Sunday, August 26, 2007

Freedom is Slavery

For awhile, I was dividing libertarians into two kinds. The first class were those that seemed basically much stupider than me, as evidenced by their reliance on rote recitation of stale arguments, an unwillingness to question their assumptions, and (in the extreme case) devotion to the cult of Ayn Rand. Most of the random libertarian flamers on the net fell into this categeory. Then there were the others, who actually seemed pretty smart, and certainly smarter than me at least in the area of economics. This category included a number of actual professors, cryptoanarchists, visionaries, and crackpot geniuses.

Sometimes these categories blurred a bit. For instance, I'm sure Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame is smarter than I am, and has the credentials to prove it. On the other hand, on the rare occasions I read the Freakonomics blog I find the exact sort of simpleminded market reductionism I used to hear from the cheeto-stained fingers of dorky computer geek libertarians. So. Also, this classification doesn't seem very useful to other people, who may rank above or below me in the smartness scale.

So I have a new dichotomization: there are the libertarians who actually seem interested in liberty, and those who seem more interested in something else. I'm not sure what that something else is, but it seems to lead them directly from libertarianism to being a Bush cheerleader, despite the manifest unlibertarianism of the current regime, or to something altogether more surprising, namely a fondness for unabashed authoritarianism in its theoretical form.

In blogland, the first category is represented by people like Jim Henley of Unqualifed Offerings and Radley Balko. These gentlemen are concerned with fighting for freedom in the current political reality, which means generally in opposition to the Bush regime. They might well be card-carrying ACLU members despite that organization's leftist tint.

On the other hand, we have people like the odious Glenn Reynolds, most prominent political blogger around, a self-described libertarian and in actuality a cheerleader for whatever moronic, dangerous, or illegal act the Bushies are up to. We also have Mencius Moldbug, who has thoughtso far beyond the usual libertarian platitudes that he's arrived at some mix of monarchism, colonialism, and the sort of quasi-capitalist authoritarianism practiced in Singapore and China, two nations which win his approval. We've also got a free-marketeer economics prof (not sure if he's actually a libertarian, but close enough) who blandly advocates for torture as a cost-effective means of punishment. The dean of loud-mouthed stupid libertarians has been an equally loud-mouthed supporter of the criminal and criminally stupid invasion of Iraq. Apparently libertarianism is perfectly compatible with imperialism:
Witness the fact that I, a radical libertarian anarchist for more than twenty years, find myself arguing for a position not all that easy to distinguish from reactionary military expansionism.
Uh-huh. Raymond blusters over his contradictions, whereas Moldbug at least seizes the bull by the horns and honestly embraces authoritarianism.

I am, or used to be, interested in the psychology of libertarianism. It seemed to be a deeply geeky ideology, fueled by a desire to replace the complex and scary real world with a simple distributed algorithm. From that perspective, a slide from libertarianism to authoritarianism makes sense, because a strong authority is another way of making the complex conflicts of the real world go away.

[Update: oddly enough, this posting has been linked to by one of its victims, resulting in an influx of readers far past the usual single digits. If I knew that would happen, I probably would have written it more carefully. In particular, a lot of people I label "libertarians" wouldn't call themselves that. But they are market-oriented thinkers, which puts them in roughly the same basket as far as I'm concerned.]


TGGP said...

Levitt is not a libertarian. I believe he endorsed Barack Obama for president, and he was attacked by John Lott (who considers me a sort of libertarian crackpot) in Freedomnomics for being anti-market (a judgement I don't agree with). Hanson has denied being a libertarian economist as well.

I'm a fan of Radley Balko's blog as well. I hate Bush, and like a good paleo I'm an isolationist. At the same time I'm an amoral consequentialist. I believe freedom leads to good things (which as an emotivist means I like them and nothing more) and to the extent that it doesn't I'm not all that in favor of it. I'm a Stirnerite but not an anarchist, which may seem odd but Sidney Parker was as well.

TGGP said...

Also, I think your schema is a bit off. There are plenty of Hayek/Burke/Popper style libertarians averse to Cartesian rationalism and constructing mental castles in the sky. Jerry Pournelle made rationalism and statism the two orthogonal axis in his political chart, which wrongly classifies Stirner as a Rand-style rationalist (in Der Ego he makes clear he will act on whim to the point of disregarding prior commitments and he never actually lays out any basis for the rest of society other than possibly his Union of Egoists which may include such things as two friends going for a walk).

Gene Callahan said...

"I am, or used to be, interested in the psychology of libertarianism. It seemed to be a deeply geeky ideology, fueled by a desire to replace the complex and scary real world with a simple distributed algorithm."

Wow! I've always thought statism was fueled by a desire to replace the complex and scary real world with one in which a benevolent, wise "God-on-earth" could be trusted to substitute for and improve the spontaneous interactions of free people.

Gene Callahan said...

tggp, consequentialism is a silly, silly, doctrine. If the policies you recommend have nothing more to say for them then that you "like them," then why bother talking about them at all? People who already like them already like them, and to people who don't, you have nothing to say whatsoever.

hurf said...

So I have a new dichotomization: there are the libertarians who actually seem interested in liberty, and those who seem more interested in something else.

I like to phrase that dichotomy a different way. There are two kinds of libertarians: libertarians, and conservatives who call themselves libertarians.

The Glenn Reynoldss of the world might have some libertarian leanings; they might want to legalize pot, they're probably not hyper-Christian, etc. Reynolds links to Balko every so often, after all. But that "something else" that they're interested in is the source of their alliance with conservatism: it is opposition to leftism.

That alliance was forged during the decades where Democrats controlled Congress; since whoever controls the state naturally wants to increase the state's power, libertarians have a natural affinity for the opposition party. The 6 years of Republican control of both Congress and the presidency split the libertarian factions, whose differences were hidden by the politics of the 90s. A lot of debates, on subjects such as corporate regulation, environmentalism, and health care, are still divided along these lines, but 9/11 and the Iraq war brought foreign policy and the security state to the forefront of discussion.

Reynolds libertarians continue reading and believing conservative media, which consists mainly of apologies for fascism and assaults on the credibility of the "liberal" media, that is its competition. They believe (delusionally) that radical Islam is a greater threat to liberty than an executive branch with unlimited power; Henley libertarians believe the opposite, and reject and mock conservative media.

Joshua Holmes said...

For a radically different take on libertarianism, I heartily recommend The Mutualist Blog. We're not pot-smoking Republicans.

TGGP said...

Gene Callahan, I think it is neither inevitable nor impossible that people will change their minds during the course of argumentation. Also, like Rothbard's gambler, I enjoy the mere act of discussion.

I second the recommendation of the Mutualist Blog. A somewhat similar writer I would point out is Keith Preston, who is something like a bizarro Mencius Moldbug.

The term "libertarian" already has somewhat commonly accepted definitions. Using it otherwise results in confusion. Perhaps you should coin a new term for it, as Mencius is fond of doing.

mtraven said...

Thanks for all the comments. Since we seem to be about to go to war with yet another country that hasn't attacked us, debates about very theoretical politics suddenly seems even more academic than they did a day ago.

Thanks also for the pointers to the Pournelle chart and the left-anarchist blog. I used to be somewhat of that persuasion, and still have an IWW songbook lying around somewhere. But I got disillusioned out of that belief system by what might be called the Asshole Factor. I should write a post on that one day.