Saving Liberty from the “True Libertarians”
I consider Thaddeus Russell’s “A Renegade History of the United States” to be a particularly important contribution to libertarian scholarship(even though Russell doesn’t explicitly identify as a libertarian). A mere reference to Russell’s work punctures the assumptions implicit in this post that attempts to equate true libertarianism with Burkean conservatism. From the post, “Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism”:
A “true” libertarian respects socially evolved norms because those norms evidence and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?
If socially evolved norms include the condemnation of abortion (because it involves the murder of a living human being) and the rejection of same-sex “marriage” (because it mocks and undermines the institution through which children are born and raised by an adult of each gender, fate willing), the “true” libertarian will accept those norms as part and parcel of the larger social order — as long as it is a peaceful, voluntary order.
The “pseudo” libertarian — in my observation — will reject those norms because they interfere with the “natural rights” (or some such thing) of the individuals who want to abort fetuses and/or grant same-sex “marriage” the same status as heterosexual marriage. But to reject and reverse norms as fundamental as the condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage” is to create strife and distrust, therefore undermining the conditions upon which liberty depends….
The pseudo-libertarian … is afraid to admit that the long evolution of rules of conduct by human beings who must coexist might just be superior to the rules that he would arbitrarily impose, reflecting as they do his “superior” sensibilities. I say “arbitrarily” because pseudo-libertarians have not been notably critical of the judicial impositions that have legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, or of the legislative impositions that have corrupted property rights in the pursuit of “social justice.”
Now as an admirer of both Hayek and de Jasay, I take the idea of the “ordered anarchy of social convention” very seriously. However, this author commits two related fallacies in his equation of his version of Burkean conservatism with libertarianism. The first fallacy is that an evolutionary social convention rules regime is not subject to evolutionary adaptation. We can identify this fallacy then as the argument from tradition. The second fallacy is not so much a logical one as an empirical one: the “tradition” is not the actual tradition.
The empirical fallacy is demonstrated by Russell’s volume. The so-called purported “tradition” was not the actual social convention rules regime. As Russell documents, state actors have devoted a great deal of concern with forcing social convention rules regimes to conform with “republican virtues.” And this fact leads us back to the first fallacy that destroys the “Burkean” claims of conservatives. Indeed, it is this fallacy that prompted Hayek to famously reject conservatism. 1
We can define the Burkean objection as offense to a “rationalist ought” in contrivance against the social convention rules regime. But the converse of this is a “traditional ought” in contrivance against the social convention rules regime. The latter is how Hayek defined conservatism and this is why he rejected it. Our blog author, who plasters Hayek across his his blog, is an expropriator. Hayek’s later identity as a “whig” was a statement of rejecting the claims of both the “rationalist ought” and the “traditionalist ought” against his increasingly evolutionary social framework methodology.
I often rail against conservative pollution of libertarianism. For good reason. It denies liberty while portraying itself as the true heir of liberty. Liberty is simply defined as “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others.” But there is a faction of those who argue that “do what you want” is in and of itself harmful to others. I count our conservative blogger among the deniers. Quoting his own words(taken from his sidebar):
John Stuart Mill opined that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” But who determines whether an act is harmful or harmless? Acts deemed harmless by an individual are not harmless if they subvert the societal bonds of trust and self-restraint upon which liberty itself depends.
It is quite a farce that those who deny the essential meaning of liberty to nonetheless claim to be the true libertarians. But is perhaps sadder that these deniers are cast as an example of “the pure libertarian critique” against the claims of “social justice” by the “bleeding heart libertarians.” I’m not sure which is the more egregious violation: our conservative calling the bleeding heart libertarians “left-statists” or the bleeding heart libertarians citing this blogger as an example of the hard-core libertarian argument. Coherence is not the valued currency of argument here.
For the record, and I repeat, the argument against the Bleeding Heart libertarians, the state-sanctioning variety, is demonstrated through their own violations of the liberal method. It is perfectly legitimate to use the liberal method to normatively argue political obligation to a Social Justice Regime. However, use of the liberal method obligates one to a consideration of the termination of political obligation. Specifically, when the regime exhibits the characteristics of a police State, including the Executive Branch’s resurrection of the pre-liberal concept of outlaw, the political obligation fails the rational test. The Bleeding Heart Libertarians cover up their liberal incoherence with endless syllogistic hypotheticals of market violations. Red Herrings. For a liberal, the pre-eminent consideration should be the reform or correction to restore the rational basis for political obligation.
“True Libertarianism” does not reside at the midpoint of a debate between methodologically incoherent conservatives and methodologically incoherent liberals. Of course, there is no such thing as “true libertarianism” to begin with. What is within our grasp is coherent libertarianism to deconstruct the incoherent bullshit….
1 The conservative bloggers blog byline “Gay “marriage”: a tyranny of a minuscule minority” actually demonstrates the tyranny of the “traditionalist ought.” It was the violent protectionist attacks by the State on the counterculture gay social rules regime that prompted the movement to try to incorporate itself into the “regime of republican virtues.”