Archives for category: Quora

What prevents countries from attempting libertarian policies?

…as answered on Quora….

Not enough libertarians.

That is the main reason. All other reasons are speculative.

But there is, I think, a baseline reason for why there are so few libertarians, and I am not referring to genetic predisposition or the early stage of libertarianism’s development. What is that reason?

Statism is a trap.

The dirigiste state — the robust modern state, as well as the various states of limited-access societies in the past — presents people with a set of incentive traps that embroil them in self-defeating behavior.

Think of it as a hole and all we have are shovels, and the loosest loam is under our feet, not on the sides. It takes longer digging steps for an upward ascent. So people, mostly distracted, living their lives, convince themselves that digging further downward is the obvious response.

They forget that the first rule to apply when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging downward.

The social sciences provide some familiar and not-familiar-enough terms that help define and explain aspects of our predicament: rational ignorance, preference falsification, the Thomas Theorem, the prisoner’s dilemma, public goods, rent-seeking, market failure, and the like. But people get confused by the situations identified by these terms, and are tempted to see in further state-control and -interference solutions to the problems state-control itself causes.

Example? Take that term “market failure.” It is a term of art that economists use, but it often confuses even economists. It is not, like it sounds, about the failures of markets. It refers to the failure to establish the groundwork for markets. The most common market failures are in government.

It sounds paradoxical.

But it isn’t.

It is just a bit complicated.

Smart people are supposed to be able to unravel such convolutions, untangle these puzzles. But the dirigiste state presents smart people with a huge temptation: to live at others’ expense — gain unfair advantage — all the while feeling self-righteous in advancing “the public good.”

But what if the public good can only be achieved through the establishment of the limits that liberty provides? What if it is only by limiting coercion so that people have to get ahead by serving others through trade and other forms of voluntary coöperation that redounds to the general benefit?

Well, smart people would have to work a bit harder, in such a system, and might have to live with dumber people getting ahead of them. So smart people just naturally find the statist modes of the ancient world’s limited-access societies and revive them through licensing, regulations, taxation, even subsidies. And, in the process, “just so happen” to set up their class as dominant. Technocracies don’t run themselves!

It “just so happens” that the biggest winners in a modern dirigiste state are members of what we call the cognitive elite.

It is almost as if intellectuals — good students, remember, great test-takers and essay writers and bright young scholars — saw the world of market capitalism at the end of the 19th century, where anyone, regardless of IQ or credentials, could advance by leaps and bounds so long as they provided services to others on a contractual, voluntary basis, and said “fuck that shit.” It is almost as if they set up a system of massive coercion all built around the guidance of “trained professionals” wherein said professionals would achieve the security that markets do not readily provide, at least for so little real work.

It is almost that!

That, my friends, is Progressivism.

And, with the smart people — er, the good students and dutiful drones of the collegiate crowd — almost all on board with statism, and in control of the commanding heights of the culture — public schools, higher ed, major media and the entertainment industry, not to mention the many bureaucracies and government contractors — it is very hard to make much headway against the trap that they have fully set.

Amusingly, these geniuses routinely set up systems that self-destruct. At least, after entangling increasing numbers of the population into servility or exploitation or both. So, we run headlong into crisis, and move from crisis to crisis. There may be some hope in a growing realization that these long-term cycles of the dirigiste state are not All to the Good.

And, lastly, at the basis of the trap, at least in terms of democratic action, is this: government programs are routinely judged not on the merits of their ostensible and original purposes, but on whether they establish beneficiaries. That is, constituencies. But allprograms accomplish that. So all government programs tend to grow, and kludge must become the rule.

While retreats from social kludge can be made, and have been made, they are politically costly, difficult to negotiate.

Statism is the “it” of our situation:

twv, December 16, 2018

Why is capitalism not liberalism?

…as answered on Quora….

Which capitalism? Which liberalism?

What came to be known as “capitalism” grew out of mercantilism and the freeing up of such systems in part by liberals — “classical liberals” — who sought to limit government interference in the workings of markets. Arguing for a generally ‘laissez faire’ approach, and persuaded by economic reasoning that most of the goals and methods of mercantilists achieved socially negative results — often the opposite of the promised results of the traditional advocates of private-public partnerships — these liberals helped spur the astounding economic advances of the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

But almost no country has ever sported pure laissez faire — such a policy seems austere to folks in government, whose power is limited under such a policy — and Actually Existing Capitalism has always been to some degree mercantilist, filled with goofy and exploitative favoritism, transfer payments, deceptive and slippery regulations, tragedies of the commons, vast public work projects, and persistent rent-seeking manias. Self-proclaimed liberals fought this for many decades of the 19th century, but the popularity of socialist ideas infected the class of people who called themselves liberals, and this class of people reverted to a kind of neo-mercantilism, dubbed ‘progressivism’ in America and ‘social democracy’ in Europe, often pushing to dirigisme — sometimes called fascism and other times called national socialism and often pitched with eulogistic, sloganeering brand names, like The New Freedom and The New Deal.

It is time to take back the term ‘liberalism’ from the advocates of some jury-rigged ‘third way’ between laissez faire and state socialism. But we may have to stick with alternatives, like ‘libertarianism’ or Benedetto Croce’s ‘liberism.’

It would be easy to argue that ‘capitalism’ has almost always been used as a pejorative, and should be dropped like a scorched spud. Worse yet, naming a system of private property, free production, free trade, free labor, and free banking by only one of the three traditional factors of production — ‘capital’ (instead of by land and labor as well) — makes capitalism unsuitable for those who wish for any sort of precision. But we are probably stuck with it, too. In my nitpickier moments I sometimes talk up The Catallaxy — the emergent order of all voluntary exchanges (Richard Whately defined economics as ‘catallactics,’ or the Science of Exchanges, nearly two centuries ago, and F.A. Hayek coined the above term for the liberal system sometime in the 1960s or 70s) — but that isn’t going to fly.

When someone says they are for or against ‘capitalism,’ we must ask for clarification. When folks call themselves a ‘liberal’ but are only liberal in spending other people’s money, laugh in their faces.

Today’s critics of capitalism must not be allowed to get away with their most characteristic legerdemain, pretending that every problem in our mixed economy is caused only by the ‘free market’ aspect of the system, and not the government part. And conservative defenders of capitalism have got to stop calling the current system ‘free enterprise.’ Wake up and throw out the coffee grounds.

In my opinion, liberals are those who advocate laissez faire capitalism. They oppose the neo-mercantilists of all varieties, and socialists even stronger.

So, back to the question. Why is capitalism not liberalism? Capitalism is an economic order; liberalism is an ideology.

Alas, we are almost always stuck with the tedious job of disambiguating both terms.

twv, October 24, 2019

People not tempted by a weird belief express their incredulity. They dismiss the belief out of hand, with a kind of contempt that gives them a feeling of being special, set above the other. They think they are superior.

Pride goeth before the abyss.

I have been fascinated by QAnon, as I occasionally mention. Not fascinated enough to research it much. But contact with Q posts online gave me an extra window into a world I know exists, but which I experience chiefly through fiction: the world of myth, legend, mania. . . .

I have oft repeated two judgments about Q:

I have no evidence against much of the lore, and that the final months of Trump’s administration would put the theories to a falsifiability test.

This last idea seemed especially important. And I was as pleased as anyone to witness QAnon lore largely falsified.

You know, because, come what may, Truth is better than lies.

But those who see in QAnon only insanity and partisan madness, and in their rejection of it see evidence mainly of their own high moral standing? Well, they tend to look at the phenomenon with less open-ended interest. For example, this question-and-answer on Quora:

How can I convince Qanon supporters that Q is a hoax?

Let me summarize Qanon for you.

There is a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles who are running a sex-trafficking ring and are working against Donald Trump in order to ruin the world.

Think about that for a moment.

Let it sink in.

Do you really think that there is anything you can say to a person who believes in that which will change their mind? They must have armor built from the thickest, laminated slabs of fabricated lies welded together that is proof against the strongest facts or logic.

As a coworker once told me (and I’m sure it’s not an original from him):

“You cannot reason someone off of a cliff they didn’t reason themselves onto.”

Or, as another coworker put it (and I suspect this is an original):

If you don’t speak crazy, don’t talk to crazy.

In short, there is nothing you can tell them. They will just assume that you are part of the cabal.

This answer seems all very knowing and savvy. I am sure its author felt very satisfied with his answer. But all of his assumed “wisdom”? It is all as fake as QAnon proved to be.

The main assumption is false. And this is important. Yet it is a falsity sanctified by the very best authorities. It was pithily stated by Jonathan Swift long ago:

Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion,
which by Reasoning he never acquired

Fisher Ames restated it:

Men are not to be reasoned out of an opinion
that they have not reasoned themselves into.

But this is more obviously untrue than the QAnon conspiracy accounts themselves. I rejected many ideas using “reason” that I had acquired in a much more careless way. In fact, most of my ideas that are of a controversial nature were so acquired. Writing before Swift, Dryden is more nearly right:

A Man is to be cheated into Passion, but to be reason’d into Truth.

Of course, “reasoning” can err; or, more precisely, reasoning man does not always find the truth. Using evidence and logic, one can conjure up a conjecture, knead it into a theory and proclaim it “verified” in proper positivist fashion and remain completely wrong. Indeed, in my experience, people who do this can be as obstinate (or more) than those who haphazardly accumulate convictions.

The Quoran’s answer was mere pride and prejudice. I would trust nothing about about that person’s epistemics. His core beliefs that he thinks define himself as a rational man bear, likely as not, all the weight of gossamer.

After all, we have seen many a QAnonster drop the more fanciful notions. You have probably even read a report or two about such a recantation: the “shaman” of January 6 has so confessed to having been fooled.

Of course many Q enthusiasts only reject select parts of the lore. And perhaps that is what is warranted. Break the Quoran’s litany into separate points:

  1. There is a cabal seeking to run (ruin?) the world.
  2. Its members worship Satan.
  3. They engage in strange anthopophagic rites.
  4. They are pedophiles.
  5. Many political insiders participate in or are blackmailed by sex-trafficking rings.
  6. One or more of these cabals worked mightily against Donald Trump.

With just the above, quite slight restatement, Q lore looks less nutty. Is there a cabal for global governance? Well, yes; more than likely more than one. Do some of these folks worship Satan? Well, have you heard of the Temple of Set and its status within the U.S. Government, courtesy of lobbying by a man who became a top NSA official? Set may or may not equal Satan. Cannibalism? Yes, it is now being openly defended as a sexual fantasy on lefty websites, and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear of worse. Pedophile sex rings among the very powerful have been uncovered in Britain and Europe, and Jeffrey Epstein may not have killed himself. Finally, Donald Trump was indeed opposed by very connected members of the FBI and CIA etc., and this is not at all controversial.

The questions for Q enthusiasts are:

how organized are the groups they oppose?

how knowingly do how many of their enemies share the negative, lurid attributes Q assigned to them?

how explicit and how extreme are their aims, or are some or all driven by a sort of memetic blindness?

how much of Q lore was hope, how much of it was a prank, and how much was disinformation by masters of psychological operations?

I heard quite a few science fictional scenarios from Q folks. You know, about Trump directing the military to engage in secret operations against underground caverns of devilish pedophile cannibals. That kind of thing. It felt like open-source sci-fi. And while it would be easy to dismiss all this out of hand, I had no trouble just setting it onto my Epoché shelf, carefully filed.

Why not just dismiss it?

Well, were the government not officially disclosing UFO information in dribs and drabs, while ignoring eight decades’ worth of leaked memos about UFOs, I probably would. But we have a huge mystery here, the government has been all over the map concealing, denying, acknowledging and ignoring the UFO lore, making it a huge matzo ball looming over our culture and over our conception of the world. I know that most intellectuals prefer to ignore this. I cannot. In my philosophy, inconvenient evidence requires explanation, not damning. (I relish every Charles Fort reference.) And I recognize what C.G. Jung recognized, that government handling of the UFO issue is driving people nuts.

Nuts enough to believe Q? Yes. But also nuts to disbelieve everything even slightly Q-adjacent.

Oh, and the nuttiest thing in Q? That Donald Trump was going to save us from the bad guys. Turns out: nope. The globalists have taken control, shamelessly engage in a concerted suppression of dissent, and have used the excuse of a contagion to marshal unconstitutional powers to rob millions of the freedoms. And they insist on doing more.

Oh, and not only was Trump unable to stop them, in the key area of COVID insanity, Trump fed the beast.

Q was obviously way off. And I do hope Q enthusiasts can reason their way out of placing inordinate hope in mythic champions who — it just so happens — deliver them to their enemies. For sacrifice.

twv

It is largely an artifact of World War II, our age’s relentless demonization of fascism. The fascists lost; “we” won.

I have long been in the inconvenient position of itching to demonize fascism as a political and economic system while also sweeping under the Demon rubric the forces that did the grand work of defeating the Nazis, Italian fascists, and Japanese imperialists. For the nation-states and ersatz empires of the Allies shared more in common with their enemies than with the polity for which I advocate. They are all cultists of the omnipotent state. Though I readily admit, by happy accident I was born an American, where the omnipotence of the federal government was contained, traditionally, by some constitutional procedural niceties . . . legal limitations on governmental scope. American fascism was a thing, but fascistic elements of the Progressives’ beloved central government were even more important. And those American limits on state potency have eroded over time.

Nevertheless, it is today’s social justice, intersectionalist “pseudo-progressives” (to use the Misesian pejorative form) who are most likely to use “fascist” as the ultimate term of abuse. They have World War II behind them, and the modern Democratic Party beside them, to make their terminology stick. But their abuse of history and language remains an issue. For more on this problem, consult David Ramsay Steele and The Mystery of Fascism. It is an essay in a book. Look it up. Last year Lee Waaks and I talked with Mr. Steele about it on the LocoFoco Netcast:

But there is no end to the discussion, apparently. See a recent post to Liberty at Large on Quora:

Fascism and anti-fascism, in popular debate, are usually just political tribalism. Fascists were worshipers in the Cult of the Omnipotent State who made much of their differences with Socialists. Progressives in the Progressive Era preferred fascism, generally, to socialism; since World War II they preferred socialism to fascism. But what any of them “really mean” when they say “fascism” (bad) or “socialism” (good) is open to dispute. For, like always with political people, between fantasy and compromise lies a vast tract of spongey territory with no sure footing.

I sometimes find one fantasy worse than another depending on where the action is on the spongey marshland. I try not to be distracted by each will-o’-the-wisp conjured up out of swamp gas.

But hey: it is hard, since usually there is more gas than light. And we need the light.

twv

N.B. This afternoon I chatted with Anthony Comegna again, for an upcoming podcast. But I should mention two recent episodes of his podcast, Ideas in Progress, are about actual America fascism, with historian Katy Hull. Highly recommended!

How can we know whether libertarianism is even possible?

…as answered on Quora….

First, let us be precise. How do we know that liberty, as conceived by libertarians, is possible? That is the question.

Liberty, let us stipulate, is the freedom that can be had by all.

Freedom makes sense in a variety of contexts, and one popular definition is absence of obligations, or socially imposed requirements.

One need not be a philosopher engaged in some elaborate phenomenology to see that obligations, or duties, are inevitable in society; likewise, one need not be an anthropologist or social psychologist to understand that some people wish to avoid one variety of obligations, while others choose a different set from which to unburden themselves. Popularly, some folks of a rebellious nature see in any duty an imposition, and demand liberation — for them, any burden is “oppression.” That may be the urge of the anarchist, or nihilist, or socialist, or merely the froward. But it is not what libertarians are up to.

Libertarians look at the social world as transactional. Force, and threat thereof, is different from cooperation which is different from avoidance; initiated force is distinct from defensive force, which is distinct from retaliatory. Of the many contexts in which freedom makes sense, libertarians see that freedom from initiated force is the freedom that all can have, and, moreover, the variety that places the least amount of obligatory burden upon society, for the duty each individual faces is not to initiate force, violence, coercion, or threat thereof.*

So, can this be achieved? Can coercion be equalized and minimized, as a matter of law?

Well, we can see that it is the basic principle of many realms of social life. It is even a deeply embedded assumption in current law. The libertarian idea is at the heart of why murder and theft and even fraud are regarded as crimes legitimately fought with defensive and retaliatory force.

Of course, many legislated laws — which can be quite different critters from the laws we see in the practice and scope of the common law, where traditional understanding of crimes and torts developed — flout these principles. Many laws as concocted by tyrants and legislators are themselves initiations of force. Libertarians oppose these.

Past American society was burdened with far fewer laws of this latter type than now. So we know that freer societies are possible. But no society has ever been wholly free, by libertarian lights. How could we know whether the fully free society is possible?

We cannot, not now.

I regard the plausibility of the libertarian ideas as a hunch. I know that I prefer the freer interactions in our own society to the forced interactions. Further, by history and social theory (including but not limited to economics) I know that were we freer, we would be, on the whole, much better off: not merely “happier” but more virtuous and adaptable and even honorable. But given that some people even now cannot cope with the little freedom they have, and that many, many people regard their lust to rule over others — as well as to be ruled by others — as bedrock to their own sense of order, that we have to wonder how far this can scale, and to which populations.**

I do not know (with the certainty this word “know” implies) that a fully free society is possible. I do strongly suspect it is not possible with humans as they are — in no small part because we do not have it. Libertarian philosopher Herbert Spencer believed that the basic institutions of society must fit the character and circumstances of the people they apply to. People given to crime, panic, servility, and powerlust cannot be free. Alas, give them the institutions to constrain them from their worst crimes but nevertheless allow them to express their worst natures and what do you have? Any progress to betterment? Any progress to freedom?

It depends.

My basic position is that we are now too far from a free society to know how far towards freedom we can successfully move, and how sustainable a complete form can be. Reason editor Jesse Walker dubbed my position agnarchism, a droll portmanteau. I am a philosophical anarchist in one sense, but my fallibilism (or falsificationist epistemic) is such that I accept limits to my knowledge — I am agnostic on many issues. I do not know how far civilized man can peel back the onion of the state.

But I do know a number of things that point strongly in the direction of freedom.

I know, for instance, that the current political-legal order, along with its nearest reform ideologies, is routinely defended by recourse to lies, careless errors, unwarranted fantasies, and bad reasoning; that masked agendas are the most important agendas; that critiques of freedom as a goal or standard are based, chiefly, on ignorance and outrageous displays of repugnance; that folks who blithely go on pressing “morality” into their politics generally live by preference falsification and false consciousness, and incorporate bedrock vices into their conceptions of virtue; that politics as a whole is an ugly business based on strife and exploitation masquerading as peace and justice; and that the people are generally ignorant of the true nature of the society they live in, and cannot think two steps down the chain of causation of any proposal for reform they make.

To use a religious analogy: I do not know my god exists, but I know that other gods are devils, and not merely in the details but also in the Grand Scheme.

This suggests to me that carrying on the advocacy of equal freedom remains a noble cause, and a matter of honesty.

As it is honest to admit the limits of all our knowledge.


* It gets more complicated, but the basic conception is clear. The basic notion is that libertarians insist that the civilized approach to sociality is to demand the same from each, and the least from each, as well. And upon this bedrock set of minimal obligations people can form their lives, which will of course entail many additional obligations — but which they themselves choose.

** The saddest truth is that some people, now, could very easily manage and thrive in a free society, but others by genes and culture and institutional instruction would not. This is an important point, and is really where actual political and ideological discord rests.


N.B. From the above, it should be noted that there can be no guarantee of liberty, for it depends upon reciprocal restraint. When some attempt to destroy us, or rob us, there can be no assurance that they will not succeed. We must strive, at some expense, to prevent the usurpations that abridge our rights to freedom. It should follow that the freer a society is, the less effort will be required to defend freedom.

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:

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

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