Why Billy Is Not a Libertarian

Libertarian Party - Clint's membership 1998With apologies to Kemp, who brings class and erudition to LL, while I just bring acidic irony, I do want to note something on a front page post because it’s such typical libertarian behavior – and because I can.

Commenter Richard Brackett, with whom Kemp has been dueling intellectually over his libertarian/King Day post for a few days, also engaged in reasonably civil discussion with me for a short time on the history of racial conflict in the U.S. and Florida. In his final comment, however, he wrote:

You speak as though Whites of the day were a solid block of racists with no available Whites to oppose the enforced tyranny. That is manifestly untrue.

He might have had a point if I had said anything remotely like that. Instead, what I actually wrote, was this:

“The truth, if you study Florida history particularly, was that our state was a libertarian paradise in the teens and 20s, with all the astonishing violence and graft that came with it. A number of brave men and women — of all races — used law and government as best they could to fight it. And it took a very long time for that fight to pay off, but it did.”

That’s more or less the opposite, I would say. And I challenged Brackett to point to actual text where I wrote anything near his repetition of what I wrote. I also told him not invent strawmen, because it’s a tacky way to argue. I didn’t do that to him.

His response? Crickets. But he goes right on chatting up Kemp and indulging in plenty of strawmen with him, too, maybe because Kemp’s nicer than I am.

This small bit of comment pettiness is useful only as an illustration of something more chronic in the libertarian soul, as I’ve observed it. More than other intellectual types I’ve observed, self-described libertarians either lie about or describe in willfully obtuse terms the arguments of others. (For instance, in my experience, people motivated by religious conservatism argue far more honestly even though I disagree with them about virtually everything.) Self-described libertarians have a very difficult time acknowledging error or their own human frailty or dishonesty.

I think this goes back to the ever-pernicious Ms. Rand and her creation of a preposterous super-race of super-producers, with whom millions of people with humility issues can identify, while sneering at the rest of us moochers. As a result, in my experience, libertarians tend not to actually wrestle with words and concepts communicated by their interlocutors. Instead, they hear what they want so they can fit it into their producers and moochers, winners and losers, magic market, ruggedly manly view of themselves.

In truth, Libertarianism, as a philosophy, ought to revolve around Ronald Reagan’s quite good formulation of “the minimum law consistent with order.” Libertarians ought to discuss what that means in terms of creating and managing a civil society. (I would add the minimum law consistent with order and basic fairness, but then, I’m not a libertarian.)

Instead, libertarianism, as lived by so-called practitioners, always comes back to righteous indignation that anyone, anywhere, ever, has a right to tell them what to do. After all, one does not tell Galtian supergeniuses what to do, even in the context of a democratically elected society. Because they might go to their Gulch and take their genius with them. I keep waiting.

It’s quite obvious that libertarians don’t believe their beliefs because all they do is sit around and bitch about the grabby rest of us. Go to your gulch already. Put yourselves to the test. Stop having your garbage picked by the government. Go build your own roads. Go create your own vaccines without research from the National Institutes of Health. In practice, the unpleasant abstractions of Libertarianism always stop at the fleshy confines of actual Libertarians.

To perceive the world and build a political/ideological view based on never acted-upon fantasies, while benefitting from the very things you claim to hate, is fundamentally anti-social and anti-human.

You doubt this lies at the heart of today’s Libertarianism? Check out Ayn Rand’s take on sex in Atlas Shrugged, which I still haven’t read because ya’ll still haven’t gone Galt. This is an excerpt I saw somewhere. It’s Galtian superman Hank Reardon whispering sweet nothings to Galtian heroine Dagny Taggert:

“I want you to know this.”

He stood by the bed, dressed, looking down at her. His voice had pronounced it evenly, with great clarity and no inflection. She looked up at him obediently. He said: “What I feel for you is contempt. But it’s nothing compared to the contempt I feel for myself. I don’t love you. I’ve never loved anyone. I wanted you from the first moment I saw you. I wanted you as one wants a whore – for the same reason and purpose.”

Yep, that’s pretty much Libertarianism, as defined by the grand dame herself. Possession, impulsive desire, and contempt. It’s not a philosophy; it’s a three-year-old-child’s emotion. Don’t you want to live in that world?

Here’s one final example from Mr. Brackett, the Libertarian, in his skirmish with Kemp.

“Show me a program ANYWHERE for Whites! You can’t have one, anywhere. You can have a program targeted for Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, even illegal aliens but label a program for Whites? You might as well fire up a cross or put up a noose on live TV.”

I’ll show you two. America’s two largest non-military programs overwhelmingly benefit whites: We call them Social Security and Medicare. I addressed that last week. But check the subtle turn in our Randian hero’s writing. I hate government programs, but I might hate them less if they served white people, especially because I’m too ignorant to know how much they benefit whites already.

So maybe a libertarian is just a white person longing for his own Jesse Jackson. Or maybe that’s an entirely twisted, dishonest, and unfair reading of Richard Brackett’s beliefs. I’ll concede that possibility, which extends far more courtesy to him than he extends to me or Kemp.

8 thoughts on “Why Billy Is Not a Libertarian

  1. “Self-described libertarians have a very difficult time acknowledging error or their own human frailty or dishonesty. […] I think this goes back to the ever-pernicious Ms. Rand and her creation of a preposterous super-race of super-producers, with whom millions of people with humility issues can identify, while sneering at the rest of us moochers.”

    Billy, you just don’t do research well.

    “Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the “libertarian” hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.” –Ayn Rand

    While some Libertarians may be Randians, Ayn Rand certainly did not like Libertarianism, and ascribing supposed Libertarian failings to Ayn Rand is plainly wrong.

  2. D.R., I appreciate the quote. It’s a good one. However, I don’t remember ever writing that Ayn Rand was libertarian. To the extent I ascribe libertarian failings to Ayn Rand, it reflects what “libertarians” find attractive about her, not vice versa. I think you missed an important part of what I wrote. And maybe that’s because I didn’t do a good enough job of emphasizing it. It’s this:

    “More than other intellectual types I’ve observed, self-described libertarians either lie about or describe in willfully obtuse terms the arguments of others.”

    The emphasis here is on “self-described,” people who make their policy preferences one with their identities. And in the present tense. I think you would agree there’s a whole cottage industry/culture of people/politicos purporting to be “libertarian” out there. Very few of them actually belong the the Libertarian party. The best example of this is probably Rep. Paul Ryan, who is now the chairman of the budget committee and will give the rebuttal to the state of the union. The guy makes his staffers read Atlas Shrugged.

    Here’s a profile of him from a website called “the libertarian Republican”. The headline is “Meet the Ayn Rand Congressman” http://www.libertarianrepublican.net/2009/04/meet-ayn-rand-congressman-republican.html

    In popular culture and real politics, I would argue that Randism and libertarianism are hopelessly, irrevocably entwined. Do you disagree?

    But I should make clear that I don’t blame Ayn Rand for this conflation. I never did. I do blame her for the dreadful, anti-human quality of her thinking and writing, as I perceive it. But she obviously couldn’t control what Alan Greenspan and Paul Ryan and Neel Boortz and millions of others have done with her work. I think the fact that they seized on it in the way they did reflects personal narcissism more than policy interests. But that’s obviously subjective.

    And one personal note, I should make it clear in talking to you that I think you’re something of a libertarian. But I would exclude you from the people I’m talking about largely because I don’t remember you saying anything like, “as a libertarian, I…” or “as a devotee of Ayn Rand,” etc etc. I’ve always found you to argue with intellectual honesty about philosophical questions. I think what I’m focused on here is the “some lIbertarians may be Randians” space. You are not in there, from what I can tell. But I would argue that far from “some,” in the practical world of politics and comment, it’s virtually all.

    Do you disagree?

  3. Hi Robert. I’m sorry to offend, but with respect, you provide a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s very easy to say you want everything government — which is “us” in a democratic society — provides, but you just don’t want government, us, to do it. That’s a complete abdication of responsibility.

    We get that you want service without taxes. That’s pretty clear. But as a libertarian, it should be your duty to describe the mechanisms by which that will happen, submit yourself to them, and evaluate whether they work. Don’t simply repeat slogans.

    This is Santa Claus libertarianism. It requires some amorphous benefactor, some magical market. I can say, “I want my house, but I don’t want to pay my mortgage.” That’s the easy part. What becomes harder is how exactly do I get someone else to pay my mortgage. Do I convince my neighbors that I’m so charming they should subsidize my presence in their neighborhood? Do I ask my parents to pay? Do I just hope the bank doesn’t notice?

    By and large, government does the things it does because the private sector can’t make money off them and yet we still need them to have the standard of society we’ve come to expect. for example, the magic of the market did not provide health and basic economic security for the elderly in the recent past. It mostly provided death.

    By and large, libertarians, in my experience, don’t wrestle with this at all.

  4. Billy, I may’ve misinterpreted your words, but you do seem to conflate Rand with Libertarianism. It’s not uncommon, many people seem to think Ayn Rand is the uber-Libertarian, but I do expect better from you.

    I do not think that Randism and Libertarianism are “hopelessly” intertwined, but they are intertwined simply because they seem to espouse similar anti-government philosophies. In my opinion, I think the self-described Libertarians like Rand because she created a strong character which humanizes their anti-government sentiments.

    I am definitely Libertarian in thought, but I do know that some things can’t be done well when it’s only private companies. I do think that our governments should do as little as possible, have as little responsibility as possible, and private business along with the free market should handle most services. I’ve had good and bad experiences with customer service from both government-managed business and private business, and I’ve found a tendency — more incentive — in the private business world to handle the customer with more respect. Just one of many debatable points.

    And if you do have strong points to get across in an article, remember what the Online Marketers and Copywriters do: Big Headlines, Bold Text and Bullet Points. That’s what makes the online world go ’round n’ ’round.

    • I appreciate the advice, DR.

      Ultimately, I agree that Rand was far too self-referential, as I understand her, to call herself anything that she didn’t invent the name for. However, as you say, “many people seem to think Ayn Rand is the uber-Libertarian…” I would say most, if not functionally all. There’s a reason for that, and I’m not it. I never wrote a word about her until three months or so ago. So I think I would just counter that I’m writing about popular perceptions, not academic theory. I will be the first to stipulate that I’m not qualified to academically assess Rand beyond how dreadful Anthem is. I haven’t read enough. But I can assess the popular atmosphere that has grown up around her work. Hell, you can’t avoid it. And ultimately, I think it’s far more important to understand how she’s been used or abused by modern libertarian conservative types. And I think that today, in popular understanding, that the distinction between libertarianism and Randism is a distinction without a difference.

      People like you, if you care about that distinction, should work hard to explain and insist upon it and not just to snippy leftists like me.

  5. Snippy leftists are far more fun to talk with. :>

    And you’re probably right that most people see Rand and Libertarianism as the same, but even if you’re talking to popular opinion, I need to be sure that the difference is noted. After all, if everyone keeps repeating it, it must be true, right? All Leftists are Socialists, All Leftists are Socialists, All Leftists are Socialists, All Leftists are Socialists, All Leftists are Socialists… heh.

  6. Tim:

    Quick reponse, with a question:

    “No one should be able to tell me what to do.” It’s “I have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as long as I don’t harm others in the process.”

    How many people do you know — actual human beings — who readily acknowledge when they are harming others? And who, if not government, compels them to stop? And in doing so, is the compeller, not, in fact, acting as government, whether officially or non-officially. My problem, as always with libertarians, is the abstraction and the obsession over things tiny.

    An an actual example, you cite: “A glaring example of overreaching government is highway seatbelt laws.”

    I agree with you. But it is problem 832,731,239 on the list of a billion problems we have. So why don’t focus on something much higher — that isn’t abstract — upon which a statist like me and ?Randian? like you can probably agree: ending the drug war.

    And I’m curious – seriously – if a libertarian can explain why a government-loving statist leftist like myself can so competely oppose the drug war — as do many other of my fellow travelers. What do you think going on in our heads, particularly if we govenment is the answer to everything?

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