In Praise of Lazy Surfers, Stoners, Junkies & Freaks
Seems so sick to the hypocrite norm
Running their boring drills
But we are an elite race of our own
The stoners, junkies, and freaks
Are you happy? I am, man.
Junkhead Alice in Chains
Recently, while persusing Rational Review, I noticed this essay,Then and Now: The Thatcherite Legacy of Totalitarian Plutocracy, by Sean Gabb. I thought the piece quite interesting since it sort of echoed my last post(libertarianism vs libertarianism). We simply replace Reagan with Thatcher and there you have it. But Gabb’s piece was a little more practical and a bit more specific. Gabb defends the british working class against charges of laziness by excoriating the highly artificial political economy wrought by the Thatcherite policy regime. Gabb more or less rhetorically asks why the working class should be obligated(or demonstrate an allegiance) to the competitive terms of this highly artificial, plutocratic political economy?
We can apply Gabb’s insight to the current “Bleeding Heart Libertarian” debate regarding distributive justice. I noticed David Friedman has posted additional replies to his original rejoinder. Friedman, in part, asked what I had asked in my original post, “The Social Justice of the Police State,” in regards to Zwolinski’s rather contrived definition of “the poor” that excluded the “non-working.” Zwolinski responded with an admission that “concern for the poor” all along has been “a sloppy way of characterizing social justice.” Zwolinski admits what I had pointed out in my original post: “concern for the poor” doesn’t really mean “concern for the poor.’ Or as he puts it: “poverty as such will be neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having a valid claim of social justice.” Zwolinski further writes:
Some people will be poor but have no such claim—lazy surfers who are poor simply because they choose not to work, for example. Others will not be poor but will have a legitimate claim of social justice—those, perhaps, whose opportunity to live according to their religious beliefs is unfairly restricted by political institutions. There’s more to social justice than ensuring that people have enough money, and this, in our opinion, is an area in which the classical liberal tradition simultaneously shines and nevertheless still has some important work to do.
Zwolinksi still doesn’t nail down his definition of what properly qualifies as a “social justice claim.” Perhaps by his fourth or fifth response, driven by a skilled socratic method, he would finally get around to properly defining(or conceding) the definition. But I will save you the drama. What he is saying is this: if you choose to compete, whether you are able to or not, you are worthy of a social justice claim. If you choose not to compete, you forfeit any claim to social justice.
But Zwolinski’s definiton(and this is what he is actually saying, notwithstanding his inability–or refusal–to clearly state it) injects Gabb’s insight into the equation. If the competitive context is highly artificial and skewed toward plutocracy, what obligation or allegiance should any rational agent give to this thing? My argument would be to point out it is a perverted methodological misuse of libertarianism to use it to normalize political obligation. The proper use of it would be a positive examination of the given context that is normatively claiming moral obligation.
Frankly, I can reduce all this hypothetical, philosophical “blah, blah, blah” back and forth to a simple question and answer. Do you think the US Government is a Police State(in other words, a highly artificial political economic structure)? If you do, then obviously the BHL paradigm of social justice reduces to allegiance to the Police State as a condition of a social justice claim. If you deny that the US is a Police State, then the argument shifts to a positive debate regarding the artificiality of the political economy. If you make certain concessions about fundamental liberal violations, then the argument shifts to one about the possibility of reform/correction.
Personally, I would argue that any defense of the current artificiality of political economy would have a difficult time against a libertarian critique. I would also reject any claims of committing a logical fallacy because I am requiring you to prove that the US is not a police state. I think any rational agent would have to concede that in today’s context this is a legitimate question. Also note I am not positing violations against some Randian or Rothbardian NAP as evidence of a police state. Quite the contrary, I am a Hayekian and a liberal. I don’t see any conflict between the “welfare state” and liberalism if we restrict “welfare redistribution” to planning for competition. My definition of “liberal violation” is the classic historical liberal definition of it: the State as an artificial construct–that is, a compliance mechanism–serving as both the ends and means of compliance. Dialectically, this is most starkly evidenced by a “Security State.”
It would also behoove me to pit Sean Gabb against Matt Zwolinski in another relevant topic. Zwolinsky is noted for emphasizing the necessary role of a professional academic class to promulgate “liberty.” Gabb is perhaps best noted for his work(at least, it’s what I know him best for), “How English Liberty was Created by Accident and Custom–And then Destroyed by Liberals.” Gabb’s argument is that what we call “liberalism” was a product of anarchic custom. The later efforts of a professional academic/philosophical class to provide a normative foundation for it served only to destroy it. In particular, Gabb assails “British Utilitarianism,” the supposed foundation of “classical liberalism,” as the downfall of liberalism.
At the very least, Gabb’s paper should serve as a cautionary tale regarding the role the professional class plays in “promoting” liberty. Our modern experience only serves to reinforce this. It can be argued that the 2nd resurrection of the “classical liberal tradition,” represented by the “Chicago School,” served to underwrite our current condition of a financial hegemony of plutocratic totalitarianism(the legacies of both Thatcher and Reagan). By some’s count that might constitute “strike two.” Strike Three might very well be the likes of Zwolinsky denying the “Police State(the crooked umpire)” and normalizing the necessity of you to swing at Strike Three.
Admittedly, I’m not much of a philosopher. Although I don’t reject philosophy, I think a pertinent critique against it is that as a discipline, it is supposed to be primarily concerned with “what is the good life.” But by the time you get to political philosophy, this decision of the good life is usually taken out of your hands. The good life for you is usually erased by some greater moral claim of obedience. Liberalism at least puts political obligation up against an agent rational calculation. Generally, liberalism, whether “high/modern” or “classical,” allows space for individual agents to decide for themselves the “good life,” even within the limits of political obligation. But reading Zwolinski refer to “lazy surfers” disqualifies him from even being a liberal. No, I’m not making an argument that “surfers” should have their lifestyles subsidized. However, I am making an argument that agents who live their lives outside the approval zone(“moral judgements”) of Matt Zwolinski should not be penalized for it.1
But then again the beauty of scholarship, the redemption of it, can be illustrated by,say, Thaddeus Russell’s “A Renegade History of the United States,” or Jeff Riggenbach’s “In Praise of Decadence.” In both works, we find ample demonstration that the source of liberty does not rest in the moral judgements of a professional class represented by the likes of Matt Zwolinski. Rather, the source of liberty resides in the actions of people who don’t officially count according to Zwolinski. In the end, your local pot dealer represents more liberty than the entire professional libertarian class put together. You study philosophy to develop a bullshit detector against the moral claims of political philosophers…
1 Particularly, in a police state, the decision to live a life outside the “approved” bounds can incur a heavy cost…