Archives for posts with tag: libertarianism

Tom Woods, of the Tom Woods Show, a fine and informative libertarian podcast, puts out an excellent daily email newsletter. Today’s interested me:

On my Twitter feed the other day, someone posted a photo of a page in a textbook he was forced to use in college.

“If you are a libertarian or an anarchist who believes states are a threat to freedom, you should consider moving to Somalia.” That’s the first sentence on the page.
Subtle.
(The offending book, if you’re curious, is The Good Society: An Introduction to Comparative Politics, by Alan Draper and Ansil Ramsay.)
Here we have an academic textbook literally urging libertarians to move to Somalia if they hate states so much — in other words, it’s written at the level of “You like carrots? Why don’t you marry one” from third grade. Seriously, this is exactly the same dumb-guy argument I might encounter on Twitter.
“Without a state,” we read, Somalia under statelessness descended into a Hobbesian “state of nature where life is nasty, brutish, and short.”
Then, after two whole paragraphs on the situation in Somalia, we get study questions. If you look really, really closely, you may detect a very slight bias in these questions.
VERY SLIGHT, I tell you.
“1. Which is preferable, bad government or no government?”
“2. Why hasn’t Somalia without a state become the paradise that libertarians anticipate?”

This reaction, this common and absurd “Somalia Ploy,” is what you might expect from an over-emphasis on anti-statism among libertarians, at least when the “statism“ being fought is no longer informed by Ludwig von Mises’ usage of “etatism” (the French version of the word), but instead abused as a sort of hatred for The State in all its forms.

But the witlessness of some libertarians need not undermine the wits of the rest.

Here is my main reaction to the Somalia Ploy: Libertarians do not oppose The State because it protects human rights and thereby promotes public order and personal safety. No, libertarians oppose statism because States routinely, perhaps ineluctably, abuse human rights and thereby promote public disorder and personal insecurity. Certainly, all robust modern states do.

Libertarians defend the human right to liberty, the only (or, perhaps, one of the few) right(s) that can qualify as such (as a right). Why is this? Because liberty is one of the only (or few) defensible social relations that can be had by all. The right to liberty can be universalized.

Libertarians demand that the institutions of government defend rights. States too often offend against rights. But that does not mean that any society that lacks a state will necessarily defend rights. There is a logical fallacy involved to presume such a thing to be so.

Somalia does not have a long tradition of advocating and protecting rights. That is one reason that the states that preceded its recent period of statelessness were so awful.

And this historical and comparative aspect of the ploy is where Tom Woods plies his argument.

Now for one thing, was there ever a libertarian who predicted that a stateless Somalia — or a stateless anywhere else — would be a “paradise”?

More importantly, if we’re going to get a picture that’s worth anything of life in Somalia without the state, the correct comparison to make is not between Somalia and the United States (the comparison most writers like this are implicitly making), but between Somalia and comparable African countries.
And on that front, Somalia during its stateless period comes out pretty darn well. In most metrics of living standards it held steady or improved.
In the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization in 2008, Professor Benjamin Powell and his colleagues wrote:
“This paper’s main contribution to the literature has been to compare Somalia’s living standards to those of 41 other sub-Saharan African countries both before and after the collapse of the national government. We find that Somalia’s living standards have generally improved and that they compare relatively favorably with many existing African states. Importantly, we find that Somali living standards have often improved, not just in absolute terms, but also relative to other African countries since the collapse of the Somali central government.”
Economist Peter Leeson, in Anarchy Unbound (Cambridge University Press), reports similar findings — yes, Somalia ranked low in some categories during the stateless period, but that’s where it ranked before statelessness, too, and if anything it made progress in those categories (life expectancy is up, for instance, and infant mortality is down).

This is all very well and good. I am impressed. But even this does not get to the heart of the problem with the Somalia Ploy. Though it may be true that Somalia’s competing social institutions and long-standing (as well as recently developed) habits of sociality have encouraged the growth of a better-than-the-past-statist society, and a better-than-the-neighbors’ societies, too, I strongly doubt that Somalians are committed to a general right to liberty. I see little evidence that liberty has been the main focus of those institutions that have been responsible for “the peace” during the years of statelessness.

So, the Somalia Ploy must be relegated to Cheap Shot status. That serious scholars might advance it is only proof that what passes for seriousness among scholars these days leaves much to be desired.

Namely, “seriousness.” And maybe “scholarship,” too.

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I’ve Got the Cognitive Content Discontent — er, Blues

This year’s Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency, duly selected in their respective party “conventions,” make quite a pair. Both are desperation moves, signs of the times. That is, they both indicate the intellectual senescence of the two major parties.

After two-hundred forty years of abusing the Constitution, the most corrupt candidate in recent memory (Hillary) vies with the most corrupting candidate (The Donald). America, land of the depraved and the home of the freaks.

Hillary is there because of . . . inertia. That is, because she wants to be there, because she’s a woman and a Democrat, and because the vaguely Left of Center in America sports neither wit nor conscience. Just a pathetic, untrustworthy bleeding heart — and a spleen of self-righteousness.

Donald is there because . . . none of the other candidates could be trusted to shake things up like the non-Left/anti-Establishment demands things to be shaken up. And because he pisses off and scares the Establishment.

And so the Democrats chose to empty their intellectual storehouse and shovel the last of their human capital into the rat-hole of the crony-capitalist corporate state while the Republicans (and interloping Reagan Dems and independents who stormed the open primaries) chose to throw a bomb into the open wound of America.

Pretty much the same holes, actually.

But we cannot quite blame the voters. Or party members.

Why? I mean, why not?

This is an easy one. They have been played for years by the “journalists” of the now-rapidly decaying mainstream media.

Hillary and Bill Clinton became nothing less than the darlings of said major media, and the Democracy — or its closest continuer from Jacksonian times — little more than the favored in-group of the major media (and academic) intelligentsia.

And because these things are so, journalists have been covering for this corrupt, deeply sick couple for years, preventing any sensible judgment on the part of rank-and-file Democrats. And the entertainment industry, especially in the illustrious personages of Comedy Network news satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, have poisoned public discourse by engaging in mostly vacuous (if occasionally trenchant) mockery. A very biased mockery. The American Left and Right now see each other as Evil and Stupid. And hardly anything more.

Meanwhile, the legitimate news media (so-called) pretends to be non-partisan. It’s a laugh. It’s a chuckle. It’s a snort of Coke through the nose. But these college-educated “journalists” aren’t idiots. They maintain plausible deniability by focusing relentlessly on the horse-race elements of elections.

This “horse race” fixation appears “fact-based” and not directly about issues (so offering up less occasion for revealing bias). It’s obviously “news,” if not often very important. And the relentless coverage has a barely hidden side-effect: it allows journalists to surreptitiously act as gate keepers of the election, by managing “winnability.” This has become the American version of the Mandate of Heaven, and the media is almost entirely responsible for this fixation, in the process even further narrowing the range of discourse in America.

The exact mechanism by which journalists act as gate keepers — precisely how endlessly asking candidates  “how can you win?” and “how much money have you raised?” emphasizes the gate keeper function — is a tad complex, and I won’t get into it here. But followers of the news biz understand the process without elaborate flow charts. In a rather underhanded manner, while pretending to be non-partisan and “unbiased,” journalists favor certain candidates (and parties) over others.

Yes, yes, I know — they basically fell for the manipulations of Trump. They didn’t protest much, other than verbally. They gave him the coverage he needed, and their expressed demurrals fed the Trump phenomenon anyway, playing into his hands. But the whole reality TV show of it also played into theirs, because they really did not want the Republicans to select a  candidate that Hillary Clinton might find difficult to beat in November 2016.

Trump, you see, was always “a story.” If something of a joke. The issues upon which the future of the republic rests? Those just get in the way of putting another corrupt Clinton into the White House.

Are journalists really this cynical?

Yes.

Well, almost. As in cult leaders and politicians and the very best salesmen, the real dishonesty starts with oneself.

But the putatively pure souls of folks in the major media are not something I care to deal with at length. These paragons are mostly lazy, mostly incurious people who merely desired an easy way to feel good about themselves using the realm of politics as the foundation  for their carefully nurtured self-righteousness.

Read about them in Mencken. They have only gotten worse since his time, after which the word biz was “professionalized” by collegiate credentialism.

So here we are

The hierarchies of the two major parties are utterly corrupt, having betrayed their constituencies repeatedly. And the American voters know it. Their standard-bearers this year are utterly corrupt. And the American voters know it. The major media is not only corrupt, but also on the way out, with newspapers dying fast and the “three blind mice” of ABC, CBS, and NBC becoming less and less relevant year by year.

And the voters are . . . ?

Well, if not wholly corrupt, at least desperate. Which may be why CNN is holding multiple Libertarian and Green Party “town halls” — an astounding break from past practice. The norm had been, after all, to marginalize and shut out those on the margin. Mock them, condescend, laugh at their “wacky” proposals, and move on.

Perhaps the folks at CNN have realized how fragile the post-World War II political equilibrium now is. Perhaps they understand, belatedly, that they are partly responsible for the current mess, and are looking for intellectual cover.

Or perhaps they are just flailing about for extra viewers. Even grifters and con artists have been known to try honesty and virtue on the ignominious way down. At least, you might say, as a play for pity.

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The moderates are coming!

The most droll irony of this election, however, has been brought to us by the Libertarian Party. The Libertarians sport the most radical platform in American politics, but of late have been nominating rather uncharacteristically non-radical candidates. Former Clinton scourge Rep. Bob Barr, for example. And former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.

Johnson was bequeathed the baton in 2012, and received more votes from American voters than had any other Libertarian in U.S. history. (Though, admittedly, the vote count was still disappointingly low, even under the percentage of the total vote that Ed Clark won in 1980.) This year he was once again elected to bear the Libertarian banner. And, immediately after receiving the honor, he begged the LP conventioneers to pair him up with his hero in governorship, former Massachusetts head honcho William Weld. After much anguish and in-fighting, the Libertarian conventioneers went in all the way. The two now often appear in front of interviewers and crowds together, P and VP for the LP ticket.

Much can be said about this dynamic duo, pro and con. I like the both of them — not as libertarians so much, but as moderate politicians with some common sense. Paul Jacob, the “This is Common Sense” citizens’ activist, dubs Johnson a “moderate libertarian” and Weld a “libertarian-leaning centrist.”* And Beltway libertarian/classical liberal Walter Olson explores the centrist element of these candidates at greater length:

In Europe liberal parties, often seen as the nearest analogue of libertarian, are often perceived in just this way as occupying centrist/middle positions between labor or revolutionary parties on the left and blood-and-soil or religious parties on the right. European liberal tendencies vary but often they’re secular, business oriented, pro-trade, modern, internationalist but not militarist, and interested in meliorist reform rather than street politics or national crusades. Sound familiar?

So on general principle we shouldn’t assume that if you squeeze the libertarians out of the GOP coalition, they’ll pop out on the far right. (Or far left.) They might pop out in the center instead, as Bill Weld clearly has and Gary Johnson shows signs of doing as well.

I think it is more fundamental than even this. Libertarianism, like classical liberalism, has never been a creature of the Left or the Right, not really. It has always provided a moderating principle.

Indeed, better than socialists and conservatives, the individualist liberals have consistently offered a more moderating, balancing principle for civilization. I have long looked at libertarian principles as refinements of practical, mediating mores that have been discovered in the course of civilization’s cycles of evolution and decline.

Liberty is a perennial principle for a reason, and more in line with the Aristotelian mean than other principles.

The “deal” of a civilized morality, as understood by individualists, is to balance the vast social cosmos of competing interests upon the Schelling Point of the non-initiation of force — of liberty —  thus providing the mid-point equilibrium for humanity in constant potential conflict. We settle on liberty as the first principle of justice the better to avoid and resolve conflict. And, consequently, it provides that most amazing platform for mutual advance: voluntary coöperation. This is classical liberalism at core, libertarianism in its quiddity.

Libertarianism is not an extremism. It is a centrism.

Even the most radical-seeming notion of modern libertarianism, the so-called “anarcho-capitalism” of Murray Rothbard and David D. Friedman — which is, by the way, mostly just a repackaging of Gustave de Molinari’s 19th century proposal of “competitive government,” and of Benjamin R. Tucker’s “plumb-line” anarchism, individualist anarchism sans crank economics — was once, back in the 1970s, designated “middle of the road” by one of its more sophisticated enthusiasts. (Or at least so goes my memory of the book, which is subtitled “A Right Wing Alternative,” after all. So, caveats.)

Libertarians may seem radical, even to themselves. But, at heart, the libertarian idea is not to scare everybody off with a complete remaking of society, but to moderate the rough edges of political governance with that non-radical idea of non-aggression.

So, in selecting two moderates, more “libertarianish” than strictly libertarian, this year’s Libertarians have given America a way out of the current debacle.

Graph it and go

In previous installments (such as my May 3 post, “Realignments”) of the Matter of 2016, I have suggested that the Trump phenomenon must be seen, in part, as a takeover of the GOP by authoritarian-leaning independents.

On the famed “Nolan Chart,” I mapped the realignment as follows, reading left graph to right graph:

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To make this clearer, let me (hastily) redraw this, distinguishing the Trump center (brown-orange) from the Johnson-Weld center (green):

NolanChart-newCENTERS

No matter where Trump really belongs on this familiar ideological map, the new people he has pulled in to support him come not from “the right” as such, but from the statist, authoritarian part of the population. The new center navigated by Johnson-Weld borders the libertarian sector, but it does remain moderate, neither very far left nor right.

Just like libertarians. And totalitarians. Neither left nor right, but extremes on the moderate axis.†

What if the Electoral College flunks out?

While Libertarians have offered a slate that can appeal to moderates, and thus shake up the political landscape, the sheer inertia of the two-party system almost guarantees the success of Clinton, if not Trump. Of course, a startling-to-the-masses revelation about one or both of the candidates — like, say, Clinton being very ill and not in her right mind, as many now speculate, or Trump revealing that his whole candidacy was a lark, a whimsical stunt — could place a lot of votes in Johnson’s tip jar.

And were Gary Johnson included in the presidential debates, he might so far outshine his competition that he could snatch victory away from Hillary to . . . well, could he really win a popular vote? It seems unlikely.‡

More likely, if Johnson-Weld capture a state like Utah (which in Rep. Mia Love’s district has them at 26 percent), and the Johnson and Stein campaigns take enough votes from the Democratic candidate, now in the lead, the Electoral College could offer up to Congress no majority winner.

At that point, it goes to the House to vote for the President, and to the Senate to vote for the VP. The Twelfth Amendment instructs the House to immediately, after the official presentation before Congress of a stalemate (majority-free) Electoral College vote, select a President from the Top Three, which would, one would think, include the R, D, and L party candidates. (Jill Stein seems a non-starter, as she will not be on all ballots.)

In that scenario, the next president of the United States might be the one most qualified by experience, and least disqualified by flagrant abuse of power and privilege. Yes, there is a possibility that the Republican majority House will make Gary Johnson the next Commander in Chief. The House is not in any way bound to select the plurality winner in either the popular vote or the Electoral selection.

House members would not hesitate at all, I think, were William Weld  on the top of the LP ticket. But reason might prevail, even in the case when Gary “I used to smoke pot regularly” Johnson is in play . . . and a moderate, rather than a Clinton or Trump wild card, might be selected.

In modern life, the best option is often the long shot.

 

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* Jacob also calls Hillary Clinton a spokesperson for “the neo-con left,” which is about a perfect characterization, I’d say.

† Alas, a better graphic demonstration of my moderating vision of liberty will have to wait for another day.

‡ Hillary having to step down before the election, leaving her weak flower running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, to take her place — that could throw everything into chaos. And Mrs. Clinton does have two looming issues: legal on many fronts, and medical. For all I know, she being the recipient of so much telepathic hatred, her head could explode on stage, Scanners style.

 

 

An “Inclusionist” contra Liberty


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In 2011*, Psychology Today presented us with a screed against libertarianism, an absurd array of cliché and error. All this from a man who — to judge by his credentials — should know better. He is an academic who specializes in complexity theory. Yet he seems entirely unaware of the importance that complexity has played in the development of ideological individualism.

It becomes painfully obvious that the author of this sad screed did not do much research. Indeed, the author appears not to understand that his central case against libertarianism was the case for liberty in the classic writings of Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer.

Here is the most relevant passage:

We evolved as intensely interdependent social animals, and our sense of empathy toward others, our sensitivity to reciprocity, our desire for inclusion and our loyalty to the groups we bond with, the intrinsic satisfaction we derive from cooperative activities, and our concern for having the respect and approval of others all evolved in humankind to temper and constrain our individualistic, selfish impulses (as Darwin himself pointed out in The Descent of Man).

Well, yes. As Adam Smith “himself” pointed out in The Theory of Moral Sentiments over a hundred years earlier, and as Herbert Spencer elaborated in many of his books, most especially the Principles of Ethics. Darwin was not advancing a wholly new thesis. He was developing a theme already well-established among his contemporaries. It was, in fact, “settled science.”

Yes, I know, of course: the word “empathy” hadn’t been coined yet. Eighteenth and 19th century writers used “sympathy.” Smith and Spencer were the leading theorists of sympathy in their respective centuries. Their work was well known, and, if a modern sociologist or psychologist appears oblivious, it is usually the result of never having read Smith and Spencer. Few modern sociologists have bothered with Spencer, for instance, since Talcott Parsons pronounced his reputation “dead” in the first pages of The Structure of Social Action. (Later in his career Parsons revived many of Spencer’s ideas, but without citation, without any recognition of what he was doing.)

Herbert Spencer was the first evolutionary psychologist — though this is rarely acknowledged by today’s EP crowd. They do not need to burden themselves with a reputation declared toxic. But Spencer advanced a very complex theory of complexity. And it encompassed ideas his critics pretend are theirs — but usually Spencer’s treatment is more sophisticated.

Consider the obsession with inclusion, which is now the official focus of campus radical ideology, a watchword of the cult of “social justice.” (Spencer wrote merely of justice, and Hayek later followed in his footsteps to criticize social justice as a “mirage.”) Spencer called the inclusionary and loyalty aspects of human cooperation “the ethics of amity,” in the first chapters of The Inductions of Ethics. What our critic misses is what all modern progressives shield from their eyes: in parallel to this in-group allegiance exists a chthonian out-group antagonism, which is just as much a part of our evolutionary heritage empathy and the general sense of cooperativeness.

Spencer called this contrasting set of historically demonstrated imperatives “the ethics of enmity.”

Throughout the history of human civilization, the ethics of enmity has had a huge part in the foundation and structure of social systems. It is inevitable in eras of vast social conflict. And it has always uneasily existed in parallel to loftier, more charitable-sounding pronouncements of amity. And what the liberal tradition — modern libertarianism, especially, which in a sense grew out of Spencer’s work —always tried to do was solve the problems of human discord by rationalizing the terms for peace, making the standards of justice public and limited to a few tasks, mainly regulating when force can be used in society. And the key contribution of this form of individualism, not addressed anywhere in our critic’s analysis, has become the bedrock position of the modern libertarian position: the same standards that apply to individuals must apply to groups of individuals, including people working in the State.

For it is not just selfishness that morality and law must contend with as criminal, but group frenzy and tribalistic suppression of individuals, as well as group-to-group antagonism.

Liberalism, like libertarianism, is an attempt to minimize and control the impulse to go to war, in part by limiting the number of issues over which force may legitimately be used.

Liberty, in the libertarian system — as, more loosely in the classical liberal order of an extended civilization — serves as the moderating middle-point, a marker of equilibrium, among competing interests. It is a constraint not only on the excesses of egoistic self-serving at the expense of one or all others, it also serves as the rational regulator (in rule-of-law terms, in Weber-speak, it possesses rational-legal authority) of in-group/out-group antagonisms. It constrains communal misbehavior as well as individual misbehavior.

From our critic, no peep about this possibility. He appears to be a utopian, hinting that group action is pristine, placing human sin entirely in the “selfishness” category. Blink after reading, and see: the man has a limited view of human nature, apparently thinking that only selfishness is an evil.

To believe this is to be a fool. And a tyrant, perhaps, at heart.

There is one excuse the man could marshal, to explain his witless and inaccurate take-down: Ayn Rand. She muddied things up with “egoism” and “the virtue of selfishness.”

Combined with the author’s Econ 101ish misunderstanding of the place of Homo economicus in market theory, his calumny makes sense . . . in terms of the filiation of his ideas.

But this set of intellectual errors does not justify — cannot be justified— for Liberty is all about constraining both selfish criminality in the individual and the “altruistic” horrors perpetrated by mass man and his obsession with hierarchies.

And the author’s closing gambit is droll, in the context of debate about liberty:

A more serious concern is that the libertarian fixation with individual freedom distracts us from the underlying biological purpose of a society.  The basic, continuing, inescapable problem for humankind, as for all other living organisms, is biological survival and reproduction.

When Herbert Spencer is acknowledged for his extended analysis in this vein (that our critic suggests), he is derided, declared a Social Darwinist.

The level of cluelessness here is astounding.


This particular hit piece popped into my consciousness as a Facebook posting, a blast from the past. Belatedly, I bite. It is a good example of barely intellectual nonsense that academic folks periodically bring out, to  beat back, if they can, skepticism about the nature and functions of the State. They really dislike skepticism about the State, and basically freak out when confronted with an ideology that encourages resistance to allegiance to the modern state, in part by frankly discussing the perils as well as difficulties associated with collective action. The modish progressive, today, looks at “inclusion” as a solution, not as a problem also meant to be solved by the institutions of a free society.

The original draft of this essay appeared on the Herbert Spencer’s Shade Facebook page.

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I’m a PHILOSOPHER
because I’m too smart to believe that other clever people can wisely micromanage the world as well they think they can, and too wise to believe that my similarly handicapped genius can do better.

I’m an INDIVIDUALIST
because I have the audacity to insist that the public rules we apply to one person should apply to all, no matter what group that person may belong to, by choice or by custom; and because I have witnessed the great perversities that have come from the all-too-human love of pack-hunters’ hierarchies and the madness of social inclusion and exclusion, I insist on limiting the severity and scope of compulsion in civilized life. Further, I see no antinomy in asserting responsibility along with liberty, order without central control, or in finding the middle ground between fight and flight as curious reservation, and between love and hate as studied indifference. Civilized society is not a family, the state is not a parent — it’s not even a sibling. Political governance cannot assuage the traumas of our hazardous upbringings, or satisfy childhood resentments. Thus, a lack of love and concern directed to the bulk of humanity is not a tragedy of callousness or selfishness or greed, but merely the comedy of our own inherent limitations.

I’m a LOCOFOCO
because I have learned that the perennial outsiders’ ideal of freedom can indeed be achieved for all, if only we give up the long con of living at the expense of others, or hoping to gain from others’ losses. 

Or, to put it in simplest form: 

I’m a LIBERTARIAN
because I prefer voluntary coöperation to bullying, whether criminal, tribal or political.

Stephan Kinsella, libertarian anarchist, has begun a series of polls on Facebook, starting with one asking libertarians to select their “biggest influence.”

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How best to parse the different kinds of influence that people have had on your own thinking?

Robert Nozick’s first book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, was the first libertarian book I read, not counting John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, or the Declaration of Independence. Nozick didn’t convince me of libertarianism, on that first reading, but he did

  1. Impress me that it was worth considering,
  2. Convince me that mainstream interventionism is a crock, and
  3. Solidify my basic approach to politics as that of establishing a framework for experiments in human betterment — that is, as constitutional, broadly speaking, and not that of piecemeal social engineering, today’s dominant model.

So Nozick was a huge influence. But I was not a libertarian — and even scoffed at the doctrine — for another three years.

When I finally got around to really considering libertarian ideas, I quickly read

  • Rothbard’s FOR A NEW LIBERTY and other books and essays
  • Hayek’s INDIVIDUALISM AND ECONOMIC ORDER
  • David Friedman’s MACHINERY OF FREEDOM
  • Lysander Spooner’s NO TREASON: THE CONSTITUTION OF NO AUTHORITY
  • Ludwig von Mises’ PLANNED CHAOS and THEORY OF MONEY AND CREDIT and ULTIMATE FOUNDATION…

it was the latter book that made me realize how central and useful liberty was in solving the value diversity problem. I became a libertarian at that time.

But was Mises my biggest influence?

I was not convinced of a unitary method to doing social science. And in normative matters, I believed my new libertarian friends simplified too many problems out of existence, or didn’t fully confront issues of ideal and expediency in social change with any thoroughgoing method. They seemed careless, haphazard, and dogmatic all in one.

So when I found Herbert Spencer — who at least attempted to address such issues — I was impressed. I had pretty much set the tone of my political philosophy before ever reading one sentence of his works, and yet I felt such a respect for his aim, and for parts of his method, and for the breadth of his vision, that even today I list him as my major influence. And that’s who I selected for Kinsella’s poll.

But in a sense, reading Destutt de Tracy concurrently with Carl Menger taught me more about the theory of marginal utility than any other writer, though Rothbard and F.W. Taussig helped. But it was Destutt de Tracy’s errors as much as his successes in speculation that influenced me, more. And sometimes, as Nietzsche put it, the errors of great men are more important than the truths of little men. So, Bentham’s and Sidgwick’s errors were as important to my education as Spencer’s successes.

Among contemporary thinkers, philosophers Loren Lomasky and Jan Narveson are the two philosophers I feel closest to…. though they, too, didn’t influence me much, either. Same for Thomas Szasz, whose basic attitude towards liberty in society is so very close to mine: liberty is freedom from coercion (or “interference”) plus responsibility. And we live in a society where the division of responsibility has shifted away from individuals and towards groups. We live in a society of status, where my station and its duties define life, rather than in a society of contract, where one meets obligations and accepts and rejects new ones based on uncoerced action.

In looking over Kinsella’s list of possible influences, it is gratifying to see such a long one, and to note that no longer is it the case that “It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand.” I was an outlier in the libertarians of my generation, in not having read much Rand, and never having been influenced by her. My former boss R. W. Bradford (on the list! — and no, he was not an influence for my political philosophy) used to ridicule the idea that there could be libertarians like me. Because i was influenced by Nozick and Rothbard and even Tuccille, her influence of them meant I was influenced by her, if indirectly. But then, the same can be said for Isabel Paterson, who tutored Rand in liberty.

Bradford’s prioritization of Rand seemed strange to me. Why select her out as the one to be pumped up, when so many others meant more to me, and so many others influenced her?

And the gray eminence of Thomas Jefferson was there from my childhood; the green eminence of Henry David Thoreau; the deeply ironic and critical traditions of the Hebrew Bible, especially the prophets — all these counted as influences to my selection of freedom as paramount. A study of Church history surely didn’t help me admire men with power. And a reading of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, at age 16 — before I heard of Nozick — suggests to me that influences come from everywhere, at least for some of us, and just as King Arthur, on his last battlefield, realized that the problem was territory, borderlines, I realize, today, that selecting just one influence among many encourages just the kind of thinking that leads to political ruin. Diversity saves; diversity nurtures. The unitary idea prejudices young souls to accept the weird, twisted hierarchy of the State. Or accept one guru as one’s own cult’s Maximum Leader.


P.S. I really enjoyed Stephan Kinsella’s poll, in part because he included “obscure” figures and, apparently in jest, non-libertarians like “Gingrich,” “Clinton,” and “O’bama.”