Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Probably a bad idea but...

... I'm going to pass one last swift comment on this "bloggertarian" debate, mainly because Kitchen favourite Neil Harding has weighed in.
Following on from the setting up of the so far excellent leftish LiberalConspiracy and posts at Stumbling&Mumbling, Paulie at NeverTrustAHippy and also at DrinkSoakedTrotsForWar has decided to once again stir up the bloggertarian (negative reactionary bloggers who label themselves as libertarians) hornets nest.

He singles out DevilsKitchen and Longrider as examples of a typical blogger who hails libertarianism but only in the negative sense. Paulie is, of course absolutely correct in this analysis and I have been trying to make the same point for years. Paulie likens it to trying to reason with creationists and that is a good comparison because it can be so very frustrating.

Believe me, Neil, it is equally as frustrating arguing with you. This is because we have totally opposing views on where we are coming from—even though we actually agree on a number of ideas.
I didn't need Isaiah Berlin to come up with a name for (negative and positive liberty) to realise that liberty in a negative sense is not enough.

And this is where we differ, in philosophy at least.
Bloggertarians mostly seem to think that liberty is just about 'not banning something'.

Yes, precisely; that is precisely what we believe. You believe something different, hence the fact that we end up arguing all of the time. However, I fail to see why this new word needs to be coined: the word "libertarian" already exists.
Libertarians generally defend the ideal of freedom from the perspective of how little one is constrained by authority, that is, how much one is allowed to do, which is referred to as negative liberty. This ideal is distinguished from a view of freedom focused on how much one is able to do, which is termed positive liberty, a distinction first noted by John Stuart Mill, and later described in fuller detail by Isaiah Berlin.

I understand that you, Neil, do not agree with this ideal; indeed, I assume that Paulie does too. I would imagine that the both of you would subscribe to view of the the commenter at DSTPFW who says...
... “libertarian” was a useful word (for, among other things, expressing opposition to authoritarian tendencies within socialism) until the blockheads [that's your humble Devil and others of my ilk] took possession of it.

So, are we merely arguiong over semantics? It seems to me that we are because, of course, libertarianism can be used to describe a form of socialism.
Libertarian socialism is a group of political philosophies that aim to create a society without political, economic or social hierarchies – a society in which all violent or coercive institutions would be dissolved, and in their place every person would have free, equal access to tools of information and production, or a society in which such coercive institutions and hierarchies were drastically reduced in scope.

This equality and freedom would be achieved through the abolition of authoritarian institutions and private property, in order that direct control of the means of production and resources will be gained by the working class and society as a whole.

I simply do not see how this could possibly work, even in theory. Humans, like most animals, are naturally acquisitive—we should have learned that from Communism, the theory of which, at least, was libertarian socialism—and you would therefore need to have "coercive institutions" in order to ensure that the means of production reamined equally distributed.

Unfortunately, these coercive institutions would have to have an effective monopoly on force, thus ensuring that they have an acquired something that others have not. Again, Communism should have taught us this by now.

I realise that the libertarianism that I believe in is a mainly US-centric definition of the word; call me a classical liberal if you will, I shall carry on calling it libertarianism since Wikipedia has no separate article for classical liberal...
The central tenet of libertarianism is the principle of liberty, namely individual liberty. To libertarians, an individual human being is sovereign over his/her body, extending to life, liberty and property. As such, libertarians define liberty as being completely free in action, whilst not initiating force or fraud against the life, liberty or property of another human being.

Under this idea, actions taken (e.g. by a state) to enhance positive liberty cannot be libertarian as they require the initiation of force against the property of another human being, e.g. redistribution of wealth requires an agent to expropriate the property of others via taxes, which are maintained through force.
Libertarians generally view constraints imposed by the state on persons or their property (if applicable), beyond the need to penalize infringement of one's rights by another, as a violation of liberty. Anarchist libertarians favor no governmental constraints at all, based on the assumption that rulers and laws are unnecessary because in the absence of government individuals will naturally form self-governing social bonds, rules, customs, codes, and contracts. In contrast, minarchist libertarians consider government necessary for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of the people. This includes protecting people and their property from the criminal acts of others, as well as providing for national defense.
...

Some who self-identify as libertarians are minarchists, i.e., supportive of minimal taxation as a "necessary evil" for the limited purpose of funding public institutions that would protect civil liberties and property rights, including police, volunteer armed forces without conscription, and judicial courts.
...

The policy positions of minarchists and anarcho-capitalists on mainstream issues tend to be indistinguishable as both sets of libertarians believe that existing governments are too intrusive.

As it happens, I designate myself as a minarchist libertarian. That is to say that "minarchist libertarian", as defined above, is my ideal state. Paulie has essentially stated that there for such a model amongst the general public, and he is probably correct: that does not alter my personal belief that it is the most desirable.

But then Neil rings in one of his usual contradictions mid-post.
Traditional conservatives from Edmund Burke onwards have thrived on negative opposition, reacting hysterically to all radical change. Bloggertarians are just the new dismal line in this continuance of reactionary Tories.

The thing is that we have not had any real change in the relationship between the state and the people since... well... maybe 1948. Some Tories might argue that Thatcher wrought a similarly radical shift, but I don't think that I would agree with that.

My ideal position would be a massive change in the status quo (leaving aside whether you agree with my stance) and so can hardly be described as "reactionary", which is defined thusly...
Characterized by reaction, especially opposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative.

It is certainly true that I tend to start any particular post by railing against a particular change but this is because I consider it a change for the worse. Many of my writings then progress to suggesting another path, some of which are as radical—or more so—than what I am reacting against.

My default position, always, is in favour of negative liberty; this tends to make me look reactionary because we are effectively governed by a socialist party that believes in acting according to the dictates of positive liberty. And acting on these dictates almost always requires a commensurate reduction in negative liberty, through an assault on life or, more commonly, property.

Now, you may disagree with my stance—and hey! wouldn't it be tedious if we all believed the same thing—but to try to pretend that my beliefs are, in some way, not libertarian is simply to deny what that word currently means.

15 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

Why don't these people shut up?

Over the last couple of years, I have looked in a lot of detail at all sorts of policy debates (e.g. tax, education, health, welfare, traffic lights) and in each case, I end up with the conclusion that the fewer rules and the fewer civil servants and the less state intereference the better.

And I never saw what harm fox hunting, prostitution, most drugs or smoking did to third parties, it's the illegaility that causes the harm, not the actions or substances themseves.

There is no particular intellectual underpinning to all this, I just ask in each area "What works? What doesn't work?" and what you end up with sort of conforms to 'libertarianism' or 'classic free market small government liberalism'.

Roger Thornhill said...

I really want to know who these "right-libertarians" are. I am most certainly not one, and not even one of these "Bloggertarians" by their own definition of the term (not Tory, ex-Tory, UKIP nor negative) even though they seem to insist. Maybe they are short of real examples, who knows.

Over at LC, we see many so-called "left liberals" actually being Socialists - i.e. favouring collectivist and authoritarian measures (i.e. not liberal at all) but not realising it (or just blatantly hijacking the term liberal, I really do not know). Now, I do put forward some proposals as "least worst" solutions that can be described as mildly authoritarian and collectivist (e.g. Swiss style healthcare provision), but at least I know when I am doing it.

I have caught Sunny out at least twice on this issue and one or two others have stomped off in a huff when you point out their true stance.

As for "Left-Libertarians", that term falls down rapidly in some cases as it ends up demanding enforced collectivisation - hardly liberal or libertarian.

I think it is important not to accept the lazy use of the label "right libertarian" that is just put forward to mean NOT("left libertarian").

Lord Jerk-Higham said...

The whole debate over the liberty of the blogosphere is amusing as long as no hefty bloggers pick up on the menace poised to take that liberty away irrevocably - Common Purpose - which presses on regardless and has now even entered schools, courtesy of Deutsche Bank. This really is the grass roots curtailment of liberty.

Freedom and Whisky said...

I have an original answer to this over here.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Master Higham,

I have been keeping an eye on Common Purpose. However, personal testimonies that I have received from bloggers who have been to their training days have indicated that they are a bunch of amateurs.

Notwithstanding that, an organisation of my acquaintance is investigating CP, but is unlikely to be able to report back until next year.

DK

Anonymous said...

"I didn't need Isaiah Berlin to come up with a name for (negative and positive liberty) to realise that liberty in a negative sense is not enough."

I'm afraid that chap has either not read, or not not understood Berlin and so can be dismissed from the debate as a pretentious ignoramus. Berlin identifies 'positive liberty' as one of the roots of totalitarian ism.
That wikipedia article is also in error. Positive liberty is not freedom to do things, but freedom to do the things one should really do. I don't really know why, but 'Two Concepts of Liberty', not a terribly good essay in itself, is one of the most widely and persistently misunderstood in modern political philosophy.
To be fair to the otherwise execrable Adam Curtis, he seemed to have pretty much got the gist of it in his recent farrago of maddening, portentous silliness.

Neil Harding said...

Guys, the problem I have with your sort of liberty is that it is purely based on wealth and privilege. The more wealth and privilege you have, the more liberty you have - surely this cannot be right.

For liberty to be meaningful, we have to enhance opportunity and that means more than just reducing the role of the state. The ballot box and through that the (hopefully democratic) state is a useful bulwark for the poor against coercive and oppressive forces, whether cultural, religious, big business etc. In my mind these are much bigger threats to our liberty than the current government.

Can anyone name a freer decade to live in Britain than the present one? Like all conservatives - you look backward to some nostalgic period that never actually existed.

Would you prefer the social and class ridden repression of the pre 1970s? The closed shop of the 1970s? The riot torn class war, quango imposed pin-striped corruption and abolishment of local government of the 1980s? The overt racist, sexist, homophobic pre 1990s?

There are many things I can agree with you guys on - a citizens basic income would free people from benefit dependency and low wage hell, legalisation of drugs would halve crime and reduce harm to users, certainly de-criminalise prostitutes (and criminalise their clients instead). But I can also disagree - (mark - the smoking ban has been a huge success - smoking did great harm - now people are protected - their lives enhanced and fox hunting like dog fights and bear baiting is animal cruelty and should be prohibited).

Like all conservatives, your liberty is wedded to privilege. You are blind to wealth inequality as a barrier to liberty. There obviously is no perfect solution to this, but my aim is to maximise liberty for all, not just those who can afford it.

Newmania said...

Well I am not a Libertarina and I am quite reactionary and it is very clear to nem that I belive in enitrely different things to you DK although this does somewhat support your argument.
I think the weakness here is in an enirely mechanistic and static consideration of what Conservatism might be and why it is entirely diffrent to Libertarianism although there may be times when such people agree .

Living under a Socialist Government many diffrent hues of reaction are likely to remain undiffrentiated. Basically a Conservative sees a man as part of a Community , a tradition and a culture and these elements give him positive freedom without which he is likely to be enslaved and in any case enslaves himself.

A socialist see the individual as an economic unit and primarily in class terms. A Conservative incorporates some of this view and some of a Libertarians individualism .Order , Nation and loyalty , cultural capital and a general philosophical pessisim are more important in the mix though. There is such a thing as society and we do owe it duties. It is not the state .

Personally I suspect most Libertarians are just Conservatives who have not yet understood their destiny. I strongly suspect that of you DK , you have not a lot in common with Chomskyesque left Freedom thinking that I have noticed ( Thanks god )

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Guys, the problem I have with your sort of liberty is that it is purely based on wealth and privilege. The more wealth and privilege you have, the more liberty you have - surely this cannot be right.

Oh just fuck off you patronising, po-faced cunt, will you?

Look around you- how many wealthy, privileged libertarian bloggers/ commenters do you see around you?

DK, with his palatial seven-days-a-week retreat in Brixton, lauding it on his excessive graphic designer's salary?

Me, splashing the cash from the £2K per annum student loan Labour have ditched me with?

Mmm, yeh... Wealth and privilege all over, Neil!

Why am I a libertarian? Because I believe that I am best informed to make my own decisions and choices over those that my peers, such as yourself, would make for me.

My freedom is not yours to give away, you vapid tosser.

Does it matter who I am? said...

Neil

Why don't you just say 'my aim is to maximise liberty for all who agree with me as to what they should be allowed to do, and everything else should be prohibited'?

The problem is what that approach is now going to do to the freedom of my children and theirs' in the next decades, as progress is curtailed, that being somewhat different from merely regressing to the past.

Oh, and I have never voted for a right of centre party in my life, despite having had many more opportunities to visit the Ballot Box than you have yet had. It will be a bitter moment to do otherwise, but rampant authoritarianism is the greater evil.

Lord Jerk-Higham said...

DK, I thank you for that - I feel relieved because if there's anything in it, you'll tear strips off them and if there isn't - well, that's life.

Cygnet said...

Neil

You say -

Like all conservatives, your liberty is wedded to privilege.

My first thought is that you are conflating the concepts of wealth with privilege.

Could you please define both terms within the context of your post?

Roger Thornhill said...

Neil Harding says:
Guys, the problem I have with your sort of liberty is that it is purely based on wealth and privilege. The more wealth and privilege you have, the more liberty you have - surely this cannot be right.

No, Neil, you have put it into that box so your brain can cope with it without exploding. Libertarians are for equal freedoms for all. They are against a big, autocratic State machine. If there is one way the rich and the powerful can exercise control over and oppress others is via the levers of government and the State. The bigger the State, the more leverage they have.

For liberty to be meaningful, we have to enhance opportunity and that means more than just reducing the role of the state.

You cannot "enhance opportunity" - you can only a) get out of people's way b) get other people out of their way c) redistribute, which means at best zero sum, or worse, an overall reduction in opportunity and prosperity by holding some back. Libertarians favour a and b (upholding rule of law and property rights all the time), whereas you favour the bankrupt and utterly discredited c, which does neither.

The ballot box and through that the (hopefully democratic) state is a useful bulwark for the poor against coercive and oppressive forces, whether cultural, religious, big business etc.

Why should it be just "the poor" surely everyone should have equal freedom from oppression? - right now the middle classes are far more under pressure than other groups. Regardless, what you are suggesting is risking Tyranny of the Majority.

In my mind these are much bigger threats to our liberty than the current government.

This current government IS threatening the people with oppression from cultural, religious and big business interests. Are you BLIND Neil?

Can anyone name a freer decade to live in Britain than the present one? Like all conservatives - you look backward to some nostalgic period that never actually existed.

Pathetic framing, Neil. You are basically asking "what time in the past" and then "but all times in the past are invalid". You are spouting the pathetic "golden age" canard that we saw on LC earlier and which was exposed there (even though I suspect most are in denial and cling still to the fallacy). Ok, 1987-1997 - how about that decade?

Would you prefer the social and class ridden repression of the pre 1970s? The closed shop of the 1970s? The riot torn class war, quango imposed pin-striped corruption and abolishment of local government of the 1980s? The overt racist, sexist, homophobic pre 1990s?

Daft framing and false dichotomies.

There are many things I can agree with you guys on - a citizens basic income would free people from benefit dependency and low wage hell

This is not a Libertarian policy, just a potential "least worst" practical concept. After going the rounds and working through it, I do not think it holds up after all.

(and criminalise their clients instead).

That is almost as absurd as criminalising the prostitute! I think I can safely say that almost no Libertarian of any stripe would switch criminality from seller to buyer.

But I can also disagree - (mark - the smoking ban has been a huge success - smoking did great harm - now people are protected - their lives enhanced and fox hunting like dog fights and bear baiting is animal cruelty and should be prohibited).

Smoking ban is not "a success". Now I have to smell smoke outside pub after pub instead of people chosing to go into or work at a smokey environment or n not. The Hunting Ban is just envy politics.

Like all conservatives, your liberty is wedded to privilege.

Nonsense. Utter nonsense - you still have not articulated WHY you think this. Repeating a lie does not work here, mate.


You are blind to wealth inequality as a barrier to liberty.


The reasons why it is are mostly the things Libertarians want to unravel, so you are blind to what Libertarians want to achieve, it seems.

There obviously is no perfect solution to this, but my aim is to maximise liberty for all, not just those who can afford it.

If you want to maximise liberty for all, get out of peoples' way, protect their property and the fruits of their labour and stop stealing from Peter to bribe Paul. All you are suggesting is redistribution of "liberty" to those you think deserve it and from those you think have too much. As with wealth redistribution, it is clumsy, inefficient, targets the wrong people and we all end up far poorer and the state and its lackeys richer and more powerful.

Trooper Thompson said...

Machievelli's Understudy,

hear hear.

Neil,

"Like all conservatives, your liberty is wedded to privilege."

I think you confuse liberty with wealth. When you think free, you mean free to take a holiday in the sun. This is a very materialistic view. Freedom is not possessions.

"You are blind to wealth inequality as a barrier to liberty. There obviously is no perfect solution to this, but my aim is to maximise liberty for all, not just those who can afford it"

Again, you equate freedom with wealth. But the freedoms a libertarian demands are not based on wealth. If you're rich or poor you have a right to come home and find your property unstolen, a right to defend yourself from assault, a responsibility to do as you would be done by, etc.

The difference between the libertarian and the leftie: The former believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the latter believes in liberté, egalité, fraternité. The former can agree this and go about their business, the latter start scheming over who should be guillotined. The former see the state as a necessary evil, and society a blessing, the latter seem to worship the state, and call it Reason.

Anonymous said...

Even the advocates of positive liberty admit that it is in competition with negative liberty. You can't increase one without decreasing the other.

Now, historically we have always understood liberty to be "negative liberty". Brown uses liberty to mean positive liberty. In other words he is attempting to redefine what is historically understood as liberty.

Redefining common words! Where have we seen that before. "Ignorance is strength". That sounds like Neil. "Freedom is slavery". that sounds like old style liberty is slavery.

There's something despicable about this reframing of the debate. 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.