Petey Says: August 8th, 2009 at 9:03 am
Both Marxism and Libertarianism may sound great on paper, but the middle course between them actually produces the best long-term economic growth.
The idea of “Pro-Growth Progressivism” may be easy to mock, but it’s actually the correct answer to many, many questions.
Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 9:19 am
A more accurate version of libertarian theory is that it is based upon an idiosyncratic view of inherent (and arguably metaphysical) individual human rights that is strongly oriented to property rights and is extremely American in historical origin and flavor. Sitting atop this view of individual rights—which itself is sufficient and requires no utilitarian elaboration—is a whole bunch of utilitarian justification for a libertarian sociopolitical organization built around the notions that said organization results in the greatest overall material and psychological benefit.
This theoretical basis has three great weaknesses: first, the notion of inherent individual rights is eminently contestable. Second, the almost exclusive emphasis on individual property rights is idiosyncratic and myopic. Third, the utilitarian arguments for the benefits of the resulting sociopolitical organization are extraordinarily simplistic and are as often as not disproved by empirical fact.
In practice, libertarianism is a political philosophy which emphasizes the notion of virtue in selfishness and has as its historical genesis the exceptional American experience. As such, it appeals mostly to white American males who are moderately above-average in intelligence, economically secure, independently-minded, and prefer simplistic theoretical constructs for making political and moral decisions. It validates their own affluence/privilege not by group affiliation, but by inherent individual merit; and it likewise superficially validates the poverty and lack of privilege of others not on the basis of group affiliation, but inherent fault. In this it mimics a meritocratic view, which allows the libertarian to congratulate himself on his lack of bigotry; but, in fact, it is a facade behind which his true bigotry hides.
In my opinion, sociologically it functions the same way that class-based theories of self-justifying privilege have functioned outside the US. It appropriates the American ideal of egalitarianism—indeed, that egalitarianism is so deeply buried in the American psyche is exactly the reason why libertarianism, and not a class-based theory of privilege, is dominant—as an integral portion of its self-rationalization of privilege. And, of course, it appropriates the American notion of individual human rights for the same purposes and then builds from this a theory that argues that the accumulation of wealth through commerce is the ultimate expression of human nature.
It is the apotheosis of middle-class merchant political philosophy. It is, therefore, aggressively and without self-awareness deeply middlebrow and so very, very American in all the worst senses. Also: see de Tocqueville. Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 9:31 am
BTW, libertarianism and Objecvtivism deeply intersect because they are two sides of a brightly-colored cereal box (with a prize inside!): epistemology on one side, political philosophy on the other. They’re intellectualism for bright twelve year-olds. Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 10:10 am Another way of looking at libertarianism is to see it as classic liberalism’s evil twin. It takes the liberal values of egalitarianism, individualism, and commerce and utilizes them as the foundation for a rationale for why a rancher, a banker, and merchant are, necessarily and by their own virtues, the political and cultural elites of a small, western US town who are able to organize the world around them as they see fit far away from the interference of those meddling much-more-powerful hoity-toities in the State capitols and on the East Coast. Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 11:26 am This careful blindness is precisely mimicked in libertarian philosophy. The poor, ruthlessly exploited by the greedy monopolistic rich, are either off-stage or delivered from their oppression by a brave individual acting on his own moral authority. Good will triumph! It’s a matter of faith and a very selectively blind worldview.
Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 12:04 pm
Pace Myles SG, so-called “classical liberalism” is not equivalent to libertarianism as it exists in contemporary America. That it is so equivalent is a conceit of libertarianism, a transparent attempt to obtain intellectual authority via political lineage, and has just about exactly the same relationship to real political history and theory as Rand’s Objectivism has to epistemology and the film Western has to actual history.
I think the thing that annoys me most about libertarians (and Randroids, not coincidentally) is that while they’re ostensibly intellectuals (in a relative sense, anyway, they at least have a considered political philosophy) they are, nevertheless, inveterate intellectual lightweights…and don’t know it. (But then, the same can be said of Yglesias and he has a fucking Harvard philosophy degree, so it seems to be a common ailment these days.) Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 12:13 pm If anything, the intellectual well of classical liberalism is far more powerful, developed, and nuanced in Europe than it is in America.
I agree—and that’s why it is a very different thing than libertarianism. For the love of God, the average American libertarian has barely heard of Locke (much less Berlin) but has heard of, and possible read, Ayn Rand. You can probably count on two hands the number of “classical liberals” in Europe who’ve read Rand.
The supposed intellectual underpinnings of libertarianism are ex post facto rationalizations of a cultural ethos that is in every sense, pure Americana.
serial catowner Says: August 8th, 2009 at 10:00 am
An intelligent form of libertarianism is the American Constitution.
People are born with inalienable rights, but to secure these rights, we institute governments. To maintain these rights, we limit what the government can do and how it can do it.
Intelligent liberalism is intelligent libertarianism. Liberalism was, and ought to be, the destruction of oligarchic rule, monopolies, divine right, and inequality.
All of the claptrap about “capitalism”, “free enterprise” etc etc only has a place in the discussion to the extent that it is discussed in terms of what actually happens. Libertarians have a fantasy in which all of the socialistic improvements of our society are preserved as a gift to the oligarchy they were born into, and that’s what it is- a fantasy: Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.
“Liberals”, OTOH, often fantasize that the government can improve people’s lives by telling them not to drink or smoke, but not allowing people the freedoms of religion, speech, and other securities of liberty found in the Bill of Rights. The result, unsurprisingly, has been Prohibition, repealed in the case of alcohol but supported (to their everlasting shame) by many “Liberals” in the case of drugs. The evils spawned by this holier-than-thou attitude are too numerous to list here, but surely the establishment of monopolies and oligarchies by the “ethical” pharmaceutical industry deserve a special mention as being intensely antithetical to the real practice of liberalism.
Justice Black summed it up nicely, saying “When the Constitution says the Congress shall make no law respecting the practice of religion, it means the Congress shall make NO law respecting the practice of religion”.
There’s your “strict constructionism”.