Unlike DK, who thinks it all boils down to pointless questions of semantics, I have a great respect for philosophy. Perhaps too great, in that I have always understood its purpose to be the examination of stuff, any stuff, with the goal of reaching enlightenment, or just understanding, or even just theoretical solutions to theoretical thought-problems.

In simplest terms, I think the purpose of philosophy is to examine with intent to reveal, rather than obscure. If that means delving into pointless semantics, so be it. Words, after all, have meanings. And if it means spending a lot of time examining something and ultimately getting no further toward a conclusion than, ‘Well, I guess it sort of depends,’ I’m cool with that. Stuff has many facets, and people have many perspectives. Sometimes agreement can be reached, and sometimes it can’t. And when it can’t, that’s often more interesting, because then you can examine why, which hopefully leads to more enlightenment, or just understanding, or whatever.

So it pains me to read stuff like this from supposed champions of philosophy.

According to La Wik, Alain de Botton has had an elite education which, presumably, trained his mind in the ways of examining stuff, including a master’s degree in philosophy and an unfinished PhD in same. He is credited with making philosophy accessible to a wider audience, though not without some accompanying criticism.

I recognise that a first-rate education and some degrees is no guarantor of quality of thought, but I would have liked to hope these can permit a man’s thought to rise at least fractionally above that of the common herd.

But there is no point of view or argument in this article that I have not seen a hundred times before from all types of people, even from the keyboards of that most reviled and aphilosophical species, the blogger.

There’s the underlying theme of ‘people are so selfish, they actually think they have nothing to learn from the government about how to live!’

There’s the crass comparison with religious rules and taboos, observers of which ‘libertarians’ are said to pity often—a necessarily unfounded statement, and one that entirely fails to examine the question of consent.

There’s the assertion that the existence of advertising makes us unfree and mass consumption has turned us away from morality.

And then finally, there’s the blanket belief that ‘we’ (speak for yourself, Alain) lack the strength to resist temptation and could all do with reminders to be nice and act like good grown-ups.

We may begin to wish that someone could come along and save us from ourselves… Complete freedom can be a prison all of its own… It is not much fun, nor ultimately even very freeing, to be left alone to do entirely as one pleases.

To paraphrase a rather greater thinker than I: is this language which philosophy may properly speak?

Is it part and parcel of making philosophy accessible to the masses to obscure meaning with meaningless contradictions? Freedom can be a prison, indeed.

Is it the task of philosophy to perpetuate misconceptions such as equating libertarianism with absence of moral judgment, when in fact libertarianism contains very robust concepts of what constitutes right and wrong?

Perhaps so; I, after all, am a product of state education and have no degree in philosophy. Who am I to judge?

But all the same, I feel desperately sorry for the real philosophers out there, when the man popularising their discipline to the proles is a real-life version of Dr Floyd Ferris.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

John Demetriou suggested another blogging challenge the other night, the topic to be: whether it is best to create a libertarian state by means of democracy, or by means of revolution. It seems rather appropriate to address such a question on this particular day, the anniversary of the only occasion in which the creation of a liberal state was attempted by both means at one and the same time.

Two initial problems present themselves when I consider this question. The first is that revolution is historically successful at changing the form of a government, but is usually violent and therefore illegitimate, and rarely creates a more liberal government in place of the one overthrown. The second is that democracy is non-violent and therefore legitimate, but where it successfully changes the form of government, it rarely creates a more liberal government in place of the one overthrown.

What these problems suggest to me is that changes of government are rare, sometimes violent, and usually for the worse. This presents a great difficulty to your average liberal or libertarian, for even though we may believe we have the right, as above, to alter or abolish a form of government that is destructive of our liberty, we are terribly reluctant to exercise that right—and as a result, never actually remove the destructive government from power.

A third problem, of course, is that the form of government currently destructive to our liberty is a democracy itself. And the idea of democracy is today so untouchable, any suggestion that it might be the democratic system which is destructive of our liberty, rather than simply the people in charge of it at the moment, is met with a sort of outrage.

Or else it’s met with a patronising smile and a statement to the effect that if libertarian government was at all desirable, the demos would desire it and vote for it—and the fact that they haven’t isn’t a fault in democracy, but a fault in libertarianism.

As much as I loathe the patronising smile etc., I’m beginning to believe that point of view may, indeed, be the correct one. It’s certainly true that the demos are rarely presented with a libertarian party or candidate to vote for, but even when, on occasion, they have that alternative, the majority of them don’t choose it. Libertarians and liberals, I conclude, are therefore a minority in democratic nations, and don’t have the option of democratic overthrow of the government even if they wanted to attempt it. We could, as the patronising smilers are wont to say, try to convert others to our way of thinking and thus grow to become a majority, but that’s difficult as well.

Most people can agree, roughly, that governments must not infringe the life and liberty of their citizens. (The disagreement usually regards criminals.) Libertarians would have no problem generating a majority with that view, because here at least, that majority already exists, and is why the government is not judicially murdering its opponents or locking them up in gulags. The ‘unalienable right’ libertarians can’t get a majority agreement about is property (coyly omitted from the excerpt above).

Oh, the government cannot (does not) come and take your stuff willy-nilly, sending in soldiers or policemen to boot you out of your house or snatch your family silver or raid your stash of cash under the mattress. Your property is, for the most part, protected from such predation—because you possess it.

But the government does take a certain category of your property, which it conveniently defines as property you’ve never legally possessed and thus has never actually been ‘yours.’ This is what the government calls ‘taxes.’ And, in Britain at least, most people never actually possess most of the tax money the government collects. It flows straight from their employers into the government coffers without ever passing through the fingers of the taxpayer. There are other types of taxes which do pass through taxpayer hands first: road tax, car tax, VAT, council tax. But that money never actually belongs to the taxpayer either, as evinced by the fact that if the taxpayer tries to keep it in his possession, he is charged with criminal activity: to wit, theft.

So the government declares that a certain proportion of the property within its jurisdiction belongs to it, regardless of how that property is generated or allocated originally. In practice, anyone who is employed (i.e. engaged in the production of property) is also employed by the government, by definition. In return for generating property for our employer, we receive a cut; in return for generating property for the government, we receive services. Quite naturally, the cut we receive from our employer is smaller than the amount we produce for him, and so it is reasonable to assume that the services we receive from our government are worth less than the property we produce for it.

In our chosen employment, however, all of our colleagues are in the same boat. Their cut is also less than what they produce. In our government employment, though, it’s a different story. Some people receive much more in services than they provide in tax—and some people receive services for which they provide no tax at all! In fact, the more tax one provides, the fewer services one receives, and the less tax one provides, the more services one receives!

There, then, is the source of the disagreement, and of the libertarian minority: most people, under our current form of government, perceive that the value of the services they receive is greater than the value of the tax they pay. For some people, this is factually true, and for others, it’s nothing more than perception: but as long as the majority perceive that they are receiving more than what they pay for, the libertarians (who generally perceive the opposite) will remain a minority.

And as long as most people think they’re pulling the wool over the government’s eyes in this way, they will neither (a) consider their property rights infringed, nor (b) support any change in government that eliminates that state of affairs. I submit that this must be the case, simply because whenever the government has moved in a general libertarian direction, it’s been because people have perceived, for a time, that government services are no longer worth vastly more than the tax contributions that pay for them. That was the case in Britain in the eighties, and that’s the case in Britain now.

You see the difficulty, no? Joe Bloggs can go into the store and pay 50p for a plasma television. It’s not a great television, but it works most of the time, and hey, he’s not going to get better anywhere else for 50p. Now you try stopping him outside the store and saying, ‘Hey, man, doesn’t it bother you that you can’t choose not to buy the television? That you pay the store 50p whether you take home the television or not? That I pay the store £50 but I’m not even allowed inside?’

Joe isn’t going to say, ‘Hey, you’re right. Screw that television, and screw this store.’

He’s going to say, ‘Well, I paid my 50p, so I’m entitled to the television. And if it could get £50 off you, the store must think you can afford to buy your own television for full price somewhere else. And if this store didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be able to have a television at all, whereas you would—so this way is only fair. See ya!’

All of which leads this cynical libertarian to conclude, ultimately, that most people don’t want a libertarian state. They don’t think the current form of government is destructive to their rights, and they don’t think it’s destructive to libertarians’ rights either. After all, if we’d just shut up our bitching, we could be busily defrauding the government, too. Or at least believing that we are.

As long as these perceptions prevail, nothing short of violent revolution has a chance of producing a libertarian state. And libertarians, I like to think, don’t do violence.

So if democratic change isn’t possible, and revolution is abhorrent, how do we arrive at a libertarian state? The only method I can imagine is to become so prosperous, as a society, that people no longer need some of the services the government provides, and can purchase the others more cheaply elsewhere. [UPDATE: For what it's worth, I think the rise of the pernicious 'inequality' meme is proof that we're really close to achieving this level of prosperity.] The best way to become that prosperous would be, of course, to have a libertarian state; but I think it’s possible to get there without one. It’s just going to take a hell of a lot longer, longer than I or my children or my grandchildren will live. In the meantime, the best thing I can do to help bring about a libertarian state is never, ever to shut up my bitching.

Read Obnoxio the Clown’s answer here.

John Demetriou weighs in at last here.

Great words from Mr Civil Libertarian:

Politics and ethics aren’t easy bedfellows. That’s because there’s nothing ethical about politics. Politics as we know it consists entirely of: Using the force of the state (which is unethical) to coerce (which is unethical) otherwise peaceful citizens into a) giving up their preferred way of life (unethical), b) giving up their justly acquired property (unethical), c) obeying the rules of a small section of society under threat of severe punishment (unethical), and also d) committing violent, coercive acts against citizens of other Nation States that they can claim no possible right over (VERY unethical).

There’s very little politics can do that is ethical, since ultimately, the power of politicians comes, not from namby-pamby “social contracts” (which you never knowingly signed, cannot rescind, and cannot see the terms of) or from any sort of “God given right”, but ultimately from the use of, or the threat of use of, violence against you. What Lucas, as a Member of Parliament, does, is work as yet another embodiment of this established violence. That’s her job. That’s her role. To claim she is “ethical” makes a mockery of ethics.

[NB: This post was inspired by a Twitter discussion with @obotheclown and @John_Demetriou. There was a time-limit involved, so please excuse any errors.]

There is a stream of thought out there in the political troposphere that goes by the name of left-libertarianism. This flavour is usually summarised as supporting civil liberties while advocating economic redistribution in some form or manner so as to even out the material unfairnesses in society.

For the time being, let us dispense with the nomenclature and consider first principles. (I’ve been reading Mencius Moldbug lately as you all know, so I’m very much in the mood for thought experiment and first principles.)

Political thought can be summed up as the set of philosophies, opinions, and practices devoted to the question of how people should be governed or should govern themselves. By discussing politics at all, we are addressing the needs and concerns of society or other large and similarly defined groups of humans. We are automatically moving outside of the realm of the individual, which is problematic for the libertarian, of course, but as the population of the earth is not one libertarian, this is simply a pragmatic attitude.

Also, generally speaking, political thought revolves around two central questions: (I) what is good for people both as individuals and as groups? and (II) once we’ve identified the good, what methods or mechanisms do we employ to achieve it?

Despite seeming insurmountable, answering question (I) is generally pretty easy. Almost all humans, when asked, will conclude: (a) I wish to go about my business in the absence of violence or coercion, and (b) I wish to fulfil my material needs in the absence of same, preferably without damaging myself, and preferably without sacrificing (a). Of course, you find that the extent at which people define ‘needs’ and ‘damaging’ and ‘business’ differs from person to person, but this is where the maligned inequality thesis comes in. As long as people feel their effort does not exceed their compensation, and that other people’s business does not impede their own, they tend to be satisfied.

Of course you will always find people who disagree with our answer to (I) for some spurious Calvinist reason, typically either that wanting to go about one’s business is selfish and therefore evidence of evil, or that privation is a moral virtue. I discard them, because they are clearly insane.

Now we are left with question (II), namely, how do we achieve personal freedom from coercion and violence, as well as personal freedom from making ourselves miserable in the pursuit of sustenance? (All the ‘civil’ freedom in the world does not compensate for the mental and physical drain struggling for sustenance, contrary to Patrick Henry etc., but in fact true civil freedom has never been achieved anywhere, so this is more or less a moot point.)

Pace Rothbard, but I think it would be very difficult to achieve either of these things without some kind of overarching authority. Thus I am a minarchist rather than an anarchist. However. As a right-libertarian, I suppose, I see the role of the authority as defending the territory from external aggressors, and enforcing a set of laws that prohibits internal aggression and contract-breaking. These roles, in my view, are sufficient to maintain my civil freedom. I doubt your average left-libertarian would disagree with me on this.

So in the left-right libertarian struggle, we can actually agree on what we might call (II).1.

But what about (II).2, i.e. material freedom?

Your reasonable left-libertarian (thought I don’t presume to speak for such people, obviously) takes the position that just as the authority must enforce the conditions that preserve civil freedom, it must enforce the conditions that preserve material freedom.

(Again, keep in mind that neither of these has ever actually been achieved.)

As it happens, I agree with him on (II).2 as well.

Here’s where it breaks down. In my political schematic, all parts of question (2) are achieved by the same measures: that is to say, defending the territory and enforcing laws and contracts. You will note that my view does not require any particular type of authority–simply some entity with the authority to defend and enforce. It could be a parliament. It could be a dictator. As long as defending and enforcing are what the authority does, it could be the Slime Beast of Vega for all I care. And while I would like for everyone to be materially free, I recognise that the great variety of skills, talents, and needs may preclude this. Thus, for me, it is sufficient that everyone has the opportunity to be materially free, and no one is prevented from seeking material freedom (except with regard to everyone’s civil freedoms), and no one is assisted by the authority in achieving material freedom. In this way, the pursuit of material freedom is at least fair, if not equal in result.

This attitude is not shared by left-libertarians. For them, the authority has a role in ensuring that people achieve and maintain material freedom. Those whose talents and skills are accorded value on the market insufficient to providing material freedom must receive some support from the more talented and more skilled. Some of this support will be voluntary, of course, as there are still people who retain a conscience about this sort of thing. But history and demographics have shown us that the number of skilled people who possess a conscience is always smaller than the number of unskilled and low-skilled people, so the left-libertarian will refuse to rely solely on the voluntary action of people with conscience. He will insist on endowing all of the skilled with a faux conscience, and deploy the authority’s monopoly on force to make sure enough people are endowed with faux conscience to provide for the full support of all of the unskilled and low-skilled.

The left-libertarian will see no conflict in this, as almost by definition he does not believe that property ownership beyond body and mind is an aspect of civil freedom.

And frankly, if material freedom operated on the same basis as civil freedom, this would be entirely sensible.

Unfortunately, although he is consistent in his aims, this is where the left-libertarian becomes inconsistent in his methods: for while civil freedom consists of individuals refraining, a left-libertarian’s material freedom consists of individuals acting. Refraining requires only personal self-discipline and sensibility; acting requires deliberate intention if it is voluntary and deliberate force if it is involuntary. Moreover, civil freedom consists of everyone refraining from aggression, while the left-libertarian’s material freedom consists of some people acting or being forced to act, and is thus inherently unfair and unequal. To achieve civil freedom, everyone has the same personal responsibility; but to achieve the left-libertarian’s material freedom, only a certain portion of the population has a personal responsibility.

And in fact the left-libertarian position imposes a double responsibility, for not only must those with skills provide for others’ material needs, they must provide for their own as well. To the left-libertarian, this is only just, for anything else would condemn the unskilled to starve in the streets and the low-skilled to suffer a life of toil that greatly exceeds its rewards–damaging both body and mind.

The left-libertarian position, just like mine, demands no particular type of authority, nor is it inherently redistributive.

But in practice, his method of pursuing economic freedom requires redistribution. For unlike civil freedom, which depends upon individual acts of reason and will, material freedom is contingent upon the supply of goods and services, the demand for goods and services, the supply of labour, the demand for labour, and people’s willingness to enter into mutually voluntary transactions. It is also contingent upon the identification of some minimum level of material comfort below which is unfreedom and above which is freedom. And as material comfort is relative to both immediate neighbours and prevailing conditions, this is not an absolute and can only be determined by the subjective judgment of those with the power to enforce it.

Because of this, the left-libertarian position also requires an authority that is prepared to wield force against its own citizens or subjects, and there is a name for authorities like that.

So while I might find left-libertarian goals both humane and righteous, and in agreement with my own, I find left-libertarian methods to be internally inconsistent with regard to freedom as a concept and incompatible with reality.

But then, non-libertarians say that about all libertarian philosophy, left or right. And given that neither left-libertarianism nor right-libertarianism has ever been implemented, let alone successfully implemented, they may have a point.

Obnoxio the Clown’s case of left-libertarianism can be found here.

Jock Coats, a self-labelled left-libertarian, weighs in here.

And you can find John Demetriou’s assessment here.

Libertarians, by their nature, are wont to bang on about liberty, and that it is desirable, and that it is the mother of Order. In the mind of a libertarian, this is all correct and proper, for liberty is the blank slate of the individual; only when he exists in a state of freedom may he pursue those ends which he deems appropriate and suitable for himself.

Thus libertarians take a critical view of those who claim that liberty is an end state, rather than a means – a philosophical ideal to be reserved for a time when material needs have been fulfilled. A person is not free, say these terminal types, until he no longer need struggle for food, clothing, a roof over his head, healthcare, education, employment, transportation – in short, until his physical integrity and livelihood are assured by minimal effort on his part. Western society has, in fact, become so progressive that ‘liberty’ is sometimes defined as ‘possessing sufficient time, money, and energy to expend on leisure rather than sustenance.’

This is, to be sure, a wonderful development in one sense. Rarely in human history has daily toil been considered an irritation to be minimised in favour of pleasure, rather than an essential and all-consuming necessity for survival. Peasant farmers in early medieval Europe had, on the whole, much more liberty than we do today: being unimportant, they suffered little interference from the state, especially those who only farmed enough to feed themselves; being poor, they suffered little interference from others, as they were both inoffensive and had nothing worth stealing. But on the other hand, they had to struggle for food, clothing, a roof over their heads, and had no healthcare at all, or education, or employment, or transportation – therefore they were not free, in the sense that they spent all of their time ensuring their survival and virtually none of their time or effort on leisure.

In essence, then, we have two conflicting modern interpretations of ‘liberty.’ Let’s call them liberty-as-means and liberty-as-ends. Liberty-as-means is a basic state of being in which coercion and unwanted interference by others or the state are absent. This will unfortunately mean that an individual may have to struggle for physical integrity and livelihood. Liberty-as-ends is an advanced state of being in which the struggle for physical integrity and livelihood is absent. This will ideally mean that an individual may therefore focus primarily on the pursuit of that which gives him pleasure.

Enders take a critical view of meansers (libertarians), claiming that those advocating liberty-as-means are able to do so because they are not on the margin of struggling for physical integrity and livelihood. I cannot say with any certainty whether this criticism is valid for all meansers; it may indeed be the case that material comfort breeds libertarianism. On the other hand, it may be that people with a libertarian mindset drive themselves to achieve material comfort. We may never know the answer – counterfactuals can’t be proved – but it might be interesting one day to survey the backgrounds and material circumstances of libertarians.

In any case, we have this situation of liberty in opposition to itself. Meansers cannot have their basic state of liberty because it nearly always has to be infringed in order for the enders to achieve their advanced state of liberty. Enders cannot achieve their advanced state of liberty because meansers are always resisting their methods.

This raises some understandable questions.

First, can liberty-as-means result in liberty-as-ends, and if so, over what sort of timescale?

Second, if not, can liberty-as-ends result in liberty-as-means – and if so, over what sort of timescale?

Finally, if our two conflicting interpretations of liberty are mutually exclusive, which is objectively better and thus more worthy of pursuit?

Stay tuned.

So. After two years of slowly building itself in the wilderness, crafting press releases that media outlets file carefully in the bin, organising speeches, events, and awareness campaigns, and spreading the libertarian word to individuals bit by bit (from giving party cards to shopkeepers to chatting with taxi drivers and barmen), the LPUK has finally appeared on the national scene, doing two television appearances in one week. It never rains but it pours, eh?

Publicity bite number one came this past Sunday, when LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to debate the question, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ on The Big Questions.

As a matter of fact, he was not being asked to form part of the panel – a detail which the producers failed to mention until he actually walked onto the set for the live broadcast. In reality, he was to present a single point of view, in company with a doctor from the BMA, a grieving mother whose son was killed by a driver over the 80mgs limit, and a representative of an auto association. He also discovered when he walked on set that the question was not, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ but rather ‘Should drivers drink?’

Now, it is not for a political actor to complain that the media do not play fair; when he realised his carefully researched data were going to be useless in context, Chris manned up and did his level best to demonstrate that there is no statistical benefit to prohibiting drivers from drinking at all. Unfortunately, he ran straight into:

Maxim 1 of Political ‘Debate’: Your opponent will always lie.

The doctor from the BMA had come armed with her own ‘data’ to prove that, hey, a tiny bit of alcohol slows reaction times by 12.5%, and with 80mgs of drink in the blood reaction times are 10 times slower than with 50. Subsequent research has shown these claims to be rather dubious.

Furthermore, he encountered:

Maxim 2 of Political ‘Debate’: The victim (or his mother) is always right.

Never mind that only a tiny proportion of people are killed in drink-driving accidents; never mind that only a tiny proportion of drink-driving journeys result in accidents at all. Anyone who does not utterly oppose the conjunction of alcohol and driving, however limited, is essentially an advocate of manslaughter – and, incidentally, a total monster for making a grieving mother cry.

That said, he did at least have the opportunity to say one or two things about libertarianism, and it was encouraging to find the audience applauding rather less enthusiastically for the bansturbators than they had done earlier for those guests who averred that priests abusing children was a disgrace. If banning drivers from all alcohol consumption was such an obvious no-brainer, surely the audience would have given it the same acclamation they gave to the many other no-brainer statements made on the programme that day.

Publicity bite number two occurred this very morning. Again, LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to speak about the party, this time on The Daily Politics. The producers contacted him to say the interview would be part of a segment on the ‘small parties’ and their policies – as if to suggest that, alone of all media outlets, The Daily Politics was responsible and engaged enough to tell its viewers that there actually are more than three political parties in the United Kingdom. Again, Chris agreed to appear.

And again, he found himself wrong-footed. The ‘interview’ would turn out to be a two-and-a-half minute segment during which Andrew Neil actually did most of the talking. Outliers of all types have to be kept in the liminal spaces, of course, and with small parties, there is a distinct danger that if the media actually report their actual views in any kind of detail, those parties might cease to be quite so small.

Andrew Neil obviously entered the ‘interview’ with that in mind, and ensured that every one of his questions reinforced that marginalisation. He asked not one single question about the party’s policies, manifesto or activities during the course of its two-year existence; instead, he asked, ‘Why are you so small?’ and ‘Why are you standing only one candidate?’ These are not invalid questions, per se, but they have as much relevance to what the party advocates as why they chose blue and gold for the party colours, or a gryphon for its logo.

Maxim 3 of Political ‘Debate’: If your position is generally perceived to be marginal, your opponent will focus solely on marginalising you.

During a general election when the media is prepared to demand ridiculous levels of detail about main-party policies, they are certainly not going to waste valuable time asking what is the general goal, outlook, or most prominent policy of any small party. It might suck up the time they’d rather spend reporting on Sarah Brown’s wonky toe.

But fair enough. Chris was there to answer Andrew’s questions, and he did a good job. He explained that the party is young and not well enough funded to pay deposits for many candidates, but that the membership is growing steadily.

Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew asked about Chris’s blog. And thereby made a colossal tactical error. First, Andrew named the blog, breaking:

Maxim 4 of Political ‘Debate’: Never give your opponent free advertising.

Then, he repeated several times that he was not permitted to articulate the blog’s content on television! He made it forbidden fruit, thus also breaking:

Maxim 5 of Political ‘Debate’: Never make your opponent’s position look attractive or intriguing.

Unfortunately, Chris was not prepared for a fuck-up of this magnitude on Andrew’s part, and found himself rather at a loss. Should he apologise for the unrepeatable content, or should he remain unrepentant (and thus raise his danger appeal even more)? In the end, because he is a gentleman, he plumped for an non-committal statement of regret. One wonders whether he regretted writing ‘inappropriate’ remarks about public figures, or whether it was simply that he regretted Andrew felt the blog was at all relevant to the LPUK manifesto.

The LPUK, and libertarians in general, have now learned some valuable lessons.

First, Chris was right to go and speak on these programmes. Most of the speaking engagements we libertarians do tend to be in front of other libertarians, which is great but is also preaching to the choir. Although these appearances will not have enlightened anybody about libertarian views, they have nevertheless made a lot of people aware of the existence of a libertarian party. We on the series of tubes lose sight of this sometimes (pace Boaty & D), but there are lots of libertarians out there who aren’t bloggers or blog readers, but who do watch television. Now some of them will know there is a substantial, organised community of libertarians out there that they can be part of.

Second, our assumptions about the media have all been true. They are not interested in reporting, nor are they in any way responsible holders-to-account of public actors. They are a business, and like all businesses they exist to sell their product. Consumers of news media enjoy both outrage and scandal, which unfortunately run-of-the-mill public figures do not provide in great supply. Liminal public actors, therefore, must take up the slack by submitting themselves not to questions designed to elucidate, but to statements designed to confront and incite. There is nothing necessarily wrong in this, but it does require the we liminal types adjust our own strategy accordingly. If the media want shocking interviews, we must shock unapologetically. If the media want to focus on what makes us marginal, we must learn to wear those marginal views with pride. After all, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Pity and guilt have no place among libertarians.

We often wish that public figures did more straight speaking during interviews – the constant diet of pabulum fed to us by the news outlets is so wearying. This criticism still applies to print news, of course, but I think we can all recognise now that live interviews are very different. Whether you’re a shady MP or a total nub, your interviewer’s goal is the same: to ask you only questions that put you on the back foot. I guess that’s why MPs have obfuscation techniques drummed into them from the second they join the party. We, at least, don’t have to obfuscate, so I suggest a different strategy. Instead of assuming that such questions are meant to draw us into a discussion, we should realise their purpose is to back-foot. And instead of stepping neatly into this trap, we should refuse to play – by answering the question, and nothing more.

So that when Andrew Neil says, ‘So you’re a five-man band?’ we don’t explain. We simply say ‘No’ and wait courteously for the next question. So that when he says ‘Do you think this kind of unrepeatable language is appropriate?’ we don’t qualify. We simply say ‘Yes.’ Because that’s the honest answer. And if Andrew Neil wants to call us unmitigated monsters, then the only appropriate response to such idiocy is an insolent shrug. That’s the only response it deserves.

Finally, we know that preparation is pointless. For a twenty-minute speech to other libertarians, we come armed with facts. In such company, we expect to be asked to justify our views with reference to reality. Well, plainly facts and reality are not wanted by media hosts and audiences – and even if they are wanted, the host will negate any you’ve gathered by changing the question at the last moment. So no more data, no more evidence, no more statistics. Why bother? Even when people do listen, they have no idea whether or not you’re telling the truth. If our integrity is such that we can’t permit ourselves to lie outright, then we simply emphasise over and over whichever single statistic most powerfully proves (or supports) our point. Otherwise, extemporise. Then we’ll be flexible enough to respond to the questions we actually end up facing.

After his appearance this morning, Chris offered his resignation to the party. The LPUK refused to accept it. Libertarians, we are who we are. Chris’s only mistake was assuming his hosts actually wanted a calm, logical defence of libertarianism. He was nevertheless magnificent. And the LPUK were right to refuse his resignation. What they need is a leader who is fearless, unapologetic, and completely certain of the rightness of his position. As we all know that’s exactly what the Devil’s Kitchen is, Chris Mounsey need only be himself to succeed.

And lest you think my point of view is biased, allow me to direct you to other apologia here and here and here and here.

UPDATE: And here. And here and here and here and here (sort of) and here and here.

UPDATE 2: And here and here and here and here.

On the other hand, if self-congratulatory I-told-you-sos are more to your taste, go here. With what horrific vocabulary is the Devil’s Kitchen accused of crimes against decency! Bad Conscience is tearing into first place in this contest of the vapours: ‘Highly offensive’ – ‘frequently deliberately outrageous’ – ‘heinously and wilfully offensive’ – ‘personalised, pornographic, narcissistic, grievously offensive invective and vitriol’ – ‘heinously offensive [again]‘ – ‘disturbing’ – ‘nasty vitriolic crap.’

Please, dude. Don’t make yourself such a Victorian lady. I bet you’re the first to proclaim what a magnificent satire of the selfish Thatcher-and-Reagan era is Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. And the Devil’s Kitchen has nothing on him.

John Demetriou has responded, with equal reasonableness and clarity, to my post from earlier today. I wrote before that I have a lot of sympathy with his position, and after his response, I find that I have even more. I feel I understand better what is driving his actions on this question of libertarianism, libertarian bloggers, and the public image of the Libertarian Party. In fact, after reading his post, I find I understand my own position somewhat better, and that is one of the reasons why, despite our arguments, I continue to have a lot of time for JD.

And so there is a further point I wish to make.

In his post, JD says:

What is important is that libertarianism, for the first time, became sort of ‘incarnate’ once the [LPUK] came into being. The day the party was formed, it was like the soul and future purpose of libertarianism was hoisted up off the ground and placed upon the shoulders of this vehicle.

Well, why else would it form? It must have had a purpose? This purpose was surely to seek out electoral popularity and success, in the long term. Libertarianism does not really exist in other parties (I do believe that for a fact), and so people like me and other like-minded liberty lovers look at the LPUK and think ‘please succeed and please advance our philosophy’.

Since this is his view of the LPUK, his position on Old Holborn and other libertarian bloggers and everything else is perfectly justified. If I shared this point of view, I would be behind JD one hundred per cent.

But reading his words, I realise that I don’t share this. I’m not saying he’s wrong; just that I don’t feel this way about the LPUK.

Partly this is because I think political parties, to a very real extent, inhibit true democratic representation. Parties, because they are large, necessarily have to moderate their policies and make compromises in order for their candidates to get elected. They promote a handful of generalised, core values that are broad enough to appeal to large numbers of voters and vague enough not too put too many voters off. In practice, they end up chasing the ‘centre ground’, and in practice end up standing for nothing in their pursuit of populism and inoffensiveness. I would much rather see individual candidates lay out their individual views and intentions and for the voters to choose based on the merits of those individual candidates. But because of the way the British government is structured – in which the party with the majority of candidates elected to parliament forms the Government and controls the business of the legislature – what I would like to see is not practical. So although I understand the practical necessity of having a Libertarian Party, especially as none of the other parties promote anything remotely like libertarianism, I have no great faith in the concept of political parties in general.

Moreover, as an American I have witnessed the evolution of the Libertarian Party there, and it does not inspire much confidence. I’m not saying the same will happen to the LPUK; I hope it doesn’t. But the Libertarian Party in the US has endured several regrettable developments. For a time, it was popularly known as the Party of Stoners because of its capture by single-minded advocates of marijuana legalisation. I am entirely in favour of marijuana legalisation, of course, but their harping on the point to the virtual exclusion of all other aspects of liberty made them appear to be fringe cranks who cared only about their desire to smoke a doob. More recently, they have fallen victim to the ‘populist and inoffensive’ trap, to the extent that their presidential candidate in 2008 Robert Barr, a former advocate of drug prohibition and one-man-one-woman marriage who voted for the Patriot Act in Congress, was widely believed to be so un-libertarian that many LP members absolutely refused to campaign for him. He is also a total moron. Here he is in Reason talking about why he voted for the Patriot Act:

The administration also, from the attorney general on down, gave us personal assurances that the provisions in the PATRIOT Act, if they were passed and signed into law, would be used judiciously, that they would not be used to push the envelope of executive power, that they would not be used in non-terrorism related cases. They gave us assurances that they would work with us on those provisions that we were able to get sunsetted, work with us to modify those and to look at those very carefully when those provisions came up for reauthorization. The administration also gave us absolute assurances that it would work openly and thoroughly report to the Congress, and by extrapolation to the American people, on how it was using the provisions in the PATRIOT Act. In every one of those areas, the administration has gone back on what it told us.

No intelligent libertarian would be this stunningly naive.

Quite apart from the inconsistencies of the US Libertarian Party, I also see that most of the real progress of the libertarian movement in the US in the last five years has been achieved by people who are not members of the party. Ron Paul has won hearts and minds for libertarianism all over the United States, especially in that all-important ‘young voter’ group who were unengaged in politics. In late 2007 it was not uncommon to see first-time voters at Ron Paul rallies bearing signs that read ‘Ron Paul Cured My Apathy.’ To my total bewilderment, he received a lot of criticism from the higher-ups of the LP for, of all things, being a Republican. That only served to reinforce my view that political parties do more harm than good: for who cares what party a libertarian is in, as long as he is a libertarian?

The Tea Party is another entity that has out-libertarian’d the LP in the United States. They’re not a political party (yet), they have only the most basic shared ideology, and they do not call themselves libertarians; but the vast majority of what they advocate is libertarianism by the back door, slipped into public discourse without the terminology that has become so tainted by faction and party hypocrisy, such that millions of people have rallied around them and so become libertarians without even realising it.

Given all of this, then, I do not hold the idea of a Libertarian Party in the UK in quite the same hopeful regard as John Demetriou. I support them in the ways that I can, I believe in them so far, I hope they win electoral success by the bucketload, and I would vote for them if I could. But if the LPUK fails, or splits into factions, or becomes associated with fringe nutjobs, I don’t believe it will necessarily set back the cause of libertarianism. For failure, factionalism, and fringe movements are exactly what has happened to the Libertarian Party in the US, and yet libertarianism as a politico-philosophical position is more popular and more successful there now than it has been in my lifetime.

In short, I want the LPUK to enjoy tremendous electoral success while maintaining their ideological integrity. But if they don’t, well… no biggie. Libertarianism abides.

I am told that the blogger known as Old Holborn intends to stand as a parliamentary candidate for the Jury Team in the forthcoming general election.

I say ‘I am told’ because I know nothing other than the fact that Boaty & D keep banging on about it. My understanding of the source of this beef is basically zero.

But because Old Holborn has historically called himself a libertarian, John Demetriou is (perhaps understandably) concerned that non-libertarians might make inferences about the rest of us based on Old Holborn’s very public campaigns and his well-known online presence. JD has called on the UK Libertarian Party, despite not being a member, to sever its links, whatever their nature, with Old Holborn, and on libertarians in general to distance themselves publicly from Old Holborn, certain of his attitudes, and certain of the Jury Team policies he is obliged to support as one of their candidates – all in an effort to demonstrate as clearly as possible that Old Holborn is not representative of libertarians as a group. Indeed, Demetriou does these things himself, so he is not demanding from anyone else what he is not willing to do himself.

A couple of evenings ago, he and I had quite an instructive conversation on the matter, in which he outlined the basics of his position and made various suggestions. My response, however, was evidently unsatisfactory, as he mentioned on his blog this afternoon:

None of the other top 20 libertarian bloggers have any issues whatsoever with OH and his campaign. It’s ‘ends justify the means’ ‘so what?’ all the way to the bank.

The hypocrisy and inconsistency inherent in the lack of questioning going on here about OH and these others is incredible.

And when I press the issue home, certain other bloggers make out like OH is nothing to do with them, the LPUK or libertarianism.

This, despite the fact that the Treasurer of the LPUK is OH’s mate and fellow blogger and the leader of the LPUK and his wife went on a London demo at Parliament together.

But no, no, no links at all, OH is nothing to do with this cause at all.

I’m obviously mad or deluded. Yeah.

It is not my intention to get into a blogwar, or to take personally these remarks. I understand entirely where JD is coming from and I have a great deal of sympathy for his position. It is not enough for me to say that I am not one of the top 20 libertarian bloggers, and that I am not a member of the LPUK. It is not enough for me to say that I speak only for myself, not for libertarians in general or LPUK members, when I refuse to do what he thinks I should do. He is a fellow libertarian, and he deserves a better answer. And as there are probably many who share his view, they deserve a better answer from me too. And I deserve better than what JD’s comment implies about my views.

In the first instance, I will not question OH’s campaign or policies because I know nothing about them. I have not informed myself of the matter. Politically, it is an irrelevancy. I do not live in the constituency where OH is standing, and even if I did, I could neither vote for him nor choose not to vote for him.

Not so with the Jury Team. Some of their 30 key policies are attractive; some are not. As I feel this way about most political parties, I am hardly going to go out of my way to make a particular attack on the Jury Team on that basis. However.

JD feels that the Jury Team’s participation in the Alliance for Democracy taints it, because its partners the Christian Party and the English Democrats are proposing some truly unsavoury stuff. He points out the Christian Party’s commitment to upholding lifelong marriage between one man and one woman, and the EDP’s belief that the public culture of England should be that of indigenous English. The Christian Party also advocates the death penalty, banning abortion, prohibition of drugs, censorship, and public health campaigns to ‘discourage’ homosexuality.

Not only are these policies un-libertarian, as JD says, they are personally repugnant. They are not the policies of the Jury Team, but although it is cunningly buried, the Jury Team’s official website does state that they are a ‘full member of the Alliance for Democracy’ and the leader of the Jury Team, Sir Paul Judge, is also the leading spokesman for the Alliance. Although I cannot find it explicitly stated, it appears that members of the Alliance have agreed, as they did for the 2005 election, not to stand competing candidates in the same constituency. From this, I infer that Jury Team members and candidates are comfortable enough with CP and EDP policies to be satisfied with CP and EDP electoral victory.

And it is for that reason that I do not like the Jury Team, would not vote for them (if I had the vote), and find it utterly puzzling that a self-professed libertarian would stand as a Jury Team candidate. But nobody has to share my views, or even sympathise with them, and if OH believes he can support the Jury Team without supporting its allies, who am I to say he can’t, even if I couldn’t?

But there is more, because JD clearly objects to Old Holborn himself in addition to the Jury Team and its allies. Something about Old Holborn himself is obviously poisonous enough to corrupt the image of the UK Libertarian Party because its treasurer happens to be his personal friend and its leader (and his wife) went on a ‘demonstration’ he organised. Moreover, the very fact that Old Holborn calls himself a libertarian is sufficient to taint libertarianism in general and all libertarians everywhere unless they publicly state that they don’t agree with his poisonous views.

I am not entirely clear on what, exactly, JD doesn’t like about Old Holborn. I do not know the man personally, despite having spent an afternoon in his general vicinity and participated in a short conversation with him. I have little familiarity with his personal or political views; some of what I know, I agree with, and some I don’t agree with. He may not be an anti-Semite, but I do not agree with what I understand are his opinions about Israel or Jewish influence in politics. But because I do not really know the man or his views, I allow for the fact that I may be wrong about what he thinks, and I will not go on the attack or make public assertions about him when my knowledge and understanding are incomplete. Nor will I advise anyone else to do so.

I think these are all good explanations for why I will not do as JD suggests. But the ultimate reason, really, is that libertarianism is about principles, not personalities. Either the principles are sound on their own terms, and will remain sound no matter what sort of person advocates them; or the principles are unsound, and not even an army of saints urging people to adopt them will make them right. JD, I think, would argue that libertarian principles are more likely to be given the fair hearing they deserve if their public advocates are reasonable people, and probably he is right. But that is not a good enough justification, for me personally, to attack an individual from a position of ignorance. I want the libertarian movement to succeed, and I want its members to be well thought of, but I will not join a public crusade against an individual to achieve that.

This may be hypocritical, given that I denounce people like Ed Balls left, right, and centre with equally imperfect knowledge. Maybe JD is right and I’m permitting my tribal libertarianism to overcome my good sense. Maybe I just don’t want to get on Old Holborn’s bad side. These things could all be true, and my ‘reasoning’ just rationalising some base, gut unwillingness to go against another libertarian, especially one who is more well-known and more ‘powerful’ than I am.

But maybe it’s just that, deep down, I would not respect myself if I jumped on this bandwagon, however justified it might be. I hold libertarian principles to be right and good, and I try to persuade others of their rightness and goodness, and I try not to discredit the movement in my personal behaviour. But that is the only contribution to the ’cause’ I am willing to make, because the only person whose views and actions I’m responsible for is myself. I don’t place the libertarian ’cause’ ahead of my self-respect, and my personal code of integrity tells me it is not appropriate for me to follow JD’s course (although I do not say it is not appropriate for him). And so Old Holborn may be ‘something’ to do with libertarianism, but he is nothing to do with me.

The epilogue to Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty leaves me very sad. Published in 1978, it expresses his optimistic view that the cause of libertarianism was rapidly gaining ground, and true liberty would soon be in sight. He says:

The case for libertarian optimism can be made in a series of what might be called concentric circles, beginning with the broadest and longest-run considerations and moving to the sharpest focus on short-term trends. In the broadest and longest-run sense, libertarianism will win eventually because it and only it is compatible with the nature of man and of the world. Only liberty can achieve man’s prosperity, fulfillment, and happiness. In short, libertarianism will win because it is true, because it is the correct policy for mankind, and truth will eventually win out.

I’m not sure Rothbard expected that, because of the climate change movement, prosperity, fulfilment, and happiness would take a backseat to eradicating atmospheric carbon dioxide at any and all costs on the basis of what looks increasingly to be at best very imprecise and at worst mostly contrived science. Meanwhile, he goes on:

But the long run is now here. We do not have to prophesy the ruinous effects of statism; they are here at every hand. Lord Keynes once scoffed at criticisms by free-market economists that his inflationist policies would be ruinous in the long run; in his famous reply, he chortled that “in the long run we are all dead.” But now Keynes is dead and we are alive, living in his long run. The statist chickens have come home to roost.

Again, an unfortunate assumption on Rothbard’s part that once Keynesian economics had been shown to fail, or at least to cause as many problems as it solved, people would reject it as a solution to fluctuations in the economy. To the contrary, Keynesian economics has been shown to fail on numerous occasions, and to intensify some of the problems it purports to solve, and yet thirty years after Rothbard believed it dead, here we are again employing Keynesian solutions for problems Keynesian economics has never been able to fix.

The enormous success of Karl Marx and Marxism has been due not to the validity of his ideas – all of which, indeed, are fallacious – but to the fact that he dared to weave socialist theory into a mighty system. Liberty cannot succeed without an equivalent and contrasting systematic theory; and until the last few years, despite our great heritage of economic and political thought and practice, we have not had a fully integrated and consistent theory of liberty. We now have that systematic theory; we come, fully armed with our knowledge, prepared to bring our message and to capture the imagination of all groups and strands in the population. All other theories and systems have clearly failed: socialism is in retreat everywhere, and notably in Eastern Europe; [American-style] liberalism has bogged us down in a host of insoluble problems; conservatism has nothing to offer but sterile defense of the status quo.

All true, and yet the so-called ‘failure’ of statism has certainly not resulted in either less statism or more liberty. In fact, few people are now admitting that it ever failed at all. The continued popularity in some quarters of the Labour government in this country, along with the high levels of approval the statist President Obama enjoys, suggest that, in fact, more people than ever in the West think statism is the right idea.

As always, liberty has few devotees but many fair-weather friends. People are happy to agitate for liberty when control is costing them dearly, and this is good; on the other hand, the very same people are happy to agitate for control when they perceive the costs of liberty. For too many individuals, liberty is a utilitarian construct rather than an abstract value, and principle that is good when its consequences are favourable to them and bad when its consequences are unfavourable. Freedom is the first principle to be sacrificed in the face of any kind of need, be it financial, material, environmental – freedom is viewed as a luxury to be enjoyed only when we have supplied the physical wants of all people everywhere. One man’s right not to be coerced is not even to be considered in the same class of importance as another man’s need for food.

Frankly, it’s a wonder we lock up thieves at all, given this near-universal acceptance that a person’s need gives him the right to another person’s property.

I’m not sure Rothbard was considering these trends as he looked into the future so confidently and saw great gains for liberty being made in the near future. It’s now thirty years since he wrote For a New Liberty, and not only has the state everywhere only grown, more and more people have invited it with open arms, happily trading their own liberty for the security the state offers, which can only be guaranteed by its monopoly on theft, backed by the metaphorical point of a gun.

DK has tagged me to do this meme; I turned sixteen in 1997 and was, frankly, a bit of a jackass. Receiving this letter probably wouldn’t have changed that, but hey, you never know.

My dear,

Having been invited by others to advise you about the twelve years to come, please find below a few tips and reassurances. I won’t say too much – time paradox and all that – but I hope you’ll find the general thrust of my advice useful.

My first tip: broaden your ambitions. I know you harbour vague thoughts about going to a small liberal arts university and becoming an English teacher. Abandon those. You’ll realise soon the virtues of anonymity amongst the hordes and warm weather – not to mention that, just in the nick of time, you’re going to realise that it’s not the ‘literature’ part of English literature you enjoy. Go with that instinct – it’ll make you happy.

You also see ahead of yourself, whenever you bother to think about it, a pretty unremarkable lifestyle, living the American dream. Well, you’re living it at the moment; think about how much you enjoy it now, and imagine what it’ll be like when you try it on your own in a couple of years’ time.

My second tip: avoid becoming materialistic. I hate to break it to you, but you’re destined for the life of a nomad. I won’t horrify you with the details of how many times you have to pack up your shit and move it. Just take my word for it that acquiring more stuff than you need is going to cause you more trouble than it’s worth.

My third tip: when, in a few years, you decide to pursue your further academic career, ignore the cost and do it. It’s not going to turn out the way you think, but it’s going to lead you to interesting places. There will be ups and downs, but persevere through the downs: the ups are more than sufficient reward.

My fourth tip, which follows on from the third: when you encounter other obstacles to your wishes, don’t give up. This isn’t an inspirational platitude; I’ve seen time and again that when you bust your ass, you succeed. In time, you will come to regard this quality of yourself as a kind of mystical power. Just remember the converse is also true: when you don’t bust your ass, you fail. And you will fail. More than once. The greatest of those failures will come in November 2000. Ride it out: it’s your threshold to adulthood, and between you and me, you dodged a bullet there.

Finally, a word about men. You go out with anybody who asks, and you aren’t afraid to be the pursuer. People will frown on this, but keep it up. Every loser you date because you like the look of his cheekbones, or because he made an intellectual remark about philosophy, is going to provide you with valuable learning experience. And one day, via a series of random and unlikely-in-retrospect events, you’re going to come across a man who combines the best in cheekbones, intellect, and various other qualities you’ll come to value. When circumstances bring you to his attention, remember my fourth tip.

Oh – and in 2002, keep your eyes open for a conjunction of Latin and libertarianism. You’ll know it’s coming up when a total stranger insults you gratuitously in public. That incident will change your life.


Charlotte Gore has written an insightful post about the challenge of taking libertarian political ideas, and the Libertarian Party, mainstream. As she points out, libertarianism is still more popular online than out in the ‘real world.’ There are a number of reasons for this, but she flags up two rather important ones: first, it can seem intellectually exclusive, given the complex character of libertarian literature; second, the online libertarian community consists largely of self-selecting, not to put too fine a point on it, geeks.

The combination of these factors can often result in accusations that libertarians act both superior and selfish, and in a perception that the community is either anti-social or misanthropic.

She uses DK’s election to the leadership of LPUK as an example of this:

So Chris Mounsey’s election to leader of the Libertarian Party is fantastic news for fellow “evil nerds”, but can Chris reach out to a more broad audience? Chris runs the infamous and fantastically sweary Devil’s Kitchen blog, and because he’s one of the naughtiest geeks (second only to the incredibly, incredibly naughty Guido Fawkes) he’s right at the top of the evil dork hierarchy.

Sadly political change doesn’t come from a small hardcore niche of political obsessives though – at least, it doesn’t end there. It starts there (and you can argue that the internet has made that easier) – but movements either go mainstream or they remain in the shadows like mental state socialist and communist groups of old.

So the challenge for Chris – and all libertarians – is to find a way to communicate a libertarian message to non-geeks, to ‘normal’ people. I know I’m stumped on this, and have been for some time – but still doesn’t change the fact it needs doing.

Obviously I’m biased, but I think this is an incomplete, and slightly inaccurate, view.

During the course of my time here in the UK, I have met any number of libertarians, some of whom are members of LPUK, some of whom are bloggers – and some of whom are one or the other or neither. And with rare exception, they are friendly, sociable, articulate, and down-to-earth. There is nothing inaccessible about them. They are fine people, and perfectly ‘normal’ in that they go about living their lives with as much practicality, robust good sense, and everyday concerns as anybody else. Libertarians are not freaks.

Chris is no different. As anybody who has listened to him speak, watched him on 18 Doughty Street back in the day, or met him in person knows, he is not a raving, swearing lunatic. The Devil’s Kitchen is a persona, the kind of irreverent ranting we do inside our heads but rarely share – and the fact that most of us have a Devil’s Kitchen version of ourselves in there does much to explain why his blog is so popular. It doesn’t mean that’s how we, or Chris, conduct ourselves in the usual course of things.

In saying all of that, I mean that libertarians (and Libertarians) are both ‘normal’ and entirely capable of reaching a broader audience of other ‘normal’ people. How to accomplish this was a topic of much discussion at the AGM last weekend. The problem is not the messengers; it’s the message.

And that’s because most people live in constant, low-grade fear of any kind of risk. The power and largesse of the state allow them to pool that risk, to shuffle it off onto others, to deny (usually quite legitimately) their own responsibility for the big things that go wrong and to absolve themselves of blame and the consequences whenever little things go wrong. The state is their protection from risk: because it is big, because it is distant and complicated and unfathomable, because ‘smart’ people are running it, but most of all because it has the power of compulsion. It can force people to help you when you fuck up, even if they don’t want to, and that means the state protects you from the biggest risk of all: trusting in the basic humanity of other people.

Because we all know people are assholes, right? A couple of weeks ago, DK was giving a talk at the ASI about friendly societies. There was a Tory chap there whom I was chatting with afterwards, and he said he thought it was a nice idea but it wouldn’t work – especially the charitable aspect – because people wouldn’t use their money to help others.

I found this hard to believe – people give to charity now, even though they have a lot less money in their pockets than they would do if the state didn’t take so much of it away – and asked him if he would voluntarily donate to help people in the absence of expensive state welfare. He thought for a moment and said, ‘No, I don’t think I would.’

This is not meant to bash Tories – I’m not suggesting this particular guy was in any way representative of that party as a whole – but to illustrate that even people who are sympathetic to the economic case for libertarianism don’t trust in their own basic humanity. I fear for libertarianism specifically, and the world in general, if what that guy believes about himself, and others, is true. Because it would mean that people want to avoid responsibility for their right acts as well as their wrong ones. That not only do they need the state to stop them from being evil, they need the state to force them to be good.

This suggests there is a profound flaw in the moral code of our society, wherein the highest social virtue is not doing what is good, but doing what is safe. As long as this flaw persists, no amount of personable, ‘normal’ libertarianism is going to sell the message.

This is rather an old post, but everything about it is funny to me, including the title: Hands Off My Loaves and Fishes, Hippies.

26But Libertarian Jesus was great in wrath, and did goeth on at great length about negative liberty and natural law.

27And on.

28And on and on.

29And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the Pharisees begged Libertarian Jesus to holdeth his peace, but to no avail.

30And lo, presently the Legion came upon Libertarian Jesus, and gave him a bloody good crucifying.

31And there was much rejoicing and loud were the hosannas.

32And Libertarian Jesus looked down upon the Pharisees and said, Forgive them LORD, for they know not the principles of Minarchism.

I’m glad I never exerted myself to write that exegesis of libertarian theology I’ve been promising arch-doubter Don Paskini, because somebody called James Redford has already done it at anti-state.com, and done a fantastic job.

Socialists, no more will I demur when you claim that, as a Christian, I really ought to be a socialist. You’re wrong, and I’ve got proof.

I’m aware, of course, that many on the left do not subscribe to Christianity; demonstrating its libertarian character will simply bolster their existing belief that Christianity is nonsense: ‘Made-up sky fairy and icky libertarian? How right I have been to view it with contempt!’

Many libertarians also do not subscribe to Christianity; but they can have no real objection if more people, Christians though they be, join the libertarian cause.

So. Libertarian Jesus FTW on all counts.

H/T Wh00ps and the anonymous commenter at Samizdata.

For David Davisthis is why I said you were nasty:

Imagine how, say, libertarians would react if Russia decided to turn itself into a libertarian utopia. Imagine how easily they might come to overlook the matter if achieving the libertarian utopia turned out to involve, oh, just a little bit of good old Russian-style killing. In self-defense, of course. Libertarians believe in self-defense. Don’t they? And besides, we’re just killing government officials… and so on.

Delivered at the Students for Liberty conference last weekend in Philadelphia by Dr Alan Kors, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania. My brother was there, and he and a friend of his provided the link.

This paper brought me to tears.

Some highlights:

The intellectual manifestation of this pathology was and is a collective delusion that ignores both history and ethology. It is a belief that goodness, stable order, justice, peace, freedom, legal equality, mutual forbearance, and kindness are the default state of things in human affairs, and that malice, disorder, violence, coercion, legal inequality, intolerance, and cruelty are the aberrations that stand in need of historical explanation. Getting the defaults precisely and systematically wrong, Western intellectuals fail to understand and appreciate the form of society that has given us the ability to alter them. The pathology is also the demented belief that evolved successful societies may be redrawn at will by intellectuals with political power and that the most productive human cultures are almost wholly dysfunctional.

Rousseau and all the Marxisizing intellectuals who have cast their darkness over the past one hundred years and more have had it all backward in this domain. It is not aversion to difference that requires historical explanation —aversion to difference is the human condition. Rather, it is liberal society’s partial but breathtaking ability to overcome tribalism and exclusion that demands elucidation, above all in the singular American accomplishment. Tyranny and abuse of power have also been the human condition. It is, in contrast, the limitation of power and the recognition of individual rights that demand historical explanation. It is not slavery that startles, because slavery is one of the most universal of all human institutions. Rather, it is the view of self-ownership, liberty, and voluntary labor that requires historical explanation, the values and agencies by which the West identified slavery as an evil, and, to what should be our wonder, abolished it. Western intellectuals write, dramatically, as if it were relative pockets of Western poverty that should occasion our astonishment, when in fact the term until recently for almost infinitely worse absolute levels of poverty was simply “life.” What generally remains unaddressed by our secular intellectuals is the question of what values, institutions, knowledge, behaviors, risks, and liberties allowed the West to create such prosperity that we even notice such relative poverty at all, let alone believe that it is eradicable. Tragically, the very effort to overturn the evolved systems and values of the West has produced the most extreme examples in history of, precisely, malice, disorder, violence, coercion, legal inequality, intolerance, and cruelty.

There is no revivification of the principles that separated us from the socialists in power. “You put private property ahead of people” remains a potent malediction, as if we had not learned sufficiently and amply that the former is essential to the well-being, dignity, liberty, and lives of the latter. “You put profits ahead of people” remains of equal force, as if we had not learned sufficiently that profits are the measure of other people’s satisfactions of want and desire. Indeed, it is precisely to avoid the revivification of classical liberal principles that our teachers, professors, information media, and filmmakers ignore the comparative inquiry that the time so urgently demands.

Indeed, it is precisely because of the lessons that would be taught by knowledge and truth that no revision of the curriculum occurs. For at least a generation, intellectual contempt for liberal society —as a civilization, a set of institutions, and a constellation of ideals —has been at the core of the humanities and soft social sciences. This has accelerated, not changed, despite the fact that now there is no intellectual excuse for ignoring certain verities. We know that voluntary exchange among individuals held morally responsible under the rule of law creates both prosperity and an unparalleled diversity of human choices. Such a model also has been a precondition of individuation and freedom. By contrast, regimes of central planning create poverty and occasion ineluctable developments toward totalitarianism and the worst abuses of power. Dynamic free-market societies, grounded in rights-based individualism, have altered the entire human conception of liberty and of dignity for formerly marginalized groups. The entire “socialist experiment,” by contrast, ended in stasis, ethnic hatreds, the absence of even the minimal preconditions of economic, social, and political renewal, and categorical contempt for both individuation and minority rights. Our children do not know this true comparison.


As for the mea culpas, we await them in vain from those who claim not to have known or who still choose not to learn. When Eisenhower heard that the German residents of a nearby large town “didn’t know” about a death camp whose stench should have reached their nostrils, he marched them, well dressed, through the rotting corpses, and made them help dispose of the dead. We lack his authority. Milan Kundera, the dissident Czech novelist during the Communist period, stated the moral reality with reference to its only appropriate genre, tragedy. Take the extreme case, he suggested. What about those with good intentions? he asked in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. What about those who didn’t know, and who acted in good faith? Kundera wrote of Oedipus:

Little did he know that the man he had killed in the mountains was his father and the woman with whom he slept his mother. In the meantime, fate visited a plague on his subjects and tortured them with great pestilences. When Oedipus realized that he himself was the cause of their suffering, he put out his own eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes. . . . Unable to stand the sight of the misfortunes he had wrought by “not knowing,” he put out his eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes.

How not to be tempted by this? For me, I would offer one indulgence. Let the socialists, fellow travelers, apologists, and revisionists acknowledge the dead, bury the dead, teach what they have learned, and atone for the dead. Otherwise, given the enormity of what has occurred, let them indeed be forgiven only when they have put out their eyes and wandered blind away from Moscow, Beijing, or Thebes. Let Western intellectuals repeat the phrase of “Requiem,” a work written during the Stalinist terror by Anna Akhmatova, the greatest Russian poet of the twentieth century: “I will remember them always and everywhere, I will never forget them no matter what comes.”

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.

After racist homophobic anti-semites, libertarians are the Left’s favourite whipping boy, as this post at Liberal Conspiracy confirms. The author has paraphrased the statements of a Tory MEP at the Tory conference and, because one or two of them had a libertarian bent, has asked, ‘Are all libertarians this childish?

Short answer: no, but I’ll allow you the question because it’s obvious you’ve never come within spitting distance of an actual libertarian.

The comments then devolve into an argument about labels and the nature of libertarian ideology. I don’t comment at Liberal Conspiracy, but happily I have my own blog.

Picking some randomer from some other part of the political spectrum who advocates a single vaguely libertarian idea and calling him a libertarian does not, in fact, make him a libertarian.

Meanwhile, spouting one’s interpretation of libertarianism as ‘Hands off my Lexus, hippy,’ or ‘only freedom from taxation’ does not, in fact, mean that is what libertarianism is. I don’t even own a Lexus, and the tax I personally pay is not overly onerous.

The truth is that advocates of freedom are found all over the political spectrum, but the only true libertarians are the ones who advocate it at all times in all circumstances, from the bedroom to the wallet – who believe that ‘freedom from’ is the only state of being consistent with the dignity and majesty of humankind.

‘Freedom from’ is the most important part of that ideology. Freedom from coercion. Freedom from interference. Freedom from oppression.

‘Freedom to’ is where the misunderstandings enter. People on the right think libertarians are advocating freedom to burgle, rob, rape, murder – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’

People on the left think libertarians are advocating exploitation, pollution, callousness, and the primacy of making (and keeping) money above all else – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’

And both sides think libertarians consider the laws we have prohibiting these activities to be a restriction on freedom.

When will they realise that they don’t understand?

Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and that you must not coerce anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and that you must not interfere with anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and that you must not oppress anyone else. Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.

For the libertarian, there is no ‘freedom to.’ Freedom represents an absence, the absence of force and fraud. It does not represent a licence to do anything, or a right or entitlement, except the absolute human right not to be forced or defrauded.

‘Freedom to’ is where conflict enters the system. ‘Freedom to’ often becomes a right: a right to a family, a right to cheap healthcare, a right to a job, a right not to starve. In this way a person can argue that poverty constitutes a lack of freedom, because poor people are not, to use the most extreme example, free to eat. And so a non-libertarian may say, their right to eat must override someone else’s freedom from coercion.

A libertarian may say, are the poor victims of coercion, interference, or oppression? If so, it must stop – and then they may be able to provide themselves with food. Thus not only are the freedoms of the poor restored, they are helped without obviating anyone else’s freedoms. No conflict exists; the principles of freedom are not only maintained, they are extended.

And for holding this principle, for advocating it, and for trying to practise it in their daily lives, libertarians are ‘childish’ and vilified as ‘Hands off my Lexus, you hippy.’ We, who are concerned only with the heights of dignity and achievement all humans could reach if only they were freed from coercion, interference, and oppression, are called ‘selfish’ and ‘misanthropic.’

So be it.

A piece by Simon Jenkins on Comment is Free got me thinking this evening about third-party voting and why (or why not) people might engage in it. Jenkins’s essay is a particularly interesting example of this political question, because he essentially demands the existence of a third party he would not actually vote for, but which he would expect other people to vote for, so as to create some sort of actual choice in what is currently, for all intents and purposes, a two-party system:

I want a Liberal party, a proper one. I might not vote for it, but I would like one around: a party that believes unashamedly in the supremacy of the individual, whose freedoms are protected by government against government, in personal risk and identity, in a safety-net welfare not an all-encompassing one.

His problem is, of course, that the Liberal Democrats do not truly present a third alternative, sharing, as they do, many policies with Labour and the Conservatives.

Clegg trooped yesterday to the Liberty fringe at Bournemouth, to preach his opposition to ID cards, control orders and detention without trial. But the Tories also oppose these.

The party is a fair-weather friend to personal freedom. It has not been protesting at the responsibility-sapping inanities of health and safety laws. It does not campaign in defence of church ladders, the right to swim, or the freedom to photograph children. It is in favour of those most useless of nanny state inventions – asbos – and even wants them supplemented by “acceptable behaviour contracts” between state and parents.

The party is nowhere on the classic libertarian agenda, let alone an anarchist one. It does not oppose seat belt and helmet laws, or support risk thresholds, naked streets and shared space. I can find no sign of opposition to stringent planning. The party appears in favour of enforcing wind turbines. It cheers on each health scare, from foot-and-mouth to swine flu, as if it were a slave to the beef lobby or the pharmaceuticals industry. It never pleads the cause of letting people look after themselves. To Nick Clegg, “something” must always be done.

Today’s Liberal Democrats are yesterday’s collectivists ill-disguised: witness their grimly uncritical support for regional government and for ever greater European integration.

Jenkins wishes, instead, that there were a party that

…would champion smallness in everything. It would back families against neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods against councils, councils against regions, regions against Whitehall and Whitehall against Brussels. It would stage a bonfire of controls and regulations. Smallness and autonomy are the only guarantees of personal and institutional freedom, with a commensurate rise in responsibility.

However, let us remind ourselves that he asserts initially, ‘I might not vote for it, but I would like one around‘.

Some of the commenters point out to him the existence of LPUK and UKIP, all to the good.

But I find myself instead asking, ‘What is the point of wishing for the existence of a party you expect other people to vote for, but would not vote for yourself?’ He wants a true opposition party to exist, but is not willing himself to take the electoral risk that would allow such a party to gain momentum or a more powerful voice.

This is a classic example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma that crops up in the present electoral system. In Britain, what we have is Duverger’s principle illustrated on a massive scale: our single-member district plurality system means that two parties dominate, and a vote for a preferred third party often translates into a vote for the least preferred of the two major parties. This principle was all over the news in the US in 1992 (when people who voted for Ross Perot were accused of thereby diminishing the Republican vote count) and again in 2000 (when people who voted for Ralph Nader were accused of thereby diminishing the Democratic vote count).

In this sort of electoral system, it is not rational for an individual to vote for his first preference if it is a third party, simply because he perceives that doing so will hamper the chances of his second choice winning, and therefore contribute to the victory of his least preferred party – i.e., ‘If I vote for the Lib Dems, it will take away a vote for Labour, allowing the evil Tories to win.’ If most potential third-party voters make this rational decision, the third party will not win, but neither will the least preferred party – meaning that most potential third-party voters end up casting their ballot for their second choice, the compromise between the party they prefer and the party they despise.

The only way to avoid this, as the Prisoner’s Dilemma illustrates, is if potential third-party voters unanimously agree to cooperate and vote for that third party. Only with unanimous cooperation can they hope to achieve their desired outcome, rather than a least-worst compromise. This outcome almost never happens, however, precisely because of people like Simon Jenkins; if one person defects, the most rational decision for everyone else is to defect, too. It is one of those curious instances wherein rational action produces a less favourable outcome.

If this is rational action, then, how can libertarians – who are almost all potential third-party voters – overcome the electoral dilemma?

Since unanimous cooperation is not impossible, we could certainly try to create a voting bloc in which everyone promises to vote for the preferred third party. Assuming everyone followed through on his promise, such a plan could work. On the other hand, what if the number of unanimous voters is still not large enough to put the third party into power? If that were the case, it would again become more rational to defect, since even unanimous cooperation would not result in the preferred outcome. The only way to overcome this problem, then, would be to ascertain before balloting the number of potential third-party voters who might be persuaded to cooperate.

This is why PR finds so many advocates amongst potential third-party voters. Not only does it allow us to know how many people prefer the third party as their first choice, it protects that (presumed) minority from seeing their vote metamorphose into an advantage for their least preferred choice. The critique I hear levelled most often against PR is that it rarely returns a legislature with a clear majority party – often it results in coalition governments. There is something to be said in favour of coalition governments, however: quite often they are unable to accomplish much, which for a minarchist is no bad thing. But that, ultimately, is still the least-worst compromise: what a voter implicitly wants is for the party he votes for to hold a majority. I do not want a coalition government that does comparatively little; I want a libertarian-majority government that does practically nothing at all.

The electoral Prisoner’s Dilemma is something that I would guess all non-centrists bemoan; it is very difficult to achieve unanimous cooperation, and even if you could, it might still fail to deliver the preferred outcome. What, then, can we do?

James Hanley, at Positive Liberty, gets right to what I think is the heart of the matter: the single vote with which we are endowed in populous countries is, statistically, ineffective. In that case, then, ‘winning’ can no longer take priority of place in our decision-making process. The secondary value of voting is to exercise our democratic power in what is, essentially, the only mechanism left to us as individuals for doing so. It is only by voting for our first preference that we actually fulfill the democratic function of the individual:

There is one final critique of Scott’s argument that, on a personal level, I can’t ignore.

Otherwise, the voter truly misses out on democracy; he is merely a statistical deviation, instead of being part of a current of public opinion… Your argument is…potentially damaging to the notion of democracy.

I admit that I just don’t get this. I can’t make the same kind of definitive technical argument I have above, as we’re in much fuzzier territory here, but it strikes me as being a very collectivist notion of democracy. If I vote Libertarian because that is my true preference, how am I missing out on democracy? I get the point that I am a statistical deviation – .32% of voters cast votes for the Libertarian candidate in the 2004 presidential election, so it’s accurate to call us deviants, from a statistical perspective at least – but I did vote, and I did engage in argumentation and debate about the candidates, so it seems to me that I didn’t miss out on democracy at all, but was quite engaged in practicing it. And how an individual following their conscience and casting a statistically insignificant vote could endanger democracy is, to me, wholly unfathomable.

It seems a strangely collectivist notion of democracy, in which the individual is only a real participant if he sublimates his own beliefs and desires and joins in with one of the prevailing mass movements. And that, it seems to me, is the greater danger to democracy, because then we can demand that people set their conscience aside, that they do not oppose the mass but surrender themselves to it. We then end up with a Roussean society, which requires

…the total alienation by each associate of himself and all his rights to the whole community [and] since the alienation is unconditional, the union is as perfect as it can be, and no individual has any longer any rights to claim. (The Social Contract, Ch. 6.)

I am not accusing Scott of advocating that, as nothing in his post suggests that’s what he meant. But it seems to me to be the necessary conclusion of his premise, that the individual is not participating in democracy if they are not persuaded to join a major voting bloc.

Whether it is rational for an individual to vote third party and whether it is democratically legitimate to do so are very separate questions. The answer to the first is a clear “yes,” but the answer to the second depends on our understandings of democracy. My understanding of democracy is that it is a constraint on the state (or at least more likely to constrain the state than is autarchy), and that it constrains the state by allowing each individual to follow his or her own conscience when casting a vote. It certainly includes – with absolute necessity – the right to try to persuade others and to try to create a voting bloc, but the refusal to join a voting bloc comports with my understanding of democracy. And while it might be said that my vote is, consequently, a futile gesture, my vote’s inability to change the outcome means it is no less futile when I cast it for a major party.

One can argue about whether the individual has a democratic function – in fact, there are many libertarians, particularly in the US, who insist that voting in any way whatsoever for anybody merely puts the stamp of legitimacy on what is a fundamentally illiberal system of governance (in other words, any attempt at democracy always becomes the tyranny of the majority, in which the rights of the minority are trampled upon by force in the name of the common good) – but if you believe voting is ‘a right that should be exercised‘, as many people do, then prioritising that democratic function when winning is perceived to be impossible cannot fail to be at least a little bit seductive.

And who knows – maybe libertarians do have the critical mass needed to win a majority, and we just don’t know it yet. But we’ll never find out if we allow ourselves to remain trapped in the Prisoner’s Dilemma of settling for second best.

Every couple of days, I go round and check out Juliette’s blog, because she’s very funny. She’s the origin of David Cameron’s Homeric new epithet, the Buttered New Potato. These visits have paid off in links lately, too, to blogs that focus on that other great conflict of Western society that is not libertarian vs. authoritarianism: relations between the sexes.

This blogular phenomenon had, until recently, passed me by, but now that I’m in the know, I’m fascinated. I have always read one or two feminist blogs, and now I’ve been introduced to anti-feminist blogs.

The anti-feminist position, as far as I can tell, is that the feminist movement has led to the breakdown of the family, injustice in the legal code, the reduction of freedoms, and the rise of socialism. No-fault divorce, easy birth control, alimony and custody laws that automatically favour the woman, the relative lack of shame heaped upon promiscuity and single motherhood, women pursuing careers: these have all disrupted society.

As with any blogular topic, you find wild variations on the theme. There is Roissy, whom Juliette calls He Who Must Not Be Named, presumably because she enjoys reading his blog (it’s very well written and entertaining) but feels a bit sick afterward.* I particularly like Roissy, however, not just because he wrote the best eulogy for Ted Kennedy I’ve read. He’s essentially an hedonic anarchist, which is an absolutist point of view I can completely respect. There is also the Female Misogynist, who chronicles all the dreadful stuff women can be found doing, like raping teenage boys and murdering their own children; there is Novaseeker, who writes long and well researched posts about the marginalisation of men in Western culture.

As usual, I can see the validity of both sides of the argument. Many women the world over are treated appallingly by the men in their society. This is not so much the case in the West, but certainly there is still sexual objectification of women. And it doesn’t seem fair to me, because I personally enjoy working and having sex without getting pregnant, to assert that the best place for a woman to be is in the home looking after the children.

On the other hand, it also seems clear that feminism is being used to ill effect: the legal system that favours mothers, affirmative action, everything Harriet Harman does, state support for single motherhood when every study shows that living in a one-parent household is bad for children.

Some of these blogs also argue that women are mentally and temperamentally unsuited for the things they’re doing in this modern, feminist world: women make decisions based on emotion and expedience; women overwhelmingly vote for a provider state; women appease the perpetrators of injustice rather than challenge them. The blogs call this ‘evo psych’ and declare that biological science proves all of these assertions true. Again, I can see where this case is coming from. I don’t know if it’s true that women are less objectively rational than men, or whether it’s a result of nature or nurture. (Mind you, I think irrational behaviour stems ultimately from a desire that reality not be what it is, and men are just as capable of wishing that as women.)

Ultimately, however, I am a libertarian, so my only real analytical reaction to this debate is how either side squares with my libertarian principles (or not). And what it all boils down to, for me, is where the restrictions on freedom lie. On the feminist side, and I’ve said this before, the pursuit of ‘women’s rights’ is being used to develop a partisan legal system, particularly when it comes to family law, and to reduce the efficiency and profitability of our economy by shoehorning people into jobs (for which they may be unqualified) simply by virtue of their sex. Forcing an unfair legal system and unfair employment regulations onto a populace in the name of fairness is inherently nonsensical.

On the anti-feminist side, there is absolutely no justification for preventing women from voting, or preventing women from working in jobs for which they are qualified. The ‘common good’ carries no weight with me. It may well be that in doing these things, collectively women are harming society; but as long as their individual pursuit of happiness causes no specific harm to any other individual, I see no reason why women shouldn’t be allowed to do as they please.

Naturally, therefore, I can agree with neither side really. Both feminists and anti-feminists appear to wish to force their values and world-view on everybody else. This attitude is fundamentally incompatible with libertarianism. And incidentally, I think the attitude stems from the sort of positivist-rights culture in which we now live, where ‘rights’ basically consist of whatever anybody thinks he’s entitled to, rather than basic human liberties protected from infringement by an impartial rule of law. Neither the oppression of women nor the oppression of men would be possible if it weren’t for the positivist state that colludes in identity politics and thinks it has a mandate to try to cure all of society’s ills.

I’m not the first to examine this debate in terms of libertarianism, either; this essay on libertarianism and Roissyism is vaguely insightful, although I’m sceptical of his conclusion that ‘Libertarianism and “Roissy-ism” have the same goal in common: minimize government intrusion in our lives.’ The goal of Roissyism appears to be to take advantage of the cultural breakdown to score as much sex as possible with the most attractive women possible; but certainly the philosophical basis of this goal is the maximisation of personal happiness. Although that’s certainly part of libertarian philosophy, I’d contend that what Roissy and the author of this essay, miss out is Mill’s harm principle. But then, neither of them is writing an opus of cultural and political philosophy, so I may have an incomplete perspective.

*The height of Roissy’s genius is introducing to me the concept of the shit-test. Women definitely do this. I’m guilty of it myself – in fact, I would go so far as to say that almost all the arguments I’ve ever had in relationships are the result of my shit-testing. Roissy blames it on evo psych – he claims it’s one of the ways women judge the alphaness (or lack thereof) of a man. He’s probably right; but shit-testing needs to stop, because in the end, it’s completely counterproductive. I’ll even put my money where my mouth is, and pledge to suppress the urge to shit-test here and now.

Some time ago, I was taken to task for suggesting that Christianity and libertarianism were, if not entirely compatible, at least not in opposition:

Left-leaning friends of mine have often asked how, as a Christian, I can approve of selfishness and dislike the concept of sacrifice. Did not Christ sacrifice himself? Did he not say that, if you have two coats, you should give one to the man who has none?

I could embark here upon an exegesis of how I interpret Christian philosophy, but I’m not going to, because it’s not necessary. Even Christ, whose understanding of economics was pretty meagre, never demanded sacrifice without the promise of reward. The right acts and charity he advocated are, in one way, their own reward, because performing them makes us feel good. But he also promised the reward of paradise which, if you believe in such a thing, is a pretty good incentive, no?

It appears I’m not the only person who thinks this. Taxation is in direct contravention of the 7th Commandment. An excellent piece; nowhere does it assume the reader is a Christian or proselytise. I may actually have to write the exegesis on libertarian theology I so tongue-in-cheekly promised Don.

It is often stated, particularly on libertarian blogs, that the ‘social contract’ is a pile of utter bullshit, an ‘agreement’ to be bound by laws, customs, and a system of government to which none of us has consented, all of us having been born well after said laws, customs, and systems were consented to by our ancestors, or putative representatives thereof. By what right did our ancestors and their representatives bind their posterity?


But if there really were a social contract, one we could enter into or not enter into as we chose, what might it look like?

I, (name in full), hereby affirm my agreement that all human beings are endowed with certain absolute rights; that these rights are to life, liberty, and property; that all human beings should be equal under the law with respect to these rights; that individuals cooperate among themselves to secure them; and that they do so freely and of their own accord.

Therefore, as a mentally competent adult over the age of 18, I hereby agree to the terms of this contract for citizenship in the Free Territory of __________ on my own behalf as well as that of my minor dependents—consenting to be guided in my affairs by the Ethic of Reciprocity, which I state as follows: I will not do to any other citizens of _______ what I would not want them to do to me. Beyond so restricting my actions, it is agreed by my fellow members of _______ that I am free to conduct my affairs as I please, engaging in such activities with my fellow members as may be mutually agreed upon, either formally or informally.

Furthermore, insofar as I might accuse others members of violating my absolute rights or others might accuse me of violating theirs, I agree to conflict resolution under the auspices of a firm chosen by lot from a list of at least three such firms, each of which must be approved by the Association for Conflict Resolution. I also agree that should the parties enter into arbitration, the loser must pay the legal fees of both parties; that insofar as either party refuses arbitration, the protections afforded that party by his citizenship are forfeit; that the forfeiting party is thereby placed in a state of nature vis-à-vis the citizens of _________, who are thereby entitled to take such actions as they deem necessary to resolve the dispute.

Lastly, it is understood by all citizens of _________ that I have the absolute right to cancel my citizenship at any time for any reason and that, should I in fact choose to do so, I will submit my cancellation in writing, recording it so as
to be available for examination and verification by the citizens of _________.

Signed this _____ day of ___________, in the year ______ of the Common Era, as witnessed below by (name in full), who, as a citizen in good standing of ________, has signed a replica of this document, both of which are available for
examination and verification by any other citizen of _________.

Signature of witness _____________________________

From an excellent essay by DG White called, ‘Gold, the Golden Rule, and government: civil society and the end of the state’ in Libertarian Papers Vol. 1, No. 32 (2009).

I have only two problems with it, really. One is academic navel-gazing: if this journal purports to be in any way scholarly, the authors of its articles have to stop citing Wikipedia pages. I know that sources with a URL are the most ideal for journals that publish online, so I can understand the necessity for this, but even assertions linked only tangentially to the primary argument of an essay need to be supported by authoritative citations.

The second is more philosophical, and related to something I’ve been pondering for a while now. This article doesn’t make its argument from first principles. And nor do many libertarians. In my own Adventures in Political Discourse (i.e. arguing with statists), I’ve discovered that, more often than not, we cannot reach agreement because we are arguing from wildly different given premises. For example, the essay begins,

Without money, there can be little in the way of economic specialization, or what is commonly known as the division of labor. And without the division of labor, there can be little in the way of civilization.

Other libertarians, who are presumably the readership of this journal, are not going to take issue with these statements. In a reductio ad absurdum, economic specialisation is good, and division of labour is good, and civilisation is good, because we can live like kings in stupendously cheap luxury unknown throughout most of human history, thus freeing up our own time, labour, and resources to continue production that allows us to continue living like even better kings, or to pursue pleasure and leisure as we choose. All well and good.

But not everybody holds those views. Perhaps they don’t value living like kings, or having time to pursue leisure and pleasure; then specialisation and division of labour will not be a priori goods, and therefore neither will money.

To convince those who disagree with us, we must argue from first principles: either by proving to opponents that our first principles are the correct ones, or demonstrating that even from the first principles they hold to be true that our way is still the better way. We are doing neither.

More on this later…

H/T HrothgarOfHeorot

Last Sunday, Madeleine Bunting wrote a piece for the Guardian that is simultaneously the most vicious and most thought-provoking essay I’ve read these many years. Tim Worstall, as usual, tipped me off, taking issue as he did with Bunting’s aside that neoliberalism and fascism have been destructive in contradistinction to communism and socialism, and while he is right to point up the hilarity of that assertion, it is but small beans in comparison to the rest of what she says.

She begins:

The certainties that have dominated the last quarter of a century – that the market knew best, achieved efficiency and produced wealth – have collapsed. Few would disagree with him, but the clarity of that conclusion is matched by the confusion about what comes next.

There is, within this statement, an apparent confusion about what, exactly, a market is. There shouldn’t be, because Bunting could reference a cosy view of life in the pre-modern era, where a market was a place where exchange occurred (village square, local goods stalls, bescarfed women with basketsful of eggs, etc.), but she doesn’t do this. And she is wrong not to, because that is what a market is even today: a space where information about exchange takes place. A market is a tool, an amorality: a perfectly-operating market is efficient, because it permits potential exchangers to learn the value of what they wish to exchange, and it does produce wealth, because that free information allows the parties to an exchange to maximise their mutual benefit. A perfectly-operating market, however, does not know best, because a market is a tool, not a party to exchange itself.

What has collapsed, and Bunting could have pointed this out easily, is the informative value of the imperfect market in which exchange has recently been taking place. This is, by and large, a corporate, capitalist market heavily interfered with by the state in the form of regulation, taxation, and subsidy (amongst other things). Such a market does not convey correct information – its worth as a means of conveying value is approaches nil, because true costs (in particular) are obscured by strictures outwith the market itself. This is not necessarily a bad thing – even the most strident advocates of free markets often admit the need for certain external strictures, especially in pricing externalities, QED – but more often than not, interference in the functioning of the market is performed imperfectly in the pursuit of goals many of us disapprove (public money being used to bail out corporate institutions being one, whether it’s the automobile companies or the banks or the shareholders of both; asymmetrical information in the operation of the banking system; etc.). It is the failure of this type of market that has given the lie to whatever ‘certainties’ we might have cherished for the last quarter of a century; but this is no more an intrinsic flaw in markets per se than the existence of greed is an intrinsic flaw of money (which is simply another tool in the process of exchange).

Bunting is right to ask, ‘What comes next?’, even though this question is a non-sequitur in the case of market fundamentalism, since what she goes on to explore has very little to do with the collapse of the politico-corporate market. But never mind that; what does come next?

In his last Reith lecture, on Tuesday, Sandel will call for a remoralisation of politics – that we must correct a generation of abdication to the market of all measures of value. Most political questions are at their core moral or spiritual, Sandel declares, they are about our vision of the common good; bring religion and other value systems back into the public sphere for a civic renewal.

So, in the absence of certainties about ‘the market,’ we need a new certainty, a new way of measuring value, though Bunting never addresses the obvious question: ‘Measuring the value of what, exactly?’ It becomes clear throughout the rest of her piece that ‘value’ is being used as a positive abstraction, standing in for some nebulous idea of satisfaction + happiness + equality + prosperity. ‘The market’ has failed to deliver that mixture; what, in its place, can do so?

But never mind that, either, because she’s not going to explore it. Instead, we return to the tired memes of ‘the common good’ and ‘civic renewal.’ There is an a priori assumption here that questions of politics, whether it be government or simple collective action, must have an answer that is geared toward achieving a common good. This assumption may not be such a mistaken one; I’m sure many people share the view that collective action exists exclusively to achieve collective good. What constitutes ‘the common good,’ however, is highly debatable, and is probably at the root of all political differences. If there were a set of easily-identifiable and self-evident commonweals, we would not need so much variety of political choice. (Whether or not we really have, at least in the UK of today, such a huge variety of choice is another question I’ll leave others to explore.)

The same objection applies to the belief that political questions are moral or spiritual. No one has yet, despite centuries of philosophers’ attempts, managed to identify a universal morality or spirituality, any more than we’ve identified a universal ‘common good.’ Morality – the distinction between right acts and wrong acts – is not absolute, even if we think it ought to be – even if some of us think there are absolutes – because there will always be intelligent minds who disagree, and whose reasoning contains no obvious flaw that can be corrected.

Bunting does seem to recognise this problem, at least on some level, because she focuses the rest of her argument on civic renewal; and it is easy to see why, since ‘few indeed’ disagree that civic engagement has ossified:

The problem is a near sense of desperation as to how this is to come about, as current prescriptions offered by all political parties are emptied of meaning and credibility. Meanwhile, politics is in danger of becoming a subject purely for a small technocratic coterie dominated by highly complex financial regulation and arcane detail of parliamentary reform. It’s a politics of credit derivatives and standing committees, which is a foreign language to 90% of the electorate.

The sense of the end of an era is even more pressing in the UK than in Sandel’s America because it has coincided with the final discrediting of a form of professionalised, careerist politics. But to general bewilderment, even twin crises of this magnitude are not prompting political engagement; the paradox is that they may generate anger but are not generating action. The possibility of change – of radically reforming the institutions that have so betrayed trust – is slipping between our fingers. Bankers resume banking their bonuses, politicians revert to party rivalries to elect a Speaker unlikely to command the crossbench support necessary for reform. And we are left pondering what it is that brings about change – crises are not enough, outrage is not enough.

This is a fairly good summation of the problems facing the demos. Crises have occurred; comfortable systems have been discredited; there is outrage but no action. I commend the author.

She does not, then, do what I would do, which is to ask, ‘Why is there no action, when there is obviously such a need for it, and a fertile ground in which it can take root?’

The reason she ignores this is because, in asking why no action is taking place, we encounter a new, and much more troubling, set of problems.

There is a perception that systems for acting do not work. We live in a democracy, and the legitmate mechanism for action in a democratic society is the vote, by which the demos choose their proxies in government on the basis of specific platforms; the proxies are expected to carry out these platforms or be replaced by new proxies. The demos is the master of its government; between elections, it can direct policy through petition, protest, and (though this is itself a problem) lobbying.

In this particular democracy, most of those avenues for acting have been closed. The demos has been ignored: government has taken action without its approval, from bailing out banks to nationalising rail lines to giving Fred Goodwin a pension (if you like) to setting up unelected quangos to regulate government behaviour (IPSA) to creating a surveillance state to cracking down on protestors… and the list goes on. Much of what the government (and remember, it is supposed to respond to the demands of the demos) has done in the past let’s say quarter of a century (since that is where Bunting starts) has shifted power away from the demos, and this is one of the factors that has so depressed civic engagement. The legitimate avenues for action are closed: action in the face of these developments would be akin to beating one’s skull against a brick wall.

To give Bunting a bit of credit, she does not suggest that democracy itself is an unassailable system of governance; as the Devil’s Kitchen has pointed out, democracy has many faults.

A necessary (but not sufficient) condition for change to occur, one might argue, is the belief that change can happen. There appears to be, instead, a desultory fatalism here which Bunting does not address, summed up in part by the uniquely democratic aphorism, ‘No matter who you vote for, the government always wins.’ As long as the entrenched institutions, whether government or corporate capitalism or what you will, continue to barricade the legitimate mechanisms by which change can occur, they grow ever more monolithic and unchallengeable. In such circumstances, righteous outrage at crises and failures will turn inward, because short of fomenting a destabilising revolution, ways of reducing the unaccountable power of such institutions are not truly present.

There are many who would claim that it is the complacency of the demos itself that has allowed this situation to come about: for even unaccountable monoliths are not entirely maleficent, and there will always be those who benefit more than they would do in the absence of such institutions. Unanswerable corporate capitalism has permitted many people to enrich themselves tremendously, often at the expense of others; a powerful and paternalist government has protected many people from the consequences of their own failures, often at the expense of others. There are also people who have enriched themselves without exploitation, and people who have been protected by the state from the consequences of others’ failures. It is the complacency of those who have benefited that has put a cork in mechanisms for change; appeals to self-interest have worked, and I would guess many people who have no experience of any of what I have just said still gamble that, one day, they might do. They don’t want to reduce the monoliths because they judge the possible future benefits of them to be greater than the actual present costs.

But the safety, comfort, and benefit that monolithic institutions provide comes at the price of being unable to alter them easily or indeed limit their acquisition of further power, even when they turn against you.

Having omitted the why of civic disengagement, Bunting still tries to present a solution, and this is where we discover (a) that her omission was deliberate, and (b) the true viciousness of her argument.

Battening on to some documentary-maker’s assertion that ‘what is paralysing the collective will’ is ‘the dominance of individualism,’ she says:

“What we have is a cacophony of individual narratives, everyone wants to be the author of their own lives, no one wants to be relegated to a part in a bigger story; everyone wants to give their opinion, no one wants to listen. It’s enchanting, it’s liberating, but ultimately it’s disempowering because you need a collective, not individual, narrative to achieve change,” explains Curtis.

His analysis is that power uses stories which shape our understanding of the world and of who we are, and how we make sense and order experience. Powerful, grand narratives legitimise power, win our allegiance and frame our private understandings of how to measure value and create meaning. They also structure time – they fit the present into a continuum of how the past will become the future. This is what all the grand narratives of communism, socialism, even neoliberalism and fascism offered; as did the grand narratives of religion. Now, all have foundered and fragmented into a mosaic of millions of personal stories. It is a Tower of Babel in which we have lost the capacity to generate the common narratives – of idealism, morality and hope such as Sandel talks about – that might bring about civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose.

The solution to disengagement, apparently, is a collective grand narrative. In her own words, then, let’s explore what a grand narrative might have to offer.

(1) Grand narratives legitimise power.
Rather than reducing the power of monolithic institutions, they entrench it. This is precisely the opposite of what the demos appear to desire, which is a return of power to the civic level, not a legitimisation of the transfer of power away from it.

(2) Grand narratives win allegiance.
They put a high gloss on failed, unaccountable systems in order to provide the illusion that those systems are both palatable and good. The allegiance here is an adherence to someone else’s vision, an abdication of self-determination in favour of a purpose imposed from the outside that may suit neither the individual nor the collective will.

(3) Grand narratives frame our understanding of value and meaning.
In other words, they change what we desire, rather than fulfill it. This is not changing the systems to suit the demos; this is changing the demos to suit the systems.

(4) Grand narratives structure time, fitting the present into a continuum of how the past will become the future.
They provide a comforting but impossibly teleological illusion of human development. As Bunting points out, this is what religions and modern political systems do. Historians (and I know whereof I speak) are fond of imposing teleological interpretations on the past: Marxist historiographers are particularly prone. Overlaying a narrative on the past implies that there is, or has been, an end toward which all human action has tended. Religions, similarly, overlay a narrative on the future, assuming a state of perfection or enlightenment toward which religious principles are the most perfect route. Although many religions place a great premium on the perfection of the individual soul, reaching the end state requires a collective effort, just as modern political systems do. But do we really want our political systems to share common characteristics with religion? In many major religions, those individuals who do not work in service to the collective goal, or do not achieve perfection individually, suffer punitive judgment; should our politics operate in this same way? Or should they instead operate according to mutual benefit, common agreement, and compromise? The religious edifice is built upon the idea of revealed truth, and access to that truth is controlled by the spiritual elite. Do we want our political edifice to be built upon revealed, unchallengeable truths, access to which is controlled by the political elite?

Throughout history, the mechanism whereby religion has maintained social control and its grand narrative is the restriction of information. Do we really want to emulate this in the political sphere? Ignorance may indeed be bliss, but to impose ignorance on the demos for any purpose whatever, no matter how noble it may appear to be, must be one of the summits of evil.

Bunting’s desire for a grand narrative is not about ‘civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose’; it is about retaining the monoliths whilst finding a way to ensure that the demos happily accepts, and even supports, their power. This is the insidious reason for why she does not address the root of disengagement and inaction: she does not want action, she wants acquiescence.

Curtis argues that we are still enchanted by the possibilities of our personal narratives although they leave us isolated, disconnected, and at their worst, they are simply solipsistic performances desperate for an audience. But we are in a bizarre hiatus because the economic systems that sustained and amplified this model of individualism have collapsed. It was cheap credit and a housing boom that made possible the private pursuit of experience, self-expression and self-gratification as the content of a good life. As this disintegrates and youth unemployment soars, this good life will be a cruel myth.

There are plenty of people around trying to redefine the good life – happiness economists and environmentalists, among others – and Sandel’s authority adds useful weight to their beleaguered struggle against the instrumentalist values of the market that have crept into every aspect of our lives. But Sandel’s call for remoralisation seems only to expose how bare the cupboard is – what would it look like? What reserves of moral imagination could it draw on for a shared vision, given that the old shared moral narratives such as religious belief and political ideology have so little traction?

Individualism, contrary to what Bunting seems to present here, is neither fragmentary nor dependent on consumerism. She is right in presenting it as a struggle for ‘experience, self-expression, and self-gratification,’ but this must be as defined by the individual him- or herself, often without regard for the much-vaunted ‘common good.’ And indeed, no attempt at ‘the good life’ succeeds completely, but the ability to make the attempt, and define ‘the good life’ for oneself, must exist; that, for most people, it does not is but another aspect of that fatalism that has muted the outrage.

And shared visions, shared moral narratives, are bad, not least because nobody has yet found one that can be shared by everybody. A shared vision is an illusion held in common that works only for those willing to be directed (or deceived) by it, and there are many. Understanding this is what led to Nietzsche’s philosophy of perspectivism. He was writing in the context of the grand narrative of Christianity, but the essence of perspectivism is that there is no universal truth, no universal reality: instead, there is only the personal perception of reality, and individually unique epistemologies as numerous as the number of individuals themselves. Many people have criticised this view as relativist, and indeed it is, but Nietzsche also allowed for ‘formal’ truths, which are developed organically through the intergration of many individual perspectives. Perspectivism is perhaps the closest we have come toward the repudiation of the grand narrative as a concept; grand narratives are possible, but only in the presence of wilful or imposed ignorance and the denial of the discrete, individual consciousness.

Bunting goes so far as to identify a possible grand narrative, which she does not like:

A new grand narrative will emerge, Curtis believes, admitting he is an optimist. But perhaps there is another aspect to our predicament. That the new grand narrative has already emerged and it is one of environmental catastrophe. Perhaps this reinforces the sense of political paralysis. That the only grand narrative on offer is so terrifying – of a world rapidly running out of the natural resources required to sustain extravagant lifestyles and burgeoning population – that it disables rather than empowers us to achieve political change. Terrified, we retreat into private stories of transformation – cosmetic surgery, makeovers of home and person – because we see no collective story of transformation we can believe in.

Fatalism rears its head again in the idea of a coming catastrophe that paralyses the will to change. I argue that this is merely an effect, not a cause, of civic disempowerment; it is again the belief that the changes we try to achieve are but minute struggles against the overarching immovability of monolithic institutions.

She finishes:

Every other modern narrative – communism, socialism, even those that were destructive, such as neoliberalism and fascism – laid claim to a version of the kingdom of God, a better world that would nurture a better human being. They were all narratives of redemption and salvation. All that we have now is apocalypse, and it is paralysing. How then can we build hope?

The kingdom of God, a better world and a better human being – what place have these ideas in political discourse? They are entwined with the desire for a grand narrative. This teleological view of human progress is the most paralysing of all views. Even if the goal is unknown, or not yet understood, it imparts a sense of finality and destiny that petrifies the individual and the collective mentality. We are moving toward x, perhaps diverging down erroneous paths, but the desire to reach x exists, and we must all surrender to it. If there is a goal, and we do not share it, what hope can there be for the dissenters? ‘Better human being’ returns us to the world of the moral absolute, a non-reality, and ‘narratives of redemption and salvation’ are especially frightening. Redemption is for those who have transgressed; salvation is in the gift of a higher power. Will we set up human arbiters of sin and human judges of righteousness in our new narrative? I repeat, what place have these ideas in political discourse?

It is a funny thing that ‘apocalypse’ does not mean what Bunting thinks it means. She infers from it chaos, destruction, collapse; but at its root, it is αποκαλυψις, an uncovering, an unhiding, a revelation. And perhaps what she hates about apocalypse is that is has uncovered mutable truths; it has removed certainties and replaced them with the understanding that certainty itself paralyses. The absence of a grand narrative is a state of being to be celebrated; it is both energising and liberating, bringing as it does the knowledge that we are not bound to a shared reality, a vision imposed on us by others. We as individuals can create our own meaning and give our own existence its purpose – and that purpose is whatever we choose, based upon whatever values we wish to hold. We can fight for self-determination even in a society that ritually denigrates the individual, ascribing its success only to the existence of the collective, and demanding gratitude and service in return. The paralysis is proof that that society is dying.This apocalypse is good, and recognition of our own paralysis is a vital step toward freeing ourselves from the tyranny of those who would make us pawns in their ‘narrative’ of social transgression and secular salvation.

wh00ps has written a post, complete with picture of the story in the newspaper, about the trial of 4 men accused of an armed robbery at Heathrow, now to take place without a jury.

It made me wonder, for all that trial by jury has been a part of the British polity for centuries, why we use juries in trials at all. And came up with this:

The state acts as the arbiter of justice on behalf of its citizens; everything the state does, legally, is in the name of and as a proxy for the citizenry of that state. In order to preserve this legal idea, legal responsibility and, if necessary, restitution, must be decided on by some representative group of citizens (a jury), who provide the consent of the citizens in general to the courts decision, and legitimise the action of the state on their behalf.

This development – trial without jury – turns its back on the concept that the state is acting as proxy for the citizens. It undermines and even denies the idea that it is the people who are sovereign, who direct the actions of the state, and who give their consent to those actions through representative groups.

This is the state assuming ultimate authority; this is one of the state’s great ‘Fuck you’s to the people of Britain. It is now acting without your consent; it has deemed your consent unnecessary. It has denied you an election, it has denied you the chance to be the arbiter of your representatives’ behaviour, and now it is denying you representation at all. The laws of this country are no longer made according to the will of the people; the courts will now no longer operate according to the will of the people; the State is all – your consent is unnecessary – your sovereignty has ceased to exist – you do not govern yourselves – this is not a democracy. The State is separate from and superior to you, and the consent of the governed to be governed is no longer required.

You have given away your collective power, and now the State sits in judgment of you, not your fellow citizens.

I would say you have allowed this to happen without a murmur, except that I’m sure everyone who reads this blog has been murmuring, asserting, shouting, and screaming it to the skies for some time now. It is everyone else, who goes about his or her daily life without any thought or care of being the servant instead of the master, who should be ashamed today.

A personal comment from my friend C, worth reproducing in full:

You asked (in your post about your immigration application being denied) “Britain is the home of liberty, modern democracy, and free enterprise: what the hell has happened to this place?”

The same thing that is “about” to happen to America. If you want to escape what’s happening in Britain, and are indeed forced to leave, don’t come back here—you’ll be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

It’s always been odd to me, that the folks who call themselves “liberal”, and think they therefore stand for “liberty”, somehow don’t realize that the policies they espouse are the ones most directly leading to tyranny. The reason: their solution for all problems, social, economic, political, whatever–is more and more and more power TO government, which of necessity means less and less and less power to the individual. It’s almost comical—an entire party concurring with Groucho Marx: “I love humanity; it’s PEOPLE I can’t stand”. Everyone is (must be) seen not as an individual, but as a member of a “group”; “the poor”, “the less fortunate”, “the minorities”—and everyone is DEFINED by their “group”, not by their individual intelligence, achievements, or abilities.

In fact, we have gone out of our way to educate OUT of our children ANY “differences”; they must blend seamlessly and indistinguishably into society, without any of those inconvenient “differences” sticking out like painful elbows jutting into the ribcage of society. And somehow, while working feverishly to put down “individual” differences, and punishing “individual” achievement, in favor of seeing people only as “groups”, they FAIL to see the blatant FACT that the entity to whom they GIVE all that power, IS going to EXERCISE that power–and HOLD that power–and work to KEEP that power—and set in place restrictions on freedom that will ensure they will INCREASE that power in the future.

I know–I’m a teacher. I’ve been in the classroom. I’m in touch with those still there. It is BY DESIGN that the American educational system is what it is. It is NOT designed to produce excellence. It is designed to produce citizen “widgets” that all conform to the same thought processes, the same social conventions, the same docile submission to government, the same unquestioning wide-eyed acceptance of whatever latest “spin” is being put before them by the eager cooperation of our media as the voice of the government–even if it directly contradicts what they were just told yesterday.

The ONLY, ONLY thing that has ever brought brief periods of freedom — real INDIVIDUAL freedom — to the world, is when that power (of government, of one man or group of men over other men–understand here “men” is used in the traditional sense of “mankind”–I don’t do ‘politically correct’ speech)–is when that power is LIMITED, by force of law, and more power is given back to INDIVIDUAL people. That is what made the Magna Carta so important, and birthed freedom in England. That is what led the American framers of the Constitution to set up a tri-partate government, with the “intention” of keeping the power so diffused no one branch of government could ever dominate the others, nor could the government ever grow so much in power it could oppress the people (they apparently didn’t foresee our “American Idol” popularity-based society that would go drunk on slogans and fill all three parts of government with carbon-copies of one political ideology). What we have now, instead of a balanced tension of 3 different political bodies, is a “China Syndrome” confluence of identical ideologies in all branches of government, and the political atomic reaction that is building (now beyond control) will cause a meltdown (first economic, then—who knows?) as surely as too many rods into the “pile”.

I heard an interesting quote on “Boston Legal” (a show I never watch, but caught the last 10 minutes of two Sundays ago), in which one of the characters sat with the other on a balcony overlooking a nighttime New York skyline, and said, “America is doomed, because she has lost her soul. No one any longer loves liberty–or even understands what liberty is.”

How right he was.

In the wake of the recent shenanigans in Westminster, there has been renewed speculation about whether or not Britain ought to have a written constitution like the US does, codifying individual rights (and, if you’re Gordon Brown, duties) in contradistinction to the state. I’d link, but I can’t remember where I read most of the speculation.

At present, whilst Britain has a constitution, it is a mixture of ancient and modern charters, common law based largely upon precedent, and legislation. Certain rights are defined in Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights of 1689, and of course these days in the European Charter of Human Rights, Britain’s participation in which David Cameron has said he would repeal. The question, then, is whether Britain ought to have a single, all-encompassing document that sets out the rights of the citizen, the responsibilities and powers of the state, and defines the nature of the relationship between the two.

In my own opinion, the answer is no.

If one uses the US constitution as a basis for judgment, one runs into problems immediately. The first, and most obvious, is that the existence of such a document does not in any way guarantee against its infringement or selective interpretation. There are many schools of thought in the US about the purpose, place, and meaning of the constitution, ranging from the strict constructionist, the Founders’ intent, all the way to the ‘living document.’ The fact that there is a document – a particularly clear and well-composed one, I might add – has not stopped anybody from reading his or her own wishes, intentions, and prejudices into its text. Even if Britain were to generate for itself such a constitution, endless wranglings over its necessary ambiguity would result in there being no clearer understanding of rights (and/or responsibilities) than already exists.

It is also the case in the US that the provisions of the constitution are routinely, one might even say ritually, infringed. There has never been a point in history at which the liberties outlined therein have been available to all Americans at all times. Politicians are very good at coming up with reasons and justifications, however spurious and transparent, for circumventing, withdrawing, or otherwise ignoring the protections set out in the constitution. I see no reason to suppose a British constitution would be immune to similar manipulation.

If one reads the Federalist and anti-Federalist Papers, one discovers that there were concerns even at the time the American constitution was drafted about the wisdom of setting out rights and liberties in a universal document. Whilst it is important to note that one of the motivating factors behind the creation of the constitution was to eliminate ambiguity regarding traditional liberties – ambiguity that, under the prevailing British system, had resulted in the suppression of a number of freedoms to which the American colonists believed they were entitled – a large contingent at the constitutional convention was wary of codifying any rights. The anti-Federalists were worried that, in setting out the rights of individuals, a constitution would limit individuals only to those rights, and prevent people from claiming those traditional liberties which had never been legally stated but had always been understood to exist. Their worry turns out to have been true: as the constitution is interpreted in the US today, an American citizen possesses only those rights which are detailed in the first ten amendments to the constitution, and no others. Right to property is conspicuously absent. To codify a constitution in Britain would lead, more than likely, to the same problem.

Then, naturally, one must consider who would be writing the British constitution. The organisation of the British polity would seem to demand that this be undertaken by the Government, which undertakes all other matters generally, whether by use of executive privilege or its majority in the House of Commons. A Government-composed constitution would naturally result in a highly-politicised, fad-filled document reminiscent of the European Charter of Human Rights, which includes absurdities like the right to an education and the right to healthcare. Many of the ‘rights’ described therein can only be guaranteed and provided by a collective entity – the state – at the expense of others. What it would come down to is a pitting of right against right, liberty against liberty, entitlement against entitlement, wherein your right to your property is overridden by my right to healthcare, just to name an example. A true constitution would include as rights or liberties only those things which are universal to all people at all times, and thus do not conflict with one another. Call me sceptical, but I doubt that any British Government of whatever party would produce anything of the sort.

One must also consider the issue of parliamentary sovereignty. Even if such a document were to be produced and ratified, one parliament cannot bind future parliaments – unless that traditional convention were to be specifically negated in the new constitution. Given the current disagreement about the Lisbon Treaty, I’m not sure that the binding of future parliaments is a precedent that ought to be set, let alone codified in a constitution. It is a distinct advantage and disadvantage of the British system that change in laws and institutions can occur quickly and without warning; take away that ability to institute the good and eliminate the bad, and one ends up with a petrified, moribund system like the US has, where even necessary change is slow to take place and the checks and balances on each and every branch of government mean that very little growth and evolution are possible. This works in the US because we’re used to it – it’s always been that way – and because the original system was conceived of and implemented by men who were steeped in Enlightenment thought and truly wished to create a polity whose values and operation would be acceptable to all people at all times. So far, they have been more or less successful. But I consider it very unlikely that any constitution the British government produces would have this aim in mind, much less achieve it, and thus I think it very unwise of the British people to bind themselves to a document of the times and the prevailing political and social mentality.

In the ratification process of the American constitution, the federal system meant that a majority of the legislatures in a majority of states had to agree to provisions and amendments before they could take effect; this condition prevented the social and political attitudes of particular regions or population groupings (urban v. rural, for example) holding sway over the entire nation. The aim was, of course, to ensure that only those proposals which were demonstrably acceptable to the vast majority of the population were implemented. Britain does not have a federal system. Will a putative constitution need to be ratified by a majority of councillors in a majority of county councils? Will it need to be ratified by the regional assemblies of Wales and Scotland? How is it possible to ensure that such a constitution truly is acceptable to the majority of the British population? How would such a constitution be reconciled with the principles of devolution that have become so popular? A strong central government could certainly impose a constitution on the populace without taking into account the wishes of particular regions or localities, but if a constitution is imposed on the people without their manifest consent, whence does it derive its legitimacy?

All of these problems suggest to me, at least, that any attempt to codify a constitution in this country would be an absolute shambles, if not an outright disaster. The current system is cumbersome, inconvenient, draughty, and malleable, but I consider all of those things preferable to a political philosophy imposed from the top down that will by any reasonable assumption be hideously illiberal, fashionable, asphyxiating – and ignored when convenient anyway. I will leave it to others to speculate on what a British constitution might or ought to say.

UPDATE: Errata here.

with which I wholeheartedly agree. Replace ‘United States’ with ‘Britain’ and ‘Americans’ with ‘the British’ and it applies equally as well here.

I feel I must explain, at least to the small audience that is available to me, that the naivete with which people are discussing the tea party protests is distracting everyone from the meaning of those protests.

The people who went to those protests were not there simply because they don’t like Obama and they don’t like paying their taxes. There is something much deeper behind their revulsion–a revulsion I share.

The point is this:
American citizens spend half of every year working simply to make their tax payments. That is to say, all taxes combined (US, state, county, city, etc.) are so burdensome to Americans that they must spend literally half of their income paying them. I don’t care what you say about the cost of running the government, protecting our shores, or helping the poor. This is wrong.

It is interesting to note that we consider ourselves free and self-determined yet we are subjected to such staggering regulation of our lives. You can point to our material wealth and say, “you’re wrong… we have it great,” but you’re fooling yourself if you think that. Being free and being rich are not the same thing. Essentially, we’re rich because we’ve managed to fool the world into thinking our money is actually worth something…this is another story. What is really going on here is that our government has become so monstrously plutocratic and tyrannical that they feel they can start wars, spy on us, and abscond with half our paychecks. We are told to shut up and stop whining.

Well, I’m tired of being told that I should put my “nation” before myself. That’s obviously not what this is about. People who say that mean, “put the government before yourself–you are their property.”

I don’t care who the president is (they all manage to find a new and unique way to be absolutely terrible) and I don’t care what they promise us. I think that the feelings of the people at the tea party protests and my own feelings can be quite succinctly expressed:

All experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

I don’t suppose many people today would even recognize that text but be sure, were it written by someone today, its writer would be labeled an “extremist” or “domestic terrorist” and thrown into some dark prison. In its day, that text caused a war.

I urge anyone reading this (and believe me, I have no delusions that many are) to consider for a moment whether the life led by an American is a free life. Consider whether anyone can actually claim, under threat of force, half of all your labor. Can those people spy on you? Can force you to fight a war on the other side of the earth? Can they silence you? Can they imprison you? If not, can they stop you if you decide to rob them of their power? Can they stop a million like you? Can they stop 300 million belligerent Americans who know what freedom is and crave it?

I think not.

Having said that, I do not believe these tea party protests were at all effective. Sadly, a protest against the government and its atrocities is rendered impotent when the scoundrels who operate that government make speeches at the protest. Yes, I refer to the infamous Richard Burr who gave a less than stirring speech against Obama and his bailouts. Oddly enough, Mr. Burr voted for the original bailout. How disingenuous to oppose graft only when it’s politically expedient.

Thus, any effect the protest might have had was soundly negated. Especially since Fox News took it upon themselves to portray it as a partisan anti-Obama rally. I think they just like rattling our cages, to be honest.

Just remember, the struggle the United States face today is a lot simpler than economics, party politics, or monetary policy. It is simply a struggle for power between the People and the government. The only power you and I crave is power over ourselves but the government claims that power as well. I am not prepared to submit to them.

Remember, there is nothing patriotic about supporting the government. The United States government is not the United States themselves. We are. We are the country. Our homes and our neighbors are this country. Your choice is either loyalty to them or loyalty to the government. I know on what side I stand.


Over at Don’s.

You remember Don, right? He does a pretty comprehensive job of it, I must say, picking up on such contentious, deeply-held prejudices of mine as ‘Jesus was no economist’ and ‘Human progress in the past 200 years has been outstanding.’

An amusing snippet:

I love the critique of Jesus’ understanding of economics and can only guess at the discussions on Team Libertarian which must have developed it.

“As a Christian and a Libertarian I am troubled. I have searched the gospels, and nowhere does it mention that deregulated free markets bring freedom by allocating resources efficiently or that cutting taxes generates more revenue as explained by the Laffer Curve”.

“Ah, that is because Jesus Christ had a pretty meagre understanding of economics, unlike Frederich von Hayek, Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan.”

That’s so completely me. (Actually, it is.)

He also suggests I spend less time reading Ayn Rand and more time reading the New Testament, so blogging will be light as I crack open my copy of koine and rediscover the underpinnings of Christian Socialism.

UPDATE: This whole ‘New Testament’ thing is proving riveting, and ideas are coming thick and fast. I might even write a sort of blog series called Libertarian Theology, explaining how Christianity and self-interest are entirely compatible and showing that Jesus was totally a libertarian. After that, perhaps I’ll embark on a Libertarian Theology: Islam, detailing the importance of the free market and the Laffer Curve in the early caliphates.

Atlas Shrugged is all over the blogs and the news recently, and with good reason. The authoritarians, statists, and socialists among us appear to clutch at every possible opportunity to ridicule the novel, and Rand herself, with the sort of viciousness that suggests they derive pleasure from being overtly nasty about a dead woman and her philosophy.

Their viciousness also suggests fear, or at the very least resentment, that Atlas Shrugged exposes the flaws in their ideology. Why else would they need to insult its author, misrepresent its message, and claim that it is poorly written? (Because, let’s face it – it’s not poorly written. Have these people ever cast a judgmental eye over, for example, Dan Brown? Jesus.)

The Guardian leapt upon the stick-pins-in-the-effigy-of-Rand bandwagon yesterday:

Of all the scary things you can get a graph to show, surely the most terrifying is a surge in sales of Ayn Rand novels.

Could this be because Rand’s wordy masterwork foretells the collapse of capitalism? That is indeed what happens in the book: machines break, production dwindles, society collapses into riot. And the novel knows exactly where to point the finger: it’s all the fault of big government, which is choking the free market under layers of anti-business law. Rand’s novel is also clear as to who can save us. Its hero, John Galt, is handsome and virile, a brilliant inventor, and the leader of a revolutionary vanguard composed of all the world’s great talents in industry and science, finance and the arts; eventually he will be joined by the beautiful Dagny Taggart, her body “slender”, her daddy’s railroad the biggest the world has ever known. Soon, more and more of these “superior minds” abandon the “second-handers” – also known as “mediocrities”, “parasites” and “mindless hordes” – to join Galt in his mountain hideaway. When Galt and Dagny at long last get together, the sign of the almighty dollar is traced upon the earth.

Ha! That crazy Rand and her anti-government paranoia. We all know that big-government regulation is what saves us from the collapse of society – I mean, if there had been more regulation, we wouldn’t be in this banking crisis right now… And good grief, her characters? Handsome, beautiful, brilliant? Physical beauty is an accident of birth, and brilliance and success are the products of society, of course. Or one’s daddy. How dare such people withdraw their productive genius from the very society, however composed of mediocrities, to which it is owed?

(I begin to believe that Jenny Turner has not, in fact, read the novel.)

Crazy and, it seems, the recipient of her just desserts:

Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s fourth and final novel. After it, she devoted herself to what her fans consider her “philosophy”, and to building the movement she called objectivism, which was, briefly, a presence in 50s American culture before imploding in feuds. Rand was, at her height, quite a figure – bob-haired, Russian-accented, dressed in a cape with a dollar-sign brooch, smoking a cigarette in a long holder – “When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind – and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression,” she wrote in Atlas Shrugged.

Since Rand’s death in 1982 – from lung cancer – her heirs have carried the movement forward, with a growing presence in academia…

You see, not only was her ‘philosophy’ not a real philosophy (thus the derisive quotation marks around it), she was also one of those icky smokers. Ugh.

According to Noam Chomsky, Rand was “one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history”. But this is surely an overstatement, given that during Rand’s lifetime, personal muddle and inherent ridiculousness limited her capacity to do harm. Slavoj Zizek gets closer to it when he writes that, though artistically “worthless”, her work has a lastingly “subversive dimension”. By taking “capitalist ideology” to extreme conclusions, Rand shows up its “fantasmatic kernel” – the babyish fantasies of power without consequence that, one could argue, caused the banks to sink themselves in the sub-prime mess in the first place.

The question, then, isn’t so much why Rand now? It’s more whether Randianism can have a long-term future, now that capitalism no longer seems to need any help when making a fool of itself.

Aha, yes – I thought we’d get around to this. Unbridled free markets of the sort Rand advocated have failed; capitalism has made a fool of itself; her ideas are inherently ridiculous.

Would somebody mind please explaining to me why, after the disasters that were Soviet Russia and Maoist China, and the on-going jokes that are Cuba and Venezuela, people refuse to admit that the unfree, centrally planned market is ‘inherently ridiculous’ and ‘no longer seems to need any help when making a fool of itself’? Why do criticisms of failure apply to free markets at the merest hint of an economic downturn, but not to bizarre socialist experiments that result in actual, devastating economic collapse?

Here’s the odd thing: the Guardian published an article about Atlas Shrugged last Tuesday as well. A very different article indeed, entitled ‘Greed is good: a guide to radical individualism‘:

Rand and her books were the embodiment of right-wing libertarianism and laissez-faire capitalism, which advocated the complete deregulation of business and finance and opposed any form of state welfare. She described her philosophy as “objectivism” or “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”.

At its heart is a mystery story: about why so many of the world’s most brilliant brains are disappearing and about who invented a new kind of motor. It tells the tale of Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate, and their struggles as society collapses at the hands of an oppressive government and its parasitical bureaucrats. In the book, the best minds in terms of business, science and the arts are, in effect, on strike – the book was originally called The Strike. It espoused the essential Rand philosophy of “rational self-interest”.

Throughout her writing life, she promoted the idea expressed in the book: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other.”

That is a vastly more realistic summary. Anybody have phone numbers for Jenny Turner and Duncan Campbell? Perhaps we should introduce them to one another.

Maybe the discrepancy is more to do with the section of the paper in which they are writing. Campbell’s article is filed under News->World News->United States, while Turner’s appears in Culture->Books->The week in books. And as we all know, Rand’s novel as a piece of literature is ‘artistically worthless’. Why, even ‘very distinguished old butch dykes‘ who teach literature in the universities don’t acknowledge it! And so, because literature students, those paragons of intellect and utility, have not read it, it must be a fad.

Rand never pretended that her beliefs were easy ones to swallow; much of the novel revolves around the difficulty the two main characters, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden, have accepting it. They fight until they last possible second to succeed in a world which punishes them for their success, which demands the products of their success whilst at the same time requiring their self-sacrifice and destruction.

And to many people, I think, that is what the world seems to want these days. People rabbit on about social responsibility, reducing inequality, and eradicating poverty without ever acknowledging that the productivity and profit-motive they condemn are the very things which make global prosperity possible. And that’s not even taking into account those occasional types who seem to loathe the idea of prosperity! The human race has spent the last three thousand years fighting its way out of the filth and misery into which it was born to reach a state of being in which literally anything is possible. We had the minds to do it three thousand years ago; what we didn’t have, until the last couple of centuries, was the leisure to think. And people condemn thinking as bad, and progress as evil, because it leaves others behind. Sacrifice is preferable to gain; a low quality of life for all is preferable to a shitty quality of life for some.

And because ambition cannot be stopped – because the Dagny Taggarts and Hank Reardens of the world have not yet learned to withdraw their sanction – it must be stifled, through regulation and legislation, and everyone must be made to believe that freedom and movement and reckless, momentous change are frightening.

Left-leaning friends of mine have often asked how, as a Christian, I can approve of selfishness and dislike the concept of sacrifice. Did not Christ sacrifice himself? Did he not say that, if you have two coats, you should give one to the man who has none?

I could embark here upon an exegesis of how I interpret Christian philosophy, but I’m not going to, because it’s not necessary. Even Christ, whose understanding of economics was pretty meagre, never demanded sacrifice without the promise of reward. The right acts and charity he advocated are, in one way, their own reward, because performing them makes us feel good. But he also promised the reward of paradise which, if you believe in such a thing, is a pretty good incentive, no?

What these socialist murderers of their own posterity desire is for us all to sacrifice without reward, metaphorically to throw ourselves in front of a bus because it might save a stranger, to produce without incentive and achieve without reward, to see the good of our fellow man as better than and separate from our own good, to give without enjoyment and receive without gratitude, and to continue doing so until we reach the only possible state of equality that exists: death.

And in a way, Atlas Shrugged is the most depressing book ever written, because we will all keep fighting – none of us can withdraw sanction – and there is no Galt’s Gulch. And so we struggle on and watch as human achievement collapses around our ears, and on every side the blame is entirely our own.

‘If the things I said are true, who is the guiltiest man in this room tonight?’
‘I suppose–James Taggart?’
‘No, Mr Rearden, it is not James Taggart. But you must define the guilt and choose the man for yourself.’

Over the weekend, someone called Don Paskini decided to dip his big toe into the libertarian pool and see what all the fuss was about.

After a rather perfunctory foray into some libertarian blogs on Sunday afternoon, he discovered:

So I didn’t manage to bond with the Libertarians over the police database of dissident protesters. But I did learn about the merits of Tsarist Russia; that the government shouldn’t help women who are losing their jobs; that it’s wrong to pay people £7/hour or more if they live in Glasgow and work for the council; about how privatisation can create a market in whether our children get indoctrinated by the gays and about the Nazi ownership of our children by the state.

Not to mention that next time someone asks me for my opinion on a really, really stupid idea, I now know that a polite way to reply is to say that it sounds ‘impeccably liberal’.

But something still puzzled me. Why would a group of people who want another way forward for the country, who are extremely ANGRY and who fantasise about stringing up our elected leaders from lamp posts not be worried about the existence of a database which the state can use to monitor dissenters?

And then I thought about it from another perspective, and all became clear. Pity the poor Police Surveillance Officer, monitoring this drivel and having to decide what kind of security risk they might be. I suspect they would conclude two things:

1. Their policy aims seem to revolve exclusively around giving more to those who already have a lot of money and power, so probably not one to worry about too much.

2. And anyway, as credible and organised threats to the existing order go, they make the Socialist Workers Party look like the Bolsheviks.

I was going to take the piss, but one of the commenters appears to have got in his apologia first:

You have misrepresented the arguments on each of these sites in turn.

As for opposing the ‘dissident database’, when the time comes, you will find these chaps on the barricades. They don’t have to prove their credentials to you.

Thank you, Jonathan Miller, whoever you are.

In conclusion, I wish to point out that Don decided to test the waters because:

I took it and discovered that I was 40% liberal and 60% illiberal. It said: “Thank you for taking our test. But we think you may be more interested in an illiberal, statist party like the Labour Party or Conservative Party. If you wish to advertise your illiberal values, please find your blog badge below.”

It’s a brave political strategy for a fledgling party – “thank you for expressing an interest in our party, however you might be more interested in these other political parties.”

But I was not deterred and decided that I was going to build on the 40% that I had in common with the Libertarian Party. So I thought I’d pick an issue where I knew we would agree, and find out what leading Libertarians had written about it.

That issue, as it happens, was state surveillance and databases, based on an article from the Guardian about police records of protesters and campaigners. Don oh-so-astutely assumed that because the issue wasn’t the top post on the libertarian blogs during his arbitrary five-minute reccie, neither Samizdata nor the Devil’s Kitchen nor Old Holborn nor Bishop Hill nor the Libertarian Alliance are concerned about surveillance and databases.

Don, allow me to correct your misapprehension.

[H/T DaveA.]

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