the seminar room you can skip to the good stuff. But very many libertarians are consistently semi-vulgar. (No libertarian hates all our freedoms all of the time. But some libertarians hate some of them all the time. And all of them are hated by some libertarian some of the time. And no libertarian likes to admit hating any of them any of the time. So it’s a problem. I see that it says ‘bleeding hearts’ at the top of the page. I’m not saying all that is just ketchup and corn syrup. I’m just saying.)

Libertarian theory is a charming mix of wild-eyed utopianism and hard-nosed realism; but, while the eyes roll every which way, including back into the head, the hard-noses, as hard-noses will, point outwards—at liberals, for example, with their naïve notions about how the apparatus of the state can be wielded on behalf of the powerless. Plainly, the powerful—who, as liberals really ought to have noticed, have the power—will grab those handles and work them for all they are worth. Fair enough. But libertarianism, too, was born to be a Trojan Horse.

Let’s end on another Narvesonian note:

Libertarianism is one kind of liberalism. It is interesting that it is often thought of as a kind of conservatism, as when libertarian defenders of private property are contemptuously referred to as “right-wing” by leftish writers, as though to defend private property in the name of liberty were exactly on all fours with defending genuinely right-wing military dictatorships. The assimilation in question might be understandable in journalists or cracker-barrel pundits, but to find professional philosophers doing so is inexcusable. (2)

No. It is, in fact, inexcusable to find professional philosophers not doing this. You can’t even put the pure theory on one shelf, the hermeneutically suspicious stuff on another. They have to mix. (This causes hurt feelings. Then the seminar discussion goes worse. I’m sorry about that. There’s nothing to be done.)

If you are interested in political philosophy, you are interested in the best versions of liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism (communism, feudalism, so forth.) You want to know what to believe in, ideally. But, unless you are a very strange person, you also interested in what liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, so forth, are, in actual and potential political practice. You want to know who to believe in, actually. Who are these people? And that feeds back into your ideal theory.

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  • Seriously

    What that fuck is this shit?

    • Sean II

      Ever seen that SNL sketch where Phil Hartman does Phil Donahue as a burned-out TV pontiff, going through the motions with a hodgepodge of talking points as he absent-mindedly wanders off stage to grabs a snack from the craft service table?

      This post reminded me of that. Skip to the 6:00 mark to see what I mean:

      http://www.poker.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/donahue/1351952/

  • Aeon Skoble

    John, I have generally enjoyed reading your stuff, but in this case I am not sure I am getting your point. In the interest of maximal charitableness, let me just ask you- are you claiming that libertarianism is a smokescreen for a deeply illiberal view which privileges the wealthy and is largely indifferent to alleviating poverty?

    • Sean II

      This is the point where I would tell my classroom “STOP! Nobody help him. He’s digging himself out of this hole, or he’s staying in it. Go ahead John…”

  • CbyN

    You see John, Libertarians are simple country boys. You might say cockeyed optimists, who got themselves mixed up in the high stakes game of individual liberties and economic freedoms.

    • Michael J. Green

      This post was written with unbridled enthusiasm…

  • Seriously, What the Fuck?

    Was this essay composed by one of those random-essay generators?

    • Sean II

      Possibly, but it could also have been written by the Hybrid aboard a Cylon Basestar.

      • http://www.bonzai.squarespace.com/ mfarmer

        The essay, while functionally corrosive, in ways counter to subsets of disingenuous liberty-shepherds, has the distinction of socio-homo-foucaltian backlash we expect from resisters of transgenerational usurpations which never quite gell with the intended ideology, therefore, it fails to place the horse’s tail squarely on the mark, so to speak.

  • Mark L

    This is a poorly written, confusing article. The incredibly condescending tone doesn’t help matters, either.

  • Xeno

    I have to agree with other comments, I have truly no idea what was said.

  • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

    Aeon’s rhetorical question sums up the thesis of this post succinctly. Presumably, it’s written in such an oblique way so as to diffuse this message.

  • martinbrock

    … a man who voluntarily but irrevocably had sold his services …

    I agree that “irrevocable” is inconsistent with “liberty”. Even Rothbard agrees. In some cases, he seems to agree too strongly. He practically rules out life insurance contracts for example.

    … a Jesuit who lives up to the ideals …

    While this man’s believes himself freely a Jesuit, he is as free as anyone can be.

    … what we want … is, in fact, positive liberty (not null, non-nutritive Buddhistic substitutes for it.) …

    Some people want null, non-nutritive Buddhistic liberty, and others don’t, and the ones who don’t typically identify most strongly with the “left” side of libertarianism. These left-libertarians would be shocked to discover that they must “free” themselves of their desire to be free of desire.

    What we need to do, …

    We don’t need to do anything. You need to build the system of property and mutual aid that you desire with other people desiring the same system. You should have any system of welfare you desire, but you should not impose it on me, and I should not impose my welfare system on you either. I want a welfare system. but I want the system of my choice, not the system of your choice. If I must accept the system of your choice, whether you’re Buddha or Marx or Jesus or whoever else, your system will almost certainly benefit you at my expense.

    … why will parents care for children if they can’t own them?

    They just do, even while states rob them blind. It’s in their nature; otherwise, states couldn’t rob them so easily.

    … giving people themselves plus a dollar.

    Giving a person a dollar presumably gives him entitlement to other people’s labor and other property without their consent. If giving a dollar has not this effect, you may give anyone as many dollars as you like.

    Some libertarians say there is something metaphysically special about personhood (as opposed to $1) that warrants self-ownership at birth.

    Yes. Human beings are the beings that libertarians want to “free”. We don’t want to free dollars or parcels of land or even cows and pigs so much. What would a free parcel of land choose to do with itself?

    That’s as much as I can take of this post in one gulp.

    • jholbo

      Let me make one point about how you have it wrong way round, martinbrock.

      You write “Giving a person a dollar presumably gives him entitlement to other people’s labor and other property without their consent,” but so does giving a person himself. After all, without that giving – of a child to himself, rather than to the parents who bore it, say – the parents would be entitled to the child. A good thing.

      Libertarianism wants to maximize autonomy by ‘giving everyone themselves’ but that’s ambiguous. You can also maximize autonomy by giving everyone the protections of a welfare state. You can have a welfare state that aims at fostering autonomy in citizens. The question is: what maximizes (optimizes) autonomy overall.

      For libertarians, t shouldn’t be an a priori truth but, rather, a social hypothesis that, in fact, the way to optimize autonomy is to give everyone themselves, and nothing more. It’s perfectly conceivable, after all, that giving them themselves and a guaranteed minimum income would be better. You say this lowers the autonomy of those who have to support others with their taxes. Yes, but if the effect is to foster more autonomy overall then we should still go for it. Libertarians are aware that ruling out force and fraud lowers the autonomy of fraudsters and the violently inclined. That is not regarded as a reductio ad absurdum of libertarianism. The judgment is made that, overall, it would be better not to allow these things.

      I am making an essentially consequentialist argument. I say libertarianism ought to be consequentialism, with autonomy as its end. Some forms of libertarianism are not consequentialist, obviously. But I don’t think they make sense.

      • martinbrock

        … so does giving a person himself.</b.

        I can't give a person to himself unless I have the person in the first place.

        … giving – of a child to himself, rather than to the parents who bore it, say – the parents would be entitled to the child. A good thing.

        It’s not a good thing. It’s a nonsensical thing. Childhood is the dependent stage of life by definition. The only question is: dependent on whom? Freeing a child of this dependency eventually is a libertarian parent’s goal, but this impulse is hardly a great metaphor for a maternalistic state. Often, the child doesn’t want freedom. A bird doesn’t carry its chick from the nest on the bird’s back. It pushes the chick out of the nest. That push is a good thing.

        Libertarianism wants to maximize autonomy by ‘giving everyone themselves’ but that’s ambiguous.

        Radical individualism is not libertarianism. It’s a fairy tale. Libertarianism frees people to choose mutually supportive communities. Maximizing individual autonomy is not the point. Markets are antithetical to autonomy. Markets are interdependency, not independency. The wealthiest community is the most interdependent, because it has the most specialization and trade.

        You can also maximize autonomy by giving everyone the protections of a welfare state.

        States don’t protect everyone’s welfare. States protect the welfare of people closest to the center from the people furthest from the center. Throwing bones to the people furthest from the center has always been part of this protection and always will be.

        You can have a welfare state that aims at fostering autonomy in citizens. The question is: what maximizes (optimizes) autonomy overall.

        I doubt that you can have it. You can only want it, just as right-libertarians want to be “independently wealthy”.

        For libertarians, it shouldn’t be an a priori truth but, rather, a social hypothesis that, in fact, the way to optimize autonomy is to give everyone themselves, and nothing more.

        I don’t preach any a priori truth for libertarians. Rugged individualism is not libertarianism. It’s a diversion. A choice of mutually supportive community models is libertarianism. A state imposing a single model is the antithesis of libertarianism.

        It’s perfectly conceivable, after all, that giving them themselves and a guaranteed minimum income would be better.

        Manna from heaven is perfectly conceivable, but the conception is too perfect. Someone must produce the guaranteed minimum income. If you want a community with a guaranteed minimum income, you should have one, but you shouldn’t draft me into your community at the point of a gun, because you aren’t as dear a leader as you imagine. No one is.

        You say this lowers the autonomy of those who have to support others with their taxes.

        I say it reduces the choices of people receiving your statutory minimum income as well as the people producing the income.

        Yes, but if the effect is to foster more autonomy overall then we should still go for it.

        The hypothesis begs the question. If every man can be a king, then every man should be, but every man cannot be a king.

        Libertarians are aware that ruling out force and fraud lowers the autonomy of fraudsters and the violently inclined.

        Libertarians know that states are force by definition and also expect (for very good reason) fraudsters to dominate states.

        Some forms of libertarianism are not consequentialist, obviously. But I don’t think they make sense.

        All meaningful politics is consequentalist ultimately, but I don’t take the consequences of a statutory model imposed on everyone for granted. The libertarian solution is a choice among many models.

        • Shawn P. Wilbur

          Market solutions do not free the child from dependency, but allow it to eventually take part in the mutual dependency that we seem to agree characterizes market societies. So “self-ownership” either means a particular kind of dependency, and things are considerably more complicated than virtually any of the libertarians I’ve encountered will acknowledge, or “self-ownership” means granting a certain sort of entitlement to the labor of others (since selves are always dependent on the labors of other selves), or else this whole “self-ownership” thing doesn’t work for libertarians and property (and everything else raised on that foundation) needs some other basis. Reducing the notion of autonomy to “rugged individualism” seems to simply take us further from a clarification of the issue, since, one way or another, autonomy (or at least its possibility) does seem to be a common libertarian value.

          The notion of “giving everyone themselves” is certainly not entirely alien to left-libertarianism. Although I doubt Gary, or Charles really embrace my “gift economy of property” approach, they did feel it was worth including in their anthology.

          • martinbrock

            I advocate something that might be called “autonomy” as a human right myself, but I feel compelled to distinguish my “autonomy” from Holbo’s, because his notion of “autonomy” implies something like a universal, minimum income with no strings attached.

            Being entitled to your produce with no obligation to do anything for you is not my idea of “autonomy”. That’s my idea of “privilege”, what a master expects from his slave.

            Holbo seems to want everyone to be independently wealthy. If I’m willing to live entirely on the minimum income, which presumably is sufficient to keep me alive, reasonably healthy and connected to the internet, then I needn’t to do a thing for anyone else. I can’t fly to Paris for the weekend, but I’m nonetheless wealthy enough not to own anyone else anything.

            You can probably tell from the volume of my posts here that I don’t need or even want much else myself. I suppose many academics are similar.

            Holbo seems to offer this gift to everyone else, but he doesn’t actually have it to offer, so I only hear him demanding it for himself. I hear him saying, “Give me everything I want and don’t ask anything in return.”

            Being independently wealthy is not my idea of freedom. It’s more nearly the opposite.

          • Shawn P. Wilbur

            Actually, I’m not seeing this advocacy of a “universal, minimum income with no strings attached” in Holbo’s argument here at all. What I do see is a useful question about how we draw the line between the common understandings of “self-ownership” and something of that sort. From my perspective, even if Holbo does want something of that sort, the question about drawing lines would still apply.

          • martinbrock

            He argues more vaguely for a welfare state in the opening post, but he suggests a minimum income in reply to my comment here somewhere.

            Many libertarians begin with “self-ownership” as a foundation, but self-ownership is only a starting point at best. Free people don’t remain self-owners very long. We sell ourselves to others in countless ways. Holbo may correct me if I mischaracterize him, but his “autonomy” seems a right to avoid selling oneself to others, presumably because he believes that we’re selling ourselves to wealthy elites.

            Rather than challenge the privilege of wealthy elites, Holbo proposes to solve this problem by somehow making everyone a wealthy elite through the state. Since all wealthy elites are wealthy elites through the state, this solution seems plausible to many people, but it seems implausible to me for the same reason.

          • Shawn P. Wilbur

            It just seems to me that there is an interesting, and potentially important, theoretical question in the “haggling about the price” stuff which is not really answered by suggesting that Holbo is suggesting the wrong price. Unless there is some very clear way to establish that owning the self (whatever that means) is not privilege or entitlement, but owning the self + some bit of what the self needs in practice is, then I think we are faced with questions a lot more interesting than whether or not libertarianism might harbor bad people (which is what people seem to have focused on.)

          • martinbrock

            Holbo suggests imposing a price. If he’s not imposing a price, I have no argument with him, but he suggests a welfare state, not a welfare system that is one of many from which I’m free to choose. As such, he invites the very charge that he levels at others, but he just can’t look in the mirror long enough to see it. Who says that Jim Crow wasn’t just the right sort of welfare state?

            Why should I believe the Holbro isn’t exactly the sort of pretender, hiding behind his superficial case for more universal state benefits while doing nothing personally but enjoy the benefits, that he accuses “libertarians” of being? He avoids this question by posing it.

          • Shawn P. Wilbur

            I just don’t actually care, for the purposes of the debate about left-libertarianism, whether Holbo is a statist, or a closeted authoritarian of some sort. The question about how we establish the difference between the gift of the self and that of the self plus one dollar remains. Whether or not he really wants to haggle over the price, I suspect we have have to.

          • martinbrock

            The difference seems obvious to me. If I have a dollar, I use it to buy things from others. I don’t use it to buy anything from myself.

            My self is a favor from my parents and others, not a gift from the state. I owe my parents and others favors in return, because they did me favors, not because the state gifts them a dollar. We don’t need the state’s dollars to account for these favors at all.

          • Shawn P. Wilbur

            I think that Holbo’s question about “the price” applies whether or not the state is involved, and talking about favors rather than dollars doesn’t make it go away. To say that self-ownership “is a favor” seems to involve the sort of dictation that you appear eager to avoid. But assuming it is true, I would think that a lot of other people in this discussion would have questions about what sort of property system can be built on these “favors.”

          • WWW Du Bois

            It’s really strange to me that you don’t think a guaranteed minimum income would challenge the power of elites. In fact, it would destroy the elite’s most important power: control over the means of survival of other people.

          • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

            Shawn, I suspect that you (like me) find owning the self to be a ridiculous concept in the first place, but let’s suppose all property title arises from it. Is the answer to the question about what self-ownership “entails” something that is universal, or must it be particular to the society and social norms involved? Couldn’t it really take a variety of forms, i.e. different cultures creating different kinds of individuals that see themselves and what is therefore necessary for genuine selfhood differently?

            The universal, minimum income doesn’t seem like a radical idea in that respect, anymore than guaranteeing rights to people does. The question is, what KIND of individual is the social system creating as its constituent unit? A society with individuals guaranteed a minimum income proclaims a different kind of sense of what that individual unit is than a society of dog-eat-dog, just as America’s myth of individual rights creates a different component individual (and perhaps a different consciousness) than an autocracy.

          • Shawn P. Wilbur

            Actually, I thought I had been clear, and at length, that I don’t find self-ownership ridiculous, although I do find many of the attempts to clarify the notion careless and unhelpful. In this context, my suspicion is that Holbo’s question about “the price” touches on some of the same questions I raised in the “Tale of Three Provisos,” about the rather arbitrary determination of the boundaries of “the self.”

            I’ve also explored the possibility of a “minimum” under mutualism, as a voluntary institution, so I’m not terribly put off by that proposal, but the more interesting question for me is the one about whether it is adequate to any of the systems proposed to “gift the self” in some way which explicitly excludes a gift of the fruits of an interdependence which seems to be fairly widely acknowledged, even here.

  • jholbo

    “In the interest of maximal charitableness, let me just ask you- are you
    claiming that libertarianism is a smokescreen for a deeply illiberal
    view which privileges the wealthy and is largely indifferent to
    alleviating poverty?”

    Not in theory, no. Certainly not in ‘high theory’. But there is a problem, in practice: namely, a typical pattern of moral confabulation. This isn’t an objection to libertarianism, any more than it’s an objection to Rawls that certain sorts of welfare state institutions may tend to fail in certain ways. Rather, it’s a problem that I think libertarian theorists should think about more – just as Rawlsians should probably worry more about certain practical problems and not beg off on ideal theory grounds.

    I should do a follow-up post in which I unpack this bit more fully. “But largely it seems due to the fact that, if you want to keep some group down, libertarian market means might be the ticket.”

    It goes like this. After some previously downtrodden (or at least disadvantaged, autonomy-wise) group starts to achieve greater autonomy (blacks, women, workers), and make other groups uncomfortable (whites, men, bosses) since they, quite naturally, don’t like the feeling of relative power slippage, – the group that has been made uncomfortable has to find something to say about this new, uncomfortable circumstance. In many of these cases, the fact that formerly dominant groups still enjoy more property rights – since they have more property – and can enforce repressive social norms, in a an aggregate, private way, means that ‘propertarian’ libertarian is, as it were, a ready-made last-ditch defense against autonomy for the heretofore no fully autonomous. This is not an objection to libertarianism, in theory, but is such a typical dynamic, in practice, that it seems to me it needs taking more direct account of, in the theory. (Just as liberals should not brush aside concerns about systemic failures of the welfare state, just because failure is not part of the ideal model. Problems that will arise, predictably and systemically, if your ideals are put into practice, need acknowledgement at the ideal level.)

    In America you can’t say ‘I liked the older, more feudal way better – where I was at the top of the hierarchy.’ You have to say ‘I’m for freedom’. This isn’t to say that all libertarians are crypto-feudal repressers. Just that libertarianism is, perversely, a magnet for anyone aspiring to confabulate along those lines. Perverse consequences arguments, are, of course, familiar to libertarians. So, in the abstract, this sort of argument shouldn’t be unfamiliar.

    • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

      A helpful clarification. It seems to me though that the response to a
      practical problem requires a practical solution, not a theoretical one.
      If libertarianism is a last-ditch haven for would-be dominators, then
      the tide must be against them already. The greater autonomy of these
      disenfranchised groups came from somewhere other than from those already
      in power. In Hayekian terms that force is a spontaneous order generated
      from outside the status quo of the power of the dominators. The
      theoretical (and likely unsatisfying) response to your criticism is that
      a more libertarian world would in the long run further whatever force was propelling the growth of greater autonomy to continue, not stifle it; for every would-be dominator that libertarianism supposedly harbors, it opens up more potential for the tide of spontaneous order to overwhelm them.

      • jholbo

        “If libertarianism is a last-ditch haven for would-be dominators, then
        the tide must be against them already.”

        This is certainly a possibility. I would be quite happy if this turns out to be the case. It does go both ways. Crypto-repressors may preach libertarianism in a confabulatory sort of way – basically jury-rigging propertarian obstacles to effective autonomy of despised groups. But people have a tendency to believe what they say, if they keep saying it. One of those lady and the tiger situations (who rides who, and is inside who, in the end.)

        I fear that the impulse to impose hierarchy, even in a society which has no acceptable moral vocabulary for saying this is what you want, will die slow and hard.

        • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

          I see where you are coming from, I’m just not sure it says much. One could make similar claims about any philosophy or ideology whatever, though the flavor of preaching and obstacles be different. i.e. “Crypto-repressors may preach *socialism* in a confabulatory sort of
          way – basically jury-rigging *statist* obstacles to effective
          autonomy of despised groups.”

          I’d be very interested to read about what kind of system you think *isn’t* susceptible to such jury-rigging. The general libertarian view is that at least our approach tries to minimize the apparatus available for repression and maximize opportunity for individuals to opt out. Each new piece of social apparatus is a potential tool for jury-rigging if we are not very, very careful, is often designed to limit the ability of individuals to opt out, and has to be shown to outperform what a free market would provide otherwise.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Nonsense. It would be impossible to say about the abolition movement, for example. Likewise the later civil rights movement.

            You are failing to comprehend the real content here; you only see a debating point to refute. But the content is real, and it would benefit you to seek to understand it, rather than to seek a way of dismissing it.

            There is a difference between philosophies that, at the core, provide *justifications* of social powers, and philosophies that seek to abolish social powers. Libertarianism claims to be liberating because it would limit certain forms of power, but it ultimately bases any justification of a limit on power on a claim that *rightful* power attaches to property — and that this rightful power is absolute. The power of the property owner within his domain has no limit. This what libertarianism is, at its core: a legitimating ideology of power.

            So the question is, is libertarianism really “about” the people who suffer under the government’s power? Or is it actually “about” the people whose power as property owners is limited by democracy? In one sense, it’s a matter of perspective. But in another sense — that is, if it’s a question of sociology — the answer is clear. And it’s not the answer the libertarians profess.

            Also, do I really have to point out that libertarianism denies any possibility of “opting out” of the property regime, or of limiting the power of its enforcement apparatus? That is the whole source of the conflict, don’t you know?

          • TracyW

            There is a difference between philosophies that, at the core, provide *justifications* of social powers, and philosophies that seek to abolish social powers.

            What do you mean by social powers?

            The abolitionist movement had a relaively simple, agreed goal, abolish slavery. Which was an ultra-important job. But such a goal is not sufficient to run society on. Societies have all sorts of questions, like how do we get food? How do we get food in a way that doesn’t result in us having less food a few weeks/years/decades later because we over-hunted/over-fished/over-farmed? This requires a more extensive philosophy than the abolition movement.

            I don’t know what you mean by the “later civil rights movement”. If you mean things like the anti-apartheid movement, again, a simple goal compared to “how do we get food” question.

            So the question is, is libertarianism really “about” the people who suffer under the government’s power? Or is it actually “about” the people whose power as property owners is limited by democracy?

            When did this become an either-or question? (And how come no mention of those non-property owners who suffer under a lack of private property rights? Communism resulted in vast pollution with resulting costs in terms of human life.)

            Also, do I really have to point out that libertarianism denies any possibility of “opting out” of the property regime, or of limiting the power of its enforcement apparatus?

            You’re welcome to get together with a bunch of like-minded folk and set up a communal living system somewhere. As many people have tried in property-owning societies.

          • WWW Du Bois

            I gave some examples to show why not “any philosophy or ideology whatsoever” can be a “haven for dominators.” Your response is irrelevant to that.

            Your second response is also irrelevant.

            And your third response is total nonsense. If a mere internet stranger’s “welcome” to “set up a system somewhere” constituted the “possibility of opting out” then you would have absolutely no grounds of complaining that any existing system of government did not provide you the possibility of opting out.

            If you don’t like paying taxes, you’re welcome to go somewhere they aren’t collected!

          • TracyW

            I find myself extremely puzzled. You used the term “social powers”, I asked what it meant, and you say that your definition of the term is irrelevant! If it’s irrelevant, why did you use it in the first place?

            Ditto on your question of what libertarianism is about. If my response was not relevant, why did you raise the question in the first place?

            And in the case of people setting up communes, I think you missed the sentence “As many people have tried in property-owning societies”. This is not merely an internet stranger’s welcome, it’s a practical reality.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Tracy, you are tedious. The issue is not whether “set[ting] up a system somewhere” is a “practical reality,” but whether it constitutes “opting out” of property laws. Obviously, it does not constitute opting out of property laws, any more than it constitutes opting out of tax laws.

            The fact that you persist with such nonsense says that I really should not bother with you. This will be my last reply.

          • TracyW

            You’re committing the equivocation fallacy here. Scare quotes, such as yours around the phrase opting out, normally indicate that a word is not being used in its conventional sense. I presumed, therefore, when you wrote “libertarianism denies any possibility of “opting out” of the property regime”, you were using the phrase opting out in a very broad sense.
            Now you tell me that communes are not opting out of property laws, well, that’s fine, but that’s not the question you asked, which had the scare quotes around the word “opting out”.

            I also still remain curious as to what you meant by the phrase “social powers”. If you change your mind and decide to return to the debate, I’d be delighted if you could answer my question about your use of the phrase.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Every use of quotations by me, above, indicated quotation of the previous posts. That should have been obvious from context, as should be the meaning of “social powers.”

            I am making no fallacy, but merely pointing out that the libertarians do not offer anyone the ability to “opt out” of the laws they would impose on others, except through the possibility of fleeing libertarian-controlled territory. Libertarian property laws are thus precisely as optional as USA federal income taxes. Which is to say, they are not optional.

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            Hey, only just saw your comment this morning. I think you are overstating your case. I have never claimed that private property is some panacea of niceness and lollipops for all. Certainly, it can be used as a tool like anything else can. But, what *you* seem eager to dismiss is that markets and property can be used as a tool for “good” as well as a tool for “bad” (defining those terms as you will). Nowhere have I claimed that property-based power is or should be “absolute”–you are setting up a straw man here. We can and should use economic and social markets to pressure powerful would-be exploiters to stop. This strategy *works*, as Holbo-eque critique implies by claiming libertarianism is a haven for “propertarian repressors.” We should do it while avoiding setting up institutions they can co-opt (as politicized regulating bodies often are). We should use the law when appropriate (as in your cited case of slavery).

            People who want to opt-out of “the property regime” certainly could band together voluntarily and do so to a great extent if they so chose, yes. It’s been tried before. I personally think it is unworkable, but I respect their right to do it if they want–provided I’m not forced to join in the experiment.

            Do I think libertarians should be better about more visibly affecting positive social change via private markets? Yes, I do. I think we each have a personal responsibility to do this and the government isn’t a panacea any more than private property itself is a panacea. The solutions to these problems come from individuals working together voluntarily to affect change. I want a system which maximizes their ability to do this, and frankly, I’m tired of insinuations that this makes me a closeted power-hungry bigot.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Dave, I’m not setting up a straw man. I’m merely criticizing common libertarian positions. If I was wrong to assume your agreement with those positions, then my mistake. But the man is still not made of straw; he’s made of real libertarians.

            As far as the idea of opting out of property law, you’re just talking about the power to opt out of the benefits — not the costs. For example, one can “opt out” of slavery by choosing not to own slaves — but the slaves can’t opt out. Or similarly, one can “opt out” of taxes by not receiving any taxation-funded services — yet still paying taxes.

            Opting out of property laws means that other people can’t enforce property laws against me. It doesn’t mean that I can’t enforce property laws against others, but they still get to enforce them against me. That would be ridiculous.

            When you say, “provided I’m not forced to join in the experiment,” you are oblivious to the fact that you wish to force everyone else to join in your experiment. Even people who don’t want to grant libertarian-style property rights (for example, people who don’t want to grant to property owners the right to segregate public areas) are forced to grant those rights, by the power of the police, in any libertarian-controlled territory.

            I want a civil law in which property rights are limited by obligations to the public — both my property rights and yours. In fact, this is just what we have, currently. You want to force your libertarian experiment on me, by depriving me of the safety provided by the public obligations which other property owners have towards me.

            Note, of course, that I am perfectly willing to satisfy the same obligations with respect to what property I own.

        • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

          I agree that hierarchy will take a long time to go away, if it ever does. One way to expressly combat this is to advocate always for disempowering, dismantling, and distributing institutions, making sure that these nexuses of power and authority are always local, stunted, and of tenuous legitimacy. A major concern within the libertarian left is the degree to which decentralism is a vector to the kind of counter-hierarchism I think all libertarians know that they seek, but don’t necessarily know when they see it.

          • TracyW

            But some power and authority is necessary in a world of scarce resources and unlimited desires.

          • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

            Perhaps (authority in Bakunin’s sense of superior skill in some area), but I think it’s less dangerous when it arises spontaneously among a small group than when it gets codified and systematized into a permanent institution divorced from the particular humans involved.

          • TracyW

            I find myself doubtful. Unless we’re talking about very small groups where it’s easy to move elsewhere – ie hunter-gatherers. Is the situation of women in Somalia that great compared to women in a big liberal country like the UK? Or how about the self-governed Athens male community voting to execute one of their own, Socrates, for what he said?

            Or how about religious cults? My aunt was a member of one for a while, and she doesn’t seem to have regarded it as that flourishing a situation for women. And gays and lesbians and the like have tended to move to cities ruled by codified, systematic permanent institutions divorced from the particular humans involved, which is where the GLBT rights movement came from.

            My mother grew up in a small town, and my father in a small city, and the social freedoms my father had growing up seem to have been rather greater (he played soccer. a big no-no in rural NZ).

          • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

            I find myself doubtful. Unless we’re talking about very small groups where it’s easy to move elsewhere – ie hunter-gatherers.

            Well, the fact that you even bring that up as some sort of marginal choice nobody would seriously consider seems to suggest you have a different standard for deciding which society is best and/or which authority is acceptable than I do (and probably similarly different than Holbo does).

            I have no problem looking squarely at the dark side of radically diverse social norms arising from decentralism (what I call “anarcho-pluralism”) as long as we look squarely at the dark side of the society we currently inhabit and fairly compare them. This is my point: that we can’t begin to talk about what kind of autonomy we want until we realize what kind of autonomy the dominant culture provides and withholds as a matter of its own preservation.

            Now, I’m confident that I’d prefer to be a big fish in a small pond every single time, regardless of how murky that pond is. Liberation is meaningless without something to liberate oneself from, and I’m not so conceited that I think I can come up with a society everybody would like. I’m only conceited enough to claim membership in a species that might be able to find a bunch of acceptable societies through trial and error.

          • TracyW

            I’m surprised that you say that no one would seriously consider a hunter-gatherer group. I have a friend who went and lived in one for a year.

            As for looking squarely and comparing fairly, I notice that I’m the only one even trying to do that. I stated comparisons and gave some data points. You haven’t made any specific comparisons, only a subjective statement about your own plans, and you haven’t pointed out any bit in my statement in which I fell short of fairness or squareness.

            I am also interested in your assertion that we have to realise a bunch of things about dominant culture before we can talk about what kind of autonomy we want. Don’t you think that such a claim, if adopted, would serve to prevent any call for further social change? Some nitwit could always jump out of the corner and say “But you haven’t really realised what sort of autonomy … ” It’s like calling for looking squarely and comparing fairly without saying anything specific, it strikes me as an attempt to shut down criticism of the dominant culture.

      • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

        If libertarianism is a last-ditch haven for would-be dominators, then the tide must be against them already.

        The issue is whether the problem is a particular class of dominators, or the social conditions that make hierarchy and domination possible. We also need libertarians who are willing to challenge exclusionary modes of liberation, and who don’t see merely defanging the state as the end all be all.

        • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

          ” We also need libertarians who are willing to challenge exclusionary modes of liberation”

          I don’t disagree with this.

        • TracyW

          We also need libertarians who are willing to challenge exclusionary modes of liberation

          Do we? I may be being a bit provocative here, but may it not be that in terms of liberation it’s important to build what coalitions you can, even if they’re exclusionary at that point in time? Noticeably, freedom of religion only got established as a right once most people gave up trying to force their religion on their neighbours.

          And would it really have been worthwhile waiting universal male suffrage on a majority agreeing to women’s suffrage? Or women’s suffrage on eliminating racism?

          • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

            Challenging exclusionary modes of liberation is not the end-all-be-all, it’s just that from where I’m sitting, libertarians ought to tack a bit more in that direction. Hell, I believe that actual separatism might be a better remedy for racial/ethnic/etc. privilege than anything liberalism can provide. The exclusionary modes I’m thinking of tend to be those where privilege and exclusion fly under the radar and happen as an unintended or pernicious consequence, not those which are exclusionary per se.

            A good example here would be the libertarian defense of price gouging in emergency situations where supplies run low. It is true that price gouging allows for the price signals necessary to incentivize meeting the demand. But it also favors those who can pay over those who can’t for no other reason than preexisting privilege. It is not exclusionary to argue that price gouging can help; it IS exclusionary to say that price gouging and markets-as-usual are all that’s needed. Especially when the society creates the market and its rules, not the other way around.

            Thanks for provoking the clarification.

    • Sean II

      So to sum up: “There is as yet no conclusive proof that libertarians are really a secret society of would be slave-owning gay-bashing rapists who hunger for the utopia of South Carolina circa 1820, but this reporter will keep you posted as the evidence develops.”

      Okay, well that seems fair to me.

      • ke_nt

        “Libertarianism is a magnet for these types of people” does not mean “All libertarians are these types of people.” Some is not the same as all.

        The question is whether the analysis is correct, not whether it insults you and your friends.

        • Sean II

          No, the question is “Why would anyone think that in the first place?”

          As matters now stand, Holbo has simply given no reason to think that libertarianism is the last refuge, or any kind of refuge, of those historical bad guys.

          I might just as easily say: “It’s time we speculate about the real nature of the Catholic Church. Has it become a sanctuary for protestants? Perhaps we’ll never know, but we mustn’t be afraid to talk about it. We must have the courage to face that possibility.”

          Um…no, actually, why would we do that?

    • Aeon Skoble

      Ok, thanks for the clarification. After you clarify, you say “This is not an objection to libertarianism, in theory, but is such a typical dynamic, in practice, that it seems to me it needs taking more direct account of, in the theory.” I am glad you agree that it’s not an objection to libertarianism, and as to whether it needs to be more directly addressed, I’d have to say that (a) I agree with you, but (b) over the last 5-10 years we have been doing that. Indeed, the folks who make and inspire this blog have been doing a lot of that. But even libertarians who resist the “left-libertarian” label have been working overtime to distance libertarianism from crypto-feudalism.

    • Michael Wiebe

      “In many of these cases, the fact that formerly dominant groups still enjoy more property rights – since they have more property – and can enforce repressive social norms, in a an aggregate, private way, means that ‘propertarian’ libertarian is, as it were, a ready-made last-ditch defense against autonomy for the heretofore no fully autonomous.”

      This is a good point. But isn’t this precisely what left-libertarians argue?

      • Aeon Skoble

        “In many of these cases, the fact that formerly dominant groups still enjoy more property rights – since they have more property – and can enforce repressive social norms” — also, John, I’m not clear on which “repressive social norms” you think libertarians are in favor of. In general, we’re the ones opposing repressive social norms.

        • Substance McGravitas

          By supporting the removal of law and regulation that blunts those norms?

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            Without specifics it is unwise to assume that “law and regulation” do
            in fact “blunt those norms.” Even if one does so, more often than not
            they are simply setting up new repressive social norms.

          • Substance McGravitas

            Which new repressive social norms are the worst?

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            I’m still not sure which old ones we’re talking about…

          • Substance McGravitas

            What repressive social norm tops your personal list that you have to deal with every day as the result of law and regulation?

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            I’m a youngish heterosexual white male, so very few social norms work against me, but many current repressive social norms are the result of bad law and regulation, not its absence–the government licensing of marriage and the drug war, to name two obvious ones. My point is that codifying current social norms as law often results in future repression, as is the case with the two I cited above. That I don’t personally have to deal with them daily doesn’t change the fact that I think they are wrong and should not exist.

            Now your turn. Which of the current repressive social norms do you think are strengthened supported by libertarian ideas?

          • Substance McGravitas

            Market freedom in various areas, including in housing and medicine, to name two areas that affect me personally.

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            Those are already two of the most heavily regulated industries out
            there, but you remind me that regulation in both areas has affected me directly. One positive (my first home was an FHA loan) and one negative (my employer may drop our private health insurance and pay the Obamacare penalty instead because it is cheaper). *goes off to find statistics on regulation broken down by industry*

          • Substance McGravitas

            It at least seems we can both agree that good (your loan) and bad (US craziness over drugs) can come from law and regulation. That’s the point.

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            That I personally benefit from something doesn’t make it good in itself. Isn’t that supposed to be the point?

            But yes, I believe it is possible for law to be good. For example, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is itself a law whose purpose is to prohibit the making of laws that would foster repressive social norms. It does all this without granting special privilege to the religious minorities of its day. These are the kind of laws we should be making and following.

          • Substance McGravitas

            That I personally benefit from something doesn’t make it good in itself. Isn’t that supposed to be the point?

            Right! Which is why FHA loans don’t apply only to Dave, and don’t benefit only FHA loan recipients. You benefit, and presumably your neighbours benefit from a society in which a little mobility is helped along. So three cheers for good law and three boos for bad law, a position that does not require libertarian thought.

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            My neighbor benefits when my lawn is nicely mowed, but I’m not convinced the law should then force him to subsidize my lawn care bill, but I can at least see where you’re coming from.

          • http://voodothosting.com/23/ Lorraine Lee

            Your neighbor benefits from your nicely mowed lawn how? Reduced oxygen supply?

          • http://twitter.com/dmaddock1 Dave

            It seems you’ve never owned a property adjacent to a negligent neighbor. This is getting increasingly off-topic, but to answer your question: It negatively affects his property values if I don’t mow, not to mention attracting insects, rodents, and the like…

          • http://voodothosting.com/23/ Lorraine Lee

            More plausibly your employer is doing it as a political statement, like that grandstanding Papa John guy.

          • http://voodothosting.com/23/ Lorraine Lee

            Preference for “settled” over “nomadic” people and peoples.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21001381 Niklaus Eeyelan

            Clean water. Man does that stuff ever piss me off. What is it with you people and wanting to drink clean water? You’re all disgusting.

      • jholbo

        I should hope so. But I don’t see enough emphasis on how the rhetoric of libertarianism can systematically backfire.

        • martinbrock

          Why not counter backfiring libertarian rhetoric without calling for a more powerful counter-state that never actually achieves libertarian ends?

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

      I think I see what you mean here. It seems to me the problem is history-specific, i.e. specific to the history of America. It always strikes me (and many many other Americans, I take it) that the American dream burst on the scene back during the Enlightenment with such bold statements as, “All men are created equal,” yet those very words were written alongside a lot of rather xenophobic hatred of American tribal nations, all the while completely ignoring the institution of slavery. Thus an appeal to “God-given liberty” can, in a sad way which is rooted more in history than in theory, end up being an appeal to an old hierarchy that ought never have existed.

      It would be taking the easy way out, I suppose, to say that this is a mere historical accident and should have no bearing on our theoretical work as libertarian thinkers. But then again, America is quite the historical accident. It is the backdrop against which not only we Americans, but pretty much the whole world views the concept of liberty (I honestly don’t think that’s an exaggeration). So yeah, I guess that constitutes (roughly) a theoretical problem to be dealt with–how do we save the American ideal of liberty from the American reality of “liberty”?

      Perhaps I am being too America-centric, here, but that to me seems what all this is driving at. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

      Maybe you could focus the discussion by bringing up a specific *theoretical* problem that needs to be addressed. For instance, here’s a highly relevant theoretical problem, in light of current talk of immigration reform and the historical realities of slavery: suppose you change a law to acknowledge the rights of a previously oppressed group of people. Then what? Because of their previous oppression, they have a relative disadvantage. This is in itself an injustice. Can we correct it through government intervention? Should we? Or is it enough simply to end the oppression that was previously occurring?

      To be very concrete: if you finally let a slave be free, with all the property rights that the rest of us enjoy, is that the end of society’s obligation?

      That’s an interesting question, one which we were actually faced with resolving in the US, and which we probably failed to solve perfectly. But the topic will continue to come up, as we continue to work out previously unresolved injustices.

      Maybe that isn’t really a question that particularly motivated your essay, but in my judgment of what you wrote, I kind of wish it had been.

      • http://www.bonzai.squarespace.com/ mfarmer

        “that the American dream burst on the scene back during the Enlightenment with such bold statements as, “All men are created equal,” yet those very words were written alongside a lot of rather xenophobic hatred of American tribal nations, all the while completely ignoring the institution of slavery.”
        Wasn’t the statement aspirational rather than a description of reality, since they were fighting against tyranny and inequality themselves? Also, the statement of principle is always alongside imperfections, and many times serious imperfections. We strive toward the principles, and some make progress while others remain hypocrites.

      • WWW Du Bois

        You write, “That’s an interesting question, one which we were actually faced with resolving in the US”

        The USA is, however, *still* faced with this problem. The USA *still* contains a large population who *still* have not recovered from the imposition of slavery.

    • wofford

      I would like to know what repressive social norms I am enforcing when I, an old white guy, seeks to hold on to my income producing assets, stocks, bonds, real estate, pension, mineral rights royalties earned through a lifetime of work? When totaled up my taxes are about 35% of my income and it seems to me that I am enabling the erstwhile non-autonomous to have success in life. The fact that I take seriously the disentigration of the family, as the family is the only and best guarantee that children will not live in proverty, makes me what a suppressor of gay rights or against contraception or a young earther or a holocaust denier along with a desire for dirty water and air and a tax cheat? Lest you think that confabulation from derranged progressives is not the norm then you haven’t watched MSNBC enough nor read Paul Krugman’s ramblings. Am I attracted to libertarian ideas and ideals because I am fearful of losing my power and position as a white overlord observing the expanse of my kingdom and my slaves bringing me tribute of, interest, dividends, rents and royalties? If that is my confabulation of using confirmation bias to still my panic then that is the most pathetic intellectual argument I have ever encountered. Meanwhile on the ground in reality I live in a small town in the rural south and have seen first hand the enormous suffering that ill conceived social welfare can wreak upon poor communities and where illegal immigration can directly cause black unemployment. Where is social justice here when on the one hand the apologists for the status quo appease their guilt by continuing these ill conceived incentive destroying policies and on the other hand these same people berate people like me for being oppressors and unconcerned because we hold values of the 1950s long since shown to be irrelevant by opinion polls or political consensus?

      • ke_nt

        John’s claim is not that everybody who is a libertarian is, at heart, seeking to preserve the old privilege because they see it slipping away. Rather, it is that people who seek to preserve privilege often reach for libertarianism.

        So if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it! The interesting question is whether it fits a large number of people — not whether or not it fits any specific individual (such as yourself).

        • wofford

          My question was what old privilege would that be? I can see nothing in the composition of my assets and income and tax burden that could be viewed as a privilege that somehow harms another individual or a group. I just don’t see his point about such a confabulation it seems to be just a mental construct whereas the progressive confabulation about the conservative or libertarian is quite real and tangible.

          • Brisket

            If nothing else, it’s the privilege of being wealthy – because freedom and wealth are very closely tied in a market economy. You have all sorts of freedoms that poor person doesn’t. That’s why socialism is desirable for the enlightened wealthy – because it allows more freedoms for the poor (by providing goods the market won’t) at a low cost to the wealthy, who get to keep the bulk of their income. Even if it’s from an inherited business, capital gains, or some other source that has absolutely nothing to do with hard work! How generous!

          • martinbrock

            You confuse forcible propriety with the market here. The market is free exchange, not what traders are entitled to exchange. What traders are entitled to exchange makes all the difference, so we should certainly discuss this subject, but you don’t discuss it here. You rather divert attention from the discussion.

          • TracyW

            because freedom and wealth are very closely tied in a market economy.

            Yes, the freedom in a market economy creates the wealth. (Along with the right to keep the wealth you created, or pass it on to your heirs).

            That’s why socialism is desirable for the enlightened wealthy – because it allows more freedoms for the poor

            What do you mean by socialism here?

            Even if it’s from an inherited business, capital gains, or some other source that has absolutely nothing to do with hard work! How generous!

            This is sarcasm, right?

          • Guest

            Well, one giveaway would be if it’s disproportionately white and male.

        • Sean II

          The interesting question is whether he has an evidence or argument to support his claim (here presented without either) that the libertarian movement is a hiding place for reactionary privilege-seekers.

          One oughtn’t just say that, without backing it up somehow.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21001381 Niklaus Eeyelan

            Well, one giveaway would be if the libertarian movement is disproportionately white and male…

          • Sean II

            That’s at least an argument. Not a terribly good one, I think, but it’s an attempt. The problem is, Holbo didn’t even give us that much.

          • http://twitter.com/gshevlin gshevlin

            ..or if you approach somebody to discuss politics and at some point they say something like “I’m a libertarian, but…” and then proceed to utter comments that reveal that their worldviews and ideas are a long way from meeting any generally accepted definition of libertarianism. Anecdotally, I have met a number of people here in Texas claiming to be libertarians. Interestingly they are always white guys who would vote for a tree stump if it had “GOP” stencilled on it.

          • Sean II

            That wasn’t a very nice thing to say about Rick Perry.

          • WWW Du Bois

            The only evidence he gave was a quote by Nozick who observed the same thing.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Well, there seem to be enough people on “your” side acknowledging the existence of the libertarian reactionaries, that Holbo can just ignore you and talk to them instead.

          • Sean II

            A lot of people acknowledge the existence of alien abductions, too. That doesn’t make them real.

          • WWW Du Bois

            If a lot of people on your side acknowledge the existence of alien abductions, that does not look so great for your side…

          • Sean II

            I get that you were going for, like, an Algonquin Round Table quip there. I just don’t think you hit it. But I’d give you credit, if you did.

          • WWW Du Bois

            No, it’s an actual point. There’s a big difference between “a lot of people” and “a lot of people on your side.”

            My apologies that it was too subtle for you.

        • http://twitter.com/gshevlin gshevlin

          The first paragraph nails it. As I said in another comment, a lot of the people I currently meet here in the USA claiming to be libertarians are authoritarians sailing under a flag of convenience, wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are in favor of small government when they see money being spent on stuff that they do not like. They are giving libertarianism a bad name as a philosophy, and IMHO the libertarian movement needs to start calling them out.

          • Sean II

            What do you mean “start calling them out”? Isn’t that exactly what already happens when someone wanders onto this blog from NRO and gets the life thumbed out of him for supporting the Iraq war or the bank bailouts or whatever?

            I mean, when are libertarians NOT calling each other out for this and that and everything you can think of?

            Shit, we’re all doing it right now!

      • Brisket

        35% of your income is a small price to pay given what you get for it. You don’t have to live in a gated community, because people aren’t desperate enough to invade your home. Likewise, you can walk the streets without a personal bodyguard. Your air and water are much cleaner than they’d otherwise be. You can assume the food you buy is non-toxic. You can hire workers who have already been educated by the state for you in at least the basics of reading and writing. You can drive on an extensive network of roads and highways. How much do you think you’d have to pay for these things (and so much more!) if they weren’t socialised?

        How safe would you be in a society with no social welfare safety net existed, and so the rational choice for others would be kidnapping you (the alternative being starvation)?

        And how about the many, many people with a lifetime of work and no shares or ‘mineral rights’ to show for it? Bad luck only happens to other people, right? It doesn’t sound like you have a goddamn thing to complain about.

        • http://twitter.com/gshevlin gshevlin

          The first thing I always have to remind extreme “no taxes” agitators about is just how great the distance is between an agrarian society with no modern infrastructure and the modern USA. If you start writing down all of the infrastructure-based features of modern life, the list gets real long really quickly.
          The second thing I have to remind them of is that, compared to many other countries in the world, taxes on income in the USA are quite low. Whether they realize it or not, people living in the USA are getting a bloody good deal on a number of levels. But you would think, judging by some of the whining that I read, that the vast majority here are toiling under the yoke of socialist oppression, taxed nine ways to penury.

          • Sean II

            The flaw in your first argument is that it assumes taxes are the only way to purchase the good known as “infrastructure”. They’re not.

            If that’s been playing like a trump card for you in arguments, you should find some tougher opposition.

            The flaw in your second argument is that the relative rate of taxation between one country and others does not establish what should be considered the proper of fair rate of taxation in any country.

          • http://twitter.com/gshevlin gshevlin

            Trump card in debates? I’m not playing a win-loss game when I discuss politics with people. I’m not running for an elective office. Usually I am exchanging information and exploring views in a non-confrontational way. I happen to be aware that there are other ways of purchasing infrastructure than with tax revenues. But thanks for reminding me.
            I made no claim that relative rates of taxation establish any fair level of taxation. That is a strawman that you just added after the fact. I was merely noting that a lot of people complaining of penal tax rates in the USA have not compared those rates to those in other countries.

          • Sean II

            Your comment before last began “The first thing I have to remind extreme “no tax” agitators about is…”

            Does that sound like a man who’s seeking an exploratory exchange of ideas, or does that sound like a man who has his mind made up, boastfully discussing one of his favorite rhetorical tactics?

        • TracyW

          Actually, 35% of his income is not enough, as the US government is spending well above its tax take.

          Anyway, US government spending as a share of GDP is higher than in that hellhole of Switzerland and Thaliand, both places where I’ve walked the streets without personal bodyguards and people don’t typically live in gated homes, and the population manages to be educated in reading and writing (also higher than in Australia and Japan, but the difference is more trivial). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_spending#As_a_percentage_of_GDP

          And how about the many, many people with a lifetime of work and no shares or ‘mineral rights’ to show for it?

          They are far far worse off in countries where no one but the politically well-connected is allowed to hold on to their shares or mineral rights.

    • Sean II

      For what’s its worth, here’s my no-longer-immediate reaction to the post AND the clarification:

      There seems a perfectly good reason why this piece had to be written in such a convoluted style. It’s the same reason why so many papers and essays end up lacking clarity: stripped of its verbal gimmicks, the post simply didn’t say much. What first seems a problem of style turns out to be a poverty of content.

      The core of Holbo’s argument, as revealed most candidly in his clarification, is a slightly more sophisticated variation on the “Tea Party is racist” meme, applied to the libertarian movement as a whole, and with a few sins more than racism thrown into the balance.

      As such, it’s subject to all the standard Tea Party rebuttals and several more besides.

      1-As Long so cleanly explained in his essay, we don’t have anything like a free market now, so Holbo’s suspicions cannot be empirical. He cannot have formed his ideas about black-hearted libertarians by studying any existing society, and certainly not the American corporate state circa 2012.

      2-If he has any other evidence, he fails to bring it forward. He might point out that actual libertarians seem almost exclusively to be white males with above average marginal revenue product; i.e, he might make a case that libertarianism is just the class-interest of a smart, white-boy elite. But he doesn’t say that.

      3-The argument he does make is pure evidence-free psychological speculation, totally unhinged from any logical or empirical facts. In the end his thesis is this:

      “Where have all the feudalists and racists and old-school plutocrats gone? There can’t be any fewer of them, right? They can’t speak the truth of their views openly these days, so where have they gone to hide? Where else, but in the safest place they could think of: in the very bosom of a popular philosophy that no one ever criticizes, which is called libertarianism.”

      What??? That would be like an Amish guy trying to escape ridicule by hiding out with a Hasidic sect. Libertarianism is a pariah philosophy. We’re the guys who are EXCITED about pulling 1% of the vote in a national election!

      If you were looking to preserve your privileges and build yourself a restored path to power and wealth, why in heaven’s name would you hide out with the likes of us? In the playground of life, we can’t even hold on to our lunch money.

      Besides, isn’t this argument better applied elsewhere. Wouldn’t it be as good, or better to say “Progressivism is where the old aristocratic class went, when it could no longer admit to being an aristocracy.”

      • Brisket

        he might make a case that libertarianism is just the class-interest of a smart, white-boy elite. But he doesn’t say that.

        I’ll say it. I’ve never met a libertarian who wasn’t middle-class. (They’re also all into classic rock and modern prog and consider themselves much smarter than anyone else does. They often have poor social skills and listen to Tool.) I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think there might be a self-serving undertow to the adoption of a political credo, and it is particularly obvious with libertarians because they are people who assume they would be doing better if everyone else recognised their genius and they didn’t have to share. They are not people who were raised in poverty, with limited opportunity, or who have found themselves with their ‘freedom’ limited to the choice of working for appalling pay for a shitty boss vs. not eating and being homeless.

        If a truly libertarian state were instituted, it would descend into a violent plutocracy very fast, because the State, despite being capable of monstrosity, is the only mechanism yet invented that can protect us from violent feudalism. Yes – I don’t need protection from the State so much as I need protection from the corporate warlords who will the vacuum of power if the State were dismantled.

        • martinbrock

          Are you kidding? Violent feudalism was the state. If imagine any corporate warlords without the state, you’re out of touch with reality.

          • good_in_theory

            “The state” went through a rather long evolutionary process. The genetic origins in the household arrangements of feudal warlords are a bit besides the point.

          • martinbrock

            Then I don’t understand the point. Expecting the state to protect you from feudalism is like expecting the sun to protect you from sunburn.

          • good_in_theory

            Well, one wouldn’t expect to find shade under a walnut, and yet, give it 25 years or so and…

          • martinbrock

            The Great Society was more than 25 years ago, and the New Deal was more than 50 years ago, but here we are bickering over the sorry state of the shade. Most people will bicker 100 years from now too, because they’ll never have stopped bickering over control of the state long enough to walk away from it and start building the communities they want.

          • good_in_theory

            I’d guess that most people don’t really bicker about the state at all. They bicker about sports and, maybe, vote once every 4 years, but rather likely not even that.

          • martinbrock

            Most people like us will bicker ….

            A (very few) people, not like us, are already building communities while trying to withdraw from states.

          • WWW Du Bois

            How does this argument not apply equally to property?

            The feudal state evolved, not only into the modern capitalist state, but also into modern capitalist institution of property.

          • jholbo

            The relevant sense in which libertarianism might be regarded as a
            form of feudalism is laid out in a good paper by Samuel Freeman,
            ““Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism is not a Liberal View”.
            I’ll just quote some relevant bits:

            “Under feudalism, the elements of political authority are
            powers that are held personally by individuals, not by enduring
            political institutions. These powers are held as a matter of private
            contractual right. Individuals gradually acquire the power to make,
            apply, and enforce rules by forging a series of private contracts with
            particular individuals or families. Oaths of fealty or service are sworn
            in exchange for similar or compensating benefits. Those who exercise
            political power wield it on behalf of others pursuant to their private
            contractual relation and only so long as their contract is in force.
            Since different services are provided to people, there is no notion of a
            uniform public law that is to be impartially applied to all
            individuals.” (148)

            Thus:

            “Libertarianism resembles feudalism in that it
            establishes political power in a web of bilateral individual contracts.
            Consequently, it has no conception of legitimate public political
            authority nor any place for political society, a “body politic” that
            political authority represents in a fiduciary capacity.” (149)

            There’s more to it, and feel free to use ‘feudalism’ in a different sense. But this is a sense of feudalism concerning which it is distinctly not
            nonsense to say: I wish the state would protect me from that.

          • Aeon Skoble

            “Libertarianism resembles feudalism in that it
            establishes political power in a web of bilateral individual contracts.”
            My former professor is, I’m sad to say, mistaken about that: one of the points made in libertarianism is that bilateral (i.e. consensual) contracts are _fundamentally different_ from political power. Libertarianism is only “not a liberal view” if liberalism is stipulatively defined as “high liberalism.” I think Tomasi has amply demonstrated why that move doesn’t work. (Rasmussen and Den Uyl have as well, but Tomasi’s book actually gets read by (and indeed praised by) high liberals – including Prof. Freeman.)

          • jholbo

            I agree with you that there is a lot about the Freeman paper that is tendentious, Aeon, fair enough. But I think it’s better to say that that a good debate starts where Freeman perhaps prematurely tries to put a spike in it.

          • TracyW

            Under this particular definition of feudalism, why would you wish the state to protect you from that?

            If the objection is that some of your family members could bind you against your will not merely as a child, but as an adult, then you’ve put your finger on the difference between feudalism and libertarianism.

            I suspect you’re proceeding by conflating historical feudalism (or most people’s vague understanding of historical feudalism, IANAH but I understand there’s a lot of debate about how useful the very concept is historically) to which people tend to react with repugnance with a very specialised definition of it that may have never been applied in reality. To put it more shortly, I suspect you’re committing the equivocation fallacy.

          • martinbrock

            Hear, hear.

          • martinbrock

            Under feudalism, the elements of political authority are powers that are held personally by individuals, not by enduring political institutions.

            First, commonly (or jointly) held lands, like monestaries, also existed in the medieval period. I have disputed Tom Woods’ assertion that the Catholic Church built Western civilization, but he doesn’t seem to overstate the contributions of monastic Christians doing their own thing in intentional communities while Churchmen pontificated.

            Second, for a system without enduring political institutions, “feudalism” was remarkably enduring. Ralph Raico notes that “freeman”, “slave”, “patrician”, plebeian”, “lord” and “serf” are all legal categories and would be surprised to learn that they were not part enduring political institutions.

            http://mises.org/daily/2217

            Third, “feudalism” generally is a dubious historical construct. Elizabeth Brown deconstructs it here:

            http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic867458.files/Brown-Tyranny-of-a-Construct.pdf

            Elsewhere in this forum, I defend, or presumably seem to defend, customs like patriarchal chivalry, the “property” of spouses in one another and parent’s “property” in their children as well as a serf’s right to land on a lord’s estate, bound to various duties to the lord, as opposed to a peasant freeman’s weaker hold on some parcel of the commons.

            These customs smack of “feudalsm” to modern ears, but I don’t defend what a modern person imagines of the past. I defend what I imagine in a free society of the future. The free society I imagine did not exist in the past, but insofar as the past was freer than the present (and it was in important respects), we can learn something of a freer future by reconsidering the past.

            These powers are held as a matter of private contractual right. Individuals gradually acquire the power to make, apply, and enforce rules by forging a series of private contracts with particular individuals or families. Oaths of fealty or service are sworn in exchange for similar or compensating benefits.

            Right. I’m all for that, except for “family contracts”. In my libertopia, no individual is bound by a family contract (except children to their parents in a sense), and family members can’t expect much hereditary wealth either; however, people are bound to respect codified community standards but only so long as they remain freely a member of a community. Membership is always at will.

            Various medieval institutions are inconsistent with this liberty, so I’m not a feudal restorationist; however, since I’m not running for office here, I have nothing to lose by speaking plainly, and I don’t hesitate to compare the free communities I imagine to medieval communities, even to feudal estates in some respects.

            In fact, if people want to be subject to the Christian lord of an estate in feudal fashion, I’m O.K. with that. Feudal organization wasn’t simply a horrific tyranny from which nation-states rescued community humanity after the enlightenment. That’s only a story that nation-state worshipers tell.

            Those who exercise political power wield it on behalf of others pursuant to their private contractual relation and only so long as their contract is in force.

            I’m not a Christian or even a theist in any common sense myself, but within Christendom, the lords of feudal estates contracted within constraints imposed by a monarch nominally subject to “Christ” and accountable to His vicar. Gerard Casey suggests that the Catholic Church itself is the genesis of the modern nation-state. The Church seems to be an enduring institution, and I don’t hesitate to call it a “political institution”, in the medieval period at least.

            Since different services are provided to people, there is no notion of a uniform public law that is to be impartially applied to all individuals.

            Thank God for that. Statutory tyranny is all about uniform public law.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Property is the state by another name. Never forget where the term “landlord” came from!

        • TracyW

          I’ve never met an American who wasn’t middle-class.

      • xguest

        Regarding point 1, this is the no true Scotsman argument that makes it hard to have productive discussions with some libertarians. In these cases libertarianism comes off as the utopian opposite to communism.

        Regarding the article, my “paranoid” view would be that libertarians are really rebranded or disaffected republicans. (We have a two party system after all.) You could interpret the current libertarian brand as a way to market a certain political viewpoint to a new generation.

        I wonder about libertarian priorities and values. They seem to mostly focus on the “taxes are theft” and “end the FED” rather than say championing the ACLU and the EFF.

        Why aren’t libertarians as outspoken about limited liability for corporations or say the telecommunications ogilopoly? (Why do they oppose corporate taxation?)

        If you want plutocracy from libertarians, I’d point to the desire to sell of public lands like oil rights and internet communications (net neutrality). Why don’t more libertarians call for things like the sovereign wealth fund of Alaska?

        • Sean II

          You’re mistaken, xguest. In the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, we both start out with an agreed-upon definition of Scotsman – i.e., people who were born in Scotland, or at the very least born to Scotish parents.

          We then argue about whether any Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge, and the fallacy comes in when one party tries to guarantee victory by changing the definition of Scotsman to mean “anyone born in Scotland or to Scottish parents who does NOT put sugar in his porridge.”

          The reason why that doesn’t apply here is simple: there is no agreed upon definition of “libertarian”, so it’s perfectly reasonable that we should spend time arguing about what that concept does or does not entail. You can’t have a “No True Libertarian” fallacy when there is no one way to define the term libertarianism in the first place.

          Think of it this way: if the border of Scotland had never been settled, if there was a world-wide Scottish diaspora with hundreds of sects and clans arguing with each other, some eating sugared porridge, some eating plain porridge, some eating no porridge at all, if no one could agree on what a Scotsman is in the first place well…we’d have to go and name that fallacy something else.

        • TracyW

          Why should anyone be opposed to limited liability? How many projects would you invest in if you knew that you could lose your entire savings even if you only had one dollar invested?

          • xguest

            That’s a good argument for a social safety net too.

          • TracyW

            xquest, the difference between limited liability and a social safety net was that you were wondering why libertarians weren’t outspoken about limited liability.

          • WWW Du Bois

            What about limited criminal liability? How many murders would you contract, if you knew that if you were caught you could only ever lose the bounty paid to the hit-man?

          • TracyW

            The question in context was about limited corporate liability. If xquest wants to know why libertarians aren’t as outspoken about limited criminal liability then the answer is presumably that no one is advocating it.

    • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

      This is thoroughly confused. A person may have bad motives for asserting a perfectly just claim. The justice of the claim must be assesed apart from its motivation. The fact that some libertarians may be “uncomfortable” with social change says nothing about the validity of this political theory. So why bring up this supposed “fact.”?

    • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

      Not only is this an urgent concern, and not only do you perceive rightly that many libertarians dismiss it, it is a concern that DEFINES the left libertarian approach more than any other in my mind. To me, left libertarianism is a way of executing libertarian means that genuinely tries to address the issue you’re talking about. Charles Johnson has done excellent writing on this; I really urge you to explore his work, since if these are your concerns, you belong in the conversation we’re having.

      • jholbo

        Hi Jeremy, I should read more. The post was not clear in a number of ways (as commenters have seen fit to point out in a number of ways!) I may have actually sounded like I think the likes of Johnson are guilty of this problem I complain about. I certainly didn’t mean that, only that they aren’t effective enough in dealing with it. The first part of the post was supposed to make clear that, officially, they are agin’ what I object to – and in a way that leaves me in little doubt that their hearts are in the right place. Good! But the stuff I have read in the volume for the symposium seemed insufficient when it came to diagnosing why so many of the impulses that they rightly oppose express themselves, in practical politics, in a libertarian-ish sort of way. Why is libertarianism’s enemy its evil twin, as it were? How can libertarianism purge itself of this unfortunate association?

        • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

          So I’d be interested in what you think of this essay I wrote dealing with what I call “market fundamentalism”.

          Why is libertarianism’s enemy its evil twin?

          This is a great way to word it. I’ll give you a short, tentative answer: because politics is not the solution here, and it can’t be. The best thing politics can do is become a human-scale endeavor so that individuals who can understand responsibility and appreciate “the good” can apprehend it. So folks like us stress a decentralist approach that doesn’t claim to purge the evil twin, but does seek for that evil twin to be as small as possible. It is a type of minarchism, I suppose, except that it sees the “Archy” as bigger than simply the formal existence of state authority and legitimacy. I’m getting to the point where I see all mediation as a bigger issue than mere narrow authority.

          For what it’s worth, I think another error of libertarianism, left and right, is the excessive emphasis on the individual as a known quantity. It promotes an ideological view of the human animal (individualism and economics) rather than a genuine inquiry into it (something probably closer to a teleology of identity and experience). That can only be ascertained once people live, move, and have their being in something authentic and comprehensible like a genuine society that actually depends on the people, defines them, and becomes defined by them in a meaningful, clearer way. Politics isn’t just the problem; it’s the barrier to even seeing the problem.

          To me, anarchism SHOULD be about understanding this human we seek to free, rather than just judging him in a context that is social, historical, and in many ways unessential. Economics and law won’t help here except as second order studies. Once we become like the fish who understands there’s a thing called water, we can start to see how this identity comes to be and whether there are other identities possible.

          • TracyW

            Oh rot. We only understand ourselves, or other people, by judging us, and trying to change ourselves, in a context and is social, and historical.

            The idea of a human free from social or historical context is just silly. The same people act vastly different under different social contexts.

            And every society in human history is a society that depends on the people who live in it. I defy you to find a single example anywhere of a society that existed independently of any people living in it.

          • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

            I agree with everything you’ve said, and I’m confused as to the sense in which you think you’re contradicting me.

          • TracyW

            If you agree with me, what did you mean when you wrote:

            To me, anarchism SHOULD be about understanding this human we seek to free, rather than just judging him in a context that is social, historical, and in many ways unessential.

            and

            That can only be ascertained once people live, move, and have their being in something authentic and comprehensible like a genuine society that actually depends on the people…

            If you take the effort to type out a “society that actually depends on the people”, that implies to me that you think that there are societies somewhere that don’t actually depend on the people. Otherwise why bother typing all that?

          • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

            I am sorry to have caused such anxious confusion in you. :)

            I have no problem judging the individual in its social and historical context, though I think that’s neither as empirical a matter as one might expect nor a sufficient project for the anarchist opposing privilege. The problem is that we draw a line between the individual identity and the social or collective identity that anticipates and produces the politics we wish to discover.

            I think there are societies that at least believe they don’t depend on the people, and they’re called “hierarchical societies”, where the individual is manufactured for a social need that is only understood and appreciated by a minority. This doesn’t mean you can rip the individual out of that context–I’m hella conservative in this respect–but it does mean that if you’re going to make the individual the measure of the justice of your politics, you need to clear and careful about it. You may have the shape of the puzzle piece totally wrong because you really, really want the puzzle to end up as something specific. And if that’s the case, why care about the individual’s autonomy at all?

            i’m suggesting that every ideology presupposes a concept of individuality that makes their agenda possible if not inevitable. Anarchists must be wary that in freeing people we understand exactly the kind of people, the kinds of consciousness and identity, we seek to create. Then questions of social and historical context can be approached not simply from one side, but from both.

        • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

          How can libertarianism purge itself of this unfortunate association?

          By becoming about, or at least becoming more interested in, broader issues than simply the political. In many ways, libertarianism sells itself as a value-free ethics that derives from economics. We need to abandon any association with this kind of thing, pronto.

    • http://voodothosting.com/23/ Lorraine Lee

      In other words, I take it, strengthening of property rights, like regulatory capture, can in some cases be an example of people “locking in their gains?” I’ll go along with that.

      • jholbo

        That’s an excellent way to put it. Libertarianism as device for locking in your gains. Like regulatory capture. Nice.

        • martinbrock

          Libertarianism cannot coherently be a device for locking in gains, even if some self-described “libertarian” (or someone constructing a straw man) claims that it is. Locking in gains is precisely what libertarians oppose in statism.

          • good_in_theory

            If Libertarianism is something like “non-aggression/non-interference enforced by the nightwatchman state from this point forward”, then it is a system for ‘locking in’ whatever disparities preceded the moment of its instantiation. One might call that “locking in gains.”

          • martinbrock

            I sympathize with this point to some extent, but it’s easily overstated, and I’m not willing to march with guns on someone’s farm to liberate it from the current owner just because his father stole it from someone else. I also sympathize with victims of this theft, but at some point, we must lay down our arms to create the free society.

            My libertarianism certainly is not the enforcement by a nightwatchman state of every imposition called “property” now. In the free society that I imagine neither Bill Gates nor Steve Balmer nor the Microsoft Corporation nor anyone else may threaten to fine or imprison or shoot anyone for taking the source code for Windows XP, developing it in a direction other than Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 and selling their version and/or related services. This non-enforcement would certainly make the Microsoft Corporation and Gates and Balmer less wealthy. I suppose Gates still owns a lot of Microsoft stock.

            Furthermore, no one could compel my children or anyone else to pay a dime toward the Treasury securities that financed the war in Iraq or any other Treasury security. Many holders of Treasury securities, including many private pension funds, then would be poorer.

            The FDIC would disappear. Money might disappear from your bank account and also from mine, but more importantly, the unlimited insurance provided by taxpayers to corporate transaction accounts since the “crisis” and many similar, automatic bailouts for incredibly wealthy interests now thoroughly baked into Federal law would disappear.

            No one could compel my children to pay any Federal employee’s pension either. These Federal employees would be less wealthy.

            We can discuss precisely who might lose power and who might gain in a freer society, and we should discuss it, but we aren’t discussing it, and that’s my problem with this topic. Holbo promises lots of stuff to the have nots, but he doesn’t discuss who among the haves is losing stuff. As a libertarian, I’m completely willing to do both.

          • j_m_h

            You seem to be forgetting the role of common law processes that are not locked in stone of the statutory status quo you seem to think will be locked in.

          • good_in_theory

            Not sure what you intend to be talking about.

          • j_m_h

            Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you but your “locking in gains” appears to be a statement about a) I’m locking in an unjustified position via property rights or b) I’m locking in some property right that might provide some differential advantage in the future (e.g., protection against some future externality emerging due to a dynamic situation).

            I don’t believe either holds in a case where a comepttive common law process is at work to mediate these types of shifts in costs and benefit impacts within a society.

            Now, I agree that it will not be the perfect system – -what is? I do think that as long as there is an impartial judge (someone with some type of expertise in rules of evidence to act as umpire) and a representative jury of peers (people representative of both sides of the complaint) we’ll do pretty good as redressing any “lock in effects”.

          • jholbo

            You are missing the form of the objection, martinbrock.

            If the shoe were on the other foot, you would easily see the fallacy. A statist liberal who says that statist liberalism ‘cannot coherently’ be guilty of the things the public choice folks say it is, and will be, guilty of. Because liberalism is opposed to all those unintended consequences.

            Yes, replies the public choice critic: that’s why we call them ‘unintended consequences’. Because we know they aren’t intended by the ideal theorists, yet they are likely to obtain. And that’s a problem.

            Now turn it around. The concern is not that libertarianism is, in theory, a device for perpetrating regulatory capture. Obviously not. The concern is that libertarianism will, in practice, be a device of regulatory capture. Privileged folks, when their privileges are threatened, will lock them in as property, as best they can.

            You may be right that the objection misses the target. But first you must acknowledge what the target of the objection is.

          • jholbo

            Sorry, I see my point has already been made by good_in_theory. I don’t see that martinbrock has a good reply. Saying that ‘at some point we must lay down our arms to create the free society’ is like saying ‘at some point we must allow the problems that the public choice theorists see to arise.’ That’s not adequate as a response to the concern that these are serious problems.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Indeed. It also fails to consider whether that point ought to be delayed until the property distribution is equitable. Even if we grant that “at some point” property must cease to be redistributed, it matters a great deal at which point this occurs.

          • martinbrock

            The problems that public choice theorists see have already arisen. They arose under liberalism, not libertarianism. If “libertarians” ever dominate the state, then you’ll have a point, but we’re very far from this event, and left-libertarians don’t advocate going a step further. That’s the point you are missing.

          • martinbrock

            If the shoe were on the other foot, you would easily see the fallacy.

            If I take your usage of “libertarianism” for granted, I can see the fallacy, but I don’t take your usage for granted. I’m not granting you any “right-libertarian” usage here. That’s the whole point of this symposium, I thought.

            Yes, replies the public choice critic: that’s why we call them ‘unintended consequences’. Because we know they aren’t intended by the ideal theorists, yet they are likely to obtain. And that’s a problem.

            But I’m here to discuss a left-libertarian theory here, not the right-libertarian theory that you dispute. I’m happy for you to debunk my left-libertarian assumptions, but I don’t see you doing that. I can bicker with right-libertarians and left-statists any day. That’s not why I’m here.

            The concern is that libertarianism will, in practice, be a device of regulatory capture.

            What “libertarianism” is a device for regulatory capture? Just the word itself? I chant “libertarian”, and I capture regulators? Which regulators? Actually existing regulators seem to recoil at the word. They seem much happier with “liberal”. That’s your cherished label, not mine, isn’t it? Why aren’t you claiming that liberalism is a device for regulatory capture? That’s much closer to the truth in reality.

            Privileged folks, when their privileges are threatened, will lock them in as property, as best they can.

            Of course, they will, that’s why I’m a libertarian.

            You may be right that the objection misses the target. But first you must acknowledge what the target of the objection is.

            No. I suppose this is my symposium. I want you to take left-libertarian assumptions granted and follow them where they lead, and you aren’t doing that. It’s not like left-libertarians get a symposium every day. Give us a break, man.

          • jholbo

            “I’m not granting you any “right-libertarian” usage here.”

            Here again, if the shoe were on the other foot, you would see the fallacy quickly enough.

            If a defender of statist liberalism said to a public-choice style critic: ‘I’m not granting you any ‘liberal institutions corrupted by regulatory capture’ usage here’, the critic would respond, rightly, that he is entitled to refer to real phenomena that are relevant to the debate, whether the statist liberal finds these features of reality agreeable or not.

            A debate about left-libertarianism can’t sensibly be a debate that is stipulately insulated against the existence of the phenomenon of right-libertarianism.

            “I want you to take left-libertarian assumptions for granted and follow them where they lead, and you aren’t doing that.”

            In fact, I do just that for the first half of the post. I say the assumptions of left-libertarianism leads to a pretty good place, in theory. I say, explicitly, that maybe all high liberals ought to say that, if left-libertarians prove right about certain (debatable) market assumptions, everyone with high liberal commitments ought to be a left-libertarian.

            “I’m happy for you to debunk the assumptions by arguing that they don’t lead where we expect.”

            How is this consistent with your ban on ‘right-libertarian usage’? What I’m arguing is that, in practice, left-libertarian theory (high theory libertarianism) is a protein sheath for the virus of right-libertarianism, to a more pernicious degree than is generally recognized. How am I supposed to say that without referring to right-libertarianism?

          • martinbrock

            Here again, if the shoe were on the other foot, you would see the fallacy quickly enough.

            Refusing to grant your premise is not a fallacy. You aren’t discussing any real phenomena here. You aren’t discuss actual, existing left-libertarianism. Again, if such a thing exists, it’s an intentional community divorced as much as possible from the state. These communities are not merely theoretical. How much regulatory capture are you attributing to the Amish?

            A debate about left-libertarianism certainly can be insulated against the existence of right-libertarianism. You’re happy enough insulating the debate against the existence of liberal-statism, which is the only fit target of your public choice argument. That “right-libertarianism” has “libertarianism” in the label.hardly matters.

            Despite the objections of right-libertarians, my argument is that right-libertarians are more statist than left-libertarians precise because they are proprietarians insisting that particular property rights are universal. The universality of these rights requires a more central authority, and regulatory capture requires a more central authority.

            You can see this distinction in Mark Friedman’s insistence that Walmart can buy land anywhere in a free society, denying that a free community could restrict this use of land within the community.

            Friedman assumes that Walmart could buy any land from any owner for a sufficiently high price, because every individual has his price, but this assumption asserts his strictly individualistic property principle by fiat. He assumes a state imposing a particular right of individual proprietors on every community. This state’s imposition is precisely the regulatory capture that you imagine.

            Either the local community has the regulatory authority or it doesn’t. If the most local authority doesn’t have it, then a more central authority has it. An individual cannot have this authority, because an individual can’t decide that everyone else will respect some right that he imagines or that anyone else will enforce the right. Rights are fundamentally contractual.

            … if left-libertarians prove right about certain (debatable) market assumptions, everyone with high liberal commitments ought to be a left-libertarian.

            You aren’t discussing market assumptions or left-libertarian assumptions. You’re discussing property assumptions and high liberal assumptions. Your high liberalism invites the regulatory capture. The very existence of the more central authority invites the capture.

            You can’t have your central authority and also deny the regulatory capture problem. You project the regulatory capture problem onto a system without a central authority to capture, and you do so to deny high liberalism’s own central authority, which is already captured.

            How is this consistent with your ban on ‘right-libertarian usage’?

            I’m not a right-libertarian. You might as well debunk a flat Earth while claiming to debunk left-libertarian assumptions.

            How am I supposed to say that without referring to right-libertarianism?

            You’re supposed to refer to liberal-statism instead, because that’s the actual existing system that’s a protein sheath for your “right-libertarianism”. Your “right-libertarianism” is the “libertarian” rhetoric of the Republican Party. Markets, Not Capitalism is hardly the “leftist” camouflage for Republican Party rhetoric. Your own high liberal rhetoric is this camouflage. I only need to look at the composition of the state’s regulatory apparatus to know that. Practically all of them are Republicans or Democrats. Practically none of them are “libertarians” of description.

          • jholbo

            “You aren’t discussing any real phenomena here. You aren’t discuss actual, existing left-libertarianism.”

            You are conflating two categories. Real things. And real things that are left-libertarian. There are many things in the world that are real without being left-libertarian (I am feeling odd, writing this sentence, but here we are.) You can’t stipulate away theoretically inconvenient facts, merely because they are inconvenient.

            The closest thing you have to an argument that doesn’t do this is your Amish argument, to which a different objection applies. So let’s move on to that. Let it be the case that some left-libertarianism does not get infected by right-libertarianism, as I am concerned it will. Fine! I cheerfully grant it is so! This does not prove that I am wrong that this tends to be a systematic problem. No more so than pointing out some government agency that is run quite competently gives anyone license to ignore public-choice arguments ever after.

            One more try: take my right-libertarianism and relabel it ‘the ‘libertarian’ rhetoric of the Republical party’. Fine. Have it as you like. Now run the argument again, with the new label stuck on. It’s still a good argument, as far as I can see. Libertarianism – the philosophy – tends to be colonized by forces that are alien to its proper ideals.

            Let me try one last tack. If you take your line consistently, you have to admit that almost all of the left-libertarian critiques of statist liberalism fail because they illegitimately refer to real things that the statist liberal has the argumentative privilege of refusing to acknowledge, for argument purposes: namely, systematic tendencies for state liberalism to go wrong, in practice. Are you willing to bite this bullet? I really don’t think it’s a good idea.

          • martinbrock

            You are conflating two categories.

            No. You are. Of course, there are real things that aren’t left-libertarian, and you conflate them with left-libertarian things.

            I haven’t stipulated away any inconvenient facts. The Amish don’t succeed through regulatory capture. That’s a fact. It’s a fact that I assert repeatedly and that you ignore as frequently.

            The closest thing you have to an argument that doesn’t do this is your Amish argument, …

            No. I also have the Twin Oaks argument and countless others.

            Let it be the case that some left-libertarianism does not get infected by right-libertarianism, …

            What I call “left-libertarianism” is not infected by right-libertarianism by definition. If Republicrats battling for control of the state start flying a “left-libertarian” flag, I’ll need to find a new flag, so I can at least try coherently to signal what I have mind, but I certainly don’t have that problem now. You certainly do.

            Liberal-statism is infected by right-libertarianism, because both systems are proprietarian. Again, a welfare state is itself a statutory system of property (New Property), not because I say it is but because liberal-statists say it is.

            This does not prove that I am wrong that this tends to be a systematic problem.

            It’s definitely a systematic problem, but it’s your systematic problem, not mine.

            Public choice is a problem inherent in central authority. It’s not just a problem with the central authority you don’t like. It’s a problem with central authority as a general proposition.

            One more try: take my right-libertarianism and relabel it ‘the ‘libertarian’ rhetoric of the Republical party’.

            I’ll go with you one step further in theory and relabel “the ‘libertarian’ rhetoric of the Republican party’ left-libertarian, which is what you’re trying to do here in reality. I just did it in fact, but I’ll do with pizzazz this time.

            Alacazam! There. It’s done.

            Now I’m not a left-libertarian anymore. You are.

            But back here in the real world, regulators still hate people called “libertarians” and love “liberals” instead.

            Libertarianism – the philosophy – tends to be colonized by forces that are alien to its proper ideals.

            No. Only the word can be colonized this way, and “liberal” has already been colonized this way. That’s why I’m a libertarian instead.

            In fact, I’m not even a libertarian anymore. I’m a left-libertarian in this forum, but that’s actually a recent transformation for me.. Sometimes, I’m a mutualist instead. Are you also claiming mutualism is subject to your argument? How about communism? How about socialism? How about liberalism? I’m still more of a liberal than you are by eighteenth century standards.

            … you have to admit that almost all of the left-libertarian critiques of statist liberalism fail because they illegitimately refer to real things that the statist liberal has the argumentative privilege of refusing to acknowledge, …

            No. I’m not refusing to acknowledge your critiques of right-libertarianism. I’m only refusing to conflate right-libertarianism with left-libertarianism, but you absolute insist that left-libertarianism is infected, I can fall back on mutualism; however, your hypothesis is clearly false in reality at this point. I see no evidence at all that left-libertarianism is infected, while I see overwhelming evidence that libertal-statism is infected. There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in reality.

          • xguest

            Aren’t the Amish and Twin Oaks free riding off of at least some of the benefits of the state and modern society?

            And one way to look at the paranoid view of libertarianism is to separate the short and the long term.

            In america in a two party system in matters greatly how “libertopia” is brought forth if it can’t be achieved immediately all at once. (Even if it could be there would still be the unequal starting place problem.)

            Libertarians keep saying you can’t say anything about a libertarian state because the libertarian state is corrupted by the liberal state. Well, that works both ways. Wouldn’t then any non-pure libertarian state be vulnerable to the theory of the second best?

            I personally think pure libertarianism, as opposed to a mixed economy with a social safety net, is only desirable to the extent it can be achieved technologically.

            The autonomy in a modern liberal state is dependent on the “infrastructure” of the state, including providing a basic living. Technological advances could, emphasis on could, provide for a decentralized self-sufficiency that reduces the role of the state.

            Alternatively, the state’s role may “grow” but become more automated, like Milton Friedman’s central bank computer.

          • martinbrock

            I’m not sure about Twin Oaks, because I know that they have accepted members receiving public assistance, but that was decades ago. I doubt that the Amish rely on state benefits.

            Libertarianism is not paranoid. It is optimistic.

            I don’t expect to achieve libertopia through the two party system or any other political process. The free society is a retreat from the state, not a conquest of it.

            Pure libertarianism has many safety nets. Free communities have the safety net of their choice. Twin Oaks is a safety net for its members.

            Self-sufficiency is not liberty. Mutual support through voluntary relationships is liberty. The wealthiest free communities are the least self-sufficient.

          • xguest

            Sorry, I meant looking at libertarianism in a paranoid way, not that libertarians are paranoid.

            Regarding the Amish and Twin Oaks I was thinking of things like vaccines or herd immunity and police and military protection. (Many Twin Oaks members were probably educated in public schools I imagine.)

            It possibly also worth mentioning that I doubt many people would voluntarily choose to be Amish (or live and work at Twin Oaks) who weren’t born into the community. (Also, I’m thinking the quality of an Amish education/isolated upbringing/having English as a second language may be a significant factor in Amish retention rates.)

            But if people are free to form Amish and Twin Oaks-like communities in today’s world, is your opposition merely that these communities can be taxed?

            While self-sufficiency may not be liberty (I don’t know what that means exactly), it may be that there is a trade of between self-sufficiency and the potential for “true” liberty.

            I believe when faced with the inherent risk involved in interdependence (can interdependence really be called “liberty”), self-sufficiency is at least a rational desire, if not response. (The degree of wealth of one community relative to another seems tangential to the discussion beyond whatever degree of wealth a community needs to achieve “liberty” however we’re defining it. Unless an increase in wealth is necessarily coupled with an increase in liberty.)

            Without “true” liberty, a “mixed” liberty that combines positive and negative liberties may be preferable, at least in the short term.

          • martinbrock

            Hmm. I guess I am a paranoid.

            Public goods exist, but U.S. military protection isn’t one of them. Canadians presumably consume some public goods (and public evils) produced by the United State, but that can’t be helped. Some U.S. subjects also consume public goods produced by the Amish.

            Few people choose to be Amish or to live at Twin Oaks, obviously. No one free community is supposed to be for everyone. That’s the whole point of free communities. A free community may be very unlike either an Amish community or Twin Oaks. It may follow any rules the community members choose that don’t impose on other communities.

            A free community need not be self-sufficient, and hardly any would be. Every member of a free community could be a web developer. Of course, this community necessarily trades with other communities. I’m not at all suggesting a lot of North Koreas. I expect most communities to welcome trade with other communities.

            Interdependence is what community is all about, but if some people want a self-sufficient community, I’m not ruling that out. Not ruling things out is what libertarianism is all about.

            I don’t much distinguish positive from negative liberties. Twin Oaks members are entitled to many things, from the community, that a right-libertarian calls “positive liberties”, and there’s nothing at all illiberal, much less unlibertarian, about that.

            Left-libertarianism does not rule out a community offering positive liberties to its members. It only rules out a community taking things from outside the community without an agreeable exchange.

          • jholbo

            “Here’s your argument in a nutshell as I see it. Anyone arguing for any
            diminishment of the state, much less a radical diminishment with
            elimination as an asymptotic goal, is only aiding and abetting vested
            interests in the state (the wealthy) seeking to gain at the expense of
            other vested interests in the state (the other wealthy).”

            Well, I’ve done my best, martinbrock. The thing that you think is my argument is not within shooting distance of my argument, and the things you’ve said to deflect my objections all miss what my objection is.

            One last try: “What I call “left-libertarianism” is not infected by right-libertarianism by definition.”

            Since we are not arguing about left-libertarianism in theory but what left-libertarianism is – given its ideal nature – likely to tend to be, in practice, you are saying that by definition left-libertarianism can’t fail to live up to its ideal in practice. But I don’t see why we should be interested in discussing this. You can define it any way you like, of course. I don’t deny it. But what’s the interest of dealing with practical concerns by defining them out of bounds?

            You seem to be saying that any left-libertarianism that gets infected with rightish badness and then fails as a result isn’t an example of left-libertarianism, but this just turns the whole thing into one of those head-in-the-sand ‘true communism can never fail, and nothing that has ever happened is evidence against it, because it hasn’t been tried’ kind of gambits. This is a dull way to defend yourself.

          • martinbrock

            I don’t say that left-libertarianism can’t live up to its ideal nature in practice. I rather say that you dismiss it summarily by insisting that your liberal state overpower it and that your liberal state isn’t actually the liberal state you imagine for precisely the reason that you dismiss left-libertarianism.

            You somehow imagine your liberal state enacting a universal minimum income, and I concede that you might do that, with a long discussion of possible consequences, but if I suggest a state enacting privatized prisons (that are actually the free communities I imagine), you refuse to discuss the consequences of this reform for an instant. You don’t even debunk the feasibility of this specific reform. That’s what I want you to do. This tactic of yours is very plainly on the record.

            Of course, I claim that left-libertarianism corrupted by other influences is not left-libertarianism, just as you would claim that a thief stealing your minimum income, or a more local authority undermining the central authority’s imposition of a minimum income, is not a reflection of your ideal.

            Your argument applies to any ideal whatsoever, and I freely concede this fact. My problem with your approach is that you don’t apply your own argument to your own liberal-statist ideal, despite the fact that a tendency of forces preferring other statist ideals to control your state is precisely your argument.

          • jholbo

            Well, one last time. The problem is that you misunderstand every aspect of my argument. I’m not arguing for a universal minimal income. I’m saying that libertarianism, as consequentialism, needs to be in principle open to whatever strategy optimizes autonomy. That whole $1 thing was an example, not a public policy proposal. (If such-and-such optimizes autonomy, we should do such-and-such, if we want to optimize autonomy. That should be a self-evident truth.) I’m not saying that the liberal state needs to ‘overpower’ the libertarian minimal state or anything of the sort. I’m not sure where you got that. (What are you misunderstanding, to extract that from my post and comments?) And you misunderstand me as saying that my sort of suspicions need to apply only to libertarianism, not liberalism. The point, obviously, is that we have to be even-handed. But, even more than that, we have to be reasonable. (It’s not a game, so insisting on treating both sides evenly is not like sportsmanship.) We want to know which ideal theory is likely to work better in practice. In order to determine that, we need to consider how ideals are likely to fail in practice.

          • martinbrock

            I doubt that I misunderstand every aspect of your argument.

            You suggested a minimum income earlier without elaborating, and any welfare state amounts to a minimum income of sorts. The United State offers many statutory benefits, like food stamps and medicaid and ultimately prison, amounting to a minimum income with strings attached already.

            I’m saying that libertarianism, as consequentialism, needs to be in principle open to whatever strategy optimizes autonomy. That’s precisely my point. I even grant you whatever formulation of “minimum income” or “welfare state” you want but only if you do not impose it on everyone else. I want you and people agreeing with you to conduct your welfare state experiment without imposing it on others. All of these voluntary experiments are the only optimal strategy I can imagine. I don’t understand how you can believe another strategy optimal.

            I understand your $1 thing, but I don’t grant the premise that you have every self to give, much less a dollar per self. You and others accepting your particular formulation of “welfare” have yourselves to give, and I want you to give yourselves so, but you seem to imagine one formulation of “welfare” universally acceptable. If you don’t, we have no disagreement, but while you presume to give everyone his self and a dollar, I can’t even get you to give me one of your prisoners. I’m not really asking so much.

            I get it from what you refuse to say, not from what you say.

            If your suspicions apply also to liberalism, we share the same suspicion. I don’t want a “libertarian” state that you imagine. I only want a state enforcing a right to life and a right to leave any otherwise sovereign community at will, so that we can have many meaningful experiments in social organization seeking an optimal organization. How else do you propose to seek this organization other than forcing everyone to live as you propose? How can you possibly know this optimal organization well enough to presume to impose it universally? I’m not even sure that a single, optimal organization meaningfully exists.

            I suppose I’m as even handed and reasonable as you are.

            The only game I describe above is a rhetorical game that you’re playing here.

            Yes, we want to know which ideal works better in practice. That’s precisely my point.

            Again, may I have one of your prisoners, please?

          • Pevinsghost

            Please correct me where I am going astray here, but it looks like your alternative to the possibility of those privileged in the current system possibly being able to retain some of the fruits of their privilege in a changeover to a system revoking the power to create privilege is… To leave the current system of privilege in place?

            From comments throughout, I think I see that you think of the state as somehow protecting the week from the predation of the strong. What is this based on? Because they are taxed at a higher rate? If there wasn’t inflation driving the price of living up making the poor more amenable to working at low wages, monopolies granted through patent and no bid contract, as well as de facto monopolies created by barriers to entry, limits to liability making the rich unaccountable when their ventures harm others, and every other grant of advantage from the state, there would be no “rich” as we know the term today. They can afford to pay a bit more when money is pumped out of the public & into their pockets.

            It seems to me that instead of comparing a libertarian possibility to the examples of states we have throughout all of recorded history, you compare with a fantasy liberal state that never has and never could exist.

        • Neverfox

          But it’s precisely the point of left-libertarians (you know, what this Symposium was supposed to be about) that, not only non-libertarians, but many right-libertarians as well, are going to be disappointed by the ability of anarchism to “lock in” these gains.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Did you mean to say inability?

          • martinbrock

            That’s not the point left-libertarianism. That’s the point of left-statism which is very much the status quo. The right-libertarian critique of left-libertarianism is an argument for particular property rights.

    • TracyW

      In many of these cases, the fact that formerly dominant groups still enjoy more property rights – since they have more property – and can enforce repressive social norms, in a an aggregate, private way, means that ‘propertarian’ libertarian is, as it were, a ready-made last-ditch defense against autonomy for the heretofore no fully autonomous.

      But enforcing repressive social norms via property rights seems to be quite ineffective. People subject to them tend to congregate in areas where the repressive social norms are less binding, and from there launch attacks on the social norms.

      Eg gays, lesbians and others of non-conventional seuxal orientations moved to big cities, rented homes from landlords who were in it for the money, developed gay bars, got hired in ultra-competitive industries, eg theatre, and from there changed social norms so much so that my transgender cousin Georgina Beyer got elected mayor and then MP for a small country town.

      So property rights and civil liberties undermine repressive social norms. Your argument is empirically false.

  • bilbo

    And this blog jumps the shark.

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

    I really enjoyed this article. It was kind of like a Catholic priest’s homily: I didn’t really take anything away from it, except a vague sense that I ought to try to be a better person.

  • Pocahontas

    me thinks you don’t know squat about Buddhism

    • rootless_e

      and he should take that back about Aristotle Onassis.

    • jholbo

      Third Noble Truth, Pocahontas. Third Noble Truth.

  • Bitterly Disappointed

    I have to admit confusion and some disappointment, for two reasons.

    First, Roderick and Gary have worked really hard to lay out a systematic, clear social and political theory over the last ten years at least. Along with others, they have written books, articles, anthologies and organizes innumerable conferences, institutions, websites and the like. They deserve serious engagement not merely because of the depth and quality of their work but because they are honest, careful human beings. This post disrespects them.

    Second, why is it that when libertarians reach out to people on the left we are mostly ignored or mocked, even in our own venues? We spent years building anti-war alliances with the left (2001-2008 mostly). Then Obama was elected and we were back to square one. Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson reached out to the left (think Brink’s New Republic piece) only to be (largely) vigorously resisted. And Roderick and Gary’s constant, deep and sincere attempts to reach out to the left have been met with almost total silence.

    What is it going to take to get serious engagement? Is someone like John Tomasi going to have to spend many more years writing books published with top academic presses that directly engage and honor a handful of powerful left-wing academics to even get bread crumbs? Or do we have to raise up another once-in-a-lifetime genius like Nozick to get enough attention to set so much misrepresentation aside? Or are we simply going to have to fight for change from the right until people on the left have to listen to us, like Hayek and Friedman?

    • jholbo

      It may be that the post is too compressed, but essentially it agrees with libertarians about a great deal, then says there is a serious problem they haven’t addressed. I’m not sure why this doesn’t count as serious engagement. It’s true that my critique is hermeneutically suspicious – but not of the likes of Roderick and Chartier, personally. And no more so, really than their critique of statist liberalism. Namely, they think the spirit of the enterprise will be corrupted in practice.

      • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

        You have it exactly, but I think you would be rewarded quite a bit if you delved into the left libertarian milieu a bit.

  • rootless_e

    Brilliant.

  • Pingback: Further to Holbo | Bleeding Heart Libertarians()

  • martinbrock

    1.ownership of property, especially decentralized individual ownership, not only of personal possessions but also of land, homes, natural resources, tools, and capital goods; [my emphasis]

    Liberty implies no special fondness for individual ownership. Compelling people to own property individually is still compelling people.

    As such, it is more or less falsifiable.

    It is falsifiable according to some non-libertarian criteria, like utilitarianism, but I’m not sure I want to force people to be happy. People choosing to be unhappy presumably have their own reasons for this choice, and I don’t want to second guess them.

    If it turns out that state socialism, …

    You lost me at state socialism. State socialism, by definition, implies a monopolization of resources and a denial of choice. If you want actually existing capitalism (which is hardly laissez faire), that’s your business. If you and others want to adopt the U.S. Code verbatim, along with the code of Massachusetts or Alabama, plus what you like of the common law, for yourselves, that’s O.K. with me, but I don’t want to join you. Is that O.K. with you?

    … the libertarian is philosophy-bound to run with the best plan.

    If you’re binding me, I am, but I can say the same of Mussolini.

    Who is deciding which plan is the best plan? You? Mill? Stalin?

    So let’s hope it goes civilly.

    My gun is lowered. How about yours?

    Market means permit what J.S. Mill calls ‘the tyranny of society’.

    The extent of any “market tyranny” depends upon what we have a market in. If you may be my property, irrevocably, then I agree that markets are tyrannical, but this hypothesis begs the question.

  • http://twitter.com/dL_1337 dL

    Holbo’s argument is pretty along the lines I anticipated in my own critique of Chartier’s paper
    http://rulingclass.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/on-chartiers-left-libertarian-symposium-paper/

    You cannot guarantee explicit moral(in this case, socialist) ends from market agency. It is a mistake to try to explicitly cast “the market” as a superior agency vis a vis the State in terms of an explicit moral end. I saw the flaw in this type of argument. I can hardly blame Holbo for more or less pointing it out.

    So Holbo says the Chartier claim is “falsifiable.” The logical statement would be: the freed market is not a sufficient condition for socialism(a necessary condition is another matter; but a necessary condition cannot guarantee the outcome like a sufficiency condition).

    As I would say: the only justice a libertarian regime can at best promise is one of a justice of mutual advantage. For those who are committed to a specific moral end, this may not be good enough. So Holbo will say something like: libertarianism attracts its fair share of “crypto-repressors.” That may or may not be. I would only respond that politics attracts its fair share of psychopaths.

    • jholbo

      “I would only respond that politics attracts its fair share of psychopaths.”

      But note. It’s quite standard to take account of this at the level of ideal theory: we want a republic, with checks and balances, to keep the psychopathology at a manageable minimum. So it makes sense that even ideal libertarianism should build in consideration of the fact that it will tend to attract a potentially dangerous mass of crypto-repressors.

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

        “But note. It’s quite standard to take account of this at the level of ideal theory: we want a republic, with checks and balances, to keep the psychopathology at a manageable minimum. ”

        Which means, as I still plan to title my article about this stuff someday, “There’s no such thing as ideal theory (and it’s a good thing, too)”.

  • Sean

    I’m confused. Is this a contribution to the symposium on left-libertarianism or an exercise in free association?

  • springaldjack

    I will not comment on jholbo’s understanding of libertarianism, but I will note that his understanding of Buddhism is deeply flawed. Buddhism is premised, more than anything else, on the idea that the way ordinary beings understand the world is characterized by ignorance or delusion. Our cravings are the source of suffering, because they are the products of delusion. The three treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, may not be what we want, but they are what we need, according to the Buddhists.

    The Buddhists are not terribly clear on what the phenomenology of an elightened being is, and the non-believer is quite justified in suspecting that there is no there there as it were. But what the Buddhists claim to offer, is not nullity, but rather some sort of state that we of ordinary minds cannot understand. Again, it is reasonable to doubt that they have such a thing, but it is unfair to claim they are advocating nullity.

    • martinbrock

      Libertarian enlightenment is the absence of a desire to control others. The enlightened one is as content with other people’s independence as with the independence of the sun and the moon. In his Cato talk, Jason notes that “letting go” of others this way is naturally very difficult for people. The dominance instinct is very powerful, and surrendering it neither easy nor without cost. Think of “Freebird” or Patty Griffin’s “Let Him Fly”.

      • WWW Du Bois

        Well, that’s a pretty message, but isn’t libertarianism really all about property? And isn’t property, far from being about the absence of control, actually about defining, absolutely, who is in control within any given territory?

        That is, property is a justification theory for total unqualified territorial dominance. Casting it as a surrender of control is certainly a good PR strategy, but real hard to swallow in the concrete.

        For instance, when blacks flood the whites only section of the diner, and the diner’s owner calls the police, the libertarians don’t want to surrender control of the situation: they want the blacks to surrender control. The libertarians will send in the police to force the blacks to surrender control.

        Here you are trying to portray the blacks as the ones exercising a dominance instinct, rather than resisting dominance. Let me tell you: I’m not buying it, and I’m not alone.

        • martinbrock

          This symposium addresses “left-libertarianism”, and “left-libertarianism” is defined with reference to a particular text, Markets, Not Capitalism.

          Have you read the book?

          If you want to discuss some other “libertarianism”, a proprietarian system that’s really all about particular property rights that you imagine, forums for this purpose are ubiquitous on the web. You can even discuss it here, but you aren’t addressing the subject of the symposium.

          Property imagined by left-libertarians is not a justification of total, unqualified, territorial control. It’s the opposite of that.

          • WWW Du Bois

            “Property imagined by left-libertarians is not a justification of total, unqualified, territorial control. It’s the opposite of that.”

            How is it the opposite? What qualifications do left-libertarians accept on the control wielded by owners?

            “Total, unqualified, territorial control seems to be your preference instead. Specifically, you seem to want no one on any territory anywhere excluding blacks from the territory.”

            The white owners of the restaurant are forced to serve black customers. But they still get to decide what to put on the menu, how much to charge, who to hire, where to put the seating, what kind of music to play, whether to be a restaurant or a clothing store… It’s obvious that the owner of the restaurant is the one with the control, and that the desegregation is a qualification (or limit) on his level of control.

            You call the mere requirement to desegregate “total unqualified control,” in spite of the fact that the owner retains every other right of control besides this specific exemption. It’s just ridiculous. You’re not honest, or you’re not serious.

          • martinbrock

            What qualifications do left-libertarians accept on the control wielded by owners?

            Owners must live with the consequences of their exclusivity. If they exclude based on race, they lose the patronage of any race they exclude.

            It’s obvious that the owner of the restaurant is the one with the control, …

            It’s not obvious. Restaurants go out of business every day by losing the patronage of their customers. It’s so common in the restaurant business that it’s a cliche. “How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business? Start with a large fortune.”

            How many restaurants exclude gays? Excluding gays was not prohibited by the ’64 civil rights act and still is not illegal under United State law. Gays aren’t more loved than blacks, and they aren’t more numerous. They can be harder to spot, but that does prevent a restaurant owner posting a “straights only” sign or firing gay employees.

            Not only do few restaurants exclude gays (though some do), gays seem to own restaurants disproportionately. How is this possible in a world where discriminatory owners control everything? It’s possible that gays own restaurants disproportionately because some restaurants exclude gays.

            … and that the desegregation is a qualification (or limit) on his level of control.

            That’s true enough, but I want people to live as they choose, not as you choose, and people can live as they choose, free of you, only if they may have a little space of their own. You may also have a little space of your own. I fully support the Lockean Proviso. You must have as much and as good of the resources of nature. If white racists kept everything from you, I’d help you take some of it from them by force, but that’s hardly the scenario we’re discussing.

            You call the mere requirement to desegregate “total unqualified control”, …

            I don’t. I only say that total unqualified control seems to be your preference. You’re free correct me.

            Totalitarianism has never meant that the state literally controls everything at all times. This degree of control is impossible, and totalitarianism is a reality. Totalitarianism only implies that a state may control anything within its reach, that it may impose any rule, regardless of the wishes of its subjects.

            The opposite of totalitarianism involves rights (powers if you prefer) of individuals and free associations that the state may not violate under any circumstances, and the radically left-libertarian position that I support involves practically unlimited rights of free associations, including the right not to respect particular standards of propriety.

            This unlimited right of a free community to rule itself cannot exist everywhere. It must be confined to a locality proportionate with the membership of the association and the requirements of the specialized labor; otherwise, the “free association” is itself a totalitarian state.

            You’ve again called me dishonest despite my best efforts to be completely forthright with you. Again, you may have the last word here.

          • WWW Du Bois

            I wrote: “What qualifications do left-libertarians accept on the control wielded by owners?”

            You replied: “Owners must live with the consequences of their exclusivity. If they exclude based on race, they lose the patronage of any race they exclude.”

            I didn’t read past this. You are like an incalcitrant child. We are not talking about the existence of consequences of power (like how the King will be feared and hated if he beheads too many people). We are talking about the existence (or non-existence) of legal limitations on power.

            You are offering a quibbling, evasive answer. The honest answer for you to give is “None. No restrictions. The owner has unlimited discretion.” But instead you play this childish game. That is dishonesty.

    • jholbo

      I think it’s fair to say that there is some dispute about what Buddhism really stands for. One way of interpreting the need for cessation of dukkha is the elimination of desire. (This is not sufficient unto the ultimate spiritual goal, but it is necessary.)

      • springaldjack

        I didn’t mean to imply that Buddhism felt that trsna (craving, lit. thirst) isn’t viewed as a major problem by Buddhist thought. While Western interpreters of Buddhism often overemphasize the “four noble truths” the idea that craving is a major obstacle is universal among buddhist thought. What is key though, is that ignorance is a major cause of trsna. (the fundamental cause of dukkha of course, is the endless cycle of karmic retribution)

  • mercrono

    This post is a baffling failure of communication combined with powerfully irritating condescension. I completely share Jason Brennan’s sentiment in his follow-up post, and I’m glad he’s decided to leave it up. John Holbo may deserve to be treated with respect and civility, but this post does not. Please try again.

  • Christ Jesus

    If you are interested in political philosophy, you are interested in the best versions of liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism (communism, feudalism, so forth.) You want to know what to believe in, ideally. But, unless you are a very strange person, you also interested in what liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, so forth, are, in actual and potential political practice. You want to know who to believe in, actually. Who are these people? And that feeds back into your ideal theory.

    You’re assuming that (the ‘best version of’?) libertarianism in ‘acutal and potential political practice’ depends on the psychological makeup of some (all?) particular individuals who have so far argued for the position. That’s silly. This post is one big genetic fallacy.

    • jholbo

      I’m not assuming that the best version ‘depends on’ the psychological make up of all who have argued for it. (I’m not actually sure what that means.) Let’s take conservatism, or example. Suppose the best sort of conservatism is Burkean conservatism (just suppose we think that’s soundest.) Suppose we think that Burkeanism is so good that it is not just the best conservatism but the best political philosophical overall. So should we be ‘conservatives’, in a U.S. context. It depends on whether the Republican Party, say, is Burkean, or has the potential to become Burkean.

      For ideal theory purposes you take theories as their best and, accordingly, treat their authors and exponents as ‘the better angels of their own natures’, philosophically. You assume Rawls is a good Rawlsian, and, to boot, Rawls assumes a bunch of good Rawlsians to inhabit his ideal state.

      That said, people are not actually the better angels of their own natures. If Burkeanism is best, but US conservatism is not going to be Burkean, then advocating conservatism becomes a peculiarly fraught project. (Again, this doesn’t mean you have to say it isn’t best after all. You merely have to acknowledge a structural problem with realizing your ideals.)

      • Christ Jesus

        The point, which you must have missed due to my sheer overcompression (sorry about that), was in response to your ‘who are these people?’ following your stressing the importance of ‘actual and potential political practice.’ I.e. in response to your going on about ‘the mean libertarian—and the average and modal libertarian’ according to your ‘rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation’ rather than addressing the merit of relevant ideas. As I said, it’s a blatant case of genetic fallacy and you should feel bad about putting your name above post like this.

        • jholbo

          Sorry not to have gotten around to addressing this earlier: I think you are confused about what should count as a genetic fallacy. I’m not saying that the theory is wrong because those who advocate it have character flaws. That’s the usual form of a genetic fallacy. I’m actually saying that the theory is rather good – I spend half the post saying it’s good in theory. I’m only saying there’s a problem getting from theory to real practice, due to the fact that ideal libertarianism will be instituted by real libertarians. That’s not a genetic fallacy. It’s not a fallacy at all. (It may be wrong, if I am wrong about what real libertarians are like, or are likely to be like.)

          • Christ Jesus

            I’ve got to give you credit for taking the time to reply to hundreds of comments.

            Look, libertarians often put forward specific policy proposals or other concrete do-this praxis stuff. I take your argument as one against those proposals. I do not see how the ‘actual and potential’ implementation of these proposals has anything to do with the ‘median or mode’ character of the various people who have so far put forward arguments in favor of those proposals. This looks like mere genetic fallacy to me.

            And I don’t think it’s a ‘fact’ that ‘ideal libertarianism will be instituted by real libertarians.’ Free trade and free market reforms have been instituted by many bodies and individuals that were not libertarians (e.g. the chinese communist party). It will be instituted by flawed human beings, like most anything else, but not especially so (certainly not necessarily, at the very least).

            I don’t think ‘real libertarians’ are significantly more ‘black-hearted’ than most any other political group. I don’t see how you supported that empirical premise at all.

  • http://twitter.com/TerrenceCWatson Terrence Watson

    Holbo’s argument explains why white supremacists flocked to Ron Paul.

    • Aeon Skoble

      Does it explain why they flocked to the (original) progressive movement also? People are capable of finding something agreeable where reason suggests they shouldn’t – that’s annoying, but it’s no more a criticism of libertarianiam than it is of progressivism.

      • jholbo

        Aeon, it is a very important and non-trivial question you ask. Obviously conservatives and libertarians have tried to make out that the worst excesses of early 20th Century progressivism – racism, eugenics, lack of respect for civil liberties – are inherent in any form of progressivism. Jonah Goldberg is exhibit A. I am on the record as saying I think this line the right is pretty absurd. On the other hand, I think what I’m saying in this post is distinctly non-absurd. The arguments on both sides have to be largely sociological and historical, not a priori. And in the post I certainly didn’t make them. I regard ‘people are attracted to libertarianism, paradoxically, because it allows them to be against autonomy for certain groups, in practice, while being for it, in theory’ as more plausible than ‘progressives only want health care reform because they ultimately want eugenics’ or ‘progressives only favor affirmative action because they want to keep blacks on the plantation of their social programs’. Clearly, in opening up a can of hermeneutically suspicious worms, I have to be prepared for some worms I don’t like to wriggle out. And I am.

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

          All right, this exchange here between Aeon and John seems to me to be getting at the crux of the matter. One true thing in John’s ideas is: when the state/ majority coalition/ dominant ideology becomes hostile to a particular form of domination, the would-be dominators have a lot of reason to take refuge in anti-statism and propertarianism. (In the American constitutional context, with a state action doctrine along with constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality, they also have reason to take refuge in the forms of private association; “as of today there are no public schools here, just private schools that happen to occupy the same buildings and vouchers that happen to correspond to last year’s school budget, so there’s nothing for Brown v Board to get its hands on.”)

          That’s wholly compatible with saying: when the state/ majority coalition/ dominant ideology *endorses* a particular kind of domination, the would-be dominators have every reason to enthuse about expansions of state power, and the defenses of private space and private rights are in those circumstances defenses against domination.

          So states’ autonomy federalism can be defensive against the Fugitive Slave Act-era imposition of slave rules on the whole country, and have a very different tenor come 1954. “Free labor” in the libertarian sense can be defensive against the Black Codes of Jim Crow and have a very different tenor come the outlawing of racial discrimination in private employment in 1964. Racists who think they’re winning can be attracted to progressivism, and then their grandchildren who think they’re losing can be attracted to antistatism.

          That would mean that the Goldberg line is wrong and yet the moral character of early 20th-century Progressivism is not irrelevant. Expansive state power might aggravate the situation when things are at their worst (viz. the majority and the state are openly racist) while limits on state power mitigate matters at those moments– even though limits on state power also impair the ability to pursue domination-reducing reforms when things *aren’t* at their worst. Vulgar libertarianism might then be the last refuge of declining dominant classes and yet still have value in keeping alive some institutions of privacy, resistance, and autonomy against the next *ascendant* dominant class.

          • martinbrock

            So states’ autonomy federalism can be defensive against the Fugitive Slave Act-era imposition of slave rules on the whole country, …

            The Fugitive Slave Act only implemented powers explicitly granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution, so the era you’re discussing begins in 1789 or earlier, not in 1850.

            Furthermore, the Declaration of Independence, in which British colonies declare their secession from the British Empire, occurs only four years after the beginning of the end of slavery in the Empire (the Somersett case), and slavery ended throughout the Empire before it ended in the United State.

            The whole “libertarian” program in Central North America is arguably just the sort of subterfuge that Holbo posits here, yet he persists in believing that some program imposed by the United State can ultimately realize “liberty”.

          • Sean II

            That is certainly a creative re-build, although it may amount to a whole new argument.

            I’m curious, though…why assume that there really is a sizable reserve army of racists out there looking for a political home? There isn’t any evidence of that. The prima facie analysis of American life would be: “Racism is more marginal than ever, and it’s growing more so all the time. Almost no one supports it as an idea, and fewer and fewer people tolerate it as a practice. There is no one in America in 2012 whose life would be made better if he were labeled a racist.”

            Any presumption to the contrary would seem to be derived from the Progressive habit of calling all policy opponents racists, according to the theory that “only a racist would oppose…affirmative action, Obama, higher tax rates, federal supremacy, etc.”

            For your save of Holb’s argument to work, Jacob, it’s necessary that we should believe the number of racists and the influence of racism hasn’t declined much since Woodrow Wilson’s time.

            I think that’s crazy.

      • http://twitter.com/TerrenceCWatson Terrence Watson

        The racist business owner living in a racist community believes that the triumph of libertarian property rights over anti-discrimination legislation would allow him to fire his black employees and hang a “white’s only” sign on the front of his shop. And he’s not wrong. There’s nothing unreasonable about him finding libertarianism a congenial philosophy in this case, especially if he knows his fellow white people will back him up (which they might; certainly, that’s not a possibility libertarians can exclude a priori.)

        This doesn’t make libertarianism wrong (I’m not even sure that’s what Holbo is saying, although he can clarify.) It is a factor that should be addressed — not so much at the level of ideology, but more in the realm of what one might call “libertarian interpersonal relations.”

        • Aeon Skoble

          I’m afraid I see this sort of objection as off-point. There is no shortage of racists, and most of them are too ignorant to even have a coherent political philosophy. [insert Big Lebowski reference here] Racists can justify, and have justified, their desires with all sorts of political “theories.” Unless there’s something intrinsically conducive to racists about libertarianism, this just can’t count as an objection. It’s like saying “racists can use cars to drive over minorities, so there must be something wrong with cars.”

          • http://twitter.com/TerrenceCWatson Terrence Watson

            Repeating myself because I guess I wasn’t clear.

            “This doesn’t make libertarianism wrong.”

            “This doesn’t make libertarianism wrong.”

            “This doesn’t make libertarianism wrong.”

            Got it? Got it.

            “intrinsically conducive to racists”

            I don’t even know what this means. How can an idea be “intrinsically conducive” to some group of people?

            My proposal is that white supremacists are more likely to adopt libertarianism than, say, Rawlsian high liberalism. If ideologies were like cars, such that anyone is basically as good as any other, you would expect the distribution of ideologies among white supremacists to be random. It isn’t. Your analogy is silly and inept.

            There is something about libertarianism that is attracting racists. What is it?

    • Sean II

      The word “flock” is usually used to suggest a large number of birds, or racists, or racist birds.

      Do we have any reason to believe that the number of Ron Paul’s racist supporters amounted to a flock? Do we have any reason to believe he has more racist fans than any other politician? Do we have any reason to believe that he has more racist fans than, say, fans who believe in alien abduction?

      Because it seems that racism is running far behind alien abduction in terms of popularity these days. And if the key fact to be explained here (and in Holbo’s post) is “Why are there so many racists in the libertarian movement?”, don’t we first have to establish that there ARE many racists in the libertarian movement?

      I know it sounds crazy, but I’m pretty sure I read that in a science textbook once.

  • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

    First let me say: this is not a good essay. It is poorly written, with layers of sarcasm and cuteness clouding Holbo’s points. This is a shame, because many of those points are quite good and necessary to make.

    His point that libertarianism is really about autonomy, the proper definition of it, the struggle to realize it authentically, and the social conditions conducive to it is well taken. I’ve remarked before that libertarians of all varieties often come across as the market being some kind of value or ethic in and of itself, and not merely a means to an end in individual autonomy. It’s nice to see it stated so plainly, and as a left libertarian I see what he means when he points out that the social relationships that market anarchists explicitly defend can often be reified into the proper social relationships for their own sake. That’s one of the reasons I associate with many market anarchists but do not use the label for myself.

    It’s really important that we be clear about the primacy of autonomy, because as Holbo points out (ham-handedly), you can have “markets” in anything: slaves, pollution, endangered animals, etc. Isn’t corruption itself a market? What about hitmen–just another supply and demand issue, right? To say these are not markets because they don’t conform to the libertarian rule set seems like a “no true scotsman” argument. There’s something deeper than property, something deeper than exchange, something more fundamental than “self-ownership” even, that provides the context for markets (or communes, or informal relationships of all kinds, etc.) operating to maximize autonomy.

    Holbo seems to like libertarianism, actually, except to the extent it tries to reduce all its concerns to a matter of property claims and market transactions. That seems about right to me. Who are these people, indeed, for whom autonomy is such a plain and simple concept?

    • jholbo

      Summary of the post. 1) autonomy has to be the goal. 2) But many libertarians are substituting propertarianism that does not plausibly optimize autonomy. 3) This is obviously no accident. There will always be those who are made uncomfortable by groups that previously did not enjoy autonomy coming to acquire it. 4) Paradoxically, libertarianism will be attractive to this lot. 5) This is such a systemic problem that it deserves address at the level of ideal theory. 6) Chartier and Johnson should be more concerned about libertarianism as a Trojan Horse for ‘vulgar libertarianism’ in their terms. They treat it as an accident, but its more essential than that.

      • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

        While I couldn’t agree more with your 5 point thesis, I think you’re being unfair to Chartier and Johnson. I don’t like the emphasis on propertarianism, either, but they have put forward an approach called “thick libertarianism” that seems to provide a theoretical context for what I think you care about: that is, a collection of values that either follow necessarily from libertarianism or are necessary to consider in tandem with libertarianism. See here.

        For me it’s enough to say: markets are games with rules. Those who set the rules define the moral potential of any market. Worry more about the rules and what kind of game they create, and less about trying to get everybody psyched to play a game. The game should be rewarding without everybody being good at it for it.

        Metaphor: complete.

      • martinbrock

        Individual autonomy as a goal leads to the fallacy that some statutory system can actually make everyone individually autonomous, every person a sovereign. No system of liberty can make me free of gravity. No system can even make me free of other people.

        At best, I can choose how I surrender autonomy and the other people to whom I surrender it, by choosing among many options in the form of actual, existing, intentional communities. I can also expect these other people to surrender similarly to me if that’s what I want, but maybe I have a submissive personality.

        I agree that many libertarians are more nearly proprietarians. I make this point myself routinely.

        How do I know that you aren’t one of them? A statutory right to a minimum income is a property right.

      • TracyW

        What is the systematic problem here?

        You are saying at 1) that autonomy has to be the goal. But, I get the impression, from the examples that you use, that you object to people using their autonomy to be racist, sexist, etc with their own property (sorry I can’t quote anything precise, my apologies if my impression is wrong). But if you don’t think that people should legally be able to be racist, sexist, etc with their own property aren’t you therefore trying to interfere with people’s autonomy? So in which case, how is 1) the goal? Is 1) the goal only if people use their autonomy in ways that you approve of?

        Maybe I am not being fair to you here, but then you had a fair bit of snark in your original post so I don’t feel particularly guilty.

    • Shawn P. Wilbur

      I wasn’t sold the first time through. The second time I smiled a lot. I don’t smile all that often reading libertarian blogs.

      • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

        I appreciated it only on my second read through as well.

  • RobRickRoll

    Pure Fucking Awesomeness

  • Shawn P. Wilbur

    Thanks, John. That was just the sort of thing we could use more of in libertarian and anarchist circles.

  • Christ Jesus

    @jholbo if that’s an accurate summary of your post, it’s clear why you buried it under poop.

    1) autonomy has to be the goal

    1. No it doesn’t… It certainly can be, but autonomy is conceptually distinct from freedom (e.g. you can be free to give up some of your autonomy; whether it’s in personal relationship like a marriage or for a consensual sexual fetish like BDSM or under a coach in voluntary football team or for an employer or teacher or union). If you don’t care about the libertarian’s ‘hollow, negative conception of freedom’ or whatevs, fine. Then you’re probably not a deontological libertarian. If you care about autonomy foremost, then this freedom is only relevant insofar as its means to autonomy. But there’s no reason why autonomy on every margin ‘has to be the goal.’ That seems kinda stupid to me.

    2) But many libertarians are substituting propertarianism that does not plausibly optimize autonomy.

    2. Whether or not a significantly less state-centric society that better respects general rules of property plausibly optimises ‘autonomy’ or whatever other positive good one values the argument you should be addressing or making. This is an empirical investigation that has many leads to follow in the literature of economics. It’s no use question-begging your conclusion by asserting that it’s not ‘plausible.’

    3) This is obviously no accident. There will always be those who are made uncomfortable by groups that previously did not enjoy autonomy coming to acquire it.

    3. This is silly conspiratorial fluff that (if we pretended it was more than trolling) would constitute a kind of guilt-by-association genetic fallacy dependent on your previous point’s question-begging.

    4) Paradoxically, libertarianism will be attractive to this lot. 5) This is such a systemic problem that it deserves address at the level of ideal theory

    Nationalists and chauvinists have been much more attracted to socialism and praise of state power than to free markets and civil society, as far as I can tell. In any case, this is merely a repetition of your previous point and has no more merit.

    Overall: your substantive argument is inane, and successful troll is successful.

    • jholbo

      “No it doesn’t… It certainly can be, but autonomy is conceptually distinct from freedom (e.g. you can be free to give up some of your autonomy;”

      Ah, my view – I think the post does make this clear – is that if this isn’t the goal then the whole thing looks bad. It’s pure propertarianism, which is basically an unattractive feudalism. It’s only attractive insofar as it illegitimately borrows the attractions of a more genuinely attractive ideal of autonomy.

      It’s not that I don’t care about the ‘hollow’ value of negative liberty, it’s that the very substantial value of negative liberty is ultimately instrumental. No one wants (or should want) propertarian freedom, as an end in itself.

      “This is an empirical investigation that has many leads to follow in the
      literature of economics. It’s no use question-begging your conclusion by
      asserting that it’s not ‘plausible.'”

      Well, at least you admit it’s an empirical question. We can agree about that.

      “Nationalists and chauvinists have been much more attracted to socialism
      and praise of state power than to free markets and civil society, as far
      as I can tell.”

      In the US, it seems to me the opposite is the case, or very often the case. A major case in point would be the ideology of the South, post-Reconstruction. What you get is a rhetoric of freedom and self-determinism that is, in fact, apologetics for feudalism and domination, in effect. The reason why Barry Goldwater won in the South was not that the South was libertarian but that libertarianism could be, in practice, feudalism – approximately.This is not to deny that nationalists and chauvinists have been attracted to socialism and a strong state. This is not to deny that things have changed since 1964. I think they haven’t changed enough.

      “This is obviously no accident. There will always be those who are made
      uncomfortable by groups that previously did not enjoy autonomy coming to
      acquire it.”

      You say this is silly conspiracy theory stuff. What is your story about what happened in the wake of emancipation, women’s rights struggles, civil rights struggles, so forth. It hurts to have been the dominant group and lose power. People react badly to the loss of power, authority, dominance. One typical way to react is by arguing that it is these newly autonomous groups that are, in fact, the true threat to freedom. You might say: but some of those arguments are good! I think typically they are disreputable, propertarian dodges. They have no theoretic plausibility, and the rhetoric of freedom masks an impulse to preserve old social forms that no true libertarian should have an impulse to preserve, since they were not conducive to autonomy.

      • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

        The propertarianism is a sort of meta-ethic that resolves to do more than it actually can do. It is good at offering a system for resolving disputes. It is not good at saying whether disputes SHOULD be resolved in the way propertarianism dictates. For that, you need a moral orientation broader than everything being owned by some other thing. For more on why propertarianism is insufficient, see this.

      • TracyW

        This is a serious problem. But I don’t see how it’s remotely resolvable, by any philosophy. People will tend to use whatever rhetoric they can think of to further their goals.

        I read an interesting book contrasting New Zealand with the USA, that argued that in NZ the operative word was “fair”. And so politicians, in their manifestos, described whatever policies they preferred as “fair”. Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson argued for their reforms on the basis of fairness, far more than they did on freedom. Meanwhile their opponents were arguing against the reforms on the basis of fairness too. It was one of those things about my home country that once someone says it, I can see how it’s right.

        Or there’s the massively divergent range of views held by people who self-identify as Christian (eg the people who think it’s Christian to gloat over the thought of heathens and heretics burning for eternity in hell.)

        To take a more trivial example, when I was working for the NZ Treasury I noticed that proposals for spending more money from departments nearly always used to argue that things had positive externalities, no matter how uneconomic such arguments were, eg that higher land prices were a positive externality. Positive externality has a tighter definition than freedom, or fairness, but that didn’t stop or even noticeably slow the rhetoric.

    • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy Weiland

      Nationalists and chauvinists have been much more attracted to socialism and praise of state power than to free markets and civil society, as far as I can tell.

      Because the chauvinism embodied in the culture of “free markets” as we know them and “civil society” as we know it flies under the radar, implicit rather than explicit. That to me is the whole point of prioritizing autonomy: because until we know what this individual is, what his capacity for volition is, and what constrains him once all the social detritus is swept away, we can’t say what is mere chauvinism and what isn’t.

  • Hume22

    John, What would it look like if you turned your arm-chair sociology on the “Left Liberal”? They tend to be white, upper class, with a sense of self-importance. They also have guilt about their station in life. They love their 1% life style but want to view themselves as fighting the 99% fight. But once we recognize the universalism and humanism implicit in Left Liberalism, we recognize that it must be cosmopolitan. And once we recognize this, then we recognize that the redistribution required is radical and falls on almost all americans, save but perhaps the very few who reside on the absolute poverty line. This would require all these Left Liberals to give up their dominant position, their 1% life style, as well as to require them to tell “middle class” workers and inner-city “poor” that they too must sacrifice, for they are not on any plausible account “poor” in comparison to the misery experienced around the world. So what happens with Left Liberalism in practice? Left Liberalism finds a way to “institutionalize” its theory of justice, applying only to a legal-political order. So Left Liberals find a way to alleviate their guilt about being among the most fortunate in the world while simultaneously maintaining their high lifestyle. All this happens while millions (billions?) around the world suffer from starvation, disease, and death. If Left Liberals were sincere, every penny spent on campaigns would be spent on ending these extreme human deprivations. Why does Left Liberalism as a theory permit in practice this manipulation, why does it allow political leaders to twist liberal principles in a way that keeps the starving around the world starving while NYU “egalitarian” law professors can have a home in Martha’s Vineyard, ‘middle class’ receive educations at Georgetown, and the urban ‘poor’ live well above average?

    • jholbo

      Hume22, there are really two separate issues here: one, being consistent in my hermeneutics of suspicion; two, being consistent about justice. Frankly, I’m better at one than two. You can question my motives all you like. I can take it! But I tend to be a hypocrite regarding the high bar of justice. Like most American liberals, I worry more about the American middle-class than about impoverished Africans. It’s hard for me to justify that. (I could say something about ‘politics is the art of the possible’ but that wouldn’t fool you, would it? Didn’t think so.)

      • Hume22

        Are you trying to make a real point about “politics is the art of the possible”? If so, that is a silly reply. Either way, if your sincere in your post, I’m wondering why I do not see more in the rhetoric in Left Liberalism about how in reality it is used to justify the super rich (i.e., almost every U.S. citizen) remaining in a situation of extravagance while many others suffer and die. Why are you not spreading the word about the inherent tendency of Left Liberalism to have these practical consequences? Is it because Left Liberals, children of privilege, like to indulge in humanism and liberalism, to wet-their-whistles, make them feel good about themselves, constructing a heroic and sacrificial self-narrative, while in reality you have the equivalent of NYC Big Law senior partners ‘redistributing’ wealth to junior partners and senior associates? Because it would be irresponsible not to speculate, might as well say that maybe all Left Liberals are engaged in deliberate self-manipulation in order to justify their 1%, satisfy their felt need to moral superiority, while in practice guaranteeing the necessary poverty and death of “the other” (‘necessary’ because otherwise the Left Liberal would have to give up their high style).

        • WWW Du Bois

          Just remember, more USA citizens are in prison than in the top 1%. They’re not leading lives of “extravagance.”

          The idea that “almost every U.S. citizen” is “super rich” is asinine. At the very least, to be rich implies that other people work for you, rather than the other way around. USA workers who spend their lives slavishly following orders may have better gadgets than workers in Mexico, and even a meager government pension to look forward to after so many decades, but USA workers certainly have more in common with Mexican workers than either group does with the owning class who accumulate the money from their labors.

          • Hume22

            “to be rich implies that other people work for you”

            I would love to hear that conversation, you explaining to the starving Ethiopian:

            You: “No, no, I’m not rich, I’m just like you. But you know who is rich? People who have employees. Those are the bad guys. What we need to do is distribute the resources in their possession in a fair way.”

            Ethiopian: “You look pretty rich to me. But whatever. When are we going to distribute those resources? There are billions of people starving, living in huts?”

            You: “Well, we need to first use that money to provide people like me with healthcare, dental insurance, and a college education. You see, we are just like you, and wouldn’t you want all those things? Also, justice is an institutional concept, it only applies to people subject to the same government. So there’s that.”

            Ethiopian: “I’m starving to death. You are nothing like me. I dont care what I have to do. Working for someone? YOu think that makes us the same? My cousin, Marvin, has two employees. WHen they go out looking for food everyday, he tells them what to do. Marvin is a lot more like me than you are. And you are in a lot better position than he is. Can you just give me some food?”

            Ethiopian: “Where did he go?”

          • WWW Du Bois

            Look, even chattel slaves in the USA have typically had higher standards of living than starving people. But that does not make them “rich.”

            Presumably you would tell the house niggers that they are “rich,” since they live so much better than the field niggers, even as their children are sold off.

            This is your lame attempt to enforce sociological ignorance. “Ignore social structures of power and dominance; pay attention only to consumption. The slaves have TVs! Freedom!”

            Also, having “two employees” does not make one rich. It’s disingenuous of you to select that example. There are plenty of Ethiopians who are, in fact, rich. The people who run Ethiopia are the rich people.

            PS. I saw a homeless man in front of K-Mart today with fresh shit and piss staining his jeans. The employees had gathered and surrounded him to prevent him from gaining entrance to the bathroom. Another rich American with an entitlement complex, right?

    • WWW Du Bois

      Just how much of the population do you imagine lives a “1% lifestyle”? It sounds like you are talking about a whole hell of a lot more than 1%.

      The idea that “the Left Liberal” […] tend[s] to be white, upper class” is, anyway, totally counter-factual. No race is less “Left Liberal” than whites.

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  • martinbrock

    At Twin Oaks, members hold all land, buildings, automobiles and many other resources in common, and members divide all monetary income designated for personal use equally. Members share no conventional religion, and in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation, the membership is as diverse as it can be without kidnapping people to fill membership quotas.

    http://www.twinoaks.org/

    To give you some idea of how “left-wing” I am, I dreamed of joining this community when I was young, after reading Kat Kinkade’s first book, and when I occasionally reconsider this youthful ambition, as when I read Kat’s second book in the nineties, I still think of Twin Oaks first. I’m fifty now.

    I have questions concerning any national, minimum income you favor. Whatever it is, I’ll wager that it’s higher than the shared income of Twin Oaks members, particularly if you ignore their jointly held property and goods they produce internally.

    Are you rolling tanks into Twin Oaks to bust up their sub-standard community? If not, do Twin Oaks members receive the minimum income? Do they receive only a portion of the income? What portion? Must the community then pay a tax? What is this tax?

    • WWW Du Bois

      Twin Oaks already pays taxes, although with a 501(d) tax status, their tax burden is quite low.

      I’m not sure what your point is. Why do you think that a guaranteed income implies tanks rolling into Twin Oaks? Does Social Security imply tanks rolling into Twin Oaks?

      • martinbrock

        That Twin Oaks pays taxes avoids the point. It doesn’t pay a tax financing a national, minimum income. I don’t know whether Twin Oaks participates in the Social Security system. I know that the Amish don’t, and the Amish pay income taxes similarly.

        I don’t say that a guaranteed minimum income implies tanks rolling into Twin Oaks, but a minimum income raises questions about their entire model, particularly if their “income” (however this minimum income is defined) is less than the minimum.

        Holbo might say that his minimum income should exempt Twin Oaks altogether, as Social Security exempts the Amish, but in this scenario, there is no national, minimum income in reality, so I see no point in the nation-state pretending to enact one.

        If each member of Twin Oaks receives a minimum income from the United State, either the community somehow shares income with other subjects of the United State (as they already do with one another) or they simply receive a gift from other subjects of the U.S. without owing anything in return. Which is it?

        If members receive the minimum income, what does the community owe in return? If it owes the minimum income, multiplied by the number of members, the transaction hardly justify the transaction costs, and we don’t even know the transaction costs, because the U.S. hasn’t decreed them yet.

        • WWW Du Bois

          So wait, where do the tanks come in?

          • martinbrock

            The tanks might come if Holbo will not exempt Twin Oaks from his national, minimum income, for example. It’s his statutory welfare system, not mine. I can’t tell him how he’ll enforce it. He must tell me.

            States do have tanks, and they do use tanks to impose their will. Right? Are tanks figments of my paranoid imagination?

          • WWW Du Bois

            I don’t feel like I should encourage you, because you’re avoiding Holbo’s point. He wasn’t making a policy proposal about a minimum income. He was talking about the distinction, in principle, between saying that every person ought to “own” his person, and saying that every person ought to own a dollar. The dollar is just an example: he could have made it a barrel of oil instead.

            …but what the hell…

            Regarding tanks, the USA does not use them to enforce the tax code. In all probability, a refusal by Twin Oaks to pay their taxes would result in their 123 acre property being confiscated by the IRS to be sold at auction. Members of Twin Oaks would thus be evicted through the exact same application of force that is currently used to secure their possession and occupancy of that property (and their power to evict non-members from it). The only difference is on whose behalf the eviction-power is exercised.

            Thus, there is no savings to be realized in the eviction enforcement apparatus by eliminating evictions for non-payment of taxes, while retaining property rights. If you want to have property rights at all (in real estate), you need an eviction squad.

            Although, actually, it doesn’t need tanks.

          • TracyW

            Requiring everyone to own a barrel of oil requires someone or someones to supply a matching number of barrels of oil. So any theory calling for everyone to own a barrel of oil should pay some attention to the supply side.

            But every person naturally has a person to self-own.

          • WWW Du Bois

            You seem to think of this as some kind of “gotchya.” But what I said was, “The dollar is just an example: he could have made it a barrel of oil instead.” And likewise, it could be, instead of a barrel of oil, an equal share of the oil… I’m afraid that your failure to imagine this for yourself reflects poorly on both your thinking skills and your intellectual honesty.

          • TracyW

            The distinction still remains. If having an equal share of the oil is at all useful, it requires some people to extract the oil and refine it and transport it somewhere where it can be useful. So any theory giving someone the right to self-ownership + an equal share of the oil needs some theorising about who does the work, and how or if they are to be rewarded. And this is true for numerous cases of self-ownership + a right to something useful.

            Exerting my imagination for some possible exceptions: self-ownership + a right to oxygen for breathing is not really a problem on this planet. Self-ownership + a right to x acres of land is okay as long as there’s still more unowned acres of land, but doesn’t scale past that point. Feel free to suggest others.

            As for intellectual honesty, in what point do you think I have been dishonest? I may be wrong, but I assure you that I believe that what I have said in this comment you have replied to is true.

          • WWW Du Bois

            I criticize you for intellectual dishonesty because you make this argument from the failure of your imagination. And yet even a twelve year old ought to be able to imagine — for example — that if I have a right to a share of the oil, I can sell that right to some oil mining company. Or, for that matter, that the Alaska Permanent Fund exists.

          • TracyW

            You have an unusual definition of intellectual dishonesty. Thank you for taking the time to reassure me that I’ve not violated one of my own standards for arguing.

            On the case of selling the right to an equal share of the oil to an oil mining company, or setting up something like the Alaska Permanent Fund, thank you also for illustrating my point that some more theorising is required that isn’t needed for the self-ownership assumption. A couple more points. Firstly this means that your right to an equal share of the oil is really a right to an equal share of the economic profits from the oil (as opposed to the accounting profits). Secondly some extra theorising is needed about how an equal share should be revised as people reach adulthood and die, eg are the shares revised annually, monthly, or on some other schedule?

          • WWW Du Bois

            Who cares? Any number of answers could be given.

            There is absolutely nothing impossible about this kind of thing, even if you assert that you can’t imagine how it would be done.

          • TracyW

            I notice that you have now moved away from engaging with my actual arguments, and instead have disagreed with some hypothetical thing that I didn’t actually say.

            Thank you for the thorough-going review of my argument, after debating with you I feel much more comfortable in my conclusion that there is a distinct difference between a society that offers everyone self-ownership and a society that offers everyone self-ownership + something-else for many values of something-else.

          • martinbrock

            Holbo suggested a minimum income to me in a comment addressed to me. You jumped into this conversation after the suggestion, but it’s still in the forum somehere.

            Holbo imagines giving everyone their self plus a dollar. I imagine having myself without Holbo giving it to me, so I can’t take Holbo’s offer seriously, and when he offers me a dollar, I’d like to know where he’s getting it.

            The U.S. use its tanks as it sees fit, but you’re presumably right that the IRS would seize Twin Oaks’ 450 acres without tanks when it decides to seize the land, because the membership presumably would not resist the taking with similar force of their own. They presumably don’t believe in that sort of thing. They’d presumably prefer not to contribute to the tanks.

            On the other hand, when people do resist, the U.S. doesn’t hesitate to roll in the tanks when necessary to enforce its will.

            You’re right that property rights require an eviction squad. I have no fundamental problem with that. What’s the alternative? A single owner of all land with this eviction power?

          • WWW Du Bois

            My point is not that we need an alternative. My point is to emphasize your hypocrisy.

            When the state is used to enforce a law you don’t like, you scream hysterical about tanks, violence, oh the humanity! And you say you don’t want to be the one paying for the tanks. When the state is used to enforce a law you do like, the lofty moral sentiment is gone, and you have forgotten all about the expense of the tanks.

            It’s the same tanks.

          • martinbrock

            No. I never anywhere scream hysterical about tanks. The screaming hysteria is in your imagination, not in my words. My only reference to tanks is in a question about a possible tactic enforcing a particular state policy proposed in this forum using actually existing instruments of actually existing states.

            In fact, immediately after I ask this question, I concede that a state need not use tanks, in the same comment. You simply ignore this fact. My comment actually suggests, through a series of rhetorical questions, that Holbo’s liberal state would exempt Twin Oaks from the minimum income, not that it would roll in tanks. My comment is still on the record, so others may reach their own conclusions about your characterization of my position.

            You may have the last word here.

          • WWW Du Bois

            All I have to say is: Why’d you bring up tanks at all?

            You don’t have to answer; the question is rhetorical.

        • WWW Du Bois

          Also, you can characterize taxes as a “gift” with “nothing in return,” but you’re forgetting that membership in civil society implies getting something very substantial in return: recognition of property rights.

          Now, try explaining to those who own nothing why they should give the gift of property rights to millionaires who don’t pay taxes.

          • martinbrock

            I haven’t characterized taxes as a gift with nothing owned in return. I rather suppose taxes must be owed in return for a minimum income. The question is: what sort of tax?

            We could say that Twin Oaks members already pay “taxes” to the community and their “taxes” finance the income that members receive from the sale of good produce within the community outside of the community.

            Twin Oaks actually is a civil society. Membership is completely voluntary. Members are free to leave at will and owe nothing to the community after they leave. No force holds anyone there.

            I don’t need to explain the gift of property rights from the United State to millionaires who don’t pay taxes to the United State (if such people exist), because I don’t defend the idea. I abhor it.

          • WWW Du Bois

            The question of “what sort of tax” has absolutely no relevance to the point Holbo made about an entitlement to $1. Holbo is not making an actual policy proposal.

            (There are lots of actual policy proposals about this kind of thing, but they have nothing to do with this discussion. By the way, it’s not true that every possible guaranteed income system involves taxes. The guarantor could merely hold resources which generate income, and redistribute that income. C.f. Alaska Permanent Fund, “Social Credit,” “National Dividend”)

            As far as Twin Oaks, I’m not sure what kind of point you’re making. Twin Oaks has to pay taxes to the federal government (as a 503(d), they are exempt from many but not all), and also (I presume) state and municipal governments, but you’re apparently not talking about those taxes.

            I guess you’re probably trying to say that, as an enclosed (“self-sufficient”?) community, Twin Oaks ought not to owe anything to the outside world? But the problem is, Twin Oaks is occupying a substantial land area, depriving the rest of the world of that land area, and imposing on the rest of the world their own rules regarding access and use of that area. It’s only fair that they owe the outside world, at the very least, some kind of financial compensation for their exclusion (if not a share of actual political authority over its use).

            To talk about the fact that no force holds anybody in Twin Oaks is to be blind to the nature of the force-relations there. The relevant force is that which holds people away. Twin Oaks has their 123 acres, their membership rules, and a phone to call the police to remove anyone who breaks them.

          • martinbrock

            “What sort of tax” is relevant if Twin Oaks members contributes to the provision of these dollars.

            Proprietors hold resources generating income. I have no fundamental problem with that, because I can’t imagine an alternative other than the state of nature or some supernatural, superhuman force governing everyone.

            If the state is proprietor of particular resources, then Twin Oaks is not free to hold them, and I doubt that Twin Oaks members care less about human equality, or aiding the poor, than George H. W. Bush or a consensus of the Congress of the U.S. or even Barack Obama. I suppose every member is far to the left of Barack Obama.

            The U.S. has no minimum income at this point, so I’m not discussing a tax that anyone currently pays. We can imagine a world with no taxes, and no resources held by the state, and start from this point. With this premise, how does a state enacting a minimum income affect Twin Oaks and similar communities? That’s the discussion I’d like to have with you.

            You’re right that Twin Oaks holds land away from people outside of the community, and that’s a fair point about the nature of property held either individually or jointly, but you seem to imagine a United State holding resources “for everyone” and distributing yields of these resources to everyone equally. I don’t actually see the United State doing that anywhere, but that’s exactly what Twin Oaks does with its resources within its community, and the community is not remotely wealthy. It’s uniform income is well below the U.S. median.

            Your information is dated. Twin Oaks began on 123 acres decades ago. According to Wikipedia, the community owns 450 acres now, 350 contiguous acres and another hundred nearby. Twin Oaks also spawned another, separate but similar community, East Wind, nearby.

        • WWW Du Bois

          In response to your last paragraphs, allow me to explain. The majority of taxes are based on some measure of ability to pay; for example, they are assessed as a portion of income, a portion of profit, or else a percentage of the value of a parcel of real estate.

          Requiring Twin Oaks to pay taxes of these forms does not require “a seat for the IRS at the community’s planning meetings.”

  • TracyW

    Why shouldn’t the idea of libertarianism be to maximize individual freedom by accounting each person’s person as that person’s own property … and also accounting that person’s bank account as containing at least $1?

    Or by passing Obamacare, to ensure that the person each person gets gets healthcare?

    Let’s just ignore the $1 issue, because it’s a pointless rule. (If someone has only $1 in their bank account, then they can’t spend it as they have to have $1 in their bank account, therefore they’re as badly off as if they had zero dollars in their bank account. Money is only useful if you can spend it).

    On the healthcare issue, if every person is to get healthcare, then there must be some other people who are obliged to supply healthcare. Who are these people? It can’t be everyone, small babies do very little work, nor do people in the advanced stages of dementia.

    But largely it seems due to the fact that, if you want to keep some group down, libertarian market means might be the ticket.

    This seems to be empirically unlikely. Keeping some group down has generally failed more in the Western world, where markets are common, than in more regulated parts of the world. The USA for example at the moment has a black guy as president, and a woman as Security of State. Australia has a woman as PM, and the UK had a woman as PM win several elections. New Zealand has had a trans-gender MP (and two women as PMs). Germany has a woman Chancellor. How many women are or have been heads of state or PMs in China, or Russia?

    Of course it is entirely possible that many libertarians support libertarian market means under the mistaken belief that it is effective at keeping groups down. People do manage to be very ignorant. But I need some more data to give me reason to believe that it’s them that’s being ignorant, not you.

    Market means permit what J.S. Mill calls ‘the tyranny of society’.

    And yet, people are freer under markets than under government control, including socially.

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  • rufuslevin

    ho hum

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