Libertarian Purity

Via Reason, we learn of another righteous rant from J. Neil Schulman. It seems someone had the unmitigated gall to criticize his support for Glenn Beck on Facebook, resulting in Schulman launching a tirade on his blog eviscerating libertarians for their puritanical exclusivity. Schulman reminds us he was eating chicken and beans with Murray Rothbard before anyone had heard of the word libertarian, and that his book defending gun rights, which he calls one of the most popular books defending the right to keep and bear arms(I must admit, I never heard of it; I had to look it up. It had a grand total of 2 reviews on, cost him his marriage and a possible lucrative writing career in Hollywood.

But here’s the thing. We libertarians generally like to pride ourselves on logical thinking. So, appeals to authority,poverty,wealth,influence, number of books sold etc don’t cut the mustard. These are commonly employed logical fallacies. I’m not going to question Schulman’s own dedication to libertarian principles, but his so-called authority and influence mean squat in making a rational appraisal of Glenn Beck’s contributions to the libertarian cause.

The first thing to note is that Beck didn’t write this so-called “libertarian” novel, The Overton Window. He freely admits it was ghostwritten, just like all of his books are. Media figures and politicians use ghostwriters all the time when producing non-fiction work, particularly in the realm of politics, but for creative works of fiction, I think it’s a bit in bad taste to use ghostwriters and slap your name on it as the author. Beck says he came up with the story, and I won’t question that. But he is in no way a science fiction writer.

Beck has used his radio show and TV show to promote authors like Hayek, indeed the recent surge in sales of “The Road to Serfdom” can largely be attributed to Beck. Beck, in addition, has more or less borrowed from Tom Woods in his running critique of progressivism, a critique that once used to linger only in the obscure bowels of libertarian conferences, but which has now leaked into mainstream media and commentary. Are these good things? Yes, by themselves, they are. But it should be noted that progressivism, just like libertarianism, is hardly a unified ideology. While I think there should be an all out assault against “corporate liberalism,” it should be pointed out the there never would have been a self-identified libertarian revival in the United States without the historical revisionism of the New Left, which thoroughly debunked the New Deal State and the Progressive era. This scholarship played a vital role in the revival of laissez-faire(and by laissez faire, I mean the replacement of the political economy with the Catallaxy; I’m not referring to Ayn Rand’s idea of laissez faire, which is an Objectivist political economy).

From a libertarian perspective, there are a number of issues with Beck. For every show he may promote the likes of Hayek, he devotes equal time promoting the idea the America is Christian country and that liberty requires a religious, Christian foundation. This is an abhorrent message. One of the greatest threats to liberty, if not the greatest threat, is the confluence of State and Church. From a libertarian or liberal perspective, this shouldn’t even be a point of debate. Anyone who delivers a message to the contrary should be roundly condemned. No “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.” Another issue is where exactly was Beck before 2008? He says he has “changed,” but when I go to his website, I find documents like this, which puts him squarely in the cadre of the Bush Statists who are now fighting against the “radical Obama transformation” of America. Beck is a partisan and he is playing to partisan crowd, a crowd that saw Bush “defending America and Freedom.” Of course, the fact is that Obama, in reality, is just window dressing of Bush’s third term.

Schulman claims Beck has joined the “libertarian fight.” But I go to Beck’s website, and I see he is launching a new “liberty tour” with Bill O’Reilly. That’s a train to no where. Frankly, when I think of Beck, PT Barnum comes to mind. Suckerz. Schulman likes Beck because he plugged his book on his radio show. There’s coin to be made here.

In a subsequent post, Schulman demonstrates once again his version of libertarian purity, wherein he devotes considerable space to outing a private correspondence over a copyright dispute with a certain libertarian media organization’s publication of his articles. It’s plain as day obvious what organization he is referring to and who the director of that organization is. Hint: it’s the one Schulman sits on as a member of the advisory panel and the one that has a Creative Commons 3.0 license for redistribution/republication of all content. I should say I am a little taken back if that organization does subscribe to some version of a generational cycles theory of history attributed to William Strauss and Neil Howe, but I’m hardly surprised by the egotistical self-importance Schulman attaches to his own writings.

When discussing libertarianism and ideology, I think ideology is important, but ideology without dogmatism, for the most part. The only areas where I tend to be dogmatic on are “Church and State,” “war,” and “freedom of movement.” Other than that, most of my criticisms pertaining to the libertarian wars is where I think people are being disingenuous. I will point out when Cato types, such as David Boaz, claim that libertarianism is not anarchism, and that they have never met a libertarian anarchist. Right. I criticize the “Lew Rockwell” types, the Rothbardians, who mock the idea of “the constitution” in libertarian circles, but then go on conservative talk shows or go to conservative conferences, and pontificate about grave government usurpation of our glorious constitution. I don’t think you get anywhere by being dishonest and disingenuous.

Libertarians constantly complain about being in an ideological minority vis a vis libertarian justice/ethics. However, I’m not sure the battle is really conceptual anymore. I think the ideas of libertarian class theory, government failure, distrust of government, are fully part of the popular culture. Libertarianism doesn’t suffer from a conceptual problem; rather it suffers from an empirical problem. If there were concrete, viable empirical alternatives to the State in terms of governance, then think the case for liberty could be much more easily made…

8 thoughts on “Libertarian Purity

  1. “I should say I am a little taken back if that organization does subscribe to some version of a generational cycles theory of history attributed to William Strauss and Neil Howe”

    Not to worry — it doesn’t.

    The email which Schulman quotes reflects some personal beliefs of one person involved with the organization in question, not any formal, informal or nascent policy, doctrine or tenet of the organization itself.

    Furthermore, that particular email was clearly intended as a plausible explanation of why Schulman is so bull-headed on the issue of intellectual property, not an explanation of why his ideas on that issue might be wrong.

    In point of fact, the entire discussion skirted/avoided any arguments on the validity of intellectual property per se. The issue was that the organization publishes using a particular license, that Schulman wanted to contribute material and have it covered by a different, more restrictive license, and that he was pissed off that the answer was “no, thanks, that doesn’t fit our needs.”

    Tom Knapp
    Person Affiliated with the Unnamed Organization that Everyone Knows We’re Talking About

  2. Strauss and Howe aren’t some sort of C4SS policy of any sort, just a personal interest that I trotted out in the discussion with Neil. Comment #2 on the post is my response:

    “That said, no exception to our content licensing and publication policy will be made. Long before the excerpt above, specific business reasons for why that has to be that way were offered and you responded with counter-arguments that didn’t, as I see it, directly address those reasons. So, sure, I took things to a more abstract level with the above in order to suggest that you approach things more in an elder (anti-)statesmanlike manner. The fact remains that if we’re actively paying someone to do media placement work, we can’t risk having a newspaper editor who might cut a sentence or two from an op-ed get sued by a hot-blooded writer of ours acting all on their own. Among other reasons. Sorry.”

    1. Doug Stanhope’s view of Gen Y:

      Rothbard should serve as a cautionary tale about reliance on “Cadre movements.” Apparently, he viewed Gen X as libertine and baby boomers as poisoned by communitarianism, so he shifted to the need of a Christian cultural conformity as the breeding grounds to forge a cadre movement. This still has repercussions to this day. You could say “Rand Paul” is the final genetic creature. Well, it’s a monster., a progressive site, makes their living prognosticating that Gen Y will permanently shift the country “progressive,” They love to cite polls that show this demographic is far less skeptical of government than the preceding generations. well, they are sort of right on that count, and this is the first generation that has been reared from the start on the Nanny State. But, all things are never simply equal. This is taking place in a continual overall trend toward increased cynicism of government and continual government failure. Propaganda is important, but a more libertarian society is a spontaneous order that will evolve out the failure of government institutions. But this is the thing the National Security State is being designed to thwart.

  3. I love reading critiques from people who are so confident in their ideas they won’t sign their real-world names and give their c.v.’s so you can tell if they’ve ever actually accomplished anything by testable standards. It isn’t egotism if you’ve earned it. But then again, earning isn’t a big concept among socialists.

    It’s considered bad form for me to point out that I have accomplished something of note? Let’s have a pissing contest. I have an arc halfway to the moon with major-market sales, major endorsements and reviews, awards, acknowledgements for having actually done something. How about you? Done anything I’d respect? Give me a reason to regard you as worthy of being my judge.

    Never heard of my book Stopping Power? Let’s start that you can’t even navigate to the right page so you can correctly count the user reviews — or note that it carries an endorsement from Charlton Heston on the cover. You have heard of Charlton Heston? Academy Award? Ben Hur? You damned dirty apes? When alive president of the largest gun-owners group in world history? That’s the guy who said I’d written the most cogent explanation of the gun issue he’d read?

    Read back on my blog. I’ve been critical of Glenn Beck. But I think I’m qualified to say what’s a libertarian novel and isn’t. The Overton Window is. It’s now #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Excuse me if that sort of market penetration of libertarian ideas makes me happy, regardless of whether the bulk of the writing was done by Glenn Beck or co-author Jack Henderson.

    Self importance I attach to my own writings? I have a fan base built up over four decades from books, major magazine and newspaper articles, and screenwriting. You want to argue with someone how “important” I am? Start with the libertarians who give me awards for doing it … then take a leap to the libertarians who I’m gentle criticizing because they’re also my fans.


    1. I find it interesting that someone who holds the mantle of being one of the (intellectual) forefathers of agorism would criticize anonymity; then again, that tells me all that I probably need to know about you.

      However, if you noticed, I didn’t challenge your “libertarianess,” but I did challenge your incessant appeals to your own “status” in making your arguments. I do know a little something about “logical arguments;” appeals to “status” or “authority” are common logical fallacies committed by those who can’t defend their position. I don’t care if Ben Hur jacked his dick nightly to your autographed poster, the fact remains, that in the case of Beck, mixing a “libertarian message” with a necessity of religion(the necessity of being a Christian nation) is a perversion, plain and simple. You can’t address my counter-argument against Beck, instead you come on here and criticize my anonymity, demanding i unmask myself so you can compare my status relative to yours. Well, i have no status. I’m a nobody. No one would know who I was; i’ve never been to a any libertarian functions, meetings, conferences, etc. I have no associations with any politicians, party functionaries, etc I never published any formal libertarian papers.

      Your precious status is secure, but you are still wrong.

      And btw, as someone who made his living in the ‘black market” for a period of time, specifically in the drug trade and the sex industry, there aren’t any “meetings” or “conferences” where people gather to celebrate their status. People, acquaintances, i had to work with, some of these people ended up in jail and dead. You don’t know hell until you’ve been “rolled on.” The ethic is to keep your fuckin mouth shut. Some do, some don’t, and some have no choice. But I know your type. Anyone who abides by some ethic to roll over on private correspondence, as a matter principle, the ethic of the snitch, well, i just have to freakin laugh out loud. Keep up the good work. All I can say is God Bless you if someone is willing to buy what you are selling…

  4. re: why Neil is on the advisory panel

    Neil has some worthwhile things to say, but recognizing them requires a long process of training one’s own mental filter. I’ve already been through that process with him already just over the course of our casual interactions, so I might as well recoup some of the investment.

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