What do libertarians think about the statement, ‘Individualism is a stupid idea because humans are social animals’?

…as answered on Quora….

There are many definitions of “individualism” — what Alexis de Tocqueville meant by it is radically different from what Wordsworth Donisthorpe meant by it. I have written about Tocqueville’s word choice elsewhere. Here I will discuss something very much like Donisthorpe’s usage in Individualism: A System of Politics (1889), H. L. Mencken’s in Men versus The Man (1911) and F. A. Hayek’s in Individualism and Economic Order (1948).

This libertarian judges the queried statement [“individualism is a stupid idea because humans are social animals”] to be silly and unlearned.

Why?

Because individualism is a doctrine of sociality.

Individualists make the fairly obvious point that it is only by protecting individual personsalong with their justly acquired property that robust sociality can evolve. Individualists look upon our social natures as best maturing when as many relations are voluntary as possible, and when people are judged according to the same standard applied up and down the institutional, class, and tribal order. Persons are not to be given special license because of some specific social connection, but, instead, defended according to basic rights that all may have so long as they reciprocate.

Individualism is a doctrine of free association and voluntary community.

Sure, we are social animals. But from this it does not follow that a “socialism” that coerces compliance and corrals people into groups and regulates them by means of “the public ownership of the means of production” is in any way an expression of humane sociability. This sort of collectivism is a deeply anti-social doctrine. And if you doubt, study the mores of Soviet subjects, or read Orwell’s 1984 — no great society there, no triumph of “social man.”

It is individualism that defends our social natures from the con artistry of any number of collectivisms. To buy the idea that individualism (understood as a rule-of-law standard based on a division of responsibility) is corrosive (by its very name?) of society is to misunderstand society itself. And perhaps to have a very, very low opinion of humanity.

Folks who hold to this notion are easily taken in by simplistic word association. This individualist sees the queried statement as a typical example of ideological trickery, as sophistry, as base rhetoric, as ugly propaganda. It is the kind of thing unscrupulous people say to fool the distracted, the inattentive and the not very bright.

Don’t be conned.

twv

The rains came to my valley, this week, and left a freshet.

Do libertarians think that progressives are good people with policy differences or immoral people who express their immorality through their politics?

… as answered on Quora….

Both.

That is, some libertarians believe that progressives are merely misinformed and misguided; others believe that progressives have a deep evil streak; and some hold to both positions at the same time.

How is that latter possible? Well, a bad idea can be adopted for good reasons, but then the idea’s own entelechy guides its holder into evil. (Ideology is an awful lot like a Ring of Power, and power corrupts.) One may start out just wanting to help the poor and downtrodden, but then, later on, come to revel in hurting those who disagree with you, even those who contribute a lot to society, merely because they are successful while remaining uninterested in one’s own projects.

What can begin in compassion often progresses into envy, resentment and deep, abiding hatred.

I believe this happens to a lot of people, all across the political spectrum.

With progressives it can happen like this: one enthusiastically supports a policy, say, the minimum wage. Then one encounters reasoning and evidence that indicates the policy does not do what its proponents say they want, that is, to help “the poor” and low-skilled workers generally. Most progressives I have met immediately reject the idea that their favored policy prescription can have negative effects, and, especially, that it can have net negative effects. Not only do they not research the challenge to their policy in an honest way, but, instead, grasp at straws, looking for excuses for their “side,” and even press on to engage in cultic social control methods (scorn, shunning, and worse) to attack their chosen policy’s critics.

At this point they embrace evil, for they stick to a policy regardless of its effects. Evil can be defined, here, as causing harm with malign intent.

And yes, their intent to their ideological opponents can become quite combative, and astoundingly malign (just consider the bike-lock-in-a-sock ethician), and the heedlessness with which they marshal to “help” the alleged beneficiaries of their chosen policy becomes gross negligence. They lose sight of the end because what they come to really like is the chosen means. At this point in their ideological development, they no longer “care” about the poor and downtrodden at all. They just like to wield power.

Yes, politics can be an ugly business.

And no one knows this better than libertarians. Which is why we wish to limit the scope of the state and the politics that seeks to control it.

It is a trap that catches good people and turns them into bad people.

twv

Another random image to spruce up the page: me with two iPads in front of the TV!

Who started the libertarian movement?

…as answered on Quora….

The libertarian movement evolved. It was started by the first person to articulate the notion that initiating force is a bad idea not only when private citizens to it, but also when people in government do it.

Modern libertarianism, as understood in the sense usually discussed in America, is a revived and refined classical liberalism, with ties also to 19th century individualist anarchism, which was itself called “philosophical anarchism” in its heyday, and, most astutely, “unterrified Jeffersonianism.” The main libertarian idea can be found in a diversity of liberal writers, such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, but received its first clear discussions in the middle of the 19th century in writers like William Leggett, Henry David Thoreau, Herbert Spencer, Frédéric Bastiat, and Gustave de Molinari. The American brand of anarchism (which I do not regard as a form of anarchism) was invented by utopian experimenter Josiah Warren and jurist Lysander Spooner. But by the end of that century, though the obviously libertarian theory received a great deal of careful elaboration by writers who called themselves “individualists” — Auberon Herbert, J. H. Levy and Wordsworth Donisthorpe to name three — classical liberalism had collapsed as a movement, and for half a century only a few obscure figures and their favorite authors (like Albert Jay Nock) survived . . . as “a remnant.” (See Nock’s essay “Isaiah’s Job,” and his book Our Enemy, the State; see also Garet Garrett’s The People’s Pottage.)

Now, three American women novelists might be said to have “created” modernlibertarianism in the middle of the 20th century: literary critic Isabel Paterson (esp. in The God of the Machine), journalist Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder), and Russian expatriate Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged). The revival of classical liberalism in the writings of two Austrian economists — Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek — spurred the movement, intellectually, especially with their more overtly political books, the elder Austrian’s Socialism and Omnipotent Government, and the younger man’s Road to Serfdom. By the time Murray N. Rothbard made a name for himself in the 1960s, the intellectual movement was well underway. Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia basically sealed the deal, and, as an intellectual movement, libertarianism appeared on the American scene as quite robust by 1976, with Nobel Prizes in economics going to Hayek and the astoundingly brilliant Milton Friedman. Milton and his wife Rose Director, and their son David D. Friedman, were all important exponents of variants of modern libertarianism, with the son being the more daring and radical.

As a political movement, libertarianism erupted out of the Young Americans for Freedom organization in the 1960s and a political party forming after Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard, which helped disenthrall libertarians from conservative politics.

The definitive account of libertarian history was written by Brian Doherty in Radicals for Capitalism.


N.B. The Jeffersonian reference is to a passage from Benjamin R. Tucker:

The development of the economic programme which consists in the destruction of these monopolies and the substitution for them of the freest competition led its authors to a perception of the fact that all their thought rested upon a very fundamental principle, the freedom of the individual, his right of sovereignty over himself, his products, and his affairs, and of rebellion against the dictation of external authority. Just as the idea of taking capital away from individuals and giving it to the government started Marx in a path which ends in making the government everything and the individual, nothing, so the idea of taking capital away from government-protected monopolies and putting it within easy reach of all individuals started Warren and Proudhon in a path which ends in making the individual everything and the government nothing. If the individual has a right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny. Hence the necessity of abolishing the State. This was the logical conclusion to which Warren and Proudhon were forced, and it became the fundamental article of their political philosophy. It is the doctrine which Proudhon named Anarchism, a word derived from the Greek, and meaning, not necessarily absence of order, as is generally supposed, but absence of rule. The Anarchists are simply unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats. They believe that “the best government is that which governs least,” and that that which governs least is no government at all. Even the simple police function of protecting person and property they deny to governments supported by compulsory taxation. Protection they look upon as a thing to be secured, as long as it is necessary, by voluntary association and cooperation for self-defence, or as a commodity to be purchased, like any other commodity, of those who offer the best article at the lowest price. In their view it is in itself an invasion of the individual to compel him to pay for or suffer a protection against invasion that he has not asked for and does not desire. And they further claim that protection will become a drug in the market, after poverty and consequently crime have disappeared through the realization of their economic programme. Compulsory taxation is to them the life-principle of all the monopolies, and passive, but organized, resistance to the tax-collector they contemplate, when the proper time comes, as one of the most effective methods of accomplishing their purposes.

Benjamin R. Tucker’s Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One (1893/1897).
Additional Reading:

The funny thing about Impeachment 2 is that it smacks so strongly of anti-democracy.

I know, I know. Folks are talking about the payoff being the Senate forbidding Trump (if removed) from ever holding office again. Seems a tad personal. Not anti-democratic.

And hey: doing this to Trump after a miserable, humiliating failure of it a year ago is so embarrassingly petty that I shake my head. So the personal animus must be high. Were they humiliated by Trump? I suppose that could be what galls them so.

But I think it is something else.

Of course, I do find it funny how under their skin he got — and it is hilarious to witness Democrats talk about how awful a president he is, but when you probe them they almost always mean BECAUSE HE SAYS ICKY THINGS not because he’s murdered people (like LBJ) or started wars (like Bush and Clinton and Bush and Obama), or even because he WASN’T DICTATORIAL ENOUGH about COVID (my favorite Intellectual Death Knell of the Democracy ploy). But, behind the whole circus, what seems pretty obvious is this: he gave voice to the people Democrats hate most, “the Deplorables.”

Who now number over 70,000,000 strong, and are getting quite fed up with Democrats.

These Deplorables wanted to “Drain the Swamp,” but, until Trump, none of their respectable Republican champions could dare take it seriously. So the Deplorables went “another direction.” And that man fought hard for them. True, he accomplished little swamp-wise — the Swamp’s gotten bigger and nastier — but he did something they didn’t think they needed: he drew out the swamp creatures, into the light beyond Swamp cover, for all to see, and the Deplorables looked at the creatures, red in tooth and communism, and said, “at least we can understand Trump’s problems — these people seem malevolent and dangerous.” They stuck with their man.

And Democrats went bonkers, for five years.

And now a second impeachment! I mean, suppressing nearly half of the electorate because you disapprove of their political attitudes is quite anti-democratic. That is the next worst thing to one-party-statism — that is, fascism/communism/tyranny. And, amusingly, it sure smacks of “voter suppression”: it isn’t against Trump so much as the people he’s given a voice to that Democrats have it in for. Those people must not have power!

But mainly, the left’s hatred for the right isn’t really ideological. It may be the old the-political-is-the-personal. But what is that, though, really? Sexual loathing, class-based revulsion. Add on the racism and sexism against white males, and maybe you can see what I mean. Trump the billionaire personifies what leftists think Deplorables are. Or: Trump is the perfect champion for Deplorables’ deplorableness.

But it is worse: the Democrats are the Swamp! Maybe the reason Democrats hate Deplorables so much is that each side now knows and hates the other for what the other is. Deplorables know Democrats’ secret, that the Democratic Party is a Deep State creature, the ultimate Swamp Thing; and Democrats know the Deplorables’ secret, that they are weak and demoralized without a leader who pushes fantasy above reality.

So I’m trying to get in the spirit of the whole affair to cheer on the divisiveness.

Why applaud rather than leave it at a sneer? Well, I think it would be good for the United States to split up — and the Pentagon be dissolved, above all else. If ideological and partisan division can get the union dissolved on more workable lines, so be it!

Let’s go for it. Go, Democrats! Let’s do Civil War! (You morons.)

twv

P.S. Or it is just the humiliation Trump gave them that sticks in their craw. Why, they’d love Trump’s Deplorables so long as they bowed down to everything they said and be good little . . . well, you know.

I confess: I sometimes like to answer bizarre questions.

Why don’t white people realize that I don’t want them bothering me?

…as answered on Quora….

I am a white person. I am answering this question. Does that bother you?

If it does, it is not my fault. While one might not unreasonably infer you only want answers from P.o.C., you are not explicit, and it is more than likely that Quora itself provides a socially recognized venue constituting the one safe space in which you might interact with people you apparently dislike (“whites”) without being bothered.

So I have the temerity of answering.

Most white people in America are not very racist, and many of them are (or, until recently, were) at least trying not to be racist. Indeed, many white Americans voted for Barack Obama not merely to signal their lack of racism, but also in an earnest attempt to encourage racial peace. But that did not work out at all well (Obama having fanned the flames of racial grievances), so quite a few seem to be giving up on trying.

But look at that word, again, “bother.”

I do not want to be bothered by anyone! White, black, brown or purple. I bet you do not want to be bothered by anyone either. Being bothered is a negative condition.

I am sort of wondering why anyone would express their dislike of being bothered by limiting it to people of one race. It suggests that you are pretty darned tolerant of bothersome P.o.C, but not at all of bothersome whites.

And that is racist.

But maybe not horribly racist.

I have come to believe that racism, no matter how irrational it looks from a universalistic moral point of view, has not evolved in a singular way to play upon the social sphere of life as WHOLLY EVIL. Some forms of racism are worse than others. And maybe the most common form is best thought of in terms of “bothersomeness.” I know that I expect people to be open enough (empathic enough) to be well-mannered in most social situations; I merely assume that my presence alone will not bother them. I expect others to have my basic attitude: to be open to peaceful relations with anyone, and tolerant of social contact while we negotiate the extent of our future involvement, if any. Most of us will ignore each other most of the time. But when, in the course of the day, we do bump up against each other and find oursleves sharing a temporary social space, we expect each other to be, at worst, rejected with grace. Not in anger, hatred, revulsion.

Perhaps the most common form of racism is not expecting that attitude from other races, but only of one’s own — or, worse yet, not expecting minimal civilized courtesy and forbearance of members of one race, while assuming it of all others.

I fear that, in the last decade or so, a number of prominent political groups (far left and alt-right) have abandoned the moral goal of establishing that minimal social more. Their onslaught of airing racial grievances, I fear, is upping the levels of racial discord.

And that is more than bothersome.

twv

I am about to set up a new feature on this site, quotations of a pithy nature, to be titled “Laconics of Liberty.” But this passage struck me as a grand example of glorious 19th century exuberance. Not laconic!

Henry A. Wise on John Tyler, first spread of pages of the first chapter, Seven Decades of the Union: The Humanities and Materialism (1872).

“Cops are taking selfies with the terrorists,” tweeted Timothy Burke. Another Twitterer quipped, “White privilege is . . . Being part of the mob while taking a selfie with the cops.”

After citing these two tweets, Heavy noted a third: “To be fair, you could see a cop doing the right thing to de-escalate by saying ‘all right, you can take your selfie now get the hell out.’” 

That last thought is reminiscent of Paul Jacob’s Andy Griffith reference at Common Sense

The protest-turned-invasion of the Capitol was, all in all, not very violent. One woman was shot and killed as she advanced upon police within the building. No one else was. The other listed deaths were outside the trespass event, on the streets.

Were the trespassers “terrorists”?

Well, terrorists are those who use violence upon civilians to gain some political effect. The breaking-and-entering incursion into where Congress works was illegal, and “violent” in the sense that breaking glass is violent, and marching into property without the owners’ permission is violent. So: not-very-violent. The woman shot was not brandishing a weapon. The oft-cited deaths outside the Capitol building turn out to be mostly . . . irrelevant. But, and this is key: this riot was turned against the government directly, not against the citizenry. Insurrectionists would be a better term, but even that is a bit much, since it is obvious that they just wanted to “make a statement,” not take over the government. The various riots over the summer lasted weeks, months. This lasted a few hours.

Now, is this general low-key quality of the whole affair — as exemplified by the selfie moment — an example of “white privilege”? That seems a little off. The protesters-turned-trespassers had no beef with the police. So the “privilege” consisted in not being a threat. Sounds like the wages of peace rather than the perks of privilege.

Their beef was with the machinery of vote counts and the whole system that they think stole the election for Biden over their candidate, the current president.

Most people in media and on the Democrat side — and many, many Republicans — say “there’s no evidence for a stolen election.” While it is possible that the election itself wasn’t stolen (I’ll abide by evidence rationally presented) to say “no evidence” is off. There’s a lot of evidence of voting schemes and ballot abuse. It’s just that the system isn’t set up to deal with it in the time allotted by the Constitution.

The proper time to deal with election fraud is before and while it is happening — definitely not a few weeks before inauguration. Even of a Manchurian Candidate.

twv

One of the reasons I got along with Bill Bradford, late editor of Liberty, so well for so long — long after most of his hires could tolerate his supervision — was his glee in acknowledging criticism. Not personal criticism, mind you, but literary. Specifically, he liked printing negative letters-to-the-editor, and did not really think most should be responded to by the authors or editors criticized. If someone marshaled a negative judgment, well, the letter-writers in the Letters column should, if at all possible, retain the last word. If the critic were correct, well, there it be; were he were not, then, the idiocy should be plain to see, and the criticized author should know when he was being unjustly criticized. And be content. With the content. In context.

But you guessed it, we did gloat over some especially silly responses.

Of course every writer prefers praise to contempt. And when we learn something, we find it difficult to complain. Indeed, learning should always be welcome.

That being said, expressions of disapproval that performatively prove our points are especially rich.

I get some pushback on Quora, for example, primarily from leftists. Some of it is instructive, but most is gloat fodder. And then there is the praise, too. For example, from a recent answer:

And I wonder if Bill Bradford would advise me never to hit REPLY. I suspect he would.

twv

Does the left or the right in the West generally have a higher and deeper sense of “spiritual maturity”?

…as answered on Quora….

One of the hallmarks of spirituality in nearly all traditions is to embrace or somehow unify a basic metaphysical duality. At first blush, one would expect neither “the left” nor “the right” — each by emphasizing one tendency in political thought and practice — to sport a deep spirituality. Both are doomed to shallow gambits and contradictions scuttling unity of wisdom and meaning.

The problem is, what do “the left” and “the right” represent?

For decades I was on the wrong track on this. I have always deeply distrusted both leftists and rightists, but, to make sense of their characteristic follies and perversities, I kept looking to their policies and their basic orientations as defining. Not a wrong-headed approach. But the world seemed too complex to reduce to a one-dimensional spectrum. I was troubled by the prevalence of the same kind of policies on the left and the right. A certain arbitrariness seemed most evident. The idea that left-right served as little more than a chaotic delusion or distraction kept on coming back to me.

In the last few years, though, I applied it to my most basic interest in social theory: in-group/out-group alignments and dynamics. And I listened to the latest metamorphosis of leftist obsession, with the focus on “inclusion.” And it struck me: leftist thought isn’t about oppression (per Arnold Kling) or egalitarianism (per Michael Malice), it is about appealing to the cause of outsiders or an outsider group as a rationale to attack and either reform or destroy (or just take over) the in-group hierarchy. Rightist thought is all about something more basic: defense of the in-group and its hierarchy from outside threats, or merely leftist ones.

Protecting self from other (self-defense) and one’s own in-group (in traditional societies this often amounts to “kin group”) is a basic, natural, and necessary tendency. A basic interest. We would not be here as a species had not our ancestors successfully accomplished this. But protecting the outsider from abuse by the in-group and its defenders is absolutely vital to the growth of civilization. Also a basic interest. For the rightist vice is overkill, treating every perception of human difference as evidence of an enemy. It needs to be counterbalanced with a willingness to defend the underdog, the loner, the misfit, or merely a wanderer or trader from another tribe, to allow civilization to grow.

So “the right” is traditional order; “the left” reaches beyond the programmed-into-us defensive instinct to protect and nurture the other. This “orientation” is at least as old as the Amenist/Atenist (right/left as in setting sun in the West versus rising sun in the East) split in Egypt, and comes to us from both our Helenistic and Hebraistic traditions. It is not an accident that “right” is both a direction and a key term in moral philosophy. It is funny to have seen leftists so despise tradition that they now see “right” as utterly evil. Ah, the comedy of partisanship.

Rightists assume that they are always in the right — denying that they can be oppressors to outsiders, denying the possibility of “right vice.” Leftists assume the opposite. But obviously there is right-virtue and right-vice just as there is left-virtue and left-vice.

The rightist vice is oppression of outsiders and other groups; slaughter; exploitation, etc. The leftist vice is treason, taking in outsiders to destroy other insiders.

Justice is when both sides’ virtues are in play, and both sides’ vices are repudiated.

Nowadays that does not seem possible, since both sides see only vice in the other. There is no possibility of achieving spirituality in such out-of-balance nature.

Instead of spirituality, there is only ideological mania.

The principles that would determine what virtue is in defense of self and kin from invasive, threatening others (and of course any group can seek destruction or exploitation of another), and virtue also in defense of others from the “no kill like overkill” extremism of the rightists, while being able to discern where both insider and outsider defenses go beyond the fit and proper — that is justice.

Spirituality would be the “feel” for that just balance, the sheer perspectival ability to create the balance and cultivated instinct to dispose the imbalancing passions.

Hint: that spirituality does not arise in politics, normally, since politics in a democracy (as well as other governmental mechanisms) is all compromise based on expedience and what-you-can-get-away-with, not principle: politics forms shotgun compromises. A spiritual, justice-oriented middle-ground balance would achieve ideal compromises, where the middle ground is virtuous.

I am pretty certain that our form of modern governance engenders and promotes left-vice and right-vice, which in turn reinforces our mixed system, and if we want peace and a vital spirituality, we are going to have to rethink our fundamentals.

I know: not likely.

twv

The New Century Dictionary, H.G. Emery and K.G. Brewster, editors, D. Appleton-Century Company (1942).

It’s the cause of much mockery and mirthful meming. The Internet erupted in hilarity. 

And Jesse Lee Peterson sees it as an attack on Christianity.

I am referring, of course, to the opening prayer of the 117th Congress, by Representative Emanuel Cleaver, from Missouri’s Fifth District, Kansas City (where everything’s up-to-date). Here is a segment or two, featuring the bizarre benediction:

Bask in this a moment: a Methodist preacher, when it came time to mumble “the name of the monotheistic god” — yes, he said those words in the prayer itself — uttered as that name not “Jesus” or “Jehovah” or “Adonai” or even “Allah,” he stumbled on “Brahma,” and concluded with not merely an “Amen” but an “and Awomen.”

A boom-chicka-THWACK.

That the ceremony yielded jokes is apt. It is itself a joke. Emanuel Cleaver claims to be a Methodist minister. But the joke is more worthy of Richard Pryor than any professed Christian. It shows an essential impiety — so to this extent maybe Jesse Lee Peterson has a point — but it also shows a piety, too: a tip of the hat or a nod in the direction of the real religion practiced in Cleaver’s party: intersectionalist feminism.

You see, “Amen” sports a distinct etymology from either “man” as in “adult male” or “Man” as in “humanity.” The Hebrew root is explained in the oldest dictionary by my side as “strengthen, confirm.” And means “Truly, verily.” Meanwhile, “man” and “woman” reach back from Germanic roots to Sanskrit’s manu. While I suppose strength is associated with men, “woman” derives from wife+man, so I’m not sure prefixing an “a” to that word assuages feminists from the horrid words “wife” and “man.”

All this is silly. Yes. But it does show how far from traditional values and habits Democrats have wandered. The Culture War continues. They simply do not care about holding to any cultural pieties of the old days. They have written off those for whom anything like a traditional Christianity means anything — those folks “cling to their God and their guns.” Democrats do not!

Verily.

twv