Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Libertarianism's sordid relationship with Pinochet.
June 27, 2013 8:26 AM   Subscribe

“I have not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.” Political Scientist Corey Robin documents the connection between libertarian theorist Friedrich von Hayek and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. According to Robin, Hayek met Pinochet "came away from Chile convinced that an international propaganda campaign had been unfairly waged against the Pinochet regime (and made explicit comparison to the campaign being waged against South Africa’s apartheid regime). He set about to counter that campaign." Libertarians have accused Robin of "smearing" Hayek.

Robin's extended five part series on the Pinochet-Hayek connection is here.
posted by MisantropicPainforest (234 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
The "smearing" link is a response to Robin's piece: Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


“I have not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.”

Except, you know, all those people he had killed. Oh, wait....
posted by lodurr at 8:46 AM on June 27, 2013 [26 favorites]


It's like The Dispossessed but with an asshole for a main character!
posted by cthuljew at 8:47 AM on June 27, 2013


That pull quote reminds me a bit of the much-pilloried Pauline Kael quote about not having ever met a single person who had voted for Nixon.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:50 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always assumed the Kael quote was tongue in cheek, along the lines of similar sayings about membership in the French Resistance.
posted by lodurr at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Robin's doing yeoman's work exposing the fact that modern libertarianism is totally compatible with authoritarianism as long as the authoritarian in question implements the libertarian movement's preferred policy outcomes. His quote of Hayek in the comments of the linked Crooked Timber piece is particularly damning:
“If Mrs. Thatcher said that free choice is to be exercised more in the market place than in the ballot box, she has merely uttered the truism that the first is indispensable for individual freedom, while the second is not.”
I guess "smearing" has been defined down to mean "quoting someone's words directly" instead of "reading someone's words with the most charitable interpretation possible."
posted by tonycpsu at 8:55 AM on June 27, 2013 [31 favorites]



Free Enterprise is much too hard on the old and the sick and the shy and the poor and the stupid, and on people nobody likes.'' - Kurt Vonnegut
posted by any major dude at 8:58 AM on June 27, 2013 [59 favorites]


I don't know much about Allende, but I assume by "personal" we mean "the rich" and by "freedoms" we mean "exploit the poor".
posted by DU at 8:59 AM on June 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Well, the Right has always been so reasonable and nuanced about American Leftists' historical comments about Stalin, I can understand their outrage at this totally unfair smear campaign!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:00 AM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


DU, that's what freedom has ALWAYS meant in this country.
posted by any major dude at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


any major dude: "DU, that's what freedom has ALWAYS meant in this country."

What's that line about how we're all eligible to die in a ditch?
posted by boo_radley at 9:20 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember, when I was first introduced to libertarianism at uni, thinking that there seemed to be three kinds of libertarians: those who genuinely believed a libertarian state would be a better place for everyone, those who didn't really care but thought it was right in principle, and those who were fully aware that the inevitable end-point of the libertarian project would be a modern kind of feudalism - that all of the "freedom" would eat away at the institutions that allowed it to exist in the first place, until economic power and political power merged into a single entity with the worst features of each - and liked it.

Or, to put it another way, the naive, the uncaring and the very nasty. Based on a very shallow introduction to his work I think I put Hayek in the second class, but it looks like he was in the third all along.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 9:22 AM on June 27, 2013 [37 favorites]


The freedom of libertarians is the freedom to dominate and control other people. That is always what it reduces to. It is a perverse parody of freedom. The only reason they themselves deny this is because they lack imagination — as they are mostly blinkered middle-manager number-shuffler types, they don't realize, or pretend not to realize, how legitimately baroquely monstrous a smart selfish person can be when they have the sort of power over other people that libertarians define as "freedom."

China Miéville really got their number in this piece, as did George R.R. Martin with his Craster, the daughter-raping baby-killing libertarian slavemaster beyond the Wall.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2013 [27 favorites]


It's actually quite amazing how quickly the von Mises crowd convinces itself that slavery and monarchy are in the best interests of freedom. It happens easily when the will to liberation is only a thin mask for the will to power.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:31 AM on June 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


What's that line about how we're all eligible to die in a ditch?

Anatole France? "La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain." [In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.] — Le Lys Rouge, Chapter 7.

I haven't kept up with CT in a while, but this is interesting. Akin to the conversation going on here.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:33 AM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


An interesting historical footnote is that the Allende government was in the midst of rolling out Project Cybersyn right when my country had him killed. It was a remarkable attempt to develop an economy different from either western capitalist control or Soviet state control, an economy designed to be actually responsive to the people said economy was supposed to serve... and so of course it had to be stopped.

I mean, really, the peasants getting a voice in how the economy is run? Madness! Utter madness!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:36 AM on June 27, 2013 [22 favorites]


I must say, I LOL'd a LOL of sorrow and pity at this part: "Two hundred and thirty men and women—including James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and Milton and Rose Friedman—from 23 countries attended. Like pilgrims to the Soviet Union, they were treated to lavish displays of the wonders of their host country and were happily trotted out for interviews with the media."
posted by octobersurprise at 9:37 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Robin's doing yeoman's work exposing the fact that modern libertarianism is totally compatible with authoritarianism as long as the authoritarian in question implements the libertarian movement's preferred policy outcomes.

Modern libertarianism is basically a call for a return to feudalism with the assumption said Libertarians will get to be shitty little lords.
posted by Artw at 9:38 AM on June 27, 2013 [36 favorites]


there seem[] to be three kinds of libertarians: those who genuinely believed a libertarian state would be a better place for everyone, those who didn't really care but thought it was right in principle, and those who were fully aware that the inevitable end-point of the libertarian project would be a modern kind of feudalism - that all of the "freedom" would eat away at the institutions that allowed it to exist in the first place, until economic power and political power merged into a single entity with the worst features of each - and liked it.

Or, to put it another way, the naive, the uncaring and the very nasty.


Or to put it even another way, the uneducated, the stupid and the enemy.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:39 AM on June 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


Modern libertarianism is basically a call for a return to feudalism with the assumption said Libertarians will get to be shitty little lords.

Mostly, but see also left-libertarians like MacLeod or *sob* Banks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:40 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not even that. The libertarians aren't the little lords; they're the people who do the little lords' books.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:40 AM on June 27, 2013 [22 favorites]


Regarding the Freedom Ship mentioned by YCTaB, it seems to me that it might turn out to be be a fairly effective way to rid a society of it's more sociopathic members. I pity their offspring, though.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 9:43 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


My stepmom is from Chile, and once we were having dinner with her, my dad, and another couple who immigrated from Chile. All are now American citizens. My husband mentioned something about Pinochet, who had been in the news that week, and conversation stopped cold. "I'm sorry," my step mom said later. "But it is not safe to discuss Pinochet. We could be in danger. And our families." They all seemed genuinely spooked, at a private dinner, in Iowa, in the twenty first century.
posted by Malla at 9:46 AM on June 27, 2013 [33 favorites]


"I have seen the future and it needs work." — Robespierre Isayevich Pravdin.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:46 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


In defense of Banks, libertarianism in a fictional world of minimal risk and zero scarcity is a whole different sport.
posted by mhoye at 9:48 AM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Libertarianism, by contrast, is a theory of those who find it hard to avoid their taxes, who are too small, incompetent or insufficiently connected to win Iraq-reconstruction contracts, or otherwise chow at the state trough. In its maundering about a mythical ideal-type capitalism, libertarianism betrays its fear of actually existing capitalism, at which it cannot quite succeed. It is a philosophy of capitalist inadequacy." -China Mieville
posted by Avenger at 9:50 AM on June 27, 2013 [77 favorites]


Wow, Avenger. You make me want to find more opinion pieces by Mieville; I've been missing something there. I've just spent several minutes trying to untangle the slyly ironic, the bluntly ironic and the unconcealed slap in the face from each other in that one short quote.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Speaking of Libertarians and Chile
posted by frimble at 10:00 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


But uh seriously, being free is hard work, and libertarians are people who want to offload that hard work onto their slaves. In the ideal situation, they get to do this while pretending their slaves don't even exist.

Being down in the Bay Area has exposed me to so many of these guys. The only thing that keeps me sane is knowing that they are too stupid and inept around other people to do real damage.

What's really funny is how much they get pissed off by San Francisco municipal politics, because they know deep down that they'll never, ever, ever get within a thousand miles of the levers of power in that town no matter how much money they have. Because, well, democracy.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:01 AM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


George_Spiggott, Mieville is a highly entertaining essayist. He's written some fun and insightful stuff on Wodehouse and Lovecraft that you might be able to find online. I don't know that he's ever been collected anywhere.
posted by lodurr at 10:04 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't yet Red TFA, but are we all talking about the big-L/USese or small-l/rest-of-world usage of the word "*ibertarians"?

For example, I can understand:

Modern libertarianism is basically a call for a return to feudalism with the assumption said Libertarians will get to be shitty little lords.

if both Ls are capitalized, but I am having trouble determining who is talking about "Republicans who smoke pot" and who (if anyone) is talking about "quite far-left folks who don't want to freak people out with the A-word". Although the former definition is vastly more common than the latter in the US, the latter usage is alive and well. If this is about Hayek, then I suspect we're talking solely or mostly about the first usage, but it would help to be explicit.

The word "libertarian" probably should just die, given that it has at least two meanings that are in some ways diametrically opposed. Continuing to use it hides the fact that one can talk about restriction vs. regulation in the economic sphere, and also in other spheres, that economy is just one part of society, and that economic libertarianism seems to be very different from a more general philosophy that seeks to minimize coercive relationships in all areas of life. Since, as several people have pointed out, your unrestrained economic freedom tends to come at the expense of my freedom (which zero-sumness is less a feature of other libertarian/authoritarian axes), the idea described by one usage of the word is incompatible with the idea described by the other, so like why use this confusing word?
posted by kengraham at 10:05 AM on June 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Mieville sits alongside Gibson and Ballard and a few others, as a writer whose extracurricular work is significantly better than his novels.
posted by forgetful snow at 10:06 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


When I was a teenager, I went with my family to see the Esmeralda, a training ship for the Chilean Navy. I knew nothing of the Pinochet regime, I was just interested in seeing one of the world's largest remaining sailing vessels.

To get on the ship we had to walk past dozens of people loudly protesting and pleading with us not to step onboard. One woman grabbed my by my lapels and told me I would be desecrating her husband's grave. Another laid down in front of the gangway, and I stepped over her, somewhat overwhelmed and unsure of my actions.

I asked my dad about Pinochet, and he told me he was a murderous dictator installed in a CIA-backed coup because Nixon feared and hated the democratically elected Allende. We wondered aloud if it was truly appropriate to be touring the ship, even if Chile had since returned to civilian rule and faced its past.

The tour of the ship was somewhat boring, it was immaculately kept, beautiful white and green and a dark teak deck. They let us roam about after the tour as long as we liked, with even some areas below decks open to gawking civilians. Otherwise, places were roped off, an exception being the armory, which I stumbled into and was surrounded by turn of the century rifles. The room had a gloomy and oppressive feel to it, and I started to feel a chill as I imagined what horrors the ship had witnessed. Then a petty officer stormed up the companionway and told me I wasn't allowed to be there.

I wish I had listened to those protesters and never set foot on the Esmeralda. I still feel bad about stepping over that woman.

Fuck Pinochet's defenders.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:08 AM on June 27, 2013 [24 favorites]


kengraham, I think this conversation is all about big-L Libertarianism.

In conversation I find I can usually avoid a lot of the problem by talking about 'civil libertarians,' though that does miss a lot of your 'second usage.'
posted by lodurr at 10:08 AM on June 27, 2013


Honestly, I don't have much time for left libertarians / anarchists either, though at least a few of them have the advantage of meaning well.

and hey, Miéville is great, especially the Bas-Lag books. I mean, hell, Perdido Street Station prominently features a magical engine that runs off of pure dialectical materialism. like, whoa.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:09 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's just damn strange that so many people who are categorized as libertarians seem to care, first and foremost, about keeping economic activity unregulated...and to treat civil liberties as a kind of afterthought.
(Which is, I expect, why "libertarians" tend to side more often with the GOP than the Dems.)

I guess I'm less moved by suspicions that libertarians long for some kind of feudalism than I am by incredulity that they think that it's more important to be able to engage in unfettered economic transactions than it is to be able to, e.g., do what you want to in the privacy of your home. And when you get to the point of preferring a murderous, free-market dictator over a democratically-elected socialist... Man, that's some crazy...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:09 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've noticed in some places, as Corey's article has been discussed, the issue becomes an argument over the dictator that might have been, versus the dictator that was, where "personal freedom" means either freedom to engage in economic activity (the right/libertarian take), or something else.

Pondering the "dictator that might have been", of course, leads down a bottomless pit of speculation. Allende's actual record looks generally well intentioned, and pretty spotty regarding results, though not particularly violent or murderous. Pinochet's record is indelibly marked with mass death for dissidents. So there's a desire among Allende's detractors to extrapolate from his cozying up to Soviet influence to inflate their case. Which allows Allende to become worse than Hitler after the course of a few sentences.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:09 AM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


left libertarians and anarchists do occasionally test their theories in practice, so there's that.
posted by lodurr at 10:10 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


One reason why I choose not to pry apart "civil libertarians" and "economic libertarians" is that the lysing effect of economic libertarianism turns civil liberties into a dead letter — civil liberties without the material resources to take advantage of them are absolutely useless.

I think most people see that, especially most people who've been subject to it, and I think that's one key reason why classical liberalism is so wildly unpopular everywhere.

the other reason is how uncharismatic its advocates are.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:11 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


mieville derail continue: a lot of his fiction output is brilliant and/or audacious; even when it doesn't work, by god does it try! but i can understand why people would think he's better with nonfiction.
posted by lodurr at 10:12 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


the whole thing is kind of a distraction based on third-order Nietzche baiting... von Hayek is irrelevant to everyone but his cult-followers.

the real deal is tying Friedman and the Chicago school as closely as possible to the regime. Friedman understood the connection with economic theory and politics more than anyone else in the second half of the 20th century. The Reagan/Thatcher revolution is built on his political economy and even "liberals" hold little ideas like Friedman's EIC sacrosant without thinking about their political implications.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:14 AM on June 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


left libertarians and anarchists do occasionally test their theories in practice, so there's that.

uh, where? You don't mean the "people's megaphone" and such-like do you? Modern anarchism is like a form of LARPing for politics, based on heroic fantasy stories of long-past defeats.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:19 AM on June 27, 2013 [17 favorites]



“I have not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.”


My friend's grandfather who worked for Allende and was later sent to a prison camp when Pinochet came in might disagree.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another way of looking at libertarians is as people who care more about the labeling of an agent than the character or purpose of an action.

It's coercion when anything called the state does it, while it's the result of voluntarism when anything called anything else does it; it's tyranny when it's one of *their* politicians, but it's the difficult road to freedom or a necessary step when it's a pro-market dictator.

Even left libertarians tend to do a bad job of escaping this trap.
posted by kewb at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


Oh my god that "ops room" picture from the Project Cybersyn Wikipedia page is the best thing. I seriously hope that was actually floated as the design.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile back on the ground: More than 100,000 join demonstrations as students seize 30 polling stations to be used for presidential vote on Sunday.
posted by adamvasco at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there any kind of similar libertarian support/beatification of Mobutu? I'd love to see the kind of ethical contortions one would have to come up with for that.
posted by elizardbits at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2013


Here in the PNW every now and then you meet a left-libertarian of the unread and idly-daydreaming variety who brings up the Republic of Cascadia. I'd suspect them of being inspired by Ecotopia, but they're not usually old enough to be among those who actually read that thing back when anybody did. I usually suggest they look into who else wants the Republic of Cascadia, and that they might not like the company they're in. The latter are people who want to be free to finish logging all the forests, dam up and/or fish out all the rivers in their area, carry guns and not pay taxes. Josephine County, OR is a fun example -- they no longer have a functioning Sheriff's department because 51% of them refused the necessary tax levy, which would typically be less than two month's cable TV service.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:28 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


en forme de poire: if you think the control room is wild, just take a look at the guy who designed it
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


uh, where? You don't mean the "people's megaphone" and such-like do you?

I would count that as "occasionally," yes. And I've personally known people who did time in communes.

I didn't say it always worked and I didn't say it was great when it did -- I said they occasionally did put the stuff to the test, with all the getting dirty, making mistakes, people-getting-hurt and changed-ways-of-thinking that entails. I've yet to hear of Libertarians who did that.
posted by lodurr at 10:35 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here is a thing that drives me nuts when talking about any flavor of libertarianism: it seems that no libertarian other than the one you're directly talking to is ever a True Scotsman. It feels an awful lot like "spiritualism" where a self-described subscriber to the philosophy will disassociate themselves from bits and pieces of the different schools of thought in that philosophy as described by its key intellectual and public figures like a lizard shedding its tail to escape. "Libertarians don't really believe that! I assure you, there are dozens of us REAL LIBERTARIANS who believe [specific bits of ideals hand-picked from wildly different schools of libertarian thought, totally divorced from their original contexts and meshing badly with each other]. DOZENS!" It's the choose-your-own-adventure political label.

Instead of the, you know, sensible approach which is "No, I'm not really a libertarian, but I do think [libertarian principles x, y and z] are valid."

This is not something that's exclusive to libertarians, but it's something that, anecdotally, I run into way more often when talking to a self-described libertarian than anyone who aligns with a different label.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:40 AM on June 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


I would count that as "occasionally," yes. And I've personally known people who did time in communes.

An interesting historical footnote is that the Allende government was in the midst of rolling out Project Cybersyn

The irony being that planned economies have been implemented to degree hardly imagined ( by the the cyber-hippies) on the mainframes of large conglomerated multinationals like Proctor & Gamble. "Big Iron" represents a triumph of communist economics (and is, of course, completely uncool.)
posted by ennui.bz at 10:45 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


It appears to be Not Okay with Hayek et al to impose economic sanctions on governments judged to be behaving badly, because those interfere with the free market. But it seems to be Perfectly Okay to provide money, arms, and other assorted paramilitary support to groups working against governments who aren't behaving the way we'd like.

Confusing.
posted by rtha at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here is a thing that drives me nuts when talking about any flavor of libertarianism: it seems that no libertarian other than the one you're directly talking to is ever a True Scotsman.

Kind of runs both ways, where every libertarian is a True Scotsman, hell bent on making the world his feudal slave because he's so obviously meritorious. The very word is ridiculously vague to a large degree.

I have yet to meet anyone who isn't libertarian in one way or another. Wants government out of their bedroom. Or pocketbook. Or foreign country. Or stash. But the only actual Libertarian I know seems to call himself that because he's too embarrassed to be called the neoconservative he is. Well, I kinda don't blame him for that, though. But you can see what I mean about how the meaning is pretty wacky, though.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think you can flip around the "true scotsman" thing. Someone who self-applies the name libertarian is giving remarkably valuable information about the type of person they are.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:14 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Confusing.

I dunno, in the first case, you are preventing businesses from doing what they want to do. In the second, you are allowing businesses to do what they want to do. Seems pretty in line with usual Libertarian arguments.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:15 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


To clarify: I don't think it's an appealing trait, just not confusing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2013


The other thing is that, very much like proponents of "Communism done right", everyone's pet ideal system will work perfectly and be fair to everyone! Oh, yeah, Ron Paul or whoever's ideas are totally shithouse, but I believe in this system of mine and it will totally work! And leave nobody oppressed! Freedom and equality for all!

...in a perfect world, with perfect implementation of the system, with nobody trying to bend the system to their own benefit, nobody ever wavering, no ambiguity and misinterpretation of the founding principles, no margin for error, no fundamental flaws that I can't see because obviously I got this shit on lockdown. And yeah, sure, logically anything that's not a perfect implementation of the intricate checks and balances of this system will be a complete and utter disaster and grind the poor and disenfranchised and the enemies of the powerful under heel. Any half-measures will be disastrous, and it will be a horrible experience for humanity along the way until it's fully implemented in every detail. But we can totally get there if you support this candidate who totally has their own separate idea of a perfect libertarian system I guess? Somehow? It'll work itself out.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


The freedom of libertarians is the freedom to dominate and control other people.

Is the right and left pots calling the kettle black.

The pity is that we have tried communism (dominate and control) and fascism (dominate and control), but libertarianism has never really been put to the test anywhere. Given that right and left are proven by experiment to be two sides of the same shitty totalitarianism coin, it is perplexing that a third way has never been given a chance among people who claim to love freedom.
posted by three blind mice at 11:21 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Either way, though, aren't you fucking with the free market? Economic sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa: fucked with economic activity. Sponsoring a coup against an elected government: fucked with economic activity, but in ways that are okay with the sponsors!

That's my interpretation, at least. Hence the confusion. But I'm sure there's a different spin that can be put on how sponsoring a coup is totally different from declining to trade/imposing higher tariffs.
posted by rtha at 11:22 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


For the most part, the self-identified libertarians I know tend to acknowledge that the alleged libertarian system they occasionally pretend to support is completely unworkable in the real world. This is alright, because what they're actually interested in is the fail state — what the system becomes when it breaks is what they want.

The desired end result, then, is a state de jure governed by a constitution with a lot of libertarian words in it and de facto ruled by aristocratic slaveowners.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


three blind mice--

There is very little government in Somalia.

And Chile was a libertarian paradise.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:25 AM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Is the right and left pots calling the kettle black.

The pity is that we have tried communism (dominate and control) and fascism (dominate and control), but libertarianism has never really been put to the test anywhere. Given that right and left are proven by experiment to be two sides of the same shitty totalitarianism coin, it is perplexing that a third way has never been given a chance among people who claim to love freedom.


So... nothing in that incredibly wide gap between communism and fascism counts as a third way? Communism and fascism are the only two options available to us now? The only things ever tried?

And you do realize that what you're saying sounds like "my extremism is the right extremism!" and everyone who, you know, doesn't want any extremist system is kind of scratching their heads, right? You literally just ignored everything except for communism and fascism and compared your philosophy to those, instead of any of the multitudes of other systems currently working pretty well all things considered all around the world.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:29 AM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


libertarianism has never really been put to the test anywhere.

Somalia aside, I'd say it's put to a test on a daily basis here in the US. As a philosophy, at least. There's an ongoing struggle at local levels (see Cascadia comment, above) to "test" libertarian ideas by refusing funding to government. If your town de-funds its sherrif, use the county sherrif instead, and ask 'what difference do you see?' If the county defunds its sherrif (or highway department), rely on the state police.

the way most US states are constructed administratively, things don't generally break in an obvious and long-term way until you get up to the state level, which would take years and by which time the damage is pretty bad. You can see evidence of this in many US states (mississippi, arkansas, oklahoma spring to mind, someone I know would argue for south carolina, someone else for ohio).
posted by lodurr at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


libertarianism has never really been put to the test anywhere

That's not true. Feudal systems effectively did leave everyone alone and were non-state driven (especially in the early days, before the landlords had been entrenched for generations to become a generational aristocracy). The only currency of power in feudal systems was land ownership, and the role of the government was essentially limited to protecting the property interests of the landlords--who, in some cases, were the only people in the society to even get the benefits of property rights. It was argued in such systems that lower-classes (non-landowners) were natural slaves, formed by nature to work the land for the benefit of its owners. Fealty oaths and the like were private contracts between private citizens and wealthy landlords; a fief was essentially a very big privately held estate. The sole basis for the claims to legitimacy of the ruling parties in feudal systems was their economic power. The "governmental" systems that arose as feudalism took hold were established solely at the whim and at the pleasure of the private property owners who benefited from them, and the subjects of those systems ostensibly volunteered by entering into fealty oaths and other private contracts with the various landlords whose sole claim to authority was owning the only productive land that could potentially be used for farming.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:35 AM on June 27, 2013 [21 favorites]


Either way, though, aren't you fucking with the free market?

I've said it before and will say it again until it's recognized as true: There are no free markets in the absence of regulatory intervention. Free markets are a product of rules and regulations, not the natural state. The natural state is the haves and their thugs imposing their law on the disadvantaged and everyone else.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2013 [38 favorites]


we should be clear that there's a tremendous gap between Libertarianism as a philosophy and in practice. As a philosophy, it claims to base its legitimacy in the inherent right of everyone to exist and pursue their own claims to existence, and claims that it's greatest moral imperative is to not interfere with the claims of others, to the extent that they don't infringe upon yours.

We seem to be assuming (and I think rightly so, but we are assuming it) that this claim is either specious or misguided.
posted by lodurr at 11:38 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Either way, though, aren't you fucking with the free market? Economic sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa: fucked with economic activity. Sponsoring a coup against an elected government: fucked with economic activity, but in ways that are okay with the sponsors!

Well, yeah, but the first case you are reducing profits and in the second you are enhancing profits (assuming the coup is somewhere conveniently far away). The not-so-hidden Libertarian line is "anything that makes (me) money is OK; anything that interferes with (me) making money is evil."

I suspect we are not so much in disagreement as in the broadness of our brushes, you and I.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:41 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's not allow anyone to peel apart philosophy and practice, not even for a second. What the philosophy is in practice is what the philosophy is. Even the adherents know that. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:43 AM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


After reading this thread, I am now inspired to engage in my own ignorant armchair political philosophy, which I am calling the "charismatic prick" theory of political theories. It goes something like this:

Every "pure" or close to pure implementation of a political theory is fundamentally authoritarian, because in order to impose a new political theory on an existing population, someone has to do the imposing. You get your political revolution complete with charismatic leader and then that charismatic leader is in charge. Charismatic pricks include Pinochet, Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, etc. Since someone is in charge to make changes, of course the system is authoritarian.

The only systems that seem to work are the ones that are not a direct product of revolutionary ideals, but rather cobbled together pieces of crap that resulted from lots of people trying different things out and seeing what works and what doesn't. The Renaissance was basically this, with a rising merchant class trying to figure things out. America has been fairly successful this way, and China and Russia seems to be taking the similar route: moving away from pure communism by incorporating ideas from other political models, with the state of the country gradually improving as a result.

So basically the political system that actually works isn't founded on principles, it's guess-and-check.

Or maybe it just seems that way to this here ignorant spectator.
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:47 AM on June 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


There are no free markets in the absence of regulatory intervention. Free markets are a product of rules and regulations, not the natural state.

I am totally borrowing this.
posted by ambrosia at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2013


It's anecdata, but I once met a friend for drinks after a wedding party she had been to, and the wedding party tagged along. They were, she told me, all libertarians. I watched them interact with her all night, and what I saw was a relentless parade of pickup artist awkwardness, including relentless negging.

I don't know if pick-up artistry is generally popular among libertarians or if it was just this particular group, but whatever the case, at the moment is just made so much sense.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:49 AM on June 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


So basically the political system that actually works isn't founded on principles, it's guess-and-check.

Yep. Political ideologies make better vectors than end points in general.
posted by charred husk at 11:49 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


we should be clear that there's a tremendous gap between Libertarianism as a philosophy and in practice. As a philosophy, it claims to base its legitimacy in the inherent right of everyone to exist and pursue their own claims to existence, and claims that it's greatest moral imperative is to not interfere with the claims of others, to the extent that they don't infringe upon yours.

We seem to be assuming (and I think rightly so, but we are assuming it) that this claim is either specious or misguided.


To me, that claim is either naive or disingenuous and malicious, depending on how charitable one is. I think the most charitable possible reading of that philosophy gives it an incredible blind spot towards the power it gives to the amoral. Less charitable readings give the impression that that's a feature, not a bug.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:54 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


including relentless negging

What is that?

I have a feeling I am going to like 'libertarians' even less if I find out.
posted by colie at 11:57 AM on June 27, 2013


The only systems that seem to work are the ones that are not a direct product of revolutionary ideals, but rather cobbled together pieces of crap that resulted from lots of people trying different things out and seeing what works and what doesn't.

This is precisely the way Oakeshott described how politics should be in his essay 'Rationalism in Politics'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:07 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Negging.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:09 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jason: the one thing I'd add is that they don't consider what we consider "amorality" to be amoral - they think that rule for the powerful and torture for the weak is the essence of morality itself.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:10 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whenever I read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I'm astounded at the way they balanced the demands of liberty and the commons in a way that synthesizes a uniform spirit and intent that seems obvious to those of us raised in it but can't possibly have been to those who hammered it out. The only major misstep is the weaselly language in the 2nd, which sacrificed meaning for compromise between interests that simply did not mean the same thing at all, and boy, we never stop paying for that one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:15 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The way to analyze the "true Scotsman" thing is with statistical data, no? If 95% of homosexual people are willing to describe themselves as "gay" but only 15% of happy people are, for example, then it's time to accept that the definition of that particular "Scotsman" term has moved on; if the opposite was true then it wouldn't be time. The definition of "liberal" has morphed in this fashion in the past; it wouldn't be surprising if the definition of "libertarian" has to change in this fashion in the future.

Percentages would have been nice to see before making any of the generalizations in this thread, for that matter. 40% of Democrats think that Obama's extrajudicial assassinations are Constitutional, slightly less than a plurality, for example. Is Libertarian support for Pinochet's murders likewise a sizeable fraction? A majority?

Be careful to distinguish this from support for giving Pinochet economic advice, too. (Similarly with the above poll results: it's possible to think something is constitutional without approving of it) It's easy for reasonable people to differ on the subject of what to do about the economic (and thereby literal) health of a dictator's citizen-hostages, and unfortunately it's also easy for unreasonable people to criticize either side. Recall a more recent example: supporters of sanctions against Iraq were not trying to reduce the child mortality rate there, and those opposed to sanctions were not motivated by approval of Saddam.
posted by roystgnr at 12:36 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a fantastic museum in Santiago called El Museo de la Memoria (Museum of Memory), dedicated to presenting the "freedoms" enjoyed under Pinochet. I wept numerous times while there, particularly in the section that lists all the countries that are currently being ruled by military dictators.

Unfortunately, the curators of the museum didn't translate much of the material into any other languages (so you'd have to go with someone who speaks Spanish), though you can read a bunch of correspondence between members of the Chilean dictatorship, and the CIA/State Dept.

links: http://www.museodelamemoria.cl/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_of_Memory_and_Human_Rights
posted by nikoniko at 12:45 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know this is the monthly-ish Metafilter libertarian hate parade, but is there any chance we could avoid bashing strawmen? For instance, this:

There are no free markets in the absence of regulatory intervention. Free markets are a product of rules and regulations, not the natural state. The natural state is the haves and their thugs imposing their law on the disadvantaged and everyone else.

I don't think even the most hardcore libertarians would disagree with this. All, for instance, would acknowledge the role of states in guaranteeing and enforcing contracts and property rights. This is where the "hurrr Somalia is a libertarian state" thing breaks down; there is no rule of law at all in large parts of Somalia.

There's a lot wrong with libertarianism, but batting down silly caricatures of it aren't really getting us anywhere.
posted by downing street memo at 12:50 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, PS: Robin's attempts to conflate modern libertarians with Pinochet is as embarrassing as Jonah Goldberg's attempts to conflate modern progressives with Nazism or Stalinism. Robin's just (slightly) more intellectual about it.
posted by downing street memo at 12:52 PM on June 27, 2013


downing street memo: "Oh, PS: Robin's attempts to conflate modern libertarians with Pinochet is as embarrassing as Jonah Goldberg's attempts to conflate modern progressives with Nazism or Stalinism."

That's a remarkably hand-wavey dismissal. What's embarrassing about it? What are his factual errors? Where are his leaps of logic?
posted by tonycpsu at 12:54 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Oh, PS: Robin's attempts to conflate modern libertarians with Pinochet is as embarrassing as Jonah Goldberg's attempts to conflate modern progressives with Nazism or Stalinism. Robin's just (slightly) more intellectual about it.

Where does he do this.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:59 PM on June 27, 2013


There's a lot wrong with libertarianism, but batting down silly caricatures of it aren't really getting us anywhere.

RIght, but a lot of people who self-identify as 'Libertarians' buy into those "silly caricatures."
posted by lodurr at 1:25 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a remarkably hand-wavey dismissal. What's embarrassing about it? What are his factual errors? Where are his leaps of logic?

American libertarianism is strongly correlated with civil libertarianism. A good piece of evidence for this is that even a cursory examination of libertarian media will reveal intense disapproval of, say, the NSA spying program - a program, by the way, championed by many progressives in the media (and, at least according to some polling, approved of by most Democrats).

Augusto Pinochet not only spied on, but harassed, rounded up, and murdered his own citizens. Straightforward reasoning suggests that most American libertarians would not approve of the Pinochet regime.

If you seriously don't think that Robin's "work" is meant to smear modern Libertarians by association - have you ever read, well, anything else the guy has ever written? He's a propagandist.
posted by downing street memo at 1:28 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know if pick-up artistry is generally popular among libertarians or if it was just this particular group,...

I think it's the reverse: libertarianism is a philosophy that appeals to the same guys who are into the manipulative PUA approach, because they see it as justifying their narcissism.

There are lots of intellectual libertarians who really do believe in it as a validation of human life and freedom; but in practice and in public view, I think they tend to get swamped by narcissistic types. And of course any political philosophy is going to attract manipulative narcissists, it's just that few will lend themselves to justifying the attitude as well as Libertarianism.

This may have the effect of limiting interpersonal abuse inside the libertarian community -- they're all protecting themselves, where anarchists may not.
posted by lodurr at 1:31 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


RIght, but a lot of people who self-identify as 'Libertarians' buy into those "silly caricatures."

Can you name a libertarian that doesn't support enough of a state to enforce property rights and contracts? Can you name one that idealizes Somalia?

I'm seriously asking. The libertarians I read seem to be in favor of marginal moves towards what they conceive of as free markets (a construct that, yes, I agree they have a faulty understanding of). If there is some strain of notably more extremist libertarian out there, that represents the mainstream of libertarian thought, I'd love to check it out.
posted by downing street memo at 1:34 PM on June 27, 2013


If you seriously don't think that Robin's "work" is meant to smear modern Libertarians by association - have you ever read, well, anything else the guy has ever written? He's a propagandist.

Yeah, I read his works in the modern-day Pravda, aka The American Political Science review and from Oxford University Press.



Augusto Pinochet not only spied on, but harassed, rounded up, and murdered his own citizens. Straightforward reasoning suggests that most American libertarians would not approve of the Pinochet regime.

Experience would tell you otherwise.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:35 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Experience would tell you otherwise.

Being able to name a modern American libertarian that supports Pinochet would be a start, here.

"Better than Allende" isn't "support", by the way.
posted by downing street memo at 1:37 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can you name a libertarian that doesn't support enough of a state to enforce property rights and contracts?

Not clear how that's relevant, since as a non-Libertarian, I don't think those things are anywhere close to being sufficient for maintenance of a civil society.

Can you name one that idealizes Somalia?

This straw man sitting next to me?
posted by lodurr at 1:37 PM on June 27, 2013


Being able to name a modern American libertarian that supports Pinochet would be a start, here.

You're moving the goalposts. I don't of any "modern American libertarians that support Pinochet". But the two most prominent libertarians in the 20th century--von Hayek and Milton Friedman, supported him. Any many current libertarians apologize for him, by claiming that Allende would have been worse.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:40 PM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Augusto Pinochet not only spied on, but harassed, rounded up, and murdered his own citizens. Straightforward reasoning suggests that most American libertarians would not approve of the Pinochet regime.

LOL

"Better than Allende" isn't "support", by the way.

Oh good, because experience tells me pretty much every American Libertarian has their canned argument about how terrible Allende would be and how things worked out for the best.
posted by Artw at 1:44 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh my god that "ops room" picture from the Project Cybersyn Wikipedia page is the best thing.

Looks like one one of the DHARMA stations from Lost.
posted by aught at 1:45 PM on June 27, 2013


The Mad Dream of a Libertarian Dictatorship
That may not be full-throated praise, but it's an awfully sanguine way to talk about a state that tortured its opponents, censored the press, and imprisoned and murdered people for their political views. Hayek may have "prefer[red] to sacrifice democracy" if the alternative was "to do without liberty," but Pinochet restricted liberty in intolerable ways.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:47 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Strawmen moving goalposts to the person.
posted by charred husk at 1:48 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


yeolcoatl, you have quite accurately described the political philosophy (generally considered revolutionary ipn that it would involve a more or less comlete change in structures of political and economic power) of modern anarchism there:-D

I'm currently reading a book that entails a collection of essays on what democracy is or means today. Basically every essay in the collection bemoans the fact that the word has been appropriated (arguably misused, eg. by Bush II vis a vis Iraq and Afghanistan) by so many people and groups with sometimes diametrically opposed beliefs that it is essentially meaningless. Apparently this has been the situation since the mid 1800s even, according to one essay. That sort of appropriation and definition drift does make it rather annoying and difficult to attempt reasoned conversations with folks who don't think exactly like oneself even in well-meaning forums like metafilter:-/
posted by eviemath at 1:50 PM on June 27, 2013


Can I assume someone currently employed by the CATO institute counts as a modern Libertarian?

Can I assume that an ex member of Pinochet's cabinet counts as a supporter?

Then I give you José Piñera.

http://www.cato.org/people/jose-pinera
posted by PMdixon at 1:56 PM on June 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


Oh my god that "ops room" picture from the Project Cybersyn Wikipedia page is the best thing.

It seems someone chose to take "the Ship of State" literally, and that it was therefore reasonable to modernize it as the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:56 PM on June 27, 2013


"Better than Allende" isn't "support", by the way.

If, after all we now know about Pinochet, someone still thinks the dictator was preferable to the elected government which he overthrew, then I call that someone a supporter. Do you have a different definition?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


PMDIXON-

Doesn't count! he was born in Chile. The criteria is AMERICAN!
/s
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:58 PM on June 27, 2013


Can you name a libertarian that doesn't support enough of a state to enforce property rights and contracts?

Murray Rothbard and the Von Mises crew support the total abolition of government and its replacement with private defense agencies which individuals and corporations will hire to enforce their rights. These PDAs will act morally because apparently otherwise the market will discipline them, and if they aren't, these guys say, still they couldn't be worse than government.
posted by shivohum at 2:01 PM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


That thing Livertarians do where any and all discussion of Hitler gets turned around to how Stalin was so much worse? After a few rounds of that it doesn't completly look like "not supporting" either, FWIW.
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I used to be a libertarian. AMA? Can I do that here?
posted by no relation at 2:13 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's really annoying is the hubris of these people who parachute into the chaos of some small country politics and think this is the perfect opportunity to use the population as their little lab rats to prove the superiority of the libertarian paradise.

As an example, Paul Bremer, was appointed U.S. Administrator of Iraq in 2003. Just weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the country was in chaos, no electricity, no water, no police, sectarian warfare and death squads, hundreds slaughtered each week in neighborhood violence. So what does Bremer do as one of his first official acts? He institutes a flat tax, a friggin flat tax, as his first official act. Cato and AEI, Reason all had a freaking orgasm. It was embarrassing to watch them drooling. Of course we all know how paradise turned out.

Libertarians are sociopaths whose only real concern in life is lower taxes. Tax cuts are items one through ten on their to do list and everything else is philosophical fluff they throw out there for the rubes.
posted by JackFlash at 2:17 PM on June 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


The problem with libertarianism is that it assumes the entire world is made up of perfectly spherical humans in a vacuum.
posted by no relation at 2:21 PM on June 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


See, I used to believe that the libertarians I met in my day to day life believed in the "spherical cow in a vacuum on a frictionless plane" model of human behavior, but I've been gradually disabused of that notion. They're all evil fuckers, either deliberate ones or ones who can maintain self-ignorance only by dint of massive, massive privilege.

I do realize that it's... awkward... to dismiss an entire category of people as evil fuckers, but, yeah. There's nothing but bad in their philosophy.

This doesn't make them unique, certainly - there's a range of other miserable philosophies out there - but this one bugs me the most because of how it's taken over so many of the smart nerds who we could really, really use over here on the socialist side.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:32 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Libertarians are sociopaths whose only real concern in life is lower taxes.

That's really not accurate... there are many reasons very different than sociopathy for the attraction of libertarianism.

Libertarianism has shot up like bamboo because it is the simplest position that fits into the American framework of thought that at least superficially satisfies the demand for intellectual coherence and intelligibility. It demands little mental effort and so conserves cognitive resources. It is the side effect of the fact that thinking is hard and that if one can feel the satisfaction of having thought by barely thinking at all, that many will opt for this option.

Libertarians are people who like certainty and like to think they are rational. They enjoy a sense of superiority. Impervious to empirical evidence, their neat little system allows them a great deal of smug satisfaction in the disassembly of conventional wisdom and tropes and the sense that they and they alone understand economics and make decisions sans emotion, and so permits them to assuage their insecurity by grounding their ideas in a contrarian intellectual prowess. So far, this is no different than most extremist ideologies.

With the fall of communism, American liberalism was thrown into disarray. Its hidden, unspoken assumption was always that utopia was always poised in some Communist paradise, beyond capitalism, beyond the workday, beyond industrialism and the environmental destruction it presages and prolongs, beyond the greedy, man-eat-man world in which we live. Liberals after the fall of the USSR had to admit the indispensable place of capitalism in any foreseeable future and the inextricable necessity of competition, greed, and savage market-based violence for the betterment of society — for lack of any better, cogent alternative.

Conservatives, on the other hand, could still point to laissez-faire capitalism under a night watchman state as their utopian ideal. This is a clear, crisp vision. They could claim, with some justification, that capitalist democracy had been the world’s most successful system. The focus on property rights and individualism was easy to articulate and think about, and since liberals could no longer parry that with the equally appealing and equally vapid rhetoric of total equality and brotherhood that had won Communists half the world, they had to resort to increasingly murky and complex arguments which even they did not entirely understand or believe. They no longer had a vision, only the shrapnel of specific policies and a "conservative" (in the original sense) defense of prior progressive achievements.

Libertarianism connects to the easy conservative vision, and elaborates on common sense assumptions for most Americans: we are individuals, we own ourselves, we own what we earn, we are responsible for our actions, and society is simply a bunch of individuals. The power of the voluntary contract as exemplar of all proper social coordination is simply the most easily-comprehensible and most easily-justifiable kind of coordination. And liberals are piss-poor at explaining in easy terms why it is not always the best kind of coordination -- because they lack the vision that would enable that kind of explanation. It is of course possible that no such easy vision that is also high quality exists.

There are those young converts among the libertarians who, because of their commitment to truth, quickly realize the stupidity and error of their ways or else at least claim more sophisticated variants of their ideas, but there are many others who cling with sticky vigor to the idea that no one else understands economics or philosophy, not realizing the laughable logic in which their own ideas are mired. They are largely unable or unwilling to absorb the panoply of arguments that can be wielded against the moral or practical plausibility of libertarianism: the crucial role of the state in creating and sustaining civilization and even the advanced capitalist marketplace that libertarians so treasure, the necessity of the provision of public goods and the regulation of externalities (which decision can never devolve onto the mere definition of property rights… or rather those rights inevitably entail a distribution of externalities, i.e. a moral judgment that is by no means uncontroversial), the historical fact that the chains of title of all land and property in the world trace back to coercion and blood and that libertarianism would simply pass an arbitrary statute of limitations on those bloody un-libertarian conquests… to the distinct benefit of the advanced Western world and the middle and upper classes in specific. And so on.

That's because all these arguments merely reveal libertarianism's defects while proffering no substitute vision that is equally or more compelling.
posted by shivohum at 2:49 PM on June 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


With the fall of communism, American liberalism was thrown into disarray. Its hidden, unspoken assumption was always that utopia was always poised in some Communist paradise

LOLWUT?
posted by Artw at 2:58 PM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


See, I used to believe that the libertarians I met in my day to day life believed in the "spherical cow in a vacuum on a frictionless plane" model of human behavior, but I've been gradually disabused of that notion. They're all evil fuckers, either deliberate ones or ones who can maintain self-ignorance only by dint of massive, massive privilege.

I do realize that it's... awkward... to dismiss an entire category of people as evil fuckers, but, yeah. There's nothing but bad in their philosophy.


If by libertarians you mean "Republicans who read Atlas Shrugged in college" then yeah, I'd agree with you. The ones I hung out with honestly believed the world would be a better place if the State just dried up and blew away.
posted by no relation at 3:08 PM on June 27, 2013


a cursory examination of libertarian media will reveal intense disapproval of, say, the NSA spying program

Only because such a program is not primarily controlled by the Silicon Valley corporations involved. It wouldn't take much tweaking* to make Google as happy a participant as Booz Allen.

*provided by a more sympathetic administration... a potential selling point for a 2016 Republican campaign
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:29 PM on June 27, 2013


Doctrinaire libertarians (again, I'm not talking about Randroids) hate the corporate system as much as they hate government. The corporate system wouldn't exist without the State propping it up at every level, either directly as a customer or indirectly through subsidies.

"Corporate paradise" is absolutely not something libertarians hope for.
posted by no relation at 3:39 PM on June 27, 2013


If it helps, think about libertarianism as being more concerned with ideological consistency than about whether the end result would actually function in the real world. Hence my earlier mention of perfectly spherical cows.
posted by no relation at 3:44 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree with Michael Lind: "While libertarianism as a philosophy is superficial, juvenile nonsense, particular libertarian proposals are sometimes worthwhile on their merits."[1]
posted by goethean at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doctrinaire libertarians (again, I'm not talking about Randroids)...

Right, but who are these people? Who are the real Scotsmen among them?
posted by lodurr at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2013


Right, but who are these people? Who are the real Scotsmen among them?

I can come up with a few names: Tom Knapp, Scott Bieser, L. Neil Smith, Steve Trinward. Whether the names mean anything to you or not I have no idea. You can Google them if you want. I'm not sure who else, because it's been about five years since I moved in those circles.

Some keywords to look up would be: zero aggression principle, non-initiation of force.

The ideology is pro-individual over everything else, including government and corporations. It's an article of faith that government has no legitimate purpose, and also that government is simultaneously horrifically evil and utterly incompetent. Everything government does is bad, because everything government does is bad. If there were a federal department of puppies and kittens, then puppies and kittens would be tainted by their association with government, and, therefore, bad. Among those things that government does that is bad is... you name it. Everything from national defense to building roads and stopping jaywalkers. Corporations are bad because they rely directly on tax revenue and government enforcement of non-liability, and indirectly on government contracts, for their sustenance.
posted by no relation at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


no relation: "Doctrinaire libertarians (again, I'm not talking about Randroids) hate the corporate system as much as they hate government."

There's an Objectivist friend of a friend that I've gotten into several Facebook debates with, and he claims to be anti-corporate. That said, at certain points in our conversations I think he's fallen short of that claim.

(Speaking of which: Kevin Vallier, who wrote the "smearing" link in the FPP, is another person I've had FB debates with. About religion, not libertarianism. Nice fellow, FWIW. Small world.)
posted by brundlefly at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2013


LOLWUT?

It was a very popular position for a long time for academics and thought leaders in the liberal community to idolize China and the USSR and other communist regimes. Even after that became sufficiently unpopular, the anti-capitalist anti-wealth pro-collective-ownership-of-the-means-of-production sentiment (read: communist ideals) remained in the background of liberal thought, because it was always supported by the idea that hey, communism might actually work, because these giant countries are actually doing it. That's what constituted liberal "progress" then: a movement towards a more communist state of affairs, albeit sans the totalitarianism.

Then it became clear when the USSR collapsed that no, communism could not actually work. Which screwed up that idea of progress, because social welfare and other liberal ideals could only go so far: some space had to remain for capitalism. So liberals had to figure out how much of the mixed economy should be socialist/communist, and on what basis that decision should be made. That still has not been figured out.

For libertarians, on the other hand, any movement towards laissez-faire conditions is just definitively and simply an advance.
posted by shivohum at 4:51 PM on June 27, 2013


The free state project home page has a counter on it. 14 000 members and ~ a thousand in New Hampshire. This is not like when the KKK had thousands marching in Washington D.C. in 1925.

There isn't much to see here. Reason magazine can have a party with free fucking booze and only 50 people show up. On the other hand, if you want to get in on the ground floor . . .
posted by bukvich at 5:15 PM on June 27, 2013


I can come up with a few names:...

With all due respect, that's an appeal to authority, which ought not be a very Libertarian idea.

My point is that if you trot out 'Libertarian intellectuals', they're basically meaningless if their beliefs don't correspond to the beliefs of the people in the world who call themselves 'Libertarian.' And right now the most obvious and noisiest group of such people are the Randroids.

Are they the majority? Who knows? How would we know? I do know that when I talk with someone who self-identifies as a libertarian, things like the 'zero-aggression principle' come up rarely and when they do it's typically among a certain group of geeks I knew remotely in college in the early '90s. They really aren't very similar to most of the self-identified libertarians I've met. I have had the opportunity to get into extensive debates with libertarians who did talk about something that could be described as 'non-initiation of force', but they almost invariably were in favor of using coercion against people who didn't believe what they did -- they just refused to call it that. (To these guys, it wasn't really coercion unless your life was imminently threatened, and even then you had teh realistic option to just go ahead and die.)
posted by lodurr at 5:16 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's just damn strange that so many people who are categorized as libertarians seem to care, first and foremost, about keeping economic activity unregulated...and to treat civil liberties as a kind of afterthought.

That's the thing about libertarians- as free individuals, we all get to call ourselves whatever we want. It's like Jews for Jesus. They can call themselves Jews, but the rest of the Jews probably wouldn't agree with them.

People who actually believe in libertarianism and have a modicum of knowledge/history on the subject know that the idea of the free market and unregulated economic activity comes directly from the idea of civil liberties. You cannot have a free market without free participants. The people who would accept some curtailing of civil liberties in favor of economic gain are NOT libertarians- they are just people who think they are, or people using libertarianism as a cover for their awful ideas.

Real libertarians, bless their hearts, honestly and truly believe that unshackling everyone from the yoke of government would make everyone better off. They honestly believe that anything the government is doing (besides basically the things spelled out in the Constitution) can be done by the private sector, and better.

I disagree with them. But please be careful of tarring all libertarians with the feathers of the idiots. Lumping them in with the GOP hate and authority machine is patently unfair. Most actual libertarians I know (and I know quite a few) are some of the most positive people I know. They are, in some cases, devoting their lives to the idea that things can be better for everyone. The negative ones are almost invariably the sociopaths who cloak themselves in libertarianism as a means to an end. They do not actually believe in the fundamental tenet that every person is the best judge of how to allocate their own resources. And that even if those people make awful decisions, the fundamental freedom to make ones own mistakes is important. (And that making ones own mistakes is ultimately less costly than paying for government's mistakes.)
posted by gjc at 5:32 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Real libertarians, bless their hearts, honestly and truly believe that unshackling everyone from the yoke of government would make everyone better off. They honestly believe that anything the government is doing (besides basically the things spelled out in the Constitution) can be done by the private sector, and better.

Which is why they shouldn't be trusted with anything sharper than a crayon.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Most actual libertarians I know (and I know quite a few) are some of the most positive people I know. They are, in some cases, devoting their lives to the idea that things can be better for everyone. The negative ones are almost invariably the sociopaths who cloak themselves in libertarianism as a means to an end. They do not actually believe in the fundamental tenet that every person is the best judge of how to allocate their own resources.

Someone who believed that would be a socialist, not a libertarian. Libertarianism has precisely nothing to do with the tenet in bold.

Or rather, I suppose it might be possible for someone who doesn't understand how actions in the present relate to actions in the past and actions in the future to think that libertarianism is a scheme that allows people to allocate their resources freely as they choose. Perhaps if everyone, by chance, found themselves with sets of resources one day, and then were confronted with the choice of how to allocate those resources, and if the choice of allocation made no difference as to what resources those people would hold in the future, well then, sure, the libertarian model would be the most free. However, our world is annoyingly diachronic. Time and change exist. Moreover, the primary virtue of property is that it tends to attract more property; if you have money, money will find its way to you, even if you just put that money in a savings account. The other virtue of money, for those not content to simply collect money at the baseline rate at which money attracts money — we call this rate "interest" — is that it can buy people. You can use it to attach yourself to someone who lacks the resources to survive, and then shamelessly skim off of them for the rest of your life.

In a world where time exists and some people have nothing to sell but their skins, resources allocated by individuals acting as judges of their own best interests will tend to gather at a few low points — neoaristocratic families, specific large institutions, and so forth. Sometimes the exact path the money takes to the bottom will switch — like the Mississippi occasionally jumps channels — but just as the Mississippi will always find some way down to the Gulf of Mexico, so too does money always find its way to money.

Perhaps something like libertarianism would allow for freedom in a universe where people aren't themselves resources. Or in a universe where resource allocation is made by non-transferable vote rather than by transferrable currency. But in the money-based actual economy, built on and by human labor? In that case, the synchronic 'every person is the best judge of how to allocate their own resources" business is just a funny sleight-of-hand happening in front of the diachronic process whereby money pools in a few hands, resulting in no one else having any meaningful choice whatsoever about how to use not just their resources, but their bodies.

Every libertarian knows this. It's not hard to see. It's right there on the surface, in fact.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


being free is hard work, and libertarians are people who want to offload that hard work onto their slaves.

Ironic, isnit, that many of the great works of classic antiquity -- trumpeted, ballyhoo'd, touted and pushed by the educated fortunate of Western culture like Harold Bloom -- were created amidst warrens of leisure and freedom purchased with the lives of the unfortunate.

After the inquisition showed far too many of the cards, so much cavil ensued that the aenigma practica was compelled to become far more subtle. Slaves needed to be possessed by the notion that they were, indeed free. And so, in fear and hot water, democracy is born.
posted by Twang at 6:59 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Weirdly all the communists I've known hated the USSR, and that's a very small subset of socialists I've known. Possibly that was different in the US which has such an underdeveloped left-wing, but the fall of the Soviet Union as a serious blow to progressive and liberal causes seems utterly ridiculous to me.
posted by Artw at 7:00 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lodurr: With all due respect, that's an appeal to authority, which ought not be a very Libertarian idea.

Sure, but you did literally ask, "who are these people?" I'm not pointing at them and saying "See? Libertarianism is right!", just answering. When someone says that libertarians are, by and large, batshit insane, I tend to agree with them, having been a card-carrying member of the batshit insane wing myself.

If you want to criticize libertarianism, by all means feel free. Even the batshit insane wing would say that. Just make sure that you're criticizing the right parts.

You Can't Tip a Buick: Or rather, I suppose it might be possible for someone who doesn't understand how actions in the present relate to actions in the past and actions in the future to think that libertarianism is a scheme that allows people to allocate their resources freely as they choose.

This (bolded), for all that it's ad hominem, pretty much describes the doctrinaire libertarians I used to hang out with (and used to be). They're theory wonks and freedom geeks, and can discuss the nuances as well as any Trekkie can tell you which episode had who and what and where the inconsistencies were.
posted by no relation at 7:01 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are the laziest theory geeks in the world, then.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:09 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously though imagine someone who spends their life studying (say) the internal combustion engine, without ever once asking what it does when it moves.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Weirdly all the communists I've known hated the USSR, and that's a very small subset of socialists I've known. Possibly that was different in the US which has such an underdeveloped left-wing, but the fall of the Soviet Union as a serious blow to progressive and liberal causes seems utterly ridiculous to me.

There actually is an argument that with the USSR gone, the working classes effectively lost our greatest weapon against the wealthy, which was the threat of "redistribute your wealth, or we'll redistribute your blood." With no reason to fear revolution, the wealthy have figured out that they have no need to appease us by allowing the existence of a middle class.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:58 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Which could help explain the flight to libertarianism?
posted by telstar at 8:38 PM on June 27, 2013


I've a sneaking suspicion that, as mentioned, the left in the US is such a shriveled thing it leaves a gap in the market for wackadoodle political/social theories for gullible young people that might otherwise be filled by communists, anarchists and the like and you get a surplus of libertarians instead.
posted by Artw at 9:02 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


"And when you get to the point of preferring a murderous, free-market dictator over a democratically-elected socialist... Man, that's some crazy..."

That's what happens when the demos is sick and politicians are too afraid of the public to do what must be done to maximize freedom.
posted by klangklangston at 9:12 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Artw, it helps that Libertarians make excellent useful idiots for the wealthy. Replacing the constructive venues for the urge to change the system with the emptiness of Capital worship? Win-win for Capital.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:23 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


three blind mice: "The pity is that we have tried communism (dominate and control) and fascism (dominate and control), but libertarianism has never really been put to the test anywhere."

Seems like the Middle Ages shook out as in practice libertarianism.

I did read something on twitter that I really liked : Libertarian acts are almost always right, Libertarian principles are almost always HORRENDOUS.
posted by stratastar at 9:24 PM on June 27, 2013


"With the fall of communism, American liberalism was thrown into disarray."

I think you misread a lot of the egalitarian impulse of American progressivism as idolizing Communism, but I think that's the smartest, best argued comment I've ever read from you, and wanted to give a shout out to someone with whom I often disagree.
posted by klangklangston at 10:23 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Pinochet Miracle: 25 Years Ago, Chile Said ‘No’ to a Brutal Dictator, and He Went Away
posted by homunculus at 12:03 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The bizarre ignorance of the defenders of libertarianism in this thread is fairly shocking. I expect Three Blind Mice to live in a parallel universe where he essentially makes things up - he does that on a regular basis in threads, much to the disappointment of anyone who wants a serious, fact-based and polite discussion.

But the low standard of education among those who are clearly very angry about communism, but don't seem to be able to describe it accurately or understand it very well, is just dispiriting. It's very difficult to have a discussion with a group of people who just assume that they understand something that they obviously don't - particularly if they also assume you are malicious. It's so presumptuous: it feels like being told that because you aren't a Christian (or for that matter because you aren't an Atheist) you must believe such and such and you must be going straight to hell.

Modern communists explicitly grapple with the sordid history of the USSR. A moment's thought would suggest that of course they do: it gets thrown in their faces about five times a day. There are those like Richard Wolff who argue that it wasn't actually communist at all, except in its earliest stages - see class three on this page - because it because a power-grab by people at the top. Remember that communism, among other things, means that the workers own the means of production: in Soviet Russia, (leaving the obvious jokes aside) the workers were largely enslaved - they did not own the means of production at all, in any meaningful sense. So that tradition of communism looks at the USSR and says - "that's a way our political theories can go horribly wrong... maybe we had better make sure they don't go wrong in that way again, but the really bad stuff was nothing to do with our basic aims, which still remain good." You might call that self-deluding, but it seems like a pretty reasonable response.

On the other hand, you do get communists who even today will defend the USSR. This even includes Stalin! Take a look at this book, here, which does exactly that. And remember that the USSR went from being a feudal agrarian society to being at war with the entire world (remember that it was involved in a vicious civil war with invading and foreign sponsored armies in the 1920s) to putting a man in space ahead of the United States. That's a speed of development which might impress some people.

That said, I'm not keen on socialist dictatorship myself! I'm very much of the opinion that the USSR went badly wrong. But my point is simple and easy for anyone acting in good faith to understand: Marxism is a long and complex intellectual tradition. In my humble opinion, having compared the two, it is bigger and broader and deeper than, for example, the Libertarian intellectual tradition. It might make for good rhetoric to suggest that anyone communist is a totalitarian, but it's also simply wrong, insulting and reveals the person who does it as either ignorant or manipulative.

Now, on to a positive contribution to the thread, since this post wasn't nearly long enough already!

One thing that nobody has raised, but seems quite an interesting possibility to me, is David Harvey's theory from A BRIEF HISTORY OF NEOLIBERALISM. This is a fascinating and easily readible book which I thoroughly recommend. You can get it here. Also there is a series of lectures, here, that sums up the thesis of the book. When he says "neoliberalism", by the way, he is usually talking about something very similar to modern libertarianism, so I think his work is relevant to a thread on that topic.

Basically, his point is this:

1) Neoliberal principles have never worked in practice. They don't lead to any long-term economic improvement, they don't really provide the benefits they say they do.

2) As a result, in practice neoliberal governments and politicians quickly abandon the pose of neoliberal principles - "freedom for the individual" etc.
Instead, they work on achieving 2 goals -
- attempt to produce a "structural adjustment" - i.e. rearrange society to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich and to increase income inequality
and
- attempt to produce a "good business environment" - i.e. destroy any redistributive, democratic or regulatory laws that might prevent them from achieving goal one.

This means that every neoliberal society quickly winds up becoming more unequal, with a small number of oligarchs emerging at the top who have far more money and power than everyone else.

These oligarchs then sponsor a lot of pseudo-intellectual garbage that supports their aims - e.g. clash of civilisations (if they want war contracts or foreign resources), climate change denialism, writing pseudo-scientific articles supporting tobacco use or lead in petrol, arguing for more "freedom" for business in general, which means no regulations, no taxes on leaving wealth to their children, deny the real conditions of production (i.e. all the valuable stuff is made by people who actually make stuff, not willed/dreamed into existence by the person who claims legal ownership of the product) etc. etc. They have the money, so they sponsor propaganda, because they know it will be to their advantage (and it also makes them feel good about themselves?).

Harvey argues that this is effectively class war. He uses the old Marxist term "bourgeoisie" to describe the people on the neoliberal side and alleges that the "bourgeoisie" in a given country make an alliance with a power outside that country (the US, the IMF) to impose a "structural readjustment" so that they can loot the country for their own ends.

This, he argues, is essentially what happened to the US and the UK in 2008, in response to the banking crash.

Harvey's term "bourgeoisie" seems a little old fashioned to me - it suggests productive middle-class burghers with pocket watches. I think we need to go even further back: these are (would-be) aristocrats. There aren't enough people in the top 0.01% to form a "middle class" of any kind.

Anyway, I think Harvey captures quite well the tension I have always observed in Libertarianism between different elements, between the true believers and the pragmatic cynics - between, if you will, the priesthood and the aristocracy. It's an interesting idea and one that strikes me as having a lot of explanatory power.
posted by lucien_reeve at 2:43 AM on June 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


Except, you know, all those people he had killed. Oh, wait....

The rest seemed positively keen to emphasise their enthusiasm.
posted by jaduncan at 3:28 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that's the smartest, best argued comment I've ever read from you, and wanted to give a shout out to someone with whom I often disagree.

A high bar! Thanks.
posted by shivohum at 6:09 AM on June 28, 2013


It was a very popular position for a long time for academics and thought leaders in the liberal community to idolize China and the USSR and other communist regimes. Even after that became sufficiently unpopular, the anti-capitalist anti-wealth pro-collective-ownership-of-the-means-of-production sentiment (read: communist ideals) remained in the background of liberal thought, because it was always supported by the idea that hey, communism might actually work, because these giant countries are actually doing it. That's what constituted liberal "progress" then: a movement towards a more communist state of affairs, albeit sans the totalitarianism.

Who exactly are you talking about here? I've read a comprehensive exam's worth of writings on the US relationship with China and Russia, and I'm at a loss for remembering anyone who thought like that. I mean there is Bruce Cummings, but he's crazy, and everyone knows he's crazy. Who else?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:20 AM on June 28, 2013


They do not actually believe in the fundamental tenet that every person is the best judge of how to allocate their own resources.

Someone who believed that would be a socialist, not a libertarian. Libertarianism has precisely nothing to do with the tenet in bold.


That's not any kind of socialism I've ever heard of. Socialism is collective ownership of the means of production, and communal/social distribution of the wealth generated via productivity. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and from each according to his abilities, and to each according to his needs.

Libertarianism pretty much is what I said- individual liberty is the prime philosophy. Do what you want, and spend the fruits of your labor how you please. With the caveat that as nobody has a claim over your resources, you have no claim over theirs. It is a society free of coercion. What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours, and in order to get what we need and want, we trade with each other.

Another thing that libertarianism holds to be true is that greed and avarice are real things. So instead of trying to legislate those natural tendencies out of people, we let the system benefit from them. They understand that some people will try to concentrate power and leverage any power to get more. So instead of creating a mechanism where they CAN leverage their power (government), we force them to compete on their merits, on the open market. People who try to cheat their way to wealth get punished by the market instead of hiding behind favors purchased from government.

I disagree with the practicality of it, but making stuff up and changing definitions to suit ones own agenda is just dirty pool.
posted by gjc at 6:36 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Who exactly are you talking about here?

I'm talking about the implicit frame of reference. Liberals wouldn't say it as such, but in the back of their minds, driving their rhetoric and fervor, was the idea was that capitalism ought to be eventually superseded by some kind of collectivist, communist system. Central planning of the economy was in. The malleability of human nature through social engineering was in.

Of course liberals didn't always get their way -- so there were compromises. And of course they had to be careful exactly how they spoke, because after all, the Cold War was on. (Though this didn't stop the likes of Derrida and Sartre and their followers in the academy from being downright Soviet sympathizers for a good while.)

But liberals could resort to the asymptotic extreme of communism as a kind of grounding for what would constitute progress. And that's what in large part drove the Great Society, the Warren court decisions, the funding of state university systems, big agricultural subsidies, and many other things in American (and probably European) culture.
posted by shivohum at 6:49 AM on June 28, 2013


Is it possible liberals wouldn't say it much because it was something projected by paranoid communism obsessed right wing types?
posted by Artw at 6:57 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


>I'm talking about the implicit frame of reference.

Can you point to something explicit? Because what you appear to be doing is averring that this is how 'liberals' thought, without providing evidence. And you know this, how? How can you divine what is in the back of others minds?

If you are going to make sweeping claims in a discussion like the one we are having, you should be prepared to marshal some evidence for those claims. I have, literally, read the most important, say, 400 books of academic diplomatic history on the Cold War, and I have, aside from a few outliers, not encountered 'Soviet sympathizers' or anything like that.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:57 AM on June 28, 2013


I have, literally, read the most important, say, 400 books of academic diplomatic history on the Cold War, and I have, aside from a few outliers, not encountered 'Soviet sympathizers' or anything like that.

Academic diplomatic history would have little relationship to the political rhetoric used in creating a vision of the right society. It's true that there were, for a while, in the academy, straight-up Soviet sympathizers. I mentioned two prominent ones: Derrida and Sartre. Their influence was primarily on American academia. You can see thick streams of Marxism all through academia through most of the 20th century.

But much more than crass Soviet sympathizers, I am arguing that there is an underlying vision that drove political programs and political fervor on the left, and that this underlying vision included elements core to communism: central planning, social engineering, wealth equalization, heavy state regulation of the means of production, the sense that the government could solve every problem.

This vision is best explained as venturing towards a kind of peaceful, non-totalitarian communism.

If you analyze the rhetoric, debates, and policies behind the New Deal, the Great Society, the Warren Court decisions, and so on, you will find what I'm talking about.
posted by shivohum at 7:11 AM on June 28, 2013


Can you point to something explicit? Because what you appear to be doing is averring that this is how 'liberals' thought, without providing evidence.

The whole comment that klangklangston praised (oddly, I thought) is like that, though. X group did this, Y group thought that. It's full of the kind of sweeping statements that belong in an RPG gazatteer, not in actual history.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:19 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mentioned two prominent ones: Derrida and Sartre. Their influence was primarily on American academia.

Sartre's influence on American academic political scholarship scholarship is almost nil.

You can see thick streams of Marxism all through academia through most of the 20th century.

Who are you talking about? David Harvey?

If you analyze the rhetoric, debates, and policies behind the New Deal, the Great Society, the Warren Court decisions, and so on, you will find what I'm talking about.


Ah yes, we all know that Miranda rights were created in an attempt to overthrow the Bourgeoisie.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:20 AM on June 28, 2013


I would argue that since the great socialist democratic populist movements that began at the turn of the century and continued through the 20s and 30s (the so-called progressive era), the American left has never really idealized communism but has been grasping toward a form of moderated capitalism that doesn't go to the extremes of centralized economic planning but that does hold that the state, for better or worse, must play a key role in providing equality of economic opportunity and actively managing and preventing market failures. There was a keen awareness, as reflected in many of Teddy Roosevelt's political speeches including the infamous Bull Moose speech (which I was going to link to cite but somehow can't find anymore as it looks like all the links to the transcript now lead to the "Theodore Roosevelt Association" which no longer provides access to the source material perhaps embarrassed by their ostensible hero's blatant Leftist sentiments--if true, now that's some Soviet-style shit right there!), that truly Free Markets could only exist within a properly formed regulatory framework, with extra legal support for those with the least economic power to start with being necessary to balance the various competing interests to achieve the optimal benefits for the public on the whole.

On balance, the American left (when it was still an influential force, which I'd argue it really hasn't been for a while now) embraced a populist democratic vision that eschewed both Communism and Fascism, seeing both as different expressions of the same authoritarian impulse they were critiquing in laissez-faire Capitalism. The Soviets reached out to and tried to gain influence over the American left during the so-called Red Scare, mistaking it for a natural ideological ally, and some political elites found it convenient to play along, portraying the American left as a movement formed under the secret influence of international communists, but in reality, with only a few exceptions, it was a native, organic, and distinctively American populist cultural movement that in many ways was inherently incompatible with the depersonalizing tenets of communism.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:50 AM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wow. Literally every link I can find to Roosevelt's Bull Moose speech now leads to the Roosevelt Association's website and no longer actually provides the text of the speech. Just a couple of months ago, this was not the case. What the hell? How annoying.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2013


Okay--phew. Here's a link to the WikiSource for the speech.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:56 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Liberals wouldn't say it as such, but in the back of their minds, driving their rhetoric and fervor, was the idea was that capitalism ought to be eventually superseded by some kind of collectivist, communist system.

Without them saying this, how could you possibly know this?

that this underlying vision included elements core to communism

Ah, I see. By this standard, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were communists.

It's true that there were, for a while, in the academy, straight-up Soviet sympathizers. I mentioned two prominent ones: Derrida and Sartre. Their influence was primarily on American academia.

I suppose its possible they were influential in English and/or philosophy departments, but certainly not on the American academy overall. And, for what it is worth, English and philosophy departments are rarely influential in major universities.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:04 AM on June 28, 2013


saul as usual your familiarity with relevant material (and your ability & willingness to cite it specifically) provides a breath of fresh air.
posted by lodurr at 8:06 AM on June 28, 2013


Liberals wouldn't say it as such, but in the back of their minds, driving their rhetoric and fervor, was the idea was that capitalism ought to be eventually superseded by some kind of collectivist, communist system.

This is McCarthyism.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:06 AM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


For an example of what I thought Shivohum was talking about, see the political speeches of Paul Robeson. Like I said, I disagree with the fundamental conflation of the egalitarian wing of progressivism with Communism, but there was a fair amount of leftist endorsement of Mao and Stalin and Ho Chi Min. People like Bill Ayers certainly did.

Part of it may be that I'm currently reading The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual by Eric Lott, and a fair amount of it deals with the way Boomers have renounced Communism (and Identity Politics and several other strains) in order to embrace a neo-liberal program (and why that's a failure of intellect and liberalism).
posted by klangklangston at 8:07 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


that truly Free Markets could only exist within a properly formed regulatory framework, with extra legal support for those with the least economic power to start with being necessary to balance the various competing interests to achieve the optimal benefits for the public on the whole

It's tempting to think so, but I don't think this is what drove the emotional vision of the left during most of the 20th century. I think what drove it was the idea of a perfectly regulated society, one which eliminated poverty, injustice, inequality, and did it all through the power of government and technology. See "The Jetsons." Remember, too, that for much of the 20th century the relevant corporations were large, oligopolistic, and often supported by the government in various key ways (e.g. AT&T, GM, airlines, etc.).

This perfectly regulated society would ultimately have very little room for capitalism as we know it. It's true, there are American characteristics to it -- it's not Soviet socialism -- but the utopian vision was a dream of a kind of ultimate central planning and fundamentally anti-capitalist in structure.

Again, this is what drives agricultural subsidies, the great society, the push towards universal healthcare under Nixon, the space program and subsidies for science, the state university systems, interstate highways, rehabilitation as the key goal of the justice system... from the left. The final structure of these programs obviously were the result of what happens when the left encountered resistance from the right.
--
Ah, I see. By this standard, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were communists.

They were results of the compromise between left and right, a left that was defined by essentially communist elements.
posted by shivohum at 8:10 AM on June 28, 2013


yeh but klang, paul robeson is going back a ways, to when someone could have with some remote plausibility convinced onesself that the soviets were doing something noble. and ayers & his lot at that time were analogous to the TP fringe of today, in that yes they were listened to -- but mostly by folks who were either naive or dupes.
posted by lodurr at 8:10 AM on June 28, 2013


Again, this is what drives agricultural subsidies, the great society, the push towards universal healthcare under Nixon, the space program and subsidies for science, the state university systems, interstate highways, rehabilitation as the key goal of the justice system... from the left. The final structure of these programs obviously were the result of what happens when the left encountered resistance from the right.

You keep repeating this, but you are only going to convince yourself if you continue to refrain from presenting evidence or pinpointing exactly who you are talking about.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:15 AM on June 28, 2013


shivohum, are you going to make an argument or just keep telling us what you think? because I'm not seeing anything to support the claims you're making.

if your claim is that utopianism has similarities to visionary socialism, then I'd have to point out that so does objectivism. In fact, a friend likes to refer to Ayn Rand as the ideal soviet writer. (He singles out her intense positivism, her dedication to the idea that progress is possible, and the core requirement of her philosophy that everyone buy into the same vision for the system to work.) In other words: So what?

Or alternately: So, what are you left with, if you get rid of that?
posted by lodurr at 8:16 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


saul as usual your familiarity with relevant material (and your ability & willingness to cite it specifically) provides a breath of fresh air. Aw shucks... [tries not to blush to avoid unsavory insinuations about being red.]
posted by saulgoodman at 8:58 AM on June 28, 2013


Ah, I see. By this standard, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were communists.

They were results of the compromise between left and right, a left that was defined by essentially communist elements.


Now that's taking the reductio ad absurdum and running with it.
posted by goethean at 9:11 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


shivohum is using an idiosyncratic definition of "communism" that seems to include any government activity that Ayn Rand would not endorse. At this point, he is claiming that the government of Georgia in 1785 was communist in that it created a state university, as were the governments of 1789 North Carolina, 1819 Virginia, and 1817 Michigan. It is truly remarkable that they managed to be communist sympathizers at a time when Marx was either in diapers or had not been conceived.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 AM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


More to the point, I guess, is that shivohum is saying that anyone who favors redistribution is communist because communists favored redistribution, and similarly with regulation of business. Communists also favored the punishment of murderers and rapists, so presumably anyone who favors the punishment of murderers and rapists is essentially communist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:15 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


You keep repeating this, but you are only going to convince yourself if you continue to refrain from presenting evidence or pinpointing exactly who you are talking about.

I've already given you evidence in the form of numerous programs and actions and the concepts behind them, but you don't seem to want to regard it as such. You don't like my evidence, but instead of proffering a different, supposedly superior interpretation of it, you're instead asserting that I haven't presented evidence.

So I'm not sure what "evidence" is going to convince you (probably nothing), but look up the communist proclivities of the New York Intellectuals. Look up MLK's support for democratic socialism. Look up LBJ's Great Society speech and its faith that massive government action could eliminate inequality and injustice. Look up Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest and the notions that technocratic savvy and central planning could win wars. Look up Gloria Steinem's association with socialist organizations. Look up the debates about the New Deal and about universal health care in the 1970s, about the rehabilitation of criminals, about rent control and urban planning and housing development. Look up Robert Moses' vision of technocratic utopia with giant public state-run beaches.

To me this all adds up to the vision I articulated above.
posted by shivohum at 9:37 AM on June 28, 2013


You haven't really presented evidence. You've presented stuff that constitutes evidence to you without explaining your reasoning for why it does.
posted by lodurr at 9:39 AM on June 28, 2013


None of those things have anything to do with Soviet Communism.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:40 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


... I mean, seriously, shivohum, you're generalizing from "best and the brightest" to communism? that's actually rather strange, and it really does support RUO_Xenophobe's characterization of your positions. Technocracy is at least as much an outgrowth of Fordism as it is of state planning -- and in any case, marxism certainly doesn't drive technocracy. I've more often heard it argued the other way around (though I don't personally think the relationship between socialism, technocracy and capitalism is anything vaguely approaching simple).
posted by lodurr at 9:42 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


(aside: i did once have a fairly one-sided discussion with a guy who wanted to argue that fordism was communist. he made some interesting points, but mostly he was just doing a lot of conflation.)
posted by lodurr at 9:44 AM on June 28, 2013


That's not any kind of socialism I've ever heard of. Socialism is collective ownership of the means of production, and communal/social distribution of the wealth generated via productivity. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and from each according to his abilities, and to each according to his needs.

That's communism. Socialism !== communism, although the latter is a form of the former. Socialism is based on the workers owning the means of production, this could indeed be collectively (as a state), but also individually, or in groups such as worker owned/managed co-ops.

The "needs of the many..." based distribution is entirely from communism, and not in your basic Socialist superclass at all (for e.g. if you look at early American libertarian socialism/mutualism there was the idea was that "the natural wage of labour is it's product" - i.e. what you make with the sweat of your brow is yours, and no one else (boss or state) should claim tax or profit from it), though the general idea that the economy should operate in the service of the people as a whole (rather than the propertarians) is generally there.
posted by titus-g at 9:47 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


None of those things have anything to do with Soviet Communism.

The very first link I pointed to is a Trotskyist group of intellectuals (some of whom now are notorioius neoconservatives). Yes, Trotsky didn't win, but to say that has nothing to do with Soviet Communism is just wrong.
--
You've presented stuff that constitutes evidence to you without explaining your reasoning for why it does.

I think you may be expecting a level of precision that is simply impossible in interpretations of motivation. Motivation is always a circumstantial judgment. I find it appealing and useful to see in the rhetoric of universal healthcare and of the great society a belief in the central power of government to regulate away the injustice of society... a belief that, when extended to its natural conclusion, destroys the uncertainties (and thus the vitality) of capitalism.

If you'd prefer not to look at it that way, there's little I can do to change that.
posted by shivohum at 9:47 AM on June 28, 2013


Yes, I prefer not to look at it that way, because I recognize that there is a huge difference, intellectually and practically, between saying 'government can fix this problem' to 'government can fix all problems'. You seem to not be doing that.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, I'm expecting you to actually explain your reasoning, which you persistently refuse to do. I'm quite comfortable with complex motivations; but I fail to see why you expect us accept "because I analyzed it and decided it was so" as a sufficient reason to accept your claims.
posted by lodurr at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you may be expecting a level of precision that is simply impossible in interpretations of motivation. Motivation is always a circumstantial judgment. I find it appealing and useful to see in the rhetoric of universal healthcare and of the great society a belief in the central power of government to regulate away the injustice of society... a belief that, when extended to its natural conclusion, destroys the uncertainties (and thus the vitality) of capitalism.

Then stop stating your admittedly imprecise interpretations of unknowable motivations as if they're facts?
posted by jason_steakums at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


but I fail to see why you expect us accept "because I analyzed it and decided it was so" as a sufficient reason to accept your claims.

I think I have analyzed things, and I have presented evidence sufficient to the kind of claim that I am making and appropriate to the venue; you just disagree with it. That's why it's an interpretation: it doesn't admit of knock-down proof.

No one had bones to pick, I'll note, with my broad generalizations about the goals and psychology of libertarians. No fervent cries for justification there. It's simply my characterization of the history of liberals that's at issue. How telling.

I think my theory's utility is in explaining the conversion of the Democratic party post-1989 to the Clinton/Blair third way, and the general foundering of liberalism in the US, and in suggesting a solution: a new, clear liberal vision that goes beyond the utopian central planning ideal.
posted by shivohum at 10:07 AM on June 28, 2013


There are lots of intellectual libertarians who really do believe in it as a validation of human life and freedom; but in practice and in public view, I think they tend to get swamped by narcissistic types.

There's a great quote from the UK journalist Macbiter (Tony Tyler) along those lines, from his obit.:
'Outside his professional achievements, he will be remembered as a formidable autodidact who became expert on ancient and military history; as a right-wing libertarian who preferred to be surrounded by liberals and lefties "because most people who share my views are staggeringly unpleasant"; '
posted by titus-g at 10:17 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


shivohum, I do disagree with your claim; but I also disagree with your assertion that you've made a case for it.

As for your 16 posts about liberals and the one about libertarians....
posted by lodurr at 10:40 AM on June 28, 2013


I lied, it's only 8 posts making or defending generalizatons about liberals and communism, versus one link and one broad-brush post about libertarians.
posted by lodurr at 10:42 AM on June 28, 2013


Libertarianism pretty much is what I said- individual liberty is the prime philosophy. Do what you want, and spend the fruits of your labor how you please. With the caveat that as nobody has a claim over your resources, you have no claim over theirs. It is a society free of coercion. What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours, and in order to get what we need and want, we trade with each other.

I'm sorry, you're looking for the conversation about what libertarianism claims to be. This is the one about what libertarianism is.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:56 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is a society free of coercion. What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours, and in order to get what we need and want, we trade with each other.

This society has never existed and it will never exist. It is a complete and utter fantasy.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:59 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


"So I'm not sure what "evidence" is going to convince you (probably nothing), but look up the communist proclivities of the New York Intellectuals. Look up MLK's support for democratic socialism. Look up LBJ's Great Society speech and its faith that massive government action could eliminate inequality and injustice. Look up Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest and the notions that technocratic savvy and central planning could win wars. Look up Gloria Steinem's association with socialist organizations. Look up the debates about the New Deal and about universal health care in the 1970s, about the rehabilitation of criminals, about rent control and urban planning and housing development. Look up Robert Moses' vision of technocratic utopia with giant public state-run beaches. "

But those things aren't communism under any reasonably accurate definition of communism (outside of the early modern NY Intellectuals), and again speak more to an egalitarian progressivism than to communism. You get especially far off the rails by imputing social democracy to communism, compounded by the sense that you use communism as a ad hominem attack against policies you disagree with. By using that broad brush, you divorce your argument from history as it happened and into a circular bit of hardline individualist rhetoric. By failing to distinguish between Marxism, socialism, communism, communitarianism, egalitarianism, progressivism and liberalism, your argument becomes a weaker mishmash of overlapping phantoms dreamt of by, well, von Hayek and Pinochet.

I don't disagree that there was a significant infatuation with Communism and Stalinism on the left, especially during the early 20th century (looking at labor battles in California will show a lot of the influence and contemporary disagreements with Communism), but by overstating it, opposition to "communism" becomes a totalizing ideology in search of justification, not a justified response to the realities of contemporary political philosophy.

Not only that, it ignores the actual work of liberal and leftist political thinkers, who, as alluded above, have done a tremendous amount of work in coming to terms with the failure of the Soviet Union and its brand of state communism. Even beyond that, it ignores the actual experience of left organizing, which often was diametrically opposed to Soviet Communism — the Wobblies and Comintern-supported unions fought each other in the streets in Los Angeles, and while the duplicitous nature of Communist organizing led to tainting many other leftist organizations, churning them all into a mush of "communism" reads as preposterous to people with either an academic or personal history on the left.
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 AM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


your argument becomes a weaker mishmash of overlapping phantoms dreamt of by, well, von Hayek and Pinochet

Actually, Hayek is on record as favoring a guaranteed minimum income and governmental provision of a market-basket of insurances such as health insurance -- it's right in _The Road to Serfdom_.

Obviously, then, Hayek was a communist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:11 AM on June 28, 2013


"No one had bones to pick, I'll note, with my broad generalizations about the goals and psychology of libertarians. No fervent cries for justification there. It's simply my characterization of the history of liberals that's at issue. How telling."

Don't do that.

"I think my theory's utility is in explaining the conversion of the Democratic party post-1989 to the Clinton/Blair third way, and the general foundering of liberalism in the US, and in suggesting a solution: a new, clear liberal vision that goes beyond the utopian central planning ideal."

Well, no, actually the best utility of your theory is explaining the cohesion of the right, from the right's point of view. The left's embrace of Clintonian "third way" philosophy is overstated — it was more a popular/Boomer embrace, exemplified by swing voters captured by triangulation — and the left's foundering has more to do with the pressures of identity politics against class politics and nationalism, and the establishment liberal rejection of the '68 radicalism. The "utopian central planning ideal" you're basing your argument on is overstated and misattributed, and held by pretty much no one as a serious ideal for over 50 years, unless you so abuse your terms as to posit Sweden as a central planning state.

And as someone mentioned above, this reductionist view where everything is at the poles of fascism or communism leads to pretty absurd conclusions, which I think you're getting bogged down in.
posted by klangklangston at 11:11 AM on June 28, 2013


Basically what I'm trying to say is that:
  1. As everyone has acknowledged, libertarianism outlines a method for very rapidly stripping as many people as possible of all personal liberties.
  2. Because it is clearly a method for stripping as many people as possible of all personal liberties, and because everyone realizes this, we shouldn't pretend that libertarians are supporters of personal liberty. Pretending that would be unbearably condescending.
  3. The complicating factor is that the method of stripping individuals of their personal liberties that we call libertarianism itself involves the use of a certain set of sounds, sounds like "freedom" and "liberty" and "individual autonomy.' The method itself needs this.
Maybe this is why there's such an overlap between libertarianism and pickup artistry. They're both systems based around the idea that someone who makes certain sounds in the right order can get whatever they want, without regard to truth or context or history.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:13 AM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


"Actually, Hayek is on record as favoring a guaranteed minimum income and governmental provision of a market-basket of insurances such as health insurance -- it's right in _The Road to Serfdom_.

Obviously, then, Hayek was a communist.
"

(I had remembered him as basically supporting those as a way to forestall revolutionary discontent from the lower classes, but it's been a loooooong time since I read it.) Well, and for me, the central lesson of Hayek's Road to Serfdom is that Hayek is flatly wrong in his predictions of serfdom based on pretty much any encroachment of the government into the markets — we can see example after example where things Hayek opposed with reactionary ferver have been adopted and not led to any real serfdom outside of the yelping fantods of libertarians, who see more invisible chains than Rousseau.
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is a society free of coercion. What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours, and in order to get what we need and want, we trade with each other.

My experience in debating with people who want to debate about libertarianism is that they have a fairly different view of what constitutes coercion from the one that I hold.

I used to see a guy on plastic.com who had as his .sig "The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." He was a pretty strong libertarian, but very far from the most dogmatic I ever encountered -- and he took that very seriously. What it meant to him was that it literally wasn't coercion until your life was threatened, and even then, you still had the choice. (To die, obviously, rather than submit.)

There was no such thing, for example, as economic coercion. Threatening to fire someone if they didn't do what you want -- not coercion, simply the assertion of your rights in the employer-side of a labor contract.

This led to a series of epiphanies for me. I'd previously held the opinion that maybe you could make a society of contracts work, but I hadn't been considering the inherent power imbalances, or the fact that in a society based on personal contracts was always going to have some pretty dramatic power imbalances to contend against. (You versus General Motors is always going to be a stacked deck unless General Motors has some constraints on it.)

And I also realized that someone would always be willing to sell their own power for security. That's basically how feudal systems and corporations work.
posted by lodurr at 11:14 AM on June 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry, lodurr, you're talking in terms of change over time. Libertarians don't accept that. It's not first principle-ey enough.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:16 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mea culpa.
posted by lodurr at 11:17 AM on June 28, 2013


And I also realized that someone would always be willing to sell their own power for security.

See also: The Libertarian Case for Slavery
posted by titus-g at 11:19 AM on June 28, 2013


churning them all into a mush of "communism" reads as preposterous to people with either an academic or personal history on the left.

Right, I don't necessarily mean by communism the communism that was officially advocated by the Soviet Union, though, as you point out, there were specific advocates of that.

What I mean is a vision of a regulated society beyond property, beyond capitalism, and free from the inequalities and the vicissitudes of the market. Marx said this was coming eventually, and for a long time people on the left believed him.

Some vision or notion like this happening in the far distant future lay in the minds of liberals broadly, even if it did not endorse Soviet communism, or even communism in the short term. It inspired people and drove them to policies that would get them closer to this future. It acted as a moral anchor to know whether they were making "progress" or not. And its influence depended upon the continued existence of the major countries that were trying to implement some form of communism themselves, or claimed to.

and the left's foundering has more to do with the pressures of identity politics against class politics and nationalism, and the establishment liberal rejection of the '68 radicalism.

That's because there is no clear argument for class politics anymore. That's my point. The old argument for class politics rested on communist ideals.
posted by shivohum at 11:19 AM on June 28, 2013


"they've taken our stuff and we want it back" isn't a clear argument?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:20 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


okay, a more meaningful comment:

What I mean is a vision of a regulated society beyond property, beyond capitalism, and free from the inequalities and the vicissitudes of the market. Marx said this was coming eventually, and for a long time people on the left believed him.

Have you read Capital, by any chance? Because this isn't what Capital is about.

(am I alone in considering the early Marx a little useless? Capital is just so much smarter than the stuff he wrote as a kid...)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:34 AM on June 28, 2013


"That's because there is no clear argument for class politics anymore. That's my point. The old argument for class politics rested on communist ideals."

1) No, it didn't really, unless your use of "communism" is meaninglessly broad.
2) Yes, there is — see recent Occupy protests for an example of popular class politics.
3) That foundering is largely over, at least in popular rhetoric. There are still disagreements (the left is always going to have a broader set of political projects pretty much by nature), but the only real impediment now is reactionary obstructionism from the right, not foundering from the left.
posted by klangklangston at 11:44 AM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


"(am I alone in considering the early Marx a little useless? Capital is just so much smarter than the stuff he wrote as a kid...)"

I still have a soft spot for On German Ideology, but that may just be because I like to make fun of Young Hegelians.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some vision or notion like this happening in the far distant future lay in the minds of liberals broadly

Who? Who who who who who? What liberals have said they want to move this world beyond property? LBJ? Earl Warren? Barack Obama? JFK? who who who who who?

who?


It acted as a moral anchor to know whether they were making "progress" or not.

Ahem, um, the idea of human civilization making steady progress is one shared by all products of the Enlightenment.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


What I mean is a vision of a regulated society beyond property, beyond capitalism, and free from the inequalities and the vicissitudes of the market. Marx said this was coming eventually, and for a long time people on the left believed him.

Really you're going to have to name names and give examples. This is just not ringing many bells for me. John Lennon, maybe, but as for actually influential other-people, I'm drawing a blank.
posted by lodurr at 11:48 AM on June 28, 2013


Well, all the examples I can think of are from almost 100 years ago, so it seems weird to keep trying to reduce contemporary liberalism to the repudiated antecedents.
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on June 28, 2013


I'm sorry, I got confused. I need to do this or do work, it seems, I can't multitask this discussion. You were talking about the past.
posted by lodurr at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2013


Yes, there is — see recent Occupy protests for an example of popular class politics.

There's a reason it's having engine trouble. Because while people are angry at the bailouts and the big banks and the 1%, they have no real end vision to mobilize them. They know capitalism is necessary, and that entails a lot of inequality. "Somewhat less unfairness!" is no great rallying cry. What's the vision of society they want to reach towards? No one can quite say, because communism (even if by some different, vaguer name) is no longer a real option. People need grand visions to work revolutions.

Liberals are clear that the end goal is multicultural and prizes tolerance and diversity. That is the cohesion that led to the sexual revolution, civil rights movement, gay marriage, and support for free speech. In its support for those things, liberals are absolutist. That is what clarity of vision looks like.
--
Who? Who who who who who?

Really you're going to have to name names and give examples.

I did name some names above. The NY Intellectuals, Steinem. And what about MLK? David Garrow in his Pulitzer-prize-winning biography of MLK said that MLK agreed with Marxist ideas in private, except for the atheism/materialism part.

Anyway, as I said before, my theory about the influence of communism is an implicit framework. I'm positing an unarticulated aspect of people's worldviews that nevertheless influenced and inspired them. Communism was the idea that dare-not-speak-its-name but nevertheless had tremendous power to set an agenda.
posted by shivohum at 12:13 PM on June 28, 2013


"There's a reason it's having engine trouble. Because while people are angry at the bailouts and the big banks and the 1%, they have no real end vision to mobilize them."

No, the reason why they had trouble coalescing was mostly due to their commitment to radical anarchic/democratic organizing principles and active state repression. They had pretty clear policy objectives in the beginning — overturning the Citizen United decision, passing banking reform laws — but they were a process group animated by class politics, and attributing their failure to make a deeper impact on American politics to the paucity of communist vision is an idiosyncratic view at best.
posted by klangklangston at 12:20 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gloria Steinem said she wanted to live in a world beyond property? MLK did too? Do you have anyone, say, who are more recent?

I'm positing an unarticulated aspect of people's worldviews that nevertheless influenced and inspired them.


How convenient! this aspect of their worldview is completely hidden from view,even from the people who hold it, and only you can divine it. It affects all liberals, even when they don't' know it, and even whey they explicitly disavow it. And it can't be pointed to directly, because it is unarticulated. Do I have that right?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:21 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I'm positing an unarticulated aspect of people's worldviews that nevertheless influenced and inspired them. Communism was the idea that dare-not-speak-its-name but nevertheless had tremendous power to set an agenda."

And that's an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence, and honestly, it just doesn't feel like you have the depth in left/liberal/progressive history or theory to advance it credibly. In order to present that premise as an argument, you'd have to identify specifically communist programs, as distinguished from egalitarianism etc., and find ways that those combine to be sine qua non communism, and demonstrate those influences directly on the political projects of liberalism while explaining away the other possible similar origins.

It's fine to have a pet theory, and I realize that you're being grilled rather relentlessly here, but that's the sort of outsized claim that would need a scholarly book to justify it and even then would not likely do a great job of explaining liberal politics of the 20th century. It seems, again, very much as if you have decided upon your theory as the conclusion and are now arguing backwards to justify it, rather than starting with clear definitions, a command of the literature and the ability to distinguish competing political projects and impulses.
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Gloria Steinem said she wanted to live in a world beyond property? MLK did too? Do you have anyone, say, who are more recent?

You presumably pursue your desires, but have you ever explicitly written that you pursue happiness, or duty, or glory, or honor? And yet people have no problem attributing those motives, and others to you. Many well-meaning people have internalized racist views, but presumably they don't speak them out loud or write them down.
--
It's fine to have a pet theory, and I realize that you're being grilled rather relentlessly here, but that's the sort of outsized claim that would need a scholarly book to justify it and even then would not likely do a great job of explaining liberal politics of the 20th century. It seems, again, very much as if you have decided upon your theory as the conclusion and are now arguing backwards to justify it, rather than starting with clear definitions, a command of the literature and the ability to distinguish competing political projects and impulses.

People make these sorts of generalizations constantly, though, and they are necessary for a free-wheeling and provocative discourse. I'd say that this wasn't a scholarly forum, but the truth is that in the annals of history many great scholars and thinkers have made many observations, often without definitive evidence, and that these are often the things for which they are later remembered.

There is always a trade-off between breadth and depth in making assertions. If every assertion or theory had to stand the test of rigorous scholarly protocol, conversation would be strangled.
posted by shivohum at 12:38 PM on June 28, 2013


you'd have to identify specifically communist programs, as distinguished from egalitarianism etc., and find ways that those combine to be sine qua non communism, and demonstrate those influences directly on the political projects of liberalism while explaining away the other possible similar origins.


Oh, and if you could do this, you would take the world of academic history by storm.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:38 PM on June 28, 2013


You presumably pursue your desires, but have you ever explicitly written that you pursue happiness, or duty, or glory, or honor?

So are you willing to admit, or concede, that the viewpoint you are espousing is merely your impression and opinion, and it is not an argument you are making? Because one of those is worth discussing, the other isn't.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:40 PM on June 28, 2013


So are you willing to admit, or concede, that the viewpoint you are espousing is merely your impression and opinion, and it is not an argument you are making?

It's an impression supported by as much evidence as I've given and by its utility in explaining and prescribing a solution to the current woes of liberalism. If that isn't sufficient evidence to qualify as discussion-worthy to you, that is of course your decision.
posted by shivohum at 12:43 PM on June 28, 2013


I'm not seeing the legacy of MLK as invalidated by the fall of the Soviet Union. I'm going as far as to say that is crazy talk.
posted by Artw at 12:54 PM on June 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's an impression supported by as much evidence as I've given and by its utility in explaining and prescribing a solution to the current woes of liberalism.

Its utility has nothing to do with its merit. Aliens have a utility in explaining and prescribing a solution to the mystery of the pyramids, but we judge things on evidence, not elegance. Just let it begin and end on the evidence.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:55 PM on June 28, 2013


"People make these sorts of generalizations constantly, though, and they are necessary for a free-wheeling and provocative discourse. I'd say that this wasn't a scholarly forum, but the truth is that in the annals of history many great scholars and thinkers have made many observations, often without definitive evidence, and that these are often the things for which they are later remembered."

That's fair enough, but the problem with making free-wheeling and provocative generalizations is that people are likely to call you on them, especially if they know the field better than you do. I mean, it's fine if you want say, "Hey, man, I'm just bullshitting around here," but I hope you can realize why so many people (me included) are disagreeing with your proposed explanatory framework. I mean, I can riff on why every great female bassist is named Kim, but sooner or later, someone's gonna call me out with Deborah Scroggins and I'm gonna have to concede that it's not, like, a complete theory.
posted by klangklangston at 2:02 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Its utility has nothing to do with its merit. Aliens have a utility in explaining and prescribing a solution to the mystery of the pyramids, but we judge things on evidence, not elegance. Just let it begin and end on the evidence.

Well I mean there's some cases where a "likely story" (to use Plato's term) is the best we can do. This, though, just isn't one of those cases.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:04 PM on June 28, 2013


That's fair enough, but the problem with making free-wheeling and provocative generalizations is that people are likely to call you on them, especially if they know the field better than you do. I mean, it's fine if you want say, "Hey, man, I'm just bullshitting around here," but I hope you can realize why so many people (me included) are disagreeing with your proposed explanatory framework.

There's a difference between bullshitting and making a thoughtful, supported observation that is nevertheless not set forth in exhaustive scholarly detail. So far I've seen no particularly good arguments against my theory that have any better evidence than mine.

I will say that I liked saulgoodman's comment above which, while I disagree with it, at least posits a compelling alternative to my reading of history.

I'm not seeing the legacy of MLK as invalidated by the fall of the Soviet Union. I'm going as far as to say that is crazy talk.

Good thing I never claimed that.
posted by shivohum at 2:23 PM on June 28, 2013


Um, yes you did? MLK is right there in your list.
posted by Artw at 2:37 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but I never said his legacy was invalidated by the fall of communism. For one thing, I didn't say that anyone's legacy was invalidated. And second, MLK's civil rights legacy is quite separable from his views on Marxism and economic justice.
posted by shivohum at 2:43 PM on June 28, 2013


"There's a difference between bullshitting and making a thoughtful, supported observation that is nevertheless not set forth in exhaustive scholarly detail. So far I've seen no particularly good arguments against my theory that have any better evidence than mine."

You're mistaking the burden of proof — you're advancing a novel claim, and bear that burden — and not seeing evidence against your theory is different than not engaging or acknowledging those arguments or evidence. You've certainly seen some if you've been reading this thread. The objections have generally been in terms of your idiosyncratic definitions that have no clear commonality to how the terms you bandy are generally used.

"And second, MLK's civil rights legacy is quite separable from his views on Marxism and economic justice."

No, they're not. No more than Rawls' views of rationality are separable in a meaningful way from his liberalism.
posted by klangklangston at 2:46 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK, so we've gone from a broad sweeping statement to all kinds of excuses and get outs.

Maybe what you are actually saying is... nothing?

If so I would advise typing less to do so.
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on June 28, 2013


You're ascribing unknowable and unprovable motivations that you yourself admit are imprecise to western liberal thought and various people who align with it and putting the onus on everyone else to disprove that. And you keep moving the goalposts!

First you claimed this, stated as if fact:
With the fall of communism, American liberalism was thrown into disarray. Its hidden, unspoken assumption was always that utopia was always poised in some Communist paradise, beyond capitalism, beyond the workday, beyond industrialism and the environmental destruction it presages and prolongs, beyond the greedy, man-eat-man world in which we live. Liberals after the fall of the USSR had to admit the indispensable place of capitalism in any foreseeable future and the inextricable necessity of competition, greed, and savage market-based violence for the betterment of society — for lack of any better, cogent alternative.
Which eventually softened into:
I'm positing an unarticulated aspect of people's worldviews that nevertheless influenced and inspired them.
And then you shift what those motivations and aspects of their worldviews even are. In the post that kicked this off, you explicitly invoked the USSR and capital-C Communism, and then in that post and others: We've taken a journey from Stalin back to Marx.

You are not arguing in good faith. See what klangklangston just said about the burden of proof. And even if the burden was on everyone else - you're shifting the terms of your argument as you go.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:56 PM on June 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


All internet libertarians are at heart trolls.
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on June 28, 2013


I mean, seriously, by basing "communism" on a vision of regulated, communitarian/egalitarian utopia, then Plato and Jesus are communists. Actual communism is both revolutionary and requires an end to private ownership. Without both of those, it's hard to call anything "communism."
posted by klangklangston at 2:57 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


All internet libertarians are at heart trolls.

And not just internet libertarians.
posted by goethean at 3:01 PM on June 28, 2013


You're mistaking the burden of proof — you're advancing a novel claim, and bear that burden — and not seeing evidence against your theory is different than not engaging or acknowledging those arguments or evidence. You've certainly seen some if you've been reading this thread. The objections have generally been in terms of your idiosyncratic definitions that have no clear commonality to how the terms you bandy are generally used.

I disagree that I haven't met the burden of proof simply because I haven't put forth a 20-volume treatise on the history of political movements and given my every definition in intense detail. If people want that, they should simply go elsewhere. If they want to think in broad terms about political psychology, then they should talk with me, and if not, they are free to have the discussion they want with others. They simply shouldn't fool themselves into thinking that they have some lock on the truth.

No, they're not. No more than Rawls' views of rationality are separable in a meaningful way from his liberalism.

That obviously depends on what is meant by legacy. In my opinion legacy means his accomplishments, what he left behind. What he left behind is largely a conception of civil rights based on the prohibition of discrimination, and a little bit of affirmative action - both of which are quite compatible with very little economic justice. That he would have preferred it otherwise does not affect the facts.

Btw Plato was not quite a communist but was close (his platonic philosopher-kings could not possess property but others could); Jesus was not a communist ("render unto Caesar...").
--
Which eventually softened into:

I see no softening in my arguments. I have been consistent. I started with communism and from the beginning said that soviet communism was only one variant of it.
posted by shivohum at 3:21 PM on June 28, 2013


If they want to think in broad terms about political psychology, then they should talk with me, and if not, they are free to have the discussion they want with others. (Emph. mine)

I think you're confusing 'broad' with 'sloppy.' Or possibly, 'dorm room bull session.'

(I'm seeing a lot of equivocation in your posts between a very extensive and a very narrow definition of 'communism.')
posted by PMdixon at 3:51 PM on June 28, 2013


I see no softening in my arguments. I have been consistent.

Ha!
posted by Artw at 3:56 PM on June 28, 2013


There's a reason it's having engine trouble. Because while people are angry at the bailouts and the big banks and the 1%, they have no real end vision to mobilize them.

I agree with you on this. Occupy does not offer a plan of action; unlike, say, the Chartists who protested the unjust distribution of power but also provided a plan to redistribute that power.

That being said, I guess Occupy was only able to grow due to this lack of clear goals. Imagine if the movement started by saying "the bankers and corporations control the bulk of wealth, we can fix this by nationalizing the banks and raising the marginal tax rate to 70%." The proposals in practice would remedy the disease they are looking to cure, but also would have alienated many of the people who occupied Zuccotti Park and their sympathizers.

It probably all goes down to education, so many people in the West have been educated an enculturated with liberal political and economic ideology that it is difficult for the socialist left to receive support for practical and practicable policies which would end egregious inequality.
posted by banal evil at 4:56 PM on June 28, 2013


You guys should join my True Libertarian party!
posted by Eideteker at 5:02 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, there are a lot of presuppositions regarding the necessity of capitalism up in here, and nobody called them out.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Man, there are a lot of presuppositions regarding the necessity of capitalism up in here, and nobody called them out.

It's a libertarian on one side and several liberals on the other. The idea that capitalism isn't the inherent state of reality from which all other systems are deviations simply isn't going to appear.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:28 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It certainly doesn't help that the modern U.S. usage of libertarian (elsewhere and previously it meaning libertarian socialism) is essentially the same as the use elsewhere and previously of the word liberal (i.e. " [It] advocates civil liberties with a limited government under the rule of law, and belief in laissez-faire economic policy.").

It's a fairly thorough bit of role-reversal, except that even (modern usage) social liberalism isn't genuinely left-wing so much as it is classical liberalism (a.k.a. libertarianism) with a token amount of stolen value redistribution tacked on to stop the plebs outright revolting.

Personally I think that dirigism is probably a slightly better word for what people actually mean when they use the term 'liberal', but I do realise that it would just lead to threads going on massively off-topic meanders about how awesome* a dirigible based economy would be.


* very: very awesome.
posted by titus-g at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a libertarian on one side and several liberals on the other. The idea that capitalism isn't the inherent state of reality from which all other systems are deviations simply isn't going to appear.

Personally that was so far down the list of things messed up with the argument that I hadn't really gotten to it, because the novel and audacious claim about communism and liberals and the bad faith argument style were kind of the elephants in the room. But sure, let's make snarky patronizing assumptions about what people think.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:39 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wanted to highlight some recent pieces by Corey Robin on some of origins of libertarian thought. I suspect that he started this project after writing a book with (in my words) the theory that conservatism thought can be seen over time as elite reaction to populism, and trying to sort out where libertarianism has fit into it.

(Original piece, First Response to Critics, Second response which pretty much eviserates any brushing under the carpet of the Hayek Pinochet connection).

Anyways, he's gotten some reaaally hostile, aggressive responses online and on twitter, and he concludes with some thoughts on these responses.
One possibility is that my work unsettles the boundaries so many libertarians have drawn around themselves. (The liberal-ish conservative Goldman is a different matter; in his case, I think the problem is simply a lack of familiarity and experience with these texts.) Like some of their counterparts outside the academy, at Reason and elsewhere, academic libertarians often like to describe themselves as neither right nor left—a political space, incidentally, with some rather unwholesome precedents—or as one-half of a dialogue on the left, where the other half is Rawlsian liberalism or analytical Marxism. What they don’t want to hear is that theirs is a voice on and of the right. Not because they derive psychic or personal gratification from how they position themselves but because theirs is a political project, in which they borrow from the left in order to oppose—or all the while opposing—the main projects of the left.

That kind of politics has a name. It’s called conservatism.
ie... BUUUUUURRRRRN!
posted by stratastar at 1:18 PM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


ie... BUUUUUURRRRRN!

OH SHIT GET THAT MAN SOME ALOE SONNNNN
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:48 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


jason_steakums: But sure, let's make snarky patronizing assumptions about what people think.

pope's comment really had very little to do with what people think -- it was mostly about about what the argument would allow. Basically he was saying that if we're arguing about the ultimate scoring strategy for hockey, the question of whether baseball is a superior game is just not going to arise.
posted by lodurr at 6:33 AM on July 3, 2013


He explicitly said that, because the argument was between a libertarian and liberals, that argument "simply isn't going to appear". That's a direct implication that the people arguing the libertarian and liberal sides of that argument are a) totally defined by those labels, and b) incapable of even considering the idea, and that is totally snark about what people think. What people are capable of thinking, even. It was directed at the people, not at the argument, and it reduced those people to cliches with the condescending idea that they're bound to and blind of anything outside of one specific argument or set of views. I mean it's not some huge affront to me or anything, it's just an internet comment, but it is a snarky patronizing assumption about what people think and that's why.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:16 AM on July 3, 2013


I didn't say people weren't capable of it, simply that they wouldn't. Which was true.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:09 AM on July 3, 2013


I honestly think this is a miscommunication of intent, but what was actually said left an implied meaning that went one way for me and another for lodurr, and my reading of the specific words you used is still as valid as that one because I can't know your intentions when they aren't clear, all I have are the words you used. And, again - it's not a huge thing or anything. It's a common issue in verbal communication, and an extremely common one in text-based communication. But I am trying to make sure I'm not miscommunicating my point.

Personally I caught the bit in shivohum's original post about capitalism as some kind of inarguable default and I found it to be a boring boilerplate conservative assumption and much less interesting than the whole novel Closet Communists assertion and the weird attempt at setting the terms of the argument, so I didn't bring it up because I didn't want to go off on a tangent to the points I was making. And then one side of the argument completely stopped participating, so I never got a chance for my existing points to go any further so I couldn't move on to that one. I figure others were in that same boat, I mean thsmchnekllsfascists didn't get a chance to make the point until after shivohum dropped out of the conversation. But your specific words implied that because I was one of the "liberals on the other [side]", that argument "simply isn't going to appear" from me (and the same for each of us involved). That is, on its face, a snarky, patronizing assumption about what I think. You get the benefit of the doubt that it's not what was intended, but it is one of the things that was said.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:13 AM on July 3, 2013


No, I said what I said, and I meant what I said. Plain as that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2013


« Older The Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Mu...  |  I Like to Juggle With My Cats ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments