Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yet more libertarian debate

Despite his being a card-carrying Labour man, I actually agree with Unity far more than I disagree with him: we are both libertarians, though he ascribes himself to be of the Left whilst I am generally cleaved to the Right*. I thoroughly respect his ability to delve deep into data-heavy documents and produce excellent digests, and we have worked together on some projects in the past.

Anyway, Unity has written a rather good post over at Liberal Conspiracy—following on from this piece of ill-informed, bigoted idiocy (which I commented on here)—in which he tries to define the difference between libertarians and "libertarian" Tories. You really do need to read the whole thing, but his conclusion runs thusly...
So, it you’re at all unsure as to how to spot a Tory masquerading as a libertarian, just ask them whether they believe that victims of crime, or just plain old law-abiding citizens have different rights to criminals.

If the answer’s ‘yes’, then you’ve got yourself a Tory (or a cabinet minister).

If the answer’s ‘no’ and they go to explain that both have the same fundamental rights but that the criminal’s freedom to exercise those rights may be legitimately, and temporarily, constrained in order to protect the rights and freedoms of others, then you’ve got yourself a liberal or libertarian.

Simples.

Which is fair enough and certainly a reasonable test.

Meanwhile, inspired by Unity's article and in a must-read post, the lovely Bella Gerens addresses the all-too-often-levelled charge that libertarians are selfish.
So let’s lay to rest, once and for all, this ‘libertarians want the world to revolve around them and fuck everyone else’ crap.*

Yes – libertarians are self-centred. I’ve said it, it’s true, amen brother. Of course we are concerned with the self. The self is the only entity over which we do have and should have control. A libertarian is not concerned with others, because it is not for us to say what is good for others, or what others should and shouldn’t do. Our comprehension of others is determined by how those others affect the self. A libertarian refrains from affecting others in ways he would not himself want to be affected. A libertarian respects others who hold this same principle, because he knows they too have selves with which they are concerned.

Is that selfish? Yes. Is it wrong? No, because the self is always the first point of reference. First, not only. I’m afraid there is no getting around that, however much others might wish there were. It is impossible to act without reference to the self.

Libertarians, in the main, have no objection to helping others, or directing their concern toward others, as long as it is done voluntarily, in the absence of third-party coercion.

The wife then goes on to illustrate, pretty bloody clearly, who the real enemy is here—designated as Person B or "the state, the welfare system, socialism, whatever". Person B is the enemy because Person B deliberately sets out to try to ensure that Persons A and C—one with resources and one without, respectively—hate each other.

We all know Person B—and it isn't just "the state". As I said earlier, it is those who believe that they "should be sovereign over the individual".

We broadly call them socialists and they are the ones who believe that there is a one-size fits all way to satisfy people's needs rather than recognising that there are at least six billion needs and wants.

And remember, anyone who advocates this kind of attitude does not expect to the one being pushed around—they expect to be giving the orders.

As such, one could coherently argue that it is socialists that are the truly selfish people here, for they believe that their way of running things is inherently better than anyone else's. Worse, they believe that their wants and needs to trump everyone else's.

They are the enemy and, at the risk of repeating myself, they are winning the war.

UPDATE: Marius Ostrowski sums up the libertarian position in one long sentence.
The realisation that the only sphere over which anyone has, or should have, influence is the self; the belief that everyone has the same basic rights unless they forfeit them by attempting to transgress beyond their legitimate sphere of influence; and the acceptance that needs, desires and wants (broadly speaking, conceptions of the good) are unique to each individual and should be left to individuals to realise through own effort and negotiation, with the implication that there is no such thing as objective societal good, merely a whole lot of individual views that may or may not agree with each other.

Nice.

* I am not really going to go into why Right and Left are inappropriate when describing libertarians—suffice to say that a belief in universal liberty does not really belong in either camp.

As I've said before, I prefer the torus view of politics—in which case, libertarianism is on the diametrically opposed side to authoritarianism. Left and Right, however, travel their respective ways around the torus away from libertarianism and towards authoritarianism.

18 comments:

Old Holborn said...

As long as Libertarians continue this "what is" argument, we'll be ignored.

Here's my slogan

"Do what you want. Or do as you're told"

Signed

The Judean Peoples Front

polaris said...

OH, I think you've got it wrong it's definitely:


Do as you're told or what you want


Signed


The Peoples Front of Judea

Robert Clayton said...

Oh dear, I always thought I was a Tory and now I seem to be a Libertarian.

John Demetriou said...

*sigh*

and let the digs and misrepresentations begin.

I never said that Libertarians are selfish, for your guides. I was referring to a small bunch of bloggers who are having a go at me at this moment in time.

Libertarians, generally speaking, are not selfish and I entirely understand the difference between what we would call selfishness and rational self interest.

Can we leave the petty jibes out of this please?

Devil's Kitchen said...

John,

Are you referring to me or to OH?

'Cos I didn't mention you at all...

DK

Epictetus said...

"A libertarian respects others who hold this same principle, because he knows they too have selves with which they are concerned."


These words reminded me of the words of the great Thomas Traherne;

"You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars : and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you."

Old Holborn said...

John,

Stop it. Your only beef with me is that I dropped you from my blogroll.

I only dropped you because space is precious and frankly you had nothing to add to what I'm already saying.

Build your blog. It takes time, it takes commitment and it takes talent.

You have commitment, you have talent, so take the time. A shortcut by creating "scandal" doesn't work. Obo, DK and I know that. We've ALL quarelled and had tears before bedtime before.

Hard work is what it takes. Work hard and join us.

Libertarianism is ALWAYS going to be herding cats. Mind you, lions hunt in a pride.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Oh Lord. Not here as well?

{ignores all that guff}

You've got rather a clever lady there, DK.

In response to this from you:

"... socialists that are the truly selfish people here, for they believe that their way of running things is inherently better than anyone else's"

Abso-fucking-lutely. And extremely damaging it is too. Increasingly so.

Their politics are based not on what is best for the public, not even what is best for their supporters or those who they boast about defending. Nope, their politics are based purely on what best represents their personal point of view and their own dogma.

Socialism is no longer the politics of envy, as of yore, it is now the politics of a few brainwashed lefty idealists with no grasp of the way humans interact with each other.

And no matter how many times their fantasies are disproved, they fail to change tack.

I keep waiting for one, just one, to cross the house in objection to the unceasing carnage they are inflicting on the country, but career politicians don't possess such integrity anymore.

And with Cameron copying them in pursuit of power, Labour have destroyed the country more deeply than most of the lethargic electorate can ever imagine.

For good.

indigomyth said...

An excellent post DK.

Though you failed to pick out for special criticism religious fanatics, like the Roman Catholic Church, which proscribes the same rules for living for everyone, and tries to use the apparatus of the state to coerce or force people to conform to that way of living.

I have often thought that one of the most damaging religious beliefs ever to be uttered is the Christian one of "I am my brothers keeper". For most Christians, and all true Roman Catholics, that they have a right to interfere in peoples lives, with or without their consent. It is very worrying. Enslaved by Radical Muslims or by Catholics? Choices, choices.

Nick said...

"Do what you want. Or do as you're told"

===============

Not a good summary.

Do what you want can fuck other people.

"Do as you want so long as you don't harm others" is a better discription

Otherwise you are giving license to thieves

indigomyth said...

Nick,
//"Do as you want so long as you don't harm others" is a better discription//

No that does not work either, because some things people do to each other, may cause harm but are still enjoyed and consented to. Such as sado-masochism. Arguably selling alcohol to someone could be thought to "harm" the buyer. Or tobacco. Also "harm" is awkward to define. A Muslim might argue that a Christian sharing their faith is "harming" people by endangering their faith. Or Catholics arguing against homosexuals promoting homosexuality because it "harms" others.

So I do not thing "harm" comes into it, rather it should be "curtails some else's freedom and liberty, without their consent."

Consent must be the foundation of any notion of liberty.

I am also dubious about the notion of "do unto others as you would be done by". Again, it assumes knowledge on the part of Person A that they know what Person B wants. So Person A might want to be stopped from smoking a cigarette, because they believe it harms their health, so when they see Person B smoking a cigarette they assume that Person B also wants to be stopped from smoking. And there lies tyranny. And this could be extended to anything - Person A not liking condoms, therefore assuming that Person B does not. Indeed, I would argue (like Christopher Hitchens has) that the Golden Rule is a foolish ideology. Any thoughts, DK?

Pogo said...

@indigomyth...

All your criticisms of "do unto others..." etc. are based upon the premise that some degree of coercion is employed - which is anathema to the libertarian concept of "not harming others".

The sado-masochism argument fails because both parties consent. Your alcohol example assumes that I, as the seller, am forcing the purchaser to buy. The Person A who wishes to stop smoking would have to use a degree of force (mental or physical) to remove the fag from the lips of Person B. As for the condoms, it is up to Person B to insist on their use, or Person A will have to find a similarly-minded individual whith which to enjoy jiggy-jig.

indigomyth said...

Pogo,
//All your criticisms of "do unto others..." etc. are based upon the premise that some degree of coercion is employed - which is anathema to the libertarian concept of "not harming others".//

Conceded.

My only point was to highlight the fact that "do unto others..." is a teaching in the Catholic faith, and yet they feel quite happy to interfere in peoples lives through the use of coercion and force, via law. Look at Pope Benedict saying that it is the Catholic Church's duty to protect man from destroying himself. Or the RCC's opposition to same-sex marriage - not only as a matter of Catholic doctrine, but as a matter of national law.

Some people (not me) believe that they have a duty to protect people from destroying themselves, or using each other, or whatever, and they would equally use the "do unto others..." mantra. Using it in this context is rather confusing, considering its more popular, authoritarian usage.

Pogo said...

Re the church... Agreed.

However, their's is a case of "do unto others but only as long as you're only doing what we tell you to"... Not exactly "libertarian".

indigomyth said...

Pogo said,
//do unto others but only as long as you're only doing what we tell you to//

I think it is more a case of "do unto others only what we, the Catholic Church, feel is appropriate and healthy for you to do each other and yourself, because, after all, we are the One True Church of God, and you are his creature, therefore it is our duty to make sure that you do not do anything to risk either your own, or some elses eternal soul".

Do you think if I sold my soul, they would leave me the fuck alone?

Roger Thornhill said...

What I found telling was this on the first hatstand post at LC

BenM @10:16 am on October 12, 2009

"Yes, Libertarianism is childish. It is the equivalent of the hysterical child screaming a tantrum in the middle of the aisle in Sainsbury’s."

I wonder how many readers of it smiled and nodded "knowingly", not realising that the comment said alot about the author and themselves but nothing about Libertarians.

The author clearly sees Libertarians - adults - complaining because the Parent - the State - is trying to curb their behaviour. The author thinks that the State is Parent and sovereign adults are children incapable of informed consent.

The State is an administrator to whom we have temporarily delegated the use of part of our sovereignty. It must be returned complete and undamaged at the end of each term. Libertarians are not so much having ab-dabs in a supermarket but rattling their chains as they are dragged to the slave ship.

Anonymous said...

My answer would have been before or after being found guilty by a jury, because once convicted then they are to suffer some sort of punishment, so of course there is a different set of rights at that time. You should phrase that question better.

DocBud said...

Anonymous at 9:45:00 PM

Maybe you should read the answer better:

"If the answer’s ‘no’ and they go to explain that both have the same fundamental rights but that the criminal’s freedom to exercise those rights may be legitimately, and temporarily, constrained in order to protect the rights and freedoms of others, then you’ve got yourself a liberal or libertarian."