Posts tagged Roderick Long

Re: Why We Fight (the Power)


The “strategic-thickness,” “consequence-thickness,” “application-thickness,” and “grounds-thickness” arguments strike me as pretty insubstantial, to the extent I understand them. The grounds-thickness argument, for example — “Sure, private hierarchy is logically consistent with libertarianism, but it’s weird!” — seems like an assertion, not an argument.

Peter, are you referring here to the paragraph on authoritarianism in Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin, under the heading of “Thickness from grounds”, which begins “Consider the conceptual reasons that libertarians have to oppose authoritarianism, not only as enforced by governments but also as expressed in culture, business, the family, and civil society. …”?

If so, I’m not surprising you find the argument unsatisfying, because that’s an extremely elliptical capsule version of the argument. It’s intended to illustrate the kind of argument that you would make for a commitment from grounds, not to give a full-on account of the argument for libertarian concern with non-coercive authoritarianism. A fuller version, with the details tricked out, would require a lot more space than I had available in that part of that particular article (which was written for print in The Freeman, and hence subject to constraints of length, and which was primarily about the varieties of thickness, not primarily about making the case for all the details of my own particular thick conception of libertarianism).

There’s a bit longer discussion of the same topic in my “Liberty, Equality, Solidarity” essay in the Long/Machan Anarchism/Minarchism anthology (particularly if you include, as background, the section on equality), which you may or may not find more satisfying.

Whether or not you find it more satisfying, though, what I’m more interested in is whether or not you accept the form of argument discussed. Specifically, an argument in which the arguer demonstrates 1. that the best reason to be a libertarian is some foundational principle X (Aristotelian natural law, rational egoism, Jeffersonian political equality, whatever your view may be); 2. that principle X implies not only that libertarianism is true, but also some other consequent, Y; and, therefore, 3. a libertarian, qua libertarian, has reason to believe in Y as well as libertarianism, even though denying Y is not inconsistent with libertarianism per se, because denying Y would be inconsistent with the reasons that justify libertarianism. (Hence, as I say, libertarians can reject Y without being inconsistent but they can’t reject it without being unreasonable.)

So, do you accept that form of argument as a legitimate one? If so, then great; that was the main purpose of the discussion, and presumably also the main purpose of Roderick’s link to my essay. If not, then what’s the problem with it?

Re: Steal This Journal!


Well, the term has broad and narrow usages. You’re right that the narrow usage (popularized by the Free Software Foundation) only applies to licenses — like the GNU GPL and FDL, or the Creative Commons ShareAlike licenses — that are viral, i.e., which not only free the work itself for redistribution and derivative works, but also require anyone who produces a derivative work to also free it under the same terms.

I don’t have any particular view on what license you ought to use on Libertarian Papers. But I think that the “Attribution-ShareAlike” license would only be “less libertarian” than a plain “Attribution” license if the powers restricted by “ShareAlike” were legitimate powers for an author to exercise. But all ShareAlike requires is that authors distributing a derivative work not try to enforce copyright restrictions with respect to their own derivative work. If enforcing copyright restrictions is illibertarian (as you and I agree), then I reckon that forbidding licensees from enforcing them, isn’t.

On Anarchy and Big Business

You write: The other problem I have with the Libertarian Free Market is this. I loathe Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buys, MacDonald’s and even Piggly Wiggly. The problem there is corporations result when the market is totally free. With corporations we enjoy… offshore outsourcing of manufacturing. . . . I guess I have trouble with the totally free market, not that I have a better solution. But I’m none too thrilled by the strip malls all looking the same and owned by nameless faceless corporations.

What makes you think that the success of big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy is the result of the free market? Certainly they’re prosperous in the market that we have, but as you know, the market that we have is not free.

In particular, big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy benefit massively from — in fact, they probably depend on — government hand-outs for big, centralized corporations in the name of “development” and “economic growth.” For example, in order to build those giant big box stores, they need large, contiguous blocks of land near an interstate highway exit. They often get those large blocks of well-positioned land at artificially low prices because the city government uses eminent domain to seize it, either in the process of building the highway or else as an independent project for “development” purposes. In a freed market, they wouldn’t have that.

Big chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy also need big systems of warehouses, cross-country trucking, etc., and for all of that, they need big interstate highways. Which happen to be built, maintained, and subsidized by the government. In a freed market, there would be no government-subsidized highway system, and they’d actually have to pay the full cost of their shipping and distribution networks.

They also typically depend on being able to get very low-cost goods exported from textile mills, plastic factories, etc. overseas, in places like Communist China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so on. Those goods are often cheap because labor is extremely cheap. But labor is extremely cheap because labor markets in those countries are unfree, because those governments happen to be comfortable with extreme brutality in order to keep small-time farmers and industrial workers poor, subservient, and desperate for any way to get cash. In a freed market, workers overseas would be much better off, much less desperate for cash, much more free to leave abusive or exploitative bosses to find new livelihoods, and generally able to command much higher prices for their labor. As a result, Wal-Mart’s comparative advantage in importing from developing countries would make for much less of a comparative advantage in competing with smaller, local shops — because goods from developing countries would no larger be made artificially cheap by the intervention of violently anti-worker governments.

As Roderick Long has argued ( “In a free market, firms would be smaller and less hierarchical, more local and more numerous (and many would probably be employee-owned); prices would be lower and wages higher; and corporate power would be in shambles. Small wonder that big business, despite often paying lip service to free market ideals, tends to systematically oppose them in practice.”

You write: As an old punk I should be all gung-ho for anarchy but anarchy is what “governs” Iraq.

Oh, come on, really? Iraq is in a state of civil war, not a state of anarchy. Civil war is what you have when a strip of land has too many governments (or would-be governments) fighting with each other over which one gets to do the governing. Anarchy is what you have when the have no governments at all. Iraq, which is currently being contested by the armed forces of the most powerful government in the world, a nominally independent puppet government propped up by those occupying armed forces, fractious provincial governments (especially in Kurdistan), occasional incursions from Turkey and Iran, roving sectarian death squads closely associated with various armed factions like SCIRI, the Sadrist movement, various tribally-based Sunni warlord-gangsters, Al-Qaeda, etc., all instituting police-state measures wherever they have strong enough control to do so, and all of them fighting with each other over who will be able to come out on top as rulers of Iraq, or–failing that–how they will be able to carve up Iraq into fiefs under their military control. That’s not anarchy; it’s just a bunch of warring states trying to get their hands on parts of the same country. No surprise: the situation there was created by a war between feuding governments and a military occupation.

Anarchy means no governments and no rulers — a consensual society based on free association, without wars, taxes, occupations, government prohibitions, government police, government curfews, or any of the rest. Maybe that’s achievable in this world, and maybe it’s not, but possible or impossible, it’s important to keep in mind what it is we’re talking about. Anarchy means lawlessness, not disorder; and it certainly doesn’t mean having so many would-be law-makers in one place that they end up fighting over who gets to make the laws!

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: Four Quick Answers

Roads and other infrastructure should be provided by voluntary means, with some combo of user fees/advertising, etc. paying for them–and they would be in a free market, just as innovation would still get done without the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property paying off politically-connected rent seekers. Roads would also be better maintained in a free market, so the transportation costs incurred by Wal-Mart would fall in a free market.

Re: Thickness unto death


So one can nonthickly argue that it’s not that case that we must be thicklib. But one can’t non-thickly argue that it is the case that we shouldn’t be thicklib.

Well, thick libertarianism is the claim that libertarianism as such provides good reasons for libertarians to care about other commitments besides a rigorous commitment to non-aggression. So it’s true that if, for example, a would-be thin libertarian is arguing that we should abandon a particular nonviolently held philosophical view about libertarianism (viz. the thick conception of it) for, e.g., reasons of libertarian strategy, then she is really advancing a form of thick, not thin, libertarianism.

But couldn’t a woud-be thin libertarian instead argue that we ought to abandon a particular nonviolently held philosophical view about libertarianism (viz. the thick conception of it) for other reasons distinct from and alongside our libertarian commitments? For example, that it should be abandoned for reasons of intellectual clarity, considered as desirable in itself rather than as a means to libertarian triumph or whatever else?

If so, then, while I would certainly disagree with the argument for abandoning a thick conception of libertarianism, I wouldn’t think that the argument is internally contradictory. The appeal only becomes an appeal to thickness if the reasons being given are reasons that the libertarian is supposed to have qua libertarian, rather than (for example) qua philosopher or qua clear thinker.

Re: Plus or Minus


We may not be able to directly speak of “all that really matters,” but we can get closer and closer by refusing to hold to our existing macroscopic abstractions.

Are you claiming that something like, say, the loaf of cornbread that I stuffed into my mouth earlier today is a “macroscopic abstraction,” whereas stuff like, say, up and down quarks are not abstractions, but rather concretes?


Re: Never Walk Alone


Well, “politics” derives from the Greek root “polis.” At the time the word was made, “polis” was ambiguous between (or consistently conflated) (1) the organized government of the city, and (2) civil society within the city. So when Aristotle wrote about “politics” he was talking about government processes, but about public life broadly, including many institutions within the city (religious, civic, educational, etc.) which today would be thought of as part of the private rather than the government sector.

Nowadays most people use politics to refer mainly or only to the business of the government, but some traditions (especially on the Left and in the feminist movement) use “politics” in a broader sense to include not only government processes but also struggles within civil society, especially if they have a common impact on a lot of people and if the civil society dynamics are structured by the balance of power between different social classes (such as men and women, or white people and black people, or…).

So “political” is not being expanded so far as just to mean “affects other people” (presumably remembering your friends’ birthdays affects other people, but I wouldn’t call it a political commitment); rather, “politics” is being being used to describe anything that acts to systematically structure public life in terms of the power relationships between groups of people. That includes governmental processes but it also includes a lot of other things, such as the way in which rape dramatically constrains the freedom of movement of all women, as women, and puts women in a state of greater dependency upon men.

Does that help clarify?

Incidentally, I’ve discussed the use of the term “politics” at some more length in section 2 of the Libertarian Feminism essay that I co-authored with Roderick Long.