THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 757, February 9, 2014
Very good kitty
The Troika of the Anti-Intellectual Libertarian Faction
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
First of all, before I go characterizing other people, I should make clear where I stand. I am an individualist libertarian and a philosophical anarchist. By philosophical anarchist I mean that individual liberty is the first principle of politics, the rights of the individual, not any other collective demands, are primary and override all other ethical considerations. Any human actions that are taken outside of the realm of ethics are not justifiable, except by some un-ethical means. You see, I agree with the basic meaning of anarchism, no ruler. It does not mean no rules, simply no rulers. Under a libertarian system rules are established contractually and by consent.
Authoritarianism imposes rules by force. Those imposing the rules have the status of rulers. (Note: Under the original American ideal of the republican form of government there was a mixed system, the sovereign people, by voting freely as individuals, chose temporary rulers known as legislators. That was the ideal. That form of a republic was known as legislative supremacy and has been changed, over the last couple of centuries to a kind of defuse executive dictatorship in which the legislature has delegated more and more of its law making authority to a system of administrative laws under the control of the executive. Under this bureaucratic form of dictatorship the judicial, and more and more the legislative branch, play the role of a rubber stamp to the growing demands of the entrenched ruling class consisting of the civil service, police, and the submissive courts. The bureaucratic dictatorship is democratic, strictly speaking, because it maintains the outward forms of the rule of law while taking within is grasp the vast majority of citizens as government employees and dependents on government programs.)
What I take issue with some libertarians who identify as anarcho-capitalists about is the attempt to impose a new form of economic determinism on libertarianism. To be clear, I am not condemning anarcho-capitalism, which I am sure has as many definitions as adherents. I am condemning economic determinism. I am very certain that no modern libertarian is going to willingly step forward and gladly assume the mantel of economic determinist. I would be happy to be wrong on that point because it would make things much easier. In that case, all I'd have to do is point out to such self-contradictory people, is that the idea of freedom is based on free will. Therefore, it is not reasonable to expect libertarians to consider you a libertarian if you are a determinist. It is, however, reasonable to expect people to harbor mutually contradictory ideas and to fight the knowledge of such contradictions tooth and nail, because our ideas are our only link to reality, excluding the trial and error method of butting ones head into a brick wall. That is why when we know we are wrong, it feels bad, and when someone points out our errors we react defensively.
It is important to keep such considerations in mind when discussing ideas. That is why a couple thousand years ago philosophers, people whose profession was thinking about thinking, developed simple rules of logic and debate, so liars and cheats could be called to account and held to the standards of truth and reason. I want you to remember the rules of logic, and polite argumentation, known to the ancient philosophers as rhetoric, when you consider the kind of responses the argument I am about to make will call forth.
The modern libertarian movement began as a purely intellectual movement. The first Libertarian candidate for President was a philosophy professor, John Hospers. All the great heroes and heroines of the fledgling libertarian movement of the 1970's were novelists, philosophers, historians, and economists. If there is a deterministic strain, that in itself, is anti-intellectual, because determinism denies the capacity of choice, free will, which is what free choice is all about, the choice to think, the will to think. It makes sense that determinism should be banished from the libertarian movement, at least if one is reasonable. The taint of determinism should be a disqualification, at least, for someone presenting him or her self to the libertarian movement as an intellectual.
There is one liberal historian, (in its original meaning, which you newly fledged fanatical young libertarian anarchists can think of a "minarchist") Bernard Bailyn author of Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, coined the term "the contagion liberty", which he used to describe the blossoming of the ideas of individual liberty and the changes in the political landscape from 1763 to 1775, the actual American Revolution. (Then you have the War of Independence from 1776 to 1783.) The significance is simple, if you intentionally misinterpret Bailyn's writing, to assign a deterministic meaning based on the use of the word "contagion", how easy it is to abuse history. The manipulative purpose for such an intentional misrepresentation might have been to instill a feeling of inevitability in the reader, for whatever reason, as a kind of white lie, or intellectual shortcut. That is my most charitable interpretation of such intellectual dishonesty. It is easy to imaging much worse. That example should serve to illustrate my point, that a deterministic term or usage of terms can contaminate an entire ideological soup converting it into irrational mush.
So, where and how has the taint of determinism crept into the factions of the greater libertarian movement? Determinism has concealed itself in the economics, the Austrian school of economics, yes the great sacred cow of all libertarians from Ron Paul, minarchist in chief, to his former minion, Adam Kokesh, professional anarcho-capitalist agitator. Before the top of your head explodes, please take care to understand my point. The kind of determinism I mean is inadvertent, unintentional. It is not on purpose, as an act of will. It is not a hideous conspiracy. It is, as far as anyone can tell, the result of the accidental misuse of words. That happens all the time to speakers of the English language, and, I suppose to everyone else as well. English, maybe because I know it well, seems to be rife with vague words, words with multiple meanings, which are situational and sometimes mutually contradictory.
Here is the easiest example, the word "free". This word is misused, in a nonpolitical sense, in both English and German, more than any other word I can think of, specifically, the term "value-free" or in German "wertfrei". Rather than compounding such a silly error and translating the German word as the actual English meaning of the term, ethically neutral, we got this hideous German ambiguity foisted on the English reader. However, wertfrei is not the term that leads to determinism. That term only leads to mental mush, a kind of free floating pseudo-scientific amorality very chick during the area Austrian economics was first developed, the heyday of pseudo-science in the so called social sciences.
Hold on to your pants, you economics aficionados, the word of doom is "subjective", specifically, the subjective theory of value. I am not claiming here that the word subjective is used wrong, not in a serious way, but only in a marginal way. That is, even if economic choices, specifically the choice to spend money, are sometimes thoughtful, it is impossible for an outside observer to know whether or not another person is acting thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, is it calculated reasoning or a mere Pavlovian response to the situation? Additionally, state of mind is irrelevant. The market price is situational, ever changing, and only discoverable after the fact, if at all. That is great, as far as it goes.
The next word of doom is intrinsic. Since price is fluid, there are no intrinsic market values, or prices. The word intrinsic is intentionally used in the most vague, Platonist sense, as a kind of floating abstraction, as a Kantian "thing in itself", whatever the hell that is, the perfect straw man.
The next word of doom is value (without the suffix "free"). Value is constantly confused with price. I do not know why. Is it to sound more high falootin? Your guess is as good as mine.
It is impossible to know what the result of the vague and double-meaning use of key words might be, even more impossible then knowing what a future market price might be, if "more impossible" were even possible. One possible outcome is that intelligent readers might sort it all out and actually get the intended point, in spite of all the vagueness and double meanings. Miraculously, that happens every day.
Let me sum up my complaints with Austrian economics, which I suspect, has resulted in a kind of cultish and deterministic use of the subject matter for political ends, by of all people, people whose reason for being is to be anti-political, betraying a great misunderstanding of what even the word political means.
The laundry list recapitulated: value-free, subjective, intrinsic, value, should have been the words, ethically neutral for value free and price for value. The words subjective and intrinsic are redundant and only lend themselves to confusion. I have no suggestion how to replace them, but the sentences in which they are used could have been easily reworked to be more meaningful in English. Maybe they are all just errors in translation. Anyone who has never studied a foreign language has no clue what happens whenever words are translated into another language. English and German have many cognates, words with related meanings that sound alike. It is very tempting to transliterate them and easier than seeking the true meaning. All words are situational and their usage is subject to fads, even words used by great academics. Don't misrepresent me as actually critiquing Von Mises. I do not know German well enough and would never attempt such a thing. I am critiquing the translations of his work and the subsequent mental confusion that could result in American readers.
Now, I get to my point. How does this fiendish determinism rear its ugly head? How is it imbedded in the implications of anarcho-capitalism? What if, in a fevered nerd dream, the ambiguous words get jumbled, as the subconscious makes a futile effort to reconcile the contradictions? And comes up with "no intrinsic values, everything is subjective and value free", only he is not dreaming about prices, but all values, the perfect, amoral sociopathic anarchists ideational wet dream. Don't laugh. I've met people like that. They are to be avoided.
Now, as libertarians, I am asking you to stick with me and take a little walk down memory lane. How many of you have known (I'm not asking you to confess to having been one.) a hard core, died in the wool, everything she wrote or said is brilliant, so, you must be evil if you dare to disagree with Ayn Rand's moral pronouncements, kind of person? You know who I mean. The person who failed to absorb the part where Ayn Rand encouraged people to think for themselves. Well, we'll see about that. Anyhow, you must have encountered someone like that in you libertarian journeys?
Yes, the two personality types I describe are diametric opposites.
What happens in the occasional individual who mixes the two forms of erroneous reasoning, if it can be called by the word reasoning? Your guess is as good as mine, because they are all around us. They are everywhere. There are millions of people in the United States who have read both Ayn Rand and Austrian economics. If there were not, we could not be having this conversation. There would be no libertarian movement, as we know it.
We can dismiss the hedonistic anarchist as well as the Randroid Republican from this discussion now. Let's discuss reasonable and well reasoning libertarians now. They are easier to pin down because they usually say what they mean and understand what they are talking about. However, nobody is perfect, and there is the rub. Those sneaky contradictions always find a way to force themselves to the surface, and demand attention form the conscious mind, like inattentive and ill mannered children.
Are you still waiting for me to name names? Well, wait a while longer. There are two issues to deal with first. One is imbedded in the nature of the thrust of most anarcho-capitalist arguments.
In their zeal to always be right, which I can understand, because I don't like being wrong either, anarcho-capitalists always drive home a few main points. These are valid arguments in general. The first involves the unethical nature of authoritarian governance, known as statism. The next is the effectiveness of market based solutions in solving most practical problems. Then their reasoning becomes defective and they confuse two opposites, the nature of the rules or laws, are they just or not?, and the enforcement of the rules. Everything up to that point is based on the goodness of voluntary exchange and free association in society, liberty, in a word. Enforcement is the part they do not seem to get, and this is very important because it leads to the bad name that the word anarchy has among those mind numbed statist robots anarchists are always telling us about. You know what I mean, the part where anarchy is linked to confusion.
Many sophisticated anarchists sense this confusion. They delay it by pointing out that when people are left to be free there will be less criminality, a more reasonable form of Bailyn's Contagion of Liberty idea. That is just great, but then they ad something like this: free market competition among "defense" agencies, the organizations arrogating to themselves and their clients the right (which is not exclusive because that would be a monopoly and therefore statist) to use defensive and retaliatory force. You might not like the world "retaliatory" but what else is it when you go after someone who is accused of a crime, other than retaliation in the name of the victim?
The organized use of force, no matter what justification you claim for its use, no matter how voluntary its organization, is, by its nature, authoritarian, not libertarian. I find it utterly amazing that otherwise intelligent people might not get that. Do I really have to spell it out? Free and voluntary exchanges are only free and voluntary if they are not forced. If the exchange is forced, it is not voluntary. This is a kind of acid test for idiots, which the IRS regularly fails by forcing taxpayers to "voluntarily" submit to an audit. Do some libertarians fail this test? I hope not. What I think is really going on here is an intellectual blind spot. Enter determinism. The magic of the market will somehow make it right. The lion shall lay down with the lamb. The organized use of force against criminals shall magically transmute to a "free choice" by the deterministic power of THE MARKET.
I don't think so, and I don't pretend to know the solution to the problem of the organized use of force in a free society. I kindly suggest to ancaps, or whatever cool in group jargon you want to use at the moment, that you stop pretending to have THE solution to a seemingly intractable problem, the very problem that has dogged humanity for all of recorded history, the problem of organized violence, if you ever wish to be taken seriously by the rest of the world, the other 99.999% of humanity.
Keep in mind that I studied history. Do you know what history is? The most realistic answer to that question is found in the work of Polybius, the Greek historian of the Punic wars, the political prisoner or involuntary guest or slave-tutor of the famous Scipio family. The guy who defeated Hannibal was Polybius' master. History is the history of the art of war and politics. Why, you might ask? Because war and politics, two sides of the same coin, are matters of life and death, of survival on a mass scale. Do you have any clue how flippant and absurd you sound, in the face of all the murder and slavery of human history to suggest, without any reasoned justification, but just to repeat the assertion, that market forces can overcome the organized use of force? It fails the idiot test.
I don't wish to seem vindictive, but give me a break. Try to think about the implications of what you are saying before you utter such foolishness, ancaps.
Let me turn to a more pleasant subject, Agorism. Agorism, specifically the variety revealed by J Neil Schulman, is different from more foolishly optimistic or utopian forms of anarcho-capitalism. In J Neil Schulman's vision, presented in Alongside Night, there is no pretense to a final solution. What do we have instead is a radically new idea for the justification of the organized used of revolutionary violence, its defensive use. There you have it, historical realism.
J Neil Schulman has been named, but he is not part of the Troika. He is the good guy, the intellectual who has practiced his trade effectively. Sure, he has written some controversial things, but he has written some truly great and original things. He has credentials too, as a former protÃ©gÃ© of the original Agorist, the great Konkin, author of New Libertarian Manifesto. Schulman the writer, a fan of Ayn Rand and Robert A Heinlein, an avid reader, devourer of monumental economics treaties, and much else, knows what he is about. He has contributed his greatest philosophical work to the movement, dare I say revolutionary, rationale and justification for a libertarian theory of intellectual property, he calls Logo Rights.
There is another famous and successful novelist who has also advocated the cause of intellectual property rights, L Neil Smith, the science fiction writer, founder of the Prometheus Awards, a spinner of fantastic tales of alternate realities, where liberty prevails. He too shows what it takes, and there is no absurd economic determinism, but plenty of anarchism. Together, the two infamous Neils, both the product of the diverse intellectual movement, which is modern libertarianism, are paragons of libertarian virtue and success, without compromise. As a reward for their success, they have been offered an insult by second-rate minds, which revel in the kind of simple-minded determinism I just illustrated. In addition it seems the two Neils have no property in the product of their labor. According to the anti-intellectuals, if our ideas ever succeed there is no reward for creative thought, creative art, innovative invention. A new future realm, created by the intellect, is to be condemned to the eternal sterility of the second rate, imitative mind. (You Can't Fight A Culture War, If You Ain't Got Any Culture, L Neil Smith http://www.lneilsmith.org/azlp19970419.html)
But, don't worry, it will never happen. You see, intellectuals are not idiots. It does not even take a first rate mind to distinguish the essential difference between the organized use of fore and voluntary contractual free association among free individuals. It's child's play, in fact. However, it does take a complex mind to understand the nature of property, of the varieties of ownership, and the source of the creation of all market value. I hope I didn't confuse you there.
Now, to name names, I will begin with the least offender first.
Stefan Molyneux, the Internet philosopher and former businessman, is not really a bad guy, but he does suffer from one of the delusions referenced in this sad tale. No, it's not the ancap delusion of economic determinism. As a reputable and even rational philosopher, he escaped that error. He passes the idiot test, but he fails as an intellectual when he is dealing with the one thing most vital to his philosophy, property rights. There is no point in recapitulating his typical deconstructionist anti-IP arguments, because, typically, they are beside the point. He sadly fails to comprehend the true nature of the creation of property rights as a property of the individuals basic right to life and liberty.
Anti-IP deconstruction combines obvious false straw man arguments, such as you can't own an idea, with typical anti-individualist none sense about sharing with the world. I find it strange that a former businessman has chosen to demote himself to the status of a Facebook and YouTube beggar, when most of his ideas are valuable and marketable. I don't get it, but it is none of my business. What I object to is the attempt to demote all other creative and innovative people to his self chosen plight.
The second name is a man of much lesser consideration than Stefan, Jeffery Tucker. Tucker is the supreme mondo-nerd of Laissez Faire Books and not a bad guy. He is a passable writer, and I cannot directly accuse him of failing the idiot test, but he is another charity case who wishes to impose his life-style choice on the rest of the world. He has nothing important to contribute to the anti-IP argument except the same old straw men and anti-propertarian deconstructionism.
I saved the worst offender for last, Stephan Kinsella, anti-IP patent attorney, law professor, and copyrighted writer. I won't dwell on the obvious contradiction between his professed anarchism and his chosen ways of making a living, because intentionally setting out to be a charity case is less reputable. I admit, for the sake of argument, that Kinsella is a practical and well meaning person. He is also published by charitable libertarian organizations that should know better, but are seemingly intent on intellectual suicide. The problem with Kinsella is his aggressive intellectual dishonesty. He is an inveterate debater. In his written arguments against Schulman's Logo Rights theory he very skillfully avoided ever addressing even one of Schulman's arguments, while maintaining the appearance of carrying on a debate. It is clear that the bulk of his followers are from the under-educated and unthinking Internet pirate crowd whose only interest in the issue is to have their pre-existing thieving propensities re-enforced.
Kinsella has the most troubling personality disorder of the Troika. He seems incapable of interacting at an adult level when seriously challenged. Recently, a fellow ancap has given evidence to this when Kinsella resorted to castigating all libertarian activists as hopeless losers. It was refreshing that this latest victim of Kinsella's childishness chose to expose the personal insults to public view. Christopher Cantwell, Anarchist, Athiest, Asshole, did not fail the idiot test that time. We sould congradulate him for standing up to Kinsella, the actual asshole in that situation. [Link]
All three of the Troika have one thing in common. They are very influential in the spread of their anti-intellectual, libertarian movement destroying, fallacies. The charities that support them should be contacted by thoughtful people who object to them working to destroy the libertarian movement from within and inform those charities that they will not give them any more money if they continue this folly.
Is this another case of the intellectuals versus the crass capitalists? I don't think so. Libertarian capitalists are all intellectuals in the final analysis. Let's hope that more and more of them rid themselves of their intellectual blind spots and stop financing their own ultimate destruction by ending their donations to the offending charities.
If you happen to be one of those ancaps who fail the idiot test, than you might think I am condemning anarcho-capitalism. Pull your head out of your self-induced delusional utopian kookoo cloudland.
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