Saturday, September 04, 2010

Purity of Essence

In between dropping off one child at the SF Ballet School (which to me represents the purest form, in the contemporary world, of the old aristocratic mode of society and artistic production) and taking the other one to the SF Public Library (which, in a nice contrast, is the best working institutional expression we have of the spirit of democratic communalism), I chanced upon...a libertarian rally! Ron Paul was the star speaker! It's odd how the collection of randoms there manage to situate themselves as far as possible from both sets of virtues -- they have neither class, nor any principled opposition to class.

OK, some good stuff -- The people had perhaps the biggest table there, and they are not completely insane. I learned that they are an offshoot of something called the Randolph Bourne Institute, which I approved of -- in fact I could have sworn I'd discussed Bourne here but Google says not, anyway, he is best known for the phrase "War is the health of the state". Well. I'm antiwar, so I could get behind them and the fraction of speeches that related to that. OTOH, their honcho Justin Raimondo is co-publishing with Hitler apologist Patrick Buchanan -- that kind of puts a damper on their appeal for me.

There were plenty of teatards, drug legalizers, 9/11 truthers, old weathered beatnik types, along with some minor local politicians in suits. The major theme, other than opposition to war, seemed to be financial crankery, "sound money", paranoia at the Fed, proposals to go back on the gold standard, etc. Someone running for the State Assembly handed me a leaflet proudly announcing her opposition to such vital issues as water flouridation and the "Codex Alimentarius". It was a pretty small-scale event, considering the nominal leader of the entire Libertarian movement was speaking.

I didn't feel much like engaging with this crowd, but my son hasn't been burned out with decades of the same old arguments like I am, so I encouraged him to get verbally combative...he needs the practice. He got into it with some woman at a table promoting the Bay Area Voluntaryists for around 20 minutes, and held his own pretty well -- I'm encouraging to get on the debate team. He took a version of the Nolan test and it indicated that he the most statist person there. A sensible boy, and he generates his own opinions.

I guess my take on this is not that different from this one on a left-wing anarchist gathering -- I can't help feeling some genuine fondness for individuals trying to make sense of the world, and willing to go out on ideological limbs to do so, but damn, can't they manage to do so while retaining a minimum of critical reasoning facilities? Don't people who want to devote their lives to this sort of thing have an obligation to think at least one step beyond their visceral dislike of authority and try to understand what government is, why it is, and how maybe its structure reflects some human realities and getting rid of it does not get rid of the problems that it arose to solve? Argh. OK, it took me awhile to think through these issues myself, and I consider myself pretty bright, so I guess it's no surprise that so many others haven't gotten past the first step.


TGGP said...

It's been a while since I read Buchanan's book on WW2 (almost more about WW1), but I don't remember much Hitler apologism. I refreshed my memory with the review in NYRB, and it doesn't mention any such apologism. I do remember the book focusing excessively on hindsight criticism of Churchill and other English political leaders. I also thought he was a bit inconsistent regarding whether the resistance of weak countries was commendably brave and foolishly risky to their citizenry.

The failure of people who are not obviously retarded to agree with you is indeed bewildering. I often try repeating what I said earlier, but louder, to make sure they have actually heard it.

mtraven said...

Re Buchanan as Hitler apologist, see here. I'm not all that interested in debating the exact degree of his apologetics, just noting that the presence of people like him makes it pretty difficult to imagine the sort of left-right alliances that claims to want. I don't really understand how Buchanan remains a respectable voice in the mainstream media why other Hitler fans like Louis Farrakhan are not, but I guess once you are in the club you stay in the club.

I guess what bothers me about libertarians (present company excepted maybe) is not stupidity or disagreement but a sort of persistent simplemindedness and ideology-induced blindness. Like, some dude comes over and starts arguing "taxation is theft" with my son (age 14), who was smart enough to raise the obvious objections, because he's not infected with whatever meme-complex it is that causes one to think that's some sort of clever insight. Whether or not taxation is good bad or ugly, that's just a stupid way of looking at it. And there's something about this ideology that makes smart people stupid.

Anonymous said...

Not being a Libertarian, perhaps I am not aware of all that present-day party's nuances and peculiarities, but it seems to me that the historic right-wing libertarianism represented (say) by John Randolph of Roanoke and John Taylor of Caroline was very much in the "old aristocratic mode of society.' It was Randolph, after all, who summarized his views thus: "I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, and I hate equality." Taylor's hard-pastoral "Arator" was then and still is today compared to the writing of that old Roman aristocrat, Cato the Elder.

Their fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, was of opinion that with the sweeping away of the accretions of English colonial dominion, and the venal place-men it had been the custom of British politics to raise to the nobility, a natural aristocracy of merit might arise in their stead - and it was not the state's job to stand in its way. Jefferson's famous remark, "that government is best which governs least," is probably most faithfully represented in Congress by Ron Paul, like him or not.

Indeed, it was intended to be the natural consequence of equal application of the laws that intelligent, diligent, and prudent men would rise while the stupid, lazy, and feckless would be left behind. Such equal application of laws was the farthest thing imaginable from the levelling egalitarianism, overt wealth redistribution, and politicized allocation of credit, that are the favored policies of the present-day left. It is, of course, against such policies that most of the Libertarians' animus is directed.

As for a public libraries, the fact is that from the foundation of the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin, as a subscription library for shareholders, through the more than 2500 libraries built with grants from Andrew Carnegie and his foundation (including eight branches of the San Francisco public library), public libraries have been substantially the results of voluntary private generosity rather than "democratic commun(al)ism."

mtraven said...

The poor abused word "libertarian" used to belong to the left (roughly synonymous with "anarchist") and was stolen by the right in the fifties (despite their professed devotion to property rights). Now we are supposed to apply it to shitbag aristocrat slaveowners whose love of liberty only extends to their own. Dream on. I suppose one could just as easily claim that Pharonic Egypt or Tsarist Russia was libertarian, since the Pharoh and Tsar and their families presumably loved their own liberty while hating equality.

TGGP said...

The predecessors of modern "libertarians" used to be called "liberals" and still occasionally complain about progressives stealing the name.

Thinking back, I do now remember Buchanan saying Hitler didn't want war (which David Irving of all people denies). But Ethan Porter (cited by your Orac link) gives a piss-poor rebuttal. Hitler did not have the naval resources to conquer anything outside continental Europe. Porter's response is that Hitler was simply too stupid and insane to realize that. Orac is closer to the mark with his emphasis on European domination. Furthermore, Buchanan can write all he wants about the Siegfried line and Hitler's overtures to Britain, but that says nothing about drang nach osten. So the question should not be whether Hitler wanted war at all but who he wanted war with. But of course since we naturally focus on ourselves as the center of the universe an America-centric WW2 is part of our foundational myth.

TGGP said...

"despite their professed devotion to property rights"
I think only Andrew Galambos recognized property rights in terms like that. He gave a nickel to the descendants of Thomas Paine for every time he used the word "liberty". I haven't read much of Paine's work, but I'm not sure he would have approved.

I've been looking up Thomas Jefferson's views on aristocracy and estate taxes recently, inspired by discussions like this (and some other one I can't find where Tom J is referenced). I found claims both that Jefferson supported a progressive tax on inherited land and that he personally repealed the 1797 estate tax and said it was none of the government's business to try to correct the outcome if one man's father was more industrious than another and wants to give his property to his children. He did though push for getting rid of primogeniture and entail. I think Robin Hanson would actually defend entail today, and Bryan Caplan said something similar in response to Sheldon Richman.

Anonymous said...

So Thomas Jefferson was a "shitbag aristocrat slaveowner"? It's good to know your opinion of the author of the Declaration of Independence.

That Jefferson, Washington, Randolph, Madison, Taylor, etc., were slaveholders does not, in any event, invalidate those of their ideas that had nothing in particular to do with slavery. Besmirching their character does not refute their reasoning.

TGGP is right - Jefferson did abolish primogeniture and entail, which was a free-market approach, since both amounted to restrictions on the transferability of real property. The division of property by testamentary disposition or gavelkind inheritance, combined with the propensity of fools to be parted from their money, would thereafter be sufficient to prevent the development of a wealthy dolce-far-niente caste.

A friend who is an attorney told me that limited entail survived until quite recently in, of all places, Massachusetts - the limit being that a property could only be entailed for one generation after the creation of the deed of tailzie. Entail is, needless to say, applicable only to immovable property, and is thus an instrument of small usefulness in preserving modern estates intact from one generation to the next. Trusts now accomplish that function much more flexibly and effectively.

Anonymous said...

I was a libertarian for a couple decades. I want to take issue with your charachterisation of libertarians as dumb. Compared with conservatives libertarians are brilliant. Perhaps a better way to refer to libertarians would be as havving an intellectual blind spot.
Also I am sure you are familiar with the law of previous causes although you may know it by another name as you appear much more formally educated than I am.
So you should understand that there are reasons that libertarains have this blind spot.
When I was younger and was a libertarian activist I would often talk with people who were comming of age during the great depression.
People of that age group were routinely socialist or socialist leaning. Yet their ideas did not have any influence on me becasue I thought that the libertarian explination that the Great Depression was made much worse by stupid government reactions to what was going on very convincing.
I can imagine that you have heard the old saying fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me.
Well around 1990 I began to see that predictions of how capitalism work which I learned from a socialist proffessor in college were comming true. It took a number of years for my faith in libertarianism to disappear. Then I suffered from complete allination for several years.
By March of 2003 I could see that capitalism is a totally fraudulent system. My disqust with capitalism has grown and grown over the years.
It was only upon the stumbling across of participitory economics or Parecon for short that my alienation has subsided. Not that I could in any way call myself an opptomist. I doubt if I could even spell the word correctly if my life depended on it. But I now have something that I can cling to to give me a bit of hope, as long as I force the knowledge out of my mind that methane is leeching out of the Siberian Trunda and it seems is also now starting to leech out of shallow ocean floors.
Curt (Cooked?)

Anonymous said...

Another key feature that I think resulted in this blind spot for many US libertarians was the poor record of the developement of capitalism in the former eastern block nations.
For example I had an eighth grade German teacher who was an immigrant from Eastern Germany who left before the wall went up. In college I then had a Spanish teacher who was a refugee from Cuba.
So in 1980 for example there had been roughly 60 years of communist history versus a longer period of capitalist history. At that time capitalist defense of their weak points, such as the suffering of early capitalism was blamed on the unfairness of feudalism, or that the many depressions of the capitalist system were the result of constraints on the capitalist system, seemed more logical to me at the time then the defenses of the weak points of Marxism, as it had developed up to that point.
Even today although I am disgusted by Capitalism I am still a very hesitant Marxist.
Cooked Curt Coo Coo Curt Captain Curt Commadore Curt Commander Curt
Cute Curt Cuddly Curt Curious Curt
Crazy Curt Corny Curt or Kiowa Kurt take your pick.

mtraven said...

I didn't say libertarians are dumb. At least the ones I know from the tech world are not DUMB dumb, they tend to be reasonably smart people who have the bug that they think they're smarter than they are, and get obsessed with explaining the world according to the One Big Idea that happens to capture them. They are ideologues basically, sort of like the old-school dreary Marxists who would fit every phenomenon in the world into their framework.

Oddly I had never heard of Parecon until yesterday, when I happened upon this devastating attack. It too sounds like an instance of ideological theory, where someone gets so attached to a single idea that it overrides all their critical faculties.