Mises vs. Cato: Good For You And Good For Me

The Libertarian Jackass gets it exactly right with this comment on the Mises Vs. Cato slapfight:

No, quite frankly, we can’t all just get along. … Either you’re a libertarian or you’re not. End of story.

Of course the problem is that carrying the idea of libertarianism to its logical conclusion means that you have to embrace anarchism, and disavow the collectivist groupthinking that “Institutes” and “movements” attract. Principled individualism is the antithesis of a movement, because a movement is an inherently collectivist enterprise. Do the members of the Cato Insitute or the Mises Institute think that food is best produced by collective action? No? Then why are they obsessing over the best way to collectively produce liberty?

Take this Ogden fellow:

Can’t we all live under the ideological umbrella?

No, we can’t, because in the war of individualism vs. collectivism, there are approximately 42 individualists arrayed against the various tribes of chimpanzees hooting and gibbering for their blood. Forming movements, or worse yet, bitch-fighting about whose movement is the best, is just another form of collectivist chimping – less worse than the quadrennial battle of R’s & D’s, but still a battle of group vs. group: the concept of a principled individual is implicitly repudiated.

This is because a movement must necessarily try to sell itself to other people. That means packaging unpleasant truths in ways that appeal to the mass of men. It’s the whole “Libertarian Communicator” bit: “We’ll just put a little bit of spin on things, so freedom’s more palatable to folks…” That’s when you end up with “libertarians” advocating drug legalization in order to increase tax revenue, or championing government border controls in order to reduce welfare spending. People simply will not accept what freedom means. Russell Madden noted:

Tell an American that “to be free” means:

No Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, no welfare, no guaranteed loans…

No “public” schools…

No “public” roads…

No taxation…

No national or state or city parks…

No mandated recycling…

No State-run airports and security…

Yes. Inform the average American of what “freedom” means and he that he will have to live within its parameters forever and he will crawl into a fetal ball and weep in abject panic…

So where does a libertarian movement go from there? What does an institute do about that? The answer is that they simply don’t touch it – they will consciously avoid exploring the implications of individual sovreignity. That’s why a movement is utterly useless to me: I have no desire for the drooling masses to do anything at all except to leave me alone. Think it’s likely that Cato or Mises will convince many people to do that? Movements are a distraction at best.

In fact, there are probably folks (like young Ogden, perhaps) who are caught up in this movement nonsense that could otherwise be looking for a way out of the cattle car. They certainly aren’t doing any good cheerleading various institutes, and who knows – maybe if they looked, they’d find a hole and leave it open for me. That’s why I fully support attacking both The Mises Institute and The Cato Institute.

It’s a race to the bottom. The longer it runs, the worse both sides will be proven to be. And damage to movements is good for the cause of the principled individual. So have at it, Mises and Cato! We principled individualists could use a forty-third.

74 thoughts on “Mises vs. Cato: Good For You And Good For Me”

  1. Principled individualism is the antithesis of a movement, because a movement is an inherently collectivist enterprise.

    Didn’t reading this sentiment too literally result in a long debate elsewhere on no-treason about the “paradox” of principled individualists working together cooperatively? I thought I saw it somewhere…

    I have no desire for the drooling masses to do anything at all except to leave me alone. Think it’s likely that Cato or Mises will convince many people to do that? Movements are a distraction at best.

    Perhaps, but aren’t they a useful distraction, in a sense? If they can convert some people through rational evangelism, wouldn’t they do some good? Or are you saying the misunderstandings and mutually conflicting interests prevent them from doing any good at all?

    Are they useless because nobody listens, or because Cato/Mises aren’t speaking in the first place?

    On a side note, does the Mises Institute really oppose immigration? I didn’t see Kinsella’s name on the daily articles list…

  2. Thanks Micha. Now that I think about it, perhaps Lopez is right in a sense. We’ve seen plenty of individuals (Kinsella in particular) who claim to be libertarian and yet hold beliefs “in principle” that are not libertarian. While there are plenty of unrealistic lifeboat situations where the state is necessary (you know, ones along the lines of “If you don’t form a State, <insert unimaginably horrible evil here>. What do you do?”, which to some extent is what Kinsella plays with, on the whole it seems that people who have inconsistent beliefs will make inconsistent arguments for those beliefs, and hence will hurt rather than help the very views they are trying to communicate. Perhaps they really should “shut their stupid cake-holes” after all?

  3. Stefan,

    The Mises Institute doesn’t have an official policy on immigration. (Then again, I don’t think they have an official policy on any political issue.) A number of their faculty support immigration (notably Walter Block), but it is fair to say that a majority, as well as the Institute president, Lew Rockwell, do not.

  4. Lopez,

    So I assume, based on your argument, that the No-Treason contributors will immediately disband and start their own individualist websites? After all, grouping together like this “is just another form of collectivist chimping.”

    I think you need to define you terms. What do you mean by the word “movement” and “individualist” and “collectivist”? Kennedy defined the distinction between individualism and collectivism as identical to the distinction between consent and coercion. You seem to be using these terms differently. And you need to explain how Cato or the Mises Institute represent a movement, while No-Treason does not. All of you share similar goals, which is why Jesse Ogdan’s point is valid.

  5. And it’s fair to point out that you do not see Hoppe’s revolutionary insight defended from the criticism of members like Block or Callahan on Lew Rockwell web sites, such criticism is not even acknowledged out loud on LRC or Mises.org.

    That is fair to point out. On the other hand, Jeffrey Tucker did post a mild criticism of Hoppe’s article on LewRockwell.com when it was first published. But yes, the Mises folk tend to avoid focusing on their differences, which gives them the appearence of a cult-like mentality. Not that I believe they are so, but a little bit more vocal disagreement would be nice from time to time.

  6. Micha,

    “Under this definition, I would be classified as a collectivist, as would a number of other libertarian economists.”

    Yeah, I was trying to be clear on that.

    “Do you consider collectivism to be compatible with libertarianism? If not, are you willing to exclude consequentialists (most of whom tend to be collectivists according to your definition) from consideration as libertarians?”

    “Libertarian” is a catch-all category, it’s fruitless to try to define it in terms of one coherent principle at this point; so ya, you guys can be collectivist libertarians.

    ‘Liberty produced as a public good is preferable to liberty produced not at all.”

    Why would that be the alternative?

  7. Fundamentally I identify individualism as recognizing primacy of the individual and collectivism as asserting the primacy of society.

    Under this definition, I would be classified as a collectivist, as would a number of other libertarian economists. Do you consider collectivism to be compatible with libertarianism? If not, are you willing to exclude consequentialists (most of whom tend to be collectivists according to your definition) from consideration as libertarians?

    A point at issue here might be what you mean by “society” as it relates to the individual. I don’t consider society to mean anything other than the sum of its parts. But I also don’t consider the rights of the individual to be an immutable trump card applicable to any and all conceivable situations, though the heavens may fall.

    Movement libertarians remain stuck in a collectivist mindset, they attempt to produce liberty as a public good.

    Liberty produced as a public good is preferable to liberty produced not at all.

  8. “I think you need to define you terms. What do you mean by the word “movement” and “individualist” and “collectivist”? Kennedy defined the distinction between individualism and collectivism as identical to the distinction between consent and coercion.”

    Fundamentally I identify individualism as recognizing primacy of the individual and collectivism as asserting the primacy of society. Movements embody a model of collective action appropriate to collectivism, and business embodies the model of collective action appropriate to individualism. Movement libertarians remain stuck in a collectivist mindset, they attempt to produce liberty as a public good.

  9. Micha,

    “A number of their faculty support immigration (notably Walter Block), but it is fair to say that a majority, as well as the Institute president, Lew Rockwell, do not.”

    It’s also fair to say that Hoppe is considered the intellectual crown jewel of the institute and that Rockwell characterizes Hoppe’s position on immigration as a “revolutionary” insight “which changed the movement”.

    And it’s fair to point out that you do not see Hoppe’s revolutionary insight defended from the criticism of members like Block or Callahan on Lew Rockwell web sites, such criticism is not even acknowledged out loud on LRC or Mises.org.

  10. Ideas are not goods? Since when? Why do people buy books, go to school, pay to advertize, or do a whole host of other activities associated with knowledge production and consumption?

    People who buy books and cds (in a free economy) are paying for the physical medium an idea is preserved upon. People who pay for advertisement are renting the (use of the) property that they feel is most useful for spreading an idea.

    An idea is an arrangement, a sequence. It is not a physical thing. It can only be represented by physical things. Surely this is elementary, why are we discussing it?

  11. Mises is here to spread an idea, which is not a good at all.

    Ideas are not goods? Since when? Why do people buy books, go to school, pay to advertize, or do a whole host of other activities associated with knowledge production and consumption?

  12. I think, Dear Johns, in this instance you may be confusing cooperation with collectivism. Obviously, in any cooperative organization, the opinions/goals of some are voluntarily sublimated to achieve the wider goals of the organization. This is a good thing (to a point), since it enables the organization to focus on achieving greater goals than any one person could achieve on their own. Individualism doesn’t reject these voluntary arrangements, and it’s rather anticapitalist to think it would.

    Mises isn’t a collectivist movement, it’s a voluntary organization. And to say that they are somehow “collectivist” because they advertise one belief over another insinuates that they are somehow silencing/suppressing the other side of the debate. Members who disagree with Lew’s stance on immigration aren’t threatened or dismissed, they’re simply not represented. That’s fine, it’s Lew’s joint, he’s not obligated to represent the opinions of all members, whatever the merits of their case. Trying to make it look that way is as disingenuous as it gets, and you know it.

    Finally, as to this piece of nonsense:
    Movement libertarians remain stuck in a collectivist mindset, they attempt to produce liberty as a public good.

    I will say that it is amazing to me that you could call yourself an anarchist and believe this. Mises is here to spread an idea, which is not a good at all. And just like any true non-statist musician, preacher, poet, inventor, or other professional idea-maker, Mises cannot expect to sell their ideas as a good. The only real good the idea-maker has to sell is the feeling of well-being that is exchanged in return for fiscal support rendered by fans: truly a subjectively valuable good.

    You guys started off on the wrong foot and now you’re just making it worse. Mises has done more in ~20 years to spread the message of intelligent economic theory and freedom than you curmudgeon’s could accomplish in 1000. Ideology does not generate and spread in an isolated vacuum. It must be spread and shared. I am living proof of the effectiveness of the Mises Institute’s mission, without which I would still be a happy pro-Bush Republicrat. Criticize their missteps all you want, but it is foolishness to oppose their existence.

  13. Micha,

    Even if you believe privately produced liberty is more reliable than publicly produced liberty, you should still be in favor of publicly produced liberty as a supplement to privately produced liberty, if increasing liberty and decreasing coercion is your goal.

    I’m pointing out that movement people are largely wasting their time. I don’t deny it’s their time to waste, but they could do better by focusing on private measures.

  14. “Libertarian” is a catch-all category, it’s fruitless to try to define it in terms of one coherent principle at this point; so ya, you guys can be collectivist libertarians.

    Awesome. Do I get a secret decoder ring?

    ‘Liberty produced as a public good is preferable to liberty produced not at all.”

    Why would that be the alternative?

    I’m not saying there is only one alternative. Even if you believe privately produced liberty is more reliable than publicly produced liberty, you should still be in favor of publicly produced liberty as a supplement to privately produced liberty, if increasing liberty and decreasing coercion is your goal.

  15. Aaron G: “People who buy books and cds (in a free economy) are paying for the physical medium an idea is preserved upon.”

    Right. That’s why blank books and CD’s would cost exactly the same as those containing information.


  16. Right. That’s why blank books and CD’s would cost exactly the same as those containing information.

    “Blank” is a little misleading in context…to you, a cd with a bunch of japanese is not much different from a cd with a bunch of english on it. Literally I suppose it is nonsensical to speak of buying an idea, since ideas can’t be put in plastic bags, but I thought “goods and servces” were part of an economy…doesn’t this sort of thing fall under “service” or some such concept? Like if I take my car down to have it repaired, I didn’t pay for something “physical” in the sense that I paid for something I can put in my pocket, but I did pay for something; I know that because my car works better after taking it in to the shop.

  17. Right. That’s why blank books and CD’s would cost exactly the same as those containing information.

    A few points to make:
    1. We live in a State that enforces artificial IP rights, so of course they don’t cost the same.

    2. People pay different prices for the same thing, arranged differently, all the time. This is called subjective value. I will pay more for a stylish bouqet than I will for the independent flowers, unceremoniously bunched together. Of course, the rarer the arrangement, the more I will pay for it.

    3. Simply because I can arrange something to represent an idea does not mean that the idea itself is possessed by the object. A book does not own the language it’s written in, it is merely a an arrangement of ink that other people, because they share MY ideas about language, can interpret and gain meaning from.

    Again, this is old ground, and silly that I should have to recover it.

  18. A point at issue here might be what you mean by “society” as it relates to the individual. I don’t consider society to mean anything other than the sum of its parts. But I also don’t consider the rights of the individual to be an immutable trump card applicable to any and all conceivable situations, though the heavens may fall.

      I think one is disqualified from libertarianism if their political ideas don’t consider each and every right of the individual to be immutable by a collective. If your ethics don’t disallow in principle and practice the forcing of innocents against their will, then this will bleed over into your political ideas. When it does, the political ideas become practically indistinguishable from ordinary republicanism.

      It doesn’t matter if consequentialist economic models show the innocents would be better off under the implementation, republican economists make those claims too, and arguably sometimes they are right (depending of course the dimensions of “better off”). If a set of political ideas allow for the possible use of force in their implementation, then I would say the proponent of those ideas is not a libertarian.

  19. I’m curious, this doesn’t seem to explain then why people download e-books. The physical medium on which the idea is to be preserved is something that, presumably, the person already owns.

    First, see my point about artificial IP.

    Second, I may pay a maid to rearrange my furniture, providing greater subjective value to those things in my living room, even though I already own them. You are paying for the use of someone’s labor.

  20. People who buy books and cds (in a free economy) are paying for the physical medium an idea is preserved upon. People who pay for advertisement are renting the (use of the) property that they feel is most useful for spreading an idea.

      I’m curious, this doesn’t seem to explain then why people download e-books. The physical medium on which the idea is to be preserved is something that, presumably, the person already owns.

  21. Which is to say that people value and will pay for another’s labor to create ideas, too.

    Yes, but patronage doesn’t imply ownership of those ideas that come from it. I’ve already covered that you can value the use of property (this includes labor). Where are you going with this, man? Are you trying to make a point or just walk me in circles?

    BTW, I think J.K. Rowling is shit, so I wouldn’t pay for either of them. But your mileage may vary. The price of either would depend on the rarity of the item and the subjective value that buyers would place on it, in a free economy.

  22. Second, I may pay a maid to rearrange my furniture, providing greater subjective value to those things in my living room, even though I already own them. You are paying for the use of someone’s labor.

      Which is to say that people value and will pay for another’s labor to create ideas, too. But you initially said people don’t pay for the *ideas* represented in a book, they pay for (presumably because they only value) the physical book.

    First, see my point about artificial IP.

      Is it really your belief that absent IP protection by GovCo, a CD that contained a random “arrangement” of ones and zeroes when rendered on a CD player would cost the same as a CD that rendered a different “arrangement” of ones and zeroes, say the latest work of JK Rowling?

  23. “Do the members of the Cato Insitute or the Mises Institute think that food is best produced by collective action?”

    What on earth are you talking about. If the world’s farms were all one-man jobs, most of us would starve. Most things are best done by collective action. A man on his own is a puny thing. What’s bad is forced collectivism, but nobody was ever forced to join Cato or Mises.


  24. Second, I may pay a maid to rearrange my furniture, providing greater subjective value to those things in my living room, even though I already own them. You are paying for the use of someone’s labor.

    Are you implying that labor is not a good? Whether you want to look at intellectual property as a good or service, it is still a good. And I mentioned education, which avoids the IP issue altogether. Education is a service, namely, the service of teaching skills and ideas. If ideas are not a good, why do people pay to learn them?

  25. People who buy books and cds (in a free economy) are paying for the physical medium an idea is preserved upon. People who pay for advertisement are renting the (use of the) property that they feel is most useful for spreading an idea.

    An idea is an arrangement, a sequence. It is not a physical thing. It can only be represented by physical things. Surely this is elementary, why are we discussing it?

    The question of whether intellectual property can and/or should be protected has nothing whatsoever so do with whether intellectual property is an economic good. The fact that people are willing to pay for it, even if the scarcity is somewhat artificial, makes it an economic good. As long as a good is scarce, and someone values it, and thus can be traded in a market, it is an economic good.

  26. Yes, but patronage doesn’t imply ownership of those ideas that come from it.

      Of course, but so what? Micha countered your claim that ideas aren’t goods and cited books as an example. You countered back and said people don’t buy ideas, they buy physical books. So now, how does reminding us that book buyers don’t own the ideas within them bolster your counter claim? What is your point? People will pay for many things they then don’t own as a result. But that doesn’t support the claim that ideas aren’t goods.

    I’ve already covered that you can value the use of property (this includes labor).

      Yes, and it’s generally understood that when a person says, “I value that book,” they don’t mean the paper.” Strictly speaking they would say, “I paid for a copy of the ideas in the book, not, per se, the physical paper.” In other words, the “good” is the idea(s). You had it backwards.

  27. I think one is disqualified from libertarianism if their political ideas don’t consider each and every right of the individual to be immutable by a collective.

    You’ve just disqualified David Friedman, Randy Barnett, and countless others from libertarianism. Of course, if you restrict libertarianism to only natural rights deontoligists, this follows. But I don’t see why we should make that restriction.

    If a set of political ideas allow for the possible use of force in their implementation, then I would say the proponent of those ideas is not a libertarian.

    If a set of political ideas doesn’t allow for the possible use of force in their implementation, though the heavens may fall, then I would say the proponent of those ideas is a complete and utter fool.

  28. Julius: What on earth are you talking about. If the world’s farms were all one-man jobs…

    The world’s farms aren’t run by the collective-movement method (“Hey, guys, let’s all work together and grow some vegetables. We can be the Carrot Institute.”) Sorry if that wasn’t clear from the context.

  29. If a set of political ideas doesn’t allow for the possible use of force in their implementation, though the heavens may fall, then I would say the proponent of those ideas is a complete and utter fool.

      I intended to write in this sentence, as I did in the one before, “the use of force against innocents.” With that my point stands.

    You’ve just disqualified David Friedman, Randy Barnett, and countless others from libertarianism. Of course, if you restrict libertarianism to only natural rights deontoligists, this follows. But I don’t see why we should make that restriction.

      I had no intention to define liberatarians as only deontologists. I was thinking maybe there was a test to discover who isn’t a libertarian, not who is one. Instead of trying to find a definition that accomodates everyone who claims to be a libertarian, why not look to the existing principles of the libertarian platform? If the implementation of one’s political ideas would violate one or more of those principles, it seems to me that would disqualify them from membership. What do you see wrong with that approach? Libertarianism ostensibly is the party of principle you know. Go look at the platform fundamentals at lp.org

  30. Rod,

    “Let me just ask you straight away, John. Do you think someone could rightly be called a libertarian if they condone in their political implementation the use of force against innocents?”

    Yes, because it’s a loosely defined category.

    “Ask yourself, what’s the point of a classification if it allows all characteristics and disallows none? Such a classification is meaningless.”

    It’s vague, not meaningless. I don’t think the word is terribly useful in a lot of contexts.

  31. Then who’s not in the family? Are you saying you can think of no necessary characteristic of all members of the class Libertarian? Orin Hatch “resembles” a libertarian. So is he an instance of a libertarian? Or are you suggesting such a question is unanswerable?

    Bill O’Reilly? Not in the family. Hillary Clinton? Nope. Bill Maher? Nope. Socialized medicine and the war on drugs are two issues that come to mind as topics that would exclude those who hold non-libertarian positions from the label. But there are definitely hard cases. Brink Lindsay? Probably. Thomas Jefferson? Perhaps. William F. Buckley? Possible, but not likely.


    First of all, the Libertarian Party does not get to define what libertarianism means.

    But they very well better know what it means!

    Why? Does the Republican Party know what conservativism means? Does the Democratic Party know what modern liberalism means? Who knows?

    You’re the only so-called libertarian I’ve e-spoken with who doesn’t absolutely denounce the initiation of force against innocents when seeking to achieve political or social goals.

    Have you never spoken with an honest minarchist? Or a libertarian economist? Or any libertarian who believes that large scale wars are sometimes justified, even if we know ex ante that the war will cause the deaths of innocent civilians?

    Whether you like it or not, the denunciation of initiating force in that context is a defining characteristic of a Libertarian.

    All those who denounce the initiation of force against innocents may be libertarians, but not all libertarians denounce the initiation of force under all conceivable circumstances.

    Don’t you understand we’re all going to be better off? The whiz-kids on the board have already spun the econometric models, Mr. Ghertner. We don’t expect you to understand all that, but all of us really are going to be better off.

    You might want to recheck your econometric models after I call my private defense agency and make your efforts extremely costly.

  32. Yes, because it’s a loosely defined category.

    Evidently then so loose that it wraps dems and republicans, too. How handy.

    Everyone, it turns out is, could be, or might even be a libertarian! Kinda like what the Unitarian church is to religion I guess.

  33. Bill O’Reilly? Not in the family.

    Why not?

    Hillary Clinton? Nope.

    On what basis?

    Bill Maher? Nope.

    Maher resembles a lot of libertarian-sounding causes. Why not??

    Socialized medicine and the war on drugs are two issues that come to mind as topics that would exclude those who hold non-libertarian positions from the label.

    Whatever for? On what specific basis are these people excluded?

    After all….

    <Ghertner>And what better reason to initiate force than to achieve desirable social goals?</Ghertner>

  34. I’m saying (correctly) that this is a statement of principle and a class characteristic of Big-L libertarianism. I’m not making this up, it’s all right here.

    All this demonstrates is that I don’t fit the requirements of the Big-L Libertarians. But this conversation is about Small-l libertarians.

    Besides, I think Ghertner claims to be an anarcho-capitalist, and yet he doesn’t categorically denounce the use of force against innocents in his political prescriptions, so either he’s not really an AC-er, or NIOF is not synonymous with AC as you said.

    Is David Friedman an anarcho-capitalist?

    And let me make this crystal clear; I am not asserting that anyone who denounces the use of force against innocents in their political prescriptions is necessarily Libertrarian. That would be a logical error — not all black birds are crows. But if you are a crow, you’re black; if you are a Libertarian you denounce the use of force against innocents (in your political prescriptions).

    I think you’ve got that precisely backwards. Those who subscribe to the NAP are a subset of the class libertarian, and not the other way around.

  35. There should be some word for that, but I don’t see how you can make the case that the word is “Libertarian”. If that were a definining characteristic then [l]ibertarian would be a synonym for anarcho-capitalist, politically. But it’s not.

    This is a bit unclear, John. By “some word for that” do you mean some word for the denunciation of the use of force against innocents in political implementations? I’m not advocating we coin a single word for that, I could care less. I’m saying (correctly) that this is a statement of principle and a class characteristic of Big-L libertarianism. I’m not making this up, it’s all right here.

    Now, any self-professed libertarian can reject one or more principles of the party platform, even this one, but then it seems to me one has no business claiming to be a member of the class. Go create your own class with different characteristics.

    Besides, I think Ghertner claims to be an anarcho-capitalist, and yet he doesn’t categorically denounce the use of force against innocents in his political prescriptions, so either he’s not really an AC-er, or NIOF is not synonymous with AC as you said.

    And let me make this crystal clear; I am not asserting that anyone who denounces the use of force against innocents in their political prescriptions is necessarily Libertrarian. That would be a logical error — not all black birds are crows. But if you are a crow, you’re black; if you are a Libertarian you denounce the use of force against innocents (in your political prescriptions).

  36. Ok. First off, I have to mention that I was converted to libertarianism from left-liberalism by the much-derided Ogden. You aren’t “either libertarian or not” – there are shades of gray. I did not receive my libertarianism in a single moment, in a divine flash of inspiration from God. I realized that Jesse was right over a period of several weeks, and have been readjusting my thinking since. When did I cross the boundary between libertarianism and non-libertarianism? In which moment did I turn from black to white? I didn’t – I turned shades of gray first.

    As has already been pointed out, it is ridiculous to label all organizations composed of multiple people as collectives in the coercive state. People choose to work in a job for a business organization, or choose to support the Mises or Cato insitutes. These are voluntary activities, quite consistent with libertarianism! If you don’t agree with the views or activities of Mises or Cato, you are free to leave!

    And no, you don’t have to compromise your message. Just don’t act like a self-righteous bastard. Reveal your views a little at a time. If you can isolate your disagreements with a non-libertarian, it is much easier for them to see your point of view than if your argument just consists of “DOWN WITH GOVERNMENT!!!”.

    Just my $0.02

  37. The problem is not that Mises and Cato are separate organisations. The problem is that some individuals at those places indulge in ad hominem attacks, when they should be focusing on arguments. This is nothing to do with individualism or collectivism. It is do with not being rude.

  38. If a set of political ideas doesn’t allow for the possible use of force in their implementation, though the heavens may fall, then I would say the proponent of those ideas is a complete and utter fool.

    I intended to write in this sentence, as I did in the one before, “the use of force against innocents.” With that my point stands.

    As does mine. I know what you meant to say. I obviously wasn’t criticizing pacifism.

    I had no intention to define liberatarians as only deontologists. I was thinking maybe there was a test to discover who isn’t a libertarian, not who is one.

    There is no such test that I am aware of. The term, like many other terms, especially those which describe political ideologies, is more of a family resemblance than a rigid category.

    Instead of trying to find a definition that accomodates everyone who claims to be a libertarian, why not look to the existing principles of the libertarian platform? If the implementation of one’s political ideas would violate one or more of those principles, it seems to me that would disqualify them from membership. What do you see wrong with that approach? Libertarianism ostensibly is the party of principle you know. Go look at the platform fundamentals at lp.org

    First of all, the Libertarian Party does not get to define what libertarianism means. Second, the Libertarian Party platform is intentionally vague, so as not to upset various libertarian factions. Third, libertarian consequentialists would probably agree with much of the platform, even though they wouldn’t rule out the use of force in principle. Of course, this means that libertarian consequentialists wouldn’t be able to commit to the Libertarian Party’s oh-so-silly “statement of principle,” thereby excluding anyone who “believes in or advocates the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.” And what better reason to initiate force than to achieve desirable social goals?

  39. I think you’ve got that precisely backwards. Those who subscribe to the NAP are a subset of the class libertarian, and not the other way around.

    I didn’t have it backwards. The logic was correct. I was attempting to persuade JTK of something that I believe is true, to wit: that the classification of Libertarianism excludes people who would condone force against innocents in their politics.

    I find it very curious indeed that throughout this back ‘n forth you keep dropping names of people you insist are libertarians, but you provide no basis for that claim. Then you drop the names of people you say aren’t in the “family,” but again without any basis for that claim. Empty assertions.

    And you didn’t answer my question. Is Orin Hatch a libertarian or not? If so, on what basis, if not, why not?

  40. It’s vague, not meaningless. I don’t think the word is terribly useful in a lot of contexts.

    Would you give me an example of a context where it is useful and meaningful? And what would you want the hearer to understand when you spoke the word, “Libertarian.”

  41. “Now, any self-professed libertarian can reject one or more principles of the party platform, even this one, but then it seems to me one has no business claiming to be a member of the class. Go create your own class with different characteristics.”

    We’re talking about a politcal party, not a class. I don’t see why a party member couldn’t feel that a faction of the party had taken control of the platform for now, but that this was not sufficient reason to abandon the party. Factions rise and fall within parties. There’s no reason at all why the next LP platform can’t endose minarchy. If they ever succeeded in significantly broadening their party base the next platform might well do just that.

  42. Glen,

    Look, absent IP protection by GovCo, booksellers would continue to have “all books on this shelf only $2.00” sales. But the latest book by JK Rowling wouldn’t be among them. Why? Because there’s a much higher demand for her books than old paperbacks. And that higher demand doesn’t exist because of IP protection by GovCo. Similarly, in Hong Kong, I expect purveyors of pirated software would jack up the price of, say, W2000 discs if they saw them leaving the shelves in disproporionately higher numbers.

    The original claim (or implication) that blank CD’s sell for less than CD’s with “ideas” on them only because of GovCo IP protection of ideas, is ridiculous.

    And then I was admonished that this was all “old ground.”

  43. Sam: …the much-derided Ogden.

    Gosh, you’re new. This isn’t derision: “In fact, there are probably folks (like young Ogden, perhaps) who are caught up in this movement nonsense that could otherwise be looking for a way out of the cattle car.” On the contrary, this is sly praise at his ability to think outside the movement.

    Examples of my derision include:
    Lew Rockwell Likes International Law
    Do Good Guys Use Newspeak?
    Why I Hate Conservatives

    You aren’t “either libertarian or not” – there are shades of gray.

    Does the existence of gray mean that black and white don’t exist? If so, what’s your reference point for “gray”? To get to the root issue, do words mean anything at all?

    As has already been pointed out, it is ridiculous to label all organizations composed of multiple people as collectives in the coercive state.

    Unfortunately for you, I didn’t do that. I said: “…but still a battle of group vs. group: the concept of a principled individual is implicitly repudiated.” You yourself acknowledge this here: ‘If you don’t agree with the views or activities of Mises or Cato, you are free to leave!’

    Q: Where’s the place in a given movemnt for the principled individual who disagrees with that movement?
    A: Outside that movement.

    And no, you don’t have to compromise your message. Just don’t act like a self-righteous bastard. Reveal your views a little at a time.

    My “message” is that folks oughtn’t try and convince other folks of much of anything at all. Get this: there are very, very few people who can be convinced by rational argumentation. Most people get “convinced” by feel-good emotional appeals, and get unconvinced just as easily.

    Pop quiz: who’s been more successful at gaining converts, the LP or the Scientologists? Why?

    I have no need to “reveal my views a little at a time”, because people who can’t get over the “anarchist” hurdle all by their lonesome aren’t going to be of any use to me. I’m not planning some revolution where I’d need lots of empty-headed cannon fodder, or ten jillion “followers”. Look: I’m pretty well convinced that here, now, is the most freedom I’m ever going to see. But I’m not dead yet. My one crackpot scheme isn’t going to bring down the State, but maybe someone else’s will. One thing’s for sure, and that is that thinktank policy wonking about a more efficient government and evangelizing the gospel of the free market aren’t going to do anything for me. Most likely, liberty will come when someone can make a profit by providing it. Less likely, liberty will come when ten-thousand gnats prove too much for the State to handle. Least likely, I’ll magically find a hole in the cattle car and escape by myself.

    You’ll note that I’m not considering the idea that someone’s going to gather the mass of feebs and idiots out there, one at a time, and hold their hands while they get used to the idea that there’s never going to be any more “free” stuff, and they’ll have to live their own lives without Big Mommy and Big Daddy, and that it will be that way forever. Because that’s what it boils down to.

  44. You’ll note that I’m not considering the idea that someone’s going to gather the mass of feebs and idiots out there, one at a time, and hold their hands while they get used to the idea that there’s never going to be any more “free” stuff, and they’ll have to live their own lives without Big Mommy and Big Daddy, and that it will be that way forever. Because that’s what it boils down to.

    You know Lopez, I think you’re right about this, certainly…I was talking to a (female) friend the other day about ancient Greece and sent her a link from Long’s webpage:

    http://www.praxeology.net/civsoc.htm

    She later said there was some interesting stuff about Athenian society, but that Dr. Long displayed an “astounding ignorance of the historical record” and was trying to promote radical, libertarian ideas, at which point she visibly shuddered. I figured debating the nonaggression axiom at that point was probably a fruitless task…

  45. JTK: There should be some word for that, but I don’t see how you can make the case that the word is “Libertarian”.

    Like Curt at sellingwaves.com said, “…today the English language is a maiden whose honor is hardly worth defending anymore.”

  46. Glen Raphael: So yes, absent government IP protection there’s no premium for intellectual content on a CD.

    It doesn’t have to be government IP protection. Harware licenceing could become the norm if the government didn’t subsidize software developers’ licence enforcement costs. Note that there isn’t a limit in principle to the complexity of the hardware licence – it just has to be complex enough that it isn’t cost-effective to duplicate.

  47. John,

    As I pointed out to Ghertner, “the platform” may not be responsible for doing the defining, but if there are such *necessary* characteristics one ought to be able to consult the platform and see what they are. Do you disagree with that much?

    Let me just ask you straight away, John. Do you think someone could rightly be called a libertarian if they condone in their political implementation the use of force against innocents?

    Ask yourself, what’s the point of a classification if it allows all characteristics and disallows none? Such a classification is meaningless.

  48. We’re talking about a politcal party, not a class.

    Btw, I’m not sure what you intended to mean by this.

    The reason anyone bothers to affiliate themselves with a party is because it conveys something useful about the person. It’s a shorthand way of quickly classifying you on a political basis, whether you think so or not that’s the way it works.

    If John says, “I’m a libertarian,” then we can ascribe some characteristics to John without any further qualification from him. In this sense, a politcal party very much is a class of a type of politcal ideology. The classification by no means tells us *everything* about your particular ideology, your individual views on this or that issue, but it does tell us something necessary about your ideology.

  49. We’re talking about a politcal party, not a class. I don’t see why a party member couldn’t feel that a faction of the party had taken control of the platform for now, but that this was not sufficient reason to abandon the party.

    It’s not a reason to abandon your individual principles, no, but it very well may be a good reason to suspend your mebership in the party, until such time as it became realigned, but permanently terminating your membership if it didn’t.

    There’s no reason at all why the next LP platform can’t endose minarchy. If they ever succeeded in significantly broadening their party base the next platform might well do just that.

    A minimum state wouldn’t require abandoning the necessary charateristic of NIOF against innocents. Changing your views on the position you take on various issues doesn’t necessarily mean you have to abandon any defining characteristics to do so.

  50. It doesn’t have to be government IP protection. Harware licenceing could become the norm if the government didn’t subsidize software developers’ licence enforcement costs. Note that there isn’t a limit in principle to the complexity of the hardware licence – it just has to be complex enough that it isn’t cost-effective to duplicate.

    We run a great deal of proprietary scientific software where I work, most all of which is under software license control. The government isn’t subsidizing the developers of these software in the same manner that I think you mean they subsidize Microsoft software via copyright law. Microsoft could fairly easily use a software licensing technique to forbid unlicensed use of their office products, but there would be some likely big problems in doing so. I won’t go into that.

  51. Rod,

    ” You’re the only so-called libertarian I’ve e-spoken with who doesn’t absolutely denounce the initiation of force against innocents when seeking to achieve political or social goals. Whether you like it or not, the denunciation of initiating force in that context is a defining characteristic of a Libertarian.”

    There should be some word for that, but I don’t see how you can make the case that the word is “Libertarian”. If that were a definining characteristic then ibertarian would be a synonym for anarcho-capitalist, politically. But it’s not.

  52. <i>Is it really your belief that absent IP protection by GovCo, a CD that contained a random “arrangement” of ones and zeroes when rendered on a CD player would cost the same as a CD that rendered a different “arrangement” of ones and zeroes, say the latest work of JK Rowling?<i><p>

    For what it’s worth, when I went to the Golden Arcade in Hong Kong a few years ago to shop for bootleg CDs I discovered that all CDs in a given store were in fact selling for the exact same price regardless of what was on them. The price was per CD, so a 2-disc RedHat distribution (on which the information content would be free in the US) cost the same as a 2-disc copy of Windows 2000 or Adobe Photoshop (which would cost hundreds of dollars in the US). It wasn’t worth differentiating as far as the shop owners were concerned; everthing in the store cost the same price. The base price was maybe $2 US per CD, which covered duplication costs, printing costs for the sleeve insert, rental of the retail space, and probably a few bribes.

    So yes, absent government IP protection there’s no premium for intellectual content on a CD.

  53. Damned fine post, John.

    We obviously live in the Age of Institution. (I define an institution as 2 or more people looking for enemies or unbelievers. Fortunately, they only see other institutions in
    this twisted quest.)

    In order to attempt to stay out of the Coming War of All Against All, (“ur either
    fur us or agin us”) will be a bitch but I consider it a challenge.

    The Grand and Glorious Institutional Mind Rape will most probably be the plague that
    will be the driving force to the coming darker age.

    In the meantime, all I can do is withdraw my support in all the ways I can think
    of.

    Put me down as the forty-third.

    http://jomama.tblog.com

  54. There is no such test that I am aware of. The term, like many other terms, especially those which describe political ideologies, is more of a family resemblance than a rigid category.

    Then who’s not in the family? Are you saying you can think of no necessary characteristic of all members of the class Libertarian? Orin Hatch “resembles” a libertarian. So is he an instance of a libertarian? Or are you suggesting such a question is unanswerable?

    First of all, the Libertarian Party does not get to define what libertarianism means.

    But they very well better know what it means!

    Third, libertarian consequentialists would probably agree with much of the platform, even though they wouldn’t rule out the use of force in principle. Of course, this means that libertarian consequentialists wouldn’t be able to commit to the Libertarian Party’s oh-so-silly “statement of principle,” thereby excluding anyone who “believes in or advocates the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.” And what better reason to initiate force than to achieve desirable social goals?

    You’re the only so-called libertarian I’ve e-spoken with who doesn’t absolutely denounce the initiation of force against innocents when seeking to achieve political or social goals. Whether you like it or not, the denunciation of initiating force in that context is a defining characteristic of a Libertarian. I noted you twice in this paragraph left out the qualification: “against innocents”. It’s important that inlookers understand that, even if you do (and I’m not sure you do), so leave it in, plz.

    And what better reason to initiate force [against innocents] than to achieve desirable social goals?

    But of course! Fast forward to consequentialist society…

    <zoom to fisherman at Ghertner property>

    “Say there, Mr. Ghertner, me and my community-minded fishing buddies and the consequentialist township think your domicile is smack dab in the way of the sweetest fishing holes on the river. The community is fixin’ to relocate you up the hill a ways. Your view of the mountains will be better, your water well not so deep, and the septic oughta perk better up there. You win and we win!

    Oh, what’s that? You do want to move? Tisk tisk. Don’t you understand we’re all going to be better off? The whiz-kids on the board have already spun the econometric models, Mr. Ghertner. We don’t expect you to understand all that, but all of us really are going to be better off.

    <fade to fisherman waiving goodbye>

    “Bulldozers coming next week, Mr. Ghertner. We’re all libertarians you know, best you get on board, too.”

  55. RKN,

    Ask yourself, what’s the point of a classification if it allows all characteristics and disallows none? Such a classification is meaningless.

    There are a number of words in the English language, and in human language in general, that do not have strict, exact boundaries. This is why I said the class “libertarian” is defined more by family resemblance than by any strict rules of inclusion or exclusion.

    From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Wittgenstein:

    It is here that Wittgenstein’s rejection of general explanations, and definitions based on sufficient and necessary conditions, is best pronounced. Instead of these symptoms of the philosopher’s “craving for generality”, he points to ‘family resemblance’ as the more suitable analogy for the means of connecting particular uses of the same word. There is no reason to look, as we have done traditionally — and dogmatically — for one, essential core in which the meaning of a word is located and which is, therefore, common to all uses of that word. We should, instead, travel with the word’s uses through “a complicated network of similarities, overlapping and criss-crossing” (PI 66). Family resemblance also serves to exhibit the lack of boundaries and the distance from exactness that characterize different uses of the same concept. Such boundaries and exactness are the definitive traits of form — be it Platonic form, Aristotelian form, or the general form of a proposition adumbrated in the Tractatus. It is from such forms that applications of concepts can be deduced, but this is precisely what Wittgenstein now eschews in favor of appeal to similarity of a kind with family resemblance.

  56. You might want to recheck your econometric models after I call my private defense agency and make your efforts extremely costly.

    Nope, sorry. Ya see, the township has a much bigger & badder defense agency than you, and it turns out that no way is your defense agency going to risk its reputation on behalf of a single customer, against an agency that’s representing far more people than yours. Sorry, citizen, you loose.

  57. There are a number of words in the English language, and in human language in general, that do not have strict, exact boundaries. This is why I said the class “libertarian” is defined more by family resemblance than by any strict rules of inclusion or exclusion.

    Bill Maher, by virtue of a number of his attitudes (his position on drugs and the draft, to name two), resembles a “familial libertarian”, to use your lingo. What’s the problem? You said he isn’t one. The question is WHY?

  58. Julius, quoting Rothbard: …a corporation, a bridge club, or any other organization…

    …Except that a bridge club can succeed with four members. Can a libertarian movement accomplish its goal with only four memebers? No?

    Then what course of action does that suggest for a “movement”?

    The individual libertarian, who places the triumph of liberty high on his value scale, decides to join a movement which is requisite to the achievement of his goal, just as does the member of a bridge club or the investor in a steel manufacturing corporation.”

    Question for you, Julius:

    If a bridge club or a steel company had gone for three decades without playing a game of bridge or manufacturing any steel, would you still want to join them?

    Why or why not?

  59. I find it very curious indeed that throughout this back ‘n forth you keep dropping names of people you insist are libertarians, but you provide no basis for that claim. Then you drop the names of people you say aren’t in the “family,” but again without any basis for that claim. Empty assertions.

    When you or I or anyone else is asked to explain what a term means, one of the ways that we often do so–especially when the term expresses a “family resemblence” concept or, for whatever other reason, has vague boundaries–is to point out paradigm cases of people or things that are picked out by the term. (If I ask you what an apple is, one of the most useful things you could do is hold up an apple for me to see.) Good paradigm cases are illustrative; they are cases that are clear enough in the context, and presented in such a way that, with one or two or a few cases, you could go on picking out more examples on your own. Another way that you might help someone to understand would be to pick out contrasting examples–people or things that clearly aren’t covered by the term. Again, the expectation is that the case is clear enough and you know or can easily find out enough about it in order to go on on your own.

    This is something we do all the time–both with terms (such as “triangle”) which actually are susceptible to a conventional definition in terms of genus and differentia or a set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions, and also with terms (such as “game”, or, Micha claims, “libertarian”) that are not. In fact, it’s one way that we often test whether a putative definition is adequate–a definition you give for a term has to be wrong if it rules out something that any reasonable speaker of the language would recognize as a paradigm case of that term.

    If you claim not to understand why David Friedman (to take an example) is counted as a libertarian, whereas Hillary Clinton is not, then it’s pretty hard not to think that you’re just being perverse out of a misguided philosophical scruple. I am sure that some more direct explanation could be given (in terms of, say, the fact that David Friedman supports the complete abolition of monopoly goverment whereas Hillary Clinton favors substantial expansions to it). But you musn’t mistake elucidations such as these for giving a definition of “libertarian”. They’re not. If “libertarian” is (as Micha claims) a family resemblence concept, then there is no traditional definition for the term. Pointing out paradigm cases is about the best that you are going to get; talking a bit more about the salient features of those cases is not giving some more perfect definition of the term. It’s just an attempt to get you to see the paradigm cases in the right way, so that you can use them to go on as you should.

    Do you think that the lack of a precise definition makes the term meaningless? If so, Christ, why?

  60. On the idea that working “collectively” towards liberty is a bad idea:

    “Some libertarians have criticized the very concept of “movement” as “collectivist,” as somehow violating the principles of individualism. But it should be clear that there is nothing in the least collectivist in individuals voluntarily joining together for the advancement of common goals. A libertarian movement is no more “collectivist” than a corporation, a bridge club, or any other organization; it is curious that some libertarians, while conceding the merits of all other such “collective” organizations, balk only at one that would advance the cause of liberty itself. Neither does joining a movement mean that the joiner must in some way submerge his individual sovereignty to the movement or the organization, any more than the bridge club member must submerge his individuality in order to advance the playing of bridge. The individual libertarian, who places the triumph of liberty high on his value scale, decides to join a movement which is requisite to the achievement of his goal, just as does the member of a bridge club or the investor in a steel manufacturing corporation.”

    Rothbard 1977 (http://www.lprc.org/strategies.html)

  61. Further, the term [libertarian] is understood to include not only Objectivists or Rothbardians or Contractualists, or Consequentialists; but anyone who reaches what could be called broadly libertarian policy agreements by whatever means they so happen to choose.

      Of course I don’t see how it could be otherwise given this “definition.” How could people who “reach broadly libertarian policy agreements ” being classified as anything but libertarian? The definition is circular.

      Regardless, if this were the case then the people responsible for the statements about the Libertarian party would not broadcast that it is the party of principle, instead they would broadcast it is the party of a particular set of policies. I disagree that most people familiar with “libertarian” understand it to mean a person who agrees with a group of political conclusions. That’s an economically tendentious view of what galvanizes libertarians — at least in my ever so humble opinion it is.

      I don’t believe a group of political conclusions is the basis for sameness here, rather it is the ethics underlying and driving the politics where sameness is revealed.

      Give me 30 minutes to probe someone’s ethics and I can tell you with startling accuracy what their politics is.

  62. John:

    I don’t know what best libertarian strategy should be. Far greater minds than mine have wrestled with that question for decades and haven’t cracked it. Hell, Rothbard wavered all over the place on this issue.

    However, my tentative opinion is that the most efficient way forward is probably to concentrate on the opinion formers, rather than the masses. Proselytising the masses is an enormous task and for the reasons you give, it is questionable how much we could achieve anyway, even if we had the resources (which we don’t).

    So that leaves concentrating on the the media, intellectuals, politicians. wealthy business-classes, lawyers, judges etc. There are fewer of them, if we capture some of them we get more bang for the buck and they are educated enough to understand the arguments.

    How do we do that? Inevitably it needs organised and well informed libertarian groups – people like Cato and Mises in the U.S., the ASI and IEA in the UK – and a high quality libertarian “cadre” -people who know the literature and the arguments and can put the case persuasively and attractively. This means that membership quality is more important than membership quantity.

    But I could be entirely wrong. So if other people want to do it a different way – the very best of british to them. It is just that to condemn one particular strategy – which you seem to be doing – requires a very high degree of confidence that you are right. Can you be so sure?

  63. All definitions are circular, in some sense, because language is circular. “Libertarian” is simply a description of certain policy conclusions, in the same way the terms “modern liberal” and “conservative” characterize certain policy positions. Libertarians can claim to adhere to strict principle all they want — perhaps some do — but that is not what makes them libertarians.

      It isn’t the adherance to principles, per se, that makes them libertarian, it’s the adherance to the NIOF (against innocents) principle in particular. No doubt there are many libertarians who haven’t given any thought to “certain policy conclusions,” so obviously that can’t be the common denominator. In fact that’s why people like this go to places like the lp web site, to begin to find explanations of how libertarian principles could be applied in a social context.

    Kennedy calls me a ethical nihilist. I call myself a ethical subjectivist. When I’m not rejecting ethics altogether, I’m embracing some form of rule-utilitarianism, or at least some form of consequentialism. I certainly reject Objective natural rights. And yet you and I probably share more in common in terms of politics than most people who would fit your definition of “libertarian”. So what does that mean? You tell me.

      As a libertarian, I’m all for good consequences, until such time as achieving those consequences requires forcing innocents against their will. Such a policy, of course, would be a notably un-libertarian policy. Most notably in the context of a domestic policy.

  64. Julius: Far more people in 2004 now question the view that Government solutions are costless than was the case in 1974.

    What, ten folks as opposed to five? The Voter’s Guide just arrived in the mail today, and there ain’t much in the way of questioning government in there from bloody anyone. Dig it: even the LP candidate for Commisioner Of Public Lands (isn’t that funny, by itself?) wants to preserve public land for our future. Preserve public land for our future. Yeah. Thanks a bunch, Libertarians. Way to question the living fuck out of the cost of government solutions. At least all this terrorist/Iraq baloney has drowned out the LP’ers former quadrennial calls for legalizing drugs, and then taxing pot farmers to pay for various and sundry social welfare schemes.

    Look: virtually no-one stepping into a voting booth gives a shit about the cost of government solutions, because government force is utterly painless to wield. For every LP’er wonking off to the latest Mises.org essay on the hidden costs of government intervention, there’s a hundred folks out there who vote based on:

    * Which candidate seems “nicer”.
    * Who’s winning according to East Coast exit polls.
    * Who promises them the most loot.

    Those are all reasons I have personally heard. Think anyone is going to get anywhere in politics by promising the voters less “free” stuff?

    Meanwhile, I notice that you skipped my question about the logical direction for a libertarian movement to take once it discovers that it can’t accomplish its goal with its pitifully small membership.

    Do you agree that the logical thing for a libertarian movement to do to alleviate that is to try and attract more movement members?

  65. I don’t have time right now for a full reply, or to reply to your previous posts in this thread. But here are a few thoughts.

    David Friedman does not fit your definition of libertarian despite his support for the complete abolition of monopoly goverment. I don’t fit your definition either. Now, you are free to define your terms however you choose, but you should recognize that other people will find your arguments confusing if you use novel definitions. Most people who are familiar with the term libertarian understand it to mean a certain group of politicial conclusions, with almost no individual policy agreements or disagreements that make or break ones status in the larger group. Further, the term is understood to include not only Objectivists or Rothbardians or Contractualists, or Consequentialists; but anyone who reaches what could be called broadly libertarian policy agreements by whatever means they so happen to choose.

    Of course I don’t think the lack of precise definition makes the term meaningless. Many, if not most words lack a precise definition and yet are still useful for conveying information.

  66. John:

    “If a bridge club or a steel company had gone for three decades without playing a game of bridge or manufacturing any steel, would you still want to join them?
    Why or why not?”

    The implication, I presume, is that the “movement” has achieved nothing in 30 years. I think that is too gloomy a view. Far more people in 2004 now question the view that Government solutions are costless than was the case in 1974. And disenchantment with Government as a solution to social problems is widespread. I would claim that at least a little bit of that is due to the work of a huge variety of libertarian think-tanks, pressure-groups, parties, alliances etc.

  67. Now you might say that the elite are no more persuadable to free market ideas than the masses; because they too have their sticky fingers in the pie and are not going to give up the benefits any time soon. If so, then you are correct that free market arguments are a waste of time and so too is much of the organised libertarian movement.

    Yup.

    But then the central question is not whether libertarian ideas are palatable to the masses. It is whether they might be palatable to the elite.

    Um, I’m confused. “But then the central question…” doesn’t seem to follow from the conclusion that the elites aren’t persuadable. Can you clarify what you mean?

    Even then, the organised “movement” plays a role. It keeps libertarian ideas alive and provides a means for libertarians to meet others, learn and generally feel better.

    Alfred Jay Nock’s Remnant. That’s fair enough, Mises.org for example provides lots of good reference material. But the Remnant isn’t what most libertarian movement types see themselves as. The self-described “anarcho-pessimists” at The Last Ditch* are the only ones who come to mind.

    Second, what is the other game, anyway?

    Before giving you the answer, let me note that this is the point at which 19 out of 20 folks put their fingers into their ears and run away screaming. Here ’tis:

    I don’t know.

    That 95% of people I mentioned earlier will be frothing at the mouth with denial, now, saying that since I don’t know what to do either, everyone ought to try something they know won’t work instead of looking around for something that will. That probably reflects somehow on their ability as rational evangelists, but at that point in the conversation, further inquiry is futile.

    One possibility is that someone will find a way to make a profit providing freedom, ala The Revolution Will Be All Business. A gentleman by the name of Jim Bell proposed a system, once, that we here at No Treason do not advocate, not no way, not nohow. That system would, in theory, for academic purposes only, theoretically destroy government for ever and always. But since proposing it essentially got Bell put in Federal lockup, I don’t endorse it, even in theory.

    I don’t know what to do or where to look, but I take comfort in the fact that there’s an awful lot I don’t know. “Conventional wisdom” is often spectacularly wrong, and human innovation is often unexpectedly abundant. My lone crackpot scheme isn’t going to bring down the State, in fact it isn’t even aimed that high. But someone else’s might.

    It often amuses me that folks who spend whole academic careers pointing out the flaws with the principle of central planning and socialism in regards to producing cars, let’s say, immediately ditch all of that thought when they speak of social concerns. “Okay, here’s my plan. First, we convince folks to all work together and make liberty.” Um dood, nobody makes many cars by selflessly pitching in and working according to some master plan handed down from on high: they make cars because they can make a gazillion dollars doing so.

    Liberty’s a public good right now, it’d do better if it were converted into a private good.

    *Sorry, TLD, no link: your incessant veiled and not-so-veiled rants against Da Joos and praise of creepy, creepy creep Jared Taylor among others has turned even my stomach. Too bad, ya used to be well worth reading. Strike The Root still picks through your slop for the gems, though, so that gives me one more reason not to touch your hit-counter.

  68. Of course I don’t see how it could be otherwise given this “definition.” How could people who “reach broadly libertarian policy agreements ” being classified as anything but libertarian? The definition is circular.

    All definitions are circular, in some sense, because language is circular. “Libertarian” is simply a description of certain policy conclusions, in the same way the terms “modern liberal” and “conservative” characterize certain policy positions. Libertarians can claim to adhere to strict principle all they want — perhaps some do — but that is not what makes them libertarians.

    Regardless, if this were the case then the people responsible for the statements about the Libertarian party would not broadcast that it is the party of principle, instead they would broadcast it is the party of a particular set of policies.

    So now your standard for determining truth is the slogans put out by political parties? Please. I have some respect for the LP, but they don’t get to define terms for everyone. Nor do I think what they — and you — mean by “principle” is a particularly desirable attribute.

    I disagree that most people familiar with “libertarian” understand it to mean a person who agrees with a group of political conclusions. That’s an economically tendentious view of what galvanizes libertarians — at least in my ever so humble opinion it is.

    No other definition is broad enough to include all the various people to which the label “libertarian” is applied. Those associated with Cato, Mises, Reason, Independent Institute, Liberty Magazine, the LP, and so on and so forth do not all share the same principled moral views, but do share (roughly) the same political conclusions; namely, a much smaller size and scope for government than currently exists. Indeed, this is why Rand disassociated herself and her movement from libertarians – because libertarians were free to reach their political conclusions through widely diverging paths, and yet still be welcomed into the fold. Rand, and so it seems you as well, would have none of this. Unless we follow lockstep with Rand in our absolute belief in the “principle” of invisible, imperceptable, inalienable, all-powerful natural rights (or what Bentham rightly called “nonsense on stilts”), we get excluded from the party. Oh well.

    I don’t believe a group of political conclusions is the basis for sameness here, rather it is the ethics underlying and driving the politics where sameness is revealed.

    Give me 30 minutes to probe someone’s ethics and I can tell you with startling accuracy what their politics is.

    Kennedy calls me a ethical nihilist. I call myself a ethical subjectivist. When I’m not rejecting ethics altogether, I’m embracing some form of rule-utilitarianism, or at least some form of consequentialism. I certainly reject Objective natural rights. And yet you and I probably share more in common in terms of politics than most people who would fit your definition of “libertarian”. So what does that mean? You tell me.

  69. Julius:It is just that to condemn one particular strategy – which you seem to be doing – requires a very high degree of confidence that you are right.

    No, it merely requires a very high degree of confidence that that strategy is wrong. Which I have.

    However, my tentative opinion is that the most efficient way forward is probably to concentrate on the opinion formers…

    Remember, people who will fall for one bad argument will fall for another just as fast. The arguments for “free” stuff at taxpayer expense are both more numerous and more seductive than those of free-marketeers. Convincing the masses, either through feeb-at-a-time hand-holding or mass feeb-indoctrination, is a race to the bottom. Nobody who claims the mantle of “libertarian” ought to be able to effectively compete in it, because the most appealing-to-feeb arguments are inherently unlibertarian. Look: most people can’t be “educated”, because most people have a set of prejudices that they are comfortable with. Few people wish to change, and even fewer of them are capable of reasoning their way to a libertarian conclusion.

    Go read Rational Evangelism
    Won’t Work
    . See, the thing about rational evangelism is that it’s safe. It’s a nice, respectable position to take up, and you can blissfully waste your entire life dissecting LP election returns or Mises.org mailing list stats or whatever and feel really good that you’re accomplishing something.

    …people who know the literature and the arguments and can put the case persuasively and attractively.

    But they can’t put it honestly at the same time. Go reread Russell Madden’s quote, above, and tell me it isn’t the truth. Now, tell me how that can be made persuasive and attractive to the average Joe. It’s the libertarian movement dilemma: popularity or truth. To put it in math form, popularity + truth equals a constant. Generally, to become more popular, your argument needs to give up some truth, and vice versa.

    Is the truth ever popular? Before you jump in with a “yes”, think: in less than three weeks from now, untold millions of Americans are going to meander into the voting booth and mark a ballot for one of the two “real” candidates, both of whom are confirmed liars.

  70. Julius: What chance a private individual?

    Almost none.

    BTW, I followed up the Jim Bell thing. Shocking. As far as I can tell, he is a political prisoner pure and simple.

    Bell didn’t realize that these boys play for keeps. He’d have been much better off writing a bad sci-fi novel that incorporated his idea as a central plot device. Another man who had another idea used it as a plot device for a novel: one John Ross. Ross’ fictional idea is perhaps less dangerous to his fictional government in theory than Bell’s what with it being a public goods problem and all, and as fiction is certainly easier to ignore, but he still received some harassment from the JBT’s. The book might be worth your time, if you read it as philosophy rather than fiction. See Martha Stewart, Self-Incrimination, and You for an excerpt.

    But the reaction Bell received shows that they aren’t as self-confident as they otherwise appear to be – much like cops, the ruling elites are scared shitless by the fact that they’re outnumbered 100-to-1.

  71. John:

    Thanks for the links which I read (and some of the links from them, too).

    I can’t deny there is some truth in the game theoretic analysis of the State. Democracy can be seen as a kind of “public bad” in which self-interest leads to a result that is worse for all. It is certainly striking that all modern democracies virtually without exception seem to lead to a State in which about half of all our wealth is plundered. Libertarian and free market arguments may have made some small difference on the margin, but that is about all.

    Yet I don’t think you can deny that much the expansion of the State is internally generated, not voter or mass driven. By “internally” I mean a product of the ideology of the elite – pols, media, academics etc. If free market ideas can gain hold amongst the elite, that would make a huge difference even if the average joe coulldn’t care less.

    Now you might say that the elite are no more persuadable to free market ideas than the masses; because they too have their sticky fingers in the pie and are not going to give up the benefits any time soon. If so, then you are correct that free market arguments are a waste of time and so too is much of the organised libertarian movement.

    But then the central question is not whether libertarian ideas are palatable to the masses. It is whether they might be palatable to the elite. There we have three advantages. First, there are fewer of the elite and so the task of persuasion is more manageable simply in numerical terms. Second, they might be more likely to understand the arguments. Third, they are likely to be less fearful of the implications of unadulterated libertarianism. After all, the elite are hardly likely to be scared of the prospect of losing “public” schools, hospitals etc since they don’t use them anyway.

    Two other things.

    First, let’s suppose that persuasion at any level is hopeless – that the masses will always vote to enrich themselve and the elite will always enthusiastically aid and abet them (and enrich themselves in the process). Even then, the organised “movement” plays a role. It keeps libertarian ideas alive and provides a means for libertarians to meet others, learn and generally feel better. It may only be a small thing, but otherwise the world would be an even lonelier place for us.

    Second, what is the other game, anyway?

  72. “Um, I’m confused. “But then the central question…” doesn’t seem to follow from the conclusion that the elites aren’t persuadable. Can you clarify what you mean?”

    Sorry, all I meant was that the correctness of the argument I attribute to you (“you might say ..”) depends upon whether the elite are or are not more persuadable than the masses. If they are not, then you are right. If they are, then you could be wrong.

    As for the idea of making liberty into a private good, it is an interesting one. Rather like the smuggling entrepreneur in Kings of the High Frontier? But it is hard to see how it could be done without becoming a target of the State. Even when small States have tried it (e.g. small Carribean States selling passports, becoming tax havens etc) they tend to be sat upon by the EU and the U.S.A from a great height. What chance a private individual?

    BTW, I followed up the Jim Bell thing. Shocking. As far as I can tell, he is a political prisoner pure and simple.

    Best wishes

    Julius

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *