Libertarianism – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Fri, 19 Jan 2018 15:05:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Libertarianism – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 Class Act http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/class-act/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/class-act/#comments Thu, 11 Jan 2018 02:26:50 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12124 Karl Marx once wrote: I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had...

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Karl Marx once wrote:

I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was

1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production;

2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat;

3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Marx is certainly right that class analysis was a central feature of classical liberalism long before he picked it up. He’s fibbing a bit, though, about (1) and (3); many of his bourgeois predecessors (for example, the Censeur triumvirate of Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Augustin Thierry) most emphatically thought that class society as they understood it was a temporary phenomenon destined to be displaced. Thierry, for example, announces:

Federations will replace states; the loose but indissoluble chains of interest will replace the despotism of men and of laws; the tendency towards government, the first passion of the human race, will cede to the free community. The era of empire is over, the era of association begins.

The main difference between Marx and the liberals was that Marx took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to the means of production, whereas the liberals took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to predatory power, and in particular to the power of the state. (To be sure, Marx acknowledged and indeed insisted on the important role of the state in maintaining class division when examining the details of history or current events; but the state quickly receded in importance when he turned to abstract theory.)

All this is by way of noting that I just received in the mail my author’s copy of Social Class and State Power: Exploring an Alternative Radical Tradition, an anthology of libertarian and classical liberal writings on class analysis that I co-edited with David Hart, Gary Chartier, and Ross Kenyon.

The volume includes material by a rather heterogeneous collection of authors:

  • from the 17th century, Richard Overton;
  • from the 18th century, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Vicesimus Knox, and William Godwin;
  • from the 19th century, Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, Thomas Hodgskin, John Wade, William Leggett, Richard Cobden, John C. Calhoun, Adolphe Blanqui, Frédéric Bastiat, Charles Renouard, Augustin Thierry, Gustave de Molinari, Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker;
  • and from the 20th century, Franz Oppenheimer, Albert J. Nock, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs, Walter Grinder, John Hagel, Hans Hoppe, and your humble correspondent.

I would urge you to go out and buy a copy; but in light of the book’s $100 pricetag, I’ll just urge you to go out and suggest to your local research library that they buy a copy.

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Two New Publications http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/two-new-publications/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/two-new-publications/#comments Thu, 04 Jan 2018 06:24:51 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12115 My chapter on “Anarchism and Libertarianism” is forthcoming in Nathan Jun, ed., Brill’s Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2017), at the usual insane Brill price. In the chapter...

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My chapter on “Anarchism and Libertarianism” is forthcoming in Nathan Jun, ed., Brill’s Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2017), at the usual insane Brill price. In the chapter I explore the relationship between libertarianism (in the free-market sense) and the anarchist movement, including the question whether anarcho-capitalism counts as a genuine form of anarchism. (My C4SS colleague Kevin Carson has a chapter in the book as well.)

According to the publisher, I’m only allowed to make 25 hard copies of the chapter – but I’m also allowed to post a copy online, so long as it’s on my personal website. That seems to me a bit like saying “No smoking allowed in this room, but it’s okay to set the bed on fire.” But okay, here’s a link to the chapter.

(My reference to capitalist labour markets as “oligopolistic” was supposed to be “oligopsonistic.” The editors changed it to “oligopolistic,” which of course has the opposite meaning; I changed it back in galleys, but it ended up “oligopolistic” in the final published text nonetheless. Sigh.)

I also have a chapter on “Minarchism on Seasteads” in Victor Tiberius, ed., Seasteads: Opportunities and Challenges for Small New Societies (Zurich: VDF, 2017). I explore options for constraining a seastead minarchy (essentially by incorporating as many anarchist features as possible; those who remember my articles from the FNF/LNF days will find my proposals familiar). Here’s the link.

(The version I’ve posted is the galley proofs with my corrections. No, of course the corrections did not make it into the final published text. Sigh again.)

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Pining for Murderous Dictators is not the Path to Liberty http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/11/pining-murderous-dictators-not-path-liberty/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/11/pining-murderous-dictators-not-path-liberty/#comments Sun, 26 Nov 2017 20:02:33 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12075 You’d think the statement in my title should be obvious, but if you were wondering why it’s been so easy for so many supposed libertarians to flip over to the...

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You’d think the statement in my title should be obvious, but if you were wondering why it’s been so easy for so many supposed libertarians to flip over to the alt-right, you might consider the recent Facebook post of Lawrence Reed, the president of the Foundation for Economic Education, the oldest of the free-market think tanks. Larry, who I’ve known for decades and have always respected, tagged a story on business closures in Venezuela with the following: “Venezuela desperately needs a Hayek right now. Short of that, how about a Pinochet?”

As I said on Facebook, I don’t even know what to say about this given my long association with FEE and respect for the work they and Larry have done. I deeply want to believe that it’s a really bad attempt at humor, yet nowhere in that original Facebook thread does Larry give any indication that he was making a horrible joke. Given the pushback he’s getting there, it would have been very easy for him to try to back out with that excuse, but it’s not there. Not only that, he explicitly argues for “helicopter dropping” Maduro.  Sure doesn’t sound like someone who is joking.

Even as really misguided humor, Larry’s remark fails in several important ways that are worth noting explicitly:

1. The liberal tradition in which FEE sits has always rejected dictatorships and authoritarians. In fact, as co-blogger Jacob noted on Facebook, this is an excellent example of the broken relationship that modern libertarianism has with democracy.  A more sophisticated and serious understanding of democracy, even seeing it as a necessary marriage of convenience, but a marriage nonetheless, would help libertarians avoid saying things like this.

2. In one post, Larry has undermined years of hard work by libertarian academics to come to a more nuanced understanding of the whole Hayek-Pinochet relationship and why it’s been very much overblown by the left. The juxtaposition of Hayek and Pinochet opens up that whole can of worms and gives more ammunition to those who think “See? Libertarians really are fascists in disguise.” To say that’s not helpful is the understatement of the year.

3. Some of the harshest pushback has come, not surprisingly, from the Latin American freedom movement. Those folks have worked very hard to advance real liberty and democracy, and they have taken pains to try to distance their views from charges of being American imperialists or lackeys for the Latin American right wing. Larry’s post undermined that work in ways that they should be rightly enraged about.

4. Much has been written about the supposed libertarianism to alt-right pipeline and how easy it appears for people to pass through the former on their way to the latter, and in some cases not quite leaving their libertarianism behind. (See for example this NY Times piece.) Larry’s post is an example of how this sort of thing can happen. What else can one say when the president of a major libertarian think tank suggests that dictatorship is the solution to the problems created by socialism? Does he not think that young people, who are now FEE’s explicit target audience, are paying attention?

5. I shouldn’t be all that surprised by this development given the tone of a recent fundraising letter I got from FEE. In explaining how America was going down the tubes, and why FEE was important in saving it from that fate, the groups bearing the plurality of the blame for our problems were left-wing college professors and their snowflake students. The only reference to Trump was a throwaway line about how “Trump has not been a perfect president, but…” That the Foundation for Economic Education could not take the time to mention Trump’s economic nationalism, his crony capitalism, and his trashing of the Constitution as relevant factors in the the problems we face and how those should be issues on which classical liberals speak out loudly and forcefully says everything one needs to know about the apparent direction and priorities of FEE.  It’s clear who and what they are trying to appeal to, and it’s not the liberalism of Mises and Hayek, not to mention Leonard Read and Henry Hazlitt. The libertarian movement cannot be premised on hating the left more than we care about preserving the institutions of a free society, no matter who is violating them.

6. Finally, given FEE’s recent emphasis on morality and character under Larry’s leadership, this apparent (even if done as a really bad joke) defense of Pinochet becomes the libertarian version of Roy Moore and Al Franken. It’s apparently okay to overlook all the disappearances, murders, and violations of human rights if you think the guy somehow preserved the “free market.” Even if that were true (and it’s not), maybe one day the libertarian movement will mature enough to realize that “liberty” is not totally subsumed under “property rights,” and that other forms of human rights and freedoms matter just as much. It’s precisely the focus on private property rights as the be all and end all  (says the economist) that is one big factor behind the libertarianism to alt-right pipeline. It’s why the subject of the NY Times profile linked above is still talking about Rothbard and Hoppe and anarcho-capitalism even as he’s gone full Nazi.

This is one of the hardest BHL posts I’ve ever written because of my long-standing relationship with and respect for FEE and Larry. However, too many things in recent months have added up in a way that concerns me deeply about the organization and its commitment to the classical liberal ideas of its founders and that attracted me to it as a young scholar. Again, like Moore and Franken, we cannot, as libertarians, let “our own” off the hook when they do things like this because we think there’s something to be saved in the bigger picture. Larry’s post was a horrible mistake with deeply illiberal consequences, even if he didn’t intend them. I hope he and the rest of the leadership at FEE can see the mistake that’s been made here and respond in ways that restore the confidence in the organization that this has cost them, as one glance at social media will indicate.

FEE was too important in keeping the flame of liberty alive in the intellectual dark hours of the 1940s and 50s to see that flame extinguished when the darkness has returned not as an intellectual threat but as an existential political one.

[Addendum: Larry has issued the following apology.

MY APOLOGIES: Yesterday I posted a piece on Venezuela on my page here with an introductory statement that some have taken as endorsing certain things, or everything, that Augusto Pinochet ever did. I can see by my quick and careless wording how that impression may have been conveyed. It certainly was not my intent, though I freely admit fault in not making it clearly so. Some have also been offended that I referenced Hayek in the same post because, as I would readily and eagerly argue myself, Hayek would never have approved of Pinochet. I did not intend to imply that he would have, and I apologize for not realizing that one could get that impression. I think the answer to Venezuela’s problems is to embrace Hayek, not to embrace another strong-man dictatorship. In the way of explanation, whether you accept it or not, my thinking at the time was of some of Pinochet’s economic policies that proved to be far superior to what Venezuela is experiencing today. But the best way to get to good policies is never to take a chance on a dictatorship; it is, rather, to embrace good ideas, which is what I’ve always believed. So, sorry for the poorly worded post and thanks if you pointed out in good faith that I made a mistake.]

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Libertarianism for Luck Egalitarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/libertarianism-luck-egalitarians/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/libertarianism-luck-egalitarians/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 15:38:27 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12048 Luck egalitarianism is, roughly, the view that inequalities in life prospects resulting from luck are unjust. (There’s a lot to nit pick about that characterization, but it’s a start.) If...

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Luck egalitarianism is, roughly, the view that inequalities in life prospects resulting from luck are unjust. (There’s a lot to nit pick about that characterization, but it’s a start.) If Amy has better job opportunities than Bob because she happened to have parents who could afford to send her to a fancy private school, that’s unfair.

You might even think it’s unfair that Rob Gronkowski makes so much more money than, say, me simply because he was gifted with 6’6” height and fast-twitch muscle fibers that enable him to run a 4.68 40 yard dash. Even if we both work equally hard at our crafts, Gronk will earn more than me because his natural talents are more marketable than mine. But it’s not like Gronk earned those talents; he just got lucky and won the genetic lottery. So it’s wrong for him to make so much more money than I do.

Suppose, for argument’s sake, this account of distributive justice is correct. What institutional conclusions follow? Luck egalitarians suggest that the income disparities between people like me and Gronk show that free markets are unjust. It’s the job of the state to correct for these kinds of market-generated inequalities via regulation and redistribution.

As I detail in my book, luck egalitarians (and fellow travelers who might not apply the label to themselves) are nearly unanimous in their rejection of free market regimes. Here’s a small sample:

“Laissez-faire capitalism (the system of natural liberty) secures only formal equality and rejects both the fair value of the equal political liberties and fair equality of opportunity.” (John Rawls)

“Market allocations must be corrected in order to bring some people closer to the share of resources they would have had but for these various differences of initial advantage, luck and inherent capacity.” (Ronald Dworkin)

“Desert as a principle of justice, then, rather than justifying the distributional consequences of free market choices, requires precisely the elimination, or at least the minimization, of the differential brute luck that characterizes the free market […]. The adoption of desert as a principle of justice seems to result in a much more demanding requirement, as far as its implications for the regulation of the market are concerned, than a commitment to voluntariness as a legitimating condition for the imposition of obligations, even when this is suitably revised so as to square up with a defensible account of voluntariness and force.” (Serena Olsaretti)

I could go on, but you get the point: the market generates luck-based inequalities and the state reduces them.

One problem with this argument is that you don’t clinch the luck egalitarian case against free markets by simply showing that they create luck-based inequalities. What you need to do is show that the alternative is better. To use an old analogy of mine, showing that Steph Curry misses over half of his three point shot attempts doesn’t justify benching Steph Curry. To justifiably bench Steph Curry, you’d need to show that his replacement would do better. Similarly, luck egalitarians need to show that a highly regulated market with extensive redistribution will have less luck-based inequality than a libertarian regime.

Here’s a reason for doubting that claim: those who benefit from inherited wealth, elite education, and natural talent in the market also benefit from those factors in politics. Put very roughly, political power will concentrate in the hands of the rich—the very people the political power was created to regulate and restrain. Thus, we might naturally expect such power to be used to increase rather than decrease the advantages of the rich.

Interestingly, this is Rawls’s own view. He says that a

“reason for controlling economic and social inequalities is to prevent one part of society from dominating the rest. When those two kinds of inequalities are large, they tend to support political inequality. As Mill said, the bases of political power are (educated) intelligence, property, and the power of combination, by which he meant the power to cooperate in pursuing one’s political interests. This power allows a few, in virtue of their control over the machinery of state, to enact a system of law and property that ensures their dominant position in the economy as a whole.”

By Rawls’s own lights, the rich will use their “(educated) intelligence, property, and the power of combination” to acquire political power and “enact a system of law and property that ensures their dominant position in the economy as a whole.” But now we can see a problem for Rawls’s view. The people that Rawls wants the state to control (those with property, education, and so on) are the same people that Rawls thinks control the state itself. So how can the state control the rich if the rich control the state? Shouldn’t we instead expect state intervention into the economy to favor the rich? Indeed, this is exactly what we see in many cases: subsidies, licensing, trade restrictions, housing regulations, and so on tend to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

Of course, we cannot definitively establish a conclusion about the effects of regulation and redistribution on luck-based inequalities by doing a priori institutional analysis. But at a minimum, luck egalitarians shouldn’t rule out libertarianism as a viable institutional option at the level of philosophical theory. Perhaps libertarianism and luck egalitarianism are compatible after all.

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Horwitz review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/horwitz-review-nancy-macleans-democracy-chains/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/horwitz-review-nancy-macleans-democracy-chains/#comments Wed, 13 Sep 2017 21:11:11 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12029 The published version of my review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is now available at the Cato Journal. The main argument: “In the rest of this essay, I will briefly...

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The published version of my review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is now available at the Cato Journal. The main argument:

“In the rest of this essay, I will briefly review her errors of fact and interpretation but will then shift my focus to what I think is the most fundamental problem with the book: MacLean’s inability to understand the ideas with which she is grappling. She starts by assuming, rather than demonstrating with evidence, that libertarian ideas are all about defending power and privilege. In combination with her inability to understand the contexts and questions that Buchanan and public choice theory were grappling with, her book became a massive exercise in confirmation bias resulting in misread and misinterpreted sources and factual claims unsupported by those sources. She had her story about libertarianism and, absent the intellectual tools to understand what she was reading, she interpreted her sources in ways that confirmed all of those prejudices. The result is a book that gets almost everything wrong, from the most basic of facts to the highest of theory.”

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Rawls, Ideal Theory, and the Public Goods Argument for the State http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rawls-ideal-theory-public-goods-argument-state/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rawls-ideal-theory-public-goods-argument-state/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:14:19 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12004 It’s been a while since I blogged here and I figure that some shameless self-promotion is the best way to ease back in. As discussed in Jason’s review, I’ve got...

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It’s been a while since I blogged here and I figure that some shameless self-promotion is the best way to ease back in. As discussed in Jason’s review, I’ve got a new book out titled Unequivocal Justice. The book builds on work from other BHL contributors, including Jason, Jacob Levy, and Will Wilkinson.

“Ideal theoretical” analyses of political institutions face a dilemma. In an ideal world in which everyone fully complies with the principles of justice, then coercive state intervention isn’t needed to secure justice. People will do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts. On the other hand, in a nonideal world where people are not fully compliant with justice, state intervention may have a role to play, but the people running the state itself might not act justly. In brief: if we rule injustice out, then the state isn’t needed; if we rule injustice in, then we may not assume that the state itself is just.

This dilemma poses a problem for an ideal theorist like Rawls who assumes that the state is both needed to secure justice and will operate justly and effectively. Rawls and others resolve the dilemma illicitly; namely, they rule injustice in to give the state a job to do and then (implicitly) rule injustice out to ensure that the state does that job well.

The public goods argument for the state makes the problem particularly clear. Rawls starts with a textbook explanation for why people won’t voluntarily contribute to public goods—they have a strong incentive to free ride. As Rawls puts it, “Where the public is large and includes many individuals, there is a temptation for each person to try to avoid doing his share. This is because whatever one man does his action will not significantly affect the amount produced” (A Theory of Justice, 236). Better to let everyone else pony up for a Tesla and buy a cheap gas guzzler for yourself; this way you get the clean air produced by others without paying the costs yourself. But everyone else is thinking the same thing, so they all buy gas guzzlers, too. The result is polluted air for everyone. Since the market won’t provide public goods, Rawls concludes that “the provision of public goods must be arranged for through the political process and not through the market” (A Theory of Justice, 236). For instance, the state can enforce a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions.

How, though, will the political process arrange for the provision of public goods? Suppose that the election pits a candidate who favors cap-and-trade against a candidate who favors no environmental protection whatsoever. Will I, as a voter, do my share and contribute a vote for the cap-and-trade candidate? By Rawls’s own assumptions, the answer is “no.” Better to let everyone else research the candidates’ platforms, read the experts’ opinions on the effectiveness of cap-and-trade, and spend time at the polls while I stay at home watching TV (or perhaps cast a thoughtless, uninformed vote at the last minute). But everyone else is thinking the same thing, and so they too fail to vote for the cap-and-trade candidate. Thus, the behavioral assumption that Rawls invokes to generate a need for state intervention—that people are motivated to free ride—simultaneously undermines the state intervention itself. People have just as much temptation to free ride on the thoughtful, informed votes of others as they have to free ride on the emission reductions of others.

To resolve this problem, Rawls (implicitly) resorts to using different behavioral assumptions to model nonpolitical behavior and political behavior. We free ride in the market but not in politics. But this move violates what Geoffrey Brennan and James Buchanan call “behavioral symmetry”—that is, we should apply the same behavioral models across different institutional contexts to ensure a fair, apples-to-apples comparison of those institutions.

Here’s how Rawls will reply. Ideally just people are only “conditional cooperators.” They prefer to do their share so long as others do the same. But they won’t be “suckers” and contribute when others aren’t contributing. Thus, they prefer to reduce their emissions when others also reduce their emissions, but they need state enforcement to get assurance of reciprocation.

This reply won’t work because the state introduced to solve the assurance problem simply creates another assurance problem. Think back to the voting case. Suppose you’re on your couch deciding whether to spend the day with your family at a park or to spend it looking up experts’ opinions about environmental policy, candidates’ voting records on the environment, and so on. You are happy to do the latter so that you can cast a thoughtful, informed vote on election day—but only if you have assurance that others will too. However, no such assurance is available, and so you head off to the park instead of putting time and effort into your vote. Other citizens do the same and, as a result, just and effective environmental policy goes unprovided. Here again, Rawls’s reason for thinking that state intervention is needed is equally a reason for thinking that the intervention won’t work.

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The Rhetoric of Libertarians and the Unfortunate Appeal to the Alt-Right http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rhetoric-libertarians-unfortunate-appeal-alt-right/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rhetoric-libertarians-unfortunate-appeal-alt-right/#comments Fri, 04 Aug 2017 15:48:39 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11976 One of my most clicked-on posts here at BHL was this one on Ron Paul’s newsletters and why they still mattered 20 years after they were published. In that piece,...

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One of my most clicked-on posts here at BHL was this one on Ron Paul’s newsletters and why they still mattered 20 years after they were published. In that piece, I asked the following questions about the way in which racist organizations like Stormfront found Paul worthy of their support:

Even if Ron had never intentionally courted them, isn’t it a huge problem that they think he is a good candidate?  Doesn’t that say something really bad about the way Ron Paul is communicating his message?  Doesn’t it suggest that years of the paleo strategy of courting folks like that actually resonated with the worst of the right?

That was 2011, before the term “alt-right” was in currency and certainly well before the Trump candidacy dramatically reduced the stigma associated with public expressions of nativism, racism, and anti-Semitism.

The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years as elements of the alt-right have made appearances in various libertarian organizations and venues. Back in February, alt-right hero Richard Spencer stirred up a fuss at the International Students for Liberty Conference in DC after being invited to hang out by a group of students calling themselves the “Hoppe Caucus.” Hans-Hermann Hoppe, long associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as a panoply of racists and anti-Semites, is perhaps the most popular gateway drug for the alt-right incursion into libertarianism.

And within the last couple of weeks, Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute delivered a talk to students at Mises University entitled “For a New Libertarian.” In that talk, he knocks down an extended strawman of what he thinks constitutes the libertarianism he wants them to reject – what many might call “left-libertarianism,” including, I suspect, many of us here at BHL. For example:

Because while libertarians enthusiastically embrace markets, they have for decades made the disastrous mistake of appearing hostile to family, to religion, to tradition, to culture, and to civic or social institution — in other words, hostile to civil society itself.

Most controversially, Deist, after continuing to argue that family, faith, and the like are the cultural glue that humans need and that libertarians should focus on, decided to end with:

In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.

For those who know something about the history of the 20th century, the invocation of “blood and soil” as something that libertarians should recognize as a valid concern and should appeal to should be chilling. That phrase, which has a history going back at least to the 19th century, was central to the Nazi movement and was at the core of their justification for eliminating those people who did not have connections to the German homeland. It remains a watchword of the nastiest elements on the right, as a quick visit to bloodandsoil.org will demonstrate, if your stomach can handle it. That phrase, whatever Deist’s intent, would be very attractive to many among the alt-right, including neo-Nazis and other racists and anti-Semites. One click on the Blood and Soil website above will make that appeal abundantly clear.

Perhaps Deist didn’t know all of that. If so, one would expect a decent person to immediately apologize for using that phrase that way in that context. To my knowledge, no such apology has appeared. On the assumption that he is not, in fact, a Nazi, the explanation left standing is that he and his defenders have no problem using rhetoric that will attract those sympathetic to Nazi-like views about nativism and Jews. It’s that lack of concern about engaging in that sort of rhetoric, if not a positive willingness to do so, that is so troubling here, and it is eating away at the liberal roots of libertarianism.

If I may add a personal note for a moment: I have been in the middle of several Facebook debates over that phrase and Deist’s talk, and I’ve taken quite a bit of abuse from fans of the Mises Institute. Let me take this opportunity to clarify what I did and did not say. Contrary to the assertion many are making, I did not call Deist or people associated with the Institute “Nazis.” None of my Facebook posts did that, nor can I find a comment where I said as much. If I did, I will happily apologize as I do not think Deist is a Nazi.

What I did say is the same point I made about the Ron Paul newsletters: the problem with Deist’s talk, and the Mises Institute more generally, is not that they are Nazis, but that they appear to have no problem with making arguments that are appealing to neo-Nazis and the rest of the unsavory elements of the right. That’s the problem here. Why would supposed libertarians want to engage in a strategy and make use of rhetoric that is clearly a signal to those folks? That’s the same question I asked 6 years ago and matters have only become worse since then.

It’s also amusing that I have become the poster boy for the libertine, universalist libertarianism that they attack, for at least two reasons. First, name a libertarian who has written more about the family and its importance for a free society than I have. My book is explicitly a “non-conservative defense of the family.” For the kind of libertarian who is supposedly hostile to family, I sure spend a lot of time writing professionally about how great it is.

And second, again with apologies for the personal stuff, for the kind of libertarian who supposedly doesn’t care about religion or civil society, I sure do spend a lot of time doing volunteer work for synagogues and schools. I was on the board of my local synagogue in New York for a decade, most of which was as Treasurer. My ex-wife and I were heads of the parents group for the music department at the local school for several years. Sarah and I are deeply involved with our synagogue here in Indianapolis. I’m not about to put my tax returns up on the web, but I’m confident that I give at least as much of my time and money to family, religion, culture, and civil society as do any of the folks who nodded along with Deist’s argument.

As I pointed out with the Paul newsletters, all of this appeal to nativism, racism, and anti-Semitism and the like is in deep conflict with libertarianism’s liberalism. It’s particularly in conflict with the liberal cosmopolitanism of someone like Mises. And the use of Nazi language is especially galling as it was the very “blood and soil” crowd who drove the Jewish Mises out of Vienna.

Instead of this sort of nonsense, we need to recapture libertarianism’s progressive roots in the liberal movement of the 19th century. I put it this way in 2011:

What we need right now is Rothbard’s vision of a free society as sketched in For a New Liberty, but we need it defended better.  More carefully.  More richly.  More empirically.  More humanely. More progressively.  More tolerantly. With better scholarship.  And we have to do it in a way that’s immune to the charge that libertarians don’t care about making the world a better place, especially for the least well off and those historically victimized by the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, or anything else that’s irrelevant to their moral status as human actors.

The writings of the paleolibertarians will continue to stain that project unless and until the rest of the libertarian movement stops trying to apologize for them…

Our history is one of liberal tolerance, universalism, and cosmopolitanism, putting the freedom and harmony of all people ahead of the supposed interests of any parochial sub-group, and especially ones defined by the artificial boundaries of nation-states and their subsets. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.

Finally, one of the most disturbing side aspects of the controversy over Deist’s speech that it revealed how little so many young libertarians know about the Nazis and the Holocaust. I suppose I can understand ignorance of the “blood and soil” reference, but what troubled me more was when I made a joke involving the phrase “work shall set you free” and several commenters had no idea where that phrase came from or why any positive spin on it (as Deist did with “blood and soil”) should be so troubling. Holocaust ignorance is a real problem. And to the degree that young people are attracted to the alt-right out of ignorance rather than pure hatred, combating that ignorance can also serve the purpose of resisting the alt-right incursion into libertarianism.

Because I believe in education, religion, and the importance of the institutions of civil society, and because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, Sarah and I recently made a donation to the Birmingham (AL) Holocaust Education Center. We made our donation as a tribute to Ludwig von Mises. I invite my fellow bloggers and all of our commenters who share my concerns to consider doing the same. You don’t have to list Professor Mises’s address as the address of the Mises Institute as we did, but you might also consider doing that as an additional touch.

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Chris Freiman’s Unequivocal Justice http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/chris-freimans-unequivocal-justice/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/chris-freimans-unequivocal-justice/#comments Wed, 02 Aug 2017 15:19:00 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11965 Christopher Freiman  has just published a fabulous book, Unequivocal Justice, the first book in Routledge Press’s new “Political Philosophy for the Real World” series. It is a tour de force of philosophical...

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Christopher Freiman  has just published a fabulous book, Unequivocal Justice, the first book in Routledge Press’s new “Political Philosophy for the Real World” series.

It is a tour de force of philosophical excellence. It may well be the best book of political philosophy published in 2017. I certainly haven’t read anything this year that comes close to competing with it.

Imagine a person said, “I have a solution to the problem of drunk driving. However, my solution works only in a world where alcohol hadn’t been invented.” There’s something deeply silly and incoherent about that.

Well, it turns out that the mainstream of political philosophy over the past 50 years has precisely this problem. The mainline of political philosophy, when it tries to defend or critique various institutions, has largely been a joke, Freiman shows us, though he’s too polite to put it that bluntly.

What Freiman shows is that Rawls, Freeman, Ackerman, Dworkin, and a number of other left-liberal philosophers are making this kind of mistake over and over. His critique is so devastating that you might as well take Rawls’s writings about institutions and throw them in the trash; they are now, thanks to Chris, nothing more than artifacts of historical interest.

Chris starts by saying,

A perfect state is a pointless state.

The point of a state is to mitigate injustice. If Rich would donate his 40% to the poor, the state wouldn’t need to tax his income. If Mimi would buy a hybrid instead of a Hummer, the state wouldn’t need to cap her emissions. But since virtue alone won’t do the job, the state needs to redistribute equitably and regulate efficiently.

…But here’s the problem: the very reasons why the state is needed are reasons why the state won’t work.

 

Rawls writes mostly at the level of ideal theory. But, Freiman shows, an ideal theory of the state is incoherent. (Yes, he responds to Kavka’s argument otherwise.) Under ideal conditions–in which people are stipulated to comply fully with the requirements of morality and justice–there simply is no need for a state, period. There is no need to create an institution which claims a monopoly on violence and which enforces rules through threats of violence. Ideal theory must be anarchist.

Coercion is needed to defend justice only when society is less than fully just. But when society is less than fully just, we cannot stipulate the ideal justness of the state itself. So we arrive at the dilemma for ideal theories of the state: either (i) society is fully just, in which case there is no need for a state, or (ii) society is not fully just, in which we case we may not stipulate the state itself is just.

In order to create a need for a state, Rawls (and his followers) equivocate. They posit bad behavior in the private sector. But then, in order to defend their favored regime and in order to avoid the criticism that the regime itself might be corrupt and make things worse, they imagine away all bad behavior in the public sphere.

For example, Rawls claims that we need to equalize incomes in order to prevent the rich from buying power for themselves. (Freiman thinks that’s a weird argument to begin with; in order to stop people from polluting, we don’t equalize income; rather we regulate pollution.) But here’s the dilemma.

…The only way to ground both (i) the need for regulation and (ii) the stipulation of the regulation’s success is to equivocate in precisely the way Rawls does.

So, to restore consistency, Rawls needs to resolve a dilemma: Either (i) the rich aren’t buying up state power, in which case equalization isn’t necessary, or (ii) the rich are buying up state power, in which case they can subvert equalization by buying up the state power unleashed to do the equalizing. Neither option justifies an a priori demand for equalization.

A few other philosophers, including G. A. Cohen and me, have pointed out that Rawls makes cartoonishly bad arguments like this here and there. But Freiman methodically goes through Rawls and a few others, and finds they make such arguments constantly. Rawls’s version of the public goods argument, his argument for redistribution taxation, his argument for the existence of the state, and so on, all have the same form: He’s giving us a theory about how to solve drunk driving, but his solution can only be stipulated to work in a world where alcohol had never been invented.

In the end, the mistake is that Rawls is trying to make a priori arguments for institutions, regime-types, and rules. These arguments all fail. They are no substitute for doing careful PPE-style empirical institutional analysis. Freiman closes by warning left-liberals not just to presume that empirical analysis will vindicate the exact institutions they were defending on entirely a priori grounds.

Again, the book is a tour-de-force. You should read it. It will make you a better thinker.

Here’s my blurb for the book:

Unequivocal Justice, with its delightful and engaging prose, is a devastating critique of the dominant arguments and methods in political philosophy. It shows that almost everything Rawls and other left-liberals have said about institutions over the past 50 years is not merely wrong, but incoherent. It should–if philosophers have an intellectual integrity–change the field forever.

Strong words, but entirely deserved.

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William Graham Sumner and “Social Darwinism” http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/william-graham-sumner-social-darwinism/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/william-graham-sumner-social-darwinism/#comments Wed, 26 Jul 2017 13:48:24 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11942 Over at Liberty Fund’s “Liberty Matters” site, I have an essay on the neglected political ideas of William Graham Sumner. Here’s a bit from the beginning: History has not been...

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Over at Liberty Fund’s “Liberty Matters” site, I have an essay on the neglected political ideas of William Graham Sumner. Here’s a bit from the beginning:

History has not been kind to the legacy of William Graham Sumner. In his time (1840-1910), Sumner was one of the most prestigious and widely read libertarian intellectuals in the United States. Beyond his more technical academic work Sumner also wrote passionately and voluminously in defense of laissez faireon a wide range of social issues. His popular critique of protectionism, “The –ism Which Teaches that Waste Makes Wealth” (1885) and his denunciation of imperialism in “The Conquest of the United States by Spain” (1898) are two of his most impressive polemical works. Sumner’s most sustained investigation of questions of economic policy and distributive justice appeared in a collection essays What Social Classes Owe to Each Other (1883) which includes his most famous single essay – “The Forgotten Man” (1884). Unfortunately, Sumner’s intellectual legacy suffered essentially the same fate as that of his contemporary Herbert Spencer, and for much the same reason. From near-ubiquity and respectability, Sumner’s ideas have descended into obscurity and disrepute. To the extent he is remembered at all today, it is mostly for his alleged “social Darwinism.”

Following my essay is a terrific discussion featuring contributions from David Hart, Robert Leroux, and Fabio Rojas. Be sure to check it out!

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The Ethics of Funding Disclosure and the Argumentum Ad Kochum http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/ethics-funding-disclosure-argumentum-ad-kochum/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/ethics-funding-disclosure-argumentum-ad-kochum/#comments Wed, 12 Jul 2017 15:57:30 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11925 A question for my colleagues in ethics and related areas: what are the obligations to disclose funding sources and possible conflicts of interest in an academic setting? Some are obvious:...

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A question for my colleagues in ethics and related areas: what are the obligations to disclose funding sources and possible conflicts of interest in an academic setting?

Some are obvious: if I write a study on smoking funded by a tobacco company or on climate change funded by ExxonMobil, the obligation is clear. The principle here is that the results of the study could have a direct effect on the sponsor’s financial situation, which at least gives a reason to be suspicious of the study (though not to reject it out of hand). That suspicion would seem to require disclosure.

But what about those of us who have taken money from and worked with Koch-funded organizations? Here are several scenarios and I wonder what the ethical obligation is in each to disclose that we are have connections to Koch funding:

  1. A Koch-funded organization gives me money to conduct a specific study on an area of the economy in which Koch Industries is a participant (e.g., the energy sector).
  2. A Koch-funded organization gives me money to conduct a study on an area of the economy in which Koch Industries is not a participant (e.g., a study on Uber).
  3. I am the PI for a Koch-funded grant for student programs at my institution and I write a scholarly or popular article defending the Kochs’ investments in higher education.
  4. I am the PI for a Koch-funded grant for student programs at my institution and I write a popular article criticizing a book critical of the Kochs for getting aspects of the Kochs’ beliefs or activities wrong.
  5. I have a history of working with and being funded by Koch-funded organizations and I write an article or blog post defending public choice theory, economics in general, or libertarian ideas in general, with no reference to the Kochs, from attacks by a book that criticizes any or all of those as well as the Kochs.

It seems to me that I have an obligation to disclose my Koch relationships in cases 1, 3, and 4 for sure. I am not persuaded I need to do so in cases 2 and 5.

If there’s no clear relationship between the work and the bottom line of the Kochs, why is there a need for disclosure?

Case 5 is of interest at the moment because of the controversy over Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains. Her defenders have invoked the “argumentum ad kochum” in their responses claiming that the Koch connections of the critics undermine the legitimacy of their criticisms. They also claim that we are being deceptive in not revealing those connections.

Again, I can be persuaded I’m wrong here, but it’s simply not clear to me why a defense of public choice theory, or an attempt to show that aspects of MacLean’s book that have nothing to do with the Kochs and have everything to do with her misreading of the textual and historical evidence about the work of various scholars, especially James Buchanan, require that I state my Koch connections. (I have no problem doing so, but the question is whether it’s an ethical obligation.)

It strikes me that one reason MacLean’s defenders think we have an obligation to disclose and that those relationships undermine our arguments is that they believe that any argument for freer markets or critical of government intervention is ipso facto “pro-business” and therefore enhances the bottom line of Koch Industries. So, by definition, defending things like public choice theory or Austrian economics are suspect because everyone knows that the biggest beneficiaries of a free economy are the owners of capital. Therefore, we are simply shills for the Kochs and should disclose that.

If I’m right, this only adds to my view that the MacLean book is one long exercise in question begging. She already knew libertarianism is wrong. She already knew free markets benefit “oligarchs” exclusively. She already knew that people who like markets must be racists. I could go on. Once you take those as your operating assumptions, it’s easy to find, often creatively, evidence their favor. Your priors will adequately be supported by a combination of confirmation bias and the conviction that you are fighting off the forces of evil. But it all begs the questions as she assumes her conclusions.

In any case, I’m genuinely curious how others see this set of issues. I’m totally open to persuasion about the obligation to disclose on cases 2 and 5. I only ask that the comments stay civil. It does no one any good to give fuel to the cause of MacLean and her defenders.

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