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Kay Hymowitz, Libertarianism, and Lifestyle Excesses:

Like David Bernstein, I welcome some of the things conservative pundit Kay Hymowitz says in her Wall Street Journal essay on libertarianism, and of course I too appreciate her praise of the VC. At the same time, there are some significant shortcomings in her analysis. David has identified one of them: her treatment of the libertarian position on civil rights.

I want to focus on her embrace of the common fallacy that libertarianism requires endorsement of any and all private lifestyles, no matter how foolish or self-destructive. This very common criticism (especially by social conservatives) conflates that which libertarians believe should be legal with that which we hold to be prudent and right. There are lots of foolish and even immoral behaviors that libertarians believe should be legal. It does not follow that we believe that doing those things is a good idea. Hymowitz, unfortunately conflates the two:

[I]t is difficult to separate the reasons for our abiding social disarray from the trends that Messrs. [Brian] Doherty and [Brink] Lindsey praise and for which libertarians bear a measure of responsibility. Despite Mr. Lindsey's protestations to the contrary, libertarianism has supported, always implicitly and often with an enthusiastic hurrah, the "Aquarian" excesses that he now decries. Many of the movement's devotees were deeply involved in the radicalism of the 1960s.

Nor should this come as a surprise. After all, the libertarian vision of personal morality--described by Mr. Doherty as "People ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, as long as they aren't hurting anyone else"--is not far removed from "if it feels good, do it," the cri de coeur of the Aquarians. To be sure, part of the libertarian entanglement with the radicalism of the 1960s stemmed from the movement's opposition to both the Vietnam War and the draft, which Milton Friedman likened to slavery. But libertarians were also drawn to the left's revolutionary social posture.

To reiterate a simple but oft-misunderstood point: that which should be legal is not coextensive with that which is desirable or right. Libertarians believe that racist and communist speech should be legal; that does not mean that libertarianism implies support for such speech. The same is true of excessive drug use, cheating on your spouse, and so on. "People ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, so long as they aren't hurting anyone else" is not "the libertarian vision of personal morality." It is the libertarian vision of the limits we should place on the power of government.

Prohibition by the state is not the only way to combat immoral or self-destructive private behavior, and nearly always not the best way. Indeed, a large part of the libertarian case against government "morals" regulation is precisely the the argument that the state is less likely to do a good job in this area than private institutions such as families, religious organizations, and social norms. The superiority of private sector social norms and traditions over state regulation was one of the central themes of F.A. Hayek's work, which Hymowitz praises in her essay. And Hayek was perhaps the most influential libertarian scholar of the twentieth century.

There is a kernel of truth in Hymowitz's argument in so far as libertarians are far less willing than conservatives to condemn private behavior merely because it goes against tradition (especially a tradition imposed and maintained by government coercion). This, to my mind, is a strength of libertarianism rather than a weakness; all too many longstanding traditions vociferously defended by the social conservatives of the day have turned out to be morally bankrupt or worse. 1960s' conservatives' defense of the tradition of racial segregation (discussed in David's post) is a major case in point. Be that as it may, refusal to condemn private behavior merely because it violates tradition is a far cry from "if it feels good, do it."

Similarly misguided is Hymowitz's claim that libertarianism was "complicit, too, in the vociferous attack during the 1960s on the bourgeois family." From Adam Smith to F.A. Hayek and beyond, prominent libertarian scholars have emphasized the importance of families, and the consequent need to protect them against government intrusion. Part of Hymowitz's argument here simply relies on the broader fallacy of conflating legality with morality already discussed above. The rest consists of a discussion of Ayn Rand's distaste for family ties. Rand had a deeply dysfunctional personal life, which may in part account for her attitude. But that attitude had everything to do with Rand's personal shortcomings and little if any connection to libertarianism as such.

Lastly, some of Hymowitz's claims about individual libertarian thinkers are seriously off base. For example, it is simply not true that Murray Rothbard "became a fan of Che Guevara and the Black Panther leader H. Rap Brown" because of libertarianism's embrace of social liberalism. Like other communist regimes, Che Guevara's Cuba was highly repressive of alternative lifestyles, imprisoning homosexuals and generally enforcing sexual puritanism. Rothbard's support for Che had nothing to do with social liberalism (which he probably knew to be the opposite of communist policy), and everything to do with his foreign policy isolationism, which often led him to take an overly indulgent view of America's foreign enemies. That isolationism has long been a major bone of internal contention among libertarians, as Hymowitz recognizes. Far from embracing lifestyle excesses, Rothbard was actually very critical of the use of mind-altering drugs - a point noted in Brian Doherty's book, which Hymowitz reviews in her essay.

There is a serious debate between libertarians and social conservatives over the degree to which we should defer to tradition, and the extent to which government power should be used to punish irresponsible private behavior. Conservatives have some good points to make in that argument, and libertarians should attend to them. Unfortunately, the debate is not advanced by recycling dubious claims that libertarianism requires indiscriminate endorsement of any and all self-destructive lifestyles.

M. Simon (mail) (www):
How can drug use still be called destructive when people who chronically take drugs do so because of medical need?

Addiction Is A Genetic Disease

Heroin

PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System

People who think drugs are a "lifestyle" issue have bought into the "conservative" view of the subject. Of course it is why after 90 years of trying we have made so little progress. We are lost in "choice" when we should be focused on "need".

If we don't want people to take drugs to solve their problems then we have to make sure their problems are solved some other way. Of course that just multiplies government intervention. Better than jailing people for their needs and jailing their suppliers for serving those needs.
9.13.2007 3:05am
Ilya Somin:
How can drug use still be called destructive when people who chronically take drugs do so because of medical need?

That is surely try of SOME "chronic" drug users. I highly doubt that it is true of all of them, or even most. However, I do agree with you that drug use should not be banned by the state, and have criticized the War on Drugs on the VC repeatedly.
9.13.2007 3:08am
The Cabbage:
"People ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, so long as they aren't hurting anyone else"

Is it just me, or do most libertarians really avoid discussing abortion?
9.13.2007 3:22am
Cornellian (mail):
I think the example of parenting is something to which more non-libertarian conservatives can relate. Everyone would admit that some parents do a really lousy job of raising their children, but not so lousy as to constitute child abuse. Despite that we don't let the government micromanage how parents raise children, even if those particular children would get a better upbringing as a result. The reason is that we recognize that, overall, such a micromanaging approach would do more harm than good, because they'd lower the standard for far more well raised children than they would increase the standard for poorly raised children. This may be due to incompetence or the inevitable inertia of large organizations rather than malice or sheer probability (far more well raised kids than poorly raised kids), but the outcome is the same.

It's the same reason why we have to live with the fact that a certain number of people are going to turn out alcoholic, not because we think alcoholism is a good thing, but because Prohibition is even worse.

To me that all seems self-evident, yet certain people who call themselves conservative can hardly restrain their enthusiasm for moralizing about other people's lives and, even worse, trying to give that moralizing the force of law once they get elected to something.
9.13.2007 3:24am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Ilya,

Actually we don't know if it is a few, many, most, or all.

No comprehensive studies have ever been done on the subject. The closest we come is Dr. Lonnie Shavelson's book/study mentioned in the above "Heroin" link.

He found that 70% of the women chronically using heroin were sexually abused when children. So for women using heroin we can say the number is at least 70%.

My take on the subject: no one will do the study because our whole drug war will be seen to be based on a wrong premise. You might as well say insulin use is a life style choice.

Ever notice how hard the courst fight the medical necessity defense? There is a reason for that. it would open the floodgates.
9.13.2007 3:30am
Cornellian (mail):
"People ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, so long as they aren't hurting anyone else"

Is it just me, or do most libertarians really avoid discussing abortion?


I haven't noticed any particular aversion to the subject among libertarians. It's not that much of a stretch to consider a late term abortion as "hurting someone else."

I think a harder situation for libertarians is foreign policy, where it is not at all obvious to what extent a government of country A has an obligation to respect the freedom, privacy, economic interests etc of citizens and residents of countries other than A.
9.13.2007 3:31am
Tony Tutins (mail):
I would turn her thesis on its head. In contrast to libertarians, liberals and conservatives alike believe that it is essential that government tell people what to do, that people are incapable of behaving ethically without a cop pointing a gun at us.

I had a discussion once with an antigun activist who trotted out the line that the consumer product safety commission regulated toy gun safety more heavily than real gun safety. First, I pointed out that the Bureau of (at that time) Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had the charter to regulate guns. But then I pointed out that the safety of countless items she used every day, including the computer I'm typing on, are regulated not by government, but by a voluntary industry association. That the norms were set by a collaborative process among the manufacturers and the association. Further, that the association accepted the test results of the individual manufacturers, because the whole setup was based on trust that had been earned. And that, as a result, neither she nor her property had ever been hurt by a defective product. But to her mind, safety could only be guaranteed by government enforcing a law, a law that was free from industry involvement because industry sought only to get away with as much as they could.

I admit that Chinese manufacturers seem to be testing the limits of the trust system. Perhaps they are the "libertarians" that the author is worried about.
9.13.2007 3:31am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Cabbage: Here's my shorthand:
Abortions yes, Guns no = Liberal
Abortions no, Guns yes = Conservative
Abortions yes, Guns yes = Libertarian
9.13.2007 3:34am
Ilya Somin:
Is it just me, or do most libertarians really avoid discussing abortion?

There are plenty of libertarian writers who have discussed abortion: Richard Posner and Cathy Young among others. Like foreign policy, abortion is a source of deep internal disagreement among libertarians. For what little it's worth, my own view is that first and second trimester abortions should be permitted, while most late-term abortions should probably be banned. That view is, I think, consistent with libertarianism, but is certainly not the only position on abortion that could be described that way.
9.13.2007 4:10am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
I am a fledgling libertarian, with strong liberal tendencies. This blog has taught me a lot. I would change the shorthand to:

Drugs yes, guns no = liberal
Drugs no, guns yes = conservative
Drugs yes, guns yes = libertarian

I realized that most of my anti-drug war arguments could be used in reference to guns, and I have changed my position.

Religion is a whole 'nother can of worms, and it is what will probably prevent me from ever voting Republican
9.13.2007 8:09am
Cruising Troll:
There is no rational reason rooted in libertarian philosophy to come down in the middle on abortion. Either the fetus has zero, zilch, zip rights, and thus can be aborted up until the umbilical cord is cut, or the unborn child is a person from the moment of conception and cannot be aborted at all.
9.13.2007 8:55am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The question about "as long as no one else is injured" reminds me of The Kids in the Sixties, when, although their age, I was probably already an old man.

The "no one else injured" requirement usually meant having a really tight focus on the camera, metaphorically speaking. It wasn't a problem as long as the victim could be kept out of the picture. There could be victims galore, but as long as their was some way to claim separation--no matter how tenuous--"no one else got hurt".

The law exists to, among other things, deal with the self-serving rationalizations which insist that it really is okay to do this or that. And one rationalization is that, as long as I look someplace else, I can insist that no one got hurt.
9.13.2007 9:31am
mr. meade (mail):
Conservative: "Shamefully, our federal government has endorsed nosepicking for over two centuries. It is time we as a nation stopped cowtowing to those among us who engage in this practice."

Liberal: "The children must be saved from this. We need harsher penalties for acts committed near schools, daycares, and other places children congregate."

Libertarian: "What the fuck?"
9.13.2007 9:50am
Publius Endures (www):

There is no rational reason rooted in libertarian philosophy to come down in the middle on abortion. Either the fetus has zero, zilch, zip rights, and thus can be aborted up until the umbilical cord is cut, or the unborn child is a person from the moment of conception and cannot be aborted at all.

There are plenty of reasons a libertarian could come down on the middle on abortion. It simply comes down to how the person defines "human life". For instance, one could argue that a capacity for rational thought separates humans from animals; thus, the fetus (in this view) is entitled to protection from the moment it is sentient in some way.
This of course is just one example of how one can have a definition of human life other than "life outside the womb" or "fused egg and sperm cell". I can think of several other definitions of human life that have been advanced throughout the years: viability outside the womb being the most common (correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it was also Rothbard's position).
9.13.2007 9:51am
Guestster:
..."People ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, as long as they aren't hurting anyone else"--is not far removed from "if it feels good, do it,"...

Wrong. The two things are quite removed from each other.
9.13.2007 11:16am
Connie:
Is the value Libertarians place on the family the reason they often vociferously differentiate themselves from Objectivists?
9.13.2007 11:42am
Blackadder (mail):
I think, actually, that the value Objectivists place on every word ever spoken by Ayn Rand is the reason they vociferously differentiate themselves from libertarians.
9.13.2007 11:46am
anduril (mail):
You may wish to inject a Thomist view into the mix. According to Thomas Aquinas, government should not attempt to outlaw all sinful action but only the most serious forms. His concern was that attempts to outlaw all sinful action (i.e., to mandate perfection, or else) would upset the proper balance of government and liberty in an imperfect world--in other words, the supposed cure would be worse than the disease. Aquinas was a proponent of limited and representative government.
9.13.2007 12:04pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Prohibition by the state is not the only way to combat immoral or self-destructive private behavior, and nearly always not the best way. Indeed, a large part of the libertarian case against government "morals" regulation is precisely the the argument that the state is less likely to do a good job in this area than private institutions such as families, religious organizations, and social norms. The superiority of private sector social norms and traditions over state regulation was one of the central themes of F.A. Hayek's work, which Hymowitz praises in her essay.

I'm always uncomfortable with this line of reasoning. It sounds too much like puritan New England - church witch trials, scarlet letters, etc. I don't think most libertarians want to get rid of government tyranny and then replace it with a series of private tyrannies. I want the government out of my business, but that doesn't mean I want the town busybodies, prudes, kooks, church ladies, teetotallers, gossips, nannystaters, etc. into it all of a sudden.

Rand had a deeply dysfunctional personal life, which may in part account for her attitude. But that attitude had everything to do with Rand's personal shortcomings and little if any connection to libertarianism as such.

Do you know enough about Rand's family situation to say this definitively? There are situations where estranging oneself from family has nothing to do with one's shortcomings, and everything to do with the family's misconduct, criminality, dishonesty, abuse, sabotage, backbiting, betrayal, etc.
9.13.2007 12:13pm
Lloyd George:
Social conservatives and libertarians have interests that are fundamentally and diametrically opposite of each other.

As I see it, the approaches espoused by liberals, conservatives, and libertarians are essentially statist, private sector moralizing and megacorps, and no regulation of any kind.

These three approaches are flawed and the best solution, as I think, adopts and ameliorates the best of all three schools of thought. We live in an imperfect world and I would be wary of those who claim that their worldview is the sole answer.
9.13.2007 12:20pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
Kay Hymowitz clearly knows nothing about Ayn Rand, who was 1) anti-libertarian, and 2) anti-feminist.

Honestly, one wonders if she's actually read Atlas Shrugged or is just taking the snide slanders of conservatives at face value.

Ayn Rand was a moral absolutist, who presented an moral doctrine that was certain and rationally demonstrable.

And for (neo)conservatives to accuse of Ayn Rand of being a moral subjectivist demonstrates either stupidity or dishonesty. This from the people who believe in talking snakes, Red Seas parting, burning bushes talking, virgins giving birth, the dead rising, etc. Religious conservatives and their neocon handlers are the true moral subjectivists.
9.13.2007 12:28pm
Ilya Somin:
I'm always uncomfortable with this line of reasoning. It sounds too much like puritan New England - church witch trials, scarlet letters, etc.

I don't think most libertarians want to get rid of government tyranny and then replace it with a series of private tyrannies. I want the government out of my business, but that doesn't mean I want the town busybodies, prudes, kooks, church ladies, teetotallers, gossips, nannystaters, etc. into it all of a sudden.


Puritan New England was no libertarian ideal. It was the GOVERNMENT that mandated the scarlet letters, witch trials, etc. As for "private tyrannies," there is a limit to the harm they can do absent the ability to use government coercion. Indeed, private sector social norms can discipline the "busybodies" and "kooks" no less than the drunks and drug abusers.Both groups are likely to face criticism and social ostracism.
9.13.2007 12:28pm
Ilya Somin:
Rand had a deeply dysfunctional personal life, which may in part account for her attitude. But that attitude had everything to do with Rand's personal shortcomings and little if any connection to libertarianism as such.

Do you know enough about Rand's family situation to say this definitively? There are situations where estranging oneself from family has nothing to do with one's shortcomings, and everything to do with the family's misconduct, criminality, dishonesty, abuse, sabotage, backbiting, betrayal, etc.


No one can know definitively. But there is a lot of scholarship on Ayn Rand's life that paints a very unflattering picture of her personal attitudes and behavior. Check out, for example, Barbara Branden's well-known book The Passion of Ayn Rand.
9.13.2007 12:30pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
The suggestion that Ayn Rand was in some way anti-family is absurd. One of the most moving passages in Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand's description of family life as it ought to be. You can find it in Part III, chpt. 2.

Ayn Rand on feminism: "I am profoundly antifeminist, because it's a phony movement. To begin with, it's Marxist-Leninist in origin. It wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants 'independence' for women--government-funded independence, supported by taxes. Extorted from whom? From men, whose equals they claim to be. But men did not get established in this country with the help of the government. If women want to be equal--and of course, potentially, they are--then they should achieve it on their own, and not as a vicious parasitical pressure group."
9.13.2007 12:44pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
No one can know definitively. But there is a lot of scholarship on Ayn Rand's life that paints a very unflattering picture of her personal attitudes and behavior.

Yep, Ayn Rand had one screwed up personal life that was almost a complete contradiction to the political philosophy she espoused.

Of course Rand claimed she wasn't a libertarian, but I don't understand how Rand's philosophy is any different.
9.13.2007 12:52pm
TomH (mail):
After reading Atlas Shrugged I concluded that the way to become successful (in Rand's eyes at least) was to:
1) Have a confidence inspiring safety net of family wealth that one can always fall back on while one slaves away as a minor functionary at the lower rungs of father's giant company. This teaches character.
2) Then inherit the family's great wealth and use it to fund great projects that one works very hard to make successful.

Oh yeah, and make sure you have a mountain fortress of solitude to hide in at the time of the apocolypse.
9.13.2007 1:32pm
Tom Barnett (mail):
Rather than conservatives misunderstanding libertarian arguments, I think it's the reverse. I didn't read Ms. Hymowitz's article as criticizing libertarians for their opposition to government enforcement of private morality. I think her criticism is that libertarians aren't particularly concerned with harmful effects of private choices and, in fact, scoff at those who are. For example, suggests that high rates of out-of-wedlock births are harmful and prepare to be repeatedly mocked on Reason's comment site as a 50s sitcom tv dad strait-out-of squaresville.
9.13.2007 1:43pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I am profoundly antifeminist

She was profoundly anti-everything she didn't create. But then when she would then state her view on women's proper role in society it was indistinguishable from that of the feminists. Same as claiming she wasn't a "libertarian".
9.13.2007 1:43pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
Kay Hymowitz and libertariansim both get lobotomized at the same time that Ayn Rand is defended by Gus Van Horn:

gusvanhorn.blogspot.com/2007/09/latest-rand-bashing.html

Those who are inclined to snide, infantile comments should read the Van Horn post. It's a lesson in how argue according to principles.
9.13.2007 1:48pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Libertarians want either 1. drugs or 2. porn or 3. guns. The political theory is all window dressing.
9.13.2007 2:08pm
Hucbald (mail) (www):
""People ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, so long as they aren't hurting anyone else" is not "the libertarian vision of personal morality." It is the libertarian vision of the limits we should place on the power of government."

I just want you to know that I'm going to nick that. It's almost as good as the Jefferson quotation about it being none of my business what my neighbor does, "so long as he neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg." (Quoting from memory).

I can't tell you how many times social conservatives accuse me of thinking "you think almost everything is morally right." No, I don't. But I don't think private behavior that doesn't harm anyone outside of the participants in that behavior should be any of the government's business. I'm an LCMS Lutheran, for crying out loud.
9.13.2007 2:27pm
Seerak (mail):
But there is a lot of scholarship on Ayn Rand's life that paints a very unflattering picture of her personal attitudes and behavior. Check out, for example, Barbara Branden's well-known book The Passion of Ayn Rand.

For everyone else, if you've survived the self-confessions of Branden's work, Jim Valliant's "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" should help clean things up for you.

As for Hymowitz, the whole reason for making thing up out of whole cloth about Ayn Rand, such as this baseless "family as soul-killing prison" canard was to lump her in with Rothbard, Doherty and Lindsey etc.

That's because Hymowitz' can't afford to let Rand go unsmeared; she's too prominent, her work too accessible. If people found out that Rand not upholds moral responsibility, but criticizes the libertarians for the exact same flaws as Hymowitz does, that makes the latter look much less than forthcoming.

There is good reason for Hymowitz to do that, however; Rand's defense of liberty and individual moral responsibility blows to hell her equation of the capitalist principle of individual rights with the amoral whim-worship of anarchism. That leaves Hymowitz' subsequent invocation of that hackneyed old conservative talking point -- that too much "liberty" is bad for families -- exposed as the manifestation of power-lust it is.
9.13.2007 2:36pm
Ilya Somin:
I didn't read Ms. Hymowitz's article as criticizing libertarians for their opposition to government enforcement of private morality. I think her criticism is that libertarians aren't particularly concerned with harmful effects of private choices and, in fact, scoff at those who are.

Hymowitz seems to make both arguments. But both are wrong. As I tried to emphasize in the post, there is nothing about libertarianism that requires indifference to "harmful effects of private choices." To the contrary, libertarians have consistently argued that such harmful effects are best dealt with through the private sector. All that libertarianism requires is opposition to government control of those choices.
9.13.2007 2:48pm
Libertarianaut (mail):
"Anonymouseducator
I am a fledgling libertarian, with strong liberal tendencies. This blog has taught me a lot. I would change the shorthand to:

Drugs yes, guns no = liberal
Drugs no, guns yes = conservative
Drugs yes, guns yes = libertarian

I realized that most of my anti-drug war arguments could be used in reference to guns, and I have changed my position.

Religion is a whole 'nother can of worms, and it is what will probably prevent me from ever voting Republican
9.13.2007 7:09am"

I will try to be more accurate with this shorthand:

Drugs:Yes Guns:Yes, only for our JBTs =Liberals
Drugs:No Guns:Yes, only for our JBTs =Conservatives
Drugs: Yes Porn: Yes Guns: Yes but never for any JBTs = Libertarians

No one under any circumstances, has the right to initiate force against another. The non-aggression pact and how it works where the rubber meets the road is libertarian.

Yours Truly,
Libertarianaut
9.13.2007 2:52pm
Mark Field (mail):

It's almost as good as the Jefferson quotation about it being none of my business what my neighbor does, "so long as he neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg."


Jefferson said that in the context of religion. The full quote (from his Notes on the State of Virginia) is “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” He referred to beliefs, not conduct.
9.13.2007 2:53pm
Conservative Activist Judge:
Ilya,

Kay Hymowitz has a very good article on divorce.
Marriage and Caste.

conservatives: You can't have a successful libertarian society without strong families.
(Some) libertarians: If we had a libertarian society, we would have stronger families.
conservative: So why don't you want to make sure there are strong families?
libertarians: People should be free to have whatever family they want.
conservatives: But you told me yesterday that you know two parent families are best and you would never have a child out of wedlock, and you tell your children to get married. You also tell them not to do drugs, but you want to make that legal too.
libertarian: Yes. I think other people should be free to make their own choices, but I choose not to do those things.
conservative: But lots of people are doing those things, and they are trapped in poverty. They didn't get the message, and politically it's making a libertarian future less likely.
9.13.2007 3:08pm
Conservative Activist Judge:
Why don't you forcefully speak out against drug use, illegitimacy, and other social problems which you privately condemn? If you claim that you are just opposed to the government doing X, there is nothing stopping private individuals, including yourself, from opposing X. As a libertarian, I think a lot of conservatives would join up if they heard from libertarians, "We agree with your argument, X is bad, but we shouldn't use government. Here's a better way." When conservatives don't hear or see that, they are suspicious and question your motives, especially when you say something like, "It should be left up to parents" and there's only one parent who works all day, i.e. no one will do it.
9.13.2007 3:16pm
R. Richard Schweitzer (mail):
Here follows what I wrote to Ms. Hymowitz privately (through City-Journal.org) yesterday:

Ms. Hymowitz: 12 September 2007

Your article from “Commentary” run in the WSJ on the Libertarian viewpoints, framed by reference to the two books cited, was thought provoking.

Although I was a Sponsor at CATO for many years (from shortly after Ed Crane and Bill Niskanen came East from CA.) while I lived in Northern VA. through 2005, I noted its proclivity, like all think tanks (no less true of the M.I.), to spread out its areas of concerns as its revenues grew. I would have been better pleased to see some degree of “self examination” along the lines of your review of viewpoints. Somewhat in the vein that Hayek wrote “Why I am Not a Conservative,” I have had to explain why I am also not a Libertarian as well. It is a point of moral suasion that you may have missed, or could not fully articulate; though you did mention “responsibility.”

What I have found missing is adequate consideration of obligations (responsibility being one form) as a fundamental, essential balance to individual “Liberty” in the sense adapted from J. S. Mill. I have found a lack of depth of perception, or incomplete understanding, of “Rights.” The Deontic – the sense of “oughtness” – is seldom recognized in current Libertarian concerns. There should be more recognition that individual conduct should not only “not harm” others, but must go beyond that to recognize, acknowledge and accept the existence of obligations that should be and often are directives of human conduct.

In fact, Libertarians, in particular, should come to acknowledge that the “Rights” we all take as so natural and “endowed” are really only the effects of obligations. Easy examples are Animal Rights – the obligations of humans in their relations with animals; Children’s Rights – the obligations of adults; Freedoms of Speech, Worship – the obligations of all not to interfere with those acts by others, and on and on. We have even enshrined the obligations that the mechanisms of governments shall not be used to interfere with or impede conduct.

It does seem odd that so few Libertarians have made the case that it is the commonality of recognized, acknowledged and accepted obligations that comprises the morality of a social order, be it Sparta with one set or Athens with another. Instead the concentration seems always on the exercise of “Rights.” Even so, the Libertarian views have more to offer for understanding and coping than all the rest.

R. Richard Schweitzer
S24rrs@aol.com
9.13.2007 3:26pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
It seems to be the libertarian's stock answer that private action will always be preferable to government action in solving society's ills. Of course how exactly this is going to work is never explained. Drugs should be legal but this will help or reduce the number of drug addicts exactly how (the vast expansion of legal gambling certainly hasn't reduced the number of problem gamblers)? Public education, certainly for all its flaws, one of the greatest achievements of western societies, should be completely eliminated and be replaced by what exactly? Education only for those who can afford it?
9.13.2007 3:45pm
hey (mail):
Ignoring the objectivists (but then who doesn't) I want to take on the idea that Communist speech doesn't harm anyone.

Leftists and Salafists are both engaged in an ongoing, decades-long conspiracy to commit, aid, and abet crimes against humanity. Anyone who willfully aligns themself with Stalinists, Maoists, Marxists, Qttubists, etc should be shown no mercy and no quarter. Propagandizing for a revolution and the murder of millions should be met with the same penalty as committing those murders, for they will not be illegal if they are to happen, for the Communists or the Salafists will be in power. Any and all support for Salafism and Communism si treason as well as part of an attempt to commit genocide.
9.13.2007 3:49pm
Ilya Somin:
It seems to be the libertarian's stock answer that private action will always be preferable to government action in solving society's ills. Of course how exactly this is going to work is never explained. Drugs should be legal but this will help or reduce the number of drug addicts exactly how (the vast expansion of legal gambling certainly hasn't reduced the number of problem gamblers)? Public education, certainly for all its flaws, one of the greatest achievements of western societies, should be completely eliminated and be replaced by what exactly? Education only for those who can afford it?

Actually, you can fill an entire library with libertarian books answering these various questions in great detail. I noted Hayek's work on social norms and traditions in the post as one famous example. The fact that you are not aware of these writings does not prove that they don't exist.
9.13.2007 4:04pm
Malvolio:
Libertarians want either 1. drugs or 2. porn or 3. guns. The political theory is all window dressing.
Everybody (within rounding error) wants drugs, porn, or guns. The libertarian political theory is that I will let you have them if you let me have them.
9.13.2007 4:07pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
To Conservative Activist Judge: Unlike many libertarians, Ayn Rand publicly condemned such actions (e.g. drug use, pornography, ) as disgusting and immoral. Furthermore, Objectivists, unlike many (but not all) libertarians, are moral absolutists and condemn subjectivism in morality.

The real issue for you is this: What are we to think of men who write such things as the Book of Virtues and turn out to be gambling drunks? What are we to think about ministers who condemn homosexuality and then get caught with male prostitutes? What are we to think of priests who call for government regulation of morality and get caught sodomizing little boys? I guess they're calling on government to help control their own perverse desires.

To JF Thomas: Public education as one of the West's greatest achievements????? Surely you jest!!
9.13.2007 4:18pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Everybody (within rounding error) wants drugs, porn, or guns.


Not true. Not even close.


The libertarian political theory is that I will let you have them if you let me have them.


Guns, why not, though not personally. No thanks to the other two.
9.13.2007 4:27pm
Jeff Hallman (mail):
Libertarians want either 1. drugs or 2. porn or 3. guns. The political theory is all window dressing.

Actually, I want all three. What's wrong with that?
9.13.2007 4:30pm
A.C.:
I'm perfectly happy with beer, mild erotica, and a bow and arrow set. People who want heroin, hard-core violent stuff, and AK-47s alarm me.

There's a continuum here, from no big deal through problematic all the way to Major Threat to Society. And it seems to me that many ideologues lose sight of this. People can be fine with a wide range of activities, favor private sector social controls for another set, and advocate a government ban on only a handful of particularly dangerous things. This seems to be the only sane way to approach the matter.
9.13.2007 4:47pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Public education as one of the West's greatest achievements????? Surely you jest!!

Surely I don't. Look at the scientific achievements of the twentieth century. Many, if not most of them were by people working at publically funded institutions or government research labs. Most of our great research universities are public universities. The leading university for libertarian thought in the country is a public university (how embarassing for you libertarians).

Public education made literacy something that was reserved for the well-off and made it a right of every citizen. If libertarians had there way, it would once again become a privlege, not a right.
9.13.2007 4:56pm
Crunchy Frog:
As someone who has both conservative and libertarian leanings on various issues, a few things have become evident:

1) Conservatives (and liberals) have a hard time with the notion that libertarian |= libertine. That libertarians believe people should be free to make their own choices does not mean they think that all said choices are beneficial, or should not be subject to public condemnation. If you fart in public, you won't be arrested, but you won't be liked much either.

2) Libertarians (and liberals) that freak out over the mention of God (or more specifically, Jesus) in the public square should get over themselves. Like it or not, Christianity has been the defining nature of American moral fabric since before there were Americans. Is it really necessary to eliminate every cross from the public sphere?

3) Opposition to abortion is not incompatible with Libertarianism, if you believe, as I do, that a fetus is indeed a person, entitled to the same protection by law that anyone else has.

4) the Libertarian Party will always be regarded as the kook fringe as long as it maintains its commitment to completely open borders and a head-in-the-sand approach to foreign policy (yes, Ron Paul, that means you, even if you stuck an R in front of your name).
9.13.2007 5:04pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Sheesh. I looked at my last post and realize I misspelled "publicly", "embarrassing", "their", and "privilege".

I certainly made a strong case for public education.
9.13.2007 5:46pm
Kent G. Budge (mail) (www):
What is law but the codification of social norms?
9.13.2007 6:47pm
Promethean:
"the term evokes an image of a scraggly misfit living in the woods with his gun collection, a few marijuana plants, some dogeared Ayn Rand titles, and a battered pickup truck plastered with bumper stickers reading 'Taxes = Theft' and 'FDR Was A Pinko.'"

The stereotype is not entirely unfair."

Of course all these things don't go together, but it must be convenient to lump together people who think that Taxes=Theft and that FDR was at least a collectivist with little interest in upholding the principles of America's founding with racist, pick-up driving, gun-carrying, marijuana growing loonies. That way you don't have to make an argument(or respond to them) about why taxes are somehow magically not equal to theft.

It's additionally convenient that Ayn Rand was anti-hippie and anti-drug, but gets lumped in with them in the same paragraph.

I'm not exactly sure how Ayn Rand is supposed to be anti-family. If being pro-family means blindly following what people who are related to you say and arbitrarily finding them important b/c you happen to share DNA, then I guess I'm anti-family too.

As I recall Ms. Rand had a profound respect for her own family. Particularly her mother and father who saw that someone of such intellectual intransigence would never survive in Soviet Russia and did what was necessary to get her out.
9.13.2007 6:54pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Just a few thoughts:

By creating an idiosyncratic view of the world that many readers found compellingly accurate enough to swallow the political views with which she liberally [hah] seasoned them, Rand is no more than the female Heinlein.

Because I expect to benefit from an educated society (more service providers, fewer dumbass voters) I support paying to educate other people's children. But I am not stupid enough to fetishize our current public school system. As critics have pointed out since at least the 60s, it works for some, and not at all for others. Once you submit your child to the system, you have to accept their methods and their curricula. People who would never take public transportation or even drink from the public water supply think public schools are beyond criticism, that any problems are attributable to inadequate pay. Yet these same people immediately dismiss the idea of teacher merit pay or pay-for-performance.

And I don't think anyone other than the author has that stereotype of libertarians. She is as clueless as the subject of libertarianism as the journalists who persistently call the Cato Institute a right-wing think tank.
9.14.2007 1:13am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Ilya-

Puritan New England was no libertarian ideal. It was the GOVERNMENT that mandated the scarlet letters, witch trials, etc. As for "private tyrannies," there is a limit to the harm they can do absent the ability to use government coercion. Indeed, private sector social norms can discipline the "busybodies" and "kooks" no less than the drunks and drug abusers.Both groups are likely to face criticism and social ostracism.

The puritan settlements were basically theocracies - they were governed by the clergy, church elders, etc. They were religious communities set up because their brand of religion faced repression in England. So for all intents and purposes the church was the government.

And I don't buy the notion that if private entities started forcing their notion of morality that they could be brought in line with criticism, ostracism, etc. There are minority vs majority problems and also issues of wealth, power, entrenchment, privacy, etc.

No one can know definitively. But there is a lot of scholarship on Ayn Rand's life that paints a very unflattering picture of her personal attitudes and behavior. Check out, for example, Barbara Branden's well-known book The Passion of Ayn Rand.

I don't have enough interest in this issue at this time to research it. But I will state that in some cases there are very good reasons for someone to estrange oneself from their family, and that this doesn't necessarily mean the individual in question is "anti-family".

Also note that there appear to be some that disagree with this characterization of Rand, see Promethean's comment above.
9.14.2007 2:53am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Bob from Ohio-

Libertarians want either 1. drugs or 2. porn or 3. guns. The political theory is all window dressing.

Not at all. We think people should be able to own and use many of those things as long as they aren't hurting anyone or violating their rights. But we also want lower taxes, less regulation, freedom from coercion and fraud, our fundamental rights honored, etc.
9.14.2007 2:59am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Ilya-

Hymowitz seems to make both arguments. But both are wrong. As I tried to emphasize in the post, there is nothing about libertarianism that requires indifference to "harmful effects of private choices." To the contrary, libertarians have consistently argued that such harmful effects are best dealt with through the private sector. All that libertarianism requires is opposition to government control of those choices.

Libertarians are against private control of these choices as well. What if there was a militant anti-alcohol group that grabbed the wine bottles out of your grocery cart in the parking lot and smashed them? Is that any better than the government preventing you from buying them? You can say that this would be a crime and tort - and it would. But this is only a step beyond what some conservatives are promoting with this "private enforcement" business.
9.14.2007 3:10am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Libertarianaut-

What is a JBT?
9.14.2007 3:12am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Mark Field-

He referred to beliefs, not conduct.

Not to pick nits, but he referred to speech. Which may or may not be considered conduct, depending on context and one's opinion.
9.14.2007 3:17am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Conservative Activist Judge-

conservative: But lots of people are doing those things, and they are trapped in poverty. They didn't get the message, and politically it's making a libertarian future less likely.

So forcing people to stay in horrible marriages is the answer?

Aside from that, drugs are already illegal and those things are still happening. Might it be that prohibition doesn't work? That banning a substance raises its price, thus increasing the incentive for suppliers to supply it. The more successful you are at creating scarcity through enforcement, the more attractive you make the endeavor for potential suppliers.

There is another feedback loop like this with taxation and government programs.

(1) Programs are created to help the poor
(2) High taxation levels are required to fund the programs
(3) High taxation levels inhibit the creation of societal wealth, thus increasing the numbers of poor people
(4) Repeat steps 1-3

This is essentially how socialism devolves - constantly requiring the state to do more with less because the ability of the private economy to create wealth is inhibited or eliminated.

So if the status quo is your preferred solution, I don't see how that is going to ensure a libertarian future either.
9.14.2007 3:57am
Cruising Troll:

There are plenty of reasons a libertarian could come down on the middle on abortion. It simply comes down to how the person defines "human life".

True, but then that definition has to provide adequate protection for comatose individuals (hmmm, can't live w/o outside aid, no consciousness, uncertain future, yet absolutely biologically human), the infirm, aged, handicapped, etc. Furthermore, if the definition somehow still manages to exclude the unborn child, then it becomes incredibly corrosive to any moral justifications for action intended to benefit future members of the human race.

I invite a definition of "human" that overcomes these obstacles, without being simple nihilism.

Respectfully Submitted,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Cruising Troll
9.14.2007 4:52am
The Hobbesian Father (mail) (www):
I would turn her thesis on its head. In contrast to libertarians, liberals and conservatives alike believe that it is essential that government tell people what to do, that people are incapable of behaving ethically without a cop pointing a gun at us.

I can't speak for other conservatives, but I for one think this is the case for a lot of behavior.

My favorite example is theft. Most libertarians wouldn't break into a store to steal a CD, but most libertarians (that I've met, anyway) have no problem downloading the music on that cd from various sources without paying the creator or distributor of the music.

Why? I believe it's because a person stealing a physical CD is far more likely to be punished than one who clicks a mouse and downloads a torrent.

If it were really all about sticking it to the music industry for charging $20 for 12 songs, it seems like the message would be more powerful if the actual CDs were stolen.


Another example involves speed limits. I drive every day to work, and I think I've seen maybe three people (other than myself-- I travel 55 because the mileage is better at that speed) who travel at or below the posted limit. Except, of course, when there's a cop visible. Then it's a sea of brake lights by people who just realized they might get caught breaking a law.


A third example is not about lawbreaking, but just about general morality. In comment sections (not so much like this one, which seems to have a lot of reasonable people in it even though I disagree with many of them), you read a lot of bilious, angry posting by people who would never say such things face to face. Why? Because in real life name calling people names over simple disagreements results in a punch in the nose.



In my experience with other people, I believe that the only reason my neighbor doesn't break into my house to steal my stuff is because he risks legal retribution. Absent that official threat, I don't put a lot of stock in people to do what's right. People don't do the right thing because it's the right thing. They do the right thing because the wrong thing carries unsavory consequences.
9.14.2007 9:28am
The Hobbesian Father (mail) (www):
I don't believe that many libertarians approve of all behavior, and I understand that allowing someone to do something stupid does not equate to endorsement of stupidity.


My main problem with libertarianism is that they think that, in the absence of laws (excepting laws against murder and the like), everyone would behave responsibly as they believe they themselves would.

In other words, a libertarian is a person who believe we should be able to get marijuana, machine guns, and prostitutes all in one place, then acts surprised when some idiot causes a 12 car pileup because he was trying to use them all on the way home. (The libertarians solution, of course, would be that there needs to be a narcotic dealer/gun shop/bordello closer to the idiot's home so he wouldn't have to drive on the freeway)


I would be more inclined to endorse libertarianism if there were actual social mores in place to replace the laws they would abolish. Goodness knows I never said the government was good at anything. But look around. Do you see a lot of upstanding behavior being promoted anywhere? Pop culture is awash in a hedonistic sensibility that accepts no personal responsibility for anything. People do stupid things, then they sue the people who sold the products that enabled their stupidity.

Figure out how to get the company that makes Bratz dolls to stop putting thongs on babies ( http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=bizarre&id=3765173 ), and then maybe we can talk about how we can use social pressures to discourage public indecency without resorting to legal measures.

If there were any such thing as shame anymore, I'd agree that it's a better way to preserve some important societal constraints. But we don't have shame anymore. And the "everything is allowable provided nobody gets hurt" mentality is one of many reasons for it.
9.14.2007 9:44am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
The Hobbesian Father-

My favorite example is theft. Most libertarians wouldn't break into a store to steal a CD, but most libertarians (that I've met, anyway) have no problem downloading the music on that cd from various sources without paying the creator or distributor of the music.

I agree. A dollar or so a song for MP3 downloads is reasonable.

I'm a libertarian and I argue with a lot of other libertarians about intellectual property. Some of them think that for some reason socializing intellectual property is consistent with libertarian philosophy, I don't think it is.

Another example involves speed limits. I drive every day to work, and I think I've seen maybe three people (other than myself-- I travel 55 because the mileage is better at that speed) who travel at or below the posted limit. Except, of course, when there's a cop visible. Then it's a sea of brake lights by people who just realized they might get caught breaking a law.

This applies to everyone, because nearly everyone speeds. This is more an argument for changing the speed limits or increasing enforcement, or both.

A third example is not about lawbreaking, but just about general morality. In comment sections (not so much like this one, which seems to have a lot of reasonable people in it even though I disagree with many of them), you read a lot of bilious, angry posting by people who would never say such things face to face. Why? Because in real life name calling people names over simple disagreements results in a punch in the nose.

Perhaps. But a lot of this is due to the detachment of the medium. The internet has enabled all kinds of abuses - cyberstalking, more effective defamation and smear campaigns, all kinds of privacy invasions, etc. A lot of the exchanges wouldn't escalate as much if they were taking place in person.

In my experience with other people, I believe that the only reason my neighbor doesn't break into my house to steal my stuff is because he risks legal retribution. Absent that official threat, I don't put a lot of stock in people to do what's right. People don't do the right thing because it's the right thing. They do the right thing because the wrong thing carries unsavory consequences.

I think you may have an incomplete understanding of libertarianism. Under libertarian philosophy all the laws protecting your person and property would still be on the books, so the "unsavory consequences" would still be there.
9.14.2007 12:14pm
Mark Field (mail):

Not to pick nits, but he referred to speech. Which may or may not be considered conduct, depending on context and one's opinion.


Fair enough. I was only suggesting that Jefferson's quote doesn't necessarily apply to unambiguous examples of conduct. It might, but it might not also.
9.14.2007 12:34pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
The Hobbesian Consequences-

In other words, a libertarian is a person who believe we should be able to get marijuana, machine guns, and prostitutes all in one place, then acts surprised when some idiot causes a 12 car pileup because he was trying to use them all on the way home. (The libertarians solution, of course, would be that there needs to be a narcotic dealer/gun shop/bordello closer to the idiot's home so he wouldn't have to drive on the freeway)

Again, all the laws protecting person and property would still be on the books. So aside from the charges for the drugs and the prostitution, the penalties for the rest of the offenses would likely be the same. So the libertarian solution would be to prosecute the individual criminally and civilly for the injuries and damage to property, nearly the same as the solution is now.

I would be more inclined to endorse libertarianism if there were actual social mores in place to replace the laws they would abolish. Goodness knows I never said the government was good at anything. But look around. Do you see a lot of upstanding behavior being promoted anywhere? Pop culture is awash in a hedonistic sensibility that accepts no personal responsibility for anything. People do stupid things, then they sue the people who sold the products that enabled their stupidity.

But the government isn't good at promoting upstanding behavior - that is best left to everyone else. Under libertarianism the laws holding people responsible when they injure someone or damage their property would still be there.

Figure out how to get the company that makes Bratz dolls to stop putting thongs on babies ( http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=bizarre&id=3765173 ), and then maybe we can talk about how we can use social pressures to discourage public indecency without resorting to legal measures.

Simple - boycott. If enough people agree with you about the marketing and the image of the show and products you might be able to cause change.

If there were any such thing as shame anymore, I'd agree that it's a better way to preserve some important societal constraints. But we don't have shame anymore. And the "everything is allowable provided nobody gets hurt" mentality is one of many reasons for it.

I think there is still shame, but the idea of what is shameful has changed somewhat. Look at the Vick dogfighting scandal - shame seemed to work somewhat there. So there are some things that are still shameful. But I do think it is good that people are not allowed to force their opinions of morality on others. Would you prefer a system like in some muslim countries where women get beaten in public for wearing makeup or leaving their hair uncovered? Or where people, mainly women, are killed for premarital sex?
9.14.2007 12:37pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
As a former libertarian (who still has respect for the ideas, if not carried too far), let me make a couple observations of why I am now a conservative.

1. Where I think libertarian ideas start to fall apart is the belief that the only socially destructive actions are those that involve direct violence against others. If you are a liberal, you can point to poor wages, lack of health insurance, lack of worker protections from workplace risks as examples. If you are a conservative, you can point to a society where drug and alcohol abuse is widespread, and where sexual promiscuity leads to STD-related public health problems. What liberals and conservatives share is a belief that individualism, carried to an extreme, is damaging to the society as a whole. Liberals and conservatives tend to disagree about which of these behaviors constitute risks sufficiently serious to justify government action.

2. Part of why I moved well away from libertarianism was trying to raise kids in a community where there were no rules--where the police would wave at 13 year olds smoking pot on the street. Kids with an extraordinarily strong sense of self can be the rulebreakers, and not go along with the majority. That's what I was in high school. I wouldn't smoke pot, or cigarettes. I wasn't a reflexive socialist. These were all rebellion against the majority. One of my neighbors there in California had a daughter who was that kind of a rebel, and refused to be part of the casual sex/drugs/alcohol supermajority. She was the class valedictorian. She also ate lunch by herself every day, because her "weirdness" (by liberal standards) made her an outcast.

3. As I completed my BA and MA in history, I discovered that libertarianism is based on a very misleading view of history (although I will agree not anywhere near as wrong as J.F. Thomas). American government was never libertarian, as much as some libertarians want to think so. The states were never laissez-faire, and neither was the federal government. They promoted business in ways that was often good for the society as a whole in the long run, good for individual corrupt businessmen, and often very bad for individuals who were injured by these interferences in the free market.

A good example is the federal government's grant of lands to railroads to encourage Western expansion. Those railroads definitely helped the development of national markets and the efficiencies that go with this. But it meant that railroads exercised and misused enormous economic power because of these advantages--and it greatly accelerated the collision of whites and Indians in the West, to the detriment of the Indians.

4. Libertarianism is heavily reliant on the concept of the rational actor--which is why it is such a popular concept among well-educated and intelligent people. There's a problem: a sizable minority of Americans (and people everywhere) are not rational actors. They make poor decisions based on ignorance and very short-term thinking. Libertarianism is a fine system for lawyers, engineers, and a few other smart, generally rational professions. But what about the rest of the population?

Libertarians bring a lot of useful critiques to economic and moral questions. A lot of libertarian ideas, if not carried to anarchist extremes, can be useful ways of asking, "Have we gotten a little too enthusiastic about government action?" But that doesn't mean that libertarianism is a viable system of government.
9.14.2007 1:26pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

But the government isn't good at promoting upstanding behavior - that is best left to everyone else. Under libertarianism the laws holding people responsible when they injure someone or damage their property would still be there.
Huh? You mean that when liberals talk about the "educative power of law" to justify antidiscrimination statutes, that these laws don't change attitudes and behavior?

If antidiscrimination laws can be justified on the grounds that they force people to deal with members of other races, and thus lose their prejudices, then anti-sodomy laws can be justified on the grounds that they force people to confront their immorality and the society's disapproval of it. You might find the first law one that you like, and the second one that you don't like, but the essential principle isn't any different.

Both liberals and conservatives believe that the government has a duty to impose morality. They just disagree about what those morals are.
9.14.2007 1:34pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


Figure out how to get the company that makes Bratz dolls to stop putting thongs on babies ( http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=bizarre&id=3765173 ), and then maybe we can talk about how we can use social pressures to discourage public indecency without resorting to legal measures.

Simple - boycott. If enough people agree with you about the marketing and the image of the show and products you might be able to cause change.
I'm glad to hear that Southern racism would have gone away because of boycotts alone.

I'll be fair: Southern racism was strongly encouraged by laws that requires businesses to discriminate, so that non-discriminatory businesses couldn't take "unfair" advantage of their status relative to racist businesses. Still, there comes a point where a large and wealthy minority can do enormous damage to a society, and strictly libertarian solutions don't seem to work.
9.14.2007 1:38pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

But I do think it is good that people are not allowed to force their opinions of morality on others. Would you prefer a system like in some muslim countries where women get beaten in public for wearing makeup or leaving their hair uncovered? Or where people, mainly women, are killed for premarital sex?
Unless you are an anarchist, you do prefer a system where people are "allowed to force their opinions of morality on others." Laws against murder, robbery, fraud, are all impositions of morality on others.

Perhaps you meant to include the phrase "non-aggressing" in there somewhere, and forgot to do so. But even then, liberals believe very strongly in imposing their morality on non-aggressing persons: antidiscrimination laws; gun control laws (though some liberals have actually woken up on this); land use laws; attempts to stomp out cigarette smoking in private through high taxes.
9.14.2007 1:41pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas writes:

Sheesh. I looked at my last post and realize I misspelled "publicly", "embarrassing", "their", and "privilege".

I certainly made a strong case for public education.
Your attempts at history in other threads make a strong case for education of any sort.
9.14.2007 1:44pm
Libertarianaut (mail):
Libertarianaut-

What is a JBT?

Sorry for the late reply. Jack Booted Thugs
I can explain further but don't wish to get too far off topic. Sorry all for the acronym.
9.14.2007 2:09pm
markm (mail):
Conservative Activist Judge-

conservative: But lots of people are doing those things, and they are trapped in poverty.

So your solution to someone doing drugs is, "You might ruin your life doing that, so we'll ruin your life for you." Would you also apply the same solution to someone cheating on his wife?
9.14.2007 4:50pm
juris imprudent (mail):

Libertarianism is a fine system for lawyers, engineers, and a few other smart, generally rational professions. But what about the rest of the population?

Usually Clayton, when I see this, I get to rebut the leftist presumption of elitism. In this case, it is the conservative elitist.

Do tell, if people are inadequate to the arduous task of living in a libertarian realm, how is it that they are capable of conducting themselves as citizens of a republic - wherein one of the 'duties' is to vote for political representation. If the "rest of the population" can't comport themselves without the shackles of the state, why do we consider them competent to exercise the franchise?
9.14.2007 8:59pm
Tim Fowler (www):
Lloyd George: - Re: "Social conservatives and libertarians have interests that are fundamentally and diametrically opposite of each other."

I don't really agree. The ideas themselves are different but not incompatible. Certainly most social conservatives have different opinions than most libertarians, but its quite possible to have social conservative ideas and think they generally shouldn't be enforced by government.
9.14.2007 9:00pm
Tim Fowler (www):
Peter McCormick - I admit I'm not an expert on Ann Rand, but I don't think she was really anti-libertarian. I recognize that she might disagree with me about that. The ideas she supported where largely libertarian. But she had some problem with anyone who didn't accept her ideas and accept them for her reasons. So she had a problem with "libertarians", even though IMO "Objectivists" are a subset of "libertarians". I do agree with you that she was no a moral subjectivist.
9.14.2007 9:08pm
Tim Fowler (www):
Bob from Ohio - Re: "Libertarians want either 1. drugs or 2. porn or 3. guns. The political theory is all window dressing."

So know you know what people want and why they want it, and the reasons behind all of their beliefs? I didn't know you could read minds.
9.14.2007 9:13pm
Tim Fowler (www):
Hobbesian Father - Many libertarians do have a problem with downloading copyrighted songs. Those who don't generally don't because of their conception of the nature of property, and the fact that they are not taking anything away from someone else. Fear of punishment may change someone's actions, its less likely to change their beliefs or the reason for their beliefs.

As for speed limits - Most people (libertarian or not) speed . I would guess a majority do so partially because they don't see it as being wrong. You seem to be assuming that "illegal" equals "wrong". Few if any libertarians would make such an assumption. They might stop speeding when they see the cop car, because of fear of getting a ticket, but that feat isn't the same as some imagined recognition that what they are doing is wrong.

re: "In my experience with other people, I believe that the only reason my neighbor doesn't break into my house to steal my stuff is because he risks legal retribution."

Not just legal retribution, also fear that you might attack the invader of your home. In any case libertarian doesn't equal anarchist. Legal retribution against a burglar isn't anti-libertarian.

Continuing on to your next post - Most libertarians don't believe that in the absence of laws people would behave with a much greater amount of responsibility. Most libertarians don't call for an absence of laws. They call for much fewer laws, controlling a much smaller area of our lives, not no laws. And they recognize that just as private individuals can act foolishly or irresponsibly, so can people who make laws or regulations, and people who enforce those laws and regulations.
9.14.2007 9:31pm
Tim Fowler (www):
Clayton E. Cramer -

Poor wages are better than no wages. Institute a price floor on labor and (assuming the floor is below the market clearing rate) you get an oversupply of labor compared to the demand, or in other words you price some people out of jobs.

Lack of health insurance isn't a "socially destructive action". It isn't an action at all. And it isn't destruction its a natural condition. Whether or not having the government give insurance to someone is beneficial, the absence of such a program isn't destruction.

As for drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity and STDs, there is a lot of doubt but anything but totalitarian control over people will greatly effect these things.

Re: "American government was never libertarian, as much as some libertarians want to think so."

Well perhaps the "as much as some libertarians want to think so" is true, but government was much smaller in the past. Most obviously in terms of percentage of the economy it taxed and spent, but also in many other ways. Regulation was far less extensive. There used to be no personal income tax etc. Government did get involved in many ways that don't fit in with the libertarian philosophy, but it was at the very least much closer to libertarian than it is now.

Re: "Libertarianism is heavily reliant on the concept of the rational actor" no more so than control by the government is reliant on the concept of the rational actor. Remember politicians and government officials are people too, and just as likely to be irrational as anyone else. Also they have incentives to support special interests.
9.14.2007 9:39pm
SenatorX (mail):
Sigh. No, libertarianism is a philosophy about individuality. In the spectrum of herd vs. individual libertarianism is a NON COERCIVE philosophy and yet not a proponent of anarchy. And no, "too much choice" does not equal force/coercion.

All this fluff when it's about power in the hands of the individual vs. the collective. The understanding of the folly that any one person or group can direct the rest of us. Popper and Hayek mesh completely in this philosophy as does the whole Austrian economic theory. Prices (information) are set by the distributed members of the system, all else is distortion of the price.

Rule of Law vs. arbitrary judgment (do the people know the laws and therefore can navigate them? or do authority figures make things up as they need/want to?)

Libertarianism is an actual answer to the failures of prior political and economic systems. It's just annoying that the attacks against it are always the same lame clichés. I would least attack us on fronts that have meat like "safety nets" and foreign policy.
9.15.2007 12:01am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton E. Cramer-

Liberals and conservatives tend to disagree about which of these behaviors constitute risks sufficiently serious to justify government action.

Good, let's default to the libertarian option of keeping the government out of it and letting private entities and individuals handle it.

One of my neighbors there in California had a daughter who was that kind of a rebel, and refused to be part of the casual sex/drugs/alcohol supermajority. She was the class valedictorian. She also ate lunch by herself every day, because her "weirdness" (by liberal standards) made her an outcast.

Interesting anecdote and I sympathize with the girl. But people are wacky, they ostracize others for all kinds of wacky reasons. I don't think this says anything much about libertarianism.

They promoted business in ways that was often good for the society as a whole in the long run, good for individual corrupt businessmen, and often very bad for individuals who were injured by these interferences in the free market.

I have no doubt that there has been crony capitalism and corruption throughout history in American economic and other policy. But there have been times that have been more laissez faire than it is today.

There's a problem: a sizable minority of Americans (and people everywhere) are not rational actors. They make poor decisions based on ignorance and very short-term thinking. Libertarianism is a fine system for lawyers, engineers, and a few other smart, generally rational professions. But what about the rest of the population?

Hmmm - the old "the masses are too dumb to manage their own affairs" argument. If that were the case these individuals would still be better off with a vibrant, strong, and growing economy under a libertarian scheme. If serious problems developed perhaps some voluntary default programs could be examined. A society with a strong economy and a large amount of societal wealth is better able to deal with the problems of some citizens than a stifled statist one.
9.15.2007 7:08am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton-

Both liberals and conservatives believe that the government has a duty to impose morality. They just disagree about what those morals are.

Yet another example of why we should hold to libertarian principles and not allow either side to attempt to legislate morality in most cases.

I'm glad to hear that Southern racism would have gone away because of boycotts alone.

Uh, he asked what to do about a kids TV show and line of toys, not about Southern racism.

I'll be fair: Southern racism was strongly encouraged by laws that requires businesses to discriminate, so that non-discriminatory businesses couldn't take "unfair" advantage of their status relative to racist businesses. Still, there comes a point where a large and wealthy minority can do enormous damage to a society, and strictly libertarian solutions don't seem to work.

I don't share the belief with other libertarians that all anti-discrimination laws are wrong, since some forms of discrimination do cross the line into being torts and crimes.

Unless you are an anarchist, you do prefer a system where people are "allowed to force their opinions of morality on others." Laws against murder, robbery, fraud, are all impositions of morality on others.

I was referring to morality beyond the protection of person and property, which are generally a given in libertarian philosophy. But I could have been more clear about this.

Perhaps you meant to include the phrase "non-aggressing" in there somewhere, and forgot to do so. But even then, liberals believe very strongly in imposing their morality on non-aggressing persons: antidiscrimination laws; gun control laws (though some liberals have actually woken up on this); land use laws; attempts to stomp out cigarette smoking in private through high taxes.

I never said that liberals didn't attempt to impose their moral values just like conservatives - they do. Note that I do think in some cases antidiscrimination laws might be warranted, since discrimination frequently crossed the line into crimes and torts.
9.15.2007 7:25am