The Libertarian Praxis Problem: Part 1

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CK MacLeod

WordPresser: Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001.

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  1. Avatar b-psycho
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    Given the issue you describe of reconciling the primacy of the individual with the existence of political power (which inherently overrides the individual), in a way you could say the only true consistent classical liberal is an anarchist*.

    (* – not to say that there aren’t arguments between anarchists, of course…)

    I’d have more, but I’m off to get a new grill. Later.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho
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      b-psycho: the only true consistent classical liberal is an anarchist*.

      Anarchists are not necessarily bound by individualism, but in general they tend to be, so can for purposes of this discussion at minimum have a share in the critique from both sides. They might be more consistent “liberals” than libertarians, but then you’d have to ask whether nihilists weren’t the only truly consistent anarchists, and then whether the dead were the only consistent nihilists.Report

  2. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    I’m not sure I understand your argument fully, CK, but is it safe to put your argument crudely as “the US is already a libertarian moment so to talk of a ‘libertarian moment’ in the US is hard to do”? Or am I missing the boat completely?Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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      @gabriel-conroy

      I think there is some truth to your formulation, GC, but only in a relative sense of the term “libertarian” as applied either to the “moment” represented by Rand Paul’s brief turn on political-cultural center-stage, or to the rather different kind of “moment” represented by creation and continuation in existence of the American republic.

      If the constitution of the US – both the document and the concrete constitution of the US – is of a “mixed” system, and part of that mixture is 1 part “liberty,” then the US to that extent is originally more “liberty”-arian than a mixture with 0 parts “liberty.” In practice, however, starting out 1 part liberty wouldn’t guarantee that the final product, or the product 240 years later, taste liberty-ish much at all, even to the most discerning political palate.

      Of course, we aren’t baking cakes, and the idea of liberty under other names may be universal, ancient, and eternal. That doesn’t mean that all states, not being cakes, are therefore the same, or that the American distillation of liberty is a merely random occurrence, or to be explained away as simple historical contingency of no larger meaning or present usefulness. To me, the uncertainty and inherent “mixedness” of this system as of all political systems implies that the Rand Paul libertarian moment shouldn’t be diminished as merely “myth.” It may not have been a pure and whole libertarianization of American political culture, but why would anyone establish that as the standard? What Ponnuru meant, I think, was simply that there wasn’t much to the phenomenon, that it has been oversold. He was writing polemically, I think, and was especially interested in sharing evidence of how shallow and narrow political interest in anti-statist principles has been shown to be.

      In my view, the Rand Paul was about as much of a libertarian moment as can in this era be announced on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and it can be analyzed as such. The point of this post was simply to respond to pillsy’s argument more fully, on the way to a more general, less seemingly partisan description of the “problem.”Report

  3. Avatar J_A
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    Libertarianism appears to me as having the homesteader or the yeoman farmer as its ideal. Homo libertarius is able to grow its food, build its house and exchange was he needs (tools for instance) from similar autonomous individuals.

    But the world has become too interconnected to function except through massive coordination efforts than span the globe: for instance, your energy comes from the other side of the world, involving several organizations, each employing hundreds of thousands of people moving and transporting and producing and building and maintaining the infrastructure to allow the electricity or the fuel to get to your property.

    Perhaps it’s the utility manager in me, but what is the libertarian way to deliver lead free water to Flint? Or, if water utilities, a natural monopoly, is deemed a lawful government activity, what is the libertarian way to fight Ebola, in a world where Nigeria is 11 hours away from in house in suburban Houston, and several hundred people make the trip every day?

    So my general concern is that libertarianism gives us answers that might have matched Locke’s world, or even Marx’s, but not the world of today, not without accepting that so many functions nowadays are so complex and interwoven that cannot be completed without society wide coordination, and even with it, we still face massive problems. But I would bet the problem with Ebola or the zika virus or Flint water is not lack of libertarianism or property rights.

    But since this post is concerned with the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism, let me bring a more basic issue

    Property is indeed theft

    “What”, says the Earl of Grantham, “I inherited this land from my ancestors, the first Earl got it from King Henri VII himself”

    Me: “Where did blessed King Henry VII get if from?”

    EG :”it was confiscated from the lands of the Duke of X, after Bosworth”

    Me: “and so and so until William the Conqueror gave it to the first Norman nob, stealing it from the last Saxon nob, who stole it from a Roman nob, who took if from the Celt nob that cleared the forest”

    So, why isn’t the land the Celt nob’s descendants? Why is not Flint the property of Iroquois?

    I understand that we cannot refight the Norman conquest or the War of the Roses, but at the beginning of every property right duly noted in our books there is a bloody fight with a winner and a (possibly dead) loser.

    Once I recognize that my patch of land in suburban Houston probably was stolen from some absentee Mexican landlord that got it from the King of Spain, who had no right to it to begin with, I start to think that perhaps the property is not FULLY mine. Me or my ancestors stole this property from someone, and someone else stole my ancestors property.

    So, philosophically, I have claims on other people’s property, and others have claims on mine. I do not have the right to, metaphorically, take my toys and go, because these are the toys of all, even of descendants of Mexican landlords or Spanish kings living far away, whose property someone stole before I bought it in 2005.

    I’m not saying that from here I do derive a fully communistic view point, and I want to go full kibbutz, but, yes, property comes from theft, and there is an obligation on property owners to somehow compensate that theft.

    And I do not see the libertarian answer to that question. What do I owe those whose property was stolen so that it could be mine and my heirs?

    (Apologies for the long dissertation)Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to J_A
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      Libertarianism using the homesteader or yeoman farmer as its ideal explains its inability not to appeal to people outside a certain demographic, which is a big problem for it as a political movement. Most of human history was based on dependency regardless of class or place but the lower you were on the social scale than the more dependent you were on other people. Your kin, kith, and community for support and those with higher status than you for protection and patronage. Children and women were dependent on the master of the house, most farmers were at best well off tenants or at worse serfs or laborers rather than independent yeoman farmers. People were always dependent on others and they knew it.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho in reply to J_A
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      says:

      There have been (and continue to be in some areas) libertarian flirtations with Georgism, seeing land value as a thing that may rightfully be taxed on the basis that to have enclosed property in it is, in effect, to steal from the commons. Also, Murray Rothbard during his time of overtures towards the Left even went as far as to muse about what was to be done with not only state claimed property but corporate property (reasoning that their state collusion made them “public” also).

      Considerations about the very meaning of property are out there, they just don’t get much attention these days. That’s why you never see that Proudhon elaborated further than just “property is theft”, also describing it as “freedom”, even “impossible”.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to b-psycho
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        Considerations about the very meaning of property are out there, they just don’t get much attention these days.

        Which is the point I keep harping on, that the very definition of what property is, how it is to be claimed, handled, transferred and so on are subjective norms, commonly agreed upon.

        So if the libertarian places the individual in first place, how is one subjective concept granted legitimacy, and all others discarded?Report

        • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Chip Daniels
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          Being more of an anarcho-mutualist myself & thinking anarcho-capitalism is a contradiction, I’d actually agree with the question. The frame of it within the assumption of a justified force monopoly is my personal sticking point; I see no problem inherent to voluntary common hold & cooperation, and would prefer it in many cases even.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          “how is one subjective concept granted legitimacy, and all others discarded?”

          Because it can be shown, based on the priors and preferences that are generally agreed upon, to produce the maximal utility for everyone in a society?

          You’re talking as though this is some kind of parody moral-relativism argument where every concept must be considered equally valid since they’re all fictional.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck
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            Because it can be shown, based on the priors and preferences that are generally agreed upon, to produce the maximal utility for everyone in a society?

            Even though the concept of “maximal utility for everyone” is undefined and, in fact, impossible to define. Which makes achieving it pretty damned impressive.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Mike Schilling
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              says:

              “Even though the concept of “maximal utility for everyone” is undefined and, in fact, impossible to define. ”

              Really? So when someone says that we should provide free housing for the homeless because it’s cheaper than cleaning up the mess they make, we can tell that person to go jump in a lake because the concept of maximal utility is impossible to define?Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            You’re talking as though…every concept must be considered equally valid since they’re all fictional.

            Aren’t they?

            I mean, no matter what you believe that you can show or not, there are going to be plenty of dissenting voices who will tell you that you are flat out wrong.

            So in the end, “legitimacy” is just a large-enough majority who agrees.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
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              says:

              “no matter what you believe that you can show or not, there are going to be plenty of dissenting voices who will tell you that you are flat out wrong. ”

              The issue is not what I can show. The issue is what their stated preferences lead to.

              Like when someone says “free expression is important”, and then someone else makes a rape joke and suddenly free expression isn’t so important after all.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            Because it can be shown, based on the priors and preferences that are generally agreed upon, to produce the maximal utility for everyone in a society?

            …if that were true, we wouldn’t have communists at all.

            And not only is ‘maximal utility for everyone’ undefinable (As Mike Shilling pointed out), but ‘the priors and preferences that are generally agreed upon’ is pretty dubious, also.

            The priors and preferences that make up how society thinks things should work are just…things that got slapped together on top of feudalism, ad-hoc stuff invented over the centuries that sorta-kinda fits together.

            In fact, I’m not even entirely sure what level you mean by ‘priors and preferences’. If you zoom out far enough to be ‘generally agreed upon’, you get, basically, that people should be alive and healthy and stuff like that, which our treatment of property can *possibly* be argued to advance.

            But you start zooming in, you’re going to quickly run into some cracks, like if you were to ask people if they’d rather houses be owned by banks or the homeless, a large portion of them would pick the homeless.

            You’re talking as though this is some kind of parody moral-relativism argument where every concept must be considered equally valid since they’re all fictional.

            I think you used the word ‘valid’ there and tried to make it mean ‘good’.

            All systems of ownership *are* equally ‘valid’, specifically, they are all fictional, and thus do not actually exist, and thus cannot be ‘valid’ or ‘invalid’.

            Of course, certain completely invented systems work *better* than others at accomplishing specific things. Robert’s Rule of Order are better at arriving at a consensus than trial by combat. It is perfectly fine to claim our current system is better…although people will disagree.

            But what @chip-daniels is talking about, all-too-often we take the way property currently works (Or, even a hypothetical ‘even more right’ version of property without various government restrictions on it) and talk about it as the *actual* way property works, like that is a real thing and everyone else is inventing a different system on top of that, like it’s physics and we’re inventing traffic laws to control cars within physics.

            When in reality, ownership is entirely made up, from top to bottom. Well, perhaps a pre-existing thing called ‘possession’ (aka, currently you’re holding it in your hand or otherwise physically control it) exists naturally, but everything else is made up.

            We can argue what we have currently chosen to do is the best, but it *is* something we have chosen to do and it does need to constantly checked to see if that’s the best we can do, and people asserting it is the best need to be able to justify that.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to J_A
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      says:

      J_A: But the world has become too interconnected to function except through massive coordination efforts than span the globe

      This is a strange angle to critique libertarianism from, given that one of the big libertarian issues is free trade, i.e., the right to coordinate commerce on a global scale instead of merely intranational.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Brandon Berg
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        I do not criticize international commerce – I’m a big fan of it. Call me a Ricardo liberal

        My criticism is that libertarianism glosses over what is required to keep the interconnectedness of everything humming around.

        My father business was exporting Spanish fruits and vegetables from Soain into France and England in the years before WWII (I’m the very little kid of my family. I have nephews my age)

        In Dad’s days everything was very libertarian. He sourced from the family and friends’ farms. He (actually a younger brother) hired small cargo ships to take it, while Dad sold it directly to Covent Garden market buyers.

        Now specialized cargo vessels carry hundreds of reefer containers belonging to scores of different owners in trips that can be longer than a month from mega (state regulated) port to mega port, relaying on (state launched ) satellites to keep abreast until the food arrives into massive central warehouses, where truck fleets distribute the good over hundred of miles of state built roads to just in time deliver a two month old fresh banana to your breakfast. While you read your internet based (thanks Al Gore) news in your Chine made components with Bolivian sourced lithium USA assembled iPad (or your Korean assembled Samsung Tablet, YMMV).

        You will argue that all this is just a larger group of independent people agreeing to transact together, and that is trivially right. But it ignores a background of rules, regulations and infrastructure that allows and supports all these people to transact. Containers have to be all the same size. Computer protocols must be coordinated. Farmers must be paid via letters of credit that must clear on the SWIFT System (ask Iran about not having access to SWIFT) with governments agreeing (or not) about the flow and convertibility of funds.

        The next time you want to watch a miracle turn on a light switch in your house, and think, really think, about the route the energy took from a power plant hundreds of miles away all the way to a plug feet away from you. The degree of coordination that permits utilities to reach anywhere we look at.

        Need a leak? Thoudands of people (coordinated by state agencies) cooperated to put together a sewage system almost everywhere you can be. How fun is not to have cholera outbreaks anymore. Thank the government.

        As I said before, managing public power and gas utilities (in the private sector) is my day job. But since my engineering college days I’ve been in awe that we can really reach anywhere, and when you really understand how we do it, you see that is as far away from the libertarian each man do his own thing as possible.

        By not really acknowledging how the current world works, focusing in an obsolete homesteader model, libertarianism reduces its chances of actually succeeding in their pilosophycal objectives, and loses any credibility some of the libertarian ideas might have.

        Shorter me: take a look at the real, real world and give ideas about how to change it for the better. But if what you describe doesn’t seem like the real world to me, I won’t credit your ideas, as good as they might be.

        Second shorter me: if first you have the solution and then look for a problem to solve, you are not looking at the real world (I e. Illegal immigration or China or Mexico did not kill high paying blue collar jobs in the USA. Aitomation did. Caterpillar’s Peoria spare parts distribution facility automated away 90% of the work force in the early 90s, from about 1,000 to about 100. Man, where those guys proud of it when you visited the facility) (OK this is a long Shorter Me)Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to J_A
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          says:

          Yes, yes,yes.
          However, in rebuttal-
          Imagine two traders in a forest…*

          *actual argument, on this very blog, long ago.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to J_A
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          says:

          Call me a Ricardo liberal

          Then you got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to J_A
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          says:

          Libertarians and “liberals” before them haven’t somehow entirely missed “the coordination problem.” If theorists return to “two traders in a forest” or an idealized “homestead,” it will usually be to in an attempt to make some general point more clear. Economic theories often (always?) begin with simple, idealized models of economic processes, and then extrapolate. The distance between the imaginary shoemaker able to produce more shoes than he and his family have use for, and transnational corporations manufacturing and distributing shoes and other items, is vast, but the illustration of the difference between use value and exchange value may still remain instructive for both.

          I wouldn’t say, however, that the coordination problem isn’t a serious problem for libertarianism at some point. It was understood as a philosophical problem well before the industrial era or our era of globally distributed manufacture and consumption, with direct bearing on this question of property rights (Burke and Hume have much to say on this connection vs. different revolutionary or crypto-revolutionary social concepts). The thinking has been re-stated in many ways since and, as always in these very fundamental matters, can be re-extracted from the most ancient sources available to us – just as we ourselves and our language are also “extracted from the ancient sources” – wherever the creation of worlds or of societies (social-political orders, including all of their laws) marks, is marked by, and is constituted as a transition from a pre-history to a history, or from what was before us to what we are now.

          The discussion of the claim that property is thieft fits neatly within this framework. My comment in the post about property as the “pre-adjudication” of the natural collision of individual rights is another way of describing a central, trans-generational mode of “coordination solution.”

          Quite relatedly, the very idea of theft implies the existence of a moral and legal order. Definining property itself as “theft” would imply the existence the existence of real communities prior to the existence of property (or property rights), but, if there is no place that is “our own” – even in the form of a temporary or virtual location that we nomads securely occupy today, that is our own today, where we can go about our lives unafraid of the wolves or zombies, where our customs are understood and enforced (allowing us to coordinate efficiently) – then there is no “theft” properly speaking, any more than it is “murder” for a bird to eat a worm or a T-cell to destroy an infected cell, or for a “walker” to devour this week’s victims (or this week’s survivors to decapitate this week’s de-animated walkers).

          When we nomads occupy our little encampment by the riverside, we may declare it “theft” if one of us take a tool from someone’s tent without permission, but we might equally consider all of the possessions of our group commonly held, and have no law or concept or custom relating to “theft.”

          So “property is theft” is a tautological statement, since without property there are no property crimes. It is only retrospectively that we can look back on the first King Henry and say, if he were a subject of King Henry’s realm or the realm of a legitimate (Henry-realm-lawfully recognized) successor, what he did to found his realm would be theft. After King Henry, to try to found a new realm in King Henry’s realm is insurrection or treason – unless the project succeeds, in which case King Henry’s realm is reduced or destroyed, and a new realm and new definitions of treason and potentially of theft might be set by the new rulers.

          These words – ruler, realm, rule, regime, right, etc. – define each other. To “found” a realm is always to divide up the real property, or perform the first, foundational, “original primary division” of property (of the really ruling rulers’ real rights to the real, etc.) to which all further divisions and re-divisions can eventually (lawfully, by rule) be traced.

          The original primary division is an exceptional moment, like the sovereign moment in governance, that comes before or outside of law, and makes the law (law at all) possible or real, moves it from mere idea to reality. The laws by which the process of the foundation of laws occur can be thought of as natural or physical or bio-physical laws, not statutes (of the state), but remain as such of a very particular type, since they are the laws by which the other than merely natural order arises. (They are before the fact as mysterious as the origins of life and especially sentient life; they can be viewed as processes of the same type, for an emergent social organism as integral being.)

          The “exception,” which is determined at the extreme, but inescapably, by the giving and taking of natural lives (which our friend b-psycho would like to wish out of existence) is the fundamental challenge to an individualist liberalism (and libertarianism), since a pure individualism cannot ever justify the sacrifice of the individual’s life, for the individual whose life is to be surrendered. It can never be in my interest as an individual to give up my life, but the existence of the state – and all of its laws – is always premised on the willingness of some to risk their lives and take others – as it were “altruistically” (which means, in reference to others rather than to oneself). To construct a self-interest out of the circumstances of one’s own extinction requires a de-construction of simple individualism, and re-construction of the individual, not merely in relation to society as it presently exists, but specifically in relation to a social being that exists beyond the lifespan of any particular member.

          The coordination problem is thus a corollary of the exception problem. The necessary transtemporal and social re-construction of the identity of the individual is a process we conventionally define as a matter of “religion,” and a common materialist explanation of religion refers precisely its utility as coordination solution, and so we’re back to where we began, with the littlest possible story, of one person and his or her desires and needs somehow to be related to the self-organization of a global mass of 7 billion souls, via political theology.Report

          • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod
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            The point of “property is theft” (and the rest of the remarks made about property by the source of that line) from my understanding was that the norm about it could be unjust & exploitative (theft), or just & essential (freedom), and as such was arguably elusive in practice (impossible). The theft regime would be characterized by your King Henry example because it enshrines dispossession by force, sanctifying what amounts to a violent “because I said so”. It’s a textbook example of what Marx said about primitive accumulation. There’s nothing inherent to the ruler that sanctifies their claim, so what reason beyond fear of consequences is there for anyone to recognize it?

            I don’t see how coordination is a problem unless it is assumed that there can be none without force involved. Simply because the way that things have shaken out has included constant violence and threat thereof does not mean that such is the way things must be, or that it justifies itself by mere self perpetuation.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho
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              @b-psycho

              There’s nothing inherent to the ruler that sanctifies their claim, so what reason beyond fear of consequences is there for anyone to recognize it?

              Why should that reason be considered insufficient? We’d like your anarcho-mutualist collective to get out of the way of our parade right now, not after you’ve finished another one of your tedious consensus-building sessions.

              “Consequences” can be defined in many ways, of course, but simple fear of the consequences to one’s own physical well-being is already a very powerful motivator, on average.

              Simply because the way that things have shaken out has included constant violence and threat thereof does not mean that such is the way things must be, or that it justifies itself by mere self perpetuation.

              As you put it, “that things have shaken out” in one way or another doesn’t necessarily mean things must always shake out that way, but the non-necessity of an absolute presumption for the status quo does not prove that the ways things are is an arbitrary or random result either. The potential dangerousness of human beings to one another, and especially the potential dangerousness of powerful groups of human beings to any individual or smaller group of individuals does seem to be inherent in the organism such as we find it, as do those “natural collisions” of desires, intentions, or free motions in the common life of those organisms. In any situation other than infinite overflowing abundance of all conceivable resources and satisfaction of all perceivable needs (a fantasy, of course), competition and the possibility for the one last individual willing to risk his or her life to threaten another to gain advantage thereby do seem inherent. That would mean that upon achievement of the situation you prefer, the system you would prefer we reject would necessarily re-constitute itself, and that any solution that eliminates the determinatively dangerous potential does so only temporarily, re-producing the determinatively dangerous vulnerability in a more extreme form.

              As for “justifying it,” you’ll have to demonstrate how you define and derive “justice” for me to understand what’s “un-just” about this reasoning or what would be more just. Please be my guest. I’ve always wondered this about you.

              But we’ve had this chat before, b-psycho… I don’t expect to persuade you, but I do enjoy the opportunity to fail in the effort.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod
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                @ck-macleod

                Why should that reason be considered insufficient?

                Because it’s identical to the reason offered by a mugger for why you should give them your wallet. If that is enough then the state is merely the most powerful band of thieves, and any defense of them based on assumed concept of the collective good allegedly achieved by it and/or necessity to avoid outright chaos is window dressing. After all, they have the upper hand, it doesn’t matter what principles are claimed, they will do what they do & dare you to stop them.

                Perhaps those who have not already rejected the state outright should embrace their own version of “the exception” — as in a realization that a current regime isn’t and should not be treated as a permanent & unquestionable one, and there is such thing as a time when its destruction should be seen as better than its continued existence. People seem all too willing to just take whatever and move the tripwire back, rendering the talk of limits less about a requirement than about lying to themselves for comfort. I could at least somewhat understand an acceptance that could also say of itself “the last revolution isn’t the final one” and was willing to back that up. To act as if burning it all down is never an acceptable option is to pledge an open ended commitment to it.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho
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                @b-psycho

                You didn’t answer my question on your concept of justice, or on your concept of the good. On what basis specifically do you arrive at your condemnation of “thievery”? I spend a good amount of time in my reply to J-A above arguing that there is no condemnation of thievery or any other crime, or even a meaningful concept of thievery or crime or the moral good and bad, prior to the existence of a community – a political-social order in possession of mores.

                If, however, you continue to insist on presuming some kind of absolute law against thievery that somehow precedes all possible community, and if all communities or orders consist of gangs of thieves, then, if we are presented with a choice among gangs, why not choose the gang that stands for now on against thievery, over the others that credibly promise to practice more and more of it? Likewise, couldn’t we rationally and in good conscience choose the thieves who steal only to supply their (our) needs, or steal from the rich to give to the poor, or from the evil to give to the good, over the ones who steal selfishly without regard for the consequences to anyone, who kill their victims or commit other acts of mayhem, who destroy whatever they can’t take? Couldn’t we rationally choose to join the gang that at least treats its own members kindly, and gives them a chance to lead the group to reform its thieving ways, over the one that that rules itself by terror and enslavement alone, and tortures and kills would-be reformers?

                This question seems all the more relevant since the order founded by your group prepared to “burn it all down” seems to be an order of thieves of the second type, since your first objective seems to be to destroy everything that citizens of the current order think of as belonging to them, and without regard for their welfare.

                Otherwise, as I noted, “fear of consequences” could take many forms. Only in a social context, beginning with the preference for family extended to others, does it become possible for one to fear consequences altruistically, not for one’s own separate well-being, but for those you love, and for all of your descendants, and for continuing and preserving whatever good you achieved in your own separate life. Though the latter consideration is (as already noted) conventionally assigned to religious belief, natural science and anthropology seem to suggest it is universal to human beings. We specifically distinguish human from pre-human communities, and know much of what we know about ancient communities, by examination of their burial sites and the tokens left with them in some kind of recognition or commemoration of the meaning of a life beyond death of the individual.

                The inability to account for this concept of the meaning of a life, the life for others or lived on in others (as particular others relatives, friends, honored fellow members of the group, and so on) is also part and parcel of the challenge that a consistent individualism and allied belief systems cannot self-consistently overcome, and, in being unable to overcome, render themselves unable to solve the coordination problem at every crucial point, in whatever call to sacrifice oneself or one’s present desires or impulses for the good of others.

                I could at least somewhat understand an acceptance that could also say of itself “the last revolution isn’t the final one” and was willing to back that up. To act as if burning it all down is never an acceptable option is to pledge an open ended commitment to it.

                How is anyone to know for sure whether “the last revolution” is or isn’t “the final one”? Depending on how you define “revolution,” you might take any of several stances on this notion.

                People may differ on your program of revolution. Why should they adopt your preferences and beliefs? I thought forcing people to adopt other peoples’ preferences and beliefs was against your creed. Otherwise, “never… acceptable” is an absolute. You like to think in terms of absolutes. It’s a given that even people who “act” like something is “never” an option might at some extreme point be driven to prefer it over any other alternative. Hitler preferred to see Germany in rubble and the Germans themselves annihilated if they were not good enough to achieve victory. Curtis LeMay is reported to have said (I don’t think he really meant it, but that’s another topic) that, in an all-out war between the US and the USSR, if 2 Americans survived, and only 1 Russian, then that would be victory. In his day, some people used to say “better dead than red”: They’d rather have died, and have taken everyone else with them, than let what they perceived to be evil triumph.

                That’s the mentality you seem to expect us to adopt, but for the sake of experimenting with your abstract notions about a better way of life. The difference is that the people saying “better dead than red” believed that only by saying and meaning “better dead than red” could they prevent either alternative from coming about. You seem to be insisting on at least one of them. It will tend to be an extreme minority position until and unless things really are perceived to be very, very bad by very many people. On that day, sure, you can have your revolution. Just watch out because someone else may be having their revolution instead.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                A just & good society, to me, is (or would be) one of non-aggression, peaceful cooperation, and equality. Initiation of force is wrong because our capacity as human beings allows us means other than violence — we can reason, form ethics, *think* rather than just act on instinct. To have such capacity of thought & still accept initiation of force as enough is to say that might makes right & may the stronger beast win, a rejection of humanity IMO.

                If someone were to assault you, you can try to flee or fight back. Our primate ancestors had the same playbook. Civilization is what exists other than violence, what happens when hitting each other isn’t on the table.

                Is there a defense of the state to be had that is more than Might Makes Right? An argument that the mugger cannot use? I’d love to hear one.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho
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                says:

                Yews, but from where do you derive your preference for “non-aggression, peaceful cooperation, and equality”? From where do you derive your preference for “means other than violence”? From where do you derive your preference for “reason,” “ethics,” and thought over “instinct”? From where do you derive your preference for “humanity” over bestiality? From where do you derive your preference for civilization?

                And, at the risk of diverting you from the still unanswered repeated question, how do you plan for us to “burn it all down” and somehow miss civilization, humanity, reason, ethics, thought, non-agression, peaceful cooperation, and equality in the process?Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                The willingness to scrap it all is a suggestion, a challenge of sorts even, to those that accept a state, that it should fulfill something higher than being able to put down a rebellion, that clear boundaries should be set & taken seriously (with NO exception), and violation of the boundaries voids its claim & makes it fair game to be dismantled. My skepticism of the success of such is why I’m not with them — I’d like them to retain a rebellion in their pocket anyway, i just suspect the best outcome to be one where their success is followed by not creating another government.

                As for where my preferences come from, where does anyone’s political & social philosophy come from? These things have been argued a long time, we ain’t originals grown in a vacuum here. We read, think & react and refine what we’ve learned based on observation and what we knew before. I find it hard to believe that in a discussion about classical liberal, libertarian, and to an extent anarchist thought you think my views come from Bumblefish, Egypt.

                …or is your confusion because you’re expecting an atheist to attribute it to a deity for some reason?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho
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                says:

                b-psycho: I find it hard to believe that in a discussion about classical liberal, libertarian, and to an extent anarchist thought you think my views come from Bumblefish, Egypt.

                The only assertion that I made about your values is the same one that I made about values in general: that they can be derived (discovered, enacted, affirmed, etc.) only after the foundational or exceptional moment in the life of a community on whatever level, from the community of me and you to the “civilizational” community or order.

                This process of derivation and the development of the community as community are virtually the same process on the level of the idea. Previously to or on the other side of the foundational moment there is no state other than the state of nature – and there is neither property (other than via spontaneous appropriation) nor law (other than natural laws), and therefore no property crime. Similarly, during the authentic state of emergency or siege or tumult – or revolutionary insurrection – the citizen or subject or ruler of the in-place order may be in doubt as to which if any laws or rules or presumptions will survive into the subsequent period or in what form they will survive.

                I ask you because you continually – over the course of years, not just in the above – demand the replacement of the current political order with one more suited to your preferences, but you never have explained, in my observation, where your preferences come from or how you know that your preferences are good and well-ordered.

                If they are simply your preferences because they are your preferences because they are your preferences, etc., it doesn’t matter whether or not you call yourself an atheist. Your attachment to them is still effectively religious, based on revelation, or constant spontaneous re-revelation. Or maybe they’re your family’s values and ordering of values, detached from their hidden origins. I suspect that sooner or later it can be shown you stole them from some gang of thieves.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                The only assertion that I made about your values is the same one that I made about values in general: that they can be derived (discovered, enacted, affirmed, etc.) only after the foundational or exceptional moment in the life of a community on whatever level, from the community of me and you to the “civilizational” community or order.

                Unless you mean to say by this that in your view a society cannot be founded or exist except by initiation of force (which would make rejection of it as an organizing tool inherently moot), I’m not sure your point here. If that is what you mean, then how am I to find out which of us is wrong before having convinced enough people to try otherwise?Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to b-psycho
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                says:

                I think it’s the mutualism aspect that is making this go pear shaped. And if I am reading CK correctly, the mutualism is derived from a collectivism and he is probably correct in billing that as a gang of thieves by another name.

                b-psycho presented the inherent de-coupler of the collective:

                “non-aggression, peaceful cooperation” which I assume is the same as the non-coercive standards of individual anarchism.

                Now that does leave how coercion or ‘justice’ is perceived by each individual involved, which is why I tend to start at individual anarchy instead of some collective sort.

                The larger problem arises in the circumstances that individual moral alignments don’t agree with what coercion, non-aggression, cooperation or justice looks like.

                The key to the peaceful society is recognizing that individual moral agents don’t inherently align, and how well individuals tolerate and cope with their differences, while mutually granting as much individual freedom as possible to each other.

                This is not something the collective bestows on a member, this is a gift of peace we offer each other on an individual basis, revocable at any time for any infinite amount of reasons. Coercion for me being the primary revocation.

                Now let’s unpack ‘burn it all down’ for a moment. I think this needs to be unpacked by definition. To me this typically involves institutions of state, state-corporate, or collective entities that are active in direct coercion. What do you fellas got?Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                I’m not anti individualism, at all. I identify as a mutualist anarchist because based on my interpretation of state & economy that kind of organizing seems like a natural default in a post-state society.

                I embrace free exchange and commerce just as much as freely chosen collective efforts — key term “freely chosen”.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho
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                says:

                b-psycho: Unless you mean to say by this that in your view a society cannot be founded or exist except by initiation of force (which would make rejection of it as an organizing tool inherently moot), I’m not sure your point here.

                Not exactly the terms I prefer, but probably close enough – though please note my reservations as I would rather be questioned on or held to my formulations than yours, in the interest of more systematic improvement. Also, in case it doesn’t go without saying, I’m aware that there is much more to these matters than I can explicate in a comment thread. The most I can do is summarize perspectives which I have studied, and here I’m mainly interested in putting this countervailing point of view against yours. I don’t presume to have the final answers to your questions.

                The “concept of the political” for Schmitt – what differentiates “the political” uniquely from “culture” or “religion” or “economics” or other disciplines or categories – is that the political operates specifically in relation to the dangerousness of human beings to each other, in short the potential of the threat of death. The fundamental political distinction, and likewise the distinguishing characteristic of “the political,” is for him the distinction between “friend and enemy” and the potential not merely for “competition” but for “combat” between them. Furthermore, and critically, as I have been noting, “[t]he friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing.” Everything else that we call “political” is, on this view, a secondary derivation of this central distinction, just as, temporally or practically, every society forms only after, or is originally and remains a derivation of, its foundationally violent moment, the moment always and necessarily before the possibility of human or moral justice that makes justice possible or reveals it – the moment after Cain slays Abel, etc, just before Cain heads East of Eden, builds cities and founds human society as we know it. So, yes, it would nullify your rejection of force as an authentically “political” proposal. It declares your position inherently flawed and delusory.

                If that is what you mean, then how am I to find out which of us is wrong before having convinced enough people to try otherwise?

                If it’s a logical problem, then as much time as it takes you to absorb the logic. I’ve tried to outline it in my series of comments above. No doubt I’ve given it a poor rendering, but it’s the best I can do at the moment.

                If you cannot rid humanity of the dangerousness or potential dangerousness of human beings to each other, and if the threat or potential threat is evidently the most powerful motivator of all, on an instinctual so pre-political level, and if order depends on effectively taking into account human motivations, then your aim is futile. As I’ve already suggested above, any political order established on any other basis – to the extent we can even rightly call it a “political” order – would be vulnerable to the first authentically political challenge to it, the one in which those willing to risk, give, and take lives confronted those who weren’t, and enslaved them.

                So, according to this countervailing view, perhaps the most you can hope for is, from time to time, relatively briefly rallying a mass movement of those willing to risk their lives in order to achieve a limited goal of some type (Gandhi, MLK) in relation to an already existing political order in which the holders of the state monopoly on violence are susceptible to alternatives, and recognize their claim to the monopoly on violence as specifically dependent on their ability to provide security from violence to loyal citizens, including those seeking change non-violently. However, you should also acknowledge that “soul-force” is also coercive, even if it uniquely turns the potential victims of violence into casualties for the opposing side (the side that is supposed to be responsible for security). The other problem is that even the successes of the non-violent mass movement may still lead to, contribute to, or simply fail to prevent violence.

                If there is a movement beyond this predicament, it would be a movement beyond the human organism as we know it or beyond life and death as we know it – and it is hard for me to see how life and death can be removed from consideration permanently. Unless you are going to import another universe to replace this one, then such movement beyond will be a movement of progress from here, the world of life and death of human beings who tend greatly to prefer the former, to there, whatever there may be. In the philosophy of world history there is a theory of the overcoming of the political, which is also an overcoming of the “master-slave”/”lord-bondsman” problem (which also derives directly from the problem of “physical killing”) – but it is an overcoming “through,” not an instantaneous sweeping aside built on wishful thinking.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I don’t hold for hopes and wishful thinking. It is the claim to the monopoly on violence that creates coercion. Coercion in a collective sense is doomed to failure due to the inherent nature of the diversities of man. Time and differing preferences will fracture the collective to factions. Factions produce the inevitable mechanics of strategic war.

                This leads to the long, well worn path to the graveyard of all dead states of the past. There is no overcoming the political, only removing oneself from a collective claim.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Hey, Joe, good to see you, since this godawfully written post was godawfully written partly for you as well as for the absent pillsy.

                The monopoly on violence is asserted, according to theory and I think observably in practice, specifically to address the universal potential for coercion. So, as explicated by Hobbes most clearly, and then reiterated and formalized by Weber, and then re-elaborated by Schmitt, we cede our right to coerce by violence to the state in exchange for security or such security as is practically deliverable against coercion by our neighbor, who is turned from potential enemy to presumed friend. The coercive potential is a given and a very important given. The state does what “we,” or the preponderant force among/from “us,” prefer to have done with it against other alternatives. The modern mass liberal-democratic and mixed regime channels, hems, checks, re-directs, etc., in different ways, and in the meantime people who enjoy the luxury afforded by the state eventually reach the point where they imagine that the danger emanates from the state alone, as an artificial creation of the state, when in fact and by necessity the state is the artificial creation designed and elaborated to cope with the danger, which pre-exists any state and would survive it.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                Hey, at least you are only being accused of god-awful writing, and not baby-killing like Roland was last week. Count your blessings!Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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                says:

                Opinions may differ on which is the worse crime.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                You are both leaving out the possibility of baby-killingly bad writing.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                No Libertarians in the Seventeenth-Century Highlands is always worth reposting:

                Davey Hume: Let me echo the wise sayings of my good (if absent-minded) friend Adam. You need a mighty state to provide security of property. You need a limited state to keep its own exactions from becoming a cure worse than the disease…

                Ibn Khaldun: The state is a device that prevents all injustice save that which it commits itself.

                Davey Hume: Exactly. That is the key problem of governance: mighty, but limited. It is only after the state has been established and the memory of what life was like in the Highlands disappears that people can even begin to forget why the state is necessary. Under security of property, people begin to view each other–even total strangers–as possible partners in mutually-beneficial acts of exchange. The oxytocin levels in their bloodstreams rise. They feel mutual sympathy toward each other. They feel bound by the moral law, and no longer kill clan enemies or rob strangers even when they can do so in perfect safety…

                Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Morat20
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                says:

                @morat20 It’s a helpful and amusing piece, but I think DeLong shows an excess of crypto-CrookedTimberism in it, especially where he defines libertarianism “as we know it today” as non-existent prior to the end of the 19th C.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                It depends on what you think he means by “as we know it today”. There is a rather vast gulf between libertarianism as a modern political ideology (especially in America) and it’s philosophical roots.

                Of course that also depends on WHICH libertarians you listen to, you know?

                That doesn’t even get into the close cousins (Objectivism, for instance) and weird conservative offshoots that claim the name.

                Mostly, however, I think he was taking aim at a rather large and vocal segment of self-described libertarians who aren’t really aware of the philosophical roots and have not really thought past “TAXATION IS THEFT”.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Morat20
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                says:

                Maybe I am missing something, but how does the absence of libertarianism in the 17th c. Scottish Highlands function as some sort of effective rebuke. Was there social democracy in the 17th c. Scottish Highlands?

                Also, this critique does what almost all bad critiques of libertarianism do: offer a special critique of one form of doctrinaire libertarianism as if it were an effective general critique. It also assumes that there is some unresolvable tension between a strong state and the recognition a robust set of individual rights.

                The fundamental libertarian insight is that what makes a state mighty is its limits. Authoritarian governments certainly appear mighty and in the absence of outside pressure can last a long time. They are usually, however, racked with all manner of malignancies that slowly fester until the whole edifice implodes under its own weight.

                On a separate note, what exactly is the critique of Hobbes? Is it in his methods or in his conclusions?Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I appreciate your postition on this, although Hobbes isn’t even a blip on a list of great thinkers, hell your own intellect is probably a magnitude greater.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Only one magnitude greater? Now you’ve really hurt my feelings.

                I agree with those, including some incalculably more learned than I, who say that Hobbes rewards years of study – some say a lifetime. Just the introduction to Leviathan would justify a website – or at least a multi-post multi-author symposium! Just the frontispiece is worthy of serious consideration.

                One may doubt that any of us will be remembered for our writing and thinking much past the last backup of these archives, or the death of the last weblog – both of which I’d guess will occur well earlier than 365 years from now.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                In my view to agree with Hobbes, one must agree the state is just. That is a cup that I care not drink from and have warned my brothers of.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Like any political philosophy, read it as if it were attempting to describe the world.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                The last time I read it, I came to the conclusion Hobbes would have mankind dead shortly after the invention of sharp stones.
                I have no affinity for that description of the world and consider it mostly untenable.

                I mean to say this with no hostility towards you Jay. I also consider your intellect well beyond Hobbes.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Hey, I’m not saying “agree with it” and I sure as hell am not saying “like it”. I’m saying “read it as if it were describing the way the world works”.

                Some descriptions will be on the level of Thales: “all is water”.

                Sure. It’s wrong. Completely and totally wrong.

                But he remains one of the giants whose shoulders we find ourselves standing on.

                So too with Hobbes. He’s not right. But he’s important.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                You mean, all isn’t water?Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                He is important to those making claims, and that is when I often see his work invoked.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I’m not a pacifist. If some group showed up to that Stateless Society intending on imposing the Schmitt style Real Political on them, I’d cheer the imposers being sent to their graves.Report

              • Avatar Wade McKenzie in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                you never have explained, in my observation, where your preferences come from or how you know that your preferences are good and well-ordered.

                The implication, CK, is that you “have explained… where your preferences come from…” It’s possible that I have missed an explanation that you proffered on that line, since my acquaintance with your perspective only goes back a few years and I’m by no means familiar with your total output.

                In my interactions with you, you have made it abundantly clear that you style yourself a liberal progressive. In a previous exchange, about one year ago, I queried you directly as to whether or not you had ever been outside of the liberal progressive matrix. Your political-philosophical affiliation has no doubt undergone development over the years, but was there ever a time–say, beyond childhood or early adolescence–when you were an adherent of a political position that could be authentically characterized as illiberal and/or non-progressive (conservative, reactionary). In that prior exchange, you didn’t answer my query–I don’t blame you for that–but I put it to you again.

                Liberal progressivism, by your own argumentation, is deeply congenial to the United States regime and–and again, by your own argument–has been from the very founding. In fact, to say that liberal progressivism is “congenial” to the US regime is to make it sound as if it were merely an ornament of the regime rather than its very heart, soul and essence–and I think your argument does go so far as to assert that the US regime is essentially a, indeed the, liberal progressive regime. And I concur entirely with that assessment.

                If you’ve never found yourself an adherent of an illiberal and/or non-progressive political allegiance, then it would be reasonable–I would aver, most reasonable–to suppose that your adherence to liberal progressivism comes from the regime itself. The liberal regime–the final regime at the end of history, as your favorite philosopher Fukuyama has it–seeks to inculcate a liberal progressive Weltanschauung in all its subjects, and it almost certainly succeeds to varying degrees. I myself have undergone the education in the liberal progressive worldview that the US regime imparts to all its citizens in myriads of ways as they grow up and live in the USA. There was a time in my life when I too counted myself a committed liberal progressive.

                I have since come to reject both liberalism and progressivism. My political philosophy is authentically illiberal and reactionary. I’m inclined to think that to stand apart from something is to obtain an increase in objectivity over it. Now, I emphasize the word “increase” because I think that “knowing” something in the biblical sense–by joining oneself to it–also grants a species of knowledge. But if I have both known liberal progressivism by joining myself to it (as have you) as well as stood apart from it by finally renouncing it (as you have not), does my overall perspective on liberal progressivism not have an advantage over yours in terms of objectivity? (I grant that my objectivity in this as in all things needs much further refinement.)

                Presumably, you think that your political allegiance does not stem from regime indoctrination–how do you know this (assuming, that is, that you claim so to do)? I put this question to you sincerely–I’m genuinely curious as to your answer. In my own case, I really do know that my political perspective is not the result of regime indoctrination because my regime goes to extraordinary lengths to prohibit the sort of allegiance that I sustain.

                Now, it might be that you would argue that even though liberal progressivism is the arche and telos of the US regime, your own preference for liberal progressivism transcends any and all regime-imparted bias. In which case, I’d like to have recourse to a quote I’ve heard attributed to Lord Russell: “You can do as you please, but you can’t please as you please.” How do you, CK, account for what pleases you?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Wade McKenzie
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                says:

                @wade-mckenzie

                I’m wondering what I ever said to you, Mr. McKenzie, that leads you to say that I “have made it abundantly clear that [I] style [myself] a liberal progressive.” I suspect that many of the Ordinary Gentlepeople would be surprised to learn that I had done so.

                Maybe you’re thinking of some discussion we had on the philosophy of world history or on my understanding of certain necessary pre-suppositions of discussions like this one and of discussion at all. On either or both bases, I could label us all “liberal progressives” here – even you, whatever you say – but we tend to mean something different when we use those terms in everyday discussion.

                Or maybe you have some particular discussion in some other context in mind. For now, I’ll just say that I prefer to avoid such labels.

                Also, Francis Fukuyama is not my favorite philosopher. I find his work useful and interesting, but I do not consider him a philosopher by any conventional definition of the term. (I’m not sure what label he prefers – possibly “political scientist” or “political economist.”)

                I’ll take another look at the rest of your comment when my head’s a little clearer than it happens to be right now, and I feel up to the task of explaining why the question I was asking b-psycho and the one you seem to be asking me are not equivalent.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I’m wondering what I ever said to you, Mr. McKenzie, that leads you to say that I “have made it abundantly clear that [I] style [myself] a liberal progressive.” I suspect that many of the Ordinary Gentlepeople would be surprised to learn that I had done so.

                Well, you do seem to believe the state should *exist* and *do things*, which, from a certain extreme viewpoint, makes you the same as a liberal progressive. 😉Report

              • Avatar Wade McKenzie in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                David, I most certainly believe that “the state should *exist* and *do things*”. The things that I would like the state to do are both illiberal and reactionary.Report

              • Avatar Wade McKenzie in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I’m wondering what I ever said to you, Mr. McKenzie, that leads you to say that I “have made it abundantly clear that [I] style [myself] a liberal progressive.”

                I don’t intend to pester you, CK–and, in fact, I’m patiently awaiting your reply to the more substantive element of my comment–but I can’t refrain from observing how this “non-endorsement” of liberal progressivism on your part oddly tracks TNC’s attempted retraction of his obvious endorsement of BS and attempts by TNC’s self-appointed apologists here at OT to spin his endorsement as a non-endorsement.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Wade McKenzie
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                says:

                I was hoping you would be more specific about the exchange you were referencing – linking me to it or giving me enough information so that I can locate it on my own – since it might help me clear any confusion up without forcing me to start all over with my childhood, when, under the care of wolves, I began to develop my peculiar notions about this, that, and the other human things.

                I’ve thought about the Coates “endorsement” discussion in relation to this one as well. If you were following closely, you may have noted that in my last substantial contribution to that other discussion, I expressed respect for the position “in resistance to the political” as a philosophical position.Report

              • Avatar Wade McKenzie in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                The “exchange” I’m referencing, CK, is basically the sum total of all the exchanges I’ve had with you at your website. It isn’t as if I don’t know how you have presented yourself in those exchanges. I marvel that, with a straight face, you are eschewing the idea that you can justly be described as a liberal progressive. Perhaps it’s the case that your construal of “liberal progressivism” is more narrow than is mine and that you really think you don’t qualify.

                In fact, I did go over to your website earlier today with the intention of trying to find something where you at least give the impression of being a devotee of liberal progressivism–by reviewing some of my own comments and seeing if I could locate a pertinent exchange between us. I’m afraid I got bogged down in the plethora of my comments over there.

                In any case, I think we might be able to resolve this impasse without recourse to a specific link. Liberal progressive obviously has two aspects to it, liberal and progressive. Now, I do recall–and I know that you do too–in virtually my very first exchange with you, you told me that you had a Spinozistic absolutist commitment to free speech. Now I doubt that anyone has a Spinozistic absolutist commitment to free speech without likewise subscribing to a number of other freedoms as well. That would seem to constitute clear evidence of your being committed to a form of political liberalism.

                As to your progressivism: You have certainly made your subscription to a progressive theory of history quite clear. What’s more, you have made your endorsement of said progress quite clear. What’s more–as I said in my original comment–you have made quite clear that you construe the USA regime, from its founding right on up to the present day, as a world-historical political vehicle for the moral-political progression that your theory of history describes. You have made your endorsement of this regime quite clear. This would seem to constitute evidence that you are a progressive.

                Or am I mistaken about all this, as you imply? Are you not an adherent of a form of political liberalism? Are you not one who believes that progression is a necessary and desirable feature of both history and present-day Western regimes and especially the US regime? I’m sincerely interested in your answers–I’m honestly not trying to corner you.

                You can easily resolve this question as to whether or not you qualify as a liberal progressive. If you’d rather assert that you are some kind of illiberal non-progressive, you’re free to do so–your resistance to being labelled notwithstanding. Believe it or not, I too am not particularly keen on overly precise “labelling”, but there comes a point where abstinence from any and all labels is an exercise in silliness–or worse.

                In any case, you have said that you intend to show how the question you put to bpsycho is not equivalent to the question I put to you–and that sounds like a relevant response to my question, so I’m looking forward to it.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Wade McKenzie
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                says:

                Thanks for visiting my blog, WM. All by yourself, you probably doubled the usual daily traffic.

                First, on this overlapping discussion in relation to Spinoza and your claim that I had at some point embraced an “absolute freedom of speech.” If you had gone back to our brief discussion of his work, in May 2014, you’d have found me saying this:

                As for the extent of my own libertarianism, when Americans today speak about “free speech absolutism,” I think we tend to picture deranged cultists shouting curses at soldier’s funerals, pornography in primetime, and loud all-night parties keeping the neighbors up. I’m against those. I’m in favor of free inquiry… At this point in my life I find philosophical politics – thinking called to its own defense – one of a few sufficient motivations to take time off to put my thoughts in writing.

                I’ll add as an aside that I don’t find the phrase “absolute freedom of speech” to be very sensible, since we need to impose order on the sounds that we produce in order to communicate with one another.

                As for “liberal progressive,” I’ll rest on the point that I think ought to be fairly obvious: Such terms mean different but sometimes overlapping things, and at other times completely contradictory things, in different contexts, as we have already had occasion to observe extensively in this discussion regarding “liberal.” Ditto for “conservative” and many other political terms, as we all ought to know.

                The discussion relating to b-psycho’s beliefs and where he gets them also happens to be illustrative in relation to this terminology problem – or to be more precise of a typical way it arises. You write the following:

                The implication, CK, is that you “have explained… where your preferences come from…”

                In the particular context of my discussion with b-psycho, I was referring to his most fundamental “preferences,” the ones that implicitly precede his oft-repeated indictments of our current order. I could have used the word “beliefs,” but I was attempting to stress the fact that, say, the notion that stealing property or any other sin is a sin, or basis of a valid indictment of a ruler or a ruling class or system of government, is constructed – not necessarily purely arbitrary, but still part of a set of propositions that cannot exist prior to the existence of some kind of political or politico-religious order – a “state” or at least the conditions in which a state can arise – and its presumptions or “fundamental norms.”

                In the Biblical telling, we Israelites were wandering around in some confusion, but looking forward to settling down at the end of our extended journey, and the Lord instructed us to choose life rather than death, and do so by following His Commandments. We were also informed that this word was already “in our mouths”: In that His Commandments closely followed others received by us at other points going back to Adam – and with only a few new-fangled wrinkles to the ones Noah took down for us – it was not too hard for us to take them up in our way, but, all the same, we seem to have required some prodding and consensus-building on the matter, in the process of forming or re-forming our independent state or proto-state, that light unto the nations.

                Since b-psycho fancies himself an atheist and also hates almost everything existing – kind of like you in some ways, if not in certain other ones, as we know – and is stern in his moral judgments and unrestrained in his condemnations, I have long wanted to know how and where, if not from religion or from “regime indoctrination,” he derives or imagines himself to have derived the bases for these judgments and condemnations: If I’m going to consider going all in for revolutionary anarchism, because I reject being governed by a gang of thieves, I’d like to know how revolutionary anarchism knows and thinks everyone else including me should determine that being governed by a gang of thieves is unacceptable. Why should I care whether my governor is a thief, according to revolutionary anarchism? Why, according to revolutionary anarchism, should I care whether my governor is a thief, a liar, a murderer, a sexual deviant in the extreme, a racist, a Flat Earther, or anything else, or whether my society is a society of thieving lying murderous deviant racist Flat Earthers? Why, also, according to revolutionary anarchism, should I care whether the benefits that accrue to me via revolutionary anarchism or, alternatively, via resistance to revolutionary anarchism, come by way of thievery, lies, murder, sexual devancy, racism, and Flat Eartherism – or for that matter by sheer luck? Most of all, how do I know that revolutionary anarchism wouldn’t also end up condemnable in one or many ways, along with all of the effort expended on anarchistically reovlting? If it will or if there is a good chance it may, why should I bother myself or anyone else about it?

                So, I was asking b-psycho a more basic question, I think, than why you or I should swear allegiance to the sub-order or orientation toward order known as “Liberal Progressivism.” In regard to the more basic moral question, I had already provided you the answer: Like all of the rest of us, including you, I am dependent on the order already in being (which includes but also preceded and extends beyond and the American regime), for the bases of my beliefs – their shape, their content, and also the possibility of defining, defending, preserving, spreading, and expecting anyone else to share them.

                Now, we could look to other sources of the law or types of law, look to ideas of natural law and variations, but maybe we can leave that for some other time.

                [W]as there ever a time–say, beyond childhood or early adolescence–when you were an adherent of a political position that could be authentically characterized as illiberal and/or non-progressive (conservative, reactionary). In that prior exchange, you didn’t answer my query–I don’t blame you for that–but I put it to you again.

                To answer your question, since it seems to matter to you, the question for me has more to do with the idea of being an “adherent” of any “political position.” Sorry that you consider it “silly” or “worse” – you’re one to talk! – but I seem to lack the strong adhesives that many others seem to possess. Maybe they’re all worn out by now, or maybe I was born missing them, as some people are born without enamel on their molars or the ability to distinguish certain greens from certain blues (like apparently presidential candidate Marco Rubio, for example). In my youth especially, as off and on since then, I took up a range of political habits, and you might see some of them as authentically illiberal or non-progressive, but I’m not sure that I can claim I authentically adhered to really any of them. Nowadays, as for a while now, I tend to see such adherence as something to be avoided, as long as the determination to avoid doesn’t prevent one from recognizing or even standing up for the superior argument happening to come consistently from one rather than the other side.Report

              • Avatar Wade McKenzie in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I have now gone back and reviewed that May 2014 exchange between us and you’re right that, as far as our exchange went, the excerpt that you quote above is the pertinent element concerning your “Spinozistic” commitment to free “inquiry” which does indeed seem to delimit any ostensible commitment to a “Spinozistic absolutist” commitment to free speech. If one scrolls up to the original post, they’ll find that you prominently quote Minjheer Benedictus himself–a quote that does represent, I think, an “absolutist” commitment to free speech, whereby only deeds and not words ought ever to be punished. In your own words that precede that quotation, you do seem to be endorsing a similar commitment–which is then followed by the quote from Spinoza.

                So I think it was the original post that settled into my memory and long made me think that you had claimed to be a “Spinozistic absolutist” when it came to free speech. It would appear that that is an inaccurate characterization of your position, and you may rest assured that I shan’t make further reference to it.

                Just in case anyone would like to have a look at that piece themselves, here’s the link:

                http://ckmacleod.com/2014/05/12/scrapheap-2014-05-12/

                I was referring to his most fundamental “preferences,” the ones that implicitly precede his oft-repeated indictments of our current order. I could have used the word “beliefs,”

                And I too was referring to your most fundamental preferences, I too could have used the term “beliefs”. “You can do as you please, but you can’t please as you please.” Where does what pleases you come from, CK?

                Well, in my original comment I suggested that what pleases you comes from the regime under which you live–and, of course, the same applies to me as I readily admitted in my original comment. If I understand your comment correctly, you are in essence acknowledging that.

                In the course of my life, however, I have become an opponent of the regime of liberal progressivism, the liberal political order, the “newest and best” political theories that animate the “newest and best” government. Is it your contention that that opposition itself emanates from the regime or “sub-order” of liberal progressivism? In other words, did the regime itself inculcate my opposition to it? I’d like to think that my opposition to the liberal regime or political order indicates that said opposition derives from a source alternative to the regime–the regime itself being by definition a coercive instrument.

                By contrast, I think your own support for the liberal regime can largely be ascribed to said coercive instrument. Granted, you have very impressively and admirably deepened your comprehension of that support–your reflective thoughtfulness is an exemplar to me–but, in the final analysis, I think you’re a faithful proponent of the liberal political order because “Mama said so”.

                you’re one to talk!

                Sure, I’ve been very silly many a time in your presence (thanks for reminding me). But it would be a different kind of silliness altogether if I were to deny, with a straight face, that I had ever comported myself unto you as a white supremacist, if I were to say to you on that line, “Gee, what on earth has given you such an idea? Many of my friends on the Alt-Right would think it very strange to hear me described in that fashion. Can you provide a link? I eschew all such labels, etc.”

                Well, I take it that the gist of our misunderstanding was that, whereas I was using the expression “liberal progressive” in an expansive political-philosophical sense (as I thought I made clear in my original comment), you heard it in its more mundane sense whereby it means something like the sort of view held by, say, Gloria Steinem. Admittedly I don’t see a whole lot of daylight politically between you and Ms. Steinem, but that is undoubtedly a function of what DavidTC above termed my “extreme viewpoint” (which he apparently thinks has something to do with my being a “small-government” conservative).

                I don’t hate “almost everything existing”, CK. Why, just this past weekend, I re-read Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and I marveled and exulted in the beauty of it all.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Wade McKenzie
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                says:

                Wouldna spected Song of Myself to be among your faves, WM.

                Otherwise, I’m not inclined to address the question of an “absolute” freedom of speech further except to note I find it an absolutely intolerable misuse of the idea of the absolute in relation to freedom and speech. Heidegger frowns.

                “You can do as you please, but you can’t please as you please.” Where does what pleases you come from, CK?

                Well, in my original comment I suggested that what pleases you comes from the regime under which you live–and, of course, the same applies to me as I readily admitted in my original comment. If I understand your comment correctly, you are in essence acknowledging that.

                I do not think you are interested in what pleases me in general. I also believe Russell, in that quotation (or slight misquotation) to which you have returned, was commenting in relation to the old philosophers’ debate on free will and determinism, but I believe that what we are discussing here has more to do with the rationality or justification of moral commitments in relation to political orders.

                So, I think you are asking why I would – or anyone should – prefer the current political regime, understood in this context as an embodiment of “liberal progressive” values as we have defined them (within the long historical view), against your, b-psycho’s, or perhaps other radical alternatives, and I believe your point is that I have and can have, according to my own analysis, no basis for preferring it other than the one that it has already provided me. So, I could never show that my preference was finally any less arbitrary, or less circular, or itself any more preferable, or that it was uniquely or objectively (or perhaps absolutely!) affirmable, as compared to yours or b-psycho’s.

                If I have described your argument correctly, or close enough, then I would say that it strikes me as a very poor one in support of my moving in your direction or in any direction at all other than my current one (or in place of my lack of one). By that argument you and b-psycho will be as utterly bereft of argumentative and motivational supply as I am, leaving me to feel quite free (whether or not my so feeling is an embodiment of an authentic freedom of the will, which last Lord Russell appears not to have believed possible) to return to “what pleases me” now, or to what it pleases me to think pleases me, etc.: to go into the virtual marketplace and discourse with citizens on what is good in life and thought, to watch bad TV or read Heidegger on Hegel or code WordPress helper functions or write long comments deep down in the threads on a post on libertarianism, and without a second thought as to whether anyone else ought to be pleased by any of it or by the thought of it, or is instead quite utterly displeased or considers it godawful or irresponsible or unworthy of consideration. I may even from time to time take pleasure in the expressed displeasure of others with my pleasures!

                As for the liberal progressive political regime or the entire liberal progressive culture-state, I might very well be happy with its values “not because they are better, but because they are mine” and for not finally much other reason or un-reason at all. I will emphasize that I am not excluding the possibility of some stronger or more active and thrilling defense of its premises. It may be the worst system except for all the others, or it may really be the end of history and in good way tending toward the best way, or I may be a Yankee Doodle do or die and feel strongly that you should be, too. I might conceivably be moved to mount such defenses or polemics, but at this point I am not so moved, as neither am I the person asking someone else to drop his Heidegger and join the alt-right or alt-alt comrades in pushing back the Joneses and replacing them with the Smiths or the other Smiths and all their anarcho-mutualist or white supremacist excellences and wanna-be excellencies. On this basis, why should I not be happy to be left alone, under a regime that makes leaving me alone with my Hegel and bad TV and long comment threads among its firmer commitments? And why should I not point out that you and b-psycho also seem to enjoy suchlike and even the same activities, liberally and progressively, whether or not you are ever moved to praise the regime that has successfully, so far, fulfilled its promise to preserve their possibility for you? Furthermore, since you both are so conspicuously not so moved to praise what I find praiseworthy, why should I have any confidence that your preferred alternative would preserve a place for it?

                If and when and where these commitments to leave me alone slip or seem in danger of falling or of being taken away, I may find myself moved, if incalculably insignificantly and quite likely utterly pointlessly, to seek to remind or seek to help to remind our friends and enemies of them across whatever degrees of separation between the lowest comment thread dwellers and the commanding heights of influence and power.

                In the meantime, peacetime more or less, I might in fact be more pleased by a greater interest of the regime or of my fellow citizens, who in one way or another make it up, in sustaining me, not least in the interest of my continued pursuit of my pleasures at least a little longer, on the off chance the results might someday prove useful or pleasing to it or them or anyone, but I long ago accepted the downside of no one really caring about what pleases me.Report

              • Avatar Wade McKenzie in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I’m well aware that the view I’ve spelled out as regards “regime-influence” on you, likewise affects me and that it poses (big) problems for me too. There is, however, the added wrinkle to which I alluded–that I fancy myself an opponent of the liberal political order which in some sense or other played a great part in the formation of my soul, mind, person. There’s a real sense in which I have become a traitor–and, believe me, I’m very conscious of the problem that entails. It isn’t an entirely pleasant experience to renounce one’s political order.

                Assuming that I have misquoted Lord Russell and that the original quote refers to the free will-determinism controversy, I don’t see why, mutatis mutandis, the way that I have deployed the (mis)quotation in this particular context isn’t relevant to the question I asked you or the question you asked bpsycho. It does seem to me that you are making a claim to “know that your preferences are good and well-ordered.” It’s precisely from the vantage-point of such a knowledge claim that you imply that both bpsycho’s and my preferences are relatively bad and disordered. I question whether you can plausibly advance such a knowledge claim without knowing your preferences to be sovereignly chosen in the light of goodness and good order. What I ultimately wanted to question in your case, CK, is how your own preference for a liberal order–your stated preference for a “non-adhesive life” (which strikes me as something like an epitome, even a cliché, of philosophic liberalism)–can be known to be a sovereign preference, rather than the consequence of a sociopolitical-educative compulsion. If it were merely compulsory, it would be of the nature of opinion, belief, doxa.

                Now I don’t exclude the possibility that your preferences for a liberal political order, for a non-adhesive lifestyle, for philosophic liberalism–all preferences that are actively supported by the liberal regime under which you and I live–mightn’t be the result of your free and sovereign decision. That would require however that you somehow distance yourself from the aforementioned preferences and “authentically” entertain their contraries, so that you can sovereignly re-appropriate them (the aforementioned preferences) as your own, rather than Mama’s. The question I put to you was, have you ever done something like that? Your answer, as I far as I could tell, was to hem and haw.

                Now I certainly don’t make any grandiose claims for myself, CK–please believe me when I tell you that. But have I ever distanced myself from my own current preference for a white supremacist illiberal reactionism? Yes I have. As I say, like virtually every one of us, I used to be a liberal progressive myself–I used to scold people for being racist. The point being, that that would seem to constitute evidence that my present standpoint is not merely a consequence of the compulsory influence of the prevailing political order. Like the seer Tiresias, I’ve been on both sides of this equation–it appears that you have not. I’m not saying that’s dispositive as regards our ongoing disputation, but surely it isn’t entirely irrelevant either. It doesn’t vindicate the free sovereignty of my preference, but it would at least seem or appear to give me a leg-up on you.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Wade McKenzie
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                says:

                The pursuit of political philosophy implies a determination not just to gain perspective on one’s own beliefs, but to subject them to the very strictest scrutiny – “what is dearest requires the most critical investigation” (Heinrich Meier). A non-prejudicial investigation would also leave open the possibility that one’s own beliefs may be found acceptable, if any beliefs can so be found. In the meantime, how you would know whether you have really managed the Tiresian feat on the question of your beliefs, or are just doing a good job of convincing yourself that you have, would be another question – as would whether I should concern myself with what you may imagine about the position of your leg in space.

                The main point of my prior comment was that I need not (as I did not) make any claim that my current preferences (whatever they are) are good and well-ordered. On the other hand, entering into any discussion on the presumption that one’s preferences are bad and disordered would be something of an absurdity. So, it’s to be presumed that we all think we are right enough in the head to be capable of meaningful conversation together. To move further, however, we have nothing to go on other than what we ourselves can examine together. For the same reason, it doesn’t do (as others have done in the larger or prior discussion, specifically regarding a supposed non-contingent leftist defense of freedom of speech) to rest on arguments that one simply asserts could be made.

                As far as this (side-)conversation goes, I am not the moving party. It cannot be my burden to prove that I am in the right. It would be your burden, as it was b-psycho’s, as the one calling for radical change, to show me that I am in the wrong, and that I should both accept your case and should care. Telling me that much is wrong with the status quo, or proving that the status quo falls short of some ideal, gets you at most only a small part of the way. It may tell me little or nothing about whether I ought to prepare to set out from our here, or my specific here, by your preferred path to your preferred destination. Whether my inclinations are fully or largely shaped by the regime, or biology, or something else altogether or in combination may not matter: Regardless of where they originate, you will need to appeal to them, unless you are somehow equipped to alter them.

                The above should not be taken as an invitation for you to try to convince me to join you on the Alt-Right. It was merely an explanation of the difference in positions between someone minding his own business on a blog, or doing whatever else comes naturally, and someone, however politely and articulately, insisting he should be doing something else.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                With regards to the moving party portion of your comment, do you see the state as developing/increasing it’s power to coerce?

                Would this make your preference in state, to whatever value it is, also connected to a moving party?

                I’m am not completely compelled to thinking that anarchists are asking change so much as a reduced/reversed march into coercion from authority, manifested in the state/regime.

                At some future y in the road we may have to unpack the dimensions of what it means to be self governed, and what that looks like to individual preference.

                How long until holding tons of bricks over peoples heads becomes untenable?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Hey @joe-sal , sorry for being late in getting back to you – not to suggest that I expect my reply will be satisfactory for you:

                Joe Sal: With regards to the moving party portion of your comment, do you see the state as developing/increasing it’s power to coerce?

                In one sense, the power of the state to coerce is and always has been absolute, by definition. You might almost say that the state is the power “to coerce absolutely,” and nothing else. In another sense, the one we more commonly employ for talking about the state, technology provides new tools for the elaboration of state power, but the same tools also may provide new challenges to the maintenance of state control, as seems to be the case with digital communications technology, which may produce new territories for the state to attempt to govern at a rate faster than it creates the capacity to govern them. I have no way to measure changes of the second general type objectively.

                Regarding a generally anarchistic attitude or its right to a seat at the table: In my earlier remarks I was not trying to put up resistance to a “reasonable moderate” anarchism, if there is such a thing, or to the spirit of dissidence and freedom, but to a particular revolutionary anarchist.

                As for unpacking theories of self-government, I think the main difference between the point of view of (typically passive) supporters of the current regime or of liberal democracy, and the points of view of radical critics may be in acceptance of the theory of representation.

                A supporter will be someone who either views or simply never questions the theory of representative democracy as valid on its own terms or close enough, or who (a smaller number of critical thinkers) may view widespread acceptance of theory as better than widespread rejection of it somewhat independently of its ideal truth or falsity: So, much like religion, or simply as our modern/civic religion for all intents and purposes, as many have argued. In other words, there is a difference of opinion over whether the modern mass democratic state is or can ever constitute authentic self-government or, a different thing, authentic democracy. In my experience, the idea of accepting and even helping to propagate the true lie because the truths may produce worse outcomes, or because there are no truths to be had, infuriates when it doesn’t merely depress b-psycho!Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                No worries and thanks for the thoughtful response. You make me think of many things, and that is often my satisfaction in discussing these things with you whether we agree or not.

                Maybe the state is coercion. Of this I don’t know whether to be infuriated, depressed or joyful.

                To produce great conflicts there need to be great impasses. There are few better impasses than people wanting to coerce and other people not wanting to be coerced.

                If a stateless society does present a superior idea in the realm of individual preference, then effects of state power may some day diminish into obscurity.

                If a state is built, I say it is safe to consider a future revolution or faction event is built with it, only varying in moderation or shades of ugramm.

                The current state grows ever closer to considering individual anarchist thought as terrorism. It would have the very thought of statelessness as something to be feared, made illegal. To this, I smile often.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Wade McKenzie
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                says:

                @wade-mckenzie
                Admittedly I don’t see a whole lot of daylight politically between you and Ms. Steinem, but that is undoubtedly a function of what DavidTC above termed my “extreme viewpoint” (which he apparently thinks has something to do with my being a “small-government” conservative).

                What are you talking about? Where did I call you a small-government conservative? Or *are* you a small-government conservative, and you think I…referenced that? I rather doubt that, because I honestly have no idea of your political position. In fact, that comment of yours is literally the first comment I recall seeing of yours, although your name is vaguely familiar.

                I would like to point out, for the record, I didn’t refer to you *at all*. You said CK called himself a ‘liberal progressive’, which is a rather odd claim to make, so he said ‘What are you talking about? Why would I call myself a liberal progressive?’ and I responded to *him* that there are certain positions on the political spectrum where he *does* look like a liberal progressive, if we go far enough.

                If you chose to read that as that being about *you*, instead of the obvious joke I was making to CK that ‘To the anarchists, we’re all liberal progressives’, I don’t know what to say.

                My comment wouldn’t even make sense as a reference to you, because you didn’t say he looked like one to you from your viewpoint, you said he *described himself* as one.

                WRT your actual comment, I basically assumed that CK (and I) didn’t understand what context you meant by saying he called himself a ‘liberal progressive’…but that wasn’t really relevant to me so I didn’t bother to inject myself into that.Report

          • Avatar J_A in reply to CK MacLeod
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            says:

            If blessed King Henry taking Richard’s lawful subjects’ lawful property is a foundational moment that somehow blesses the Earl of Grantham’s ownership of Downton Abbey, and makes everything clean again, why wouldn’t Obama (hypothetically) taking over the health industry not be a foundational moment?

            Who decides what is a foundational exception? Pope Alexander VI (whose authority even Henry VII recognized) lawfully gave Houston to the King of Castille. Somewhere between 1493 and 2005 something happened and somehow I own land in Houston that should be His Catholic Majesty King Felipe VI’s property.

            In real life, several foundational moments occurred, including the Mexican independence, the Texas independence, and the Civil War. And in real life we have to accept that foundational moments will occur and cannot be re litigated. But it means that my property rights arise from despoiling someone else’s property rights, and thus reparations of some sort are owed, because we all are just a foundational moment away from being stripped of everything. A social/political system that is based on “Fish you, I’ve got mine.” does not recognize obligations to those who lost in the foundational moments lottery. That, I believe, is not only socially unhealthy, but also philosophically unfair. I cannot buy into a libertarianism that includes periodical foundational moments that are outside the system, and that restart the game with the players in different positions.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to J_A
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              says:

              J_A:A social/political system that is based on “Fish you, I’ve got mine.” does not recognize obligations to those who lost in the foundational moments lottery. That, I believe, is not only socially unhealthy, but also philosophically unfair. I cannot buy into a libertarianism that includes periodical foundational moments that are outside the system, and that restart the game with the players in different positions.

              The problem of the “exception” is a challenge to libertarianism or to the adequacy of the libertarian/liberal concept. (You’re not under the impression that I have been seeking to defend it, are you?) You might say that “the concept of the political” overwhelms “FYIGM” with “FYWGO”: “Fish you we got ours.”

              Now, in any FYWGO political order (i.e., all real-existing political orders ever, so far), some animals will be more equal than others. If some of them say FYIGM, they are able to do so only because they occupy a superior position within or are under the special protection of the larger FYWGO order. Their FYIGM is really FYWGO.

              [T]hus reparations of some sort are owed, because we all are just a foundational moment away from being stripped of everything.

              Such moments as authentic comprehensive creation or re-creation of a political order are in fact relatively rare – or generally resisted – precisely due to the insecurity that accompanies and defines them. They’re a bit more likely to occur or to occur with greater frequency in “frontier” conditions where the reach and status of law are inherently in doubt.

              Authentic political-foundational moments are necessarily more rare than exceptional “emergencies” or “crises of the state,” but they reflect the same problematic, and the latter always contain the potential of turning into the former.

              There is extensive literature on the subject, but we don’t need to turn to the books. We see the pattern repeated in seems like half the shows on TV sometimes. Where law is absent – due to catastrophe or negligence or somebody’s fiendish scheme – some brute arises and imposes order as he sees fit, and experiences relatively little difficulty attracting followers (including sometimes from among the mass audience) if he’s able to deliver some measure of security. Sometimes, he’s a good brute – John McClain, Dirty Harry, Rick Grimes. Very often, he’s not – Immortan Joe, The Governor.

              We tend to prefer the stories where the somewhat better if not perfect brutes overcome the worse brutes. Reparations to the defeated brute’s lackeys isn’t a subject that frequently comes up, but maybe it should.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I think your FYWGO description of how policies are ordered through history is totally accurate. Burke himself was arguing against a foundational moment and in favor of the FYWGO political structure of Georgian Britain.

                But both liberalism and libertarianism (as well as many other isms) aspire to be more than descriptive. They aim to be prescriptive, and we are supposed to align our society and laws according to its prescriptions, because, in the immortal words of DensityDuck “it will create the maximum utility for everyone”.

                And that where I find libertarianism (as well as other isms like communism and nazism and juche(ism) and Islamism) to be deficient. It (they) ignores big chunks of reality (each chose to ignore different chunks) because they would mess with the very easy model of shoemakers in forests,or homesteaders, or proletarians and evil bourgeois, or evil (insert evil other race here), or … You get my drift.

                Plain vanilla liberalism tries (and fails a lot, but keep trying) to be reality based. It does not start with (DensityDuck again) “…the priors and preferences that are generally agreed upon…”. So liberalism does not ignore that foundational moments are behind the current (real) property distribution, but brings forth the question of how to address the valid complaints of the non-propertied. Bismarck abhorred foundational moments like 1848. Hence he, a Junker, addressed the problem of how to avoid a new such moment. Et voila, the social safety net is created, both securing the FYWGO position for another generation or two, while addressing some fisheee valid claims. Perhaps Obamacare really solves an existing problem the best way possible within the existing USA economical structure. Perhaps it is not mandated broccoli consumption after all.

                Real life is complicated, and we try to ignore its complications at our peril. I’m suspicious of easy answers to complex problems. To start a prescriptive political system with a priori answers instead of real life questions has a very poor track record.

                P. S. I appreciate your engaging in this conversation. ThanksReport

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to J_A
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                says:

                J_A: P. S. I appreciate your engaging in this conversation. Thanks

                Likewise. I think we have some area of substantial agreement between us, but perhaps we can continue after I’ve delivered Part 2 of this series, when I can finish it up. (I’ve spent much more time in this comment thread than I originally intended, and I do have to get on to some other things!)Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to J_A
                Ignored
                says:

                “And that where I find libertarianism (as well as other isms like communism and nazism and juche(ism) and Islamism) to be deficient. It (they) ignores big chunks of reality (each chose to ignore different chunks) because they would mess with the very easy model of shoemakers in forests,or homesteaders, or proletarians and evil bourgeois, or evil (insert evil other race here), or … You get my drift. ”

                Tell me about the parts of reality that libertarians ignore, please.

                I’m desperately hoping that you’ve got something more than a wordy restatement of “sometimes bad stuff happens and that’s, like, bad, and stuff”.

                Or “there ought to be someone who helps kids who can’t read good and other stuff”.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Libertarians, like most liberals, cling to the fantasy that everyone is alike, little tabula rasas that can be moulded into shape.

                If you understand that it is really not true, than Equality of Opportunity is itself a fool’s bargain.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                “Libertarians, like most liberals, cling to the fantasy that everyone is alike, ”

                O Really? Most of the libertarians I’ve run into, in fact, don’t think so. The liberals yes, not the libertarians.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
                Ignored
                says:

                How the hell do you have a decent, fair free market with people deliberately playing on people’s genetic codes? Deliberately fucking with the assessment of value for personal gain and to hurt other people — when the other people are quite blind to the fuckery?

                These are NOT hypotheticals, kiddo.Report

          • Avatar J_A in reply to CK MacLeod
            Ignored
            says:

            J_A,

            If all we are doing when talking about traders in forest is try to make a isolate a microeconomic point, I’m all for it.

            The problem is when we move the traders in the forest from the descriptive to the prescriptive realm. The homestead model or the shoemaker model are so simplified that are useless as a basis to draw instructions on how to organize society and law. Because we are not shoemakers a forest.

            The model was too basic even in Burke’s time, when property and wealth -and liberty- where the privilege of those that had inherited both wealth and freedom from someone that had been a mate of some King sometime ago.

            Further, The Capitalist Revolution that came after Burke brought forth a new kind of property and wealth many times larger than the real property wealth that had been the base of all economic systems known to man: the property of rights to future revenue (*)

            Unlike real property, this wealth is not theft. No one had the rights of revenue from iPad sales before Apple built the first iPad. But also unlike real property, this wealth can be created, and can be destroyed. Do you want to buy shares on a VHS tape factory?

            The fac that most wealth nowadays is just extremely distributed rights to unpredictable revenue makes -in my mind- the homesteader libertarian model even less applicable. The Waltons own only 52% of Walmart, worth 150 billion nowadays. But tomorrow? It might be worth what it was worth 100 years ago: nothing. This 150 billion only exist because the Walton brothers built a business on top of an already existing system -created by a combination of state and private actors- and were able to fulfill some unmet need, need that might be met tomorrow via Star Trek replicators,

            So when Obama said “You didn’t build this”, he has a point. The Waltons are just putting a temporary superstructure on top of an already existing system without which they would still be storekeepers in Arkansas.

            (*) of course this kind of property was know for centuries. The Romans had it. But the wealth associated to rights over future revenues had never been significant compared to the wealth associated with land ownership and land based activities.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to J_A
              Ignored
              says:

              “The problem is when we move the traders in the forest from the descriptive to the prescriptive realm. The homestead model or the shoemaker model are so simplified that are useless as a basis to draw instructions on how to organize society and law.”

              I love conversations like this. “Give me a quick statement of your philosophy.” “Okay, here.” “Well, that’s FAR too simple a philosophy to deal with the REAL world!”Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to J_A
          Ignored
          says:

          ” it ignores a background of rules, regulations and infrastructure that allows and supports all these people to transact. Containers have to be all the same size. Computer protocols must be coordinated. Farmers must be paid via letters of credit that must clear on the SWIFT System (ask Iran about not having access to SWIFT) with governments agreeing (or not) about the flow and convertibility of funds. ”

          uh, there were not actually any governments involved in doing that stuff. Standardized container sizes were not defined by a UN resolution. SWIFT was not the creation of the World Bank.

          If you want to tell us all about how private industry is unable to coordinate then you should probably not use examples of ways that private industry coordinated something!Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to J_A
          Ignored
          says:

          “managing public power and gas utilities (in the private sector) is my day job.”

          So, yeah, I guess what we’re doing here is asking a butcher why meat is the best thing to eat.Report

  4. Avatar Brian Murphy
    Ignored
    says:

    That’s some god-awful writing!Report

  5. Avatar pillsy
    Ignored
    says:

    I just noticed this for some reason, and hope it isn’t too late to respond.

    I think the core of our disagreement is that you appear to be implicitly assuming that a true commitment to free speech flows from a commitment to a (classically) liberal view of rights, and thus is appropriately rooted in property rights, in the manner of classical liberals. I disagree, and think that you can plausibly root a real commitment to free speech in all sorts of places, including the concerns of the left. I don’t think arguing that free speech rights flow organically from one set of fundamental principles or another means they aren’t real, though they may differ in key details.

    As for the left “cutting to the chase” and dispensing with free speech, it certainly can and has happened[1], but even classical liberals and libertarians aren’t immune to that. I attribute a lot of the American left’s interest in free speech on suppression it faced in the US, what with jailing of anti-draft protestors, banning information on birth control as obscene, or greeting civil rights protestors with dogs and firehoses. It’s also not all that hard to find examples of self-styled and very influential libertarians who were willing to wink at right-wing dictators overseas because they were protecting what really mattered: markets and property.

    I’m not trying to argue that all leftists have a genuine commitment to free speech, because I think some obviously don’t. I just don’t think that being a leftist entails not having such a genuine commitment, nor that a genuine commitment means that it won’t conflict with other values that matter to said leftist.[2] The latter is hardly unique–I think there are important ways that free speech is limited that seem entirely consistent with classical liberalism, and tend to focus on the importance of commerce and property. Copyright is the most obvious of these.

    [1] Though in most of those instances, you had a profoundly illiberal pre-revolutionary society replace by a profoundly illiberal post-revolutionary society, which seems like it’s relevant somehow. Revolutionary leftists have never had anything like that sort of success (and subsequent catastrophic failure) in liberal societies.

    [2] I think proposed restrictions around “hate speech”, or the similar feminist anti-porn crusading of the ’80s, are foolish and shortsighted, but not necessarily particularly indicative of hypocrisy. There are lots of ways to be wrong in this world of ours.Report

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