Somalia and Binary Thinking


James K

James is a government policy analyst, and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. His interests including wargaming, computer gaming (especially RPGs and strategy games), Dungeons & Dragons and scepticism. No part of any of his posts or comments should be construed as the position of any part of the New Zealand government, or indeed any agency he may be associated with.

Related Post Roulette

109 Responses

  1. Avatar Kolohe says:

    It’s an example of the ‘Sports Bar’ on the internet, as coined by a frequent commenter on Unqualified Offerings (and (mostly) formerly on reason’s blog), dhex.

    The sports bar is the perfect metaphor to describe how people deal with partisan politics. it’s bizarrely tribal and vicious and vacuous – but most importantly, it’s waged on behalf of people who neither know nor care about the denizens of the sports bar and their trivia except in a macro view. (T-shirts & tickets sold standing in for polling & voting patterns)


    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      I think enough of the electorate gets it right. I’ve voted for my share of losers, but I don’t kick about it. And I never lost a minute of sleeping thinking about what great presidents John Kerry or John McCain might have been.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Loud Sarah keeps on earning.Report

      • Avatar Koz says:

        Me either. Though it does rub me pretty raw how much higher growth would be and how much lower unemployment would be if we didn’t have PPACA and the stimulus package weighin’ us down like a 100 lb albatross.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Pragmatism isn’t particularly sexy. It involves compromise and intellectual flexibility, accepting unpopular and unpleasant dimensions to policies, and maybe worst of all, admitting that all you can really do about some kinds of problems is ameliorate them because they cannot be “solved.”

    So when you approach an issue pragmatically, those who have bought in to an ideology will dismiss your pragmatic approach as being from the other tribe, and dismiss you entirely. Ask a conservative — she will tell you that a “pragmatist” is a “liberal” in disguise and therefore has nothing new or worthwhile to contribute to a discussion about whatever particular issue is on the floor. Ask a liberal — he will tell you that a “pragmatist” is in league with the big corporations and the military, and therefore has nothing new or worthwhile to contribute to a discussion about whatever particular issue is on the floor. Ask a libertarian — she will tell you that a “pragmatist” is really a “statist” and so on and so on and so on.

    Ideology gives the amateur political policy interloqutor a set of problems to diagnose, a set of solutions to those problems, and a package of justifications for them. It’s prepackaged and easy to use. It contains a promise of coherence and ultimate simplicity. Ideology not only divides the world into US and THEM, it assigns blame for the ongoing problems of X, Y, and Z to THEM, and offers a solution — THEY should become more like US. This also gives a psychological balm to assure the ideologue’s deep insecurities — I don’t want X, Y, or Z to happen to me, and as long as I’m not like THEM, it’s less likely they will. Plus, there is more psychological balm that comes from being included in a group. This is part of why ideology is sexy.

    My question is, how do you break someone out of this feedback loop? If you are in US, criticism of the unifying ideology or its policy implications will brand you as a traitor and you will be cast out (e.g., Bruce Bartlett); if you are one of THEM (that is, not US), then you will be dismissed as having nothing new or worthwhile to contribute to a discussion about whatever particular issue is on the floor. Even a practical demonstration of the failure of an ideologically-motivated policy will be dismissed by the true believer.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Heaven forbid we should view those who differ from our own opinions with any degree of fairness. Shaped by different experiences, witness to different instances of injustice, taught by different professors, intrinsically predisposed to different conclusions by personality differences, are we not better-served to first attempt to find agreement at some level, at least at a definitional level before we slap a label on them and dismiss their opinions out of hand?

      I have quoted Engels before, saying Ideology never gets out of the realm of thought. One False Consciousness can only give rise to another, like a pendulum swinging wildly in the clock case.

      And what shall we make of those who are (in our own opinion) half-right? Wouldn’t it make our own argument stronger if we admitted at least that much? Such admissions give credence to our further objections: they demonstrate we were listening when our opponents made their case the first time.

      I’m not sure I can support James K’s admonishment to dispense with labels such as Libertarian or Liberal or Socialist, discussing specifics of policy instead, for individuals do subscribe to political theories in toto and identify themselves using those labels. The Libertarian prescriptive doctrines do have answers for society’s problems: they can’t adopt a partially-socialist and partially-libertarian position on a given policy. It must be one or the other. That said, once someone has identified himself with a political sect, it is useful to ask him how his sect addresses a given issue, say homelessness and mental health care for the indigent, issues much on my mind recently. It’s surprisingly instructive to hear the responses to such issues: we must never presume to fully understand an individual’s positions, despite his own declared allegiance to a particular political sect.

      Now I do make jokes about whether an honest Libertarian should call the fire department if his house is burning. The obvious answer is “Sure. I paid the fireman’s salary in my property tax.”

      Pragmatism is sexy. Pragmatism, like your own affections for those you love, is a process of coming to understand them and going on loving them anyway. The pragmatist does not surrender his ideals: he recognizes that we shall all dine reasonably well on half a loaf. Pragmatism is the ship’s ladder we let down in the shallows to rescue Engels’ marooned sailor from the Island of Idealism. It’s a two phase operation: we have to sail in as far as we can and the sailor has to wade out to the ship.Report

      • Avatar 62across says:

        Pragmatism, like your own affections for those you love, is a process of coming to understand them and going on loving them anyway.

        This is great. If I had it as a choice, my party affiliation would be Pragmatist.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we should abandon ideological labels, I still call myself a libertarian because its an efficient way of explaining to some one the approximate beliefs I hold.

        My point is merely that not all libertarians believe the same thing (and nor do liberals, conservatives etc.). When debating someone you need to argue against what they believe, not what people with similar tribal identifications believe.Report

        • Avatar Koz says:

          That’s a very good point. One thing that took me by surprise is how economically unsophisticated a good number of libertarians are. Most of the prominent libertarians back in the day (Friedman, Hayek) or currently (Marginal Revolution, econlog, McArdle) are economists or close variant of economic specialists.

          Once you get to specifics, for a lot of the time you end up dealing with warmed-over Rothbard and surprisingly little economic knowledge.Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            Yes indeed. I picked up my brand of libertarianism through economics, but that’s not true of most libertarians, and many of those are just as ignorant of economics as everyone else.Report

  3. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat! Democrats aren’t commies?
    Say it ain’t so.Report

  4. Avatar Sam MacDonald says:

    But isn’t the problem that eventualy, you have to address the cumulative impacts of any basket of policies? Let’s say I like one style of home deocration and my wife likes one that’s “the opposite” of my preference. Let’s say she likes really gaudy Victorian stuff. So one day we by a light for the dining room. In and of itself, that piece won’t push me to the point of distraction, so on the margins, on that specific issue, I relent. Then we buy a couch. Then we pick colors for the walls. Then we select some art work. Then we do some kitchen cabinets.

    On any one of these issues, it would be falso for me to say, “this irrevocably changes the style of this home and turns it into something I hate,” because each change is so marginal. But after 30 years of marriage, if I adhere to this line of thinking… I gonna be living in a gaudy Victorian house.

    The other option is to do something like trade off. She picks one addition, I pick the next. Which is fine, unless you like consistency of style. I don’t much care to be honest, but if a coherent design matters to you, this can’t work.

    Or you can go to war over each and every piece, knowing that you will lose some but hoping to minimize the damage. Or to win a HUGE battle that will ultimately be a white elephant so huge that the decision cannot be undone. Like maybe moving into a fully designed and decorated house that adheres to YOUR preferences from the get go.

    It’s not a perfect analogy. But sometimes the all or nothing worldview really does make sense. I don’t really think that ObamaCare can actually work in a sustainable way. A fee market would be better. And so would a universal, single-payer system. When you combine the worst elements of both systems… I dunno.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I agree with this and would use this analogy:

      Let’s look at some really big issues at various points in the past:

      Slavery around 1850.
      Women’s Suffrage around 1900.
      Segregation around 1930.
      Gay Marriage around 1995.
      Intelligent Design taught in public schools around 2000.

      What was the good, solid, uncontroversial, *CENTRIST* position on each of these at the time? I’m pretty sure, without exception, that the centrist position was one of maintaining the status quo and maintaining it indefinitely.

      The “right” position, that is, the position that (almost) all of us share on any one of those topics would have been seen as one of the *EXTREMIST* positions at the time. Indeed, even those of us who are the reason for the “(almost)” don’t have views that would have been considered reactionary for then, but vaguely centrist.

      This is one of the reasons why I’m not particularly a fan of vague centrism.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Maybe its more about who was on the better vector. In each of those cases the “extremist” positions were heading the correct direction. Also James point about being specific is well taken. Not every issue is slavery, most are more boring and less egregious.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        It’s an excellent point to make, and is generally my problem with conservatism.

        On every one of the issues you mentioned, the progressives – or really, the radicals – of the day were correct. And on every one of them, the conservatives argued that change and reform would be disastrous: that it was tyrannical (abolition circa 1850), communistic (integration 1930s-1960s), that it destroyed the moral foundation of society (gay marriage, up to the present).Report

    • Avatar 62across says:

      I’ve got to disagree and I think James K has made a really good point.

      I’ll take a couple of your points to illustrate, if you don’t mind.

      I agree, in regards to the ACA, that either a fully free market system or a single payer system would be better. The problem was – neither of those options was practically or politically achievable. So, the choice was never between the ACA and a free market or the ACA and single payer. It was between the ACA and the status quo. A status quo widely held to be dysfunctional and unsustainable.

      In your dining room light scenario, if your wife insists on the Victorian lamp and you insist on an Art Deco model and neither of you relent the result is inevitable. You’re going to be eating in the dark.

      The all or nothing view presumes that all changes are immutable. In the political realm there is some credence to that presumption. There is no denying that existing policies are harder to change or discontinue. But, it is not impossible.

      To return to your decorating analogy, if she picks the lamp and you pick the sofa and they clash in style, there is nothing to stop you from picking another lamp (when the time comes) that better coordinates with the sofa. It takes longer to get there, but get there you will.

      Contra Jaybird, emancipation, women’s suffrage, desegregation and marriage equality for gays are all part of the incremental evolution of civil rights. Marriage equality for gays wouldn’t have been just an extremist position before the end of slavery, but simply inconceivable. This evolution was achieved through a series of practical, feasible steps regardless of how extreme they seemed compared to the status quo.

      Pragmatism is not the same as vague centrism.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Contra Jaybird, emancipation, women’s suffrage, desegregation and marriage equality for gays are all part of the incremental evolution of civil rights.

        Will we say the same about Measles shots?
        Hip replacements?
        Medicare Part D?

        There are those who claim that medical care is, in fact, a civil right. So far it looks like they’re winning the argument.Report

        • Avatar 62across says:

          All those things now exist and empirical data can be gathered to determine their efficacy and value compared with what was the status quo. The barriers to that kind of analysis are ideological and political, not practical.

          To James K’s point, arguing over whether medical care is a civil right, a natural right or a political right serves only to muddle the debate.

          Do measles vaccines effectively prevent measles? Is preventing measles a good thing to do? These are easily answered questions. Ascertaining whether therefore all persons have an unalienable right to be vaccinated against the measles does nothing to bring either of those questions into greater clarity.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            The barriers to that kind of analysis are ideological and political, not practical.

            We’ll get to watch this one in real time.Report

          • All those things now exist and empirical data can be gathered to determine their efficacy and value compared with what was the status quo.

            Efficacy, yes. Value, no. Value is an incredibly subjective – and relative – thing. If you have a society in which just about everyone holds roughly the same relative values such that they evaluate tradeoffs equally, well then fine, it may well be empirically measurable (though not necessarily since some of the lost tradeoffs may not be empirically measurable). But rare indeed will be the society where this will be the case, and people who do not hold the same relative values as the majority have every right in the world to object and complain about the lost values in the tradeoff. And not only do they have every right in the world to do so, they will quite often be right about their complaints, albeit even if they are right only insofar as others hold the same set of values as they do.

            Put it this way: we can empirically measure life expectancy. We can probably all agree that any one-year increase in life expectancy is an inherently good thing. But what if the way in which someone proposes to achieve that one-year increase in life expectancy is to ban something that a lot of people just enjoy, something like soda? Would it be irrational of someone to look at that tradeoff and say to themselves, “Hmmm…..I will gain an average of one year of life at the end of my life, when I will be old and not terribly independent, if this ban comes into effect. This is not worth the loss of pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction I get from drinking that soda every day.”Report

            • Avatar 62across says:

              Mark –

              I was thinking of value versus cost. All the same, I agree that value is highly subjective and I stand corrected on that point.

              The pragmatist need not avoid subjectivity or quash dissent, however.Report

  5. Avatar lykorian says:

    “…the tendency to try and lump everyone into two groups: Us and Them, and then treat everyone in Them as a single, homogeneous opponent.”

    This would’ve been a perfect opportunity to link to a comments section at Balloon Juice.Report

  6. Avatar rj says:

    There are libertarians and there are libertarians. It is not unreasonable to respond to those who believe taxation is theft that the consequences of their position are dire.

    To tell someone who has problems with the Patriot Act, zoning laws and licensing of barbers that his libertarianism will land us in some warlord-run hellscape is unhelpful and unreasonable. To tell that to someone whose radical minarchy you believe will lead to those things is very reasonable, in the same way that you can make arguments against an unreconstructed Stalinist that you can’t to a Scandanavian Social Democrat.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Yes, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Once you’ve worked out what your opponent believes you can use the arguments that are appropriate to their position.Report

  7. Avatar RobF says:

    I second rj’s point. This is a perfectly reasonable post in tone and concept but I disagree with the analysis that “look at Somalia” is a fatally flawed and pointless rejoinder to libertarian arguments. A large and influential portion of self-described libertarians base their ideology on the teachings of Ayn Rand. Many of the Randians have a first-principles position that taxation is theft and government is fundamentally corrupt and illegitimate. They dream of “Galt’s Gulch” where Nietzschean supermen build a government-free utopia. In political debate, the Randians hold this fictional Shangri-La as their model of how a complex modern society could work if only the malignant influence of government were removed. In these debates, I have referenced a non-fictional model of how complex modern societies function in the absence of government: Somalia. You are proposing that non-libertarians abandon the Somalia response because it’s flawed and clichéd. I’m proposing a trade: I’ll drop the reality-based Somalia response when libertarians stop citing Ayn Rand fiction like it’s proof-of-concept for government-free social organization.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      A large and influential portion of self-described libertarians base their ideology on the teachings of Ayn Rand.

      You’d think that they’d have gotten to the chapter on how Rand hated libertarians.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Libertarians demanding that movie theaters show a movie? Only in California…

          Less snarkily, in my experience, Libertarians see Rand as someone to quote, not someone to worship. She’s like Hayek or Bastiat or Smith.

          The folks who see themselves as “Randians” do *NOT* tend to see themselves as Libertarians (anymore). They tend, in my experience, to call themselves “Objectivist”. Why? Well, because Rand hated Libertarians. If someone wanted to get closer, my god, to thee then I can only imagine that they’d do what their god told them pretty explicitly.

          And I have never, eeeeeever heard *ANYONE* who claimed to hold Rand in great esteem explain to me that when Rand said X, you needed to take X into cultural context and, as such, X is currently being interpreted as Y. Never even once.Report

          • Avatar RobF says:

            No, not just “demanding that movie theaters show a movie”. Click through. The link provides an example of self-identified practicing libertarians claiming “Atlas Shrugged is one of the recognized libertarian manifestos from iconic author Ayn Rand.”

            I’m surprised this is a point of contention. Is it your position that, among the foot-soldiers of libertarianism, Rand idolatry is a non-existent phenomenon that I’m simply imagining? One would be as likely to find copies of “Atlas Shrugged” at an Obama rally as at a Ron Paul rally or Gary Johnson rally?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I’m one of those libertarians we’re talking about and I hang with libertarians. We do stuff like drink wine and argue about libertarianism.

              Rand is an author who writes stuff that makes a good percentage of us say “yeah, you probably want to read this person”.

              Those who show up to the meetings who qualify as “Idolators” do not call themselves Libertarians. They call themselves “Objectivists”.

              Libertarians in your neck of the woods may be different, of course, but the ones with whom I argue, fuss, and hang don’t “worship” anybody except for maybe Ron Paul.Report

              • Avatar RobF says:

                From the “Weekly Standard”:

                “When Rand [Paul] turned 17, his father gave him the Ayn Rand novels: We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas


                From Cato:

                “Rand was the most popular and influential libertarian figure of the twentieth century.”


                No doubt you and your friends are smart, thoughtful guys. Here’s my question: Is it more likely that the Rand/Libertarian nexus is a quirky sampling illusion from my neck of the woods,or is it the more likely that you and your friends are, in this respect, not representative of the broader libertarian movement?Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                I’m getting the sense, Rob, that you haven’t quite absorbed Jay’s point about the difference between Objectivists and Libertarians. Objectivists are members of a cult quite as life-absorbing and Scientology and in its day almost as powerful. Objectivism is the cult of Ayn Rand just as Scientology was once the cult of L Ron Hubbard. The main difference is that thankfully Rand sowed so much dissent amongst her followers her successors have been relatively feeble. That cult extends well beyond politics. For example, many Objectivists smoke because Ayn Rand believed smoking was good for your health. Many Objectivists are ruthlessly selfish in their family relationships and love lives, justifying this on the basis of “rationality”, because that’s exactly how Ayn Rand and many of her heroic characters behaved. Ayn Rand hated Libertarians because of some obscure tiff with Murray Rothbard, so Objectivists deny the obvious family resemblance of her political philosophy to an Egoist variant of Libertarianism. And so on, and so forth.

                Because of all of this, you can’t be a “mainstream” libertarian (!!!) and a full-blooded Objectivist Rand-worshipper. You have to compromise on several points, especially the thing about hating libertarians, but also the refusal to cooperate with anyone who every disagreed with Ayn Rand about anything. Which is more or less everyone. At which point you might want to reconsider the smoking, the alienating of your family, and whether in fact Ayn Rand was not the greatest philosopher of the 20th century but an occasionally interesting political novelist who took herself a bit too seriously and could have been quite a bit better if she’d given up on the barely-understood metaphysics and taken a couple of creative writing classes.

                Its quite hard to delineate an actual libertarian mainstream, but if you did some kind of poll, you’d probably find that most self-identified libertarians consider Ayn Rand to be inspirational and her novels to be about real political dangers, but nonetheless disagree with her actual specific politics in almost every respect. In fact I’d be surprised at this point if most libertarians even know what they were, although that may be because I’d been out of college for long enough.Report

              • Exactly right. I might well name Rand as a major influence on my political thought. This does not mean that I agree with her on everything or even on most particulars. I, personally, might say similar things about any number of different authors. Indeed, I suspect you’d find that most libertarians would also cite George Orwell as one of their greatest political influences – even though Orwell was an avowed socialist.

                Put it this way: there are assuredly not many people who more consciously seek to emulate Rand than the proprietor of a certain highly-trafficked blog which is named after Rand’s most well-known and lengthy novel. Yet I think it’s safe to say that the majority of libertarians not only disagree with this proprietor on a wide swathe of issues, but in fact view this particular proprietor as somewhere between batshit insane and Simpsons Cat Lady insane.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                ndeed, I suspect you’d find that most libertarians would also cite George Orwell as one of their greatest political influences – even though Orwell was an avowed socialist.

                I wonder how many people know that these days. Back when I was young, I had to wade through a vast amount of conventional wisdom that Animal Farm and 1984 were about Orwell’s disenchantment with socialism before discovering from primary sources (e.g. Why I Write) that he was a democratic socialist to the end.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Orwell was a disaffected socialist who was still a socialist. It happened. In fact it used to be reasonably common back when people took socialism more seriously.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                He was disaffected with Russian communism, not democratic socialism. From “Why I Write”:

                The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho says:

      It used to not be that way. Somewhere along the line, hardcore right-wing whackaloons hijacked “libertarian” from what it originally meant, shoving into it an assumption that capitalism was inherent to a free society & anything not done for profit was evil.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      My point here is that libertarians are not all the same. Some libertarians really do argue as you describe, and the Somalia reply may be appropriate for them. But that arguments completely fails to address other forms of libertarian thought. For instance, I’m an Friedman / Hayek type libertarian who’s never even read Rand. I’m not calling for Galt’s Gulch, I just want government to stop doing a few of the things that it’s doing. To engage with someone like me, you need to go beyond the Somalia argument.

      This is why I advocate specificity in debate, don’t argue with “libertarians”, argue with the libertarian in front of you.Report

      • Avatar RobF says:


        I (almost) completely agree with you. “Somalia” is not an appropriate response for someone who just wants to push back against specific programs and policies on libertarian principles. I also agree that it’s preferable, more virtuous even, to argue with the specific libertarian in front of me rather than a (contested!) abstraction of “libertarians”. The challenge, I think, is that the 1:1 blog-based argument is rare and exceedingly difficult to maintain in practice. The original post (your post) stakes out a position not against a specific person making a specific claim of “look at Somalia”, but against the refrain in abstract.

        If you said to me: “Rob, if I were to make an argument to you about the failures of public schools or the wisdom of Social Security, could you agree to offer a more substantial rebuttal than ‘look at Somalia’?” My answer would be: “Of course. Agreed. No problem.”

        But when you (understandably) wish to talk in generalities about your experience of the lameness of “look at Somalia”, I don’t know that I have a more appropriate response to offer than symmetric generalities about my experience of the lameness of libertarian counter-factuals plucked from the daydreams of Ayn Rand. I believe this is where the Somalia meme was spawned.Report

        • Avatar James K says:

          Then I don’t think we have a problem, I just feel it’s overused as a rebuttal in some cases, and I think the reasonf ro that is people try to argue against ideologies in toto rather than just arguing about how ideologies apply in specific cases.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      I came over here mostly to learn what Libertarians actually thought, because I’m teaching a little pick-up class on John Stuart Mill at the local saloon to a bunch of self-identified Minnesota Tea Party folks, in fact I have to be over there in less than 45 minutes.

      Why, you’ll never guess this old Liberal learned. I found out most of my ideas about Libertarians were dead-ass wrong and I’ve been in furious backpedaling mode, trying to catch up ever since. There’s no such thing as a gospel Libertarian position, they seem to be all over the map, politically.

      And they’ve got one thing going for them, intellectually and politically, they see government’s well-meaning intrusions into our lives as overreach. Forget Rand, she’s a tendentious blowhard, a terrible exponent for anything resembling Libertarian thought. Start at the beginning, with JS Mill’s On Liberty.Report

  8. Avatar Jazgar says:

    On the other hand, can anyone point to a country, not Somalia, where Libertarianism actually exists in a workable, thriving form? And please not Hong Kong – the ways HK is not Laissez Faire is staggering.Report

    • For purposes of this question, how are you defining “Libertarianism”?

      If you wish to define it as something along the lines of straight up minarchy or propertarianism, then arguably one could cite to much of Western Europe in the aftermath of the Roman Empire/early Middle Ages. This period was not remotely as bad as often assumed (though far from a utopia, also).

      If you wish to define it more as a “vector, not a destination,” then there are obviously ample examples that it’s a pretty safe vector in which to travel.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The comparison that I use is the close enough for jazz (you can also use this for Communism or Catholicism or any ism, really).

      You can say that, oh, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights have an attempt to create a Libertarian state. “But the sedition acts!” is a good response, of course… (“but slavery!” would be a better one)… but there’s a hair of “no true Scotsman” hiding in there. It is always possible to point out that so-and-so isn’t *REALLY* following the technical advice found on page 93, second paragraph down, third sentence.

      One thing to look at is whether there is a general consensus at the time of the administration in question that such-and-such meets “close enough” standards. Were people saying that the administration in question were doing as well as could be expected? Were people screaming about how poorly the administration in question was failing to meet its own standards?

      By using this particular ruler, I can guess that, more or less, the Bill of Rights (as well as a the philosophy behind the D of I) is a Libertarian one. Whether the US was workable or thriving can be argued both ways using US history.Report

      • Avatar WardSmith says:

        How about Libertarian as practiced by virtually all of the First Nations? (Americans would say native americans.) Pick your tribe, they practiced some pretty liberal libertarianism for millenia and got away with it too, until they were quite literally outgunned. Even in battle between the nations, counting coup was worth more than actually killing your opponent.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          That is pretty out there to describe NA societies as libertarian. While most generalizations about NA’s are sketchy, i think its fair to say most had had no legal system or notion of contracts, a vastly different conception of property and ownership and a heavy focus on interdependence and responsibility to the group. The kind of atomized view of society modern libertarians promote would never fly in any traditional NA society i’ve ever been in contact with or heard about.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Would you call them Communist?Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Communist. No. I don’t think you can apply with much sense labels from industrial societies to pre-industrial societies. Communitarian, however, would apply well.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                I don’t even know about that. Even north of the Rio Grande, pre-Columbian societies ranged from settled city states with settled agriculture and established priestly and governing classes (as best as we can tell – the only evidence is archaeological) to roving hunter gatherer bands with shamanic religions and only informal governing structures. Hunter gatherer societies, especially nomadic ones, are always more democratic than settled ones, because there’s a very limited amount of war-making, self-agrandisement and general bullshit the leaders can get away with before everyone starves to death and ruins their fun. From what little we know, there’s no particular reason to suppose North American city states were any less oligarchic than city states everywhere. You can’t really get anything you could call “libertarian” or “communist” until you have some kind of much more substantial state. If you include South America, the Inca certainly seem to have had a command economy. No other polity ever seems to have reached a point where it would make sense to make such generalizations – the Aztecs were more an (involuntary) federation of city states than a coherent empire. The closest you’d get to some kind of constitutional governance would probably be the Hodenosaunee, but they were still transitioning to settled agriculture when Europeans showed up and disrupted everything, so its hard to say what would have become of that.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The Cherokee, closely related to the Iroquois / Haudenosaunee had a fascinating polity and under good leadership quickly adapted to the Whites. They played by the rules, got along well with the Whites, invented a syllabary and even drew up their own constitution and still got screwed.Report

              • Avatar WardSmith says:

                You know, I just posted that to raise some “Kane”, but upon closer inspection I may well have been right. Googling “Indians as libertarians” brought up 1.2million hits, including this one in the first spot.

                Not having searched before I posted (naturally) I was unaware the meme already existed, let alone in such numbers. What made me think of it was an ancient social studies class I had in high school (freshman year no less) called “comparative political systems” IIRC. Among other essays in the book was one about the Suquamish tribe, perhaps the wealthiest of all the American Indian tribes (part of the Salish peoples). They had this party every year where everyone would give away all their possessions. The more you gave away the higher your prestige. At the end of the next year, the ones who had given the most away still ended up with the most possessions again.

                That always stuck with me for lots of reasons, and what better example for pure libertarian thought? After all, no one ever /took/ your goods away, you only gave what you were willing to part with. But everyone was wealthy to at least some extent. Too bad how it ended up for Seattle’s people. He gave one of the best speeches, ever:
                Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change. Whatever Seattle says, the great chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as he can upon the return of the sun or the seasons. The white chief says that Big Chief at Washington sends us greetings of friendship and goodwill. This is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return. His people are many. They are like the grass that covers vast prairies. My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain. The great, and I presume — good, White Chief sends us word that he wishes to buy our land but is willing to allow us enough to live comfortably. This indeed appears just, even generous, for the Red Man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, as we are no longer in need of an extensive country…

          • Again, it depends on how you define libertarianism. Indeed, it’s worth noting that in 1988, the runner-up for the Libertarian Party Presidential nomination was none other than Russell Means (, who got about 1/3 of the votes at the LP convention.

            I’m not sure it can be said that American Indian tribes had no legal system or notion of contracts; at the very least, to the extent they lacked these things, that could quite easily be chalked up to the fact that they “had a vastly different conception of property and ownership.” But that doesn’t make them inherently unlibertarian – libertarianism does not inherently require the existence of a particular (specifically Lockean) system of property rights – just that there exists a system of property rights of some sort.

            Moreover, there are plenty of strains of libertarianism, both past and present, which explicitly reject an atomized view of society (e.g., Kevin Carson calls his strain “Mutualism,” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen articles at LewRockwell attacking other strains of libertarianism for taking an atomized view of society.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Fair enough. I’d go with using a multivariate description of various poli systems so when looking at a preindustrial tribal society we could put all sorts of labels on them which only apply vaugly.Report

  9. Avatar b-psycho says:

    “Republicans and Democrats […] both in favour of an interventionist government (or […] both in the pockets of Big Business)”

    …”or”? It’s not like the two inherently contradict each other.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Here’s the weird thing: I never get into these conversations in Canada. I mean, I know my in-laws are Conservatives (although my father-in-law has said he’s pretty sure he couldn’t vote for any party in the US). I know my wife votes Green or NDP usually. I know some of our friends work for the Liberal Party. I know I live in an NDP town, mostly because of the steel mills. But it almost never comes up at parties or among friends, aside from a general, vague consensus that nothing much ever happens in Canadian politics. Part of this surely comes from Canada being “less important” in global politics, but they just don’t seem to get as excited about the issues.

    In the US, I hear about politics constantly from just about everyone I talk to, and for some reason the self-identification part is central to that: “And this is why I’m a conservative!” “So, I’ve decided that I must be a liberal!” People also try to figure it out, as if it’s confusion over their sexual identity. “I’m pretty sure I’m a conservative, but I keep finding myself strangely attracted to the welfare state… What does this mean?” It’s sort of interesting to watch and I definitely find the political exploration on this site fascinating, but I keep wondering what it means when politics seep into the rest of culture.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      Part of it is honestly, a lot of things in Canada are settled. The Conservatives aren’t going to eliminate UHC or quadruple the size of the military .The NDP aren’t going to outlaw cars or institute a punitive carbon tax. On the other hand, large parts of the Republican Party base want to roll us back to 1929 while large parts of the Democratic Party base want to turn the United States into Sweden. Thus, bigger conflicts than whether you’re going to decrease payments to provinces health care budgets by three percent. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Yeah that’s a great point. My father-in-law, when I asked him about this said, “The Conservatives run from the right and the Liberals run from the left, but they all govern from the center”.Report

      • Avatar Simon K says:

        What’s interesting is that the actual truth about US politics is not so very different. No-one is actually going to privatise medicare or institute a carbon tax that would have real effects or overturn Roe v Wade. And yet campaigning on promises to do such things, while knowing that in fact they won’t happen, is somehow at the heart of US political rhetoric. Part of the problem, I think, is that the very robust constitutional arrangements mean that politicians can say grossly irresponsible things in the knowledge that only their electorate will believe them, and that neighbouring countries, their treaty partners, the bonds markets, corporate chief executives, etc, will ignore it.

        I mean, I don’t know what would happen in Canada if parliament were threatening to default on the national debt. I can tell you that in the UK the result would not be a 10 yr gilt yield of 3%Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          It’s interesting too that a Prime Minister in Canada actually has quite a bit more power than a President in the US system but it’s understood that he’s not going to use it in any sweeping way.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          I think this is where I disagree with you. The GOP of 2004 or even 2006? Nah. But this is a different GOP. The problem is that people who actually believe the BS have outnumbered the people who just spout the BS.

          If we hit a double-dip recession and Obama somehow manages to lose to Pawlently in ’12 and the Senate flips because of the 23-10 disparity in Democratic Senate seats up, I have no doubt that RyanCare would be passed in January of 2013.

          On the other hand, even if Obama won with 400 electoral votes and the DNC somehow won back the House, nothing more liberal than what passed between ’08 and ’10 will actually pass. That’s the difference between a party where the base has almost completely taken over and one where those with the purse strings still control things.Report

          • Avatar Simon K says:

            The GOP have been scaring the crap out of me since Clinton was elected and they did their last round of black helicopter nonsense. Nonetheless few or none of the threatened horrors have as yet actually come to pass – abortion is still legal, social security and medicare still exist and are as funded as they ever were, TANF actually works slightly better than AFDC did, the Democrats did ultimately succeed in passing some kind of healthcare reform, congress did eventually fund TARP and the worst the Supreme Court has done is “Citizens United”, which is hardly an unmixed curse.

            The thing is that the worst of the irresponsible nonsense is confined to periods when they’re out of power. President Pawlenty would embrace RyanCare with all the enthusiasm the Obama administration has shown for the Employee Free Choice Act. A socially conservative party can’t afford to screw over a whole generation of 50-somethings. Who is going to vote for them? Johnson lost the South for a generation, but they’d be losing their whole electorate. Forever. There’d be no-one prepared to listen to the gay-bashing and brown-people scaremongering whose financial future they hadn’t just trashed.

            And this isn’t limited just to the GOP as a phenomenon. Its more apparent with them because there are a certain number of lunatics currently trying to take over the asylum. I don’t see any real sign that the grown-ups are not still in control behind the scenes, though, really. Pawlenty, Romney and Huntsman are not exactly swivelled eyed loonies, are they?

            And make no mistake, the Democrats do this too – cap and trade, anyone? Closing Gitmo? General abuses and extensions of executive power? DOMA? How come the healthcare reform we were promised is in fact a warmed over Republican plan from 1993? How come financial reform turned out to consist of a huge blank sheet of paper for ex-Goldman employees to complete while no-one is looking? Other than the consumer protection agency that’ll be quietly hamstrung, of course.

            You and I see these things differently because we’re in favor of them, at least to some extent or another, but I can assure you there are people who are just as scared of the CFPA and terrorists being released as I am about Roe v Wade being overturned or RyanCare getting passed, and they’re not all bankers or racists. Its quite easy for Barney Frank to rail against the banks and Obama to talk about “spreading the wealth around” in precisely the same way as its easy for Republicans to play chicken with national default – ultimately the people who’d be scared shitless if they actually did anything know nothing will ultimately happen.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              Here’s the big difference. The EFCA was just another big liberal promise on the list of promises along with immigration, health care, and financial reform. RyanCare is holy writ among the right-wing establishment (note I didn’t say Republican establishment). The only reason Social Security reform didn’t pass was that Pelosi was able to hold her caucus together and didn’t allow one Blue Dog to co-sponsor the bill and make the bill ‘bipartisan’ so it looked important.

              As for losing people forever? I’m sorry, I don’t have enough that trust in the American people. They gave the GOP back the House because Obama didn’t magically fix eight years (and in all reality, thirty years) of a fractured economy in eighteen months.

              I have no doubt that if the GOP got the trifecta, large chunks of Republicans under 45 would be convinced RyanCare would be good for them. Would they lose the 45-to-55-year old vote? Sure. Would they lose the House the in 2014? Absolutely. Would large chunks of RyanCare still be in effect by time President Pawlently/Romney/etc. exited office? Yup.

              I’d say the crazies are in charge because there the ones driving the conversation. After all, Boehner needed the Democrat’s help to pass the continuing resolution because it didn’t cause enough pain. Do you honestly think it was John Boehner or even Eric Cantor’s idea to play chicken with default? Not really.

              To be honest, I think Pawlently’s just kind of dumb when it comes to policy will do whatever the Club for Growth says, Romney’s could either be the Worst or Best Possible Republican President, and get back to me about Huntsman when he gets more than (1) vote in a Iowa poll. 🙂

              And yeah, I’m pissed at my party for not being more to the left (especially when going to the left on most of those things would be politically popular), but that sort of makes my point. RyanCare passed a Republican House. A single-payer plan never even came up for a damn vote and even the moderate public option that passed in the House came periously close to failing.

              As for your final point, I’ll be kind of an ass about this one. Yes, there are people that are scared. But their fear is not based in any sort of fact. You may not totally agree with my fears about the results of RyanCare or illegalization of abortion, but at least I have numbers to point to. The other side, when it comes to many issues, has just their faith.

              I guess what it comes down to is that you have more trust in John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlently than I do. 🙂Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Single-payer was stopped dead it its tracks by Karen Ignagni of Big Healthco Inc.

                She told Obama to his face she would run a billion dollars worth of attack ads if he dared to oppose her. Obama prudentially ducked, knowing it would be his downfall if she did.

                Now you know.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                You don’t think there’s an equivalent list of promises on the right, Jesse? There really is – the Tea Party is in part a result of the same frustration from the right that you’re experiencing from the left. Conservatives, by definition, are less able to put forward a coherent program, but they’re truly just as frustrated. They wanted an end to the immorality and national decline they see around them and they got No Child Left Behind and a couple of wars we didn’t exactly win. The TPers talk about fiscal conservatism but listen to them carefully – they’re worried that bad people are winning at home, so the country is declining internationally.

                I don’t exactly trust the Republican leadership. I mean, I’m sure the principal contenders are actually decent people I’d probably actually like, but that’s not really the point. They’ll do what they need to do. That means not destroying their party. They may fail – I’m not actually as relaxed about the crazies not being in charge as I’d like to be – but there are only two outcomes really possible: Either they force the party to compromise or it dies as an electoral force. I say this with some confidence because the country is balanced on a knife edge by the twin forces of gerrymandering and demographics. In both of these things, its not going the Republicans way. Only old white people vote Republican. To lose any old white people – and the recent NY special election showed – it to lose. And in a national election, they’d lose completely.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > Would they lose the 45-to-55-year old vote?
                > Sure. Would they lose the House the in
                > 2014? Absolutely. Would large chunks of
                > RyanCare still be in effect by time President
                > Pawlently/Romney/etc. exited office?
                > Yup.

                I don’t think that either of the two established political parties is really willing to jump into the incinerator. They’ve actually both been very good at building the incinerator, but it’s at the point now where you can’t really ignore that it’s there. You either need to jump in, or you need to start dismantling it. Right now I see our political process as a huge game of chicken; the problem with winning both Houses and the Presidency is that you pretty much have to put your money where your mouth is. The Democrats have a big advantage here; their political promises are squishy. They can compromise and seem to be intelligent moderates. Obama can cluck his tongue at Big Oil but the MMS just gets a rebranding and moves on.

                The GOP has political promises that are very unsquishy. Netting the trifecta would be bad, unless Al Q drops a nuke somewhere to distract the population; they’d have to deliver on the deconstruction of government. Moreover, I’m almost 100% sure that it would actually work out to the long-term benefit of the Left if this scenario actually did come to pass. Cutting yourself off of the post-45 demographic is political suicide for the next 24 years. If I thought this scenario was plausible, and I was a Democrat, I’d be *hoping* it came to pass.

                As a practical matter, seeing the GOP forced to put up or shut up on its rhetoric has one huge advantage: it causes a huge crisis of government. And really, a huge crisis is necessary right now to effect change.

                That’s a very long-winded way of saying, “I don’t think the exception scenario you’re describing is likely, and even if it was I can see a big upside, even if you’re a big Leftie.”Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                I gotta admit, this calculus of what people are afraid of and what they oughtta be afraid of is surprising to me. Just yesterday, McArdle wrote a new post about the euro, and by extension the PIIGS crisis.

                Fiscal economic crises look to me like a far likelier source of incineration that whatever else we were talking about.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Only if you don’t understand it.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Well why don’t you explain then. Among other things, how in spite of this and all the rest of it how we really ought to be afraid of abortion or whatever you think the R’s are up to.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Its impossible for a sovereign nation with its own currency in which all of its debt is denominated to suffer a “fiscal crisis” in any meaningful sense.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Simon, please tell me you don’t really believe this.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Okay, so you explain to me how exactly you think the US can undergo a fiscal crisis. I’m all ears. Please note that I did not say “explain to me why excessive government borrowing might be bad” or “explain to me why printing money to finance deficits is bad” or “change the subject and waffle about how everything is the fault of the Democrars”. I said explain to me how, in the context of the US, the current fiscal course of the US government creates an actual crisis. Passing grades are only available to students who don’t invoke specific legislative or executive actions to trigger a crisis.Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              “The GOP have been scaring the crap out of me since Clinton was elected and they did their last round of black helicopter nonsense.”

              This is depressingly common, but I gotta admit I’m not getting this one. I’d be much more worried about Democratic unemployment and lack of growth more than anything the Republicans might do.

              Let’s say abortion is generally illegal or whatever. I expect that to happen in the medium term future and expect a fair number of liberals to support the change when it happens. Do you expect that will be a horrible thing for you, or for society at large?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > Let’s say abortion is generally illegal or
                > whatever. I expect that to happen in
                > the medium term future and expect
                > a fair number of liberals to support
                > the change when it happens.


                I don’t think it’s plausible that it will happen in the medium term future and I expect a fair number of left-of-center liberals to take a couple of huge jumps to the left if it does.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                I do. Ultrasounds and the prolife movement have had quite a bit of under-the-radar success over the last decade or two. There’s a good number of pro-choice people who realize that’s abortion is an ugly and gruesome thing even if they believe it should still be legal. If it becomes illegal (or seems likely to), a lot of them won’t care too much. The feminists will complain loudly, but they’ll be outweighed by the need of the D’s to get some traction with the white working class (and to prevent bleeding from the minority working class as well).Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                I will bet you $20 that abortion remains legal until 2020, and that any legislation passed prior to 2020 to make it illegal, without exception, will either be (a) overturned or (b) will be in the process of a legal challenge that will result in it being overturned between 2020 and when that particular bit of legislation exits the legal system.

                Anything that passes after 2020 is open game.

                You’re welcome to propose an adjustment of the time frame.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Starting about 2020 is the time frame I had in mind. Let me ask, do you really care about legalized abortion? I think a lot of this is about inertia and political expediency. When push comes to shove I think it’ll be easier to piss off the feminists than the working class.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Okay, push 2020 back to when? Go past 2030 and you’re now looking at what’s likely going to be an entirely different SCOTUS, so it’s an utter crapshoot what *that* will look like.

                It’s not really relevant what I think of abortion. I think your estimation of what the working class thinks of abortion is off, that’s all… and I think that liberal elite feminists aren’t your biggest impediment to passing abortion restrictions.

                It’s broke former middle-class women who are struggling to make their housing payments while one member of the household is unemployed and suddenly they have to deal with an unexpected pregnancy. Even should they fill out a poll indicating that they’d be okay with restricting abortion, when push comes to shove a lot of them are going to want access to the procedure.

                I also don’t see SCOTUS backing off on Roe. Of course, I didn’t see SCOTUS going the way of Citizens United, so my prognostication on the high court is highly suspect. But as I mention above, if we get much past 2020 you’re looking at another major shift in the makeup of the court and that’s going to be hard to predict.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Also, to be blunt, the organized forces that want to restrict abortion have sort of given up on reversing Roe (or to be more specific, Casey.). They’re just passing laws state-by-state that make it hard as possible to get an abortion, but without crossing the barrier of Casey.

                And as a friend and family member to women I don’t want to have to deal with forced pregnancy, I sure as hell care about abortion being legal.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                “Okay, push 2020 back to when? Go past 2030 and you’re now looking at what’s likely going to be an entirely different SCOTUS, so it’s an utter crapshoot what *that* will look like.”

                No, before 2030. I’d be happy to wager but it’s kind of impractical since we’d have to wait 20 years to settle it. That quibble aside, I “bet” abortion will be substantially illegal (and the laws that ban abortion have cleared the courts at least to the extent of being in force) in several if not all American jurisdictions before 2030.

                The working class women who struggle with house payments are definitely will definitely be tempted to get abortions under stressful circumstances but they’re not going to vote for it. Like you mentioned, they weren’t planning on getting pregnant then anyway. No, politically speaking it’s the feminists who are going to be the problem. But since they weren’t necessarily planning on having abortions themselves (or could economically deal with childbearing if they had to), they can get rolled.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                In addition to the points Pat has already made, here are two more:

                1. Almost everyone believes that abortion is at best unfortunate. That doesn’t really have much bearing on where people stand on whether it should be legal, and never has had. Supposing that it does is an unfounded error. Polling consistently shows upwards of 75% favoring legality in at least some circumstances. You’d get very diffenent numbers if you asked if those same people would be in favor of an abortion in those same circumstances.

                2. You’re sneaking in the assumption that the “working class” does not support abortion rights. Do you have some kind of data to support this? It seems unlikely.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                The point being is that for working class people the social issues are economic issues since so many of them rely on the strength of the nuclear family to carry them through a lot of turmoil. And the ones that don’t have a nuclear family are hoping to get one.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Yes, obviously being forced to carry an unwanted baby to term is obviously so awesome for your economic wellbeing it doesn’t require any kind of evidence or explanation to justify why you want to be forced to do it.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I think fears/hopes of abortion becoming illegal are overblown. It’s generally struck me that in the US the primary reason pro-choicers are so placid and pro-lifers so energetic is that very few people think that abortion in general will actually become illegal. Now if legal abortion actually became endangered I suspect you’d see an enormous revival of that side as people tuned back in.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                The cold hard truth about the Americans I know: about two really care a lot about the pro-choice cause, about one really cares a lot about the pro-life cause, and the rest of them don’t much think about it ever.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I can’t think of any type of surgery that isn’t “ugly and gruesome.” I can’t imagine that’s a good reason to think one way or the other about abortion. It’s a shame that’s the tactic so many anti-choicers have taken.

                That said, I don’t see abortion becoming illegal ever in this country, even if restrictions on it become more and more intrusive (as the recent law passed in Texas, say. Reproductive freedom is economic freedom for women, and ultimately, that will trump religious misogyny.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill says:

          I’ve historically preferred our presidential system over a parliamentary one due to separation of powers and such. But it’s become more apparent to me in recent years that while the consensus required to make legislation through makes things more deliberative, it also frees politicians to take more extreme rhetorical stands because there are built-in excuses and you can always blame the other team. In a parliamentary system, one party controls the government. They do or they do not do, and if they do not do, they are reasonably asked why they did not, for which the answer is less clear. That, I believe, constrains the rhetoric.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        Name me one person in a position of power in the Democratic Party who you can demonstrate – using a comparison of political statements and policy positions – is to the left of the NDP platform. Because without that, your assertion feels a bit ridiculous.

        I would put large majority of the American Democrats somewhat to the right of our Liberal Party in most areas, and to the right of our Conservatives in a few (e.g., our Conservatives support public health care, most US Democrats don’t; no Democratic president has stated outright support for gay marriage after s/he started seeking the nomination, while it’s political suicide for the Conservative Party here to publicly oppose it).Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Honestly, I don’t really get into these debates in New Zealand either, I really only get into them on the internet, and predominantly with Americans.

      I don’t know why that is, but your description of Canadian political discussion sounds similar to how things go down here.Report

      • This does not surprise me. I suspect it has something to do with some combination of the following:
        1. 300 million+ people; and
        2. Our national identity is uniquely rooted in political documents, the precise meaning of which is rather debatable.

        I suspect that the second of these two conditions will become increasingly important as race and regionalism continue to slowly (emphasis on slowly) cease to be accepted bases for social division. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the use of purely ideological (as opposed to merely partisan) labels as meaningful personal identifiers seems to have its roots in the 1960s.Report

      • Avatar Koz says:

        I don’t necessarily disagree with anything Mark says, but there’s also a concrete difference as well.

        The Republican Party in America (due to the nature of the party itself and the American political culture it’s embedded in) has few if any real counterparts in the rest of the world. Because of that, the American body politic will have options and possibilities that don’t meaningfully exist in most of the world, even in the other industrial democracies.Report

  11. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    > If you want to see where libertarian philosophy will get
    > you, look at Somalia.

    Actually, if you look at the parts of Somalia that aren’t a case of tribalism vs. central authority (e.g., Puntland and Somaliland, instead of the immediate area around Mogadishu), both of them aren’t the war-torn insanities that everyone assumes is the norm in the whole region.

    In any event, even the area around Mogadishu is a very bad example of “libertarianism at work”. In fact, one can make a very reasonable argument that it’s a case of “globalism in utter failure mode”.Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      Aren’t many of the pirates based in Puntland? It may very well be that the Puntland proto-state quite likes having them there, but piracy is not exactly a sign of respect for private property.

      I reckon Somaliland will have its independence from Somalia generally recognised within the next 10 years.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Piracy shows precisely the same respect for private property that animated the early United States, often pointed to as a libertarian ideal: that which cannot be defended is not truly owned. The only difference is that this time, it’s ships instead of land.Report

        • Avatar b-psycho says:

          Interestingly enough, to hear Somalians themselves tell it, the pirates started out as Somali fishermen attempting to charge foreign fishing vessels a fee for access to their waters. Make of that what you will.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            Yes, that’s the narrative in Somali. Well, two things: they claim that their territorial waters were essentially invaded by industrial fishing vessels and that toxic waste was dumped overboard in their waters.

            Both of those claims have some empirical evidence to back them up, particularly the second where I’ve read that the tsunami of ’04 washed barrels of crud up on the beaches.

            But I have no way of knowing the scope of either of these claims, and I really doubt that anyone else does, either.

            Regardless, it’s clearly (IMO) largely a rationalization for the current state of affairs, which bears no resemblance to taxing, let alone paying protection money.

            On the other hand, there’s basically no way for Somalia to join the global economy. You can’t run an entire nation on tourism and they don’t have enough in the way of natural resources to sustain an export economy, so any way you slice it they’re going to likely be a major underperformer in the global economic engine and thus have a large, broke, disaffected portion of the population.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        > Piracy is not exactly a sign of respect for private property.

        That presupposes that you have the same idea of private property that the Somali pirates do, but otherwise yes.

        I’m not saying that Puntland is a model of libertarianism either, mind you. I’m saying that greater Somalia is too complicated a sociopolitical organism to make a great example for any single political ideology.Report