Symposium on Left-Libertarianism

Further to Holbo

I’d recommend that people read John’s clarificatory post in comments– and would ask that we be polite to our guest! I agree that his main post below is a bit unclear. But let’s then engage him in conversation (as Aeon Skoble did in comments to elicit the clarification). John’s always been one of the more thoughtful, patient, and civil of libertarianism’s critics in the liberal blogosphere.  (See his contribution to the debate with Chris Bertram– a post that’s related to the issues he discusses below.)  I think he’s got a lot more than one post worth of accumulated credit, and in any case has more than earned civil treatment from us when he comes to visit.


See John’s summary of his post, the Aeon-John-me series that starts here,  and the John-me-John series that starts here.

  • Fritz

    Jason often succeeds in making me look temperate.

    • jholbo

      Jason’s post is alright, in that if you think someone is being snarky, you can snark back with perfect right. I’m very much in favor of lex talionis as a commenting ethic. (This is a blog, not an academic conference.) But he does miss that there is an argument (perhaps that’s my fault, for compressing it). The problem is basically that it seems rude to tell someone that their philosophy is going to be a Trojan horse for something bad, like racism. It sounds like I’m calling them a racist. But suppose Jason thought I was in favor of a political philosophy of liberalism that, in practice, would backfire, by being adopted as protective cover by racists. If I invited Jason to a blog symposium on liberalism and he said something of the sort, it would be awkward but necessary.

      In political philosophy, while shuttling between idealism and realism, there’s a fine line between pooping on the floor and pointing out poop on the floor – while emphasizing that it’s totally unclear who, in particular, bears direct responsibility for its presence.

  • I guess you’re right. We must take what we can get.

  • Sean II

    In the balance of blogosphere evils, I think deleted posts are far worse than incivility.

    Most of the regular commenters have been smacked down many times, if not by the contributors themselves, then at least by readers and visiting trolls.

    None of the jokes and barbs being thrown around in the previous thread will sting as much as what David Gordon writes in his response next week.

    The thing that really hurts in life is being careless or wrong, it’s not the fact of being told when you are.

  • jholbo

    Thanks Jacob, but I don’t mind the incivility in comments. It’s a highly compressed and more than snarky post. As such, I knew I was in for a bellyful of snark in response, whatever else I got. You makes your bed and you lie in it.

    I do hope people respond to the argument. The compression was not intended to baffle people, although clearly it has. (Quite possibly it is just too too compressed, for which I apologize but I really wanted to make several points, in order to encourage responses to them.) The basic point I would appreciate a response to from other contributors to the symposium and from contributors to the volume is that left-libertarian ‘high theory’ types really ought to be more hermeneutically suspicious of actually existing libertarianism than they seem to be. Vulgar libertariaism is treated as an unfortunate accident. I don’t think that’s adequate. Libertarians are impatient when liberals treat any failing of statist liberalism as a mere accident, unconnected to the high theory, because libertarians have a theory about how statism will tend to fail in practice. For them, the failings of liberalism, in practice, are part of their own high theory. I think they need to be even-handed in suspecting their own side of analogous problems: libertarianism has a strong tendency to be the opposite of what it’s supposed to be, in practice. This isn’t an accident but an essential feature. At least in any world like the one we live in

    • jholbo

      More than a BIT snarky post. (I didn’t mean to imply I invented a new realm of sarcasm, above and beyond mere mortal snark.)

    • Aeon Skoble

      “libertarianism has a strong tendency to be the opposite of what it’s supposed to be, in practice” One reason I disgree with this is that I’m not aware of any “actually existing libertarianism,” so what you’re claiming is analogous isn’t. Pointing to troglodytes who use the word libertarianism isn’t any kind of criticism of what philosophers and economists say. We aren’t criticizing liberalism because psychopaths claim to be liberals, we’re critical of what liberals actually do when they do what they say they want to do. I heard a story on NPR about some town in Maine where local political leaders used their power as state officials to prevent some guy from opening a plant in town which would have created a lot of jobs and other economic benefit – turns out the chief of selectmen was the owner of a plant that would have been a competitor. The selectman claimed to be a libertarian. But that’s not any kind of criticism of libertarianism, it’s a guy using a word incorrectly. He says he’s an X but he’s acting anti-X. How is this a problem for us? (I mean, how is it a theoretical problem – I agree it’s a marketing/PR problem!)

      • jholbo

        Hi again Aeon, I sort of responded to this in the other thread. I’ve

        “We aren’t criticizing liberalism because psychopaths claim to be
        liberals, we’re critical of what liberals actually do when they do what
        they say they want to do.”

        But a big part of the complaint – this is certainly Chartier and Johnson’s complaint – is that levers of statism installed to help the powerless will, inevitably, be co-opted by the powerful. And the institutional welfare state has inherent tendencies that are contrary to the wishes of its benevolent designers. Libertarians don’t hold back from making unintended consequence arguments just because it’s sort of rude to suggest that the person you are arguing with has missed this angle. (I mean: it is pretty dumb not to notice that your proposal is going to backfire. But that doesn’t mean you should never tell anyone their proposal is going to backfire, even though this amounts to an ad hominem attack. You are calling someone dumb, in effect.)

        A better example than your selectman would be Ron Paul. Why was Ron Paul associated with those racist newsletters in the 90’s? Is it just an unfortunate coincidence that libertarianism now has that racist association, thanks to Paul? (Because for damn sure none of the stuff in those newsletters is, or should be, part of any ideal libertarian theory?) Unfortunately, not. In a society in which there is racism, but no socially acceptable way to express racism, racists will – unfortunately – have an elective affinity for libertarianism. Libertarians needs to make extra sure not to make allies of these folks. It’s not good enough that, ideally, you aren’t their allies. You need to also not be so, systematically, in practice. The dynamics of how libertarianism-as-propertarianism is a natural last-ditch defense of hierarchy and dominance is given in the other thread, so I won’t thumbnail it again.) Now we get into an argument about how serious a problem racism is today, as opposed to the 90’s or the 60’s or the 1860’s. And that’s how it has to go. Historical, sociologically wrangling about what the world is really like. But the general point is: I think we are often in a situation – and shall in the future continue to find ourselves in situations – in which dominant social groups seek to keep other groups down. Libertarianism, by rights, ought to be an ideal beacon on behalf of the downtrodden. In ideal theory, it is so. But in practice it has not consistently been so. Libertarianism needs to work not to be a double-edged sword like that.

        What’s the remedy? A healthy dose of paranoia (sorry to have to prescribe it, because it’s unpleasant medicine.) And the high theory should be presented in a way that is designed to defeat this sort of false-flag feudalism (impulse to dominance) as much as possible. I tried to do that in the first part of my post, which is a big part of the explanation of why so many people said ‘what the hell?’ in response. (Another big part of the explanation was that the post was too compressed, I confess it.)

        • Sean II

          Libertarians aren’t shy about making unintended consequence arguments against statists because there is a rich and massively documented history of unintended consequences from statism. Of course, over time, we have grown to understand those consequences on both a theoretical and an empirical level.

          When you say that “in practice [libertarianism] has not consistently been [a beacon on behalf on the downtrodden]” one must certainly ask: what practice are you referring to? Where is this petri dish of libertarian experimentation, and how can I obtain passage there?

          To put it more bluntly: Since you read Long’s essay, and since you’re familiar with this blog, you MUST know that the libertarian project is not yet a practical one. That’s how come we spend so much time chatting. No one has ever yet given us the keys to the car.

          So, that means you cannot have an empirical case for unintended consequences from libertarianism, and since you haven’t presented some locked-down a priori argument either, what DO you have to make you write what you wrote yesterday?

          • jholbo

            “To put it more bluntly: Since you read Long’s essay, and since you’re
            familiar with this blog, you MUST know that the libertarian project is
            not yet a practical one.”

            I don’t buy it. The dynamic I speak of – people offering arguments for ‘liberty’ when, in effect, they are opposing it – is well-documented and plain to see in contemporary politics and culture. If you prefer history, I recommend any number of excellent books about the aftermath of the Civil War. Maybe start with Blight’s “Race and Reunion”. Is the ‘lost cause’ narrative libertarianism? Not in the high theory sense. But certainly in the vulgar sense. And that pattern has, unfortunately repeated itself. It repeats itself today, I think, regarding economic inequality. Long is eloquent against boss-ism but not sufficiently appreciative of how, inevitably, the defense of boss-ism will be libertarian – propertarian. The shield of autonomy-corrosive economic inequality, corporatism, so forth, is ‘freedom’. You may blame the liberals for building it, but ‘freedom’ is what makes it right to keep it as it is. So the problem the libertarian project faces is a practical one in that the vulgar types are already practicing even if the theoreticians are still only preaching. This is important and not something to be brushed under any ideal theory rugs.

          • Sean II

            Here I cry foul. The Civil War ended in 1865. Since then, eulogists of the lost cause have been found hanging out everywhere you can think of in American political life: among socialists, among populists, among Democrats, Republicans, paleo-cons, neo-cons, and libertarians.

            What’s the parsimonious explanation here? I’d say “Maybe we should NOT lay the blame for these guys on ANY of those groups. Maybe we should lay the blame for these guys on, you know, just these guys.”

            But John, how are getting from “watch out for the Southern Sesech'” to “Roderick Long may yet be soft on corporatism”? That’s a really big leap.

          • jholbo

            OK, clearly we have a dispute about history, sociology, a lot of empirical stuff that isn’t going to be settled in comments. So take this in the following spirit: I am stating an opinion, not offering a proof, but I take my opinion to be backed by documentation that won’t fit in comments.

            The Civil War is relevant insofar as – sad to say – the Republican Party today is an ethnocentric, regional party with its major base of power in the former Confederate States. (This cannot possibly go on and, as they say, things that can’t go on, don’t. But today the Republican Party is as I describe it.) And actually existing libertarianism, as a real social and political force, lies in the Tea Party, which is effectively part of the Republican Party. Quoting from Skocpol, Theda; Vanessa Williamson (2011-12-02). The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (Oxford University Press):

            ‘Politics is about who we are—often in contradistinction to “them,” to
            types of people that are not fully part of our imagined community. “We” want our representatives in government to speak for “us,” not cater inappropriately to “them.”’


            “One might imagine the changes that worry Tea Partiers to be primarily economic. In the last thirty years, economic opportunity has declined. Instead of economic prosperity benefiting all Americans, it increasingly benefits only the very few at the top. But Tea Party members rarely stressed economic concerns to us—and they never blamed business or the super-rich for America’s troubles. The nightmare of societal decline is usually painted in cultural hues, and the villains in the picture are freeloading social groups, liberal politicians, bossy professionals, big government, and the mainstream media.”‘

            These people are typical actually existing libertarians. What is pushing them to adopt libertarian arguments and rhetoric is, in a nutshell, us-versus-them ethnocentrism (I know, there’s more to it, and this term sounds unkinder than it really is, because ‘racism’ is such a fraught charge – the worst sin you can commit. Really, being a touch ethnocentric shouldn’t be THAT bad. Read Kinder and Kam on “Us Versus Them”.)

            At any rate, the lost cause narrative isn’t as lost a cause as I’d like it to be. (If you want I can keep quoting stuff from the Tea Party book that sounds like stuff I could quote from the Blight book. But this is a comment box, after all.)

            I’m not accusing Roderick Long of being soft on corporatism. I’m constructively suggesting that Roderick Long is being soft on those who are soft on corporatism. Namely, libertarians. I know he sees a problem here. He doesn’t excuse vulgar libertarianism, much less defend it. But he’s not sufficiently exercised about it. I say he underestimates the extent of it, and doesn’t analyze it properly. It sounds perverse to say that libertarianism’s greatest enemy is its evil twin, libertarianism-as-confabulatory-ethnocentric-reflex. Because it’s not like libertarians run the world or anything. Surely the people actually running the world have to be the problem with the actual world. But the problem for libertarianism, as ideal theory, is not to beg off responsibility for the way things are. The problem for libertarianism is to plot a course to an attractive, actually existing libertarianism. A major obstacle on the way – I don’t say ‘the’, I say ‘a’ – is that actually existing libertarianism is not attractive.

          • Sean II

            So, your post really was just a churched-up version of the “tea party is racist” meme, except that you go further to claim that since the tea party is really a faction of the Republican party, actually-existing libertarianism must therefore also be a faction of the GOP, because the tea party is somehow supposed to be libertarian. Um…no.

            I got your hint not to pursue this further, but I can’t resist, because your use of history and political science in that last comment is too tempting.

            1) Just because the confederacy was in the South, doesn’t mean the South is a) still racist today, or b) more racist than anywhere else.

            2) The GOP is anchored in the West and the South, but it gets votes everywhere, and when it wins, it wins in plenty of other states. We have a two party system, so the fact that parties have temporary regional bases means/proves/suggests very little.

            3) Well if Theda Skocpol says it, it must be…subject to all the same methodological criticisms that apply to self-reported social “science” data, especially when it’s collected, analyzed, and reported by obviously unsympathetic sources using motivated reasoning.

            4) What you describe as the ethnocentric nature of the Republican party could just as easily be described as an ethnic monopoly held by the Democratic party. Again, it’s a two party system, so if one or two ethnic groups block up and vote one way, the other party will get only what’s left of the electorate. So what.

            5) There are several reasons blacks and hispanics might be avoiding the GOP. One possibility: everyone keeps talking about how racist it is. Which still doesn’t prove that it actually is racist (and which most definitely doesn’t say anything about libertarianism).

            6) Even if you had the GOP dead to rights on suspicion of racism (you don’t, in fact you don’t even have any evidence of THAT), and even if the GOP really is the same as the Tea Party (it’s not, since the Tea Party might be viewed as a rebellion against the actually existing GOP), you still haven’t connected either of those organisms with libertarianism in any way.

            7) If libertarianism has any relationship with the GOP, it’s the same relationship British Communists have with New Labor, the same relationship George Wallace once had with the Democratic Party, the same relationship that closet absolute monarchists probably have with the LDP in Japan.

            In two party states, fringe groups get frustrated, and they form little alliances of convenience. Lacking a range of choices, they even form alliances with parties that are otherwise abhorrent to them (see above). You know what that proves? Once again, it proves that two-party systems make people do funny things. What it doesn’t prove is that the Japanese monarchists are really liberals, or that George Wallace was really a civil rights supporter, or that English reds are really Iraq war supporters.

            If we had a multi-party system in the US, do you think for a moment than any libertarian would ever look twice at EITHER Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Would this conversation be possible or necessary?

          • jholbo

            I’ll give you the last word on this Sean, acknowledging that I read your comment but not responding. Again I don’t buy it but at least I’ve said my piece and you’ve said yours and the comment box isn’t really built to hold much more. Clearly my sense of what high theory libertarianism ought to busy itself with differs from yours in large part because we have different assessments of the facts on the ground, politically and culturally and all that.

          • Sean II

            Fair enough, but thanks for hanging in with this discussion. You got hit with a wall of text this weekend, and you certainly made an effort to answer as much as you could, as well as you could. And you’re right, there are limits when the text box is no bigger than 13 words wide.

            It may sound strange given the intense opposition I’ve shown toward your post (which is hardly diminished by anything revealed in your eventual defense of it), but…I hope you they have you back to post again, and specifically to post again on this topic. Perhaps it might be possible to discuss in pieces what could not be thoroughly discussed as a whole? In the meantime, thanks again.

          • jholbo

            Thanks, I’ve had fun. (I regard myself as having gotten off easy, given my opening gambit!)

        • Steven Horwitz

          “What’s the remedy? A healthy dose of paranoia (sorry to have to
          prescribe it, because it’s unpleasant medicine.) And the high theory
          should be presented in a way that is designed to defeat this sort of
          false-flag feudalism (impulse to dominance) as much as possible.”

          Isn’t this EXACTLY what the left-libertarians are trying to do, not to mention most of the rest of us here at BHL? That you feel the need to provide this as a “remedy” rather than dealing more constructively with the actual attempts to do what you are advising is what made so many of us see your comments as so unhelpful. You’re giving us advice that we are trying to take and when we take it, you give us a post that is hard to parse and requires incredible work to read with any real degree of charity.

          For me, I’m sad because it was an opportunity for real dialogue lost in a haze of attempted cuteness and successful snark.

          • jholbo

            I sort of said this to Jacob already but I’ll say it to you, Steve. You write: “Isn’t this EXACTLY what the left-libertarians are trying to do, not to mention most of the rest of us here at BHL?”

            I honestly haven’t seen that this is exactly what left-libertarians are trying to do. As I said, vulgar libertarianism seems to me to be treated as a series of unfortunate accidents, rather than a pattern to be dealt with, diagnosed, so forth.

            I have no recanted – several times – the unintended implication of the post that left libertarians are guilty of this thing I complain about. (Some folks are reading the post that way and I didn’t do enough to prevent it.) Rather, the point is supposed to be that they aren’t seeing it rightly as a problem. This is, sincerely, my attempt to be constructive – although, of course, the snark got in the way.

          • FWIW, I’m with Steve on this. My first post on this blog included as a motivation for joining it the desire to think about how to disentangle libertarianism from the racism that has often motivated (what we’ll now call) vulgar libertarianism. And several of us, and Steve above all, spent last winter in the Ron-Paul’s-newsletter blogging trenches, with a variety of diagnoses but (I think) none of them reducible to “a series of unfortunate accidents.” We might not be confronting vulgar libertarianism (and racism) in the way you think we should, or as extensively as you think we should. You’re provoking me to think some interesting thoughts about that confrontation, methodologically as well as substantively. (I like the public choice analogy.) But most of us here are “seeing it as a problem,” even if we’re not “seeing it rightly as a problem.”

          • jholbo

            I guess I should be more precise. I know that you think largely as I do about this issue, Jacob. I know that some others do, too, and on this blog. Some seem inclined, as you yourself to say, to be fair weather ideal theorists, as it were. When the man on the street is the right sort of libertarian, he’s evidence of libertarianism’s latent strength. But when he is not the right sort, this is brushed off as no part of ideal theory. In reading the book that is the subject for the symposium, I found myself dissatisfied. I didn’t see the various authors as saying enough of the right things about this stuff – to my mind. But I don’t want to pick unnecessary fights with people who don’t actually disagree with me.

          • Alex K.

            “But when he is not the right sort, this is brushed off as no part of ideal theory.”

            I didn’t read much of the total discussion, but in this sub-discussion you seem to confuse two types of critiques:

            1. A critique claiming that *the actual laws* implied by a political theory lead to oppression (“too much liberalism leads to pocket Stalins”).

            2. A critique claiming that a political theory and ethos attracts unsavory individuals. (e.g. racists and feudalism lovers)

            You’re then claiming that since libertarians use critique 1 all the time, they should accept critique 2, and should spend much time introspecting as to why nasty people can be attracted to a theory professing the maximization of liberty.

            However, even putting aside questions about the empirical validity of critique 2, those two critiques are completely different. Indeed — says the libertarian — it is one of the points of libertarianism that as a political theory it minimizes the harm that nasty people can do: their nastiness can not be amplified by the power structures of the state.

            In other words, the question of what people get attracted to what ideology is just an uninteresting matter of psychology and historical contingency, while the power structures available to nasty people is a direct consequence of the political philosophy. (Many libertarians claim, correctly, that government attracts power hungry sociopaths, but I don’t need this argument here)

            Also, here is a preemptive strike: There is a huge difference between attracting nasty people and then putting them in a position of power over the society and attracting nasty people that can have at best power over a very limited set of people. The power over an employee is orders of magnitude lower than the power nasty people in the government have over society. The power of the state is so large, and the system they are trying to manage is so complex, that even genuinely nice people can do horrible things with that kind of power.

          • jholbo

            “Indeed — says the libertarian — it is one of the points of
            libertarianism that as a political theory it minimizes the harm that
            nasty people can do: their nastiness can not be amplified by the power
            structures of the state.”

            But here – from where I’m sitting – you show the blind spot I complain about in the post. You are seeing only the danger from what Mill calls ‘the tyranny of the magistrate’. You are ignoring the danger of ‘the tyranny of society’. In theory, libertarian minimizes the nastiness nasty people can do. In practice, it might not. The classic – illustratively extreme – case would be social Jim Crow. Suppose ideal libertarianism is instituted and what you’ve got is a society dominated by racists. You’ve got a perfect recipe for defeating autonomy for a significant number of people. There’s no reason that shouldn’t be a stable arrangement, and it’s not optimal.

          • Alex K.

            It’s not that I don’t see the danger — I just estimate the danger to be orders of magnitude lower than state enforced nastiness.

            Jim Crow laws were in fact state enforced. The root of Jim Crow laws was slavery, also a state supported institution. I grant that the legacy of such state enforcement can spill over into social norms, and therefore a purely non-state solution to such norms can be problematic. I am not a purist, I can accept light regulation by the state (certainly in cases where the root of evil social norms is in fact the state.)

            But I find it problematic that (non-classical) liberals obfuscate the enormous gap between state power and private power.

            We don’t have to look as far back as slavery to see the obvious gap between state and individual power: Illegal immigrants in Arizona probably did not have an easy life before the notorious anti-illegal immigrant bill (and their hard life was also mostly a result of immigration laws and not racism or individual nastiness): but they started to leave or plan to leave mostly after the state got actively involved.

          • Aeon Skoble

            First of all, it wouldn’t be stable. Jim Crow laws were just that, laws: people were _required_ to act in ways that were in concert with state racism. Even in vulgar-lib world, where people only care about profits, they’d have good reason not to act that way, even if they “felt” that way. But if there’s any reason to think they’d feel that way under libertarianism, why would they not feel that way under another system? Second of all, you say this: “In theory, libertarian minimizes the nastiness nasty people can do. In practice, it might not.” but offer nothing by way of support. In practice, how exactly would a regime of maximum protection of individual liberty make it _easier _to defeat people’s autonomy than it is under a regime of broader state power?

          • jholbo

            “First of all, it wouldn’t be stable. Jim Crow laws were just that, laws.”

            They were also social norms, and might have been sufficient unto the purpose as such. I don’t see why social Jim Crow, that observes the propertarian niceties, couldn’t be quite stable.

            “Even in vulgar-lib world, where people only care about profits, they’d
            have good reason not to act that way, even if they “felt” that way.”

            To the contrary, whites could easily have good reason to enforce Jim Crow even if they didn’t feel personally in favor. Suppose you are the white owner of a restaurant and you know that if you serve blacks – or hire them into good jobs, whatever the social norm says you shouldn’t do – no whites will eat at your restaurant, the local banker may not be willing to loan you money any more (after all, it looks like you are having troubles!) Your children may be ostracized, etc. The Moneyball theory that the talents of black folks are being wasted – that’s money left on the table! (not to mention plain old money on the table that black customers might leave) – can easily be overwhelmed, in the overall calculus of costs and benefits. Many people might rather be proud than rich, after all. That is, unfortunately, a recipe for stable Jim Crow.

            In short, all you need is a dominant social group that values its dominance and has the willingness to punish defectors who might undermine the stability of the system. It’s not clear that this is never the way things go.

          • WWW Du Bois

            “The Moneyball theory that the talents of black folks are being wasted – that’s money left on the table! (not to mention plain old money on the table that black customers might leave) – can easily be overwhelmed, in the overall calculus of costs and benefits. Many people might rather be proud than rich, after all. That is, unfortunately, a recipe for stable Jim Crow.”

            Besides, there’s a real economic benefit to keeping the blacks around as an underclass. It means being able to pay lower wages for shitwork that might otherwise demand compensatory wages. The whites as a whole benefit economically, even if individual whites have incentive to “defect.”

            If the whites can solve the coordination problem, they score a big win. And historically, whites have indeed been able to solve this coordination problem (commonly through extra-legal means).

          • Alex K.

            “If the whites can solve the coordination problem, they score a big win. And historically, whites have indeed been able to solve this coordination problem”

            If only white people could figure out a system where you can legally abuse a group of people as long as they are in the minority, a system where law enforcement can get away with looking the other way when you have crimes perpetuated against such a minority — if they find such a system then they have that coordination problem completely solved!

            If they do find such a system, they can name it something fancy, like “democracy.”

            How naive are these silly libertarians, when they insist on inflicting social constructs like “rights” on the entire population!

          • WWW Du Bois

            You know nothing of black history in America.

          • Alex K.

            Please tell me a version of black history in America where the complicity of state institutions to racism is not central.

            Of course, you can tell no such history.

          • WWW Du Bois

            You know so little, that you do not understand why your statement demonstrates your ignorance.

          • Alex K.

            A fairly idiotic reply.

            I guess John Holbo proved that by mixing sensitive issues of race with various economic and logical fallacies, you can guarantee that the discussion degenerates rapidly.

          • Aeon Skoble

            “keeping the blacks around as an underclass” – requires an intrusive state. This is not the conception of government any libertarian, vulgar or refined, is arguing for. This objection has degenerated into a straw man.

          • WWW Du Bois

            You have badly failed to understand this thread.

            Here is what happened. Jholbo explained non-economic reasons why the incentive to sustain racial inequalities could persist in a stable fashion. I replied by pointing out that economic reasons also existed as an incentive to sustain racial inequalities, which could contribute to their stable persistence.

            This is all in response to the ahistorical argument that black labor value (and/or consumer purchase power) provides an incentive sufficient to overcome racial prejudices. Which, in turn, is a justification of libertarianisms refusal to support the enforcement of desegregation as a condition of property ownership.

            Thus, nobody is saying that libertarianism “conceives” of its own system as supporting racial segregation. Instead, we are explaining why libertarianism supports racial segregation in spite of the false conceptions of libertarians.

          • Alex K.

            “Many people might rather be proud than rich, after all.”

            The problem is that your argument for stability of social Jim Crow needs more than just “many” — it needs virtually all people.

            Suppose we have a model with two classes of people: one is white and rich and the other is black and working on minimum wage.

            If _all_ the white people love adherence to white supremacy as much as Abraham loved God, then indeed you have social Jim Crow. But this does not mean much, since even if just one white person likes money more than having beer with the KKK, he has the opportunity to become very rich by providing services to black people too.

            You simply do not need hyper-rationality assumptions for all players (hence your Moneyball snark is misplaced): you just need a rough rationality for a subset of the players.

            Also, this stuff about the stability of Jim Crow laws is a major distraction from the mistake you made earlier (when you implied an equivalence between misuse of power by the state with the misuses of the distributed power of a group of individuals.)

            After all, the conditions under which you can possibly have social Jim Crow are virtually always conditions where racists can impose their will via democratic means using the power of the state.

        • TracyW

          I think you’re rather optimistic about it being possible to remedy this by the use of rhetoric, or indeed paranoia. The ways in which people will misunderstand any argument are truly astounding, particularly when they see a potential political or monetary benefit in doing so.

    • martinbrock

      … actually existing libertarianism …

      What is actually existing libertarianism? Is that the Cato Institute or the Mises Institute or the U.S. Code or Blackstone’s Commentaries, or is it an actually existing intentional community, with real people using real resources to find their way through real obstacles, that “libertarians” of every color thumb their noses at or simply ignore?

      These communities actually exist, but their members presumably don’t read this blog. They have more important things to do, trying to get actually existing libertarianism off the ground.

    • A number of people are replying in ways that orbit around: What and where is this vulgar libertarianism of which you speak? We live in a statist world, we are a tiny group of philosophers and economists, etc.

      Now, I haven’t read any of the Long-Chartier material that this symposium is supposed to be about. I have a general sense that it’s sufficiently radical as to make this defense a little more apropos for them; John’s original post seemed to be in part things that he’d been waiting to say about BHL in general that might or might not be applicable to the Long-Chartier left-libertarianism in particular. So I’m going to take it in that spirit.

      In order for the defense above to be right, and the very ideas of vulgar or actually-existing libertarianism to be wrong, libertarianism would have to be *so* ideal-theoretic that its advocates never availed themselves of North Korea-South Korea comparisons, East-West Germany comparisons, China-Hong Kong comparisons, Massachusetts-New Hampshire comparisons, the history of the economic growth of the west in general or of Britain and America in particular, the idea that religious liberty ended the wars of religion and prevented their recurrence in America, enthusiasm about such deregulatory progress as was made in the 1970s and 80s, Actonian language about “the history of freedom” (“we’ve never had any yet, so how can it have a history?”) or questions like the one in Jason’s new book about what countries are “the most” libertarian. (The answer would have to be: “none of them!”) We would also have to forswear the Nolan Chart, the polls measuring libertarian sentiment in public opinion, and arguments about political strategy that treat “libertarian” as the name of some potentially swingable bloc of more than ten voters.

      I trust that we all agree that libertarians talk about these things very, very frequently…?

      So here’s an attempted partial reconstruction.

      1) “Vulgar libertarianism” is the strain in political thought– particularly prominent in the US and western Canada– that is anti-statist in rhetoric, rugged-individualistic in self-conception, prone to draw sharp moral distinctions between dependence and independence, and reflexively distrustful of open displays of state authority, most especially from the federal state (rather from, so to speak, the state state). It’s the set of ideas and sentiments that most national Republicans and all western or rural Republicans invoke at some point (and many western or rural Democrats too), the rhetoric of that part of the Tea Party that has persuaded many libertarians that there are natural allies to be found there. It’s a set of political sentiments and a kind of political language. Only a tiny fraction of those who hold the sentiments or use the language ever use the word “libertarian” (and only a fraction of *those* ever become ideal-theoretic libertarians). It may well be self-delusive: an awful lot of people whose whole livelihood depends on farm subsidies and water subsidies seem willing to talk about rugged independence and keeping the state at bay.

      The issue here isn’t people who use the *word* libertarian and don’t understand what it means. The issue is the general pattern of beliefs and political views. Many of us often like the fact that many Americans talk an anti-statist, individualistic talk, even if they don’t walk the walk. We can’t then turn around and say that their views, and the sociological background of their views, have nothing to do with us. (See here Tomasi’s invocation of popular beliefs about taxes and income in FMF– even though he’s methodologically a particularly ideal type of ideal-theorist, he thinks that political philosophers should pay attention to and accord prima facie plausibility to prereflective, pretheoretical popular views about taxation. For that matter, see also his general accounts of shifts in opinion in the world– the rethinking that he says hasn’t yet happened in political philosophy but has happened in many other arenas. He doesn’t think that, e.g., New Labour is irrelevant to libertarianism.)

      2) “Actually-existing libertarianism” is something like “effective limits on state action and/or scope of private freedom.” “Actually-existing liberal markets” would be the major subset here.

      So technocrat-led neoliberal deregulation would increase (2) but not (1). And insofar as libertarians typically give it two cheers at least, and if it leads to success are willing to treat it as supporting evidence, we shouldn’t then say that any dark side or unintended consequence it shows are irrelevant to us.

      I think John’s primary interest is in (1). I don’t agree with everything he says about it, but I do think it’s a perfectly comprehensible category, and that we do need to be *attentive* to it.

      • jholbo

        Thanks Jacob,

        I don’t have time for an adequate response tonight. You and I are not far apart on this. One thing I got wrong in the post was that I made two claims that may have seemed to imply a third that I didn’t intend to imply. The two claims are:

        1) vulgar libertarianism is a mistake arising out of a confabulatory impulse. It finds excuses to be against autonomy in practice, while being for it, in theory.

        2) Left-libertarians are making a mistake concerning vulgar libertarianism.

        The third thing – which I didn’t mean – would then be:

        3) Left-libertarians are making the mistake of being vulgar libertarians.

        I didn’t intend 3) and, in fact, don’t believe it. I don’t think the authors I was quoting from the volume that is the occasion for this symposium are themselves guilty of perpetrating vulgar libertarianism. Or the bloggers for BHL, by and large. (If you’ve gone to the trouble of declaring yourself a bleeding-heart, suffering slings and arrows from the right for the sake of the correct point that social justice better be built in, you are probably innocent of these dark crimes I like to hint at.) Nevertheless, I see a failure to take the dynamics of vulgar libertarianism seriously enough.

        The best way to put it may be: libertarianism, in the high theory sense, has no affinity for these bad impulses. Quite the opposite. But the bad impulses have an affinity for it. This is not a theoretical objection – I keep saying this – but is, potentially, theoretically consequential. (It is precisely analogous to points public choice theorists like to make about liberal statist projects. Liberalism has no theoretical affinity for certain sorts of corruption, but corruption has an affinity for it. It would be totally illegitimate to ignore this objection on the ground that we’re doing ideal theory so it’s someone else’s department.) This is what you are getting at, I think, when you say “The issue is the general pattern of beliefs and political views. Many of us often like the fact that many Americans talk an anti-statist, individualistic talk, even if they don’t walk the walk. We can’t then turn around and say that their views, and the sociological background of their views, have nothing to do with us.” That is exactly correct, and a nice way to put it.

        I can appreciate why BHL’s, who get attacked from left and right, would find it aggravating to be told that they must do a scrupulous ‘we have met the enemy and he is (trying to sound like) us’. So: sorry about that.

        • I still don’t see how

          1) “Liberalism has no theoretical affinity for certain sorts of corruption, but corruption has an affinity for it.


          2) “libertarianism […] has no affinity for these bad impulses. […] But the bad impulses have an affinity for it.

          are analogous.

          Criticism (1) is about what kinds of conditions will arise as a result of the political theory in question being actually put into practice.

          When social or economic problems are met with the solutions that liberal high theory suggests for them (government regulation, centrally planned wealth redistribution, …) then the result will be political structures that attract corrupt people and give them power over others.

          Hence this is valid as an argument for the theory being bad.

          Criticism (2), on the other hand, seems to be about what kinds of people voice support for the political theory in question.

          But an idea does not become a bad idea, only because bad people support it. What counts is what kinds of conditions libertarian theory put into practice will actually result in, and an examination of the motives of libertarians tells us nothing about that.
          Hence this is not valid as an argument for the theory being bad.

          • Christ Jesus

            Correct. To posit that (2) is sound as an argument against libertarian conclusions would be a clear-cut case of genetic fallacy, an ad hominem operating through a vague guilt-by-association mechanism. And the degree and uniqueness of that association is left unsupported. And the relative importance of the relevant ‘guilt’ is left unsupported.

            So had he laid out his bare argument in plain English, Holbo would’ve looked like an idiot. Hence it was buried under sarcasm and fluff.

          • jholbo

            I don’t see that you’ve undone the analogy – or rather, I don’t see that the difference you point out makes a difference. (I don’t need the analogy to be perfect. I only need it to support my argument.)

            The general point about ideal theory is that you have to imagine what it would be like, were it to cease to be ideal.

            Would you, for example, accept “an idea does not become a bad idea, only because bad people support it” as a sufficient reason for liberals to ignore public choice-type concerns about liberalism statism? I sincerely hope not. (Implementing is one form of support – and one of the most important, for theoretical purposes. We want to understand who will put this thing into practice, and what their interests/motives will likely be.)

            “What counts is what kinds of conditions libertarian theory put into
            practice will actually result in, and an examination of the motives of
            libertarians tells us nothing about that.”

            Well, yes, I understand that this is the hope. But the concern is that hope is not a plan. How could the motives of libertarians make trouble?

            1) Libertarianism could be put into practice badly.

            2) Libertarianism could turn out to be bad in practice.

            1) is an obvious fear, and just because it’s generic is no excuse not to think hard about how it might tend to go down. 2) is basically the concern that eliminating Mill’s tyranny of the magistrate is not sufficient, because there are other sorts of private tyranny – the tyranny of society – to contend with. And so, paradoxically, you might make things worse, autonomy-wise.

          • jholbo

            Let me be a bit clearer about concern 1), since it seems that part of the problem with seeing my point is that people are doubting there is a special concern here. (You can say of anything, ‘but what if it’s done badly?’ What’s the special concern in this case?)

            Why would libertarianism tend to be put into practice badly? The answer is, per the post, that typical libertarians, as opposed to libertarian theory, tend to be wobbly about the whole liberty question. What they like is hierarchy and privilege. What attracts them to libertarianism is that propertarianism allows them to lock in certain ill-gotten social gains. You get to defend property and privilege while calling it ‘liberty!’

            Under those circumstances it is natural to fear that libertarianism, in practice, will end up being instituted badly to suit the preferences of those who institute it. i.e. libertarians (of this bad sort.)

            You may say this is paranoid. Fair enough. But your objection was that it was irrelevant, which it certainly is not. If what I say is true, it’s highly relevant, it seems to me.

      • Sean II

        There’s something not kosher here.

        The fact that I once compared West Berlin and East Berlin to illustrate a point about the price of denim does not oblige me to accept responsibility for the unemployment rate among Turkish men in Berlin today. Not at all, and ESPECIALLY NOT if my libertarian account of Germany’s economic system can and does supply a BETTER AND WHOLLY CONSISTENT EXPLANATION for the unemployment rate among Turkish men in Berlin.

        Unintended consequences are consequences. They flow from actions. None of the people who got shot in a Santiago soccer field forty years ago got shot because I once made a ceterus paribus argument comparing Chilean vs. Argentine monetary policy. That’s not how it works.

        In this game, empiricism is never more than a starting point, and post hoc reasoning is always dangerous. When people try to pull information from the uncontrolled experiments of life, what they’re mostly doing is using real world facts to build a slightly enriched thought experiment, because in real life other things cannot actually be held equal. There’s a certain duality to the method, I suppose, but it always comes down to theory.

        Now, if Holbo had spelled out some theoretical reason to believe that Turks are discriminated against in Germany PRECISELY BECAUSE AND NOT IN SPITE OF Germany’s pseudo-market economy, that would be one thing. If he had said that libertarian money supply policy NECESSARILY ENTAILS shooting people in soccer stadiums, that would be one thing. He could have said things like that, and then supplied some reason to believe them.

        The trouble is, it still wouldn’t have made much sense, because Professor Long already gave such a convincing account of why the things Holbo is worried about would be better laid at the feet of corporatism, and because Professor Brennan has already done such a good job of showing that what American’s mostly like to do with libertarianism is talk about it, without the troublesome chore of actually living it.

        If one intended to take a blog to task for (unsubstantiated) strange bed-fellowship with patriarchs, hetero-sexists, and racists, it seems minimally decent to at least show some evidence of having read and followed the blog, by knowing which questions have been asked and answered.

        Libertarians are an absolute minority in the world. Vulgar libertarians may be a majority within that minority. Bleeding heart libertarians are no doubt a tiny minority-of-a-minority. None of us are in charge of anything.

        So…why come and take bleeding heart libertarians to task for something that is alleged (and still only alleged) to be the vice of vulgar libertarians?

        • jholbo

          Sean, I’ve sort of responded to this below (in a response to you) but I’ll repeat myself a bit in response to this comment.

          It’s quite possible that I have been underappreciative of folks of this blog saying things I am now hectoring them to say. If so, then I’m in the wrong. We ought to be able to agree to agree, where possible.

          But I’m reasonably sure we don’t entirely agree, and part of the disagreement might come here. You write: “Libertarians are an absolute minority in the world. Vulgar libertarians may be a majority within that minority.” But a world run on libertarian lines, by a majority of vulgar libertarians, could be a serious nightmare. What’s the ideal plan for managing that risk, systemically? I realize it’s a mug’s game to ask you to blueprint your utopia, just so I can laugh at it. It’s not like it’s going to be built tomorrow, so you are entitled to a bit of cloudiness as consolation. Fair is fair. But part of doing the ideal thing is thinking through obstacles, in a general sort of – theoretical – way. I don’t see a lot of libertarian theory of the ideal ways of means of overcoming vulgar libertarianism. If I am wrong, correct me! (I’m not averse to admitting I haven’t read enough.)

          • Sean II

            This whole community is an effort to manage the risk. And you’re right, since the possibility of political success is so remote, the plan is still a bit cloudy. You know the joke: “If you ever meet two libertarians who agree on something, you can be sure one of them has sold out.”

            Meanwhile what’s happening to the poor and the not-privileged all over the world is not a mere risk, it’s a brutal reality. Take blacks in America for example. They don’t have to worry that stagnation awaits them under a Lew Rockwell regime of vulgar libertarianism, because they’re trapped under crushing stagnation NOW. They already get the worst of every policy on our books, including those designed to hurt them (drug war), those designed with indifference toward them (minimum wage), and those designed to help them (public housing).

            I must confess, your argument sounds a lot like telling an abused wife not to leave the house where she gets beaten every week until and unless someone can guarantee she won’t get mugged on the way to the shelter.

          • jholbo

            To me it sounds more like a case of not telling someone to move from a situation which is, clearly, non-optimal, into a situation which looks like it’s likely to be worse. Ideal libertarianism would be much better than actually existing liberalism, granted. But actually existing libertarianism would be much worse than actually existing liberalism, because presumably it would to peopled by actually existing libertarians who are – on average – wobbly on the liberty issue, per the post. That’s the problem. (I don’t expect you to take my word for it. I’m just telling you how it looks to me. Clearly part of the difference of opinion is due to me not fully accepting the libertarian critique of actually existing liberalism. There are good public choice-style arguments out there, but also a lot of knee-jerk rhetoric of reaction – everything the government tries to do backfires! – which I don’t credit. For purposes of this discussion I’ve been leaning over backwards to accept libertarian critiques of liberalism, for the sake of the argument. For the sake of other arguments, I would be more resistant on that front.)

          • Sean II

            Juts one last thing: If the libertarian movement becomes anything, does anything, makes any progress against its enormous and entrenched opposition, it won’t be peopled by the people who you find wobbly on liberty, because that’s simply not enough people.

            The movement would have to grow massively to become any kind of a factor, and in doing so it would inevitably be peopled by a whole lot of different people, unlike those you see dancing ’round the blog pole now. Imagine what it might look like then.

          • martinbrock

            I disagree. A few hundred people is enough. A few thousand is more than enough. A few tens of thousands is enough to be as secure as any welfare state can make common people in the U.S. A free community can be as wealthy as common Americans as long as trade with people outside of the community is not restricted.

          • martinbrock

            I know what actually existing liberalism is, because it surrounds me. Your “actually existing libertarianism” is an ideal, because it does not surround me. It’s nothing but a figment of your imagination.

            My libertarianism is also a figment of my imagination, but I’m fully aware of this fact.

            If actually existing libertarianism actually exists anywhere, it exists to varying degrees in intentional communities withdrawing as much as possible from a state claiming to govern their resources. Have you ever seen one? I doubt it, because you definitely don’t describe them when you discuss “actually existing libertarianism”.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Yes, let’s consider the blacks in America.

            When American blacks were staging sit-ins to resist racial segregation, and the police were filling the jails with peaceful people demanding only to be treated as equals, libertarians took the wrong side every time. The libertarians took the side of the police — the side of the owners — the side of property-enforced injustice.

            When the people — note, not a “representative government,” but the people, directly — resist the private tyranny of property owners, libertarians will thoughtlessly take the wrong side every time.

          • Sean II

            FUN FACT: There were NO libertarians in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960. Ergo, there can have been no libertarians protesting against the integration of lunch counters in Greensboro North Carolina in 1960.

            At this point, you’re just using the word “libertarian” the way that Old Left liberals once used the word “fascist”, or the way that Tea Party hacks now use the word “socialist”.

            You’re just using it to mean “anyone who disagrees with me.”

          • WWW Du Bois

            On the contrary, TracyW has already taken to defending the segregationists.

          • TracyW

            In the same sense that the ACLU defends Nazis.

          • WWW Du Bois

            It doesn’t matter in what “sense” — the point is that your existence proves Sean II wrong.

          • TracyW

            I wasn’t even born in 1960.

          • martinbrock

            You deserve an honest answer here. I have no problem with voluntary racial segregation per se. Churches are still highly segregated. That wall is falling, but it’s falling of its own accord at its own speed, and I don’t see this speed as a problem.

            I doubt that most blacks would be worse off today if racist, private businesses had continued to discriminate openly after ’64. I doubt that many businesses would still be discriminating at this point, because discrimination is counter-productive financially. You might dispute this point, but you presumably agree that businesses never stopped discriminating.

            More explicit discrimination would have directed blacks away from the subtler discrimination that states can’t effectively police. Suing someone for this discrimination rarely succeeds, because proving it is too difficult, so you’re better off knowing that an employer is inclined to discriminate before the fact. The Civil Rights Act only effectively outlawed the advertising.

            There’s also Malcolm X and others arguing that blacks are better off within their own racially segregated communities until more whites get over their racism, and frankly, there are blacks who are themselves racist and prefer segregation.

          • Alex K.

            I should note that I don’t agree with martinblock above. I think that blacks _would_ in fact be worse of by the perpetuation of racist social norms.

            Therefore, I don’t have a problem with civil rights laws outlawing segregation. As long as the laws don’t have potentially serious downsides, I’m perfectly willing to use my utilitarian libertarian hat rather than my deontological libertarian hat.

            What I do have a problem with is the pretense that private discrimination has the same strength of corrosive effect as state instituted discrimination.

            But fleshing out such nuances don’t go well in a discussion of sensitive racial matters, which is why John Holbo’s post is more trolling than an attempt at serious engagement.

          • martinbrock

            My point is not that racist social norms don’t harm blacks. My point is that outlawing racism doesn’t change racists or their normative values. It only drives them into the closet. Blacks are better off when racism is out of the closet. The closet actually helps a racist discriminate more subtly.

          • Alex K.

            “My point is that outlawing racism doesn’t change racists or their normative values. It only drives them into the closet. ”

            I don’t agree. Casual racism can be eliminated this way. Indeed, such casual racism can be eliminated even by a coordinated boycott, like the “Don’t Buy Gas Where You Can’t Use the Restroom” boycott.

            But there is no good reason for forcing people to participate in such boycotts if they want service, when outlawing segregation has virtually no downside.

          • martinbrock

            The downside of outlawing segregation, if nothing else, is that people who want to segregate themselves are not free to do so; however, I don’t believe that outlawing racism actually ended racism, and many blacks don’t believe so either. Again, these laws only hide the racism and thus make blacks more vulnerable to it. We don’t know the harm done by racism that people can easily deny and must deny.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Desegregation laws make blacks more vulnerable to racism? Hmmmmm…

            You have no idea how absurd this kind of statement sounds to informed people. You sound like a cult-head. Truly, I tell you this not as an insult, but for your own benefit. (It does not further my cause to tell you so; but I do it anyway.)

            The racism involved in segregation isn’t about some kind of internal attitude. Many of those owners (and, indeed, governors) did not even want to segregate, but were merely conforming. What is important is actual power. Property-power. Police-power. Taking away the police powers of racists does not harm blacks; it harms racists.

            I will add that segregation of public spaces does not only directly harm blacks far more than any legally-impotent internal racist bias — it also validates racist attitudes and ideologies, and perpetuates them through generations. That is, segregation makes people racist. Your libertarian ideology is theoretically unequipped to deal with that fact, but there you have it.

          • WWW Du Bois

            “Outlawing racism” does not mean outlawing racist attitudes. It means denying police powers to racists. The purpose is not to protect racial minorities from “normative values.” The purpose is to protect racial minorities from property-based police actions.

            You say that denying police powers to racists merely “force[s them] to discriminate more subtly.” This is roughly correct.* But that is like saying that, by denying your enemies guns, they are forced to fight with their hands. In other words, it is not a defeat for blacks, but a victory.

            Blacks are not better off when racists have more police powers available to employ against them.

            [*] It’s actually true that removing social sanction of racism will reduce racist attitudes somewhat; and also that racist behaviors are often indicative of conformist attitudes rather than racist ones.

          • WWW Du Bois

            I’d like to point out that I deliberately brought up the case of direct resistance, by the people to segregation, not civil rights laws. So the state is not involved, except insofar as it protects property rights. As we can see above, the libertarians leaped in to defend — segregation.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Malcom X? Really?

            Friend, I tell you this with the utmost benevolence: you do not know what honesty is. You are just searching your head for debating points. You are not speaking from your knowledge.

            The idea that blacks did not benefit immensely from resisting property-based racist oppression is totally contrary to factual history, but unfortunately I cannot prove that here. I will just say that true honesty would require you to investigate this matter, rather than remain in ignorance of concrete history because you have settled on a plausible (to ignoramuses) debating point.

          • martinbrock

            You can’t benevolently call me a lying ignoramus, even if calling the accusation “benevolent” makes you feel better.

            Have you read the Autobiography of Malcolm X? How much do you know about W.E.B. DuBois and his debate with Marcus Garvey?

            I nowhere ever deny that blacks benefit from resisting property-based racism. I assert that blacks resist property-based racism more effectively when the property prominently advertises the proprietor’s racism.

            You may have the last word here.

          • WWW Du Bois

            I did not call you a lying ignoramus. I meant that your argument lacked intellectual honesty, not that it was a fabrication. I do, however, believe that your argument was ignorant, ahistorical, a prioristic — a version of the facts derived from libertarian theory, rather than an evaluation of the facts meant to validate or falsify libertarian theory.

            My statement of friendship was earnest. I meant no offense.

          • jholbo

            There was no one who called him or herself a ‘libertarian’ but there were vulgar libertarians, in a substantive sense. What sense is that? people who defend private regimes of oppression, and call it ‘defending liberty’ on the grounds that they are taking a principled stand against Mill’s ‘tyranny of the magistrate’ – in this case the Federal Government. If it’s too annoying to you, don’t call this ‘libertarianism’ – not even ‘vulgar libertariaism’. But recognize the concern that leads people to class this lot as libertarians-gone-wrong.

            I’ve only stated my thesis about a hundred times in this thread already, so probably people are getting tired of it: the concern is that libertarianism, the philosophy, is oddly handicapped, when it comes to championing the oppressed, because oppressors have such a systematic affinity for expressing themselves in libertarian-ish (call it what you will, but see it for what it is) idioms.

          • Sean II

            Ah, but Jim Crow was not a private regime of oppression, it was state sponsored all along the line. And the people who sponsored it were quite explicitly statist. The South was notorious for its non-libertarian antics in a whole range of activities, including alcohol prohibition, violations of the establishment cause, anti-free speech, sodomy laws, and plenty of economic interventionism on top of that.

            There’s a weird hindsight thing going on, where you seem to be saying “these days the only people who have anything nice to say about the confederacy are vulgar libertarians like Tom DiLorenzo. Thus, it is fair to describe the confederacy itself and the Jim Crow south as vulgar libertarian projects. After all, didn’t the defenders of those systems use the rhetoric of rights and freedoms?”

            But who in the history of America politics HASN’T cloaked his every proposal in terms of rights and freedoms? That’s just standard stump speech bullshit in this country.

            The New Deal was certainly marketed as a freedom agenda, and indeed as a “second bill of rights”. But you’re not out there saying libertarians need to watch out for the subtle way in which their philosophy is really a cloaking device for 1930s style Keynesians, are you?

          • TracyW

            And the ACLU took the wrong side of Nazis wanting to march.

            If you’re really on the side of freedom and autonomy, you have to be at least sometimes on the side of people using their freedom and autonomy to do things that you think are wrong. Otherwise you’re in favour of freedom to follow the rules.

          • WWW Du Bois

            But we’re not talking about people using their freedom and autonomy to do things; we’re talking about people using police to force blacks out of a restaurant.

            And of course, it was the blacks who were violating the rules. So your “freedom to follow the rules” comment here is positively bizarre. It’s the rules that were wrong; it’s the rules that were broken; it’s the police who enforced the rules. The rules were property rights.

            Freedom to follow the rules, indeed.

          • TracyW

            Hmm, I’m not sure what you think the distinction is between people using their freedom and autonomy to do things, versus people using police to force blacks out of a restaurant, unless you wish to apply the words “freedom” and “autonomy” to only “people doing things I approve of”; definitions that I think miss the point of freedom and autonomy.

            On the wording of “following rules”, how about I edit the paragraph to read:

            “If you’re really on the side of freedom and autonomy, you have to be at least sometimes on the side of people using their freedom and autonomy to do things that you think are wrong. Otherwise you’re in favour of freedom to follow your favoured rules.”


            I think that covers your complaint.

          • WWW Du Bois

            “Otherwise you’re in favour of freedom to follow your favoured rules.”

            Well, obviously. This is a direct consequence of the definitions of “freedom” and “rules.” If I’m in favor of a rule against something, I’m not in favor of the freedom to do that thing, as a simple matter of deductive logic.

            So, you’ve stooped to tautology in defense of segregationists. Pathetic.

            Your first phrasing was an emotional appeal to rebellion. “Freedom to follow the rules” is a tepid freedom, indeed.

            But since the youthful ideal of principled rebellion was entirely on the side of the blacks, the restaurant owners’ rebellion was more in the nature of — Confederate rebellion. Neither a freedom to follow the rules, nor a freedom to break them. Just a freedom to dominate — the freedom of the strong to enforce the submission of the weak.

            In short, propertarian mindlessness. Let me clue you in, OK? The German constitution says that property ownership carries social obligations. Society has no reason to respect a property claim that is wielded as an anti-social instrument of oppression. And although no such principle is encoded in the USA constitution, we still aren’t going to put up with segregationist barbarism in our midst. Segregate your business and you lose your property rights: it’s as simple as that.

            The libertarian is someone who believes he has a right to impose the principle exactly opposite of the German constitution — that is, to force on others a recognition of their property rights, without him recognizing any corresponding obligations to those others. The libertarian believes that property is not a social arrangement negotiated to mutual benefit, but that the owner is sovereign and imposes his rule unilaterally.

            But if the owner is sovereign then he must stand to the world as a sovereign, and defend himself as sovereign. In short, by declaring his sovereignty he opens himself to war. And we, the niggers of the world, do declare war on sovereign libertarian segregationists. This is our sovereign right. Desegregate or be conquered.

          • TracyW

            This is a direct consequence of the definitions of “freedom” and “rules.” If I’m in favor of a rule against something, I’m not in favor of the freedom to do that thing,

            Indeed. But if you think that everything you are against should have a rule forbidding it, then you’re not in favour of freedom or autonomy at all, which was the point I was arguing.

            This is quite a different idea to Voltaire’s “I disapprove of what you say, but I’d defend to the death your right to say it.”

            The problem with your “Society has no reason to respect a property claim that is wielded as an anti-social instrument of oppression.” is that the definition of what is anti-social instrument of oppression tends to change as our understanding of society changes. How about when people use their property rights to start Jesuit colleges? There was a long period in English history when being Catholic was regarded as an anti-social instrument of oppression or potential oppression. There was a time when homosexuals were regarded as corrupters of youth, to be stamped out.

            The libertarian believes that property is not a social arrangement negotiated to mutual benefit

            A belief system which I have some sympathy with, as one of the issues of society is how to get along when we can’t agree on the definition of mutual benefit.

            You appear to assume that it’s only the good guys who get to define what is social benefit. History does not support you.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Oh, you again. Here to tell me what “history” says.

            You take black people for fools, who don’t know whether we’re being oppressed. You think you can sing a song about definitions changing over time, to keep us from demanding our rights.

            We are not so foolish.

          • TracyW

            Oh come on, read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography or Frederick Douglas’s autobiography (to pick just two famous ones) and then try to tell me with a straight face that those guys didn’t know they were being oppressed.
            And if song-singing was so effective, how do you explain these images?

          • WWW Du Bois

            Wow. You are totally oblivious to what is going on in this conversation.

            You said that blacks were too stupid to understand whether they were being oppressed. You said, “the definition of what is anti-social instrument of oppression tends to change as our understanding of society changes. How about when people use their property rights to start Jesuit colleges? There was a long period in English history when being Catholic was regarded as an anti-social instrument of oppression or potential oppression”

            Are you really so stupid that you don’t understand what is going on? Or are you being deliberately stupid so that you don’t have to own up to your statements?

            Either way, this will be my last post to you.

          • TracyW

            You keep changing your mind about what you say I said. Furthermore, your assertions about what I believe contradict what I know about the history of the civil rights movement, which is of intelligent black people openly struggling against oppression and discrimination. If you’re not convinced by my examples of Frederick Douglass or Nelson Mandela, let me give you another example, W.E.B. du Bois (I suspect the inspiration for your handle) got a PhD from Harvard, and by his writings strikes me as having thoroughly deserved it for his intellect.

            As for my statements, I am happy to own up to my statements that Frederick Douglass and Nelson Mandela knew they were being oppressed, that I personally gain from greater social integration, that whites used terrible violence including murder to try to enforce white supremist laws and segregation (as per the Birmingham link I provided), and that the people in power have often used ideas about anti-social instruments (if not the exact same language) to “justify” violating minorities’ property rights.

          • WWW Du Bois

            And in the end, I don’t even know whether your total failure of reading comprehension failure is deliberate or honest. Of course, it’s certainly a convenient mistake you’re making.

            I will just reiterate what happened, not for you, but for any audience we might have:

            (1) You are arguing in favor of the jailing of the black people who demanded service at the white counter, because they were violating property law.

            (2) In defense of those blacks, I say: “Society has no reason to respect a property claim that is wielded as an anti-social instrument of oppression”

            (3) In response to this, you say: “The problem with your “Society has no reason to respect a property claim that is wielded as an anti-social instrument of oppression.” is that the definition of what is anti-social instrument of oppression tends to change as our understanding of society changes.”

            Thus, you are saying that the problem with the blacks demanding service at the white counter is that their own conception that they are resisting oppression is questionable.

            But it seems you have conveniently forgotten that that is what you said…

          • TracyW

            Ah, I stupidly did not realise that you would take that interpretation of what I said, though I should have anticipated it ahead of time. I agree with you entirely that blacks had the correct conception that they were resisting oppression, the authors I cited and other blacks I have read or heard speak were extremely clear on the topic, and the poverty of the arguments produced by the white supremists (in my life-time this included the South African government, which due to the rugby factor showed up in NZ debate a lot) makes the blacks’ cases even more compelling.

            My point was that the idea that social oppression as a reason to violate property rights is one that is often used by the people in power to violate the rights of minorities. The segregation in the Southern US was imposed by white supremists who re-took the government after the US Civil War and violated people’s own property rights, and they did it because they believed that there was something wrong about the races associating on grounds of equality. Whites in South Africa did similar things, the law there forbidding sexual relations between races was even called the Immorality Act. Violating property rights was started not by blacks, but by whites. In the case of lunch counters, the blacks had excellent reasons for forcing integration, but enshrining the general principle in a constitution strikes me as dangerous given the history of such ideas, what is worthwhile doing in a terrible situation, such as that faced by blacks in southern USA, is not necessarily good as a general rule.

          • WWW Du Bois

            So now your position is that “In the case of lunch counters, the blacks had excellent reasons for forcing integration.”

            Well, indeed they did. But if you accept that, then you have conceded the argument. And you really ought to re-think libertarian principles — because they do not allow such a thing.

          • TracyW

            And yet I find the thought that private property rights can be ignored on the basis that society has declared something to be an instrument of social oppression a very worrying one, given its history of being used by the people in power against disliked minorities.

          • WWW Du Bois

            “society has declared”

            Man, you have got to get your head straightened out. “Society” didn’t “declare” anything. The people who were being oppressed — by property rights — resisted. They refused to put up with propertarian oppression.

            What you say about property is true about the entirety of law: yes, the law is used by the strong to oppress the weak. But when a popular movement resists the oppression of the law, and succeeds in changing the law, then you say “oh no, we can’t have a popular movement resist oppression by changing the law — because the law has a history of being used by the people in power against disliked minorities.” It’s ridiculous! You’re saying this in order to keep the law in a state where it does oppress us!

            It’s all the more absurd since, of course, property rights have a history of being used by the people in power against disliked minorities.

          • TracyW

            Good point, I should have written “government”, not society.

            On the topic of popular movements resisting oppression by changing the law, I think you meant to write “popular movements resisting oppression by breaking the law”. You are making a fairly convincing case for breaking the law in cases where people are excluded from political power, as a way of moving towards that political power (I am thinking here of civil disobedience of course, such as Martin Luther King did, not . But once people have political power, the case strikes me as rather weaker, and the dangers rather worse.

            As for property rights being used by people in power against minorities, what’s your counter-factual? Because equality for all strikes me as being far more often the rule in cultures based on property rights – eg feminism, gay rights, black guy being president of the USA, than on cultures that aren’t.

          • WWW Du Bois

            The doublethink in your post here is just astounding.

            Do you even know whether you are attacking or defending the status quo of USA desegregation laws?

            It is totally incoherent for you to put forth the USA as an example of “cultures based on property rights,” in this context.

            You are arguing that the civil rights laws of the USA ought to be overturned in the name of property rights. I am left almost speechless by the fact that you are holding forward the society you wish to be reformed, on the basis that its success proves the success of the reform which you are demanding!

            The USA is a nation that chose civil rights instead of property rights, 50 years before it got its black president.

          • TracyW

            Do you even know whether you are attacking or defending the status quo of USA desegregation laws?

            To answer your question, I don’t know, I’m torn in two directions, on the one side by the history of US segregation, on the other hand by my fears about how governments have used violations of property rights to enforce discrimination against groups (in the name of social protection) in the past. You say that 50 years ago the USA chose civil rights instead of property rights. But very shortly before that, the USA was chosing to violate civil rights by violating property rights (amongst other ways), and the change of 50 years ago did not apply to gays or lesbians.

            You question putting the US forward as an example of a culture based on property rights, may I refer you to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom? You can sort this index by the property rights sub-index, and the USA ranks about 20th in the world by that sub-index. This sort of thing is why I think the USA is more on the side of property rights. I am also not merely looking at the USA, for example the UK, New Zealand and Australia have had women as prime ministers, Ireland and Germany as elected heads of state, legalisation of homosexuality happened first in Western countries, meanwhile countries such as Malayasia still heartily discriminate based on race against their Chinese inhabitants, Fiji against Indian inhabitants, etc. The USA is just one country, with its own unique history and ins and outs, it’s not wise to look just at it.

            On your other points, from your tone and from other things you have said in other comments, you are giving me the impression that you are rather unfamiliar with contemplating the possibilty that you might be wrong.

      • Living in Texas, which still has elements of the frontiersman mentality, I come up against Vulgar Libertarians all the time. They have no interest in social freedoms or other personal autonomy issues. Their main animus is against The Feds, replete with tales of interference, confiscatory behavior etc. A lot of self-identified Tea Party supporters are in this category. In some respects, talking to these kinds of people is like conversing with adolescents. They’re not even sure half the time about what it is they’re rebelling against, but if it is any body looking like a government that costs them money, then it must be Bad.
        Vulgar Libertarians are the ones that make libertarianism toxic to many progressives and modern liberals. To those people, it looks like the libertarian party has a bunch of deeply unattractive crazies in the nest.

    • Johan Tibbelin

      Just have to stick in an observation. Here in Sweden it´s the other way around. If you define the oppressed groups as those people from very very poor countries who would, given the right, move to sweden and work for money. The oppressing act is the policy that effectively keeps them from working here in sweden. Allright. Who is doing the oppression here in sweden? Here the list: The Union, the socialdemokratic party the rulling rightwing government( they have actually made pro immigration laws but not enough …) The socialdemocratic womens group, the socialdemocratic christians…..etc etc….Now maybe this is against the core of high liberalism but in sweden the high liberal paradigm is not primarily “kidnapped” and missused by people who actually only wants to keep their power and property and propertylike right (OR IS IT…is my story to forgiving ?) But all these groups are subscribing to high liberal Ideas. And the argument -in defense for these acts of oppression- from the socialdemocratic union and other is.: if we would let poor people in on our geographical territory to work for a wage that they can get given their productivity we would greatlly increase the economic inequality in sweden …. The other High liberal response is that, not letting poor people work in sweden is actually to protect them from exploitation. ( why not ask the potential immigrants what they want….aren´t the riisks they take in trying to get in to europe an expression of their opinion on this matter of exploitation….)

      I think it.s fair to say: High liberalism has a strong tendency to be the exact opposite of what high liberal academics and intellectuals and artists and and…says it is. It has a strong tendency to be exactly what Union bosses say -behind locked doors- it IS supposed to be, It has a strong tendency to be incorporated in rght wing extremist wellfare parties……etc……high liberalism has a strong tendency to not exist at all in the real world…

      Sorry got worked up…Some one in this debate pointed out that maybe it all depends on historical circumstances….well maybe someone could modell ideas on abstract historical circumstances to predict then differnet ideas have a tendency to go wrong….Is´n that at least nicer than hermeneutic paranoia ( we got a great deal of that in sweden and that did not prevent a krypto fascist wellfare party to get a seat in parlament )

  • martinbrock

    I hope this symposium soon returns to left-libertarianism as opposed to a refutation of libertarianism generally.

  • Jod

    Holbo is right to worry about this–Libertarian principles can be deployed for bad purposes. Let me give an example from a different context (to avoid American race issues). A consistently libertarian writer, Gandhi, made use of the line ‘the government that governs least governs best’. It is hard to miss that his theory of village level autarchy left the bulk of the responsibility for protecting the most vulnerable to the the vulnerable themselves, and he was widely distrusted by the untouchables and the moslems for this reason (and European Jews, who didn’t much appreciate his invitation to noble martyrdom). They were not right to have a hermeneutics of suspicion–Gandhi was consistent in his libertarianism and was so for the right reasons, but his ideal would have served the interests of many who were so for the wrong reasons.

    • martinbrock

      The most vulnerable are most vulnerable to the most powerful. These people cannot be responsible for themselves until they are less vulnerable to the most powerful. Expecting the most powerful to be responsible for them is incredible. The most powerful are the ones exploiting them.

      • jod

        Yes, often. But often the powerful state can protect weak minorities from abuse by majorities or by powerful actors within the state. The cops can arrest a husband who is beating up his wife. etc.

        • martinbrock

          States always protect minorities from majorities. I’ll give you that much.

          Cops almost never arrest husbands beating up their wives. They typically arrest husbands who have already beaten up their wives. That’s fine with me within a community in which people agree that husbands must not beat up their wives, and I expect to find practically all women in these communities when they’re free to choose. Freeing them to choose is what libertarianism is all about.

          On the other hand, there are still plenty of states more inclined to side with the husband beating up his wife.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Freeing people to flee their communities to become refugees from oppression is an inferior kind of freedom. We should prefer that people be protected where they are.

            And libertarianism is not friendly to refugees anyway.

          • martinbrock

            How do you know how I want to protected? You haven’t asked me.

            Libertarianism is very friendly to refugees. See. I can make blanket assertions too.

          • WWW Du Bois

            Libertarianism is not friendly to refugees, because under libertarianism all human rights derive from property rights. Refugees have no effective property rights, and therefore no rights under libertarianism.

          • martinbrock

            All human rights do not derive from property rights under libertarianism. Refugees have rights to their labor under practically every formulation of libertarianism, and most libertarians support open borders between nation-states.

          • WWW Du Bois

            You are mistaken about the implications of your own system.

            Under libertarianism, if you are on my property, then I can demand that you labor for me as a condition of your continuing to be where you are.

            A refugee, who has no property of his own to stand on, has no rights whatsoever. He must obey fully the “law of the land” on which he stands — that is, the dictates of the owner — who can demand any thing of him (his labor, his sexual submission, whatever).

          • martinbrock

            Land has a marginal value, and the land’s owner is entitled to this marginal value, but libertarianism does not imply an individual owner. I know you’ve heard that a lot, but presenting another view is the whole point of this symposium, and I’m trying to present the other view here.

            A land owner, individual or otherwise, is not entitled to the marginal value of another person’s labor in a free market. He is entitled to both the marginal value of land and the marginal value of his own labor, and with this greater entitlement, he can seek statutory rents more effectively, and these other rents can tax the labor of other people. An owner of much land can also tax the land of owners of less land.

            Immigrants come to the U.S. with nothing and earn wealth every day. Your characterization of the predicament of immigrants is grotesquely incredible. Illegal immigrants sometimes suffer this way largely because they are illegal, but the farmers whose crops they pick typically aren’t the ones raping them.

          • WWW Du Bois

            You’re not informing me of anything, nor addressing the facts as I stated them previously.

            The litany of factual errors you present is tedious to address. (1) Refugees and immigrants are not the same thing. (2) Illegal immigrants in the USA are in fact subjected to workplace sexual harrassment and workplace rape at much higher rates than the legal population. (3) I was not talking about rights in the USA; I was talking about rights under libertarian theory. (4) Refugee status in the USA entitles the refugee to direct cash benefits from the federal government and many state government programs.

            Meanwhile, you have not actually disputed the fact as I stated it: refugees have no rights under libertarianism, because all rights derive from property. With no property of your own to stand on, you have no legal rights.

            I will admit, actually, that you have the legal rights of a trespasser: the right against unnecessary or excessive violence. That is, you have a right to be evicted without undue violence. You may even have the rights of a criminal, to due process, a fair trial, etc. But you have no right against eviction, nor against the violence necessary to evict you. Thus I consider these rights trivial in this context, and unworthy of consideration.

            As I said, you do not have a right to your own labor. A right is not a right that is contingent. If someone needs to agree to give it to you, in order for you to have it, then it is not a right. If you are a tenant or even merely a visitor on land whose conditions of occupancy are the surrender of every product of your human labor, the libertarian police (unlike the USA police! In the USA, tenants have inalienable rights) will enforce this term of contract.

            Actual nations such as the USA have a commons into which to evict refugees (if nothing else, the streets), but libertarianism does not. In libertopia, the streets are private, and refugees can, from the streets, be evicted into the ocean, or into death valley — or else must accept whatever terms are offerred to them by the land owners. They have no rights, because all rights attach to land ownership. They have no more “rights” than the land owners choose to grant to them. Such are not rights at all.

          • Jod

            That is precicely the sort of thing Gandhi would say. He would go on to say that I am stronger for not being protected. I applaud it as a sentiment, but I’m not as brave as you (and often I suspect that the brave are really those who, under current conditions, don’t think they would be oppressed by their communities in the absence of the state).

          • martinbrock

            Well, I assume in this utopia that I can always escape a community. I don’t assume that I can escape a state, so I feel less secure in a state rather than more so.

            But I understand an inconsistency in this way of thinking. I’m not strictly an anarchist. By assuming that I can escape a community, I assume a minimal state protecting my right to life and some sort of habeas corpus right when my community is unhappy with me. This minimal state rescues me from the community only long enough for me to find another community willing to accept me.

            If I can’t find another community, the minimal state returns me to my community unless I prefer to die. I don’t feel less secure in this predicament than subject to a more comprehensive state, because a more comprehensive state is just a community that I cannot escape.