Libertarianism in a Nutshell

Tom Van Dyke

Tom Van Dyke, businessman, musician, bon vivant and game-show champ (The Joker's Wild, and Win Ben Stein's Money), knows lots of stuff, although not quite everything yet. A past inactive to The American Spectator Online, the late great Reform Club blog, and currently on religion and the American Founding at American Creation, TVD continues to write on matters of both great and small importance from his ranch type style tract house high on a hill above Los Angeles.

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80 Responses

  1. Chad says:

    I think this is something liberals, conservatives, libertarians, socialists, freaking everyone can agree on. I mean yeesh.Report

  2. krogerfoot says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of it, but I’ll thank you not to pin this on Japan. I think it’s safe to assume the guy (and his diners (and I never thought that phrase could have a double meaning)) made their individual decisions without putting it to a referendum.Report

  3. Kolohe says:

    The nuts in this case are quite out of their shell, though, aren’t they?Report

  4. krogerfoot says:

    It was the full-package course. Soup to nuts.Report

  5. BlaiseP says:

    As your mother tells you, and my mother certainly told me, it is important, she always used to say, always to try new things.Report

  6. James Hanley says:

    *Shrug* Like you, TVD, I lived in L.A. (and San Francisco). It was quite a culture shock for a midwestern farm town boy, but in the end, almost nothing shocks me anymore. This is one of those things where, as a libertarian, I’d certainly allow it (so long as there’s full disclosure about what’s being served, as it appears there is here), but of course that doesn’t indicate approval of any particular sort. That is, I view it the way I view the Golf Channel–it’s personally repulsive, but it’s not hurting anyone against their will. So, yeah, libertarianism in a nutshell is an apt description.Report

  7. Mike Schilling says:

    Yes, this is horror-movie horrifying, but I’m missing why it’s morally horrifying. I’m going to continue to be more outraged by “enhanced interrogation techniques” and people rotting in prison because prosecutors hid evidence.Report

  8. Plinko says:

    I can totally understand how this is a great example of where the gap between a conservative and a libertarian is quite evident.
    Tolkien has an interesting line about how people mistakenly believe that an ill thing about fairy tales is that they erode the conceptual differences between man and animal, but it is a danger of modernity that those differences are eroding. I think that idea captures a big part of why a conservative would be horrified at the story quite well.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    I would have thought that the Germans would have done this first.Report

  10. Rufus F. says:

    A Piss Christ or a Virgin Mary made of elephant shit is so last century it’s hardly worth the bother of feigning outrage.

    Decades old but forever contemporary to the willfully offended.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Aha, Rufus. The intention in the former and likely the latter was to offend. The “art” was not for the art’s sake. As we recall, blasphemy was a civil offense in no small part because it’s an intentional disturbing of the peace.

      People v. Ruggles

      8 Johns. R. 290 N.Y. 1811
      Kent, Ch. J. delivered the opinion of the Court. The offence charged is, that the defendant below did “wickedly, maliciously, and blasphemously utter, in the presence and hearing of divers good and christian people, these false, feigned, scandalous, malicious, wicked and blasphemous words, to wit, ‘Jesus Christ was a bastard, and his mother must be a whore;’ and the single question is, whether this be a public offence by the law of the land.” After conviction, we must intend that these words were uttered in a wanton manner, and, as they evidently import, with a wicked and malicious disposition, and not in a serious discussion upon any controverted point in religion.

      • Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Yes, I know the piece was probably a calculated offense, and all the more boring for that. What I’m saying is that, for those who wish to see all of contemporary art as “piss christ,” it’s easy enough to do so- they just have to focus on “piss christ” and ignore all the rest. Just as, for those who wish to see those of my profession as uniformly Ward Churchill, it’s easy enough. No great feat, though. I’m sure you’ll see a parallel with those who wish to see all those of your political persuasion as defined by the cranks. At any rate, if bad art is the problem, the answer is simple enough: make better art.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

          If the bad drives out the good, gov’t financing of bad art is toxic to the culture. Gov’t should not poison the culture.

          As for Ward Churchill, I always thought he had a point with the Little Eichmanns, and that it’s a needed inquiry. He just picked the wrong week for it.Report

  11. Kazzy says:


    I’m curious how much of your outrage has to do with the gender identification of the person behind this plan. If the, um, ingredients had somehow been acquired in some other way, would that change your response?

    The main objection I would have is the extent to which this was done to get a rise out of people. If your sole statement is, “IMA FREAK YOU OUT!” then you really don’t have much to say. Which is not to say you can’t say it… just that you won’t be taken all that seriously.Report

    • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

      When you go to the Soylent Green Italian Restaurant, I suggest ordering spaghetti with Meatballs.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

      Some people got it just fine, Kaz. Except there was a bit of a pun in the title. Roger came closest.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Outrage was the wrong word. And I do now see the pun.

        To rephrase, to the extent to which you were bothered by this, how much, if any, of that was due to the fact that the situation involved a transexual? If you were not bothered by it beyond “This is not my cup of tea” and “These pictures shouldn’t be seen by small children” than just ignore this.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

          Well, frankly I don’t think I should be dragged into this personally atall re the sexual dimension of this.

          My answer is that I couldn’t bear to subject myself to more than the first few words of the article but I would feel the same way if the fellow were selling his foot. And as a conservative who argues we legislate morality routinely anyway—and further, that we should—I think we should make this illegal.

          And further, that I’m not even inclined to articulate my reasons—although I will add that when Locke promulgates his oft-cited defense of “self-ownership,” he’s speaking of suicide and comes down against. Indeed, this is where he draws his oft-ignored line in the sand

          “though this be a State of Liberty yet it is not a State of License.”

          So there’s that. 😉Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            I don’t see my question as dragging you in “personally” except insofar as I was attempting to better understand your position. If you think the gender and/or specific piece of anatomy mattered, there is room for a conversation there. If you think they don’t, then there is room for a different conversation there. That is all.Report

          • b-psycho in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            This is nowhere near the top — or even the middle — as far as priorities w/r/t liberty go. Also, I do find the concept freakin gross (I feel the same way about bull testicles), and wonder just WTF was going through the minds of the ones who agreed to eat this “dish”. Still:

            And as a conservative who argues we legislate morality routinely anyway—and further, that we should—I think we should make this illegal.

            Why? Are you thinking this’ll prompt murder sprees so people can get as much sriracha (read the bottle…) as they can eat? If so, I’d say a society that’d take up such clearly failed once they tossed out the “murdering people is not OK” thing, regardless of their reason for murdering people.Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to b-psycho says:

              Because it’s dehumanizing, and I unapologetically am willing to legislate aesthetics. We do it all the time and I’m glad we do. I’m an unapologetic conservative and I’m unapologizing.

              Neither do I even want to try to explain the aesthetics of x to someone who rejects aesthetics in the first place. You can’t torture and eat your dog even though there’s no libertarian reason you can’t.

              I’d appreciate you not minimizing this example. It’s quite to the point of what libertarianism is, as you saw from some of the responses. Its very absurdity puts the philosophical questions into higher relief, as several commentators noticed. In fact I used to use the German cannibalism case as the example, but this one might be sharper.

              I freely admit that aesthetics and conventions—mores and manners as Montesquieu called them—are in a practical sense subjective, that there’s no cosmic authority we recognize that makes eating Fido wrong. As a culture, a society—and then only as law—we come to a consensus as to what we allow and what we don’t.

              Subject to the Constitution, of course. But as noted above per John Locke, liberty is not license, and the Constitution does not abolish mores and manners, or require that Salt Lake City become Amsterdam.

              [BTW, Sriracha sucks. Its only virtue is that it makes whatever you’re eating taste like sriracha. But I do not favor making it illegal. I’m really quite the tolerant sort.]Report

              • b-psycho in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                You’re saying there should be a law though. Because of a super rare case where general cultural views about that sort of thing found a few willing flouters. I strongly doubt it will spread for the simple fact that the vast majority has no curiosity of what human flesh tastes like, let alone that particular part of it. The shock value appeared to be the entire point, that it works should be a relief.

                If what you’re trying to say is “that libertarians cannot bring themselves to say HELL NO! to this type of thing is why people reject libertarianism”, I get it. People tend to want their moral boundaries backed up by something other than numbers of willing adherents. But who when advocating it has this in mind? Based on reactions to libertarians in general, it seems to me like people are all too quick to interpret much less weird things as the aesthetic equivalent to eating trouser sausage.

                Consensus within a culture is fine. How encompassing does that consensus have to be though? Unless the people of Salt Lake City want their city to become Amsterdam, a simple lack of laws preventing them from doing so should not result in it becoming so.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to b-psycho says:

                Libertarianism-as-rights and libertarianism-as-best policy get conflated, I think. Is selling a pecker sandwich a human right if it is [was, anyway] your pecker? Or is it just best governance not to ban it?

                This issue makes it easier to address those questions, I think.

                People tend to want their moral boundaries backed up by something other than numbers of willing adherents.

                The thing is, Jonathan Haidt [using David Hume for backup] would say we’ve already answered those questions for ourselves, and debating them is really just an exercise in rationalizing and justifying. I’m just cutting to that chase. In the end, you’re either in favor of banning eating penis [literally] or not.

                And figuratively, Lawrence v. Texas. Folks forget that Justice O’Connor’s Solomon-like swing vote was on equal protection grounds, that homosexuals were banned from practicing sodomy whereas heterosexuals were not. Even that God Hates Gays preacher dude would have to admit that’s not fair.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                If Peter Piper pickled a peck of personal peckers, can Peter possibly put off pasteurizing? Or does that run afoul of USDA regulations?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kolohe says:

                Mr. K—One can have no peck of personal peckers: we are provided only one and one only personal pecker. Practical problem—the picking, procuring and packing of plenty of peckers as a prerequisite for production.

                We’re definitely getting into the Commerce Clause at this point. Let’s kick this to Legal.

                Already, the LoOG Department of Intellectual Property Department has applied for the Peter Piper’s Pickled Peckers™ and patented the process as well, pasteurized per yr prescription.

                picked peckers

                I think we’ve powpowed the product enough, Mr. K. Thx for the memo and pls CC me on any further concerns you have with Legal. I think it’s just a matter now of outsourcing the pickling, the label printing and of course the penis procurement per unit price. 100,000 ¥ per prick with a complimentary taste of balls and we’re platinum on this. Kenji in accounting has already run the numbers: we project that once supply meets demand, we can get a fuckuva lot more than ten grand a cock and still throw away $5K each on the balls as free dessert.

                Catch you @ the next LoOG confab. They’re talking Philadelphia but I’m thinking Macau, Monaco, Milwaukee, that sort of thing. It’s not like you can’t get a good cheesesteak or a brat in any of them. We can get the Rocky Mountain Oysters flown in.


                [Pls eat this email after reading.]Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

                It’s a more thought out business plan than Facebook’s, that’s for sure.Report

              • Rod in reply to Kolohe says:

                The extra-large variety make great gag gifts!Report

              • b-psycho in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                In the end, you’re either in favor of banning eating penis [literally] or not.

                Is legality equivalent to endorsement?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to b-psycho says:

                Sort of, yes. It’s all intertwined.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to b-psycho says:

                It needn’t be, but sort of becomes such when people say that other people shouldn’t be judged for perfectly legal behavior. Some smokers do this, using the fact that it’s legal to tell people to back the hell off.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to b-psycho says:

                This is unfortunate, given that the logical converse of “You shouldn’t disapprove of anything legal” is that you should make something illegal if you don’t approve of it.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Putting aside the Constitutional issue of freedom of speech for the moment, this sentence is doing all of the work in your comment here (everything else is a dangling conclusion in want of a dozen or so premises):

                As a culture, a society—and then only as law—we come to a consensus as to what we allow and what we don’t.

                I agree. And we’re off to the races.

                By the way, I’m pretty sure there are libertarian arguments against torturing your dog, perhaps even preventing it through legislation, though perhaps not against eating it.Report

  12. Rod says:

    1. Initially, I thought it might be a hoax. Similar to the one about Koreans eating aborted Chinese fetuses. (That was turkey and ham sculpted to look like babies. Gross, but not real.)

    2. Then, when reading the comments, I tentatively sided with the “hideous, but shouldn’t be illegal” crowd out of general libertarianish feelings.

    3. But while I’m not sure I can totally buy into Tom’s rationale, I think cannibalism like this just sets a very, very, bad precedent. I’m not going to immediately start a FB page to gather support for legislation or anything, but I wouldn’t consider a law against it to be an awful blow against personal liberty either.

    4. What the hell do you have set up for Google alerts, Tom?Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rod says:

      Thx for the thoughtful comment, Rod. And this Luddite confesses he doesn’t know what a Google alert is. Any direction will be appreciated.Report

      • Rod in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        You’re welkie. I’ve never done it, but I believe you can set up Google to send you an email when a news story about someone or something in particular pops up on the Internet. (Ohhh…. I just HAVE to know all the latest on the dreamy Justin Bieber!!! That sort of thing.)

        So how did you run across this anyway?Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rod says:

          I honestly don’t recall, Rod, just surfing. I did find this very interesting article on China about people killing their ripoff doctors

          in The Week, though, a news aggregator magazine. Really excellent and apparently doing very well. They have a ton of stuff from the world press I don’t see in the US media.

          You can tell NPR’s quiz “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” gets a lot of their material from it.

          Oh, and you’re quite right—I should have double-sourced the chopadictomy story. I imagine I would have if I’d have frontpaged it rather than Off the Cuffed it. Sloppy of me though.Report

  13. b-psycho says:

    What particularly gets me, beyond the mere fact of it, is the clear amount of detail in preparation. It’s like they actually thought about how it should taste.Report

  14. Brandon Berg says:

    Normally I would be inclined to describe this sort of attention-whoring as wankery, but that seems inappropriate, given the specifics of the case.Report

  15. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Note: The floor remains open on the “Libertarianism in a Nutshell” post, which was shifted from Off the Cuff to the bottom of the front page so it doesn’t vanish with the next Off the Cuff post. Thx for all the comments.


  16. Rod says:

    Serious question for the libbies: If…

    1. There’s nothing inherently wrong with cannibalism such that society should ban the practice.


    2. People should be allowed to buy and sell organs for transplantation, as I’ve seen asserted in other fora.


    Combining 1. and 2. is there anything that would prevent someone from creating a deli specializing in, shall we say… rare and delicate cuts? Perhaps Jason’s Specialty Meat Products could contract with local hospitals to dispose of their medical waste products. Of course some of it might be infectious… but, hey! Caveat Emptor! Government regulations just get in the way of peaceful trade, right?

    We’re running a special today! Big pileup on the freeway! Lots of good fresh bargains!Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rod says:

      I accept both your stated premises. I don’t care for the way you sneak in a third and a fourth — that the buyers should be unaware of what they are eating, and that liability would no longer function in a libertarian world.

      As long as consumers are informed of what they are being offered, the market will find a price for the good. Likely, that price would be very negative, as in: You couldn’t pay me enough to eat there.

      As to infection, the restaurant would certainly be held liable. My sense is that the diners would be in a lot less danger than the kitchen staff.

      But I’ll resist the urge to insinuate that you are callously indifferent to the fate of the working man.Report