Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Libertarian Follies

DontTread2by Timothy Lane   6/20/14
Libertarians are probably right as often as anyone else when it comes to specific issues. They genuinely seem to oppose the overpowering authority of the State. And yet, because they place so much emphasis on ancillary issues (usually libertinist), they often end up failing to oppose genuine totalitarianism.

Many years ago, William H. Stoddard of the Libertarian Futurist Society said that he always voted Democratic because for him legalized abortion was the key issue. By that time, the Democrats had long since become the party of Big Government as an institution, with government employee unions and transfer-payment recipients as essential elements of their coalition. Their hostility to dissent was also obvious, which should be at least equally serious to anyone who opposes the Leviathan State. But abortion was more important to him, so this self-described libertarian was effectively a fellow traveler for fascism.

Some libertarians might wonder, even despite that, why we conservatives are often skeptical of them, and of their libertinist and even anarchistic tendencies. So perhaps we should take a look next at libertarian science fiction, in particular L. Neil Smith. He has written a number of entertaining books (I couldn’t comment on them if I hadn’t read them, after all) about an alternate world in which the United States ended up operating under the Articles of Confederation (or a variant thereof; I doubt Smith had actually read them, an exercise that can make one sick of the phrase “the united states in Congress assembled”). in the first, a policeman from our world ends up in that one, and eventually marries a local woman and chooses to live there. In the second, there’s a scene in which he revisits our world to assist the Libertarian Party. One of their members has a “Thank you for pot smoking “ button, and he sees nothing wrong with that.

Now, one can argue that the drug war is a bad idea in the sense that it does more harm than good. But that doesn’t mean that such drugs are a good idea, just as the futility of Prohibition doesn’t mean that drunkenness is a good thing. In addition, there are consequences for breaking the law, and one should never do so lightly (particularly regarding felony offenses). But the libertarian mindset can’t grasp that; indeed, the libertarian science fiction fan Samuel Konkin once told me that people should break the law. Does that make murder an acceptable way to challenge authority? Where is limit – or is there any?

Jose Maria Gil Robles, no friend of freedom, once noted that a nation can exist with almost any form of government – but not in anarchy. In the sense that “anarchy” often means “chaos”, he was right; if people face a choice between chaos and a police state, they will choose the latter. This is why leftists (and for that matter fascists and Nazis) like to create massive civil disorder – so they can use it to justify their own seizure of power and creation of a police state. But, strangely, libertarians who claim to oppose totalitarianism also seem to be willing to create chaos, albeit for its own sake. They evidently are unable to conceive of the consequence.

Smith’s alternate world was itself a fantasy (as he eventually realized, saying that in all the vast number of alternate worlds, this was the only one in which a libertarian utopia came to be). At the end of the first book (The Probability Broach), it turns out that the key difference between that world and ours is that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that governments derived their just powers from the unanimous consent of the governed. One presumes that Smith was unaware of the history of Poland (where any aristocrat in their legislature could veto any action, thereby ultimately rendering the government totally hapless – which led to the country being partitioned into non-existence). He probably also didn’t realize how much opposition there was to independence in the colonies in 1776. It also makes one wonder how he had slavery being eliminated later on without violence. Does he really believe all the slaveholders would magically decide that their slaves (and everyone else’s) should be free? Probably so.

Note that Smith was the LP candidate for President in at least one state once (though not nationwide), and I think has also been a candidate for lower office in Arizona.

An even more significant LP figure, of course, is Harry Browne, two-time LP presidential nominee. I never considered voting for him, no matter how displeased I was with the Republican choices those years, because of a telling fantasy he came up with in one of his books to illustrate his views.

The fantasy involves Browne visiting a libertarian utopia in Europe called Rheingold. There are many aspects of this I find interesting. One is that their coinage (as in Galt’s Gulch) consists entirely of gold and silver. One wonders how expensive bubble-gum cards were. Maybe they involved original masterpieces or something like that. He also gets mocked by them when he comments on their obsession with economic issues, since he was the one asking the questions. This is in essence a peculiar form of straw-man attack, which hardly indicates intellectual honesty.

The worst part, though, comes in the discussion of World War II. It turns out that the Nazis (no surprise) did conquer the defenseless Rheingold. But since there was no government to surrender to them, they couldn’t run the place themselves, so all they did was steal some cheese and move on. This is a common idiocy among the more anarchocapitalistic libertarians, that without a government to surrender to the enemy they can’t be conquered. Perhaps they’re unaware of how many countries did NOT surrender to Germany, but were overrun and ruled by them anyway. The Poles were as uncooperative as they could be, and Hitler was still able to rule the country, loot it, and murder the Jews (and many other people as well). It never occurs to Browne what would have happened to any Jews in Rheingold. Their plight is irrelevant to a libertarian.

Making the situation worse, Browne has the Americans later overrunning the country during the 1944 campaign – even though the Nazis weren’t occupying it. (Strangely enough, they never went into other small countries unoccupied by the Nazis, such as Liechtenstein, Andorra, and the Vatican.) And what did they do? Why, since there was no enemy to throw out, they just stole some cheese and moved on. So Browne thought the Americans were much the same as the Nazis. This, too, is a common libertarian fallacy. They seem to behave narcissistically (as do liberals, but that’s another issue) on the subject of freedom: If the US is the country restricting their freedom, then it’s the Ultimate Enemy even if some other enemy (such as the Soviet Union at the time Browne was writing) is technically even worse. After all, the USSR wasn’t restricting his freedom, so who cares about it? I suspect they feel a similar insouciance today about Shariah (just as their liberal allies do).

One final idiocy in Browne’s fantasy comes when the Rheingolders find that the dollars they got from those American troops (which doesn’t sounds like they were robbing them, but never mind – one shouldn’t expect logical consistency in an ideological fantasy) weren’t really “as good as gold”. Never mind that whatever passed for at least a simulacrum of government could exchange them for gold. Never mind that even if they couldn’t trade them for gold, they could trade them for goods from other countries (whose people were often quite happy to get those dollars). So these idiots instead used them for a giant bonfire (which got out of control). And here I thought libertarians were supposed to be such smart people.

Incidentally, when the Germans were busy stealing cheese, might It ever have occurred to them to steal some of that gold and silver currency the Rheingolders had? Looting soldiers certainly aren’t so stupid that they would fail to grab the most valuable stuff.

All of these are examples of peculiar libertarian thinking, which leads to people who claim to oppose the State failing to do anything to stop it – and even assisting its rise to Orwellian totalitarianism. Congratulations, guys, you’re doing a great job. But I won’t say for whom.


Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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28 Responses to Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Libertarian Follies

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    In the sense that “anarchy” often means “chaos”, he was right; if people face a choice between chaos and a police state, they will choose the latter. This is why leftists (and for that matter fascists and Nazis) like to create massive civil disorder – so they can use it to justify their own seizure of power and creation of a police state. But, strangely, libertarians who claim to oppose totalitarianism also seem to be willing to create chaos, albeit for its own sake. They evidently are unable to conceive of the consequence

    I believe it was Lenin who encapsulated this philosophy when he said, “the worse, the better”, i.e. the worse the civil disorder the better for the Bolsheviks.

    Thanks for adding this piece to the others by Nic and Brad. I think this site does a better job of debunking the narcissistic, adolescent and mendacious bilge, which is today’s Libertarian philosophy, than any other site I have seen.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is why leftists (and for that matter fascists and Nazis) like to create massive civil disorder – so they can use it to justify their own seizure of power and creation of a police state. But, strangely, libertarians who claim to oppose totalitarianism also seem to be willing to create chaos, albeit for its own sake. They evidently are unable to conceive of the consequence.

    That’s a great point, Timothy. When I get some time, I’m going to be adding some quotes from Theodore Dalrymple. I think they will go a long way to explaining the libertarian mindset, much of which has been inhaled as second-hand smoke from Joan Stuart Mill.

    At heart, libertarianism is a counter-culture “question everything” sort of mindset (quite like the contrarianism that is endemic to Leftism) whose actual purpose is libertinism (defining “liberty” as simply a lack of external restraints, thus the inherent anarchic nature of it). And it’s an ideology full of egoism, one that sets itself up as the own true and unadulterated purveyor of knowledge. The rest of us are mere duped statists.

    It’s also just a cult, plain and simple. Some of the ideas are just so obviously vapid that, as Thomas Sowell once quipped about intellectuals, only a college-bred person could believe them. There is little internal consistency to the ideology. They are a bunch of half-realized ideas that the barest examination will show to be unworkable, contradictory, and/or complete idealistic fluff.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That’s John Stuart Mill (I have a copy of On Liberty, naturally, as I do so many old classics of political science), not Joan. Interesting typo.

      Not all libertarians are libertinist, but there is a strong element of that, and I suspect it’s especially strong today. William Stoddard’s attitude seemed to be, “Republicans get in the way of my self-indulgence, so I’ll vote for the party of unrestrained Big Government in the name of liberty.” This is where I came up with the title of my article. An easy test to see if a libertarian is primarily a libertinist is to ask about issues such as restricting pro-life protesters at abortion mills (aka Tophets), or coercing small businesses into performing at homosexual “marriages” (e.g., Elane Photography). A libertinist will agree with the liberals, a genuine libertarian would agree with the conservatives.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    That’s John Stuart Mill…

    Timothy, John was a cross-dresser. Either that or I was a victim of auto-correct.

    First off, let me preface this (I was going to make this a separate blog entry, but I’ll add it to the conversation here) by saying that it is an American right to believe completely stupid things. That said, Libertarianism is a Jihad-like assault into traditional American culture and values…not unlike Leftism in that regard. Granted, one can point to an occasional John (Joan?) Stossel who is a reasonable person on many issues, but he’s more of the exception than the rule. I have yet to meet a libertarian who, for every two relatively sound things, didn’t also say one completely cuckoo thing.

    I don’t respect libertarianism. But I do have some respect for — or at least understand — the “soft” Progressivism of the low-information voter who just wants everyone to get along, for no one to ever be offended, to “save the planet,” and for no one to be “judged.” It’s an inherently destructive philosophy, as Theodore Dalrymple outlines in “In Praise of Prejudice.” But aside from the factor (which Dalrymple acknowledges as well) that a fair number of people simply want to be seen as being high-minded instead of actually doing some good, this “soft” Progressivism is somewhat a lesser of many possible evils.

    But libertarian seems to be the other face of hardcore Leftism. It is highly irrational, fuels itself on the vapors of a sense of victimhood, and pines for utopia, if of a different kind (anarchy as opposed to Communism).

    Reading Theodore Dalrymple’s “In Praise of Prejudice” has given me many insights into the Libertarian mindset. Although his books generally stick it to the Left, that they are so relevant to libertarianism shows that Mr. Kung is surely correct in calling them “The Bolsheviks of the Right.”

    And I was slightly chagrined to see some of my own beliefs punctured and pricked by Dalrymple, including the one he refers to as “the romantic cult of the original human being.” Certainly a tough, independent-minded, John-Wayne-ish sort of American is indeed a good ideal. But the idea that the only true, good, or enlightened person is one who shrugs off all cultural constraints and reasons everything out from first principles according to the light of his own “reason” is a fool’s errand. This is explained in detail Dalrymple’s book.

    Something I’ve often said on this site is that it exists so that everyone can express that unique bit of themselves. My prejudice is somewhat toward the radical individualism of John (or Joan) Stewart Mill….which seems to be the heart and soul of libertarianism. But my prompting for stressing this aspect is not to detach from American/Christian values but to help one detach from the now reigning Leftist values that are destructive of these other values. At the end of the day, I want people to embrace George Washington, Jesus Christ, and or Ronald Reagan. I don’t want an atomized culture of anarchists who question everything all the time and thus stay in a state of useless calculating.

    Yes, I’ve fallen for some of the radical individualism of Joan Stewart Mill. But this is normal and nothing to be too frightened of. Again, it’s the Madge Palmolive principle: “You’re soaking in it.” We can’t help but automatically pick up our beliefs and values from our culture. The difference is, I don’t mind lampooning myself. That’s a good thing, because the idea of the “blank slate” where an individual casts off all preconceptions and reasons out everything from first principles is an idea for idiots (or libertarians…same thing). So, yeah, we’re going to automatically receive some ideas from our culture (even counter-cultural ideas…and the idea of counter-culturalism itself which has become a mainstream practice, as Dalrymple notes). No shame in that. The shame is in defending one’s unreflective obstinance and denial that any such thing took place.

    Was John Stuart Mill about the biggest over-rated philosopher ever? I think he might be. Anyway, Theodore Dalrymple isn’t too big on him in his book, “In Praise of Prejudice.” And I think he gets to the heart of both libertarianism and Leftism when he states:

    The popularity of the Cartesian method is not the consequence of a desire to remove metaphysical doubt, and find certainty, but precisely the opposite: to cast doubt on everything, and thereby increase the scope of personal license, by destroying in advance any philosophical basis for the limitation of our own appetites. The radical skeptic, nowadays at least, is in search not so much of truth, as of liberty—that is to say, of liberty conceived of the largest field imaginable for the satisfaction of his whims.

    Libertarians, much like Leftists, impress me as the sort of postmodern people who dismiss all that has come before their own Sun King-like eminent presence. And much of this “philosophy” (as we see with the emphasis on legalizing all drugs and abortion) is a dodge. That is why libertarianism is so often (and correctly) likened to libertinism. And the crafty resource of man’s rationalizing mind are brought to bear to satisfy the various whims. Dalrymple writes:

    These skeptics believe that when they turn the light switch, the light will come on, even though their grasp of the theory of electricity might not be strong. A ferocious and insatiable spirit of inquiry overtakes them, however, the moment they perceive that their interests are at stake—their interests here being their freedom, or license, to act upon their whims. Then all the resources of philosophy are available to them in a flash, and are used to undermine the moral authority of custom, law, and the wisdom of age.

    Libertarians, much like Leftists, are counter-culturalists. I have learned that in no way, shape, or form are they compatible with conservatism. They are direct competitors to conservatism. There used to be a soft, union-based “liberalism” that predominated in the Democratic party. It was not yet hardcore Leftism as it is now. But Leftism did indeed intrude on the party and take it over by degrees until we are where we are now with a Marxist as president and leader of the party. One can see Libertarianism as a similar virus trying to do the same with the Republican Party.

    Conservatism is about loving, respecting, and most of all learning from the wisdom of the ages. But Leftism and Libertarianism share the Jihad-like aspect of insurgency. All that came before these new Sun Kings is to be cast aside as their superior “reason” charts a course. Dalrymple sees this kind of reckless counter-culturalism originating to a large degree in Mill:

    For Mill, custom is an evil that is the principle obstruction to progress and moral improvement, and its grip on society is so strong that originality, unconventionality, and rebellion against it are goods in themselves, irrespective of their actual content. The man who flouts a convention ipso facto raises society from its torpor and lets everyone know that there are different, and better, ways of doing things. The more such people there are, the greater the likelihood of progress.

    Mr. Kung calls libertarians “The Bolsheviks of the Right.” And I think he is spot-on. And Mr. Dalrymple’s book is well worth a read. Mr. Kung says he may have a book review of it forthcoming.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One might note that “nihilism” originally referred to this sort of rejection of all traditions and reasoning from first things. My own skepticism resembles this, except that I offer more respect for tradition. (Much of this comes from having read Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, in which a nihilist is major character, and doesn’t come off well in the end.) Over time, nihilism has come to refer to a delight in destruction, in essence I desire to create nothing out of something, which probably says something about many of the nihilists — and likely their modern heirs.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        One might note that “nihilism” originally referred to this sort of rejection of all traditions and reasoning from first things. My own skepticism resembles this, except that I offer more respect for tradition.

        Timothy, we probably have a lot in common on this subject. I’ve certainly gone through my more harshly skeptical phases. No Christian will blanch at this admission if they know the story of Paul…and they do. It’s just life. It can be damn harsh or damn pleasant, and usually is a mix. Why some see the glass as half full and some see it as half empty, I don’t know (and some just wish to smash the glass altogether….see Atheistic Fundamentalists).

        Certainly here at StubbornThings a number of our members have been given a special License to Think from First Principles. These are rare and very hard to come by…as hard as James Bond’s License to Kill. You have to be at least 21, can’t smoke pot, can’t think that Lincoln was the first Roosevelt, and must have done a fair amount of reading.

        It’s hazardous work reasoning from first principles. Truly. It’s not necessarily a blessing to be gifted with a brain and a vision that can take things apart and look at them in the minutest detail. Hey, dissecting frogs is also an ugly piece of work.

        But certainly people such as Glenn have this license, as do others. (You know who you are.) Regarding this concept of deciding everything for oneself as the only “enlightened” way for modern people to behave — as well as the advent of nihilism — in “In Praise of Prejudice,” Theodore Dalrymple writes:

        THE IDEAL OF life without prejudices, stereotypes, preconceptions, and pre-existing authority is nevertheless regarded as a proper, indeed a noble one. Our own moral authority in everything should be our goal. This is not a new idea: in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Russian novelist, Ivan Turgenev, coined the term nihilism for it. In Fathers and Sons, published in 1861, the character Yevgeny Bazarov rejects all inherited authority or belief, in favor of those things that he can either prove with his own eyes, or deduce from facts known to him.

        Dalrymple shows the obvious problem with this rejection of all authority and pre-existing preconceptions by noting that if he had to prove just one simple historical fact — in this case, the Battle of Hastings — he would need to drop everything and spend months, if not years, dedicated to doing all the things necessary to find out about the battle without using second-hand sources. Presumably, then, he would have to do a lot of archeological excavation (as well as learn the science of archeology, of course). If you automatically have to distrust all research that has come before you, you can see the scope of the problem, of what it would take to verify the simplest of assumed facts.

        There’s also danger in just accepting facts without corroboration, as we see in the global warming scam. But even then, if one has a historical context of the hysterical politics and science that is typical of the Left, it’s a big yawn. First there was global cooling. Then global warming. Then “climate change.” And I’m not sure what they’re calling it now. And the Leftist/secular/socialist intelligentsia has flooded the culture with Chicken Little politics and science for decades now, including scares regarding mass starvation. So, one can actually fall back on conventional wisdom in this regard. That’s what I did. I assumed that global warming was a scam (which should be the default mindset for these types of things) and then worked from there, informing myself as best I could.

        Here’s another quote from Dalrymple which I think applies equally to libertarians and Leftists:

        In order to prove to ourselves that we are not prejudiced, but have thought out everything for ourselves, as fully autonomous (if not responsible) human beings should, we have to reject the common maxims of life, common maxims that in many, though not in all, cases preserve civilized relations. Enlightenment, or rather, what is so much more important for many people, a reputation for enlightenment, consists in behaving in a way contrary to those maxims. And once a common maxim of life is overthrown in this fashion, it is replaced by another—often, though of course not always, a worse one.

        Again, mea culpa. I’ve gone through a stage (perhaps more than once) where my first impulse was simply to contradict, add-on, or reject in order that I, instead of standing on the shoulders of giants, could play the giant myself. It’s a normal human impulse. But hopefully I’ve mostly outgrown it, happier to serve in Heaven than rule in Hell. I’d rather know something that I didn’t before rather than (and what a great insight by Dalrymple) have a reputation for being smart. That is, pissing contests get old. This is one reason this site (in case you haven’t noticed) has a contents that is 95% not me. And I’m fine with that.

        Dalrymple also has some very interesting words to say about values vs. facts. You’ll have to read the chapter to get the full context and argument, but he sums it up by saying:

        In other words, no statement of value can be derived in logic from any statement of fact.

        In the above quote, Dalrymple is paraphrasing Hume. Dalrymple then goes on to say:

        EVEN IF IT IS not possible to derive a statement of value from a statement of fact, it is nonetheless necessary and unavoidable that we make statements of value. We cannot live in a Gradgrindian world of facts alone.

        Another way to say this, or at least a grand implication of this, is that the highly-touted (by libertarians and secular types) “reason” cannot be the guide to the “oughts” of life. This is an aspect that Libertarians do not understand (and, frankly, don’t want to understand). Our most important values are not automatically churned out at the back end of some fact and reasoning machine.

        That is, humility, wisdom, and experience are absolutely vital for discovering, augmenting, and understanding the higher virtues and values. As easy as it is to be seduced by the feeling of omniscience because one is very smart (or at least is good at bamboozling with nice-sounding rationalizations), that’s not the same thing as wisdom. Having a juicy chess-club brain (as a friend of mine refers to it) does not automatically make one wise. In fact, it’s very easy for intellectualism to make one stupid. Mea culpa, again. I speak from experience. And libertarians would do well to skip past the cul-de-sacs of thought that they typically engage in and, well, read Dalrymple!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Let’s see . . . I’m way over 21 years of age, never consumed marijuana or any other illegal drug, or for that matter tobacco) in any form (I had a roommate for a few months at Purdue who did, though never in my presence; I didn’t even know it until later), I would never confuse Cousin Abe with a Roosevelt, and clearly qualify as a bibliophile, and probably a biblioholic (maybe even a bibliomaniac) , , , so I think I qualify.

          The way to evade the nihilism trap is simple: one can rely absolutely on one’s own judgment (as I do), never giving in to the Group for the sake of conformity. (There was a link today to a video about the 1950s psychological experiment in which people would describe a shorter line as the longer if those around them — who were actually performing in the experiment — said so.)

          But one can also study what others say, and judge them both on how well their facts match the facts one has read elsewhere, how credible they are, and how well they argue their case. (Liberals tend to rely too heavily on the arrogant assumption that they’re right, leading to abuse and suppression of dissent, which for some strange reason I find very unpersuasive.) It works for me.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I just read an item in the June 23 National Review which might be wroth mentioning here. Jay Nordlinger discusses his evolution from someone who admired unions (he comes from southeastern Michigan, where “union” tends to evoke images of autoworkers persevering against company thugs) to someone who detests them (e.g., the purple-shirted Obamathugs of SEIU and all too many teachers today).

      He concludes with a couple of interesting observations. One is, “With every passing year, I see that a bane of our existence is extremism — extremism of Right or Left. The taking of something good and pushing it too far, into destructiveness. One definition of conservatism, I suppose, is anti-extremism.” This seems reasonable to me; the point of conservatism is caution, which does militate against the zeal that leads to extremist behavior.

      He then notes that he ended his last article there with an observation from Talleyrand that Buckley rather liked: “Above all, not too much zeal.” There are many problems with libertarianism, but the most reliable is that they don’t have any limiting factor on their disdain for government. Not all libertarians are libertinists in disguise (especially among the older ones, I suspect), but quite possibly all of them are over-zealous and inclined to fanaticism.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Good point about zealotry.

        I’m as passionate about America’s founding ideals as anyone. But having watched libertarians over the past few years, it struck me to be careful to never run full on into the dangers of blind zealotry. Obnoxiousness? Sure. Zealotry? I hope not.

        Where does passion end and zealotry start? I don’t know. But I will say that America’s founding ideals are not about zealotry. They do not require anyone to yell and pretend huge swaths of reality do not exist. Those founding principles are a bit like a Mozart concerto. A cacophony of yelling is quite beside the point. You’d be playing not just the wrong tune but the wrong kind of tune. Zealotry is not intrinsic to those principles.

        But I do think in regards to libertarian ideas, zealotry is inherent. And regarding our founding American ideals (and conservative principles in general), being firm and unwavering in our fidelity to them is not necessarily zealotry. This is a lesson lost on the cowards, opportunists, and collaborators among the “centrists” and Establishment Republicans. They have redefined their lack of core principles as being “reasonable” and decidedly “non-zealous.”

        So muddying this entire concept are the collaborators and career politicians (who stand for power and go-along-to-get-along-ism) of the Establishment Republicans and those whose conceit is that they are “centrists.”

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I believe the best way to differentiate passion from zealotry is the matter of ethics. If you hate people because they disagree with you, or if you consider it morally right to lie in order to push your case, then you have crossed the line from passion to zealotry. Both of these are common behaviors among liberals. (Note that hating someone because of the dishonest way they argue isn’t the same thing as hating them for disagreeing with you, provided you don’t hate those who disagree with you without the dishonest and personal abuse. Even among liberals, not all behave badly.)

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            If you hate people because they disagree with you, or if you consider it morally right to lie in order to push your case, then you have crossed the line from passion to zealotry.

            Actually, I’m pretty much at peace with hating Marxists and Communists. But lying to promote one’s cause is certainly a good way to spot zealotry.

            And all this (but not between me and you) tends to get tied up in the ground rules laid down by “centrists,” otherwise known as collaborators. To tell a truth (such as that Obama is a Marxist) is considered “divisive,” at best, and “hate speech,” at worst.

            This is the biggest success of Communists, Marxists, Leftists, and socialists. They have been able to attach stigma to outing these people for who they are.

            Was John Wayne “intolerant” or a “zealot” because he punched some varmint in the mouth? Yes, according to the “centrist” types (or those who wish to stigmatize normal, decent, and honorable behavior, all of which are not friends of Leftist dogma).

            Bill Buckley, Jr. had an apt analogy for breaking one’s way past the mushy moral relativism pushed upon us by the Left (and libertarians). In regards to the Leftist who would make the KGB and the CIA moral equivalents he said,

            “To say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.

      • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

        Well, I can’t agree with Nordlinger – in fact I stopped reading him some time ago – that “extremism” on either Right or Left is the problem, because that would lead to the conclusion that we want to be somewhere in the mushy middle – and we know what that means in practice. Although I do admit to one problem – just the other day I was trying to decide whether the extreme Right position is the absolute minimum government or the no government (anarchy) that many Libertarians secretly or not-so-secretly desire. But even if the extreme Right is defined as anarchy, the ideal lies not in the middle but just one or two points away from anarchy.

        I’d welcome any thoughts on this subject because I was thinking about demonstrating that the one-dimensional line is the correct way to think about degrees of liberty rather than the absurd diamond-shape favored by – who else? – Libertarians!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I understand what you mean, and no doubt Nordlinger is in the “mushy middle” politically. But at least one aspect of what he’s talking about might be extremism in the sense of extreme behavior — such as the thuggery and dishonesty of union mobs. Such extremism is evil no matter how holy the cause it claims to uphold. As Merlin pointed out to Arthur and Kay in The Once and Future King when Kay, trying to answer the question of when a war can be just, suggested that it could be justified by having a better idea: This wasn’t the way Jesus did things (for the most part). He gave people a free choice and told them the truth; he didn’t beat them up for opposing him.

    • Rosalys says:

      But I do have some respect for — or at least understand — the “soft” Progressivism of the low-information voter who just wants everyone to get along, for no one to ever be offended, to “save the planet,” and for no one to be “judged.”

      I don’t have respect for such thinking because it is really a result of not thinking very much at all. They listen to and believe without questioning everything the main stream media has to say. They want to be comfortable and not have to face any unpleasantness.

      Having just spent a lovely week in the very liberal LaLaLand of Sonoma County, CA, let me tell you it is very easy to believe you are in paradise. It’s beautiful country. But what is lacking is is a certain sense of reality. Example: the person we were visiting is a very lovely, caring individual who writes poetry, goes to the theater, hangs out at the local bistros communing with other likeminded folk and basically lives the artistic lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that if you can afford it, and she can because she has her deceased husband’s labor union pension and medical benefits and she does work when she needs the money at the very lucrative trade of private elder care – for which she is paid under the table. This is important because many of those things which she either enjoys now or will be in the near future (likely she will soon be moving into senior housing with twice the space she has now, at two thirds the cost) are subsidized by taxes which she chooses not to pay. There is a certain cognitive dissonance here.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I understand your point; our representative republic can’t function adequately if people can’t be bothered to pay serious attention to what they’re doing when they vote. The word “idiot” comes from ancient Greek and refers to those who took no part in public affairs. But let’s be real: How many of us are here because we want to do our public duty by studying the issues, and how many because politics and policy fascinate us? Unfortunately, they don’t fascinate everyone. And that’s why I (and I suspect also Brad) cut such people a little bit of slack. Not a lot, but some. They aren’t as bad as those liberals who are Very Concerned and theoretically pay a lot of attention to politics and policy — but can’t be bothered to think for themselves.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    that a nation can exist with almost any form of government – but not in anarchy. In the sense that “anarchy” often means “chaos”, he was right; if people face a choice between chaos and a police state, they will choose the latter. This is why leftists (and for that matter fascists and Nazis) like to create massive civil disorder – so they can use it to justify their own seizure of power and creation of a police state. But, strangely, libertarians who claim to oppose totalitarianism also seem to be willing to create chaos, albeit for its own sake. They evidently are unable to conceive of the consequence.

    Although he is not specifically referring to Libertarians, Dalrymple writes;

    “The loss of nerve or will on the part of the police has occured at precisely the same time as a weakening, almost to the point of extinction, of the informal but strong social restraints upon personal behaviour that once made England so civil a country – restraints such as fear of what the neighbours will say. The lack of either internal or external restraint has allowed “natural” man to emerge: and far from being a delight, he is a charmless psychopath. Man is a wolf to man, and more particularly to woman.

    This is from a doctor who, daily, had to deal with the results of the brave new world of the moral relativists infecting our culture.

  5. NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

    Brad and I between us have given Libertarianism quite a drubbing here at ST, but because Timothy’s approach is different than ours it doesn’t feel as though he’s piling on; this is really an almost mildly reproving article that nonetheless strikes some very solid blows against the body of Libertarian thought.

    “…because they place so much emphasis on ancillary issues (usually libertinist), they often end up failing to oppose genuine totalitarianism.”

    Indeed. How many times have we seen Libertarians busily attacking Conservatives for failing to support abortion, same-sex “marriage,” or pot legalization while turning a blind eye to Democrats as they dismantle our health-care system (Obamacare) or try to eviscerate the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution?

    “The worst part, though, comes in the discussion of World War II. It turns out that the Nazis (no surprise) did conquer the defenseless Rheingold. But since there was no government to surrender to them, they couldn’t run the place themselves, so all they did was steal some cheese and move on. This is a common idiocy among the more anarchocapitalistic libertarians, that without a government to surrender to the enemy they can’t be conquered.”

    Great point! I have often wished that every Libertarian who partook of this particular idiocy could be somehow transported into a sort of role-playing game in which he took the role of the Libertarian citizen in this no-government wonderland. I imagine it would go something like this:

    LIBERTARIAN: You can’t conquer us because there’s no one to surrender to you – we don’t have a government!

    GERMAN GENERAL: You do now.

    End of story – and of liberty.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      David Friedman in The Machinery of Freedom acknowledged that this was indeed a real concern. He didn’t look at the historical evidence against the peculiar anarchocapitalist notion that only a government can surrender, but instead posited an invader who goes to San Francisco and demands surrender — and when they don’t, nukes the city into oblivion. It wouldn’t take many examples to get what they wanted. Libertarians, like liberals, have a hard time understanding that not all people think as they do.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One advantage libertarians have is that the ideological framework of our country is quite fractured, thus yet another set of loony beliefs isn’t go to stand out that much and certainly has a fair chance of sounding plausible.

    Zealotry is central to libertarianism, as is willful blindness. Libertarianism is full of all kinds of good ideas (at least in theory), thus it is understandable that many conservatives – including myself – have seen them as natural allies at times. But they are not because they take their ideas, including ones consistent with conservative principles, and push them to an extreme. They thus pervert these very ideas.

    We can certainly disagree about what constitutes “arms” in regards to the second amendment, for example. But does anyone really believe that your neighbor owning a nuke is a good idea? And how does forwarding this absurd idea help with hanging onto our second amendment rights? Libertarians believe these strange ideas because “the free market” (which they reduce to private contracts between individuals) is all that matters. There are no other considerations.

    A conservative wouldn’t be a conservative if he took even his most treasured principles and applied them out of context and with no restraints. Thus I posit that libertarianism, by its very nature, is zealous.

    And I have yet to be proven wrong on this point. Oh, I’ve certainly met some congenial libertarians. But the very ideas they hold inevitably drive reason and proportionality away. Zealousness is not always evinced by a foaming mouth. You can be a complete zealot and never raise your voice.

    Likewise, I do not consider myself a zealot for raising my voice, sometimes harshly, against the dangers of Marxism…or libertarianism, for that matter. And Nik makes a good point about Nordlinger:

    …that “extremism” on either Right or Left is the problem, because that would lead to the conclusion that we want to be somewhere in the mushy middle…

    What animates conservatives? Well, it’s waiting in line for hours at the DMV for substandard service, or paying taxes that are too high, or dealing with bureaucracies that are tyrannical and sometimes impenetrable. It’s dealing with nanny politicians who want to tell you what kind of light bulb to buy when this should be a consumer choice. It’s frustration over wasting trillions of dollars in the Middle East because of the basic denial of the nature of Islam to be tamed. It’s seeing Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court run roughshod over the Constitution. It’s all these things and more.

    But what typically animates libertarians? It’s their desire to make drugs legal, for open borders, and for the “right” to abortion. As to the rest of their “principles” regarding freedom, free markets, and the Constitution, they just seem to be giving lip service to them, either as a way to deceive us or as a way to deceive themselves about their real objectives. Maybe both.

    But I will make one caveat. I do believe there are libertarians who are libertarians because, however this has happened, they’ve come to believe all the lies about conservatives that are so prevalent today. Being deceived is not a crime, especially when the lies are so big and pervasive. But that saves only a few libertarians. And I do know a few who seem to fit into this category, who love this country and its founding principles but don’t know where else to go…conservatism having been taken off the table of legitimate places to go. But most libertarians have no interest in getting to the truth, their egotistical vision of themselves as the Anointed being too seductive and pleasing.

  7. Rosalys says:

    The reason I once embraced the idea of libertarianism is because as it was presented to me, I believed it meant the minimum amount of government – as in he who governs best, governs least – but still allowing for some law. I was told, “One should be able to do anything which is not a provable threat to another”, and it made sense to me. Generally I believe that people should be allowed to go about their business and live their lives as long as they were not engaged in some nefarious practice. But anarchy I can’t embrace, which is why I have removed myself to “associate status”.

    When did libertarianism come to mean only anarchy and libertinism? Is this just semantics? Could this be just another case of the left hijacking another decent idea for their own nefarious purposes? Or maybe what I really am is a Classic Liberal. Can I call myself a Classic Liberal? Do I have that definition right?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I think there are still plenty of minarchist libertarians out there, particularly among the older ones. Unfortunately, just as the very visible militant atheists lead to even reasonable ones to be tarred with the christophobic brush, so the libertinists (many merely masquerading as libertarians, as used to be the case with science fiction fanzine writer Arthur Hlavaty) tar the better ones. Then again, even a non-libertinist like Steve Lancaster had anarchist tendencies.

    • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

      I think you’re a classical liberal. For some history on Libertarianism and why it so often stands for anarchy, I immodestly recommend Libertarianism Minus Conservatism = Zero. Short version: Libertarians tried to hijack the ideas of classical liberalism and modern Objectivism but without the accompanying value systems, with disastrous consequences. Many are motivated by a secret longing for anarchy.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’ve been saving this up. And, with discipline, I should be able to avoid throwing any f-bombs:

    If you believe in legalizing drugs, you’ve got a screw loose. Please…come to my office where we are having all kinds of problems with vandalism because of the drug dealers who live in the apartments next door.

    If you are a card-carrying libertarian (or warmed-over hippie who thinks legalizing pot is a good idea), you are a part of the problem. It’s never just about the drugs themselves. Legalizing drugs and/or prostitution degrades the entire community, but particularly those areas closest to the activity.

    If you are a conservative who thinks libertarianism is just an offshoot of conservatism, you are misinformed and need to understand this movement is not about baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. These guys, whether they think so themselves or not, are in tandem in a very practical way with the destruction raining down on our country by the Left. No sane person should want to legalize drugs.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      There are practical questions involved in banning drugs, comparable to those involved in prohibition. But there’s a difference between believing that banning drugs does more harm than good, and believing that it’s nothing but harm (i.e., that there’s nothing wrong with the consumption of these illegal drugs). To me, the first question for any law should be: Why? In other words, is there a real problem. For drug-banning, there is indeed a real problem. (On the other hand, for flag-burning bans or bans on discrimination against homosexuals, there’s no evidence of a real problem that needs to be addressed by a new law.) A corollary is that the law should be effective in at least reducing the problem (unlike most gun control proposals, for example).

      Then one asks: Why not? In other words, are there negative consequences that outweigh the good ones? This is where drug bans may fall short. Certainly there are a lot of negative consequences, and it’s unclear how much good the bans actually accomplish. One advantage of the legalization experiments is that we can actually see the results (assuming we can get the news media to report them honestly, a dubious assumption), though I quite understand your regret that you live in one of the states that chose to make that experiment.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Reality: Where drugs and prostitution (legal or otherwise) predominate, it creates the kind of neighborhood no one (but the drug-addled) would want to live in. They say that good fences make for good neighbors. This is a truism that extends to morals as well. Without sufficient “thou shalt nots,” you can’t live in a community worthy living in.

        And there will always be those rubes, little monsters, or just fools who will always say, “But what will it hurt if we just remove one more law?” That is the libertarian mindset, a mindset with absolutely no wisdom attached to it.

        There is reality. And then there are the various rationalizations meant to legitimize something that is inherently illegitimate: “But what about prohibition?” What about it? A Budweiser is not heroin. “There are so many people in prison because of a victimless crime.” So what? Don’t do the crime then. “Drug laws disproportionately effect minorities.” Then tell minorities to find something better to do. “But people will do it anyway.” People will murder and rape anyway, but we still find it prudent to have laws against that sort of behavior, and for good reason.

        And on and on. It’s a sure sign that you’ve run into evil trying to pass itself off as good when so much brain power is used to try to argue around the obvious.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          it creates the kind of neighborhood no one (but the drug-addled) would want to live in.

          I repeat what I wrote above.

          Although he is not specifically referring to Libertarians, Dalrymple writes;

          “The loss of nerve or will on the part of the police has occured at precisely the same time as a weakening, almost to the point of extinction, of the informal but strong social restraints upon personal behaviour that once made England so civil a country – restraints such as fear of what the neighbours will say. The lack of either internal or external restraint has allowed “natural” man to emerge: and far from being a delight, he is a charmless psychopath. Man is a wolf to man, and more particularly to woman.

          This is from a doctor who, daily, had to deal with the results of the brave new world of the moral relativists infecting our culture.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Civil order is like education. Part of the matter is private — families and religions (for those who still have some sort of religion that actually teaches morality). Part of it is public — police or teachers. Public order, like public education, is increasingly failing in inner cities (and the latter failure contributes to the former one). Private restraint, like the private efforts of parents, can work but (particularly in the inner cities) rarely does.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Too often this subject becomes a mere intellectual discussion. But what people believe about what is right and what is wrong — whether talking the domain of the family, schools, churches, or society at large — matters greatly.

            It matters that we agree that stealing is wrong, and recognize the many sly forms it comes in.

            It matters that we agree that sexual ethics are not just the product of a Puritanical or prudish mindset but matter extremely in regards to a sane, good, and functional society.

            It matters that we agree that there needs to be limits on our appetites and that labeling the lack of prudent restraints on our excesses as mere “liberty” is a dishonest dodge.

            It matters that you can walk down the street safe, free from thugs, gangs, drug dealers, punks, lunatics, rapists, robbers, or Democrats.

            We no longer agree on these things. In many cases we value all kinds of intellectual hogwash and Utopian fantasies over what takes place in the real world.

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