In the final analysis, there are only two political “philosophies” in the world, comprised, as Robert Heinlein suggested, of “those who think that people should be controlled, and those who do not”. The latter sort are called “individualists” and the former are called “collectivists”.
Naturally, the reason for controlling people is so that whatever they create or earn can be taken from them easily, using a variety of excuses, by those who are capable of creating or earning nothing themselves.
To the individualist, individual rights are the supreme value. Only individuals have rights, and they are not additive in character. Two people, or two thousand people, or two million people have no more rights than a single individual, and to the extent that a society is permitted to exist at all, it is to protect and advance the interests of its basic, indispensable building block, the individual. Every single relationship within such a society must be explicit and totally voluntary.
To collectivists, however, there are no individual rights, and the individual’s interests and opinions count for nothing in the broader, grander, collective scheme of things. Individuals are born with what amounts to an unpayable obligation to society. They are nothing more than worker-ants, whose talents and labor are there to be exploited by the collective. Anybody who objects is anti-social, as both Josef Stalin and Barack Obama would tell us, and most likely insane and in need of confinement.
L. Neil Smith, “Right Wing Socialism”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2013-05-19
May 23, 2013
May 20, 2013
Although he was much better known for his career in journalism, I first got to know Neil Reynolds when he joined the Libertarian Party of Canada to contest the 1982 by-election in Leeds-Grenville. Here is his obituary from the Kingston Whig-Standard:
Neil Reynolds is being remembered Sunday night as one of the top editors in Canadian newspaper history, and for being the person responsible for turning the Whig-Standard into a great small-city daily that won national awards and international recognition.
Reynolds died on Sunday in Ottawa. He was 72.
“He was the great editor of Canada from the mid-’70s to the early-2000s because of his ability to improve papers,” said Harvey Schachter, who became editor of the Whig after Reynolds’ departure in 1992.
Reynolds had been city editor of the Toronto Star in 1974 when he suddenly left to return to Kingston and take on an editing job with the Whig-Standard. By 1978 he was planning to move on when publisher and Whig owner Michael Davies offered him the top newsroom job.
Reynolds promptly hired Schachter, Michael Cobden and Norris McDonald to fill out the editors’ ranks.
“The Whig was really the start,” said Schachter. “Why the Whig stood out is he took it from a pretty mundane paper to being the top small-town paper in North America.”
Reynolds’ political career didn’t last long, as he joined the LPC in 1982, held the party leadership for a year, then returned to full-time journalism. His Wikipedia page says that his 13.4% of the vote in that by-election was the highest percentage of the vote achieved by an LPC candidate.
May 12, 2013
In Reason, Jacob Sullum looks at an essay on the late Thomas Szasz that puzzlingly attempts to portray him as a staunch conservative:
In an interesting but puzzling Aeon essay, Cornell historian Holly Case notes the resemblance between contemporary doubts about the scientific foundation of psychiatry and the critique first laid out by Thomas Szasz half a century ago. “It might be that the world has only recently come around to his way of thinking,” Case suggests. Yet she misconstrues an important aspect of Szasz’s thinking by portraying him as “a staunch Republican” and a “conservative,” apparently unaware of his self-proclaimed libertarianism. Szasz, who died last year at the age of 92, was a Reason contributing editor for decades. He described the main motivation for his intellectual career as “my passion against coercion,” which he opposed (outside of situations involving the defense of rights) no matter who was advocating it, left, right, or center. Hence he opposed forced psychiatric treatment, but he also opposed interference in consensual transactions between psychiatrists and voluntary patients. Here he parted company with some left-wing critics of psychiatry.
[. . .]
But Case focuses mainly on common ground between what she views as right-wing and left-wing critics of psychiatry. Beginning in the 1960s, she writes, “Right and left sought to eliminate insanity in order to lionise dissent, legitimise the marginal and condemn the new normal. Few other issues show a convergence of right and left so far-reaching, while still allowing both sides to adhere to their politics and maintain a sense of total opposition.” At the same time, she says “Szasz was conspicuously alone in mounting the barricades from the right,” so she really needs him to be a right-winger. Bending the facts to fit her thesis, she ascribes to Szasz a “distinctively conservative perspective.” That label does not jibe with his opposition to drug prohibition and his forthright defense of the right to suicide, two major themes of his career that Case tellingly ignores. Szasz’s position on physician-assisted suicide combined both of these themes and demonstrated that his perspective was in fact distinctively libertarian. He opposed Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act (later imitated by Washington) because it medicalized a moral decision and required people to meet government-dictated criteria before they could legally end their lives. If the drug laws did not make it difficult for people to obtain substances useful for suicide (such as barbiturates), he said, there would be no need for physician-assisted suicide.
James Delingpole suggests that the Saul Alinsky playbook needs a bit of updating for the current radicals (that is, not the broadly left-wing radicals of Alinsky’s day):
Why do we need some new rules? Because the old ones were written in the 70s by a Marxist community organiser called Saul Alinsky. He had some useful ideas, many of which we can steal or adapt. But some of them are ill-expressed or incoherent. Eg Rule 10 “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” I think he could have omitted that one, don’t you, without jeopardising his place in history as a great revolutionary thinker?
Who are we? Not the same as the radicals of Alinsky’s generation, that’s for sure. Alinsky’s radicals were broadly on the left: Che admirers; Black Panthers; communist revolutionaries; hippies; communitarians; environmentalists; radical feminists. The hegemony which they were trying to destroy was, very loosely, a conservative one.
Today, though, the positions have reversed. We new radicals are broadly — but not exclusively — of the right, not the left. Many of us would describe ourselves as conservatives, classical liberals, libertarians, UKIPers, Tea Partiers. Revolutionaries, yes, but in the traditions of Burke, Wilkes, Cobbett, and, indeed, the Minutemen and the Founding Fathers, rather than of Marx and Lenin. Some of us might not even think of ourselves as righties, but that’s OK, it’s the direction of travel that matters not the labelling.
We’re against: arbitrary authority; big government; high taxes; overregulation; corporatism; cosy stitch ups between the banksters, the lawyers and the political class; the EU; the UN; identity politics; eco-fascists; elf-n-safety; wind turbines; quantitative easing…
We’re for: empiricism; sound money; free markets; liberty; small government; low taxes; deregulation; cheap energy; rigour; meritocracy; integrity; equality of opportunity, perhaps, but most definitely not equality of outcome.
We’re on the right side of a culture war which currently we’re losing. Why are we losing? Not because we’re bad people. Not because we don’t have all the truth, all the logic, all the arguments on our side. We’re losing because, thanks to Alinsky, the enemy has a forty-year head start on us. They’ve got the techniques. All we’ve got is the moral high ground — except, the way Alinsky’s acolytes have brilliantly spun it, we don’t get to enjoy the benefits even of that.
April 11, 2013
In the Globe and Mail, Akaash Maharaj wonders if the LPC’s long time in office — and the resulting accretion of power-seekers rather than idealists — can be atoned for in time to regain the hearts (and votes) of Canadians:
There is no denying that the Liberal Party’s long association with domination made it a magnet for individuals drawn to power rather than to public service, a tool of Liberals of convenience rather than Liberals of conviction. The question that will confront its next leader is not whether the Liberal Party can rebuild its fabled political machine into one capable of waging an effective campaign; it is whether it can rediscover its ideals and return as a party deserving of our country’s trust.
If it is to have any hope of doing so, it will need to find the courage to resist the lure of comforting self-deceptions and the seduction of recent polls.
The party’s decline at successive elections was not due to some lapse in judgment by a rueful electorate that yearns to repent at the next opportunity. It was not a want of resources that can be remedied by a new crop of bagmen or ward heelers. It was not an absence of messianic personalities whose charisma could substitute for grassroots renewal.
The Liberal Party instead received a calculated rebuke from Canadians against the divisions and hubris they saw gnawing at it. It was dismissed by an electorate who concluded that the Liberal Party was no longer willing or able to deliver liberal policies or governance.
He then goes on to enumerate what the Liberal Party should be — and it’s a pretty fair list — but not what most people would associate with the Liberal brand, unfortunately. Since Stephen Harper has co-opted the position the Liberals used to occupy (both in the political and philosophical senses), there’s definitely room in the Canadian political spectrum for a party that believes “liberty is the highest political good, and that as a result, the first duty of government is to seek the greatest liberty for the one that is compatible with liberty for all.”
A party that truly believed and worked towards that would be a Liberal Party worth supporting. Maharaj seems to want the Liberals to become more libertarian … and I think that would be a great improvement.
March 22, 2013
Katy Bachelder interviews Reason‘s Nick Gillespie:
What do you see as the primary policy goal of libertarianism?
Things that move us toward decentralization of power. The way I used to talk about it when Windows was still a dominant operating system is that the way a computer operates, what you want is an operating system that allows as many different apps to run at the same time without crashing the system. That’s what classical liberalism really does.
How do you think libertarianism as a third party helps achieve those goals?
I’m not particularly interested in electoral politics. Where I think public choice economics is hugely important is what it asks is not simply what the rhetoric of people is, but what are the outcome of their actions. In that way, it gets to what actually matters as opposed to people sprinkling magic words. It’s amazing how much slack people will give if you say the right words as you’re repressing them.
Libertarianism is a pre-political attitude. It can inform you if you’re in the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or the Libertarian Party. It can express itself in a lot of different ways, like through Jimmy Carter, who is the great deregulator of the American economy, not Ronald Reagan. He deregulated interstate railroads, trucking, airlines. That all happened under Jimmy Carter and he was abetted in it by people like Milton Friedman. Libertarianism is an impulse, not a set of beads on a string.
[. . .]
Hillary Clinton just endorsed gay marriage. What do you think is the future for that issue?
I think gay marriage is over as an issue. When you look at public opinion polls about gay issues, the moral approbation toward the issue has faded. The larger questions are: what is the connection between the state and individual choices? It’s as big of a deal as it is because the state is involved in bestowing certain benefits such as tax incentives. I think what we’re starting to see is that if you want to live in a society that is truly pluralistic and tolerant, and that doesn’t mean everyone agrees every lifestyle is morally valid, but just tolerant, then we have to start shrinking the scope and the size of the state. The state should recognize all people as equal.
January 26, 2013
Libertarians are often derided for being unapologetically selfish. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism of libertarian thinking. It is a fair criticism of Randianism/Objectivism. But the two aren’t the same. (I will concede that too many libertarians don’t make enough of an effort to distinguish the two.)
Libertarianism is a philosophy of governing, and only of governing. Ayn Rand’s politics were also her personal creed and ethos. Her political beliefs dictated her taste in art, friends, music, food, and men. I find all of that rather horrifying. One of the main reasons I’m a libertarian is that I loathe politics, and I want politics to play as diminished a role in my day-to-day life as possible. Letting politics dictate my friends, loves, and interests to me sounds like a pretty miserable existence.
When it comes to “the virtue of selfishness” I think the difference between Randianism and libertarianism is best explained this way: Randianism is a celebration of self-interest. Libertarianism is merely the recognition of it.
Radley Balko, “James Buchanan, RIP”, Huffington Post, 2013-01-09
January 25, 2013
The not-so-hidden libertarian streak in South Park:
The genius of Parker and Stone was to see that in our day a new frontier of comic transgression has opened up because of the phenomenon known as political correctness. Our age may have tried to dispense with the conventional pieties of earlier generations, but it has developed new pieties of its own. They may not look like the traditional pieties, but they are enforced in the same old way, with social pressure and sometimes even legal sanctions punishing people who dare to violate the new taboos. Many of our colleges and universities today have speech codes, which seek to define what can and cannot be said on campus and in particular to prohibit anything that might be interpreted as demeaning someone because of his or her race, religion, gender, disability, and a whole series of other protected categories. Sex may no longer be taboo in our society, but sexism now is. Seinfeld (1989–1998) was perhaps the first mainstream television comedy that systematically violated the new taboos of political correctness. The show repeatedly made fun of contemporary sensitivities about such issues as sexual orientation, ethnic identity, feminism, and disabled people. Seinfeld proved that being politically incorrect can be hilariously funny in today’s moral and intellectual climate, and South Park followed its lead.
[. . .]
This is where libertarianism enters the picture in South Park. The show criticizes political correctness in the name of freedom. That is why Parker and Stone can proclaim themselves equal opportunity satirists: they make fun of the old pieties as well as the new, ridiculing both the right and the left insofar as both seek to restrict freedom. “Cripple Fight” is an excellent example of the balance and evenhandedness of South Park and the way it can offend both ends of the political spectrum. The episode deals in typical South Park fashion with a contemporary controversy, one that has even made it into the courts: whether homosexuals should be allowed to lead Boy Scout troops. The episode makes fun of the old-fashioned types in the town who insist on denying a troop leadership to Big Gay Al (a recurrent character whose name says it all). As it frequently does with the groups it satirizes, South Park, even as it stereotypes homosexuals, displays sympathy for them and their right to live their lives as they see fit. But just as the episode seems to be simply taking the side of those who condemn the Boy Scouts for homophobia, it swerves in an unexpected direction. Standing up for the principle of freedom of association, Big Gay Al himself defends the right of the Boy Scouts to exclude homosexuals. An organization should be able to set up its own rules, and the law should not impose society’s notions of political correctness on a private group. This episode represents South Park at its best — looking at a complicated issue from both sides and coming up with a judicious resolution of the issue. And the principle on which the issue is resolved is freedom. As the episode shows, Big Gay Al should be free to be homosexual, but the Boy Scouts should also be free as an organization to make their own rules and exclude him from a leadership post if they so desire.
This libertarianism makes South Park offensive to the politically correct, for, if applied consistently, it would dismantle the whole apparatus of speech control and thought manipulation that do-gooders have tried to construct to protect their favored minorities. With its support for freedom in all areas of life, libertarianism defies categorization in terms of the standard one-dimensional political spectrum of right and left. In opposition to the collectivist and anticapitalist vision of the left, libertarians reject central planning and want people to be free to pursue their self-interest as they see fit. But in contrast to conservatives, libertarians also oppose social legislation; they generally favor the legalization of drugs and the abolition of all censorship and antipornography laws. Because of the tendency in American political discourse to lump libertarians with conservatives, many commentators on South Park fail to see that it does not criticize all political positions indiscriminately, but actually stakes out a consistent alternative to both liberalism and conservatism with its libertarian philosophy.
January 5, 2013
I’m nowhere near as doctrinaire a libertarian as I used to be: I scored only 79 (out of a possible 160) on this test. It’s clearly my minarchist tendencies that kept me in the bottom half of the scoring (I prefer the “nightwatchman” state with police, courts, and military still being valid activities for the government: to a true anarchist that makes me a splitter if not an actual traitor).
This is the Libertarian Purity Test, which is intended to measure how libertarian you are. It isn’t intended to be any sort of McCarthyite purging device — just a form of entertainment, hopefully thought-provoking. I like it a lot better than the more famous “World’s Shortest Political Quiz” because I haven’t stated the questions with any intent to give an upward bias to a test-taker’s score, and because it gives a clearer breakdown between hard and soft-core libertarians. Enjoy, suggest your friends try it out, and see how you compare to other test-takers…
A note on meaning: The word privatized as used throughout the survey means that a given government service is henceforth supplied by the free market and paid for by consumers. It is distinguished from sub-contracting in which the government uses tax money to hire a private firm to provide a government service.
January 4, 2013
Bryan Caplan thinks he can explain why there is a gender gap among libertarians (along with a few other gender gaps):
My study of personality psychology makes me one of the doubters. On the popular Myers-Briggs personality test, there is a huge Thinking-Feeling gap between men and women. For men, the breakdown is roughly 60% Thinking, 40% Feeling. For women, the breakdown is roughly 30% Thinking, 70% Feeling.
This Thinking/Feeling disparity explains a lot about gender gaps in college major and occupation. There’s every reason to think that this disparity can help explain gender gaps in political and social views.
To make a long story short: Thinking people tend to have “hard heads” and “hard hearts,” while Feeling people have “soft heads” and “soft hearts.” Unsurprisingly, then, Feeling people tend to hold more anti-market views. I’ve similarly found strong evidence that males “think more like economists.” This gender belief gap increases with education, consistent with a simple model where male and female students gradually learn more about whatever their personalities incline them to study.
The whole premise “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism,” of course, is that we should unbundle the hardness of our heads and the hardness of our hearts. Logically speaking, we can combine hard heads and soft hearts. Empirically, though, this combination is rare. And that’s why Bleeding Heart Libertarians have their work cut out for them. If you’re trying to sell libertarianism to Feeling people, “hard head, soft heart” ideas are more persuasive than “hard head, hard heart” ideas. But the libertarian remains at an inherent disadvantage against intellectual rivals pedaling “soft head, soft heart” ideas.
November 19, 2012
I don’t follow NBA teams, but David Boaz is making a valid point here:
One thing nobody ever points out is that Ron Paul is the San Antonio Spurs of Congress. When they won their third NBA championship in seven years, Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise praised the resilience of the Spurs, who kept coming back to win without ever being quite a Bulls-style dynasty. He said the Spurs “had their crown taken away twice since 2003 and got it back both times.”
Similarly, Ron Paul is the only current member of Congress to have been elected three times as a non-incumbent. Given the 98 percent reelection rates for House members, it’s no great shakes to win three terms — or 10 terms — in a row. It’s winning that first one that’s the challenge. And Ron Paul has done that three times.
He first won in a special election for an open seat. He then lost his seat and won it back two years later, defeating the incumbent. After two more terms he left his seat to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. Twelve years later, in 1996, he ran again for Congress, again defeating an incumbent, this time in the Republican primary. Some political scientist should study the political skills it takes to win election to Congress without the benefit of incumbency — three times.
Like many libertarians, I’ve had my differences with Ron Paul on trade agreements, immigration, gay rights and federalism, and his failure to repudiate the associates who put his name on their bigoted newsletters. But as long as he keeps recruiting people, especially young people, to the cause of limited constitutional government, sound money, and non-intervention, I’m glad to see him making an impact.
November 18, 2012
The question is who will take on the role that Ron Paul is stepping down from — unofficial leader of the libertarian movement. Christopher McDaniel thinks that Gary Johnson is the right man for the job:
So who will take up the mantle for Ron Paul’s movement? Who is most likely to be the one that takes liberty to the next level? Conventional wisdom would say that his son, Senator Rand Paul (R-K.Y.) makes the most sense. He has maintained a voting record that is generally consistent with his father’s record. The main source of contention among Paul supporters, however, was Rand’s willingness to endorse Mitt Romney in the general election. While Rand’s decision was likely motivated by a promise to speak at the GOP Convention, and thus political exposure nationally, many of his father’s constituents feel like Rand deserted his father just when he was needed most. Despite his exposure from the convention, Rand has to deal with big stars in the GOP like Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. It seems unlikely to me that Rand Paul can make a serious run at the presidency from inside the GOP.
[. . .]
Gary Johnson is the one I see galvanizing the liberty contingent and make real inroads in the political system for the Libertarian Party. He managed to garner 1% of the popular vote in 2012 despite really only gaining traction in September and October. Gary has an excellent resume. He is a very successful businessman who won successive terms as governor of New Mexico, a decidedly Democrat heavy state, as a Republican. One of the more popular numbers that Johnson advocates like to point out is that he took a $500 million deficit in New Mexico and made it a billion dollar surplus by the time he left office. Unlike Paul and Amash, Johnson left the Republican Party and has committed to the Libertarian Party for the future. Johnson does not come without his detractors, however. Most notably, hardcore Republicans do not like the fact that he is pro-choice and for repeal of DOMA. However, as Johnson puts it, “I’m more liberal than Obama and more conservative than” Republicans. With his apparent commitment to running in 2016, it seems Gary Johnson plans to take the liberty movement and use it to turn the establishment upside down. Here’s to hoping he can do just that!
November 7, 2012
Published on Sep 15, 2012 by VitacoreVision
Rand Paul suggests if the GOP wants to win over places like California, they will need to support more freedom in social issues and embrace a more Libertarian stance.
H/T to Peter Jaworski (retweeting original Moose of Reason tweet) for the link.
October 26, 2012
Two of the great and correct insights of libertarianism are that the state has very limited knowledge, and that its interventions often lead to people gaming the system. This is true of welfare spending as of anything else. The government doesn’t have the knowhow to distinguish well between the deserving and undeserving poor. And its efforts to do so are not only expensive — in terms of paying bureaucrats and corporate scroungers and fraudsters — but also bear heavily upon the honest and naive deserving poor whilst the undeserving, who know how to game the system, get off.
Chris Dillow, “Support the undeserving poor”, Stumbling and Mumbling, 2012-10-25
October 17, 2012
Nick Gillespie explains a few things that either major candidate could do to attract at least some of the 10-15% of Americans who identify as libertarian:
How Obama and Democrats Can Appeal to Libertarian Voters: Get transparent fast, end the drug war, and cut military spending:
How Romney and Republicans Can Appeal to Libertarian Voters: Get serious about cutting spending, bringing the troops home, and butting out of people’s personal lives: