I gave a talk yesterday about Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know at the Cato Institute, with comments from Aaron Ross Powell (Cato) and Tom Merrill (American University).

Video here:  http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=9210

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  • martinbrock

    I was surprised to learn that “libertarian” is less popular among self-identified “Republicans” than among “Democrats”, but on second thought, I wasn’t so surprised.

    • StudiodeKadent

      Perhaps it is because Republicans might consider libertarians a subset of Republican-oriented voters and thus be inclined to encourage libertarians to indentify as Republican first and foremost?
      That said, you can find ideologically libertarian persons in both the Republican and Democratic parties. And, on occasion, both major party supports a libertarian cause or two.

      • martinbrock

        Republicans despise libertarians in my experience, but I live in the southeast. Certainly, much of the religious right and neoconservative factions of the party want no alliance with us. Democrats take the African-American vote for granted, but at least they say nice things about their subject constituency. Republicans routinely spit in the face of libertarians.

  • Sean II

    A couple things I liked about this post.

    1) Great discussion in the book forum. I think Merrill is really onto something when he challenged you to produce evidence that even one Rawlsian has been persuaded to leave the Center for American Progress and join Cato, owing to the labors of BHL.

    2) I really loved how this post was in no way deleted. I’m not sure how you could have guessed this about me, but today is my birthday, and as it turns out my favorite type of post is the undeleted kind. So that was a treat.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

      The other post had a bunch of attacks on uninvolved third parties. For some reason, I couldn’t delete those individual offending posts and couldn’t get comments to shut off, so I had to cut the entire post.

      • Sean II

        I’m sorry. I was just trying to make light of the matter. There’s no reason to think that thread was about to provide an answer to the great mysteries of life, so no one need mourn the loss.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

      P.S. The purpose of BHL is not to win hearts and minds. It’s just to say what we think is true.

      • Sean II

        Of course, but don’t you nurture a hope that what is true may also prove to be persuasive? And isn’t there a bit of extra capacity with which to pursue those hearts and minds, in between bouts of truth seeking?

      • Sean II

        On second thought, I don’t buy that. Have you ever noticed just how much of the content here, above the line and below, is devoted to movement strategy and hygiene.

        Someone’s always saying “don’t call it an invisible hand, that turns people off” or “for this outreach to succeed, we need to appeal to X, Y, and Z.”

        I’d forgotten that somehow, but Horowitz’s essay just reminded me. It seems a whole bunch of people here do think winning hearts and minds is part of the bargain.

  • StudiodeKadent

    Great discussion!

    I will say so, and I admit this is because I’m an (open-system) Objectivist.. I think you’re a bit harsh towards Ayn Rand. Her definition of ‘selfishness’ isn’t so bizarre, if you’re understanding “selfish” as “egoistic.” Aristotle and Spinoza were both Egoists and believed that one’s interests included the interests of other people.

    I agree that Rand’s definition of ‘selfish’ was in contrast to common usage, but philosophically speaking it wasn’t so esoteric that it lacked any precedent at all.

    I’d suggest reading Dr. David Kelley’s “Unrugged Individualism; the Selfish Basis of Benevolence” for more on this.

    Also, Rand focussed a lot on positive liberty, in the sense of enabling individuals to live their own lives – The Fountainhead is all about cultural individualism and the kind of mental independence required to live one’s own life on one’s own terms when one’s own terms conflict with those of the popularly-embraced culture. Honestly, I think Objectivists themselves need to remind people of this positive-liberty message… too many people forget it.

    Otherwise, I think the discussion was great.

    • Sean II

      The thing about Rand’s use of the term selfishness – and one could debate this from a marketing standpoint – is that she probably chose it as part of her eternal quest to be provocative. Other terms were available, but she chose that one, and then used it in a way that far exceeded its consensus definition specs.

      If she hadn’t been provocative, we wouldn’t know her, and quite possibly we wouldn’t even be here talking. For every one person who came to libertarianism via Nozick, there have to be at least thirty who came because of Rand.

      A lot of the BHL’ers, and probably Brennan it seems, might take the view “Why would Rand do that? Why would she choose to market her system using a word that is morally toxic to millions of would-be converts all over the world? Why would she use a word that is a universal synonym for mean people? That’s no way to make new friends!”

      Now, if Rand had been a BHL blogger, she wouldn’t have called it “selfishness”. She would have called it “A Thick Conception of Autonomistic Eudaimonia in a Post-State Order” or something like that. And while that doesn’t automatically piss everybody off, it has the disadvantage that no more than 3,000 on planet earth would ever hear about it.

      So, you know, pick your poison.

      • StudiodeKadent

        Sean II,

        I absolutely agree. Rand was being deliberately provocative. She loved to shock, and I think many libertarians have retained this habit of transgressive glee (I admit I share it as well, and it is something libertarians in general tend to have, partially due to the libertarian movement’s counterculture roots).

        I also agree Rand’s provocativeness was one of the reasons for her success. Dry academic treatises don’t fire up the imagination and spirit in the way that Rand’s fiction and polemic does.

        I agree that BHLers would use far more diplomatic, and philosophically precise, terms to describe her moral system (I love your characterization of Rand’s ethics, by the way. “A thick conception of autonomistic eudaimonia” is a brilliant way to put it).

        Still, I think that instead of coming off as apologizing for Rand, a better way to present an integration of Randian ideas into the BHL project is to point out that Rand’s “selfishness” was an enlightened, rational self-interest rather than marginalize the ideas she promoted as “esoteric.”

        Sure, her use of “selfish” was absolutely provocative… and like many Objectivists I think she should’ve chosen a less provocative term… but she had reasons besides shock value to choose it.. if “selfish” and “selfless” are synonymous with “evil” and “good” there’s no conceptual space for non-predatory self-interest. Rand sort of provided a very necessary dose of intellectual shock therapy.
        Anyway, I’m still sympathetic to the BHL project.

        • Sean II

          I feel ya’, but would it have killed her to call that book “The Virtue of Self-Fulfillment” or “The Virtue of Pursuing Happiness” or “You Have a Right to Exist” (that last one might have sold pretty well in the 1970s).

          • StudiodeKadent

            Would it? Rand was a well-known author at the time. I don’t think that it would’ve KILLED sales for her to use a less provocative title. That said, I agree that the provocative title has clearly helped the book’s noteriety, albiet at the cost of encouraging a lot of distortion of the book’s message.

        • martinbrock

          I wonder if “philosophically precise” is the superlative that Sean II has in mind. “Sublimely obfuscatory” leaps to my mind.

          I give Rand points for plain-speaking. Selfishness isn’t my problem with her. She wants to elevate a class of Creators, particularly people like herself, to a new nobility with countless of statutory entitlements. Howard Roark can destroy the fruit of countless people’s labor, because their labor is ultimately subordinate to his. If I get to blow up your laptop because it has my software on it and you don’t respect my terms of service after clicking the “Accept” button without reading them, I can make a pretty penny selling people the right to have their laptops blown up.

  • George Balella

    Two questions I have for libertarians… I have many more: First if it is such a good way to order society how come after so many thousands of years of civilization it has never took hold in any single country? Second the natural progression of libertarianism seems logically to likely be feudalism. At some point all property and all means of production are held by an elite few…. thus kind of an answer to my first question. We have seen libertarianism and it was called manorialism.

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