Category Archive 'Libertarianism'
05 Jun 2018

Bear Problems in New Hampshire

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Grafton, New Hampshire libertarians had serious bear problems and may have dealt with them privately, Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling suspects.

Tracey Colburn lived in a little yellow house in the middle of the woods. She was used to seeing bears in her yard, up in her trees, and raiding her compost pile, where they chucked aside cabbage in what she could only interpret as disgust. Colburn was in her forties, with long brown hair and a youthful face. She’d had a tough go of it; a breast-cancer diagnosis cut her college career short, and a long string of clerical and municipal jobs were unfulfilling. In 2012, she was in and out of work, but she had enough savings to care for her dog, Kai, a Husky-Labrador mix she’d rescued from a shelter. Kai had developed allergies to wheat and corn, two of the main ingredients in cheap dog food, so she was trying not to give him the stuff.

One muggy weekend, the kind where you leave the windows open to welcome even the slightest breeze, Colburn sliced up a cold pot roast and fed it to Kai. Then she let him out to pee. She was startled to see that her small porch, eight by ten feet, was “just full of bear.” Two of the animals, young ones, were down on all fours sniffing the deck. A bigger, older bear stood right in front of Colburn. Kai rocketed at it, and Colburn screamed. The bear lunged at the sound. “They move like lightning,” she told me.

The bear raked Colburn’s face and torso with its left paw. Its claws dug into one forearm, thrown up in self-defense, and then the other. Colburn, who’d fallen onto her back, tried to push herself inside but realized she’d accidentally closed the door when her head thumped glass. “She was going to frickin’ kill me, I just knew it, because her face was right here,” Tracey said, holding her hand about eight inches in front of her nose. “I was looking right into her eyes.”

Kai must have bitten the bear’s rear legs then, because it jerked away from Colburn. The two animals started snarling and fighting in the yard. Colburn regained her feet and scrambled inside the house, shaking from adrenaline. She looked at her right hand. It didn’t hurt, but it made her stomach turn. The bear had unwrapped the skin from the back of her hand like it was a Christmas present. The gaping hole showed ligaments, muscles, and blood. Colburn looked around her kitchen and picked up a clean dishcloth to wrap the wound.

Kai, only slightly injured, came trotting back toward the house; the bear was nowhere in sight. “Huskies prance. He come prancing out of the shadows, big grin on his face,” Colburn recalled. “Like it was the most wonderful thing he’d ever done.” But she was worried that the bear and its cubs were still out there, waiting for her. It was a terrifying prospect, because she needed to go outside. She didn’t get cell reception in her house, and she couldn’t afford a landline, so there was no way to get in touch with anyone to help her stanch the blood pouring from her injuries.

Carrying a lead pipe to defend herself, Colburn made a desperate run for her white Subaru, only to realize, once she was safely inside, that her mangled right hand couldn’t move the stick shift. Reaching across her body with her left hand, she got the car into gear and puttered down the driveway. She rolled along until she got to the home of a neighbor named Bob. When she rang his doorbell, he stuck his head out an upstairs window.

“I’ve just been attacked by a bear,” Colburn said, breathing heavily.

“Hold on,” Bob replied, and he ducked back inside. A few seconds later, his head popped back out.

“Uh, you’re kidding, right?” he asked.

Colburn conveyed, in painful shouts, that she was most certainly not kidding, and Bob quickly gave her a ride to the fire station. John Babiarz happened to be on duty. “Those goddamn bears!” he kept repeating. He called emergency responders, who whisked Colburn in an ambulance to the nearest hospital, then he phoned the Fish and Game Department. The person on the line was incredulous, like Bob before him. “It’s been a century since we’ve had a bear attack on a person,” the man said, referring to the whole of New Hampshire.

“I’m here!” Babiarz yelled back. “I see the blood!”

Doctors told Colburn that her body would heal. When she was released from the hospital, a warden from Fish and Game showed up at her house to erect a box trap in her yard. After he left, Colburn peeked at the single pink doughnut resting inside. That night she heard a bear banging on the side of the trap, but the next day the doughnut was still there. A few days later, the warden decided that the trap was useless, packed it up, and took it away.

Colburn thought about the bear all the time. She wondered how often it had ventured into her yard, onto her porch, and up to her windows without her knowing. Not like a Peeping Tom. Peeping Toms were people, and bears, she now knew for sure, were nothing like people. “If you look at their eyes,” she told me, “you understand that they are completely alien to us.”

RTWT

23 Oct 2017

Libertarian Cop

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Tom O’Donnell, in the New Yorker, March 31, 1994.

I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.

“Bad news, detective. We got a situation.”

“What? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?”

“Worse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.”

The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”

“Not yet. But mark my words: we’re going to figure out who did this and we’re going to take them down … provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.”

“Easy, chief,” I said. “Any rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.”

He laughed. “That’s why you’re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it.”

I put a quarter in the siren. Ten minutes later, I was on the scene. It was a normal office building, strangled on all sides by public sidewalks. I hopped over them and went inside.

“Home Depot™ Presents the Police!®” I said, flashing my badge and my gun and a small picture of Ron Paul. “Nobody move unless you want to!” They didn’t.

“Now, which one of you punks is going to pay me to investigate this crime?” No one spoke up.

“Come on,” I said. “Don’t you all understand that the protection of private property is the foundation of all personal liberty?”

It didn’t seem like they did.

“Seriously, guys. Without a strong economic motivator, I’m just going to stand here and not solve this case. Cash is fine, but I prefer being paid in gold bullion or autographed Penn Jillette posters.”

Nothing. These people were stonewalling me. It almost seemed like they didn’t care that a fortune in computer money invented to buy drugs was missing.

I figured I could wait them out. I lit several cigarettes indoors. A pregnant lady coughed, and I told her that secondhand smoke is a myth. Just then, a man in glasses made a break for it.

“Subway™ Eat Fresh and Freeze, Scumbag!®” I yelled.

Too late. He was already out the front door. I went after him.

“Stop right there!” I yelled as I ran. He was faster than me because I always try to avoid stepping on public sidewalks. Our country needs a private-sidewalk voucher system, but, thanks to the incestuous interplay between our corrupt federal government and the public-sidewalk lobby, it will never happen.

I was losing him. “Listen, I’ll pay you to stop!” I yelled. “What would you consider an appropriate price point for stopping? I’ll offer you a thirteenth of an ounce of gold and a gently worn ‘Bob Barr ‘08’ extra-large long-sleeved men’s T-shirt!”

He turned. In his hand was a revolver that the Constitution said he had every right to own. He fired at me and missed. I pulled my own gun, put a quarter in it, and fired back. The bullet lodged in a U.S.P.S. mailbox less than a foot from his head. I shot the mailbox again, on purpose.

“All right, all right!” the man yelled, throwing down his weapon. “I give up, cop! I confess: I took the bitcoins.”

“Why’d you do it?” I asked, as I slapped a pair of Oikos™ Greek Yogurt Presents Handcuffs® on the guy.

“Because I was afraid.”

“Afraid?”

“Afraid of an economic future free from the pernicious meddling of central bankers,” he said. “I’m a central banker.”

I wanted to coldcock the guy. Years ago, a central banker killed my partner. Instead, I shook my head.

“Let this be a message to all your central-banker friends out on the street,” I said. “No matter how many bitcoins you steal, you’ll never take away the dream of an open society based on the principles of personal and economic freedom.”

He nodded, because he knew I was right. Then he swiped his credit card to pay me for arresting him.

30 Jul 2017

Libertarian Game of Thrones

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19 Jul 2017

Deirdre McCluskey’s Classical Liberalism Manifesto

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Patric Park, Adam Smith, 1845, Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

A must-read essay.

As Boaz says at the outset of The Libertarian Mind, “In a sense, there have always been but two political philosophies: liberty and power.” …

[The new liberalism, by inspiriting for the first time in history a great mass of ordinary people, produced a massive explosion of betterments. Steam, rail, universities, steel, sewers, plate glass, forward markets, universal literacy, running water, reinforced concrete, automobiles, airplanes, washing machines, antibiotics, the pill, containerization, free trade, computers, the cloud. It yielded in the end an increase in real income per head by a factor of thirty, and a startling rise in the associated ability to seek the transcendent in Art or Science or God or Baseball.

I said 30. It was a stunning Great Enrichment, material and cultural, well after the classic Industrial Revolution.

The Enrichment was, I say again in case you missed it, three thousand percent per person, near enough, utterly unprecedented. The goods and services available to even the poorest rose by that astounding figure, in a world in which mere doublings, increases of merely 100 percent, had been rare and temporary, as in the glory of fifth century Greece or the vigor of the Song Dynasty. In every earlier case, the little industrial revolutions had reverted eventually to a real income per head in today’s prices of about $3 a day, which was the human condition since the caves. Consider trying to live on $3 a day, as many people worldwide still do (though during the past forty years their number has fallen like a stone). After 1800 there was no reversion. On the contrary, in every one of the forty or so recessions since 1800 the real income per head after a recession exceeded what it had been at the previous peak. Up, up, up. Even including the $3-a-day people in Chad and Zimbabwe, world real income per head has increased during the past two centuries by a factor of ten, and by a factor of thirty as I said, in the countries that were lucky, and liberally wise. Hong Kong. South Korea. Botswana. The material and cultural enrichment bids fair to spread now to the world.

And the enrichment has been equalizing. Nowadays in places like Japan and the United States the poorest make more, corrected for inflation, than did the top quarter or so two centuries ago. Jane Austen lived more modestly in material terms than the average resident of East Los Angeles.

HT: Arnold Kling.

01 Feb 2016

How Much Consent of the Governed Has Modern American Democracy Really Got?

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Leviathan
detail, frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651.

In Iowa today, we are beginning participation in ritual activities intended to persuade us that we are a free people electing our own government which governs with our assent. Jason Brennan, a professor at Georgetown, recently posted a short essay arguing that the degree of consent we actually have in a mass democracy is so limited as to be, in most real circumstances, practically non-existent.

In general, our relationship as individuals to our government doesn’t look much like a consensual relationship.

If you don’t vote or participate, your government will just impose rules, regulations, restrictions, benefits, and taxes upon you. Except in exceptional circumstances, the same outcome will occur regardless of how you vote or what policies you support. So, for instance, I voted for a particular candidate in 2012. But had I abstained or voted for a different candidate, the same candidate would have won anyways. This is not like a consensual transaction, in which I order a JVM and the dealer sends me the amp I ordered. Rather, this is more a like a nonconsensual transaction in which the dealer decides to make me buy an amp no matter whether I place an order or not, and no matter what I order.

If you actively dissent, the government makes you obey its rules anyways. For instance, you can’t get out of marijuana criminalization laws by saying, “Just to be clear, I don’t consent to those laws, or to your rule”. This is unlike my relationship with my music gear dealer, where “no” means “no”. For government, your “no” means “yes”.

You have no reasonable way of opting out of government rule. Governments control all the habitable land, and most of us don’t have the resources or even the legal permission to move elsewhere. Governments won’t even let you move to Antarctica if you want to. At most, a privileged few of us can choose which government we live under, but the vast majority of us are stuck with whatever government we’re born with. This is unlike buying an amp from Sweetwater.com, which, by the way, I highly recommend as a dealer.

Finally, governments require you to obey their rules, pay taxes, and the like, even when they don’t do their part. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the government has no duty to protect individual citizens. Suppose you call the police to alert them that an intruder is in your house, but the police never bother dispatch someone to help you, and as a result the intruder shoots you. The government still requires you to pay taxes for the protection services it chose not to deploy on your behalf.

So, in summary, it looks like in general our relationship to our governments lacks any of the features that signify a consensual transaction.

None of this is to say that governments are unjust or illegitimate, or that we ought to be anarchists. There are other reasons to have governments. Nor is it to say that democracies are not in some way special. Democracies in fact do a much better job than alternative forms of government of responding to their concerns and interests of most of their members. But it’s a stretch to say that democracy rests on the consent of the governed, or, more precisely, it’s a stretch to say that you consent to democratic rule.

Read the whole thing.

04 Dec 2015

Libertarian Star Wars Parody

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From Reason Magazine:

21 Jul 2015

Sherlock Holmes, Conservative

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SherlockHolmes
Sherlock Holmes lecturing Dr. Watson, drawn by Sidney Paget

Christopher Sandford, writing in The (always dubiously conservative) American Conservative, concludes perfectly correctly that Sherlock Holmes was everything The American Conservative is not “a Victorian libertarian—and imperial conservative,” i.e. essentially an older version of that now vanishing American species, the Goldwater Conservative.

Holmes is an individualist. In the best sense of the words, he’s a confirmed loner and an inveterate free-thinker. Holmes is often the only man in the room with a contrary opinion, whether about someone’s character or a set of circumstances. Even in his latest BBC manifestation, it’s hard to imagine him carrying a sign or joining a picket line. Instead, the tell-tale signs of the libertarian are everywhere, from Holmes’s dress-code—essentially respectable but with just that touch of the haphazard to eschew the orthodox—to his famously bohemian lodgings, and erratic but long work hours.

He’s the epitome of the sort of self-sufficient, small-state, freelance operator Margaret Thatcher surely had in mind when she said that there was no such thing as “society” in Britain, merely millions of innately free-willed and aspirational men and women.

Holmes is also a precursor to James Bond—surely another neo-Thatcherite—in enjoying some of life’s more luxurious consumer goodies. He frequently accepts expensive presents from grateful clients in high places, invariably travels first-class, smokes custom-blended tobacco, and takes hits from a jewel-encrusted snuff box, one of numerous gifts from the nobility. …

Here’s how Holmes sets the scene of his retirement in The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane:

    [The case] occurred after my withdrawal to my little Sussex home, when I had given myself up entirely to that soothing life of Nature for which I had so often yearned during the long years spent amid the gloom of London. … My villa is situated upon the southern slope of the downs, commanding a great view of the Channel. … My house is lonely. I, my old housekeeper, and my bees have the estate all to ourselves.

Surely this retreat to the heart, then as now, of Tory England speaks to the deep vein of traditionalism that lies under Holmes’s bohemian façade. The final stories may include some of the most outlandish plots of the entire series, but alongside all the veiled lodgers and creeping professors, the obsessive moral theme becomes more than ever the urgent need to maintain a social order under threat both from within and without. There’s no need to look further for proof of Holmes’s profound sense of disquiet than when he’s left in old age with a feeling of having “failed both my clients and myself,” or when he contemplates the coming ruin of the “quiet, ordered, harmonious, well balanced” Britain personified by Queen Victoria and the rise of the “brash, smug, self-regarding generation” yapping impatiently at the old nation’s heels.

“Is not all life pathetic and futile?” Holmes inquires in his 60th and final appearance, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman. “We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow. Or worse than a shadow—misery.” There speaks the true voice of the British conservative.

06 Mar 2015

Fox to Film Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”

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Heinlein1
Robert A. Heinlein

The film version of Atlas Shrugged was financed by outsiders and made, despite Hollywood, which did everything it could to suppress and bury it, as a small-scale, noticeably inexpensive production.

Now, another major libertarian classic, Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, portraying a lunar revolt against earthly big government has been scheduled to be made by a major studio with a name director.

Bryan Singer is tackling an adaptation of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, based on the classic sci-fi book by Robert A. Heinlein. Twentieth Century Fox recently picked up the movie rights.

Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim will adapt the book for the project, which will be titled Uprising. Singer is producing with Lloyd Braun of Whalerock Industries and Thor Halvorssen. Executive producers are Andrew Mittman and Jason Taylor, and Alex Lloyd and Richard Martin are co-producing.

Heinlein’s 1966 sci-fi novel centers on about a lunar colony’s revolt against rule from Earth. The novel was nominated for the 1966 Nebula award (honoring the best sci-fi and fantasy work in the U.S.) and won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 1967.

An adaptation has been attempted twice before — by DreamWorks, which had a script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and by Phoenix Pictures, with Harry Potter producer David Heyman attached — but both languished and the rights reverted to Heinlein’s estate.

Several of Heinlein’s novels have been adapted for the big and small screen, including the 1953 film Project Moonbase, the 1994 TV miniseries Red Planet, the 1994 film The Puppet Masters, and — very loosely — the 1997 film Starship Troopers.

moon-is-a-harsh-mistress

04 Dec 2014

Nathaniel Branden, 9 April 1930 – 3 December 2014

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Ossian
Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson (1767-1824), L’apothéose des héros français morts pour la patrie pendant la guerre de la Liberté [Apotheosis of the French Heroes Who Died for their Fatherland During the War for Liberty also known as “The Spirit of Ossian Welcoming Napoleon’s Marshals into Valhalla”], 1802. Musée National du Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil

Reason and Huffington Post are both reporting this morning that Nathaniel Branden died yesterday in Los Angeles after a long illness.

Reason:

Nathaniel Branden, the man who turned Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy into a popular intellectual movement, died today at age 84.

He and Rand famously broke over complications involving a long-term affair of theirs that ended badly in 1968; the tale is told at length from his perspective in his memoir—the most recent edition called My Years with Ayn Rand—and interestingly, from his ex-wife Barbara Branden’s perspective in her 1986 Rand biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand.

After the break with Rand in 1968, Branden had his own highly successful career as a hugely popular writer on psychology, and he is a pioneer of the vital importance of “self-esteem” in modern culture.

Unlike the way the concept has been denatured over the decades, Branden, still Objectivist at heart, wrote with the understanding that creating a worthwhile and valuable life from the perspective of your own values was key to self-esteem, and thus to psychological health. That is, self-esteem wasn’t something that should be a natural given to a human, nor our birthright, but something to be won through clear-eyed understanding of our own emotions and their sources, and our values and how to pursue them.

Branden was vital to the spread of Rand’s ideas in two distinct junctures: by creating and publicizing the ideas inherent in her fiction through nonfiction and lectures via the Nathaniel Branden Institute in its lectures and magazines from 1958 to 1968 (a task Rand would almost certainly not have attempted without his prodding and aid).

Then, after Rand broke from him and all “official” Objectivists were required to revile him, Branden was a living example that intelligent admiration for and advocacy of Rand’s ideas need not be tied in with thoughtless fealty to Rand as a person, or to the pronouncements of those who controlled her estate, with all the attendant flaws and occasional irrationality: that one need not be an official Randian to spread the best of Objectivism.

Read the whole thing.

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HuffPo:

Born in Brampton, Ontario, April 3 1930, as Nathan Blumenthal he received a BA in psychology from the University of California Los Angeles, an MA from New York University and a Ph.D from the California Graduate Institute.

As an undergraduate he wrote a letter to Ayn Rand regarding her novel The Fountainhead, which earned him a phone call from the novelist/philosopher. He and his girlfriend, Barbara Weidman, visited Rand’s home north of Los Angeles and became close friends and associates.

After the publication of Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, Branden created the Nathanial Branden Institute and presented lectures on Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. Branden systematized Rand’s philosophy, something she had not done, and presented lectures on the ideas, published as The Vision of Ayn Rand.

These lectures were attended in person, or heard on tape, by thousands across the country and around the world including by many leaders of the nascent movement of modern libertarian.

Branden also began a romantic relationship with Rand, with the knowledge and consent of his wife, Barbara, and Ayn’s husband, Frank O’Connor. As is often the case in such relationships it did not end well and Rand and Branden had a stormy split in 1968.

Branden went on to promote his psychological views on self-esteem. He acknowledged his role in creating a spirit of intolerance within Rand’s circles, but he never repudiated the fundamental ideas, and in fact, defended them his entire life.

Read the whole thing.

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The young Nathaniel Branden was apparently an enfant terrible, notoriously arrogant, inflexible, and intolerant. He is generally supposed to have been principally responsible for the cult-like quality of Ayn Rand’s private circle, and reports abound of the young Branden conducting inquisitorial trials for deviationist infractions leading to the defendant’s excommunication and expulsion.

But, after the notorious break-up with Rand, he behaved with admirable dignity and restraint. While Rand hysterically denounced him and slandered him with false accusations, he avoided responding, merely relocating to the other side of the continent and building a new career as a pop psychologist counseling Californians on how to cure their neuroses by cultivating self-esteem.

It was amusing to see how thoroughly the former head of the rigid and formal Rand Jugend became Californianized. The later Branden began to speak well of pot smoking, and had himself photographed in guyabera shirts lounging beside a swimming pool.

Despite all that, he remained staunchly libertarian, and advocated essentially the same kind of politics and economics he had when he was Ayn Rand’s lover and deputy fuehrer. The only real difference was in his new-found personal modesty and sense of humor, overlaid with a thick layer of California squishiness.

His memoir of his time with Ayn was tasteful, discreet, and obviously quite honest. Reading his later writings, no one was ever moved to worship him in the way true believers once had, but one could not avoid kind of liking him and according him a bit of grudging respect. Molliter ossa cubent.

nathaniel-branden

17 Aug 2014

A Dogmatic “Libertarian” Age?

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

Mark Lila, back in June, published an important essay on contemporary ideology in the New Republic, which I would say misidentifies the contemporary ideology of secular egalitarianism as “Libertarianism.”

The social liberalization that began in a few Western countries in the 1960s is meeting less resistance among educated urban elites nearly everywhere, and a new cultural outlook, or at least questioning, has emerged. This outlook treats as axiomatic the primacy of individual self-determination over traditional social ties, indifference in matters of religion and sex, and the a priori obligation to tolerate others. Of course there have also been powerful reactions against this outlook, even in the West. But outside the Islamic world, where theological principles still have authority, there are fewer and fewer objections that persuade people who have no such principles. The recent, and astonishingly rapid, acceptance of homosexuality and even gay marriage in so many Western countries—a historically unprecedented transformation of traditional morality and customs—says more about our time than anything else.

It tells us that this is a libertarian age. That is not because democracy is on the march (it is regressing in many places), or because the bounty of the free market has reached everyone (we have a new class of paupers), or because we are now all free to do as we wish (since wishes inevitably conflict). No, ours is a libertarian age by default: whatever ideas or beliefs or feelings muted the demand for individual autonomy in the past have atrophied. There were no public debates on this and no votes were taken. Since the cold war ended we have simply found ourselves in a world in which every advance of the principle of freedom in one sphere advances it in the others, whether we wish it to or not. The only freedom we are losing is the freedom to choose our freedoms.

Not everyone is happy about this. The left, especially in Europe and Latin America, wants to limit economic autonomy for the public good. Yet they reject out of hand legal limits to individual autonomy in other spheres, such as surveillance and censorship of the Internet, which might also serve the public good. They want an uncontrolled cyberspace in a controlled economy—a technological and sociological impossibility. Those on the right, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere, would like the inverse: a permissive economy with a restrictive culture, which is equally impossible in the long run. We find ourselves like the man on the speeding train who tried to stop it by pulling on the seat in front of him.

Yet our libertarianism is not an ideology in the old sense. It is a dogma. The distinction between ideology and dogma is worth bearing in mind. Ideology tries to master the historical forces shaping society by first understanding them. The grand ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did just that, and much too well; since they were intellectually “totalizing,” they countenanced political totalitarianism. Our libertarianism operates differently: it is supremely dogmatic, and like every dogma it sanctions ignorance about the world, and therefore blinds adherents to its effects in that world. It begins with basic liberal principles—the sanctity of the individual, the priority of freedom, distrust of public authority, tolerance—and advances no further. It has no taste for reality, no curiosity about how we got here or where we are going. There is no libertarian sociology (an oxymoron) or psychology or philosophy of history. Nor, strictly speaking, is there a libertarian political theory, since it has no interest in institutions and has nothing to say about the necessary, and productive, tension between individual and collective purposes. It is not liberal in a sense that Montesquieu, the American Framers, Tocqueville, or Mill would have recognized. They would have seen it as a creed little different from Luther’s sola fide: give individuals maximum freedom in every aspect of their lives and all will be well. And if not, then pereat mundus.

Libertarianism’s dogmatic simplicity explains why people who otherwise share little can subscribe to it: small-government fundamentalists on the American right, anarchists on the European and Latin American left, democratization prophets, civil liberties absolutists, human rights crusaders, neoliberal growth evangelists, rogue hackers, gun fanatics, porn manufacturers, and Chicago School economists the world over. The dogma that unites them is implicit and does not require explication; it is a mentality, a mood, a presumption—what used to be called, non-pejoratively, a prejudice. Maintaining an ideology requires work because political developments always threaten its plausibility. Theories must be tweaked, revisions must be revised. Since ideology makes a claim about the way the world actually works, it invites and resists refutation. A dogma, by contrast, does not. That is why our libertarian age is an illegible age.

A must read.

08 Jun 2014

The Life, and Politics, of William Burroughs

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WilliamBurroughs
William Burroughs, 1914-1997

Jesse Walker, reviewing Call Me Burroughs, the new biography by Barry Miles, in Reason Magazine, finds the avante-garde author inconsistent about siding with the Left or the Right, but consistently anti-authoritarian.

Burroughs’ worldview was miles from the peace-and-love socialism that our cultural clichés tell us to expect from a hippie hero. In 1949, according Barry Miles’ new biography Call Me Burroughs, he complained to Kerouac that “we are bogged down in this octopus of bureaucratic socialism.” When he was a landlord in New Orleans he sent Ginsberg a rant against rent control, and when he found himself owning a farm in Texas he gave Ginsberg an earful about the evils of the minimum wage. Eventually he departed for Mexico, and there he wrote to Ginsberg again. “I am not able to share your enthusiasm for the deplorable conditions which obtain in the U.S. at this time,” he told his leftist friend. “I think the U.S. is heading in the direction of a Socialistic police state similar to England, and not too different from Russia….At least Mexico is no obscenity ‘Welfare’ State, and the more I see of this country the better I like it. It is really possible to relax here where nobody tries to mind your business for you.” He added that Westbrook Pegler, a hard-right pundit who would soon be a vocal defender of Sen. Joe McCarthy, was “the only columnist, in my opinion, who possesses a grain of integrity.”

Two decades later, covering the Democratic Party’s bloody 1968 convention for Esquire, Burroughs manifested a more left-wing aura. A day after his arrival he donned a McCarthy button—the antiwar insurgent candidate Eugene McCarthy, that is, not Pegler’s pal Joe. When cops started assaulting protesters outside the convention hall, Burroughs immediately aligned himself with the radicals in the streets, declaring in a public statement that the “police acted in the manner of their species” and asking, “Is there not a municipal ordinance that vicious dogs be muzzled and controlled?” He then helped lead an illegal march that ran straight into a contingent of cops and National Guardsmen.

In doing this, he was not merely supporting the protesters’ civil liberties. He was aligning himself with one side of what he saw as a grand conflict. “This is a revolution,” he wrote in a 1970 article for the East Village Other, “and the middle will get the squeeze until there are no neutrals there.” Still later in his life, he would identify “American capitalism” as his foe, specifying: “the American Tycoon…William Randolph Hearst, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, that whole stratum of American acquisitive evil. Monopolistic, acquisitive evil.”

Burroughs’ influences ranged from Pegler to the ultra-left Situationist International, but the most important early source for his worldview was a man not normally thought of as a political writer at all. Jack Black was a former hobo and burglar whose memoir You Can’t Win engrossed the teenaged Burroughs, leaving a lasting impact on both his outlook and his literary voice. (Black’s first publication, a newspaper serial titled “The Big Break at Folsom,” was ghostwritten by a young reporter named Rose Wilder Lane, who would later play a formative role in the American libertarian movement.) It was Black’s description of an underground code—and his scattered references to the beggars and outlaws who embraced that code as an extended “Johnson Family”—that gave Burroughs’ rebellious streak an ideological framework.

A Johnson “just minds his own business of staying alive and thinks that what other people do is other people’s business,” Burroughs wrote in his 1985 book The Adding Machine. “Yes, this world would be a pretty easy and pleasant place to live in if everybody could just mind his own business and let others do the same. But a wise old black faggot said to me years ago: ‘Some people are shits, darling.'” In 1988, penning a preface for a reprint of Black’s book, Burroughs offered this account of the world’s core conflict: “A basic split between shits and Johnsons has emerged.”

Read the whole thing.

03 Apr 2014

Imagining a Libertarian Police Force

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Tom O’Donnell, in the New Yorker, has fun satirizing police work in an imaginary libertarian future. Libertarians like myself will enjoy it anyway. Get those central bankers!

I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.

“Bad news, detective. We got a situation.”

“What? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?”

“Worse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.”

The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”

“Not yet. But mark my words: we’re going to figure out who did this and we’re going to take them down … provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.”

“Easy, chief,” I said. “Any rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.”

He laughed. “That’s why you’re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it.”

I put a quarter in the siren. Ten minutes later, I was on the scene. It was a normal office building, strangled on all sides by public sidewalks. I hopped over them and went inside.

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