Thursday, July 28, 2005

Does it Make Me a Traitor?

I'm working on a book with a commie dedicated to applying libertarian thought to the socialist process. I know that sounds completely backwards (and like trying to put two north poles together on a magnet), but basically we are trying to show that despite their huge differences, there are areas they can be melded, and compromised with each other.

So... if I write taxes into my system, does it make me a traitor?!

(Don't worry, this is a what-if book, not a Jeanne-turned-into-a-tree-hugging-hippie-commie. I'm still a tree-hugging-hippie, but you'll never catch me being a commie)


Blogger Katie said...

Check out Laclau and Mouffe's "Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics." I've only read excerpts, but it seems like it may be a good starting point, perhaps to move from simply democracy working with Socialism to more Libertarian ideal. I'm not sure that I buy into it, but it may contain some nuggets of wisdom that are worth consideration.

9:04 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Hello Jeanne Marie, it is good to hear from you!
No, it doesn't make you a commie associating with those evil people, and it might even help you to understand where those commies are coming from so that you can fix them!
As a matter of fact, I got caught up reading a series of books this summer by Ken McLeod (maybe MacLeod?) that, while being brilliant science fiction pieces, also developed very impressive lines of political thought. The series included an account of two separate, and opposing, political societies: anarcho-capitalist and anarcho-socialist. Very interesting stuff, to say the least.
As it happens, I spoke with Steve Davies about these books and he told me that he knows Ken McLeod personally, or at least has met him and discussed the basis of the books. I wouldn't doubt that he may be able to get you in touch with McLeod, or himself discuss the interesting interplay between commie/socialist and libertarian thought. As far as I know, McLeod is a former Trotskyist but is now a rather anarchical fellow. Davies claims he is quite informed and prepared to defend both strains of thought amply, which I suppose has led to his attempted reconciliation of both.
Again, good to hear from you! I hope things are going well.


9:07 AM  
Blogger Hoss said...

Depending on your particular libertarian perspective, I think your project is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I know that if you are trying to start from Hayek and Marx, that your project would be impossible. They have radically different assumptions about the way humans and societies organize themselves.

I think that is also the case with starting from Ayn Rand and Marx, though I'm not familiar enough with her to definitively conclude that.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Steven Horwitz said...

Actually, John, the commonalities among Marx, Hayek, and Rand are much greater than you might think. I commend to you (and to Jeanne Marie) the work of Chris Sciabarra, who has done outstanding work on these issues.

See the following two books: (Chris's book on Rand which interprets her as a dialectician) (His book on Hayek and Marx - also excellent)

And for a more general treatment of libertarianism that sees the best way of explaining/defending it as "dialectic" and emphasizes its commalities with the left:

My own view is that libertarianism IS a progressive political philosophy that is more at home on the left than the right.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

I'm reading Mario Vargas Llosa's The War of the End of the World right now, and while I'm only 100 pages in or so, it certainly seems to have shades of both libertarianism and socialism. Most of the people I've talked to consider it pretty strongly libertarian but there are several references to communal property, life without money, and other quasi-socialist ideas of that sort. I don't know it will help much since it's a work of fiction, but I love the book so far so I thought I'd throw in a plug for it the next chance I got.

12:04 PM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Professor Horwitz,
Could you further explain your view that Libertarianism is more at home on the Left than the Right. In what way do you mean this?

8:44 PM  
Blogger Steven Horwitz said...

Clyde - I mean that I view my libertarianism as, essentially, sharing the values of the Left but believing that they have frequently chosen the wrong means to those ends. Historically, of course, classical liberalism was the left/progressive force against the conservativism of its time. This is also why Hayek wrote "Why I'm not a Conservative" in 1960. Libertarians have no interest in preserving/conserving the old orders of privilege and power.

In particular, Hayekian libertarianism is one that understands the unpredictability of the future and understands that culture and markets change in unpredictable ways, and that we can and should be open to such changes. Think back to my comments on cultural change and markets in my lecture on the family. Classical liberals have also shared the left's tolerance for cultural change and their opposition to US military adventurism. Classical liberalism's commitment to peace and free trade with all peoples, entangling alliances with none, puts us closer to the left than the right.

On a more personal level, I'm simply much more comfortable around leftists than conservatives. Perhaps this is a result of being in academia, but I find that I share more values with my leftist colleagues than with the professional conservative movement. Yes, we disagree on how to achieve those values, but that's a much more interesting conversation than the ones I have with many conservatives. I cannot imagine any circumstances under which I would vote Republican. I can imagine some under which I would vote Democrat.

This question is, to me, a really important one to talk about among libertarians - so thanks for asking me to clarify.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Priscillia said...

I think is an interesting point..whether libertarians feel more at home with the Left or Right.

I find myself somewhat in line with Prof.Horowitz's statement that personally I have more in common with leftists. However, where we differ is that I don't find myself voting Democrat because their vision that government will save the day is too overwhelming to dismiss. I can't imagine voting for someone that thinks what we need is a universal health care program...I could vote for someone who is for more privatization and thinks its ok to say God in the pledge of allegiance. Rationalization?..maybe. I definitely struggle to vote in this two party system, but i do recognize if we had too many parties then we'd end up with too many chefs spoiling the pot and we'd never have any change (ie France).

9:04 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Professor Horwitz,
Thank you for your response! It has given me a lot to think about. I did at one time have quite similar inclinations; I never imagined myself voting Republican; felt oppressed here in Utah under the Mormon Curtain and tended to blame Christian Converativeness for many evils; identified myself as a social 'liberal' and economic 'conservative'. After my time D.C. however, I was shaken somewhat in my beliefs. To try to put it succinctly, I have come to think that liberty in America has more to fear from the Left than the Right, admittedly by an often slight and muddled margin. But I must also admit that I am somewhat surprised to see an attempt to bridge the (what I have hitherto assumed to be an insurmountable) gap between Leftist political thought and Libertarianism, likewise am I surprised to hear your contention that true Liberals are likely to feel more at home on the Left than the Right. Having said that, I must clarify, as once I would readily have agreed. I guess it comes down to my holding that underlying all other freedoms is the economic one. I no longer suspect, as I once did, that protections of civil liberties is more important than property protections. In fact, if anything, I would suppose that it is the opposite. Obviously, this is jagged and leaves one in an uncomfortable spot. But I guess if I have to choose between two evils, I find today's Right the lesser of them.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Joseph Schultz said...

I must respectfully disagree with Professor Horwitz about libertarianism being more at-home on the left than the right. It is very likely the case that Professor Horwitz's brand of libertarianism is more at home on that end of the spectrum, but mine certainly is not.

I came to the IHS seminar as a conservative with some very strongly held views - none based on religious conviction or anything other than what I consider rational thought. What I discovered is that all of my views are libertarian in their perspective, though not necessarily mainstream with libertarians today.

There is a good libertarian argument for being pro-life, keeping drugs illegal, free-trade, not allowing 4 judges in Vermont (I think it was Vermont - maybe connecticut) to decide on social policy for the whole US (the gay rights debate), military engagement overseas, guarded privatization of our educational system, reducing the welfare state, ect. All these things and others are part of a conservative agenda; all how strong libertarian arugments in favor.

I will say that much of what the US's current President has done goes beyond these bounds. That said, most conservatives do not agree with the president on every issue either. I strongly doubt that most Democrats agree with Dean, Hillary, Kennedy, or Kerry (particularly the first and third).

I'd be happy to go over the arguments if people would like - but one at a time will keep my post under 10 pages. I know I went over a lot of them with people at the seminar.

7:13 AM  
Blogger monica said...

What I see is that even if in some issues the 'outcome' of libertarian and leftist ideas may be the same - eg opposition to militarism - each 'side' comes to this conclusion based on completely different and irreconcilable premises
(but of course living in a different country the left I'm talking about could be radically different from what you're talking about...), while the many differences of opinion between libertarians and what's traditionally called the right still allow for common views on some (dare I say many?) fundamental issues, such as individuality, responsibility, etc.

8:20 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

To Joseph and Monica, I agree with your assesments, both. And, no, the left here in America is not very different from yours Monica, just less successful so far.

And I would love to hear from you Joseph what a good Libertarian argument against drug legalization would be.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Steven Horwitz said...

Actually Joseph, I don't think there are strong libertarian arguments on the pro-life, pro-prohibition, pro-imperialism, and keeping legal marriage exclusive to heterosexuals side of the issues.
I think there ARE libertarian arguments against abortion (I think the pro-choice ones are stronger) and against the state having any role in marriage (one I agree with in a first-best world), but I don't think you can make a libertarian case AT ALL in favor of drug prohibition or the Bush administration's imperialism (defending the US proper is one thing...).

I'd love, like Clyde, to hear a libertarian argument in favor of prohibition and a libertarian (non-conservative!) argument in favor of "nation building" etc..

11:57 AM  
Blogger Joseph Schultz said...

Fair enough. Lets start with some clarifications though first. When I say that there is a libertarian argument against the pro-gay marriage types, I do not mean by default that we should ban gay marriage. Rather, I believe the government should stop granting marriage licenses entirely - leave it up to the churches to grant marriage recognition. Furthermore, the state should end the penalties in the tax code generally associated with marriage by simply not recognizing it as a tax classification. Rather, everyone should file taxes seperately. Various other rights that marriage generally entails can be just as easily obtained through normal contractual arrangements. Basically - the state should stay out of it. This is not a Democratic or a Republican position. But Republicans are right when they say that 4 judges in some state have decided for the country to legalize gay marriage. That is, frankly, a gross affront to a country which is supposed to be a democracy. If people insist on making a gay marriage is legal act of some sort, they should do it the old fashioned way by winning popular support.

Next one addressed would be the pro-life debate. Most libertarians agree that the state has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law, yes? It is also generally recognized that people have a right to be alive after they do indeed become alive. It is also generally recognized that people have a right to control their own bodies (as is so commonly tossed around these days). In the case of abortion, the mother's right to control her own body has been violated. That is obvious enough. But the unborn child, which I'm assuming to be alive (I will argue for the beginning of life at conception if need be), has a right to not die. This right is being violated by the mother by choosing to have an abortion. Both are negative rights, so which has precedence? I believe it is the right which is most crucial to liberty. Bottom line - killing someone ends all that person's rights. This seems a much grosser violation of rights than taking right of bodily control away from the mother - she is likely not going to die (though plenty of people have tried to convince me that the higher probability of her dieing due to childbirth somehow justifies the allowance of abortion). Basically the state has a right to intervene because the rule of law (right to stay alive, something considered an inalienable right) is being violated in each instance.

Moving on - the next topic mentioned is the prohibition of drugs. First and foremost let me say that I agree people should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as they do so with informed consent and do not limit other people's right to engage in the same activity. Taking drugs certainly does not violate the latter provision. The first provision, however, is a bit more tricky. I know plenty of people who, if they had been fully informed of the affect drugs would have on their life, would never have started. These people are generally so addicted now that they can think of little else. But that's neither here nor there.

Drugs are not a one-instance decision but rather have a heavy time dimension. In short, they change a person's preferences simply by the act of using them. This is true of most things, but preference changes are not nearly as dramatic as in the case of drugs. How, pray tell, can people have informed consent before taking a drug when their preferences will change so dramatically after taking said drug? The answer in many cases (not all) is that they can't. This is not to say that some people can't handle drugs - quite a few can. But a far greater majority cannot. I define 'not being able to handle it' as people who, upon taking a drug, have their preferences change so drastically that they no longer can function as they once did. In a word, the person is addicted - either psychologically or physically. Addiction, I think, is one of the great disparities in the libertarian tradition (just in case someone would like to discuss it).

I hope I didn't muddle that argument up too bad. Basically I'm questioning the whole fully-informed consent thing which is prefaced for voluntary agreement so professed by libertarians.

I know I stated that many Bush issues fall outside my own views, but I'll iterate. I agree that imperialism is not supported by libertarian arguments, but that wasn't what I meant by military engagement. I think most people argee that military use as a defensive tool is acceptable policy. Military engagement overseas can and is (as well as many other things I find questionable) being used as a defensive tool. Generally speaking, blowing up an airbase that's not in your territory that you have reliable evidence is going to be used to launch an airstrike against you would be considered defensive policy. The same can be said for Afghanistan - that government was funding terrorist training facilities. Terrorists have, I think, proven their ability and intent to strike against America, the West, and the ideas of democracy in general. I'm less certain about Iraq. Hindsight is 20/20, but without more direct evidence of Hussein attacking us (and not Israel - which he was doing), I'm not sure if a defensive strategy of engagement is justified. You could say that attacking an American ally is like attacking America, but that line of reasoning is a bit farsical. This is to say nothing of the WMD debate. I'll just say that if there was reliable evidence of WMDs, then Iraq engagement was justified, irrespective of whether those weapons were actually there or not. I know there are many areas where Americans are currently engaged. I suspect many of those deployments are offensive in nature (which is bad), but defensive deployment is common too (which is good).

I'm not going to give you a libertarian argument in favor of nation building. I never said there was one and I don't think one exists. Mainly, I don't support the idea as a government venture. Nation building goes beyond that moral obligation level into the morally virtuous category: those things you do because they're good to do, not because you have to do them. That said, I do think there is a very good conservative argument in favor of nation building - but that requires you to believe in the state serving as an agent of good in the world. I, obviously, don't believe this perspective to be accurate. That said, I do admire the position and support it much more strongly than the modern liberals' stance of blowing up the country, then leaving it high and dry (a position taken by many a prominant Democract).

11:37 PM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Thank you Joseph, for your arguments! I shall dwell on them.

10:35 AM  

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