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.