Revitalizing Liberalism

Our friends at the Niskanen Center have launched a new program on “Revitalizing Liberalism” amidst the current crisis, led by our former guest-blogger and one of the earliest “liberaltarians” (back before “bleeding-heart libertarians” was a glimmer of a name in Matt Zwolinski’s eye) Will Wilkinson.

As Wilkinson puts it:

Hayek writes:

If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations. What at one time are their most effective expressions gradually become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning. The underlying ideas may be as valid as ever, but the words, even when they refer to problems that are still with us, no longer convey the same conviction; the arguments do not move in a context familiar to us; and they rarely give us direct answers to the questions we are asking. This may be inevitable because no statement of an ideal that is likely to sway men’s minds can be complete: it must be adapted to a given climate of opinion, presuppose much that is accepted by all men of the time, and illustrate general principles in terms of issues with which they are concerned.

Hayek is saying that his big book restating some “old truths” was necessary in 1959 because making the case for liberalism is a Sisyphean task. If the old truths are not updated for each new age, they will slip from our grasp and lose our allegiance. The terms in which those truths have been couched will become hollow, potted mottoes, will fail to galvanize, inspire, and move us. The old truths will remain truths, but they’ll be dismissed and neglected as mere dogma, noise. And the liberal, open society will again face a crisis of faith…

That’s why we at the Niskanen Center are digging in our heels and putting our backs into the restatement, revitalization, and defense of the ideals and institutions of the open, liberal, democratic, cosmopolitan, commercial society in the age of Brexit and Trump. This means we’ll be weighing in a lot more on the tent-pole principles of liberalism—the rule of law, freedom of conscience, toleration and mutual accommodation, limited government, economic freedom, separation of powers, free speech, the value of truth, etc.

As far as I’m concerned this is both true and urgently important.

I would connect all of this with the relative underdevelopment of political science (including political theory) in the broad humane-science approach to liberal social orders. Intellectual investments in that approach have been overwhelmingly in economics, followed by law and philosophy, probably in that order. Compared to commercial markets, the interpretation of the US Constitution, the economics of private law, or rights theory and the meaning of justice, there has simply been very much less work on political and constitutional institutions, norms, rules, and practices. The sources and stability of liberal political culture, the durability of the institutions that house a free social order, and the fragility or robustness of constitutional government have to be central topics of liberal social theory.

We thus need restatements of core principles as well as thought about adaptation to contemporary challenges, and scholarship that builds over the long term toward more sophisticated understanding of all these questions. I think the Niskanen project is a promising way to start making progress, and so I’ll be contributing to it. My first post, the inaugural one of the project, is now up: “Authoritarianism and Post-Truth Politics.”

  • Sean II

    This “post-truth” nonsense is the biggest lie going right now.

    First of all, the whole premise is wrong. There was never a time when truth mattered in politics. Lying has always been an essential part of the process. To win elections you have got to build coalitions out of interests groups with mutually exclusive aims, and the only way to do that is by bullshitting some or all of them. One must have a private position and a public position (or really a series of different public positions) to borrow a phrase whose origin I can’t quite remember. So it is now, was then, and ever shall be. The notion that anything’s changed of late is ridiculous.

    Second and more importantly, the distinctive thing about Trump was not his propensity for bullshit (for he shares that with everyone who ever campaigned for elective office). The odd and, for many people of the “literally shaking” variety, the deeply upsetting thing about Trump was his refusal to take part in the recitation of certain sacred forms of bullshit. The whole drama of this election consisted of various incidents in which Trump would make a Kinsley gaffe by not lying in the properly sanctified way (or by not lying well enough), and then by refusing to perform the usual act of contrition when caught.

    In other words, the big story here is roughly the opposite of what you imagine. What makes 2016 unusual is not a fresh flood of bullshit, but a sudden deluge of candor. Nobody captured this better than the people behind that fake Hillary twitter account, when in one 140-character string they showed how the thing that Trump’s fans like about him is exactly the same thing that sends his opponents into such a panicky rage: “Still can’t believe the voters are going for a con man who doesn’t even practice strict message discipline with slick, pre-packaged talking points!”

    Third, and not unimportantly, this “post-truth” crap is – in addition to not being an accurate or interesting way to describe 2016 – is also part of preparatory barrage against free speech. Along with all the solemn fakery surrounding “fake news”, it’s really just a catch-phrase to rally people threatened by dis-intermediated communications…which is to say, people who long for a time when gatekeepers had the power – not to ensure people only hear the truth, for no one ever uses that power in such a way – but to ensure people only ever hear an approved set of lies.

    Libertarians should go out of their way to avoid echoing that sentiment, for the most obvious reason: we’re screwed more completely than anyone, if censors ever get their hands on the web.

    • urstoff

      I generally agree with this, although let’s not confusing Trump’s refusal to play into most conventions of political behavior with telling the truth. I don’t see much of a reason to think that his flood of boorishness and “candor” was in any way honest in the sense of him saying things that he really believes instead of just lying in a more unconventional way.

      • Sean II

        Of course. Candor in this context is not the same thing as accuracy.

        The first simply means: “saying what’s on your mind, without all the usual processing, sanitization, strategic calculation, etc”.

        The second means: ” consistently making statements that withstand a rigorous comparison to reality.”

        NO ONE in politics does the latter.

        Most people in politics do neither.

        The only reason why Trump ever got enough media attention to get his campaign through the early going is because, at least for a time, he really was candid in the sense of just blurting shit out as it came into his head.

        • King Goat

          I think you’re right that people liked his candor per your first definition and reacted negatively to what they saw as Clinton’s politics as usual messaging. But beyond perception there’s this question. You concede Trump was as dishonest as any other pol. You also say that usually that dishonesty in pols comes actually from electorally necessity, so it’s calculated. If Trump is, as you say, just blurting things out instead, shouldn’t that be more concerning? He doesn’t even have the excuse that it’s all a necessary evil in a complex political chess game- he’s just kind of constitutionally a bullshitter.

          • Sean II

            “You also say that usually that dishonesty in pols comes actually from electorally necessity, so it’s calculated. If Trump is, as you say, just blurting things out instead, shouldn’t that be more concerning…[because] he’s just kind of constitutionally a bullshitter.”

            Great question. Let’s have some Ideological Turing Test fun with it.

            I have an answer. A “complete defense”, as the lawyers might say. See if you can guess what it is.

            Hint: start with the biggest and most fundamental differences you can find in our world-views.

          • King Goat

            Not up for such a coy game, thought you might supply what people in normal conversation call ‘an answer’ to my question.

          • Sean II

            C’mon, be a good sport. Try. You said in some other thread a few days back that my responses were easy to predict.

            I’m offering you a good natured chance to prove that, and to prove you actually understand the people you disagree with.

            Give it a try, at least. The other way of communicating – thrust, parry, all that stuff – is something we can do any old time.

          • King Goat

            Your response to identity politics, yes. You’ve been quite coy on Trump though. So, again, not willing to play, but happy to hear an actual answer.

          • Sean II

            You’re very close. Look at the part of my thinking which you think of as a “identitarian”, go back to a higher level of abstraction, and the answer is right there.

            I’ll give you a big hint by shortening your quote so the key words stand out more: “dishonesty in pols comes from necessity, so it’s calculated [but what if instead Trump is just] constitutionally a bullshitter.”

            You already know I dispute the premise of that question. Now just try to guess how.

          • King Goat

            Of course I don’t know you dispute the premise, as it was your own up thread.

          • Sean II

            Okay here’s my answer:

            Trump is a bullshitter by nature, but so are they all.

            It’s a mistake – a rather classic environmentalist mistake – to think that the millieu of politics turns honest people into liars. No. Rather what it does is create a game which natural born bullshitters are more likely to win. It’s a kind of trait selection.

            Remember, it’s not just about who is willing to bullshit. It’s about who can bullshit naturally and persuasively.

            Good place to look: one term presidents. Carter was hardly an honest man, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Reagan in terms of breezy bullshit production. Likewise H.W. Bush vs Bill Clinton. The former was basically a bureaucrat who’d resigned himself to the necessity of communicating with public the through bullshit. But he was never great at it…so when he came up against Elmer Gantry, he got crushed.

            Anyway, the predictable part of this is: here comes Sean, once again using a trait-based explanation, where the key thing is not culture or environment but what kind of people are involved?

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            This is remarkable! You know, I’ve heard a lot of simple Grand Unified Theories of presidential elections, everything from “America doesn’t like an angry president” to slightly more ambitious ones involving an economic indicator and so forth. But I have actually never heard this one, as glaringly obvious as it should be. The more natural bullshitter wins. I can only think of the following exceptions:

            1924 Calvin Coolidge d. James Davis, Robert LaFollette: Don’t know much about Davis, but there have been few men who aspired to be president who have been less full of shit than Coolidge, nor more full of shit than LaFollette

            1928 Herbert Hoover d. Al Smith: Oh hell no

            Other than that, I think you have covered the entire history of active candidate campaigning, 1896 to the present.

          • Sean II

            And since those exceptions mostly pre-date the era of effective mass communication, I’m not surprised. Probably there’s a break somewhere such that:

            a) Pre Radio & Television – the key political skill was winning over faction leaders, party hacks, etc.

            b) Post Radio & Television – the key is being a Constanza-level bullshitter.

    • King Goat

      Re the ‘fake news’ issue. I’m sure some of that is fakery and a big dollop of tradional journalism’s broader anxiety over what they see as a diminished role, but certainly a lot of it is not. It’s a long standing liberal concern that a threat to democracy is an uninformed polity and a press situation that abets that. People believing in total bullshit stories, not just ‘slanted presentation stories,’ really is a problem for democracy. If those stories really have a newer, more disinforming medium pumping them out there, that’s worth a look and a care ( though of course any proposed response should be scrutinized with pro liberty criteria).

      • Sean II

        “People believing in total bullshit stories, not just ‘slanted presentation stories,’ really is a problem for democracy.”

        Big unsupported assumption there.

        It’s quite likely that slanted stories (especially where there are just one or two dominant angles) are the greater harm by virtue of:

        a) Moving large numbers of people toward similar conclusions, and
        b) Maintaining a veneer of validity precisely because they stop short of total bullshit.

        Complete bullshit, by contrast, has far less organizing/mobilization potential… as long as no one bullshitter or group of bullshitters has a chance to monopolize the means of communication.

        Consider an obvious triad of recent examples: the Rolling Stone Hoax on one hand, and “Spirit Cooking” plus Trump-Raped-a-13 Year Old-Girl-on-Secret Pedophile-Island, on the other.

        The latter two were total bullshit, but precisely because of that, three things happened: 1) most people never believed them, 2) almost no one important ever believed them, and 3) even among the few unimportant people who did believe them, most got backed off the story in a matter of hours and days.

        Meanwhile the UVA thing, precisely because it came packaged as an ordinary piece of mainstream journalism in which slant was possible, but whole-cloth fabrication surely not!…well, that one fooled most people at first, and continued to fool many people for months – including a disproportionate share of important people and important organized groups, the rest of the media conspicuously among them.

        Most importantly: the only reason why we ever found out the Rolling Stone story was bullshit is because a little army of basement-dwelling fakers refused to let it go. Had that same hoax been perpetrated in 1984, we would never have learned the truth, and probably there would be some godawful piece of moral panic legislation still on the books – “Jackie’s Law”, I’m sure.

        We don’t agree on much, Goat, but I’m sure you share my suspicion that many of those basement-dweller skeptics who busted the UVA story also happen to be big fans of InfoWars, Russia Today, and the like?

        But guess where that leads us? Right back to that most classically liberal of arguments, the one that says: instead of focusing of getting “the right people” in charge (of the news, government, whatever), we should work for an arrangement where various groups of the wrong people are poised against each other, so that each group (of bullshitters) frustrates the aims of its rivals, and so no that none of them get the power to make their interest (or brand of bullshit) into an official creed.

        • King Goat

          I think everyone expects slant to stories and takes them with that grain of salt. But stories built on complete bullshit facts strike me as worse (you’re entitled to your opinion but not your own facts), or at least an additional problem (to the one of slant) worthy of concern.

          And IIRC the Rolling Stone story was demolished by the Washington Post.

          • Sean II

            “And IIRC the Rolling Stone story was demolished by the Washington Post.”

            No, the WaPo coverage is just when they finally accepted defeat.

            Months before that, the story was being picked apart on disreputable blogs and comment sections.

          • King Goat

            Sure there were people on comments boards that said ‘this seems far fetched’ or ‘I don’t believe anything these feminazis say!’ as soon as they heard of it. But it was the WaPo that tracked down the supposed leads and exposed them.

          • Sean II

            Okay, so I was wrong about the time frame. It was weeks instead of months.

            But I’m still right about the flow of events. The basis of that WaPo story was workshopped in the web’s dark corners first. And yes, a lot of that legwork was done by guys every bit as biased as Rolling Stone, people whose main interest in applying critical thought to the story was that they didn’t like its message.

          • King Goat

            What good is that? What did in the story was the careful counter documentation by the post less than two weeks after it came out, not the instant ideogically based incredulity of some web commenters. There’s no evidence the latter produced the former.

          • Sean II

            Wrong. What did in the story was the fact that lots of people couldn’t and didn’t believe, AND had a means of talking to each other.

            Also, I’d forgotten these two interesting details but they are very much worth mentioning:

            1) The first respectable person to go public with his doubts was Richard Bradley, notable for being a veteran of the Stephan Glass fiasco – i.e. being a journalist who lived through one of journalism’s biggest scandal.

            2) Not for nothing, the forum Bradley used to aggregate all the various emerging doubts about the story was his blog.

          • King Goat

            Lots of people don’t believe ANY story, and the web gives them connections. But the WaPo story made nearly everyone who wasn’t highly ideologically committed to the story in the first place think it was bunk, because it expressed something more than ideologically rooted conjecture, doubts and incredulity. Stuff like solid reporting.

        • Theresa Klein

          Yes. It was Richard Bradley ( a private blogger) that really started publicly questioning it, and it was picked up by Robby Soave on Reason. Washington Post didn’t start investigating until after two weeks of people in the non-official-media blogosphere and in comments section basically shouting “Bullshit!” and getting yelled at by SJWs claiming they were rape apologists and all sorts of other nasty shit.

          I mean, literally this is a case where the moral scolds nearly shut down essentially any questioning of a story that was subsequently revealed to be a hoax. This is like Salem Witch Trials level bullshit. People vandalized the Phi Kappa Psi frat house. You had a hoax story that had mobs with torches and pitch forks out and many not daring to question it lest they be branded a rape apologist.

    • The Niskanen Center is pumping something of a religion, it seems.

      • Sean II

        Aye. Funny too, because it seems like no school of thought is currently polling worse than Kochtarianism.

        I mean, if our current cultural conflict was the Thirty Years War, these guys are clearly doomed to play the Anabaptists.

    • AP²

      And I think, people show their ignorance when they say they want
      politicians just to be honest. What are these people talking about?! If honesty were suddenly introduced into politics, it would throw everything off! The whole system would collapse! And I think, deep down the American people know that. The American
      people like their bullshit out front – where they can get a good strong
      whiff of it.

      That’s why they re-elected Clinton. Listen, Clinton might be full of
      shit, but he let you know it. Dole tried to hide it: ‘I’m an honest
      man.’ Bullshit! Bullshit! People don’t believe that shit. Clinton said,
      ‘hi, I’m full of shit and how do you like that?’ and the people said,
      ‘at least he’s honest. at least he’s honest about being full of shit.’

  • Puppet’s Puppet

    Does Mr. Wilkinson want to launch a discussion about “Revitalizing Liberalism in These Trying Times” or some similar theme, or does he want to launch one about “Revitalizing Liberalism in the Age of Brexit and Trump”? Because the latter language suggests a much narrower church than he might realize.

    This blog has very strong elitist, antipopulist tendencies, along with a staunch conviction that free movement of peoples is the ultimate human right and borders the tyranny to dwarf all others. Together these things have led BHL to a place where it would turn up its nose at Proudhon himself if it caught him saying something nice about Brexit. This is all fine, but when combined with the normal libertarian vice of making unwarranted ideological assumptions about your audience of broadly conceived fellow travelers, the conversation around here often has the cozy tone of sounding like the authors are proceeding with the presupposition that they are “among friends” whenever they are addressing such matters among libertarians, or at least left-libertarians.

    They are not. Not even when it comes to immigration, but certainly not when it comes to Brexit. Brexit is fervently supported by the UK libertarian press, the UK Libertarian Party, overwhelmingly by Reason and Cato, and the list goes on (just to name some of the staunchly pro-immigration sources). You’re brilliant folks making good arguments for your case, BHL, but the fact is you’re most decidedly the contrarians on this issue. With all of the authoritarian monstrosities brought about in the recent past by the world’s Dick Cheneys, the Tony Blairs, the Angela Merkels, the David Camerons, the Barack Obamas, the Chuck Schumers, the Justin Trudeaus, the Mike Bloombergs, the Francoise Hollandes, the Nicola Sturgeons, the Herman van Rumpoys, the Gerry Adamses, the John Boehners, the Hillary Clintons, and so forth, Wilkinson chooses as his archetype–his spirit animal of illiberalism–the antiestablishmentarian disaffection wave that gave us Trump and Brexit (two things that have not even happened yet). I loathe Trump and even I found this rhetoric profoundly unwelcoming, offputting, and exclusionary. Please stop. I feel triggered.

    A final irony is that–in a move which might well trigger Mr. Brennan–Wilkinson starts throwing talk of democratic values all over the place in a talk ostensibly about shoring up liberalism. If anyone–inside or outside of libertarianism–has been carrying on about the value of democracy lately, it’s supporters of the populist revolutions that…actually won elections; and if there’s anyone who’s been pleading for the judgment of better men, it’s the likes of their opponents. Forget alarm about what the American and European public thinks; has Wilkinson handed out that “essential to live in a democracy?” survey around the BHL watercooler?

    For what it’s worth, I myself am an extreme Euroskeptic who is only instrumentally a moderate democrat. But I wouldn’t casually toss those positions as presuppositions into a discussion on “revitalizing liberalism.” And as a libertarian who speaks ardently about the need to preserve “democratic culture” but sneers at the Brexit mob, Wilkinson will find himself with a far, far thinner flock than I would.

    • King Goat

      I don’t think the authors here think freedom of movement is the ‘ultimate human right.’ Many strike me as having deontological stances on rights and wouldn’t ‘rank’ some lower than others. Rather I bet they are talking about that right more because it’s one of the only rights in the ‘libertarian pantheon’ that is being challenged by a growing number of people running in their circles. No on there is suggesting rethinking the free flow of ideas or goods, for example, but they are the free flow of people, so that’s what’s alarming them and getting their focus.

      • Sean II

        “I don’t think the authors here think freedom of movement is the ‘ultimate human right.'”

        Can’t speak for Puppet (get it?), but I’ll take a guess:

        BHL always had this problem of how to make itself distinctive, how to answer the question “but isn’t that just called libertarianism.

        First couple years of this blog, the big answer to that question was “social justice”.

        Last two years or so, the big “unique selling point” for BHL-ism seems to have shifted over to open borders. I swear, it seems like there was at least a six month period when no one talked about anything else.

        I think he’s referring to that.

        • King Goat

          A lot of equivocating can happen with the term a lot of ‘traditional libertarians’ but the LP and groups like Cato/Reason Foundation have included freedom of movement up there with freedom of ideas and goods for their entire existences, haven’t they?

          • Sean II

            I’ve been a libertarian since 1992. Until quite recently the only thing you ever heard about open borders was words to the effect of: “this is something we should try for in a future utopia, after we get rid of the welfare state”.

            There was always plenty of immigration romanticizism, to be sure. But that’s not the same thing as arguing open borders is a feasible policy program right now.

            It’s only in the last several years that I’ve come across maniacs who believe (or maybe just pretend to believe) that.

          • It’s the (IMHO poisonous) influence of Silicon Valley on libertarianism. Silicon Valley wants to import the best and the brightest from India and China, and one can hardly blame them for that. But for them, it’s just another crony corporatist agenda. I’m for open borders, but not because it benefits The Singularity. I think the best thing to come out of Hillary’s defeat was the detachment of the Silicon Valley barnacle from the government plank.

          • Sean II

            I have a slightly different but possibly overlapping reason:

            Silicon Valley is the thickest bubble ever created on American soil. Worse than Hollywood, worse than Academia, worse even than the Beltway itself.

            Not since the Romanovs and the Pahlavi has there been a group of people so hopelessly out of touch with the world around them.

            Perfect example: the AirBnB discrimination saga. Everyone who knows how to turn on a computer knows the company could end discrimination against its users tomorrow simply by withdrawing the requirement for profile pictures. Yet this would cost them money, so it’s the one thing they absolutely will not do. Instead they hire Eric Holder as their equity czar signaling chief, and adorn their HQ with art celebrating Black Lives Matter so that, each day, a staff almost wholly composed of whites and asians can look around and feel good about themselves.

            In other words: AirBnB has found a way to be offensive to all reasonable sides in the dispute. Conservatives can rightly despise them for taking sides in a complicated matter they don’t understand, and earnest liberals have every right to hate them for doing so in a blatantly hypocritical way.

            “Fuckin’ billionaires…”

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            If AirBnB really would lose money by eradicating racism (the very possibility would be verboten by mutual consensus in most libertarian spaces; there you go, BHL–purpose) I don’t see why it would be such a bad business move. Most politicians (and most “conscientious” consumers) consistently prefer theater over substance any damn day, and trotting out Eric Holder and some asinine wall collage sounds like good theater to me. Who exactly are these “conservatives” and “liberals” who they would be so hurt by pissing off?

            As for the larger question of getting Silicon Valley out of libertarianism: I have little familiarity with that culture, but from what I have seen I’ve always been thankful whenever they are supportive of us. (We should be even more experienced than other idealists at being thankful for imperfect allies.) Despite some sloppy suppositions from their adversaries, it has always seemed to me that the dominant tendency in that community is one of activist technocracy. Society is, to these dreamers, something to be shaped for Human Betterment by Smart Policy designed by Smart People. I do not think they think of themselves and their plans as being constrained by any petty, backward ideological fixations–that is what makes them so great, after all. In addition to their more fanciful utopias, and their odious urban and ecological fantasies, we have more mundane and modest (and more immanently threatening) examples. Bill Gates, hardly the worst of the lot, has been in the news recently in a way that typifies. He’s been praising Prime Minister Modi’s recent demonetization, which even extreme pro-demonetization economists have thunderously condemned, to the hilt–taking the opportunity to reiterate his general adoration of Modi for his general forward-thinking plans like the biometric national ID card (condemned by our allies on the statist left not just for the privacy threat but also above all for being the critical first step for the “neoliberal” scheme to dismantle the vital state-assistance bureacracy and replace it with reactionary direct transfers; in fact, it would not be necessary for this). Modi is providing replacement bills (he is not quite reckless enough to think India is in a technological position to carry on with its biggest bill being worth less than US$1.50; he just wants to smoke out–or have forfeited–the cash in middle-class mattresses), but Gates and his fellow technocrats have also been applauding Scandinavian “progress” toward a permanently cashless society. If such a society arrives before the invention of a viable independent currency or at least peer-to-peer payment system, of course, it will mean government and corporate surveillance of all transactions (a feature, not a bug, for this sort of person of course), complete dependence on the global payment-processing oligopoly, the long-sought ability to push interest rates below zero, and so forth.

            Our future, as it always has been, will be determined by technology. And nowadays, it is coming so fast that updating our societal response to it has become a learned art in and of itself. It can lead us to a world that is less free than we’d ever dreamed, or more free. So I’m glad to have people working on the frontier of it whose idea of utopia involves 3D printed firearms, taxless transactions, an uncensorable press, and currency competition. In 2040 stripper garters are going to have little chip readers sewn into them, that’s for sure. But will Attorney General Clinton-Mezvinsky know what you tipped? The success of the much-derided tech libertarians will determine the answer.

          • Sean II

            2) “If AirBnB really would lose money by eradicating racism…”

            I should clarify: they wouldn’t just lose money, they’d lose A LOT of money. Probably enough to go out of business after a year or two.

            The people who use AirBnB (and hipsters in general) are only anti-racist in the realm of cheap talk. In the realm of action they show a strong revealed preference for racial (and cultural) segregation. If you deprived them of the power to avoid black renters, they’d stop using the service.

            That’s what makes this such a perfect microcosm for race politics today. The sort of righteous whites who run and use AirBnB would never dream of doubting DeRay McKesson. He can be wrong 17 times in a row, and when he comes back selling the same narrative for an 18th time, they’ll line up to buy it sight unseen. But if some random brother in a blue vest shows up on their app, suddenly there’s no room at the inn.

            2) “As for the larger question of getting Silicon Valley out of libertarianism: I have little familiarity with that culture, but from what I have seen I’ve always been thankful whenever they are supportive of us…[but] it has always seemed to me that the dominant tendency in that community is one of activist technocracy.”

            I think you answered your own question. Consider an analogy:

            As far as I know, Trump’s the first national Republican candidate ever to pose with the Rainbow flag. Second only to Obama, he’s also clearly the least demonstrative of religious faith.

            So why does the LGBT community remained largely unimpressed by him?

            Because they can see Pence, Romney, and the rest of the fellas standing right behind him. Also they can see his voters, a group which obviously includes the country’s remaining hold-outs to their cause.

            This is like that.

            Guys like Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey and even Gavin Belson start out as Randian heroes – entrepreneurial, disruptive, visionary, avaricious but in a non zero-sum way, etc.

            But right beneath them (and above them, in their boards) is a cadre of technocrats (or whatever you call the kind of typically awful people who get invited to sit on corporate boards). And that cadre, once established, will inevitably end up doing what all such classes do: fight to keep what it has, even when that means making life worse for others.

            This is already well underway in the social media sector. The very same people who fought to disintermediate the message 10 years ago are now happily lending their technology to the service of censorship.

            Everyone can see how the tools they created helped defeat Hillary and elect the Literal Hitler, and they are under massive pressure to prevent a recurrence by rigging the game from now on. “Why can’t you be more like your older sister the Legacy Media? SHE never let anyone win an election who wasn’t housebroken. SHE never let people conspire to doubt what they were being told by that nice boy Anderson Cooper.”

            Short version: In Silicon Valley libertarianism is just a pose struck by underdogs for short-term convenience. There is nothing in that pose which actually predicts respects for the rights of other people.

            Indeed, when it comes to a willingness to use coercion when foisting its values on the rest of the country, NoCal is now worse than the Bible Belt.

    • Haha. This was a great dressing-down of the matter. Thanks, I enjoyed it.

  • Irfan Khawaja


    I like the project, and liked the piece. I’ll try to blog it when I get a chance, i.e., when I get the time to blog at length not only on your post, but on Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit.” Though much cited lately, Frankfurt’s piece strikes me as much weaker than the hype for it would suggest (question-begging, questionable, verbose, irrelevant). Glad to see that you avoided heavy reliance on it, but not everyone in your (our) camp has. I’d hate to see a new vogue for citing Frankfurt’s essay to explain Trump’s rhetoric, but I have a fear that it’s coming.


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