January 10, 2007

Why are libertarians so interested in philosophy?

Ezra Klein and Will Wilkinson talk about "liberaltarians" on BloggingHeadsTV. Ezra (the liberal) starts if off by asking Will (the libertarian) why libertarians are so interested in philosophy. Will, toward the end, tells Ezra he's trying to "open [him] up to the beauty" of the free market. Ezra -- despite a very long, chatty diavlog -- is not buying.

ADDED: I think -- after tangling with a lot of libertarians a few weeks ago -- that the reason -- excuse the expression -- the reason libertarians are so interested in philosophy is that their ideas look best in philosophical form. It's the same reason fat people wear dark clothes.


Al Maviva said...

That's a wise choice on Ezra's part, because just look at all the misery that the free market foists on the unwilling world - in the U.S. 4.5% unemployment, lots of new cars, big screen TV's, and major throwdowns when health care is merely good and periodically not available for some people, rather than state of the art and provided in an all encompassing womb-like fashion. Not to mention our atrocious lack of human rights. Yeah, the market really sucks.

As opposed to those worker's paradises in Cuba, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and China. I guess Ezra's thesis will be tested soon (yet again) in Venezuela. Can't wait to see how that one turns out.

I know, I know, I'm being unfair. All communism / marxism / authoritarian socialism needs is another chance where the people running it don't get in the way of its success, then we'll all see why it's such a great system. Besides, medical care is free in China and everybody can read, etc...

High Power Rocketry said...

: )

KCFleming said...

Re: "Why are libertarians so interested in philosophy?"

Because philosophy is always easier than action.

Real human behavior is far more complex than libertarianism allows, which seems to invoke a simplistic rationalism as the behavioral norm. For example, when you come on the chapter about paying tolls for walking on a sidewalk, you can be pretty sure that kind of idiocy is operative.

Anonymous said...

Fat people & libertarians in dark.

Anonymous said...

I have to second al maviva here. The free market/libertarian viewpoint looks at least as good, if not better, in practice than in theory. It's not perfect, of course. It's just better than the alternatives.

Anonymous said...


Except for a handful of economists doing thought experiments, nobody is arguing for paying tolls for walking on the sidewalk. Try again.

Mike said...

While mainstream libertarianism has its flaws, they are no worse than any other faction's. Conservatism today is a disjointed, fractured movement that has no real identity. It ranges from Dear Leader cult worship to fairly radical anti-authoritarianism rooted in a deep faith in God. Liberalism? What an Orwellian name for that group. Its flaws are self-evident as you generally can't get two of the liberals' most recent favorite protected groups to not contradict one another. Just look at how they simultaneously attack the patriarchy and have doey-eyed views of Islam.

There are problematic areas like the immigration side. However, those who say "libertarianism has too simple of a view of human nature" have never really bothered to honestly look at how others view it. Liberals believe in the "essential goodness," whatever the hell that is around the world. Last I checked, aside from a few advanced nations, the human condition has always been pretty much unjust, oppressive and brutish. Conservatives? They never bother to consider the obvious contradiction between saying "man is fallen, and needs to be tightly controlled" and the fact that government is composed of people. Discressionary power is the bane of public morality.

It's actually that most libertarians have a more realistic view of how government can work within the limits of human nature. People adapt, which is one of the reasons our policies would work. Take the laws that we supported that ended the "retreat requirement" in Florida. As I have said before, if you're not a violent barbarian, you have no reason to fear your fellow man owning a gun because you won't give him cause to fear for his life, limb or property. Those who are such pathologically violent people would, in the absence of a firearm, find another way to kill you. In time, people will in Florida probably become less prone to aggression because of the real prospect that if they behave like violent sociopaths, they'll get shot dead. That is an example of how people positively adapt to freedom.

To a large extent, the average person can be trusted to live in a de facto state of anarchy. Read this expatriate's take on that to see where modern American assumptions fall down. To a large extent, libertarian philosophy boils down to a jumbo-sized occam's razor. There are so many ways that things could go wrong, that governments couldn't stop without brining society down, that we can establish a basic assumption that the average person can be just left alone in general. Think about this, so summarize abe's point in that post, a murderer could kill more people with a perfectly legal SUV by running into a crowded area on a school ground in 5-10 seconds than he could with a minute with an automatic rifle.

It requires cynicism, and I'll be the first to admit that a few of the LP's ideas like open borders are loony. The essential philosophy, however, is not.

Ann Althouse said...

The Emperor said..."I have to second al maviva here. The free market/libertarian viewpoint looks at least as good, if not better, in practice than in theory. It's not perfect, of course. It's just better than the alternatives."

What free market in practice are you looking at? The one before there was any antitrust regulation? Before environmental regulation? Really, which one is it? I suspect it's not in practice at all, but back there in your abstract theory! The fat man is wearing dark blue today.

Henry said...

Why are libertarians so interested in philosophy?

I suspect that most libertarians are easy-going small-government social liberals that don't go to libertarian confabs to wax philosophical. A U.S.-style free market (to use Al Maviva's example) may not match some abstract ideal, but it is grounds for practical libertarianism -- less regulation is better than more. I don't know that a normative response ("what about anti-trust regulations") is a meaningful counter to that. What about anti-trust regulations?

Really this post should be titled Why are libertarian theorists so interested in philosophy -- which is just a tautology. Kind of like asking why lawyers are so legalistic.

You know, except when they aren't.

altoids1306 said...

Since I consider myself mostly a libertarian, I can speak with some confidence on this subject.

I think most libertarians are most concerned with creating a self-consistent political ideology - which naturally leads to questions of what is human nature, and what a political system should seek to acheive. I think very few people have a natural inclination to libertarianism - childhood is almost defined by benevolent dictatorship and well-intentioned top-down intervention. Libertarianism only becomes attractive when you pull back from individual level and consider the system-wide perspective. Libertarians become libertarians because they think that this is the best way to form consistent policies to address issues at the larger level. Trying to solve things at an individual, case-by-case basis just becomes a mish-mash of "it depends."

There are any number of sob stories for any issue - the war widow, or the 85-yr-old grandma of 5 who can't afford cancer treatment. Yet it is absurd to formulate a public policy that entails no military casualties. It is equally absurd, in less obvious ways, to give treatment to every cancer patient. And so the libertarian seems callous - willing to sacrifice widows and grandmothers for ideological consistency.

Liberals and conservatives, who, by their own admission, are baffled by the libertarian obsession with philosophy, don't have problems with self-contradiction. A pro-choice vegan will in the same breath condemn the killing of shrimp while defending the right to kill a fetus, even if the fetus, while not fully human, is at least as deserving of life as shrimp. (Or, if you don't like the shrimp comparison, try chicken eggs, which aren't even embryos, much less human embryos.)

Libertarians can go to far - it would be hard to defend Ayn Rand - but the interest in philosophy comes from a desire for a comprehensive and consistent framework for thinking about public policy. The excesses of libertarianism come from ideological self-consistency trumping common sense (something small "l" libertarians try to watch out for).

Anonymous said...

Ann Althouse said:

"What free market in practice are you looking at? The one before there was any antitrust regulation? Before environmental regulation? Really, which one is it? I suspect it's not in practice at all, but back there in your abstract theory!"

I'm looking at today's relatively free U.S. market, with antitrust regulation and (mostly) sensible environmental regulation. Let's not obsure the issues by presenting the most extreme version of a philosophy. Advocating for a free market generally does not mean you oppose any and all regulation. There is no "pure" free market out there, just as there is no "pure" authoritarian state. Every society is mixed. But those with markets that are relatively free tend to do better than those that are less free.

R C Dean said...

Real human behavior is far more complex than libertarianism allows

Libertarianism is the only political philosophy that truly recognizes and accepts human complexity, because all the more statist alternatives ultimately boil down to subjecting that complexity to top-down control.

Libertarianism is a tendency, one that says that the jackboots of the state should be the last resort, not the first, to solve a problem. Anne's demand that libertarianism be frozen into a specific, formulaic definition of what agencies and programs are allowed is exactly what you would expect from someone with statist blinkers on.

While the fat man of libertarianism may be wearing black, the emperor of statism is buck naked, Anne. Frankly, I prefer the fat man to wear some clothes.

JorgXMcKie said...

The main reason for being interested in philosophy (although one should not neglect being interested in the practical side of life) is to help one better understand those things which cannot be experienced directly enough times to provide a data base for making better decisions.

Like symbolic logic or syllogisms in general, however, philosophy is no better at giving good answers than the axioms underlying them.

While I would generally prefer the 'fallen being' attitude of conservatives to the more Rousseauian 'noble savage' of the Left as an axiom, it too, has it's problems. Therefore, I study a certain amount of various kinds of philosophy. None of them appears to me to have all the answers, but several appear to offer useful alternatives in both axioms and actions.

John Thacker said...

Real human behavior is far more complex than libertarianism allows, which seems to invoke a simplistic rationalism as the behavioral norm.

Real human behavior is far more complicated than government action can account for. Libertarian philosophy advocates simple government responses (or lack of responses) because more powerful ones tend to have unexpected consequences.

More explicitly, a certain strand of libertarians is very philosophical because they come at it from a philosophical view, but that's true of philosophical adherents of other views. A greater percentage of Libertarians with a capital L are philosophical because the really practical people tend to join political parties where they have some chance of wielding power rather than, at best, affecting ideas and thoughts.

Another reason why libertarians are often abstract is that the appreciation of complexity means that they believe that government action almost always has a downside-- but that that downside is very often quite hidden. Thus the argument for free trade notes that you can see the jobs which are protected, but no one counts the other jobs that were never created as a result of that protection. That FDA regulation prevents some bad drugs from reaching the market, and pharmaceutical price controls decrease the price of drugs right now, but no one misses the drugs that were never invented because the cost of regulation was too high, or the expected profit from researching the drug declined. But those bad drugs and those lower prices exist in a way that the theoretical never-invented drugs don't.

Advocates of government action can generally point to the immediate, real-world, concrete benefits of taking action now. Libertarians can only say that by taking action, some unexpected cause will occur, especially by preventing new jobs, new goods, or new services from being created, but can't specify exactly which ones those are. The pros are obvious and predictable, the cons certainly less obvious and often less predictable.

In such cases, is it any wonder that people stick to general philosophical inclinations and intuition for justification? It's the same reason that many people stick to the ideal of proper criminal process, even when in real world there are criminals whom are certainly guilty. Exclusionary rules about evidence, the desire to not just hang dictators (or jeer at them), and many more things are also arguments of philosophy over the immediate real world.

It is true, however, that advocates of government action often compare ideal government action to the imperfect free market, whereas libertarians do the opposite.

Smilin' Jack said...

--the reason libertarians are so interested in philosophy is that their ideas look best in philosophical form.

Or maybe it's because if you think about your ideas, philosophy necessarily results. The pragmatic approach to law avoids the nuisance of philosophy because you don't need any ideas---just a preferred result and an ability to spell "commerce clause."

KCFleming said...


Look, I am a fan of WF Buckley, Michael Oakeshott, Whittaker Chambers, Ludwig von Mises, Peter Drucker, FA Hayek, Russell Kirk, Robert Conquest, Charles Adams, and Paul Johnson. My comments at Althouse are often so far right I scare myself ( a blue diaper baby).

My only anti-libertarian complaint is that its philosophy can get a bit goofy. I agree that their goofiness is far less worrisome than the pervasive terror wrought by Statists.

So really, lighten up.
Sometimes idea folks are a little light in the reality department. No biggie.
Far better to eschew the tendency to defenestrate the seeming heretics than risk throwing out your friends.

mtrobertsattorney said...

"Philosophy is easier than action"?? I don't think so. It's a hell of lot easier shoveling snow than it is wrestling with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Anonymous said...


No offense intended. Sometimes the tone of a comment is different than what one had in mind.

But I do disagree that the libertarian view is "goofy".

KCFleming said...

You're right about Kant!
But I meant instead that it's easier to design a perfect society on paper than to implement that design, because stubborn and ugly reality intrudes, and upends the chessboard.

vbspurs said...

the reason libertarians are so interested in philosophy is that their ideas look best in philosophical form. It's the same reason fat people wear dark clothes.

Because though they think they look good to the outside world, in reality, everyone still knows they're fat?

Good one.


vbspurs said...

Libertarians can go to far - it would be hard to defend Ayn Rand - but the interest in philosophy comes from a desire for a comprehensive and consistent framework for thinking about public policy.

The same could be said for Leninism-Marxism (or National Socialism).

That's what I love about the framers of the US Constitution.

They didn't think about consistency outside of nobly stated ideals.

Because when you're philosophy is grounded in the obscure, the decent, and the sensible, there is no need for delving into philosophy.

Let your better angels be your guide.


Too Many Jims said...

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable.

KCFleming said...

Victoria is dead on correct.
Russell Kirk had often spoken of true conservatism as lacking an ideology:

"Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata.

The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers."

Palladian said...

The best thing to do is to shovel the snow on top of Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" and hope for a permafrost. Kant was sure doing a lot of shoveling when he wrote it.

Paul Brinkley said...

I suspect that the reason libertarians appear so interested in philosophy is because the ones who are more pragmatic don't look like libertarians.

They look like swing voters.

I'll repeat something I've said before: I like libertarianism a lot, and at the same time grant that pure libertarianism would probably falter in practice due to the inavailability of perfect information to all participants. Without perfectly informed market decisions, certain parties can gradually accrete control.

Al Maviva said...

Hmmm. For what it's worth, I happen to think a University-of-Chicago / Hayek kind of libertarianism works best - a pragmatic, not-too-carried-away-with-ideological-consistency sort of libertarianism. Slightly regulated markets, in other words, with the regulation aimed at making the markets operate reasonably freely for the vast majority of consumers. This centers on removing artificial barriers to entry, reducing information advantage when it's only purpose is the aggregation of market power, things of that nature. Yep, I'm never going to get a man-hug from Harry Browne, that's for sure.

This is libertarian thought *as it informs* (fill in the blank - conservatism, neo-liberalism, whatever).

I have a problem with a lot of self-labeled libertarians because many people who roll that way have read a little Ayn Rand or a lot of Murray Rothbard, and then sort of go to extremes trying to argue in favor of applying Rand and Rothbard to all situations. This inevitably reduces itself to a flame war with the proponent annnouncing that if he had his way, we'd all live by Rothbard's dictates. It's reminiscent of O'Rourke's joking CATO anniversary speech, about the vast non-existent chain of deeply uncommitted inactivists, not circling the White House in a 24 hour vigil to demand that the government do nothing. Newsflash: O'Rourke was joking. Newsflash #2: Rand was a maniac. Newsflash#3: you like Rothbard so much, you should try living in some 'state of nature' paradise with no laws, like most of Somalia, Rwanda circa 1994, or the Parisien suburbs on riot night. Insisting on a top down application of libertarian principles is a bit of a totalitarian tendency in and of itself, and I think that's what's off-putting about some of the more adamant movement libertarians. It's that whiff of "my way, or the highway" that you also get off Marxists, fascists, and other totalitarian-leaning 'ist' movement members, as if choice of government policy was a moral matter, and failure to make 'the right' choice was an abhorrence. It's the insistence that chaos and anarchy are how we must live our lives, in denial of the fact that private choice sometimes results in the choice for more public sector. Yes, we could use a lot more private choice, but having seen some spontaneously organized cultures, I'm not sure that spontaneously organized culture is going to give us access to all the nice material crap, general well being and safety we enjoy in the west. It's damn hard to get your porno and medical marijuana mailed to you every week, when there's no mail service, and no public infrastructure for a private mail service. Pony Express, anybody? ("Hey, this Hustler is a year old... and it smells like horse dung.") (That was a shout out to my liberaltarian friends there, BTW).

Libertarianism as a guiding principle is a bit different and I'm rather a big fan of it - minimize taxes, minimize government where possible, if government must get involved (as in the social security net, which even Hayek found consistent with libertarianism) then it should be in a non-damaging manner, encouraging work (workfare) in lieu of dependency. The excellent Perry de Havilland at Samizdata seems to be working on popularizing the term "minarchy" as a rule of the smallest government we can get away with, and still get the job done.

This gets away from the perfect logical consistency that a lot of adherents of big-L libertarianism like, but it's a fair problem-solving approach. And until you change the minds of the vast mass of humanity, much of it will look to the government to solve some problems, like crime, chaos, response to natural disasters, and so forth.

And for those who have read Kirk and Oakeshott and the Southern Agrarians... yes, what I'm describing is a *conservative* libertarianism, a government of specific cases and pragmatic choices, informed by the sad history of our stupid choices in the past. Hayek sits along that fault line between true conservatism and true libertarianism, and I think that's where you would find a lot of Reagan conservatives / Gingrichian-gubmint-off-mah-back conservatives. There's no good term for it, and to tell the truth I'm not comfortable lumping myself in with either the "L" Libertarians or the a lot of the constitution-ign'ant social conservatives. I'd still rather hang with either group, however, than with *any* collectivistm group, including the left liberal populist democrats.

krshorewood said...

My definition is that Libertarians are Republicans who like to do dope.

Seriously, the problem is Libertarians share one thing with Communists. None of their ideas have actually worked in practice.

Like Randi Rhodes says, "You have to love the Libertarians. They are so innocent. It's just that they have no idea how things in human nature work."

krshorewood said...

My definition of Libertarians is that they are Republicans who like to do dope.

Seriously, they share one thing with Communists. None of their ideas work in practice. Fortunately for us Libertarians have never gotten to absolute power.

The other part I love about these innocents is that they claim they are against any organization that limits freedom, but they only talk about government in that regard. Only when pushed will they admit big business has that power as well.

If they are so interested in philosophy it is best for all of us that this is where their activity stays.

Palladian said...

"Like Randi Rhodes says, "You have to love the Libertarians. They are so innocent. It's just that they have no idea how things in human nature work."

Jesus Christ, that little bon mot sure comes with a brimming tablespoon of irony, doesn't it? I absolutely love when a host on "Air America" accuses a philosophy as naive.

Anonymous said...

I take it, then, that those of you espousing the free market would prefer to live in Mexico or most Latin American countries?

I mean, just look at what you get-- very low taxes, little government, practically no social services, a very wealthy elite and a very poor underclass who the wealthy elite can hire for whatever the market will bear, few labor laws and regulations (none at all if you know which palm to grease), lax and mostly unenforced environmental laws... why the Libertarian paradise.

In fact, the recent shift of most of Latin America towards the left is what happens when you introduce Democracy (which was long missing) into such a system-- most people think that it sucks and they have been electing people like Evo Morales and yes, Hugo Chavez because they promise to do things differently than they have been done for decades.

Of course many of them prefer living in America and they've been voting with their feet.

And if you don't like that, there are many similar examples around the world of untrammeled capitalism-- especially in places like south Asia and Africa.

Besides if you don't like Liberalism, then I guess you don't like the 40 hour work week, child labor laws, clean air, Social Security, minimum wage, workplace safety standards or federally subsidized student loans. All of these were passed over the vigorous opposition of conservatives.

Just one more observation:

It's interesting how many 'libertarians' are posting in the morning-- Some may have night jobs, but it seems likely (just by volume here and on other blogs) that at least some of them either don't work (maybe they are collecting welfare checks while banging the walls against the evils of government) or they are blogging at work (and think they are entitled to be paid for it by their employer). Just an observation.

John Kindley said...

"[T]he reason libertarians are so interested in philosophy is that their ideas look best in philosophical form. It's the same reason fat people wear dark clothes."

There you go again, Ann, with your "sweeping generalizations designed to piss people off for no good reason" (quoting myself). Terse maybe. But not sharp. Not pointed. Just inane. Not really worth taking seriously or taking the time to respond to because when the critiques come you can then just specify the terms in your vacuous statement to give it whatever meaning you want. (E.g. "I meant hard-care libertarian ideologues with no compassion, no common sense, and no concern for how their ideas work out in the real world." Well, if that's what you meant, I don't think the ideas of your straw man would look good in practice or in philosophical form.)

Economics can tell you something about the best means to achieve a given end. But if you want to know what the ends of government are in the first place, you have to engage in philosophy. Philosophy, of course, as the love of wisdom, must begin and stay grounded in reality, or it is not wisdom but folly. True philosophy does not hide reality, like dark clothes on a fat man, but rather sheds light on what is really good for us as individuals and as human beings living in society, uncovering false assumptions. Public policy needs philosophy.

KCFleming said...

That was my favorite Al Maviva post ever!

Me think pretty like that one day maybe.

Jim Kenefick said...

Wow. If I posted this exact same article and changed the fat insult to one about women, Ann here would hit the roof and call me a sexist. Or cry at me and yell at me to explain to her how I didn't hate all women.

I think it's time I removed this blog from my rss reader. There's nothing here worth reading anymore and I despise rank hypocrisy. Nice while it lasted I suppose.

Bye y'all.

LoafingOaf said...

Their ideas may look best in philosophical form, and we may not wanna live under it in its purest form, but the ideas also can - and more often do - look darn good in real world practice.

For example, after the USSR collapsed, Estonia was run by leaders who read libertarian ideas that people often say aren't good for the real world and only sound good in books. But when Estonia abolished tariffs, went with a flat tax, deregulated agrictulure, and in general became the most classically liberal economy in Europe in the 1990s, the economy took off so fast it was called a "miracle." No, it was good ideas put into practice.

What's disheartening in today's politics is that for many people the beginning point - the starting assumption - is that free trade and globalization are bad. Countless university students are graduating right now who think these are awful forces at work in the world - who wanna cheer mob riots protesting these things - which IMO is pretty far from reality.

I see it the other way. Free market capitalism has been the most positive force at work in the world in all of human history, because it has led to so much prosperity, lifted so many hundreds of millions of people worldwide out of the worst poverty, resulted in more people than ever living under democracies, and ever-increasingly makes what used to be luxuries accessible to average folks.

So, that's my starting point - these ideas are, in general, work and are good, despite rampant demonization. From there I moderate to address problems that free market capitalism in pure form would not.

But it should be noted that the ability to address many of these problems is a result of the prosperity free market capitalism has provided.

For example, I don't wanna live in a polluted environment either. but the reason we are able to concern ourselves with cleaning our air, water, etc., and the reason we are able to do something to clean them up, is because of our prosperity and technology.

In some places people drink water filled with diseases and live in homes filled with smoke from coal, and they die in large numbers as a result. They don't have the ability to focus on cleaning the environment, and don't have the economic and technological means to change things. They need global capitalism.

Additionally, when I hear the media discussing an issue like minimum wage, they usually present it in a way that makes it as if you hate poor people if you don't support the proposed increase. They're not so inclined to have a healthy debate and mention that there are also benefits in having a lower minimum wage, and raising it too high can lock more inexperienced and young people out of the job market, and how exactly do we balance the concerns to arrive at the right minimum wage number? No, they just scream, "Only an evil person would not want people to make a living wage!"

Anyway, no, I don't wanna live under libertarianism in its purest form. But if you wanna talk about ideology vs. real world facts, Exhibit A would be all the politicians, media voices, university professots, and mobs (whether they be leftists, "blue dogs," or right wingers) behaving as if the free market and globalization are the most evil things they've ever heard of. These people are not just saying this in obscure conferences of like-minded people; their ideology is shouting down facts everywhere you turn. Vigilance against this is most urgent.

Even though Althouse may have owned libertarians on the public accomodations issue, generally speaking and on most issues I still side with the libertarians.

Blair said...

All these people who say they wouldn't want to live in a pure libertarian society... why not? It would be more prosperous, caring and harmonious than anything a politician could come up with. Because we would be able to determine its nature ourselves without the use of coercive force. Sounds bloody fantastic to me.

And for the person who criticised free market policies in Latin America, you forgot the most important part of a libertarian society - a strong, impartial judiciary implementing the rule of law. Crony capitalism and corruption does not equal the free market.

The person who said that having a "philosophy" is better than "making it up as you go along" was spot on. That said, it's not complicated, and shouldn't be. You don't need a degree to be able to ask "wouldn't it be great if the government just got the hell out of the way and let people get on with it?"

Unknown said...

"What free market in practice are you looking at? The one before there was any antitrust regulation? Before environmental regulation? Really, which one is it? I suspect it's not in practice at all, but back there in your abstract theory!"

The one before the 16th amendment was enacted, for example!

As a wealthy man, I am quite pissed off that I can't afford 7 servents. If there weren't any immigration laws and the minimum wage was abolished - I would be able to live the lifestyle that I have earned.

Even middle class people in a country like India can afford to have multiple servants. It's obscene that a rich person in the United States lives a poorer lifestyle than a middle class person does in a third world country.

vbspurs said...

Russell Kirk had often spoken of true conservatism as lacking an ideology:

I wrote a blogpost called (grandly) "Why People Are Conservative" once, where I mentioned this very point, Pogo.

I have to backtrack a little, since I feel my previous comment was a little too broadly aimed.

It's not that the Founding Fathers didn't reference a specific philosophy in their various civic pronouncements.

In fact, as we all know, the US Constitution are the various digested various strains of philosophies which were amalgamated by Jefferson, et. al.

Aristotle, Plato, Burke, Hobbes, latterly, Paine all had tremendous influence on these gentlemen.

It's just that, unlike Das Kapital, they didn't slavishly adhere to any one of them -- but rather took the best of each, according to their lights.

Was it all perfect? No -- after all slavery was not forbidden (although the issue was heavily debated).

But it's all about malleability.

That good ole dogmata you quote, would not have been understood by the Founding Fathers.

And we're the better for it.


Anonymous said...


And for the person who criticised free market policies in Latin America, you forgot the most important part of a libertarian society - a strong, impartial judiciary implementing the rule of law. Crony capitalism and corruption does not equal the free market.


You've just given exactly the response that nails the whole 'libertarian' argument to the coffin.

You've said that there DO indeed need to be some laws that regulate business, and that those laws need to be enforced.

Whether those laws involve not hiring your nephew, or they involve not discriminating against women, or they involve a forty hour week, is a matter that society must debate and determine. But an actual libertarian would argue in favor of the Latin American model, arguing among other things that the market rewards efficiency and would therefore punish corruption by selecting against the resulting inefficiency. Of course we both know that this hasn't happened in the regions of the world which I cited in my post, but as soon as you responded, you had suddenly acknowleged that in fact a pure libertarian society based on just the free market is unmanageable. A government, with the power to limit business practices and then enforce them, is needed.

KCFleming said...

Re: "But an actual libertarian would argue in favor of the Latin American model..."

I dunno. Some of the ones I've read would say so. Not others. Libertarianism can encompass a lot of thought experiments. the least useful involve near-anarchy.

But the sentiment for limited government is wise, for it recognizes that men are not saints, and even if they were, there are certain economic laws wich are inviolable, not malleable to reflect human desires.

The US Founders had the right idea: sufficient government to permit and sustain life, liberty, and property (and not Jefferson's inexplicable shout-out to the French, 'the pursuit of happiness', a sentiment notably excluded in the actual working manual, the Constitution), but no more than that, given the boundless human desire for power.

Where to draw the lines is precisely the debate.
Hence philosophy.

R C Dean said...

Eli, like so many you avoid engaging with libertarianism by pretending it is anarchism.

Libertarians do not believe there should be no government, no rule of law, nothing but the rule of tooth and claw. If they did, they would be anarchists.

Libertarians are minarchists.

And anyone who holds up Latin America as an example of how libertarianism works in the real world is a fool. There has never been anything approaching libertarianism in Latin America, which has been saddled with socialists and/or authoritarians since pre-history.

Henry said...

Eli, Mexico nationalized it's oil industry in the 1930s. What the hell are you talking about?

Latin American countries have long histories, well developed social institutions, and strongly statist political systems. The fact that money corrupts is hardly a local Latin American phenonemon. You condescend. When the state is powerful and capricious, being rich is not the same as being free.

Blair has it right. Most of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia is an argument for a state. Libertarians are not anarchists.

It's the nature of the state that is the issue, not whether or not it should exist.

Kirk Parker said...

Good grief, Eli, what on earth makes you suppose that Latin America is a hotbed of free-market polities?

Slac said...

Maybe it's because philosophy is interesting?

Unfortunately, the fact that they take the open examination of ideas so seriously is probably the reason why they are the only ones who have the capability to live in a libertarian society.