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Friday, March 11, 2005

Robert Locke Gets a Fisking!

The article "The Marxism of the Right" by Robert Locke, to be published in the upcoming March issue of The American Conservative, has been getting a great beating lately from the libertarian blogosphere, and for good reason. It's chock-full of misstatements and logical fallacies.

Perry de Havilland's post at Samizdata, "Marxism of the Right?," has already generated over 170 comments in just three days. In particular, I like these snippets:

...He asks libertarians many questions:

What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free?

Then is it in fact a "free society" to start with? Or is it just "less un-free" than some alternative? More correctly however "society" does not draft its "citizens" (and I prefer the more honest term "subjects"), only states do that... and the two are not the same thing at all.

What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?

PWN3DBut surely here the problem is not the origin of voters but rather unconstrained democracy. This is not an argument for controlling immigration but rather for sensible constitutional constraints which set the acceptable limits of politics.

..Locke rightly points out that libertarians come in many flavours but contrary to what he says, it seems to me that most libertarians I know have nothing against collective action (most rather like the idea of voluntary collectives like companies and associations) or altruism (most rather like charities and organizations like the RNLI or volunteer militaries etc.)... moreover they want roads maintained, diseases combated, children educated, garbage collected and fires put out as much as socialists and conservatives do. Where they depart from both the left and right statists is that they think all these things are more likely to get done effectively and more morally when they are not done at gunpoint (i.e. compelled by law)...

Also morally speaking, the "altruism" that the Robert Locke article says is needed for societies to function is not really altruism at all because surely it is impossible to compel altruistic actions. If my money is taken by force and given to another, that is not altruistic of me (I have no choice), it is not altruistic of the tax man (it is not his money) nor the person receiving the money (who is just the receiver of the benefits). This is hardly a surprise as the sort of conservatism one sees in places such as The American Conservative is really just utilitarianism and thus rarely has much to meaningfully say about moral theories.


My favorite post of all, and one of the funniest pieces I have read in a while, comes from Scott Scheule at Catallarchy, "Libertarians Do It Laissez-Faire." Here are a few of my favorite bits for the people who won't read the whole thing (but, really, reading it is in your best interests):
Flitting about as the first line, no less, the reader can catch a glimpse of this magnificent creature, the enchanting Blue-Beaked Ad Hominem:

Free spirits, the ambitious, ex-socialists, drug users, and sexual eccentrics often find an attractive political philosophy in libertarianism...

Ah yes, the old saw about pot and sodomy, so relevant to the validity of a political ideology (and Heaven forbid our philosophy should attract "the ambitious"). Well, if we're going to be judged by gross generalizations of the company we keep, perhaps it's only fair to return the ruling. Religious fundamentalists, ex-Klan members, creationist country bumpkins, homophobes, and lousy American Conservative columnists often find an attractive political philosophy in conservatism.

Ah, the father Ad Hom, joining its roost!

And libertarianism degenerates into outright idiocy when confronted with the problem of children, whom it treats like adults...

Almost as egregious a sin as treating adults like children, which has been the conservative philosophy to date. But speaking of outright idiocy...

What's this, fallacy-watchers? Binoculars up! It's a flock of Southern Black-Winged False Premises, returning from their northern migration. Let’s watch.

Libertarianism offers its believers a clear conscience to do things society presently restrains, like make more money, have more sex, or take more drugs.

I imagine someone as aged as Locke could believe there's no difference between allowing people the freedom to choose something and approving of that choice—but I don't think it's likely.

Incidentally, is there some kind of legal limit currently in force on the amount of sex I can have? If so, I better slow down.

...[L]ike Marxism, it has its historical myths and a genius for making its followers feel like an elect unbound by the moral rules of their society.

Which is why Micha and I go out every weekend looking for hoboes to shoot.

Libertarians try to get around this fact that freedom is not the only good thing by trying to reduce all other goods to it through the concept of choice, claiming that everything that is good is so because we choose to partake of it.

An interesting argument, considering most libertarians believe politicians choose to screw us over, and yet seldom find any goodness in the act.

Furthermore, the reduction of all goods to individual choices presupposes that all goods are individual.

OWNEDOnly if you believe that no individual will choose to act for the collective good—but if that’s true, how does one propose to make them vote that way?

Ah, zee majestic and rare Red-Tailed Strawman Argument. Let us watch its elegant approach:

The most fundamental problem with libertarianism is very simply: freedom, though a good thing, is simply not the only good thing in life.

Gosh, you wouldn't know it from Bush's preaching about the Middle East. Collateral damage be damned: freedom by executive fiat!

To be fair, all libertarians do believe freedom is the only important thing. Most of us will often skip meals and instead eat big warm servings of freedom. This is why so many of us are so skinny. And dead.

No sooner have the Strawmen taken their fill, but a pair of rambunctious young Post Hocs come bounding out of the nearby bushes:

A major reason for this is that libertarianism has a naive view of economics that seems to have stopped paying attention to the actual history of capitalism around 1880. There is not the space here to refute simplistic laissez faire, but note for now that the second-richest nation in the world, Japan, has one of the most regulated economies, while nations in which government has essentially lost control over economic life, like Russia, are hardly economic paradises. Legitimate criticism of over-regulation does not entail going to the opposite extreme.

Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, for instance, are two libertarian economists who refused to read anything published after 1863. (Milton thought old paper smelled better, and Hayek—well, "Nutty Hayek" they used to call him).

Moreover, what a ridiculously bad post hoc ergo propter hoc. Japan is regulated, therefore regulation is good. Nazis urinated, therefore all who urinate are Nazis.

A squawk in the sky, and then a timid Australian Fine Feathered Fallacy appears in the sky, chasing its own tail and making a lazy circle:

While it is obviously fair to let people enjoy the benefits of their wise choices and suffer the costs of their stupid ones, decent societies set limits on both these outcomes.

It is decent to limit freedom. How do we know? Because decent societies limit freedom.

And what outing would be complete without spotting a herd of the Long Toothed Outright Weird?

The libertopian alternative would be perhaps a more glittering society, but also a crueler one.

As opposed to the warm and welcoming bosom of conservatopia, where if you puff a joint or snort some coke, we'll lock you in a little hole, or, barring that, elect you President.

Libertarianism itself is based on the conviction that it is the one true political philosophy and all others are false. It entails imposing a certain kind of society, with all its attendant pluses and minuses, which the inhabitants thereof will not be free to opt out of except by leaving.

This is different from any other political philosophy how? Is it not true that believing one political philosophy is true entails believing the alternatives false? Or is Mr. Locke willing to admit that both conservatism and libertarianism are true? In which case, wherefore this dribble?

And how exactly are we to be free to opt out of the conservative imposition of society, "with all its attendant pluses and minuses," short of leaving?

Begged Questions flock to the brook:

Libertarians need to be asked some hard questions. What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free? What if it needed to limit oil imports to protect the economic freedom of its citizens from unfriendly foreigners? What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently educated to sustain a free society? What if it needed to deprive landowners of the freedom to refuse to sell their property as a precondition for giving everyone freedom of movement on highways? What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?

Yes, and what if an asteroid smashes into conservatopia, eradicating not only bacteria, but even Sean Hannity? What if the conservative forces of government don't properly mix altruism and selfishness? What if they curtail domestic liberties and implement an authoritarian state? What if Bill Frist crowns himself Emperor of the Tri-State Area?

And a lonely Striped Non Sequitur rustles through the nearby grass:

Empirically, most people don't actually want absolute freedom, which is why democracies don't elect libertarian governments.

OWNEDOf course. And, empirically mind you, most people want agricultural subsidies, tariffs, and massive amounts of pork barrel spending (they also want Presidents fellated in the Oval Office).

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