Oct 202009

Unity, writing at Liberal Conspiracy, has written a pretty cool interpretation of the difference between liberals/libertarians and conservatives, mainly in response to the debate sparked by John Elledge’s post there a couple of weeks ago. He’s linked to my own response, for which I’m grateful, and pointed out some angles to the question that I, never having read Edmund Burke, hadn’t considered.

Nevertheless, as usual, there are still some commenters at LC who don’t get it, Will (no. 45) in particular displaying a total want of thoughtfulness. There’s the usual conjunction of libertarians and hippies (though strangely a comparison rather than contrast):

Libertarians are not a bad lot on the whole – much as hippies are fine and dandy until they want you to join their lifestyle and you see it really isn’t for you.

Accusations of self-absorption:

I just see them as a set of people who just want the world to revolve around them and fuck anyone else.

And weird misrepresentation of a libertarian position:

…a Libertarian is a person who would have the mindset of small towns folk who believe in local farmers and purveyors of goods who live locally.

I don’t know many libertarians who have that mindset, I must say, especially since the whole ‘buy local’ view is much more openly held by what we might call green progressives rather than supporters of the free market, which is what most libertarians tend to be. Or maybe I’ve misunderstood, and this is just a drawn-out way of calling libertarians parochial.

Whatever the case, Will is a fool, and a rude one, given that he manages to call Tim Worstall, one of my personal heroes, a fucker and a twat in the space of two sentences. I can only hope that’s an inside joke.

So let’s lay to rest, once and for all, this ‘libertarians want the world to revolve around them and fuck everyone else’ crap.*

Yes – libertarians are self-centred. I’ve said it, it’s true, amen brother. Of course we are concerned with the self. The self is the only entity over which we do have and should have control. A libertarian is not concerned with others, because it is not for us to say what is good for others, or what others should and shouldn’t do. Our comprehension of others is determined by how those others affect the self. A libertarian refrains from affecting others in ways he would not himself want to be affected. A libertarian respects others who hold this same principle, because he knows they too have selves with which they are concerned.

Is that selfish? Yes. Is it wrong? No, because the self is always the first point of reference. First, not only. I’m afraid there is no getting around that, however much others might wish there were. It is impossible to act without reference to the self.

Libertarians, in the main, have no objection to helping others, or directing their concern toward others, as long as it is done voluntarily, in the absence of third-party coercion. Libertarians give to charity, they help homeless people on the street, they advocate policies that they truly believe will be to others’ benefit. But they do not want to do any of those things because someone has forced them to, and they do not want to do it at a cost to the self. Why is that so wrong?

I would even go so far as to suggest that the goal of libertarian action and policy, the ultimate goal, is for the satisfaction of the world’s people to rise. There are as many varieties of ‘satisfaction’ as there are people, so people must be free to pursue their version as they see fit, provided they do not employ coercion or fraud to do so (if they did, of course, net satisfaction would not increase).

What libertarians object to, as Will doesn’t seem to understand, is that currently we have a system of what I might call, in my less objective moments, third-party slavery. For example:

Person A has resources. Person C does not. In a libertarian world, they would both be free to work out an exchange that is mutually beneficial. Person C might choose to help Person A increase his resources in exchange for some of that increase. Or Person C might choose to trade unrelated labour in exchange for resources. Thus is Person C’s situation improved, and Person A’s situation is improved, and there is a bond of mutual benefit between them.

Now let’s consider what actually happens. Person A has resources. Person C does not. Person B compels person A, under threat of harm or imprisonment, to give him some of those resources, which he then turns over to Person C. Person A does not know Person C, or the particular circumstances of his need. He only knows Person B, who has extorted from him his resources, ostensibly for the good of someone else. Person C does not know Person A, or anything about how those resources were acquired or intended to be used. He only knows Person B, who has given him a handout for which he did not give any benefit in return and for which his only qualification was that he needed it.

And not all of the resources have made it to Person C, because Person B has creamed a bit off the top to recompense him for the labour of extorting and handing out.

Person A does not hate Person C, or look down upon him for lacking resources. Person C does not hate Person A, because he does not even know him.

But it is in the interest of Person B that his two victims should hate each other, lest they realise that he is the one perpetrating the true evil, that of stealing from one and infantilising the other. He wants Person A to believe that Person C is a shiftless layabout, a useless human being whose utter lack of ability should be punished, not rewarded with free resources. He wants Person C to believe that Person A is an exploiter, a monopolist, who would keep all the resources for himself and let everyone else rot.

And somehow, in this world, Person B has achieved this. There are those who hate the feckless, because it is in their name that resources are extorted from the productive. And there are those who hate the productive, because they have to be forced to share their resources with those who have none.

Libertarians? We hate Person B. Call it the state, the welfare system, socialism, whatever – we hate whatever third party is interfering, to the detriment of Persons A and C, in what could otherwise be a peaceful and mutually beneficial exchange. Person B robs us all of our freedom and our dignity by imposing his ‘selfless’ concern for others into a relationship that would be much better conducted by the interested parties themselves.

And this hatred isn’t limited to economic exchanges. We hate anyone who would interfere in any way with mutually beneficial, voluntary relationships between human beings.

That’s what libertarian selfishness is. I think it’s a virtue. There’s nothing to me more abhorrent than the ‘selfless’ man who demands that I injure myself for the sake of someone else and then calls me an asshole when I say I’d rather not. As the Devil’s Kitchen has pointed out today, it’s war. But it’s not Person A against Person C; it’s all of us, together, against Person B.

*This insult usually manifests in outraged cries of ‘Solipsist!’ Libertarians are not solipsists in the (accurate) philosophical sense. We believe that things other than our own minds exist. Quite obviously, in fact, since we believe there are entities outside of the self that would impose their will on us. This view is logically inconsistent with solipsism. QED.

  18 Responses to “More libertarian-whipping”

  1. Good explication.
    Wish the PLFJ and the JPLF and the LFPJ and the ….. at present flaming their way round the blogs would read it, consider & inwardly digest ….
    too much to hope for …..

  2. Ask your good husband – he’ll recognise the Monty Python references.

    • Dude, I understand the Python references. I meant that I didn’t know what the OH/B&D argument was about.

  3. I’m actually of the sort that fellow was talking about. I believe in decentralized government and localized society. I don’t see why that is something to be maligned. If someone is skeptical of a slower-paced simpler lifestyle, there is nothing libertarians are doing to stop them traveling and getting rich if that’s what they want to do.

    I think that much of our globalized society is frivolous and distracting. That is not to say I’m a Luddite or something, it’s just that sometimes technology makes things more complicated and time-consuming than is necessary in some cases. I enjoy the internet and use it to communicate with distant friends (and, of course, my dear sister) but I don’t much care for things like twitter or digg or rss feeds or google docs or even facebook. I would rather pay attention to my immediate surroundings. Perhaps that’s the Thoreau-ish part of me speaking.

    As for the actual content of your essay, I have to say I really love the ABC analogy. I’ve seen simpler forms of it all over the place but no one ever gets into the intent and character of ‘B’ quite enough. Really, this is genius.

    Fuck B.

    • Bro – I was reading his remark to refer to locally-sourced goods, which are absolutely fine, provided you don’t live in a country where they’re forced upon you, or where turnips are the only thing you can get. Global trade in produce has been, on the whole, a Good Thing, as we’re no longer so much at the mercy of flood- or drought-related famines here in the West.

      As far as simple living goes, hey, people should do it if they want. As long as they’re not forcing everybody else to do the same. Obviously I know you’re not advocating that, but there are some people who do (the bastards).

      And thanks for the ‘genius’ compliment! You flatter me. Here I go round telling everybody what a genius my brother is.

  4. Sorry.
    Neither do I (but they seem to drag in everyone).

  5. And we hate B even more when they try to stop A and C getting together for their own mutual benefit eg when C is a prostitute and A a willing buyer.

  6. […] Devil’s Kitchen has just concocted a post, referencing others posted by his other half Bella Gerens, and by the left-libertarian Unity, which altogether pretty much sum up what I like about […]

  7. Totally O/T but:

    From comments on other blogs and the unavailability of his URL, I understand that your good husband has laid down his bloodied sword. Please reassure us that this is not so.

  8. General:

    Comments on what other blogs? I must knooooooooow…

  9. I think it’s a virtue too, but I don’t think it’s selfishness, and I think calling it by that name distracts people. If every time we call ourselves “selfish” we have to explain all the common connotations that we don’t mean, I’m inclined to think we should be using a different word.

    The argument against a solipsist who claims we’re all figments of his thought processes is: if we are complex, perfectly human-like entities which exist inside his mind, then the “inside his mind” part adds nothing, and gets culled by Occam’s razor. If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. If we function exactly like real people, we are real people. I mention this because if libertarian “selfishness” includes charity and kindness and values external to the self, it isn’t selfishness.

    I used to try to bring everything under the banner of selfishness. I used to argue that an apparently selfless act, like sacrificing one’s life for the sake of the growth of knowledge (somehow), could be in fact selfish, since the abstract external principle one dies for is something one personally cares about a lot. This is a stupidly contrived argument, rather like the one that says solid objects are mostly made of nothing and never touch, due to the massive gaps between the atoms within molecules. It’s technically correct, but a blatantly ridiculous way to look at the world, so what’s the point?

    The point is to express rejection of the ideology of compulsory giving. The best way, then, to say that is to spell it out, and forget the whole misleading “selfishness” business. Even the term “individualist” tends to confuse people. Socialism is attractive because of the popular fear that free-acting individuals will be bastards. Libertarians tend to fuel that fear, for fun, by posing like bastards (and then quietly mentioning that we’re not really). It’s a bad habit.

  10. Well, what word do you think we should be using, then?

  11. Spell it out, I say. Put the difficult concept forward at length, don’t use just a single word to describe it. If it has to have a name, call it opposition to compulsory giving, or some equally wordy phrase. (I briefly considered the term “anti-socialist”, but that’s not really an improvement.)

  12. “Anti-socialist” definitely isn’t an improvement – you are limiting the target too much – for most of us. YMMV. From the wider perspective, socialism and statism are not the same thing and libertarians (or even classical liberals) are against more than minimal enforced controls.

    If these came purely from the “state”, then you could replace libertarian by minarchist but we are just as against enforcement of controls via religion (Saudi, Eire, Iran) as via, for example, the militantly anti-religious states of North Korea and China.

  13. […] Very nice indeed: but why is it that a man can only be a hero to other people’s wives rather than his own? […]

  14. Yes, I guess things like abortion rights and the right to take drugs are also covered by “rational self-interest” or “virtuous selfishness”. The terms are less misleading in that context, because they aren’t standing in opposition to unselfishness (giving to the poor and the sick, etc) as is the case with opposition to tax.

  15. The argument against a solipsist who claims we’re all figments of his thought processes is: if we are complex, perfectly human-like entities which exist inside his mind, then the “inside his mind” part adds nothing, and gets culled by Occam’s razor. If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. If we function exactly like real people, we are real people.

    Yeah, that doesn’t really work. If we are human-like creatures, or exactly like real people, then that presupposes the existence of humans and real people in an objective reality outside of the solipsist’s mind, to whom it is possible to compare his mind-people (i.e. us). Which is exactly what the solipsist doesn’t believe exists in the first place. So the proof falls down.

    And it doesn’t really matter what a solipsist thinks or how to prove him wrong, because the point I was making is that libertarians are not solipsists, and anyone who thinks they are doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

    As far as use of the word ‘selfishness’ goes – I personally make a point of using it. I’m reclaiming it for libertarians. We may never be able to erase its negative connotations, but if enough of us act virtuously and label it selfishness, we can at least open people’s minds to the fact that words actually mean something. It’ll be another way to differentiate ourselves positively from the current bastards who throw around words like ‘fascist’ and ‘progressive’ as if they were confetti.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.