Are all libertarians this childish?


12:10 pm - October 10th 2009

by Jonn Elledge    


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When you were a child, the world revolved around you. All that mattered was your meals and your toys and, if you were lucky, you had a galaxy of benign grown ups to bring them to you.

For the first few years of our life we’re all convinced of this simplistic worldview, until, sometime around the age of four, we start getting to grips with the idea that other people have desires and ambitions that are different to, but just as valid as, our own.

Unless, that is, you’re a libertarian.

Last weekend my work took me to Manchester for the Tory conference. There I spent a slightly worrying hour in the ‘freedom zone‘, a fringe venue where those who felt the Conservative party had become too namby-pamby and left-wing had set up camp.

The theme of the meeting was ‘the bully state’, and the panel included Roger Helmer, the MEP for East Midlands. Mr Helmer made a gallant defence of his rights to get pissed, stuff his face, pollute his lungs, and ruin the atmosphere by driving as fast as he likes in a great gas-guzzling monstrosity. People were sick of being told how to live, he said. The state should butt out.

Fair enough. But then, after making this impassioned defence of the rights of the individual, he jumped seamlessly to the rights of decent English sorts to tell travellers (“we’re not allowed to say gypsies any more”) to piss off. He told a story about how villagers in Bedfordshire had objected to proposals for a travellers’ encampment, because of what it would do to their quality of life. Ninety percent of those complaints had been disregarded, he said, because the powers that be considered them to be racist. This was an outrage. The state should be on the side of the people.

Is anyone else detecting just a hint of hypocrisy here?

Leave aside the fact that, if you’re dim enough to put racist abuse on an official complaint, it’s your own stupid fault when it gets ignored. Ask yourself: if freedom from government is all that matters, why those travellers shouldn’t go where they like.

If Tory MEPs should be free to do what they want, regardless of the consequences for the health service, other road users, the Third World et al, then why shouldn’t everyone else? The population of Bedfordshire will have to lump it.

Things don’t work like that, of course. Society has rules, to make sure that by exercising my freedoms I don’t crap all over yours.

Those rules don’t just apply to people we don’t like. The laws that stop Mr Helmer from getting pissed and going joy-riding in an SUV have nothing to do with a deeply felt desire to restrict his freedom, and everything to do with stopping him from buggering things up for the rest of us.

Most of us have instinctively understood this since we were four feet high. But for some reason Mr Helmer and his ilk seem to have trouble with it. They seem under the bizarre misapprehension that rules are for other people, while decent, middle England sorts should be able to do what they damn well like.

This is the glaring problem at the heart of libertarianism. The Freedom Association (Roger Helmer MEP is its chairman) doesn’t campaign for freedom; it campaigns for the freedom of people like them. They demand their rights while denying them of others; they deny responsibilities they expect the rest of us to shoulder. They lack empathy.

Mr Helmer and his friends are little more than a bunch of spoilt over-grown children who never learnt that the desires and ambitions of others are just as valid as their own. They are, essentially, four.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Jonn Elledge is a journalist, covering politics and the public sector.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Humour ,Libertarians ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Ultimately, this is a disagreement about what freedom is; given that we’ve been debating the matter for three millennia or so, I don’t expect a definite answer any time soon. I would venture that the freedom to starve is no freedom at all; absolute freedom means the freedom to impinge on the freedom of others. You could say that traffic lights are a restriction of freedom, but a justified one. Although Helmer et al. would argue that they have a normative conception of freedom that is relatively absolute, we need to make it clear that part of the state’s function is balancing freedoms. It can do that more or less well, but to say that it shouldn’t do it at all except in very narrowly defined terms ends up, as you say, meaning ‘freedom for people like us’ with the possible addition of ‘to do things that people like us do’.

Brilliant.

I would like to make the following predictions as to what will happen on this thread:

1. The comments will consist of lots of people who have never posted here before.
2. Most will try and tell you that you don’t understand libertarianism, or that their own libertarianism isn’t like that you describe, with the above people not representing the “true” libertarians..
3. Somebody will inform you that communism didn’t work.
4. There will be an attempt to derail the thread by someone wanting a “debate” on global warming.
5. Somebody will post some nasty stuff about travellers, it will be removed and the cries of censorship will come up.

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.
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6. Somebody will try and scare off anybody he doesn’t agree with

I always laugh then I see the phrase “libertarian” and “Tory” anywhere near each other. And probably best not to conflate society with state when you talk about rules (and mean laws).

Rational libertarians understand that the “freedom” to get drunk in your SUV is trumped by my freedom not to have you impose clear and present risks to life and limb on me, but hardly anyone on the Stupid Party, sorry I mean Tory Party, are *any* sort of libertarian, let alone the rational kind. If a few souls are trying to move them in a libertarian direction, well power to them but I don’t fancy their chances.

But regarding gypsies, really it just comes down to property rights, which are something very few Tories support any more than you do, as asking them questions about gypsies are indeed a wonderful way of showing: the issue highlights the fact they are not libertarians (people who support several liberty), they are (gasp) Tories (people who support “people like them”). It is simple: if the gypsies rent property from the legal owner, they have a right to be there and too damn bad if the neighbours object to their mere presence. End of story. If said gypsies then nick stuff and trash adjoining properties, then action should indeed be taken again those responsible. Also end of story (and it is a different story to the first one).

Nevertheless listening to you discussing the failing of libertarian thought with some Tories as examples is a bit like listening to two members of different religions discussing the failings of atheism. Entertaining but not very enlightening.

@2

You’re probably right so lets get going.

Whatever the man Jonn stumbled upon at the Tory conference was, he wasn’t a libertarian.

Libertarians are generally more concerned with the freedoms of others than their own. They would absolutely uphold the rights of travellers to live their lives free from interference from others and from the state.

6. Rowan Davies

@4 I moved to my current address three years ago, and lo and behold, there are two substantial Traveller sites within about a mile – one of them right next door to my sons’ school. My soggy Guardianista-ism has been affected not one jot, because said Travellers are no more (and no less) troublesome or antisocial than all the other human beings around here.

What I have noticed, however, is a strong correlation between a person’s rank stupidity and his or her tendency to blame everything (from petty theft to our local council’s failings) on the Travellers.

#5 and 7,

You are both correct on what the philosophically correct postion for a libertarian to take on Travellers is. The problem is most people calling themselves libertarians are not actually that interested in philosophy and are just the “me, me, me” types suggested in the OP.

I’d imagine this is extremely annoying for the remaining ones, but the evidence suggests they are the minority. I’m referring here to Chris Lightfoot’s axis of Ukip (http://www.ex-parrot.com/~chris/wwwitter/20050415-my_country_right_or_left.html ) work showing that seemingly unrelated beliefs correlate with each other. Furthermore let us not forget that Roger Helmer is not just a nobody – he is chairman of the freedom association. Thus I think it is reasonable for us to infer that his views can be regarded as essentially representative of the beliefs of their members.

Sorry Libertarians, but the amount of your grouping actually concerned about anything beyond getting tax cuts, and the freedom for you to pollute and say racist things really is small.

8. Dick the Prick

Instead of libertarianism – think of liberty. I notice how the author depicted an image of a drunk Jeremy Clarkson but I don’t think anyone has doubts about drink driving but it is legitimate to question man made climate change – especially on a day when fuel prices got twatted up 60%. Liberty and its principle should be responisibly judged by the individual and that has to be applauded. People are getting proper ripped off so let the state charge a bit less but attack corporate Britain. Car drivers pay a HUGE amount of tax, a HUGE amount and whilst lots of it are going on shit wars, a lot of it is going to our neighbours. I want to charge the tax payer less and unfortunately some shit is gonna have to fuck the fuck off. Parish Councils are beautiful things and I think town halls are underused and under scrutinized by voters. People should exercise their Liberty and pick up a calendar for when their next Town full council is and see how the land’s laying.

Sorry Libertarians, but the amount of your grouping actually concerned about anything beyond getting tax cuts, and the freedom for you to pollute and say racist things really is small.

Planeshift it looks like you missed the bit on the thread where, despite it having been explained in words of one syllable, some people willfully refuse to understand what is being said. I’ll try again.

Tories and libertarians are two different things. They are not the same. There is no connection between them whatever. You are conflating a banana with an aardvark.

You could say that traffic lights are a restriction of freedom, but a justified one.

In every study where all traffic lights and road signs have been removed from an area, traffic flows have improved and accidents have been reduced. 🙂

I’ll address other points later, but one key thing:

I’m taking libertarian to mean, roughly, ‘right wing freedom obsessive’. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable definition.

Saying ‘well he would think that, he’s a Tory’ doesn’t get away from the basic hypocrisy of the freedom fighter of the right. They want the state to leave them alone; they don’t have the same concern for other people’s freedoms.

Good points by Perry de Havilland, Pagar and Planeshift. What the OP has observed is that me, me people with a right wing inclination have grabbed the label Libertarian Conservative for themselves. For them, the Libertarian part of the label justifies selfishness and the Conservative part explains separateness or lack of communality. Cobblers, of course.

I believe that Libertarian Conservative is an oxymoron on philosophical grounds, but the expression has history. So called Libertarian Conservatives had a lot of fun in the 1980s, thus we endured privatisation in a form that converted state assets into cheaply purchased private assets (my resentment is based on price/fairness, not ownership per se), the use of state security in industrial relations and a blind eye to Clause 28.

On travellers: the word Gypsy is not one that they use to describe themselves, so dropping usage of the word is just good manners. Good manners and a conscience are a foundation for libertarianism.

OK I’m taking socialist to mean, roughly, left wing authoritarian neurotic.

It’s not true but WTF.

@11 Pagar: “In every study where all traffic lights and road signs have been removed from an area, traffic flows have improved and accidents have been reduced.”

I think that you are pushing that argument too hard. As far as I have heard, “every study” is one paper published in Holland about the effects of removing white lines and other traffic furniture in one city. The claim is that the removal of “navigational advice” encourages citizens to be more aware of their environment and adjust their behaviour. Manners.

One paper, one city, one country. I think that they are right in their analysis, but we need more trials.

Pagar @14, quite.

15. Dick the Prick

I think Tories have to get rid of Thatcher and start admitting that we’re fucking useless but we know loads of stuff. Toryism has always been associated with inefficiency and wishy washy drivel and now, all of a sudden – we’re meant to be clinical! Not bloody likely. A bit of calming down would be useful.

@15

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,505246,00.html

http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/cycling/naked-street-experiment/

I accept I am pushing it a bit hence the smiley at the end of the comment.

It’s just such a nice metaphor.

Imagine if all the investment in telling people when where and how fast they could drive was in vain and it transpired that the roads actually worked better if people were trusted to show consideration for others and accept responsibility for themselves.

but it is legitimate to question man made climate change – especially on a day when fuel prices got twatted up 60%

There you go planeshift – your wish is granted by ‘Dick the prick’.

It’s quite funny to watch libertarians trying to split the differences though, given half the time they spend trying to put all left-wingers in the same box.

“OK I’m taking socialist to mean, roughly, left wing authoritarian neurotic.”

Well given the history of regimes that adopted the socialist label, I’d say it was fairly accurate.

…and I guess that is another way of making the same point. If you ever find yourself in the company of members of some far left political parties you’ll find a few things; (1) None of them will support the countries that were labelled as socialist – claiming that those countries weren’t really socialist, (2) They will also probably claim to be the only real socialist party and the other sects don’t really understand what socialism is.

I think there are 2 distinct questions here, firstly what is libertarianism and secondly what do libertarians believe. The first question can be answered by reading various literature within the tradition, the second question can be answered by looking at what people calling themselves libertarians are saying (allowing for the fact political philosophies and groupings don’t necessarily agree on everything, and there are different tendancies within them).

So I think it is fair enough that the words of the chairman of the freedom association, at an event being billed as the freedom zone, can be taken as a fair reflection of the actual views of his strand of libertarianism. If you read their website the 7 basic principles of freedom they believe in a perfectly consistent with minarchist libertarianism. Furthermore I would put good money on the fact that if you re-produced the content of his speech on libertarian forums I would have over 80% of the self-identified libertarians agreeing with the vast majority of it. Again I refer to Chris Lightfoot’s work.

And no doubt some of you would then tell me I had the “wrong” libertarian websites.

@20 Thanks for putting that rather better than I’m managing. (In my defence, I have a rather glorious hangover today.)

Helmer espouses a view that sounds supiciously close to libertarianism to me. He matches this by having a problem with – to pluck an example out of the air here – the freedom to be gay. He’s a hypocrit.

You say not all libertarians share this view? Well, probably not. But Helmer’s lot are the most visible in mainstream political discourse. And they don’t believe in freedom, they believe in the right of people like them to be unfailingly selfish.

And you can pigeonhole socialists all you like. No skin off my nose.

20. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

Is anyone else detecting just a hint of hypocrisy here?

Not really, tories are pretty open about the fact that whenever they talk about liberty, they’re talking very specifically about their liberty.

I saw clarkson on some show once, the host asked him what he would do if he were ‘in charge’ to which he replied ‘get rid of everything’ and demanded that the state ‘leave people alone’ in the next breath, without irony, he demanded that something ‘be done’ about ‘feral youths’.

That’s tory libertarianism for you in a nutshell, leave me and my ingroup alone, watch every other fucker like a hawk.

Basically this discussion suggests that someone claiming to be something may or may not be something and other people may disagree with him. It really is that interesting – which is to say, not at all.

Labels can be pretty useless at determining what people actually believe and how they behave. And bears are Catholic.

I note too that there is some discussion of what Helmer said but there are no quotes or cites.

22. Marcus Hume

I was talking to a couple of Libertarians in the pub the other night. We didn’t talk about politics, or philosophy or anything like that, and they seemed like nice people, but then I was absolutely shitfaced.

23. James Westlake

Tories are not Libertarians, and you do not understand what Libertarianism is.

This article is full of FAIL.

Read this:

http://mises.org/rothbard/newlibertywhole.asp

If you want to have a clear and proper explanation of what Libertarianism is.

Jonn @21 In my defence, I have a rather glorious hangover today.

Marcus @ 24 but then I was absolutely shitfaced.

Binge drinkers?

Noted.

Zarathustra’s rule of thumb for political discussions.

If somebody tells me they’re a libertarian, I’m 60% certain that I’m now talking to a narcissistic prick.

If they then start quoting Ayn Rand, the certainty rises to 100%.

26. Mr. Feathers

I for one don’t give a fuck if gypsies are going to be able to support themselves and live in the local area without causing trouble.

But do they actually pay for themselves or are they reliant on state benefits? Where do their incomes actually come from, how are their children paid for? Let’s go through the accounts.

Once again, as with the BNP, welfarism leads to conflicts over who gets what from the state. How about saying that neither asylum seekers, nor gypsies, nor the white underclass should be housed and have their children brought up by the welfare state? Those who can’t find jobs should be given basic subsistence, I’ve got no problem with Jobseekers’ Allowance, but no more than that.

Let’s pull the plug, then if they can pay for themselves keep them, if not fuck them off.

I think it would be useful if we could decide if the problem with Roger Helmer is that he’s a libertarian, or that he’s not a libertarian. To me, the most offensive things he’s said are those where he’s not being a libertarian, viz. comments about gypsies. Can we conclude that Roger Helmer would be a better person if he was a more consistent libertarian and thus that libertarianism might not be a bad thing?

“I’m taking libertarian to mean, roughly, ‘right wing freedom obsessive’. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable definition.”

I believe that is hiding your conclusion in your initial premise. A good way of developing your ideas would be to engage with the best opposing thought rather than picking (though, I notice, not quoting) some thoughts from a party conference that isn’t… uhh… libertarian.

Anyway, livers and lungs are quite easily defined as thine and mine, hence I don’t think alcohol and tobacco content of people’s bodies is a problem for the state. Road rules obviously are, but I think for the most part, could be worked out by common law tort than by statutory action. I have a feeling that without specific state legislation, the laws against motorists would be rather a lot more punitive than they are now.

29. david brough

Right, who are these consistent. true, non-Tory filth libertarians? How many are they?

What percentage of self-styled libertarians are in fact Tory filth? 80%? 90%? They’re not calling themselves leftists, they’re not claiming to have anything to do with my views, they’re taking on YOUR ideology. Why, if not because you have so much in common?

Libertarians come in two varieties, scum and deluded.

30. david brough

I see that [edited] Havilland haven’t dared come back to defend their lies.

Well you know they are still taking bookings for the libertarian alliance conference for anyone interested in meeting the real deal: http://www.libertarian.co.uk/conferences/conf09brochure.htm

And if you wanted a more consistent moderate libertarian within the Tory ranks, I could recommend some of what Syed Kemall has said and written: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syed_Kamall

Well dregs like “Havilland” have their own blog, david, plus as you have not pointed out what my ‘lies’ are, I am not sure what you expect me to defend, not that I actually care.

To address more intelligent commenters such as Planeshift however… Do libertarians have a variety of views and disagree over many issues? Well yes, much like statists have a variety of views. But just having a selection of libertarian views and packaging them up with the usual Tory authoritarian shtick does not suddenly make someone a libertarian, similarly supporting limited several control over the means of production in a socialist system does not suddenly make a socialist into a capitalist.

There are some Tories who, if their views are at least somewhat pointed in the right direction, folks like me would be willing to work with politically even if I regard them as a tactical friend now but a future enemy… but I would never make the mistake of failing to understand that their underpinning world view is actually incompatible with mine in the long run because most British conservatism is still fundamentally statist (which is why I would support Labour (literally anyone) against a Cameron Tory without hesitation, as I actually regard Cameron as the worst of both worlds).

“We are also a varied group made up of social individualists, classical liberals, whigs, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe”

Why not just write “We are a bunch of fucking twats” and save space?

“Why not just write “We are a bunch of fucking twats” and save space?”

Because it induces people like you to reveal themselves for what they are with almost no effort on my part. Please, don’t stop.

Libertarians are full of aggro, freedom for all rhetoric. How does it work in practice, though?

Readers are invited to Google “Saipan” to find out what happens when libertarians go to work – you get a sex tourist’s paradise filled with sweat-shops, ununionised imported labour on pittance wages and a press that’s only free to report the rah-rah right wing horseshit of the island’s tiny oligarchy. Amazingly, the libertarian Valhalla turned out to be a Republican fiefdom.

Other areas where libertarian ideas have been tried – post-soviet Russia and post-Saddam Iraq spring to mind, and post-Reagan America has hugely shifted wealth out of the pockets of the majority and into those of the country’s super-rich. Now, we have to fair here – if libertarianism is genuinely the answer, you’d think a little bit of libertarianism might be beneficial. The record so far isn’t encouraging, and in some cases looks outright catastrophic.

Here’s the net effect of decades of libertarian thought – Republican rule and the entrenchment of financial elites at the expense of the majority. Libertarian waffle = Republicans, with all their anti-abortion, sharia-lite bullshit. For all the anti-statist rhetoric, when shite comes to bust you’ll find the libertarians in the pockets of the wealthy flicking the rods at everybody else.

It doesn’t matter whether the libertarians disown these crappy results – readers will notice that Karl Marx didn’t advocate the persecution of the Kulaks, but that hasn’t done his reputation in right wing circles any good. The fact that your extra-special libertarian ideas have never been tried won’t wash, guys – there are plenty of old Commies saying exactly the same thing.

Perry you write on your own blog: here is a bizarre article over on liberalconspiracy (liberal as in “not-liberal-in-any-way” kind of liberal)

It’s the same category error that you attribute to us, which is why I’m not convinced by your protestations. There are lots of different kinds of ‘liberals’ and what you mean by that comment (as some Libdems who use the same rhetoric) is ‘not the kind of liberals I like‘).

Perhaps you mean ‘liberals’ like Tim Worstall, who ends up joining UKIP, which is against free movement of people’s because “there is no level playing field”.

FlyingRodent: any libertarian who does not support the right of people to form trade unions has not thought the issue through very carefully.

Sunny H: I think what ‘liberal’ can reasonably mean is easier to debate and to agree to disagree over than what ‘libertarian’ means, as I think the focus on several liberty is what defines a libertarian of any ilk… hence I find it hard to see how a Tory or US Republican can really be a libertarian.

My (admittedly snarky) remark that you quote about “not-liberal-in-any-way” is mostly because some of our writers and many of our readers describe themselves as ‘liberals’, meaning ‘classical liberals’ (I would call them consequentialist minarchists) and thus as I doubt they are familiar with “Liberal Conspiracy”, I just want them to understand it is not “our” kind of liberal being described here.

UKIP are actually a good example of a real conservative party with whom many on my side could make tactical common cause on some issues (on the basis of seeking a net reduction in the purview of the state) but with whom, as you rightly point out, there are glaring issues that genuine libertarians who support open (and ideally no) borders are more than a little out of step with.

My (admittedly snarky) remark that you quote about “not-liberal-in-any-way” is mostly because some of our writers and many of our readers describe themselves as ‘liberals’, meaning ‘classical liberals’ (I would call them consequentialist minarchists) and thus as I doubt they are familiar with “Liberal Conspiracy”, I just want them to understand it is not “our” kind of liberal being described here.

thanks for being honest about that. However I’m sure you’re aware that just as there’s more than one kind of libertarians, there are also more than one kind of liberals. So by making that snarky comment you’re only perpetuating the same notion that you’re arguing against here.

I had to point this out to Worstall a little while back too.

I have to point out that we’re now down entirely to debating questions of semantics. Nobody is discussing the merits or otherwise of libertarianism-the-political-philosophy and we’re instead debating libertarian-the-label-applied-to-certain-people-who-may-not-follow-the-philosophy. In other words, we’re saying “we apply the label ‘libertarian’ to a group of people we don’t like, ergo libertarians are bad”. As various people have pointed out so far, this falls into the same category as saying that Hitler is the same as Neil Kinnock because they both would have called themselves socialists – it’s unfair to some individuals and it’s also a really awful way of advancing any argument. We rightly pour scorn on people who make these kinds of spurious accusations towards people that we approve of, so why the fuck do we imagine that we can be effective in doing the same thing towards people we disapprove of?

As I said before, we can separate the “ideal” libertarian viewpoint from the actual viewpoint held by people who like to call themselves libertarians. What’s wrong with Helmer and co. is that they’re libertarian when it concerns their own rights and not libertarian where it concerns the rights of people they don’t like. The problem with these ‘libertarians’ is that they aren’t libertarians. It’s not fucking rocket science, is it? If we want to persuade people beyond our own political ghetto, we might start by not deliberately misunderstanding their views in order to get our requisite two-minute hate in for the day. It would make a lot more sense to call Helmer a hypocrite than it would do to say “gosh, aren’t these libertarians horrible?”. Come on, just close your eyes and try to imagine this post on, say, Dizzy’s blog with ‘socialist’ in place of libertarian and accusations being thrown the other way.

Look, these kinds of debates come up all the time because most people who have decided which side of the political spectrum they belong to have absolutely no desire to understand or explore the views of people on the other side. Right-wingers of various kinds will happily brand everyone from Che Guevara to James Purnell to Josef Stalin as a “socialist” when it suits them. This is, pretty much, a lie. I’m sure there are plenty of socialists who would be upset at the idea that their beliefs can be interpreted purely through the behaviour of those three people (or any other sample). We tend to object to that kind of lying both because it’s wrong (in a moral sense) and also because it’s pretty stupid, and the world would be a better place if such stupidity didn’t intrude upon political debate. So, why would we think that it’s at all OK for us to start applying labels to the other side in this way? It’s equally morally wrong and it’s equally stupid. If we want to peddle lies and misinformation purely because the other side does so, then we have absolutely no moral high ground at all.

“However I’m sure you’re aware that just as there’s more than one kind of libertarians, there are also more than one kind of liberals.”

Yes indeed, but I think it is helpful to differentiate when people tagged with the same labels actually hold views that are not just divergent, they are largely inimical. Hence a ‘classical liberal’ is not another kind of statist-left-collectivist-liberal, they are completely different beasties, so it is useful to point out when using the term ‘liberal’ which you mean.

Likewise anarcho-capitalists and genuine minarchists might both be called ‘libertarian’ in spite of the usual disagreements between them as at least both focus on several rights and oppose the very notion of collective rights, but I usually oppose people calling themselves ‘libertarians’ if they are fundamentally collectivist.

So yes, of course you are correct that these labels can cover quite a range of views, but when they cover inimical values, getting the semantics right is not a trivial matter to any discussion, which is why I think describing a collection of Tories as ‘libertarians’ is a mistake.

I actually agree with quite a lot of the original article’s critique, but if anything it would have been strengthened by pointing out the underpinning incoherence (not just hypocrisy) in some of the views *if those folks at the Tory conference think that constitutes libertarian political objectives* (which frankly I doubt they really do). To simply accept that is indeed ‘libertarian’ is both a mistake and, I still maintain, a category error.

“The problem with these ‘libertarians’ is that they aren’t libertarians. It’s not fucking rocket science, is it?”

Amen.

Okay, we seem to have got stuck in a rather tedious argument about semantics. This is very possibly my own fault, and the result of the tone of my original piece and the way it tars all libertarians with the same brush. So, sorry, and stuff.

That said… I reject utterly the idea that the freedom association aren’t libertarians. They’re cited on libertarian blogs. They speak at libertarian conferences. They spout largely libertarian ideas.

The fact they combine all this with some rather nasty prejudices doesn’t of course mean that all libertarians are homophobic, or anything like it. But I think the hypocrisy of this particular brand of Conservative Libertarianism is real – and since they’re frankly the only libertarians anywhere near power in Britain right now I reckon that’s worthy of comment.

He-he, this reminds me of the good old days, because I’m going to have to side with Perry here.

Libertarians are libertarians, with the exception of Objectivists who’re way too thick to appreciate that the logical consequences of Rand’s ‘philosophy’ is just another form of totalitarianism.

Tories are Tories – and Helmer is a Tory.

And the Freedom Association were always most closely aligned with the old Monday Club, or as we used to fondly refer to them ‘a bunch of quasi-fascist cunts’.

“But I think the hypocrisy of this particular brand of Conservative Libertarianism is real”

I agree it is hypocritical… because it ain’t compatible with core libertarian values. But this also makes their views incoherent, i.e. a fallacy, not just a matter of opinion, *if* they are self-describe libertarians… if they think the state removing the right of gypsies to free association and freely negotiated contract somehow advances the cause of liberty, they do not even have a valid description of ‘liberty’ let alone ‘libertarianism’, and anyone taken in by them needs to have that pointed out. You do not have to support libertarianism to point out to a libertarian that *by their own standards* the people they might be supporting are not advancing the cause of liberty and are not libertarian (if indeed they even claim to be).

Indeed pointing that out makes your case stronger when rubbishing such folks, rather than following the people you dislike into the same trap by granting them a label they do not deserve.

FlyingRodent: any libertarian who does not support the right of people to form trade unions has not thought the issue through very carefully.

Yes Perry. You’ll notice that my comment @37 was not a critique of the world’s noteworthy libertarian politicians, since there are practically none, for obvious reasons. It was more a here’s what happens when libertarians catch the ear of electable politicians, since that’s the only way libertarian ideas can enter the mainstream roundup, and one that doesn’t reflect well on you.

My point is that your politics are so insane that no electorate on Earth will ever vote for them, but the Republicans and the Tories find you very useful in pushing their self-serving agendas, and that there are existing states where libertarian principles have been tested… With predictably disastrous effects.

Welcome to politics, is what I’m trying to say. You are, literally, tools – tools of the Republicans and the Tories, with no hope of ever seeing your ideological Nirvanas realised. You and the Commies have something in common there, I think.

“and that there are existing states where libertarian principles have been tested… With predictably disastrous effects.”

Hehe… I know better than to waste my time here trying to convince you otherwise, so I am done here for now, but just let me say that the extent to which the capitalist market order has been allowed to work and several property rights respected (i.e. just about all the things that actually brought about the modern world of mass affluence) are all the proof of the manifest superiority of what underpins libertarian principles over the alternatives that your views represent.

Of course you do not agree with that, or even really understand what I am talking about in all likelihood, and that’s fine by me 🙂

Adios.

I mentally switched off on this thread when Flying Rodent described the post-Reagan Republican Party as “libertarian”. I mean, really?

The problem here is that because you think “libertarianism” = “get your filthy hands off my Lexus, hippy”, anyone who believes the latter can automatically be labelled as the former. But that’s just silly.

Any political party with the social conservatism of the GOP is certainly not libertarian, and simply saying it’s so isn’t good enough. Pretty sure you can do better.

let me say that the extent to which the capitalist market order has been allowed to work and several property rights respected… are all the proof of the manifest superiority of what underpins libertarian principles over the alternatives that your views represent.

Well, let me say that you’re talking about the extent to which the capitalist market order has been allowed to drive capitalism itself into the toilet, pushing millions out of work yet-a-fucking-gain, under the tutelage of that arch-communist Alan Greenspan, makes me think your point is basically total, risible wank. You had your boys in power, and they masterminded disaster, son.

I’ve thrown you Saipan as a defensible position for libertarian society – and there are defences that can be made, but most of them are too inhuman to be posted on this thread – but if you want to stick to your defence of “Markets rock, go eat a dick” then that’s your prerogative. I’ve raised Saipan, post-Soviet Russia and post-Saddam Iraq with libertarians before, and none of you fancy the challenge, and that’s before we get to America – the world’s imprisonment capital..

I mentally switched off on this thread when Flying Rodent described the post-Reagan Republican Party as “libertarian”.

Hands up anyone who believes Reaganomics and libertarianism are totally unrelated economic philosophies?

I mean really, hands up anyone who believes that the two are unrelated. Anyone?

I do believe strongly that libertarianism means “Hands off my Lexus, Hippy” – I’ve said so repeatedly in the past, and I stand by it now. My point is that libertarianism’s effect on reality is only felt through the Republicans and the Tories. If anyone wants to challenge that, feel free… But you’re onto a loser. It’s the same old bullshit.

“Well, let me say that you’re talking about the extent to which the capitalist market order has been allowed to drive capitalism itself into the toilet, pushing millions out of work yet-a-fucking-gain, under the tutelage of that arch-communist Alan Greenspan, makes me think your point is basically total, risible wank. You had your boys in power, and they masterminded disaster, son.”

Hate to dissapoint you but many libertarians saw the crisis coming. They pointed out that central banks were holding interest rates too low and creating an unsustainable boom (ceoncentrated around housing). So yes, Friedman and the Chicago School libertarians etc (who believed in central control of the money supply and tended to be the “selective libertarians” people have criticised) got it wrong. Mises and the Austrian School did not. http://mises.org/story/3128

On another note, there are those libertarians (see here – http://all-left.net/) in the tradition of Proudhon, American 19th century individualist anarchists and others calling themselves mutualists who believe that a consistent application of free market principles i.e. no direct or indirect state support for corporate capitalism will result in a more decentralised economy and less inequality. Just goes to show that not all free marketeers are right-wingers.

50. Dick the Prick

@19 – I wasn’t really linking fuel costs to liberty but rather restrictions. The thought of fuel poverty on such an egregious and widespread scale disgusts me. I have no knowledge whether man made climate change is real or not but I do know that the poor are going to get shafted, those least able will be hit hardest and it’s just depressing that no-one seems to be able or desirous to do anything about it. Liberty and money are very similar but I guess it’s always been so.

@2
You can predict what you like, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

@50
The Democrats are pretty right-wing as well.

However, I do think flying rodent’s example lends credence to the classical liberal theory that, in the end, you need strong democratic (or at least independent judicial) institutions in order to keep a vaguely libertarian polity stable. The sort of states that libertarians like to use as paradigm examples of free markets in operation (Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Denmark in terms of labour market regulation) are all partly the product of strong political institutions. We have never yet seen anarchy lead to a stable free market in which there isn’t widespread corruption or misappropriation.

#37 FlyingRodent

You are spot-on.

“However, I do think flying rodent’s example lends credence to the classical liberal theory that, in the end, you need strong democratic (or at least independent judicial) institutions in order to keep a vaguely libertarian polity stable. The sort of states that libertarians like to use as paradigm examples of free markets in operation (Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Denmark in terms of labour market regulation) are all partly the product of strong political institutions.”

Sure. There are some things that must be done and that only government can do. The list of them is of course a matter of debate: I’m one of those thinking that the list is rather small. Perry’s list would probably be smaller than mine but we’re both still insisting that there must be government. Only not perhaps quite as much government as we seem to end up with.

56. Shatterface

‘On another note, there are those libertarians (see here – http://all-left.net/) in the tradition of Proudhon, American 19th century individualist anarchists and others calling themselves mutualists who believe that a consistent application of free market principles i.e. no direct or indirect state support for corporate capitalism will result in a more decentralised economy and less inequality. Just goes to show that not all free marketeers are right-wingers.’

Anarchists don’t, however, believe in property rights, the accumulation of capital or the exploitation of labour, so while we accept competition it isn’t based on the me, me, me philosophy of the Tories.

The voluntary association of free individuals is a purer form of Libertarianism than anything represented by the Right, and closer in spirit to earlier, pre-statist forms of socialism than anything proposed by the followers of Marx or Lenin.

Yes, Libertarianism is childish.

It is the equivalent of the hysterical child screaming a tantrum in the middle of the aisle in Sainsbury’s.

It has some gall purloing the word “freedom” for its selfish little cause. Freedom in the mouths of Libertoonians only means freedom from taxation. It is a narrow, economic freedom, which suits this well-heeled, if misanthropic, movement to the ground.

“Freedom in the mouths of Libertoonians only means freedom from taxation.”

Really? You mean the people who argue that you should be allowed to have sex however you wish with other consenting adults (because it’s your body), who argue that you should be able to ingest whatever drugs you wish (because it’s your body), against conscription (because it’s your body)…..these are the people who are only arguing for freedom from taxation?

We live in a complex society and face increasingly complex problems. Markets cannot solve every problem, and anyway there have to be sets of rules (and institutions to manage them) before there are markets. Thus inevitably we delegate quite significant decisions about our lives to other people. In theory there should be transparency and accountability: this should give us confidence that the institutions to which we’ve delegated these responsibilities are acting in our interest. There would appear to be a crisis of confidence because:-
– problems are becoming more complex (a globalised economy, climate change)
– there is a feeling that transparency and accountability isn’t working: politics appears to be a spectacle and not responsive to us; democracy, as it is practised, doesn’t seem to give us confidence that institutions are working in our interest
– there are signs of growing authoritarianism.

Libertarians could be useful if they helped us to think about how to manage complex societies without them becoming authoritarian. However, many of those who label themselves as “libertarians” aren’t doing that. They are either
– Tories who are jumping on the “New Labour – authoritarian” bandwaggon
– assuming away the complexities of a 21st century world.

“Markets cannot solve every problem, and anyway there have to be sets of rules (and institutions to manage them) before there are markets.”

You then go on to talk about politics. One of the points that libertarians make (and so do many others, classical liberals like myself) is that rules and institutions are not the same thing as politics, government and the State.

It’s entirely possible (we would say highly desirable of course) to have rules and institutions, things that are worked upon, designed, collectively, without their needing to be done by the State or by politics.

There are of course myriad examples: the Cubs and Scouts, Brownies and Girl Guides, seem to have lots of rules which tend to get obeyed. They’re institutions, they’re certainly collective action, but they don’t use compulsion nor are they an arm of the State nor do they use the power of the State.

The London Metals Exchange is certainly a market and again has any number of rules.

But neither the LME not the Scouts are creations of the State.

That there are some things which not even voluntary cooperation can solve I agree: I just wanted to make the point that libertarianism isn’t about atomism, all for one. It’s about *not* the forced all for all, except in those areas where it is absolutely necessary.

Jonn,

Okay, we seem to have got stuck in a rather tedious argument about semantics. This is very possibly my own fault, and the result of the tone of my original piece and the way it tars all libertarians with the same brush. So, sorry, and stuff.

That said… I reject utterly the idea that the freedom association aren’t libertarians. They’re cited on [blogs claimed to be] libertarian blogs. They speak at [conferences claimed to be] libertarian conferences. They spout largely [ideas claimed to be] libertarian ideas.

It’s not so much an argument about semantics but an argument as to whether someone claiming to be a libertarian is in fact a libertarian – I think it’s reasonable to suggest that, while there may be degrees of libertarianism, particular beliefs / actions can preclude someone from being a libertarian.

To pile it on:

There are a number of people who claim to be Christian, yet they advocate the murder of people who ‘facilitate’ abortion, whether the facilitator is a doctor, nurse, or whatever; they advocate the bombing of abortion clinics, and even the planting of secondary devices to be detonated on the arrival of the emergency services. They speak with other self-described Christians and discuss bombing clinics and murdering people with self-described Christians on websites purporting to be Christian websites. But are they in fact Christian? I don’t believe so, because (although I’m not a Christian or a theological scholar) it seems to me that advocating murder and terrorism precludes you from rightfully calling yourself a Christian.

Tim Worstall: to some extent I agree with you. However I do think that some people who call themselves “libertarians” are suggesting something “atomistic”. They aren’t suggesting solutions to collective action problems.

(Must go now. Possibly more later.)

@61 – exactly. Libertartians pay lip-service to all those nice freedoms like shagging and snorting and not going to war, but actually-in-practice side with the type of people who are apt start wars on this, that or the other – all because they were promised a tax cut.

They are, as someone mentioned above, tools.

Hmm, well “They aren’t suggesting solutions to collective action problems. ”

I have a feeling (there are of course inevitably some who fit your bill there) that the real difference is over what are collective action problems that need to be solved.

I would assume that most around here would argue that inequality is a collective action problem and one where the only solutions involve the compulsive powers of the State.

I would also assume that most libertarians (and I have to assume as I’m not one) would assume that inequality isn’t in fact a problem, let alone one that requires collective action and most certainly not the coercive powers of the State.

It’s not so much not acknowledging the need for collective action sometimes, it’s a disagreement over when.

It seems that Elinor Ostrom has just won some sort of prize. She is well worth reading about colllective action issues.

Read the article by Henry on Crooked Timber about Elinor Ostrom. “Straddling libertarian and left-wing positions”. Hmmmm.

67. Luis Enrique

Here’s an interview with Elinor from 2003 (pdf)

Flyingrodent:

“I’ve thrown you Saipan as a defensible position for libertarian society – and there are defences that can be made, but most of them are too inhuman to be posted on this thread – but if you want to stick to your defence of “Markets rock, go eat a dick” then that’s your prerogative. I’ve raised Saipan, post-Soviet Russia and post-Saddam Iraq with libertarians before, and none of you fancy the challenge”

Congratulations on besting all those doltish libertarians in battle! Have you ever considered the possibility that these folk don’t “fancy the challenge” of arguing the toss with you because they shrink from the utter pointlessness of debating an individual who genuinely considers Saipan, post-Soviet Russia and post-Saddam Iraq as “defensible libertarian positions”? Frankly, if I had the time, I could effortlessly explain to you the errors of your ways. It would be easy, because your assumptions regarding what constitutes the libertarian ideal are so confused. However, I’m pretty certain I know your type, and – just like Perry de Havilland above – I’m not interested in wasting my time fighting lost causes.

Those who try to coerce people who have harmed no others or their property should stick multiple cactuses up their backsides and goose-step to North Korea where they might be satisfied with unlimited despotism.

That’s a really abusive article and full of political misunderstanding. Shame on you.

As a Tory, a libertarian and a member of the TFA I have several points I would like to make:

1. Roger Helmer is not a libertarian. He is a right wing Tory with some libertarian leanings. He does not claim to be a libertarian
2. The TFA does not claim to represent libertarians. Its membership is compromised of a weird mix of old hard right Tories (hang em and flog em’) right wingers with libertarians leanings (Helmer?) and real Libertarians.
3. True libertarians would say that the government has no right to tell you where to live (which entails open boarders etc) and that the ‘travellers’ have a right to live anywhere they like. If they start to infringe on other peoples property rights or any other rights then they must face the law. I can sympathise with people not wanting to live near travellers because -rightly or wrongly – they fear this will lead to more crime etc. However unless the travellers actually start doing these things then in a libertarian society there is no basis for stopping them from living where ever they like.

So to answer your question “are all libertarians this childish?” – the question is not valid. No libertarians advocate said thoughts (because as you point out they conflict with the libertarians premiss of individual liberty), thus no libertarians are that childish.

72. douglas clark

Think This,

So I suppose in Libertarian Philosophy, property rights are really important? Who’d have thought it!

What a load of dreck.

What if you, Think This, don’t have any property? What then? Curl up and die, or what? Submit to the property masters?

Grow up.

I think that there is a reasonable case to be made that no Libertarian is actually more than emotionally seven years old and still believes in Santa Claus.

@76

You use the phrase “submit to the property masters” and then tell me to grow up? How laughable. Your whole comment is stepped in Marxist language. I thought the left had moved on from ‘wage labour exploitation’.

If you don’t have property then you work to accumulate it – just like those who own the property did. You can choose to work for ‘the property master’ as you put it (the key word here being choose – you are not forced to) in which case a contract is made between the employee and employer. Alternatively you get a bank or any other institution to give you capital to back your own business or ideas etc. You can take any number of measures to provide for yourself without having any property.

I can assume what you would propose though is some sort of forced redistribution of property or wealth, or perhaps that it be held in ‘collective ownership’ by the state.

In the first case simply see Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain argument and in the 2nd see the tyranny and oppression caused in Russia, China or anywhere else where the state control the economy in their leaders interest.

74. douglas clark

Think This @ 77,

No.

Can I quote you, yes I will.

If they start to infringe on other peoples property rights or any other rights then they must face the law.

That is bullshit, and if you don’t know it then you are a particularily sad person.

I don’t know how ignorant you are, or how stupid you are, but it seems to me that you are just another apologist for a property owning status quo. Why don’t you admit that Liberatianism is nothing more than that the status quo? In Spades perhaps?

What a joyous prospect.

What a tit. Ownership of land is the measure of status for the human race.

What absolute shite.

75. douglas clark

It would, perhaps, justify Southern Plantations and the like. What prospect would a slave have of meeting brain dead Think This’s criteria,

If you don’t have property then you work to accumulate it – just like those who own the property did.

None whatsoever.

You are a very weird guy.

76. Just Visiting

and slavery has what relevance to this thread exactly?

William Wilberforce and others brought it to an end in this country some while ago…

As a refutation of libertariansim this works not quite as well as saying that because LibDems believe in illegal wars, massacring people, genocide, ethnic cleansing, child rape & kidnapping & dissecting people, while alive to steal their body organs then all liberals do.

Real liberals oppose all these things but there is no copyright on such terms & it is perfectly possible for the LibDems to claim to be liberal without being so (& also to claim democracy while making manifesto promises on referendums & then laughing in the electorate’s face after the election).

Oh great, an 80 comment “No True Libertarian” thread, and now it’s got the (in)famous Neil Craig too… Joy!

I propose we round up everyone who self-identifies as Libertarian, stick them all on an island, and leave them to it until they figure which of them is the True Libertarian (i.e. we go in a week later to clear up the bodies). We could call it “Last Libertarian Standing”.

Infamy infamy Dunc. You would be one of the LibDems who, when they don’t get their way, believe in “rounding up” those whose politics you don’t like?

LibDem? Me? Never!

As to whether I really believe in rounding up those whose politics I don’t like, or whether my comment was merely an observation on the likely chances of success for a political “movement” whose adherents are apparently unable to agree on, well, anything… I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Yes, nice to see the famous libertarian sense of humour in full effect at comment #83…

They’ve all got it ……….. well maybe not Dunc & littleknown Neil.

Anyway, I’d have though any true libertarian would jump at the chance to be left to his or her own devices on an island populated only by like-minded rugged individualists, so that they could get on with building their utopia untroubled by all us looters and sheeple.

Go, Galt, go! You can do it!

“true libertarian would jump at the chance”

Nah, they’d have nothing to blame their shortcomings on. It’d never work.

Edited- can’t really be arsed to get into a flame war with pointless right-wing tits.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. David O'Keefe

    RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/UQiPs

  2. Benjamin A'Lee

    Libertarians have the social skills and empathy of four-year-olds. http://ur1.ca/dbaa

  3. Doug Goff

    Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/74myD

  4. RenegadeParent

    @Beautyon_ fail this instead (lol): http://is.gd/4cdac

  5. David O'Keefe

    RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/UQiPs

  6. Benjamin M. A'Lee (bma) 's status on Saturday, 10-Oct-09 12:56:07 UTC - Identi.ca

    […] http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/10/10/why-are-libertarians-so-childish/ a few seconds ago from xmpp […]

  7. Benjamin A'Lee

    Libertarians have the social skills and empathy of four-year-olds. http://ur1.ca/dbaa

  8. Doug Goff

    Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/74myD

  9. Jamie Sport

    'Libertarians are little more than spoilt over-grown children' http://bit.ly/17TWz4

  10. Nick Barron

    rt @JamieSport 'Libertarians are little more than spoilt over-grown children' http://bit.ly/17TWz4

  11. andrew

    Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish?: Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » Tory attempt.. http://bit.ly/2qpaFy

  12. irene rukerebuka

    Yep!! RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/UQiPs

  13. RenegadeParent

    @Beautyon_ fail this instead (lol): http://is.gd/4cdac

  14. Anna Span

    Oh the difference between libertarian and liberal! – RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/UQiPs

  15. Jamie Sport

    'Libertarians are little more than spoilt over-grown children' http://bit.ly/17TWz4

  16. Nick Barron

    rt @JamieSport 'Libertarians are little more than spoilt over-grown children' http://bit.ly/17TWz4

  17. andrew

    Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish?: Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » Tory attempt.. http://bit.ly/2qpaFy

  18. irene rukerebuka

    Yep!! RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/UQiPs

  19. Anna Span

    Oh the difference between libertarian and liberal! – RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Are all libertarians this childish? http://bit.ly/UQiPs

  20. Daniel Rhodes-Mumby

    A masterly summary of the repugnant ideology that is libertarianism as I have encountered it thus far: http://bit.ly/B08m2

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