Sunday, March 15, 2009

A musing on libertarianism

Your humble Devil has met a goodly number of libertarians throughout the last few years—some through LPUK meetings, some through this blog and some through political functions. And there are, of course, a great many self-described libertarian bloggers, whom I read quite frequently.

Through all of this, it has struck me that there are really two types of people who describe themselves as libertarians. Yes, yes: there are Objectivists and Rights Theory and Consequentialists and all those other myriad divisions but actually, throughout this spectrum of opinion (and they are, generally, only divisions of degree), you can still determine whether someone is one of two types—which, for want of a little more thought and current precision of words, I shall call Negative and Positive Libertarians.

Negative Libertarians are generally those whose emphasis is on the "leave me the fuck alone"—the "don't tread on me"—aspects of libertarianism. They rail against the state because they want to get the state out of their lives; they tend, also, to be the greatest advocates of guns, for instance. They are, effectively, people who don't like people—misanthropes if you will.

Positive Libertarians are those who believe that more freedom will be good for everybody—that society will, on the whole, benefit. They are those who actually like people and who believe, essentially, that people will—given the right tools, e.g. information, motivation and the ability to think—make sensible choices for themselves. Positive Libertarians tend to believe that the state is evil because it removes those essential tools from people and thus demeans them. Positive Libertarians believe that people are essentially decent.

It should go without saying, despite my rants against the moronic populace of this country, that your humble Devil counts himself amongst the latter group. The reason that I rail against institutional idiocy and the refusal of some to engage their brains is because I feel such a terrible disappointment. As I have said before, the largest and most potent attack on my libertarianism is the general public.

But that is when I reflect upon the fact that the state has—quite deliberately—destroyed their critical faculties; it has quite intentionally neutered the education system; it has calculatingly removed the need to think and consciously attempted to destroy the rewards for doing so.

The state is fundamentally evil—for, apart from anything else, it can never be anything other than a looter—and those who have wrought it into its current shape are the very worst that mankind can produce. And that is why they must hang.

They must hang because they have, calculatingly and with malice aforethought, brought the brilliance of humanity down to the gutter in order to secure their own sinecures. They do not produce and they do not add anything to society: instead, they thieve and they steal from the talented and the hard-working. And they use that money to feather their own nests and to bribe the weak-willed with the produce of another man's labour. They are disgusting and absolutely evil.

And that is why libertarians, whether Positive or Negative, are right and must win or else society will crumble. Already we can see that our governments are spending far more than they take in tax: all of that will have to be paid for. And as these grasping scum—and their stooges in the media and the charities, and their useful idiots in the general population—advocate yet more and more special causes to divert our money to, so they will start to reach the extent of even their very long line of credit.

In fact, it is happening already. And so, to maintain their bribes, they are going to have to start tapping us for more and more money. In 1885, the state spent just 8% of GDP; now it spends over 40%. How long can we carry on feeding this relentless and reckless spending machine? How high must taxes rise—50%? 60%? 70%? 90% or 100%?—before we finally throw off the shackles and say, "no more. We will not, we cannot, continue to fund this profligacy! We cannot, we will not, continue to fund these looters and these parasites."

How long?

29 comments:

Old Holborn said...

Put me down as a negative.

Until 100 years ago, the State was almost invisible. Now, it is everything.

I'm saving up for my own island

Devil's Kitchen said...

OH,

I was going to cite you as a Negative actually, but I thought that some might see it as a criticism.

It's not and was not intended to be. Whatever any libertarians motives, they are on the side of good.

DK

Roberto 'Tito' Sarrionandia said...

Objectivism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive...

Even if we could call it a "division" of libertarianism, it wouldn't fit into either of your categories.

In fact, this positive/negative classification goes against a fundamental foundation of the Objectivist philosophy: the rejection of the moral/practical dichotomy.

neil craig said...

I guess if we were "leace me alone" libertarians we would do blogs.

The UK government is now over 50% of the economy.
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article5581225.ece
shows it as 49% as of the autumn bidget. Since then GNP has reduced 2% with no reduction in government & there have been some more bailouts.

Angry Exile said...

It depends. In the UK I leaned towards negative, and I think that's because of the large number of Daily Mail readers who always seem to be about a second a way from saying "ooooh, they shouldn't be allowed to get away with that, there ought to be a law against that sort of thing" or Grauniad etc readers saying "the government should intervene and do something about it" or, and this has been winding me up for more than twenty years now, people who vote Con/Lab/LibDem (and increasingly now Green) without a second's fucking thought, without sitting down and reading the manifesto, and without considering whether the candidate whose name they're going put an X next to is any fucking good. All these robots need to be twatted about the head and neck and I suppose that makes me Negative.

Here in Oz the government is in some ways even more intrusive (having state and federal governments probably doesn't help since they both want as much power as they can get). They may not be covering the place with as many CCTVs and designing databases for everything, but you do almost need a licence to have a shit in the morning. But I lean towards Positive all the same, and that's just because there seems to be far more Aussies inclined to say "bloody government" and "[insert politician's name here] is a fucking dickhead" with a scowl on their faces than would say "oooh that sort of thing shouldn't be allowed". There are some of course, but while British contempt for politicians expresses itself as apathy here it tends to be more vocal.

Lord T said...

I think I must be middle of the road. I want to be left alone but actually believe it would be better for mankind as a whole and I'm fully of the belief that technology will allow this to happen. It has produced so far. The only sticking point is politicians which is why my catchphrase is 'Looking to the future for our species and showing how Technology will save us if Politics doesn't doom us first'

wh00ps said...

I dunno whether I'd be a positive or a negative. Probably both, and neither. I would like to get the state the fuck out of my life, stopping from forcing my employer to ask for my papers every six months and all that. Yet, I also think it is the only way forward for humanity, at least w.r.t. bettering ourselves. The way forward, if we continue on our merry way will be the poorly-educated and critical-thought-impaired public becoming morlocks. Without the satisfaction of getting to eat the elite section of society at the end of the film.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Seems you're not such a cunt as I thought.

Shug Niggurath said...

How long? Realistically years and years, probably not in any of our lifetimes, there's too much vested in the theft and abuse of power for it to be defeated via democracy and they've got so many people tied up in wages and/or benefits that I can't see a storming of Parliament that would stick (ie. even if we did it, our own troops or the US and EU would be in militarily to kick the living fuck out of us).

I guess that makes me a negative libertarian in the sense that I have no faith in the rest of society to open their eyes.

_Felix said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "neutered the education system", possibly because I've never cared for schools much. I think most learning takes place outside of the education system, and though some schools and universities may in the distant past have been crucial in spreading some principles of rationality, that's no longer the case. We pick it up from elsewhere, and it can't be prevented.

I can't swallow the idea that MPs are deliberately trying to do harm, either. Some of them are in it for the money, but many of them are merely struggling to do good in a self-contradictory and institutionalised manner, it seems to me (though I did fall for an obvious bluff in a poker game last night). On the whole I think they know not what they do. That's just an extension of the constant cries, from us the public, to ban things, selectively raise tax on this or that, and coercively protect other people from themselves. Government grows naturally out of the armchair social engineering that any ordinary person can be tempted to indulge in. Some of us are more responsible for this great evil project than others, but it's a group effort, fueled by good intentions.

I sometimes wonder if libertarianism could be re-framed and sold in terms of protecting the public, since protection seems to be what we all care about, or like to pose as caring about: everybody wants to be seen as a responsible parent figure, protecting the meek and wielding power over the selfish. I don't just mean protection from a willfully murderous despotism, which few people think is a serious danger, but protection from things like being hit by a speeding car, losing your job and dying of cancer and all the safety-related problems that regulations and government schemes ostensibly tackle. The critical part of this leap would be not just to provide arguments for why libertarianism helps with those things, but to make not supporting liberty seem to be an irresponsible attitude, like not wearing a seat belt. I'm not sure how that trick is achieved. Libertarianism just sounds like an irresponsible thing, sadly. We are widely thought of as a bunch of foolish, selfish cocks. The idea of individualism as a force for good is, well, people aren't really sure about it (though we praise diversity and don't like fascists), and it's one of those things that should in popular opinion be "balanced", i.e. not quite allowed.

I notice that caring about the wasted potential of humanity in general doesn't preclude wanting to be left the fuck alone, at least in the sense of wanting to be allowed to do your own thing. Misanthropy shouldn't emerge from that, although it can do. Oh, and for most people - most libertarians, even - the actual impact of government interference on the ordinary things we want to do is very small, and manageable. It's the wasted potential, and the resulting bleakness, which hurts. The failure of cooperation, too, come to that. If we really want just to be left alone, we're free to travel to the remoter parts of Siberia and have a go at it, but we don't (hardly ever), even the most sulky among us, because we know we wouldn't like it. What we actually want is a free society, and we want it to be at least strongly connected to the society we've always lived in and are inexplicably fond of, not to live in an insular clan of survivalists, a micronation, or Somalia.

Robin said...

Not sure about the Libertarian, negative and positive thing but I would like to hang people as you propose.

wh00ps said...

i don't want to be left alone by people, just the government. i want to be able to watch television without an advert warning me about global warming, or threatening my friend that if she lives with her baby's daddy she will either be criminalised or not afford to feed her child. i want to work without being constantly harried to produce yet another piece of paper with my name on it. i want to walk to town without a police helicopter hovering overhead. when i need the police i want them to come straight away, not leave me for two days with my back door off it's hinges (waiting in vain for a fingerprint dusting that never happened) because crimes that are hard to solve don't help the police meet their targets. is that too much to ask? is that misanthropy?

wh00ps said...

Oh, and I dont believe in the "road to hell paved with good intentions" thing either. Nobody stupid enough not to realise that what they had been doing for the past ten years had been totally counterproductive would have the nouse to rise to the top of a political party. The outcomes of the education and welfare systems in this country must, IMO, have been deliberate.

Anonymous said...

Your posts of late have not been of your usual quality, DK, and this post is no exception.

You create a false dichotomy and an excessively simplistic black-white analysis. By your definition, I am a "negative libertarian" because I want the government to get its nose out of my business, to stop stealing my money, to stop regulating my every movement, to stop spying on me and to stop criminalising my every act. I also think guns are a right.

But wait! Why do I think all these things? Why do I want the government to "leave me the fuck alone"? Well, it's because I happen to believe that people's lives (mine included) would be significantly improved by less government interference. I believe that people can spend their own money and regulate their own behaviour without the government's "help". I believe that guns are more dangerous in the hands of policemen than in the hands of citizens because policemen can misuse their weapons to abuse us and we have no recourse. I believe that everyone can and should say whatever the fuck they like and it's my problem if something offends me. I believe that society has suffered enormously and that lives have been blighted by the Cult of Welfare and by the destruction of personal responsibility. So I'm actually a "positive libertarian".

But I'm neither. "Positive" and "Negative" are meaningless labels you're inventing. Perhaps you're embarrassed by the behaviour of certain libertarian colleagues and want to distance yourself from them by saying "Well, yes, I'm a libertarian but I'm a *good* libertarian, not a bad libertarian". Or perhaps you're just not thinking through the implications of what you're saying. Or perhaps you're importing short-sighted catchphrase-based American theories. Whatever it may be, it is a false dichotomy and not one that has any any relationship to any vision of libertarianism that I am familiar with.

word verification: ukshile
lol

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

Yes, yes, sure. But what, would you say, is your primary motivation.

Look, I want the state to get out of my life – but I primarily want the state out of everyone's life.

I am not saying that there are just the two choices: merely that, in the libertarians that I have met, I have recognised a general trend towards one or the other as a primary motivation.

DK

Roger Thornhill said...

A very good post. I consider myself "both". I want the State out of my way but I do believe people, if not perversely incentivised, will be decent and make, on the whole, sound decisions for themselves and their dependents.

Anonymous said...

How long can we carry on feeding this relentless and reckless spending machine?"

How long?

until there's no bread, that's how long.

The Nameless Libertarian said...

Very interesting post (and surprisingly free of profanity, although I'm pleased there was still a reference to hanging people in there.) I'd say I'm somewhere between the two categories - I believe that people are dumb, and will make stupid mistakes given more freedom. That said, I do still believe that we'd all be a little more intelligent and a little more capable as a people if the state did not force and cow the people into being reliant and bovine.

For me, the clarion call to the state is clear: give me more freedom, and let me take responsibility for how I live my life. But please, please, please stop taxing me so you can go away and make mistakes on my behalf.

TNL

defender said...

Very nice ideal, good theory and all hypothetic.
However, a "hungry man is an angry man", how are you going to sell this to the voters to have any possible chance of bringing this about.
The here and now of the current reality demands a selfless approach and an ability to empathise with people and their everyday lives.
More than nice words and ideals are needed to get voters to trust you with their votes, the idea that we are all living on our own personal island is not going to wash.
The thing that I find weird about your party is how little your policies actually relate to voters. On the one hand you want to be left alone to do just what the hell you want and on the other do not realise that democracy is about offering what the majority demands.
Then again, who am I to make suggestions to those more qualified on these matters than I.
Never mind, you are harmless.

wonderfulforhisage said...

This seems to mirror the NLP (neuro linguistic programming) meta program for the direction of motivation - away from v towards.

If I am walking across a room I can be thought of as walking 'away from' one wall 'towards' the opposite wall. I would posit that how I weigth the 'away from ness' or the 'towards ness' is a largely a function of my personality.

This posits that all our motivations contain an 'away from the negative' and a 'towards the positive'. So one might want to go to the pub 80% to get away from the missus and 20% towards a game of darts.

In my experience most people are pretty consistent in their ratio of toward & away from. I for instance am motivated pretty well always on a 80/20% away/toward. I'm pretty hopeless at getting things done. My wife on the other hand is maybe 10/90% on the away/toward scale and is brilliant at planning and making things happen.

My guess is that DK's negative/positive libertarian measure is linked to my above commnent and that if he dug deaper he would find that negative libertarians had a high 'away from' score and positive libertarian have a high 'toward' score.

A good salesman either conciously or unconciously notices this personality trait. So when speaking of the mpg of a car to a 'toward' person he might say. "The low fuel consumption will allow you to afford those extra luxuries" and to an 'away' person "You won't be constantly concerned by the expense of the fuel".

Same difference; comme on dit.

Drexciya said...

I think the negative is also known as the "natural rights" position and the positive side as being more "utilitarian". Murray Rothbard was a proponent of the former, David Friedman more of the latter.

I'd say that the "positive" libertarians are not Libertarians per se, but rather Utilitarians who simply believe that libertarian policy is currently preferable to socialist alternatives.

Supposing that state invention could be shown to make us, on the whole, better off(wealthier, healthier etc.), would you consider yourself a natural-rights/negative libertarian nonetheless? If yes, then surely you are a negative libertarian first and foremost since the benefits to society are irrelevant to your belief that state intervention is wrong, whatever its impact on humanity.

David Davis said...

The Libertarian Alliance thinks this is an extremely significant and important post. We often argue among ourselves about what libertarians ought to do, in a truly strategic sense, such as taking direct part in what some of us see as the titanic struggle of our time - or indeed any time.

We contain both legative and positive ibertarians: I would like to think that I am seen as positive, but sometimes one is prone to bouts of depression about the state of the world.

Insofar as Alfred the Great wondered at the question "what is life? Why are we here? What then must we do?" I hope that the ultimate fate of libertarian philosphy is to help cleanse human society of the tragic infection it seems to have caught.

David Davis said...

This, what Devil said, is I think the key:-

"Positive Libertarians are those who believe that more freedom will be good for everybody—that society will, on the whole, benefit. They are those who actually like people and who believe, essentially, that people will—given the right tools, e.g. information, motivation and the ability to think—make sensible choices for themselves. Positive Libertarians tend to believe that the state is evil because it removes those essential tools from people and thus demeans them. Positive Libertarians believe that people are essentially decent."

In better moments, one must believe that the reason for being a libertarian, is that the obligation to try and help drain the swamp is laid upon one. This is no burden to bear if you feel that the Universe encompasses Good and Evil, and that one is on the side of Good. Moreover, that for people to have the freedom to choose one or the other, or just to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives by their own efforts, is a Good in itself.

The flipside is that there probably always will be Evil present. It just highlights the eternal truth that we must for ever remain vigilant: if we were to wake up and find we'd demolished socialism tomorrow, we can never guarantee it won't try to return.

David Davis said...

I guess I'm a jihadist-turned-upside-down.

Perhaps "Jihadists" are positive Islamists?

fewqwer said...

Great post DK.

ChrisM said...

" On the one hand you want to be left alone to do just what the hell you want and on the other do not realise that democracy is about offering what the majority demands."

Democracy is ok in its place where its application is relevant. ie Those decisions that we all have to live by such as who governs us. Its applicability elsewhere is a dishonest distraction. If 51% don't like X, and 40% do like X, the moral and obvious thing to do is allow the 51% who don't like X, not to do X, and the 49% who do like X to do X. Democracy be damned here, 51% get to live their lives the way they want to, and out of spite prevent the 49% from doing likewise! Demcracy can fuck off and stick to where it belongs; allowing us to kick the fuckers out when they become intolerable. We are all minorities in some respect and so all liable to end up victims if democratic control is extended to areas where it has no business being.

Thatcher's Child said...

Really good post - v impressed!

Me? I think I am more positive than negative, but I like guns!

The only way you can get the point through to the general public is to simplify the message so that even a blonde can get it.

Not sexist though, its just the way politics is going!

Martin said...

"The state is fundamentally evil—for, apart from anything else, it can never be anything other than a looter—and those who have wrought it into its current shape are the very worst that mankind can produce. And that is why they must hang."

Hmmm -

""Government is powerless to create anything in the sense in which business produces wealth..." -

Sutton, Harris, Kaysen and Tobin, 'The American Creed'.

"Such attitudes (as those expressed in 'The American Creed') lead to some interesting contradictions. Cars have an importance greater than the roads on which they are driven. We welcome expansion of telephone services as improving the general well-being but accept curtailment of postal services as signifying necessary economy. We set great store by the increase in private wealth but regret the added outlay for the police force by which it is protected. Vacuum cleaners to ensure clean houses re praiseworthy and essential in our standard of living. Street cleaners to ensure clean streets are an unfortunate expense. Partly as a result, our houses are generally clean and our streets generally filthy". -

John Kenneth Galbraith, 'The Affluent Society.

ChrisM said...

"Such attitudes (as those expressed in 'The American Creed') lead to some interesting contradictions. Cars have an importance greater than the roads on which they are driven. We welcome expansion of telephone services as improving the general well-being but accept curtailment of postal services as signifying necessary economy. We set great store by the increase in private wealth but regret the added outlay for the police force by which it is protected. Vacuum cleaners to ensure clean houses re praiseworthy and essential in our standard of living. Street cleaners to ensure clean streets are an unfortunate expense. Partly as a result, our houses are generally clean and our streets generally filthy". -


Bloody Marx and his "contradictions". As well as crimes agains humanity, the guy is guilty of crimes against language. "Contradictions" refers to a state of affairs that by definition cannot exist. eg A hot cold day, a rich poor person, a tall short person etc. To value Cars more than roads (or A more than B) is NOT a "contradiction", it is simply a preference. To value cars more than roads and at the same time to value roads more than cars would be an example of a contradiction. .

The point about telephones versus postal services, if true, leads to an obvious conclusion. Make postal services like phone services, and then we will value them both. (I am not saying I buy the guys logic, just that if you do, this is the conclusion to be drawn.). I think it a silly point. With both postal servcices and telephone services (and any other goods or service), we always welcome the improvement of that service and begrudge personal expense involved in paying for that service. I get no more excited about paying money to a phone company than I do paying for a stamp. Its all expense to me. What the guy is saying here boils down to "we like the good aspects of private ownership and dislike the bad aspects of public ownership". WOW. Who'd have thought it, We like value and dislike expense.

Likewise the point about clean houses and dirty streets is not really a clever point. Does it really have to be explained why people may decide to keep their homes clean and tidy, but no go out and clean the streets too? Does Mr Galbraith REALLY think that this state of affairs is unique to one economic model, and that in socialists paradise the streets are as clean as the homes?