Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Most Shocking Things Libertarians Have Ever Said

My congratulations to the state of Wisconsin.  I assume most reading this blog feel the same way – but whether you prefer the Ayn Rand Institute or the social-democrat thinktank Demos, remember that the presidents of those two outfits debate tonight at 60 Washington Square Park South, if you care to join me and tell me in the next few hours (or if you can still register for it).

I often find myself thinking that however much you may disagree with libertarians, you ought to at least find our positions fairly predictable – or at least you would if libertarians all took my approach of treating property rights as the simple, game theory-like rule that should generate all (or at the very least virtually all) legal rules.  But I admit libertarians sometimes throw even me a curve.

I think the four arguments I’ve heard from libertarian or – more confusingly – mostly-libertarian people that have surprised me most (I’m not saying they’re necessarily wrong, just that I didn’t foresee these positions) over the years have been the following:

•At least some of the libertarians in my college cabal balked (at the time) at the idea of legalizing incest between consenting adults.  I do not see any rationale whatsoever under libertarianism for their position.  They must have been channeling Leon Kass and his “wisdom [sic] of repugnance” position.

•One – just one – was briefly in favor of anti-flag-burning laws on the grounds that a Hayekian shouldn’t “rock the boat” by attacking certain national symbols or something.  Absolute nonsense, as he later admitted himself.  (I was less alarmed by the same man’s desire to maintain the Library of Congress and government storehouses for deeds and titles – not that I think we need government for this sort of record-keeping, but these things are simply too boring and minimal for even an anarchist like me to get worked up about, for good or ill.)

•The denunciations of America as “imperialist” alarmed me when I first heard them, though I’ve almost come to take them for granted in some libertarian quarters.  It’s just the kind of rhetoric you associate with the dangerously America-bashing (and usually not very capitalist) left, regardless of how rare military deployments ought to be in practice.  Rand Paul seems to understand that better than his father does.

•The Mises Institute (and, as I learned later, Ron Paul) wanting limits on immigration seemed to me so at odds with freedom of movement that I didn’t really consider the “paleolibertarian” crowd true libertarians a decade and a half ago – which is somewhat ironic, given that their ranks have grown so much that some young libertarians think we non-Mises Institute types are the heretics, in much the same snotty-ingrate way many paleocons think of neocons, as if everyone fighting socialism in mainstream ways for the past half-century just crashed the paleos’ dinky party moments ago. 

Rothbard and some of his colleagues, shortly before his death, were even supplementing their concerns about burdens on the welfare state with more blatantly cultural arguments about whether newcomers might be disproportionately socialistic – and this was not all Mexico-bashing at the time, I should say.  Rothbard was reportedly troubled by the way Russia and China would consciously use mass immigration to alter the politics of their satellites, and he might well have had Steyn-like fears about Muslim immigration in Western Europe if he were around today. 

And speaking of the Mises Institute and culture wars...


I see that one of Jacob Levy's seven fellow "liberaltarian" bloggers at Bleeding Heart Libertarians is Ludwig von Mises Institute senior scholar Roderick Long.  I have no
problem with that and do not question Long’s left/anarchist credentials, but didn't Jacob's stated reasons for fleeing from right-leaning libertarians (and urging a libertarian “break” with the right) include (A) wanting to avoid the taint of those who too-readily associate with neo-Confederates and (B) thinking most libertarians are too naively anarchist?  Either way: way ta go!

(I said I wouldn’t mention her again and won't make a habit of it, but I can’t resist noting that the closest thing to a slavery apologist I’ve ever met by moving in more mainstream-conservative circles gets "owned" herself in two efficient sentences in this fairly mixed new review from earlier this week of Proud to Be Right, the book to which I contributed an essay last year.  The review is written by a fantasy novelist, interestingly, and appears on a site run by Christian conservative S.T. Karnick of the Heartland Institute, formerly of the Hudson Institute.  The paragraph about James Poulos is also somewhat negative but in a way that I think he’d at least find amusing.  The review may, in any case, serve as a reminder to buy the book, if you haven't already.)

Jacob’s more substantive/theoretical reason for framing himself as a “liberaltarian” on the new blog, though, is actually more dangerous for libertarianism as a philosophy than mere shuffling of allies could ever be.  He argues that libertarians (especially ones living in Canada, I’d imagine) should accept big government as a fact and devote more intellectual energy to social justice and redistributive justice questions instead of to trying to wish the state away.

I could get into a long discussion of why I think this is a very dangerous frame of mind to get into – akin to atheists devoting all their time to picayune internal arguments of mainstream theology – but an exchange I had with someone at a party recently (as I recall) may sum up my point more efficiently:

WOMAN AT PARTY: But big government will never go away.

TODD: Not with that attitude it won’t.

On the bright side – and this an array of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians can agree on – it appears from a new Rasmussen poll that fiscal conservatism is (A) popular and (B) more popular than social conservatism.  Countless nuances aside, I hope so.  


Jacob T. Levy said...

I fear I am doomed to be a constant disappointment to you.

Todd Seavey said...

Aw, you're OK.