Examining liberaltarianism

Clark has a post doing that over at Popehat:

It is excellent, and well worth your time.

Because I’m a nerd, and way more of an algebraist than an analyst, I like to find principles behind the things I believe and build frameworks out of them.  I’m not always a Good Scientist, trying to falsify my beliefs at every turn, but so far this approach has worked out pretty well for me.  One of the key principles behind liberaltarianism (I prefer the portmanteau because it’s a fun little context switch when you’re talking to people locked into a single-axis political mindset) comes from something Jim Henley wrote a while ago, distinguishing between government-provided crutches and government-enforced shackles.  Most of us libertarians and an-caps like to talk in terms of cuts to government spending, power, and pervasiveness — and then get indignant when “liberals” complain, because we’re including things like scaling back the drug war and opening up immigration law and how dare you suggest we just want to shut down pension funds and fire departments?  Henley sensibly suggests that liberaltarians should prefer to shitcan the more odious shackles first, and remove the crutches from the strong before the weak.

Clark strips this mindset to its foundations, pointing out that liberaltarians pay a lot more attention to the care/harm axis than “regular” libertarians.  This should come as no great surprise.

He also notes that

most [right-libertarians] picture ourselves as captains of industry and not as workers. Ayn Rand wrote about a lot about copper mine owners and train barons, and not much copper miners working 12 hour shifts swinging picks in the dark.

I’d quibble with this, just a little.  I don’t think right-libertarians picture themselves as captains of industry so much as identify with captains of industry.  We see those capital owners as successful wealth sprinters, people with impressive skillsets who worked a lot of eighty-hour weeks to get to the top of the ladder, and we like to think of ourselves as people who could do the same, at least in principle.  So we have a tendency to take soak-the-rich tax proposals as personal put-downs — “even if you finally make it to the big leagues, we’re still going to hate you” — and find the sanctimonious progressives who scold us for not voting in our best interests condescendingly tone-deaf at best.

That shit cuts both ways, though.  Those of us in the aspirational 14% need to recognize that there are a whole fuck-ton of people out there who aren’t.  As commenter jb puts it:

My problem with right-libertarians boils down to the Sympathy with Workers bit–I see how ordinary people, especially the poor, even the poor who are trying to better themselves, are screwed by the powerful in our system, and the way right-libertarians handwave that away annoys me. However, the left-statist solutions to that problem don’t actually work and impose injustice elsewhere.

It’s easy for someone like me to say “just learn some marketable skills and go get a better job” — and probably far more condescendingly tone-deaf.


7 Responses to “Examining liberaltarianism”

  1. 1 Matthew Walker
    December 31, 2012 at 17:57

    Not everything is identity politics. Maybe people think we should incentivize massive amounts of wealth creation because, I don’t know, maybe living in a third world poverty-stricken kleptocratic shithole isn’t paradse after all, even if you enjoy the exquisite progressive pleasure of forbidding anybody to be more successful than yourself? Massive wealth creation may have positive, you know, like, externalities. Like for example massive amonts of wealth sloshing around. Maybe mindless destructive envy isn’t the unstoppable force for good that some imagine it to be.

    Nah, it’s all just who you identify with. There’s a fixed amount of wealth in the world, and it can neither be created nor destroyed. That’s the ticket.

    • December 31, 2012 at 18:20

      I can’t tell whether you’re upset because you think I think trade’s a zero-sum game and ideological affiliation is nothing more than identity politics, or because you’re annoyed with the pure relativism of “everything is identity politics” in general and this is as good a place as any to rant about it.

  2. 3 Ish
    January 1, 2013 at 11:50

    My main problem with left-libertarians is the same I have with most of the left, the refusal to acknowledge that Evil exists. To wit, most leftists believe that everything will be okay if the Right People are in charge, liberal ‘tarians seem to acknowledge that there are problems with an all powerful state, but that somehow they can avoid that by creating a moderately powerful state with (say it with me) the Right People in charge.

    This is why I self-identify as a minarchist. I don’t want the levers of power to be attractive enough to interest the wrong people and don’t care if the Right People are behind them or not.

    • January 1, 2013 at 13:25

      Y’know, their City On The Hill might have a few public schools in it while mine has private storm drains, but as long as their d(Government)/dt has the same sign as mine — and in a meaningful way, not “keep your government hands off my Medicare!” — I’ll cheerfully work with them. Unless we hit the biological singularity in the next fifty years or so I’m vastly unlikely to live to see anarchotopia come to pass, so incremental progress is the order of the day… and I’m willing to bet that once the bleeding-heart libertarians see Kickstarter make the NEA irrelevant and the Minerva Academy and MRU start doing the same for public universities, their idea of the “minimum necessary size of government” is going to keep getting smaller.

      • 5 Ish
        January 1, 2013 at 17:31

        Oh, yes, I’d much rather work with them than against `em. Just because I don’t grok their philosophy doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize it has a lot more in common with mine than not. The right-wing of the spectrum, from ancap to minarchy to old-fashioned, straight up Republicans, have a notable tendency to “reject the good in pursuit of the perfect.”

        I could quite happily live in a Liberaltarian world, and would be estactic to see a Liberaltarian in office. I might not subscribe to their worldview or their newsletters, but I ain’t going to throw them out of the big tent.

        • January 2, 2013 at 16:19

          I think it’s the same philosophy, really, with different adjectives, and possibly a different focal length on the optics.

          I look at it as basically a variant of “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”, only, in this case the honey is “beer”, and it’s a question of whether people like IPAs or Pilsners. (And then there’s me, who just loves making beer flavored analogies. And beer. ;) )

          • 7 Ish
            January 2, 2013 at 20:50

            There’s also a “me against my brother; brothers against our cousin; cousins against the others” element to the whole deal. I won’t deny that.

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