Posts tagged Kerry Howley

Re: Renouncing Libertarianism Is Cuter than Kittens Riding on Puppies In Wagons Pulled by Miniature Ponies

IOZ: Your first clause suggests you didn’t understand the post;

Well, whatever. If you didn’t have the LP in mind, maybe you could tell me what “lame, purely American third-party movement” you did have in mind.

IOZ: Self-professed libertarians are fond of this game, of course; they refuse to provide any sort of normative definition of their supposed philosophy, and then attack any criticism as being a merely idiosyncratic definition of that which they steadfastly refuse to define.

Well, no; far from refusing, I’ve written specifically about the definition of the term “libertarian” many times (for example, see the note here or the comments scattered throughout Liberty, Equality, Solidarity). I just didn’t do so again here. I have a pretty good notion of what I mean about my political philosophy when I describe it as “libertarian” (it has something to do with theories of justice based on the respect for the law of equal liberty; it’s also the opposite of “authoritarian,” and so has something to do with rejecting status-based theories of political legitimacy). There are of course other meanings to the term, with equally good historical pedigrees, which we could also discuss. But I didn’t say much about that above because in this here conversation, you’re the one trying to push a sweeping conclusion, supposedly in response to a specific article by Kerry Howley, without ever stopping to consider whether the thing you spend all your time hacking at is even the thing that Kerry Howley is talking about when she talks about “libertarianism.”

If you attempt to support a sweeping conclusion by insisting on one definite meaning for the term, among many that have historically been in common usage, without giving any reason for thinking that this is the right meaning to insist on, or that it is at least the same meaning which was being used by your conversation partner when she used the word “libertarianism” to describe what she believes, then it’s on you to supply the reasons behind your heretofore unsupported assertions.

IOZ: As for a Frenchman coining “libertarian” prior to the American Revolution,

The American Revolution was more than 115 years ago.

My point also wasn’t based solely on how the word was used in 1857. It was also being used to mean something quite other than a “third party movement” in 1967 (when it was being used by folks like Rothbard, LeFevre, Karl Hess, et al., and when the LP did not yet exist); the Libertarian Party was, after all, named after the body of ideas, and not vice versa. Many of the people at the time considered themselves libertarians but wanted nothing to do with the LP. Many of those people are still alive and still feel the same way. Many of us who came to the movement much later also came to the body of ideas, without much or any interest in the party named after it.

IOZ: do you really want to go down that road? I will see your Libertarian and raise you a Republican and a Democrat.

O.K. Are those supposed to be counterexamples to my point? If so, how? “Democrat” and “republican” each have commonly accepted meanings in political theory which are quite independent of the political parties which use those names today. If I were to talk about democratic political theories (say, the political thought of the Athenian democrats, or whatever), and you were to reply by saying that the problem with all that is that Democrats really are nothing more than a crappy, opportunistic center-left party, then you would be engaging in exactly the sort of equivocation that you’re indulging in with respect to libertarianism.

Charles F. Oxtrot,

Funny. But the translation is inaccurate, due to the fact that I wasn’t speaking Strawman.

If you knew anything about the version of libertarianism I’ve endorsed in my writing, you’d know that <a href=”>I’m opposed to most government “privatization” schemes (I want government abolished, not auctioned off), and that I’ve repeatedly written about the nasty and exploitative practices of large corporations and other centers of economic power (the thing is just that I advocate non-governmental means of dealing with callousness, envy, greed, and exploitation, because I see government as part of the problem on that one, not part of the solution). Of course, there’s no reason why you should have to know anything in particular about the views expressed in my writing; but if you don’t know what you’re talking about the best course would be not to talk about it.

But please do feel free to go back to arguing with the imaginary Internet libertarian buzzword bingo-card in your head.

Re: Renouncing Libertarianism Is Cuter than Kittens Riding on Puppies In Wagons Pulled by Miniature Ponies

IOZ: The problem is not that many libertarians are unwilling to consider the broader implications of their philosophy, but rather, that libertarianism is not a philosophy, not even a “political ideology,” as the more careful bet-hedgers might have it. … It is instead a lame, purely American third-party movement that sometimes appropriates the trappings of ideology in order to justify self-perpetuation in the face of a plurality-takes-all electoral system wholely inimical to minor parties.

That’s an interesting series of assertions about what libertarianism is and what it is not. Could you say a bit more about what all of it is based on?

Is this just your own personal stipulative definition of “libertarianism”? Is it supposed to be a definition that reflects common use? Is it supposed to be an account of what Kerry Howley is referring to when she calls what she believes in “libertarianism”? (If so, what’s your evidence that that’s what she means?) Is it supposed to be an account of what most libertarians, other than Kerry Howley, mean when they call what they believe in “libertarianism”? Or an account of what most people mean when they mention “libertarianism”? (In either case, if so, what’s your evidence that that is the sole common usage of the term among the population that you’re concerned with?)

I ask because you seem awfully sure that “libertarian” is more or less identical with “member of the Libertarian Party U.S.A.,” and “libertarianism” means nothing more than a libertarian’s partisan proclivities. Which is an odd position to take on a word that was first coined — by a Frenchman, not an American — 115 years before the U.S. Libertarian Party was ever founded,

Of course, there is such a thing as the Libertarian Party, and some people who identify themselves as libertarians (or Libertarians) support it. But there are also plenty of people who self-identify as libertarians who want nothing to do with it — either because they have problems with the organization as it is, or because they are opposed to all forms of participation in political parties or campaigns for government office. And there were, of course, a lot of people who took that position back when the Libertarian Party was being founded, and who have continued to take that position throughout its career of miserable electoral failures.

Of course, if you want to focus on one narrow meaning of “libertarianism” — your own personal stipulative definition, or one of the many meanings in common use, or whatever — you’re welcome to talk about any meaning of “libertarianism” you want to talk about. But why think that Kerry Howley is using the word in the same way that you are?

Re: Feminism and Libertarianism Again


First, I notice that you haven’t answered my question. I mentioned one specific case in which people who advocate a “thick” conception of libertarianism (including Howley, myself, Roderick Long, Wendy McElroy, Hans Hoppe, Chris Sciabarra, Ayn Rand, Benjamin Tucker, Herbert Spencer, and a lot of other people from many different wings of the mvement) often stress the importance of non-coercive cultural phenomena to libertarian politics: cases in which there are important causal preconditions for a flourishing free society. Here it seems that libertarians have strategic reasons for favoring some non-coercive cultural arrangements over other non-coercive cultural arrangements, even though neither arrangement involves an initiation of force against identifiable victims. Do you disagree? If so, why? Or do you agree, but think that strategic commitments are somehow unimportant for libertarians to consider? If so, why?

Second, rather than responding to this question, at all, you have simply repeated a set of completely unsupported definitional claims. I don’t know what expertise or authority you think you have that would justify these from-the-mountaintop declarations. It certainly has nothing to do with the history of the word “libertarian” (or the French “libertaire,” from which “libertarian” was derived). The word has meant all kinds of different things throughout its history: it was originally coined by Joseph Dejacque as a euphemism for anarchistic socialism (which is still the primary use of the term in Europe); it has been used as a general contrast term for “authoritarianism”; American free marketeers and Constitutionalists started using it as a replacement term for “classical liberal” in the mid-20th century; about a decade later, a few (e.g. Murray Rothbard, later on Walter Block) started using it to specifically describe an axiomatic ethico-political system deriving from the non-aggression principle. The last of these definitions is the only one that systematically excludes consideration of any social question other than those having to do with the legitimate use of force. Some other meanings of the term (e.g. the understanding of “libertarianism” as more or less synonymous with “classical liberalism”) tend to minimize but not do away with other considerations; others (e.g. the identification of libertarianism with anti-authoritarianism or anarchism specifically) tend to put quite a bit of attention on broader questions about the desirability of different non-coercive social structures. You can find out some of the history behind these kinds of debates from books like Chris Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Total Freedom; I already linked an article of my own (from FEE’s The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty) which discusses some of the philosophical aspects of the debate and mentions some of the history of debates within the movement along the way. Of course you’re under no obligation to agree with me on the matter (lots of libertarians don’t–Walter Block, for example, has recently written against “thick” conceptions of libertarianism) but the position is certainly out there, and has been out there for a good century and a half or so, and it’s a bit much for you to simply hand down unsupported declarations about the “definition” of libertarianism (as if there were a single uncontested definition!).

Third, you make the following specific claim about what Kery Howley has been doing in her posts on libertarianism and feminism: “her line of argument isn’t an attempt to characterize certain social pressure as immoral and to encourage libertarians to speak out against them (which is fine and I agree), rather she is simply trying to expand the definition of coercive force to fit her pet issues. It’s intellectual lazy at best, and dishonest at worst.”

As far as I can tell, this characterization of what Kerry has done in her posts is completely inaccurate. It’s an accurate description of the position Todd Seavey dishonestly attributed to her, but has nothing to do with what she says here, and nothing to do with what she says in “Libertarian Feminism versus Monarchist Anarchism,” in which she explicitly states that, while certain forms of misogyny may operate through “social pressure” rather than coercive force, “No thinking libertarian is only concerned with coercion; most of us worry just as much about conformity and passivity.” (That last sentence is, in fact, the only time in either post in which she mentions coercion at all — to deny that all of her concerns as a libertarian have to do with coercion.) For Seavey, and then you, to repeatedly claim that she is trying to describe purely verbal misogyny as “literally coercive” (Seavey) or “trying to expand the definition of coercive force to fit her pet issues” (you), when she states in so many words that her position is exactly the opposite, that she’s concerned with these so-called “pet issues” even though they do not involve the use of coercion — and then to have you, to crown all, accuse her of intellectual laziness or dishonesty on the basis of this up-is-down, black-is-white strawman of her position — is something that is utterly outrageous. I wish I could call it extraordinary, but in fact it is my experience that there is nothing extraordinary of feminists being treated with this kind of dismissive contempt and indifference as to basic accuracy about their stated positions.

Re: Feminism and Libertarianism Again


“I think the problem here Ms. Howley, is that you seem to be mistaking libertarianism for a complete moral philosophy, which it isn’t. Libertarianism SHOULD only be concerned with coercion.”


Suppose, for example, that there are certain ideas or noncoercive social customs which will make it easier to eliminate coercion from society, and other ideas or noncoercive social customs which will make it hard or impossible to eliminate coercion from society. If so, don’t libertarians have strategic reasons to try to promote the libertarian-friendly ideas and customs, and to work (nonviolently) against the libertarian-unfriendly ideas and customs, even though both of them are non-coercive per se?

You’re setting out a thin conception of libertarianism here, as if it were obvious that anything not strictly logically entailed by the non-initiation of force is therefore completely irrelevant to libertarian politics. But I think it’s not at all obvious that this is the case. In any case, it needs much more argument than you’ve given it so far (since the rest of your comments after what I quoted merely elaborate the way you draw a distinction between “moral” and “political” questions — without an argument to justify drawing the distinction the way you draw it).


After reading over the recent series of posts, I think the difficulty here may have something to do with the fact that Todd Seavey can apparently read a post the explicit and entire point of which is to argue that, while nonviolent discriminatory social pressures are not coercive per se, “No thinking libertarian is only concerned with coercion,” and then immediately reply, without a hint of sarcasm, that it “seems” to him that you are claiming that social pressures are “literally coercive” (!) and that “you have a right to tax me or sue me in response” to purely verbal misogyny.

Or, to put it in other words, Todd Seavey is quite comfortable with just making shit up in the course of a conversation. He also feels free to attribute the opposite of your stated views to you, and then to treat his attack on that ridiculous strawman as a successful response to your comments, and then to go on to give you a lecture about his 20 years in This Movement Of Ours and his knowledge of movement figures and philosophy, which apparently doesn’t reach beyond the middle of the Eisenhower administration.

Or, to put it in other words, he’s lying and generally acting like a perfect jackass.

Thank you for these posts. Besides admiring your lucidity, I also admire your patience. Not because I think it’s going to do anything to change Todd Seavey’s mind; he’s hardly deserving your time. But rather because it has produced some very good posts on an important issue, in spite of the undeserving interlocutor.