I have a deep and abiding love for liberty—which is why I find myself so often in disagreement with libertarians.


Libertarians love liberty too, of course, but they tend to love liberty a bit differently. I love liberty in an earthy, elemental way. I love liberty because I need it—like I need air and food—for human flourishing. In contrast, the libertarians I’ve encountered tend to love liberty primarily as an abstraction. Indeed, the most ideologically consistent libertarians I know seem to love the principle of liberty in a way that undercuts the reality of liberty.

Love is often blind, and this type of love leads libertarians to have a blindspot about human nature. By not accounting for how humans behave in the real world, libertarians can set themselves up for a fall.

As the ancient Greeks used to say, when the gods want to punish someone, they give him what he prays for. That would certainly be true for anyone praying for a libertarian state. If such a request were granted the libertarian state would quickly be replaced by one in which freedoms were broadly curtailed. A prime example of what I mean can be found in the way libertarianism would have dealt with the recent housing crisis. Consistent libertarians would say that we must not separate choice from consequences, and so the proper response would be to let the banks fail and the mortgage holders lose their homes.

Let’s concede for the sake of argument that the libertarians are right and that this would have been the proper and preferable response. What would have been the effect of such a policy? The answer depends on whether you assume that America is secretly composed of 300 million libertarians. If it is, then we can expect that everyone would shrug and stoically accept their fate, even if it meant the annihilation of our economy. If it were not, then the result would be that few people would have the stomach to accept such consequences. The citizens would empower both progressives and the government to help them avoid the consequences of their actions. That is essentially what happened with the non-libertarian safety net that we already had in place. If Americans had endured the forced austerity required by pure libertarianism it would have lead to an even more empowered and intrusive government.

Libertarianism could be, in theory, the greatest political theory of all time. But in reality it suffers the fatal flaw shared by all utopian schemes: a failure to account for how humans actually behave.

This is why I believe conservatism (the non-ideological variety) is superior in reality to libertarianism. At its best, conservatism takes a realistic accounting of human nature before making policy proscriptions. It starts with what is possible in the earthly realm rather than what is merely preferable in the realm of pure abstraction. Conservatism recognizes that there are unchangeable and contingent variables that must be factored into every political equation. Indeed, conservatives agree with Edmund Burke, who said:

I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases. A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it; but a good patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country.

For libertarianism to be effective would require a revolution to wipe the political slate and start with a country that is nothing but carte blanche, a slate upon which they may scribble whatever they please.

At least that is what would be required at the macro level. At the micro level they can follow the lead of libertarian economist Bryan Caplan and retreat within their own “beautiful Bubble.”

Unlike most American elites, I don’t feel the least bit bad about living in a Bubble. I share none of their egalitarian or nationalist scruples. Indeed, I’ve wanted to live in a Bubble for as long as I can remember. Since childhood, I’ve struggled to psychologically and socially wall myself off from “my” society. At 40, I can fairly say, “Mission accomplished.”

Why put so much distance between myself and the outside world? Because despite my legendary optimism, I find my society unacceptable. It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked. Trying to reform it is largely futile; as the Smiths tell us, “The world won’t listen.” Instead, I pursue the strategy that actually works: Making my small corner of the world beautiful in my eyes. If you ever meet my children or see my office, you’ll know what I mean.

Caplan is an admirably consistent and realistic libertarian. He not only follows the logic of libertarianism wherever it leads (e.g., pacifism) but is fully aware that since he can’t make the world libertarian, he can at least retreat into his own libertarian world.

Of course he is only able to do this because non-libertarians make it possible. As Steve Sailer writes in the comments to Caplan’s post:

Of course, if there were a big war, it would be nice to be defended by all those dreary American you despise.

And, the irony is, they’d do it, too, just because you are an American.

Caplan responded to this claim by saying:

But doesn’t Steve make a good point about my lack of reciprocity? All these Americans stand ready to protect me. Don’t they deserve my appreciation?

Frankly, this is the kind of attitude I entered my Bubble to avoid. Three points:

1. I pay good money for these protective services. So I don’t see why my American defenders deserve any more gratitude than the countless other people – American and foreign – I trade with.

2. Since my American defenders are paid by heavy taxes whether I like it or not, they deserve far less gratitude than my genuine trading partners, who scrupulously respect the sanctity of my Bubble.

3. In fact, I think my American “defenders” owe me an apology. My best guess is that, on net, the U.S. armed forces increase the probability that a big war will adversely affect me. While they deter some threats, they provoke many others. If I lived in a Bubble in Switzerland (happily neutral since 1815), at least I’d know that I was getting some value for my tax dollars.

Caplan titled his post “Reciprocity and Irony” yet he seems to miss the irony that despite being such a hardcore libertarian he doesn’t place much value on liberty.

(I’m not referring to the monetary value, though Caplan seems to undervalue that as well. The “heavy taxes” that go to defend his freedom likely amount to about $1,200 a year. How is that not a bargain? Is the price per freedom per day not equal to the cost of a Starbucks latte?)

What Caplan misses in Sailor’s criticism is that the “dreary Americans” are not protecting him because of the pittance he pays in taxes. They are protecting him because they love liberty more than he does.

Caplan’s libertarianism leads him (rightly, I believe) to embrace pacifism. As he says, the foreign policy that follows from libertarian principles is not isolationism, but opposition to all warfare. The is internally consistent yet self-defeating since the conclusion is that libertarianism means loving liberty only to the point that you are not required to defend it by means of warfare.

In contrast, I—like many other veterans in America—served my country (fifteen years in the Marine Corps) precisely because I loved freedom. I loved it so much that I was willing to sacrifice some of my own freedom, or even my life if necessary, to secure it for myself, for my nation, and for libertarian pacifists like Caplan. He is able to afford the luxury of living in his beautiful bubble because other Americans have bought that liberty for him. For over two centuries, American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have paid the cost necessary to allow people like him to live freely. We have provided him with the safety and security he needs to crawl off in his elite bubble and forget that people like us exist.

Caplan is free to move to Switzerland, though I suspect he’ll keep his Bubble in Arlington, Virginia. As a libertarian economics professor at George Mason he’s smart enough to do the calculus. He knows that his optimal choice is to stay put and keep free-riding on the benefits provided by other people—whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian—who love liberty more than he does.


  • http://www.facebook.com/jenna.a.robinson Jenna A. Robinson

    So, you’re alleging that American soldiers would defend the United States even if they weren’t paid (with tax dollars) to do it? Just because they love liberty so much? That seems far-fetched.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

      In certain circumstances, yes, I am saying that they would defend the U.S. even if they weren’t being paid. 

      But their is an opportunity cost that comes with joining the military. Since most members of the military are not independently wealthy, they could not afford to feed and clothe themselves if they were not paid. By serving in the military they have to forgo trading the bulk of their labor for pay. The pay they receive in tax dollars compensates them for their time. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/housewar Matt Houseward

        A source of revenue for continuing the war effort is not the same thing as direct compensation.  Lots of people fight for free.  To demonstrate, let me ask: who pays the Taliban, who paid the Viet-Cong insurgency, who paid the Libyan Rebels, who paid the Dutch resistance, who paid the Zulus?
        You could pretty much pick a conflict at random and find a number of people aiding a defensive force for free.

    • RogerMcKinney

       Of course, soldiers must have food and ammo and they can’t work to provide that while they’re fighting. And their families need food and shelter. Someone has to pay.

  • http://twitter.com/jurisnaturalist Nathanael Snow

    The Libertarian identifies the injustice of the power structure.  The Conservative (wisely) says, “We can’t change that without creating new problems.”  The Christian says, “I will personally sacrifice to both free the oppressed and prevent any loss to the privileged.”
    There is no good reform without sacrifice.
    But Conservatives become sympathetic with the privileged if they do not heed the voice of the Libertarian.  The knee-jerk Libertarian might ignore the social costs of reform.  Public Choice Libertarians understand that the second-best route to reform (they don’t think sacrifice is rational, and they are right) is revolution at the margin.  Sometimes the margin means “within one’s own bubble.”
    That’s the approach many Christians take, “I’ll just try to raise my kids right.”  But they miss their unique capacity to generate creative justice through sacrifice.  They become settled in their Conservative security.  They eventually become sympathetic with the privileged, and blind to their own privilege.  Finally, they fall into defending privilege instead of working to subvert it.
    A simple test on privilege: are you for open borders?
    Nathanael Snow

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

      ***A simple test on privilege: are you for open borders?***

      While I’m not sure how good a test it is for privilege, it is a fairly good test of how consistent a libertarian is with their principles. While it may be possible, I don’t see how you can be a libertarian and *not* be in favor of open borders. 

      • Martial_Artist

        Mr. Carter, If you can’t see that, perhaps you need to read Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s book Democracy, The God That Failed, particularly chapters 7 (On Free Immigration and Forced Integration), 8 (On Free Trade and Restricted Immigration), and 12 (On Government and the Private Production of Defense). I think you will find that Hoppe provides quite a bit more cogent argument for the privatization of security and against open borders, than the straw man you appear to be assailing.

        Pax et bonum,
        Keith Töpfer

  • guest

    I hardly think consistent liberateriansm leads to Pacifism. It could lead to people defending their own property, but I think you’re stretching logic to support your own attack on the positin. Libertarianism DOES take in to account reality, which is why their looking to move things slowly back to less government (in most cases.)We should not simply fold our hands at a corrupt system and say “well let’s do the best within it, without working to change it that we can.” Of course, we should do both at once.
         To quote what is actually an INCONSISTENT libertarian as an example and then call him consistent is not good reasoning. A consistent libertarisn might be at most non-interventionist, but that is not the same as not believing that there should not be a military to defend the people. Certainly libertarins do not think that a counttry has the right to take it’s people money so they can police the whole world, but for the common defense they certainly do. Accepting reality without workign to chagne it is the kind surrender that will let evil run rampant.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

      ***but I think you’re stretching logic to support your own attack on the position***

      It’s not my claim, but the claim of a thoughtful and consistent libertarian. If Caplan is wrong about libertarianism leading to pacifism, them someone should make that argument and explain why. 

      ***Libertarianism DOES take in to account reality, which is why their looking to move things slowly back to less government (in most cases.)***

      Another one of the problems I have with libertarianism is that whenever it is critiqued, someone will come along and say “But libertarianism does X, and not Y” despite the fact that I present evidence that many libertarians do in fact hold position Y. 

      Unlike conservatism, libertarian is an ideology and a rather well-developed one. Many of the people who want to call themselves libertarian simply have not done their homework. They think that libertarianism can be defined any way that they choose. But that is not the case. While there are certainly a broad range of libertarian views, it is not infinitely flexible. 
      Take, for instance, you claim that libertarians are “looking to move things slowly back to less government.” I don’t think that is true at all. If I polled 100 card-carrying libertarians and asked if, given the power, they would instantly change America to a libertarian state, I suspect 100 of them would say they would. Libertarianism is not conservatism. Conservatives are the ones who want to “move things slowly.” 

      ***We should not simply fold our hands at a corrupt system and say “well let’s do the best within it, without working to change it that we can.” Of course, we should do both at once. ***

      Of course we should. But that is the *conservative*, not the libertarian way forward. 

      ***To quote what is actually an INCONSISTENT libertarian as an example and then call him consistent is not good reasoning.***

      My repeated use of the qualifier “consistent” was intentional. While I don’t agree with him on much, Caplan is one of the most consistent libertarians you will ever find. He doesn’t squirm, like many libertarians  do, when he finds libertarian principles lead to conclusions that most Americans would reject. 

      The reason most people are not consistent in their political philosophy is because they simply do not have the stomach for it. It’s one thing to take a moderately unpopular position (e.g., legalization of narcotics) and quite another to take a radically unpopular position (e.g., pacifism). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

    I think if you set aside your strawman version of what I said, you’ll see that my claim is unexceptional. 

    Let me put it another way: In the 1940s, who loved liberty more, the people who were willing to fight and die to protect European Jews from slaughter or the people who did nothing? It is my belief that those who were willing to give their lives to protect others not only loved liberty more, but that they were morally superior to the others. 

    I know it is not politically correct to claim that giving one’s life for another makes one a “better person” than someone who thinks only of themselves. But that is what I believe. 

    • RogerMcKinney

       So the slaughter of close to a hundred million people world wide was worth saving 6 million Jews? Not to mention the slavery and death under communism that people in Eastern Europe and China suffered for another 50 years because of our “victory” in WWII.

      • http://www.acton.org/ John Couretas

        Roger: What would have been the proper libertarian response (in theory at least) to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? Until that  event, Americans were still very isolationist, even after Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the entry of Britain and France into the war.

        • RogerMcKinney

           No libertarian, other than Caplan, has a problem with the US response to Pearl Harbor. But the attack is not all the story. On the eve of Pearl Harbor surveys showed that 90% of Americans opposed entering the war. As Hoover wrote, FDR poked Japan to goad it into attacking the US because the American people refused to go to war. A libertarian would never have goaded Japan into attacking.

          After entering the war, a libertarian would never have insisted on uncoditional surrender. He would have negotiated an end to the war so as to prevent as much death and destruction as possible.

          We defeated Japan and Germany, and gave the world Communist China and Soviet eslavement of Eastern Europe. Can we really say that the world was better off?

          Libertarians are much more humble about what the government can accomplish and fear unintended consequences, such as the rise of communism that resulted from our victory.

          • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

            “No libertarian, other than Caplan, has a problem with the US response to Pearl Harbor.”

            This is a great understatement. Plenty of libertarians disagree with this response, just as many prefer to demonize Churchill over Hitler (e.g. Pat Buchanan’s recent book on the topic–hugely popular among libertarians).

            This is the type of sentiment that drove me from the movement, illuminating its underlying disregard for the messy reality of things, as well as the frequent necessity for messy solutions.

          • RogerMcKinney

             I just don’t travel in those circles, I guess. Caplan is the only passivist I know of. Does Buchanan consider himself a libertarian? Can you name some other passivists so I can avoid them?

          • Miller_g

             It’s easy–and ultimately fruitless–to play “would have” games with the past.  It’s much like the mental version of the auto-erotic act: pointless.

            Would we have developed the atom bomb first had we not entered the war?  Would Germany or Russia have become the first nuclear superpower and wrought far greater death and destruction than we saw, perhaps even eventually enslaving the world?  Certainly possible.

            We don’t know and can’t say it wouldn’t be worse than it was. 

          • Roger McKinney

             What we know is that the Stalin was worse than Hitler and Mao worse than Hirohito.

          • Miller_g

            Stalin was not worse than Hitler.  The Nazi death camps killed 6 million Jews and 6 million other dissidents.  The Nazi war machine killed (by some estimates) another 31 million (including German casualties in the figure). 

            Historians estimate Stalin killed 12 to 18 million, all told.

            Hitler did so while being opposed by a coalition of nations.  Stalin did so while largely unopposed by a financially spent Britain and war-weary United States. 

            Were Hitler unopposed, can you really say he wouldn’t have done even worse?  We certainly can speculate as to his intentions…

            Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” starved some 50 million to death, and while deeply tragic and  misguided, was quite unintended.  That is different in quality to the intentional atrocities of the Japanese “Rape of Nanking”, Bataan Death March, and suicide attacks.

            Again, Mao committed his atrocities while largely unopposed, while Imperial Japan did so while having to divert substantial resources from atrocity to cope with Allied opposition.

            Mao and Stalin’s atrocities testify to the cost of sitting idly by and doing nothing, no doubt.  Which is why Ron Paul’s style of foreign policy is ultimately what keeps me from voting for him, in spite of the many areas on which I agree.  

          • Roger McKinney

             No, current estimates are that Stalin murdered close to 30 million in the 1920’s by starvation alone. Then add the tens of millions killed by him through all kinds of oppression and he holds the all time record.

            In addition, how many Hungarians and Czecks did he murder to put down their attempts at freedom? Then there is the Korean war.

            The most common figure I have heard for Mao is 30 million. So it’s OK if it’s unintentional? How do you know it was unintentional?

            And do you honestly think fewer people would have died if the US had attacked China and the USSR? That could have led to a nuclear war.

            Because the US and Britain opposed Japan and Hitler, they would have imploded after a couple of decades, based on Austrian economic theory.

            But because we supported the USSR, we enabled the empire to continue murdering people. We fed China and the USSR from the 1970’s until 1989. Had we opposed them as we did Hitler and Hirohito, both would have died or reformed much earlier.

          • Miller_g

             Okay, to continue…

            Another problem in your analysis has to do with anachronism.  To insinuate that we should’ve dealt with Mao “instead” of Hitler or Hirohito displays an ignorance of history. Mao wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a mass murdering despot (or potential one) in 1939.  He doesn’t start rural purges until 1946–after WWII is over and the U.S. is:
            1) trying to pay down war debt,
            2) engaged in the full-fledged occupation of a significant part of the world, and
            3) about to embark on the rebuilding of Europe under the Marshall Plan.

            Mao “officially” takes power in 1949 and reigns until 1975.  He will have 26 years to massacre millions.  Stalin took power in 1923 and reigned until 1953.  Hitler ruled from 1933 until 1945.  We’re comparing a man who killed his 30-45 million over less than 12 years (Hitler didn’t start out with the camps), with two men who killed theirs over a period of 26 and 30 years.  Stalin and Mao had more than twice the time to do their killing, and none of the international armed opposition. 

            Hitler was far more effective at killing in a far shorter span of time, and it logically follows he’d have easily outstripped his rivals had he been given the time and freedom from military pressure.  History made the correct choice.

            Your comment, “do you honestly think fewer people would have died if the US had
            attacked China and the USSR? That could have led to a nuclear war,” presumes that we’re talking about attack after 1949, the year Russia develops her first nukes.  China didn’t have them until 1964. 

            A strong case can be made that fewer people would’ve died if we’d fought the Soviets immediately upon completion of WWII.  That’s precisely what Patton wanted.  He saw the writing on the wall.

            They didn’t have nukes for another five years–and even then only because Oppenheimer leaked secrets.  Of course, the unanswerable question is whether Americans had the resolve to continue war, or if the country was too fatigued. 

            I think we both agree the morally right thing to do would’ve been to stop Stalin and Mao.

          • Miller_g

             Roger, the “30 million in the 1920s alone” is a ridiculous assertion. The figure I provided (12-18 million) came from a political science course I took at Vanderbilt University.  I can dig up the book citation and maybe even the professor’s name sometime if you want. 

            Go here ( http://necrometrics.com/20c5m.htm ) for a more comprehensive account of scholarly numbers, but I’ll excerpt a quote:

            “It may appear to be a rather pointless argument —
            whether it’s fifteen or fifty million, it’s still a huge number of killings —
            but keep in mind that the population of the Soviet Union was 164 million in
            1937, so the upper estimates accuse Stalin of killing nearly 1 out of every 3 of
            his people, an extremely Polpotian level of savagery. The lower numbers, on the
            other hand, leave Stalin with plenty of people still alive to fight off the
            German invasion.Although it’s too early to be taking sides with absolute certainty, a
            consensus seems to be forming around a death toll of 20 million. This would
            adequately account for all documented nastiness without straining credulity…”

            I never said that “if it’s unintentional, it’s OK”.  But there is a moral difference between intentional murder and negligence that results in death.  Just about every society’s legal system recognizes that distinction, including our own.

            More follow-up later, when I’ve the time…

    • Maggie

       Unfortunately, those “giving their lives” were actually much more focused on taking the lives of as many others as they could.

      Your claim is indeed unexceptional, particularly with today’s military-worship, but it is still wrong.

  • Bradford

    The author says: “Consistent libertarians would say that we must not separate choice from
    consequences, and so the proper response would be to let the banks fail
    and the mortgage holders lose their homes.”

    Consistent libertarians would have opposed the government interference in the marketplace for debt and housing that subsidized housing costs and concentrated banking into a small number of banks that were ultimately judged too big to fail.

    Consistent libertarian government policies would most likely result in a higher number of smaller institutions, which would most likely mean a healthier social economy and a healthier political economy as individual failures and successes would be distributed across a broader base of activity.

    • RogerMcKinney

       Good point! Libertarian policy would have prevented the crisis instead of laboring to clean up afterwards.

      • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

        How so?

        • RogerMcKinney

           Fed monetary pumping caused the crisis. Federal government housing policy exacerbated it. A libertarian government would never have done either.

  • RogerMcKinney

    “If it is, then we can expect that everyone would shrug and stoically accept their fate, even if it meant the annihilation of our economy.”

    So Joe must be a Keynesian economist who assumes the bail outs prevented the crisis from growing worse. Austrian economists think they made the depression worse; the interventions turned a financial crisis into the worst depression since the Great D.

    At worst, letting the big banks fail would have turned out no different than bailing them out did. At best, we might have avoided such a deep depression.

    At the same time, the public reaction to the bail outs has shown that they are very unpopular.

    “But in reality it suffers the fatal flaw shared by all utopian schemes: a failure to account for how humans actually behave.”

    Funny. Most libertarians think their philosophy is founded on human nature. Either conservatives or libertarians are wrong about human nature.
    “Indeed, conservatives agree with Edmund Burke…”

    As Hayek pointed out many times, libertarians are the modern descendents of Burke. Conservatives today have very little in common with Burke and Acton. Conservatives today are merely socialism-lite.

    “For libertarianism to be effective would require a revolution to wipe the political slate and start with a country that is nothing but carte blanche, a slate upon which they may scribble whatever they please.”

    Not even remotely close to the truth. Libertarianism would require a return of the Constitution; that’s all.

    “Instead, I pursue the strategy that actually works:”

    As Hayek said, that means always compromising with socialists until we achieve pure socialism.

    Sailer: “Of course, if there were a big war, it would be nice to be defended by all those dreary American you despise.”

    Sailer refers to Caplan’s pacifism, which is not libertarian.

    “… the foreign policy that follows from libertarian principles is not isolationism, but opposition to all warfare.”

    I don’t know any other libertarian today or in history that agrees with Caplan. So why does Joe take an exception to libertarian thought and portray it as the norm, or even the logical conclusion? Seems a bit dishonest to me. Mises and Hayek both served in the Austrian military and had no problem with defending their country. No libertarian today other than Caplan has that problem either.

    I wonder why Joe doesn’t address Hayek’s attacks on conservatives instead of picking off the easy targets like Caplan?
     

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

      ***I wonder why Joe doesn’t address Hayek’s attacks on conservatives instead of picking off the easy targets like Caplan?***

      As I’ve mentioned before, Hayek would not fit into the American scheme of libertarianism. As the the libertarian economist Arnold Kling has pointed out, Hayek is more a Burkean conservative than a libertarian. What Hayek opposed (and the reason he refused to call himself a “conservative”) was what passed for conservatism in the mid-20th century Europe. 

      Trying to claim that Hayek would be the equivalent of an American libertarian is like claiming that Lord Acton would be a leftist because he   called himself a “liberal.” 

      • RogerMcKinney

         “Hayek would not fit into the American scheme of libertarianism.”

        I have seen Kling’s opinion on that and I disagree. Hayek wrote that in 1960 after living in the US for a while. In his paper Hayek distinguishes between Continental and American conservatism. I think his paper makes clear that he was aiming at American conservatives.

        “Trying to claim that Hayek would be the equivalent of an American libertarian is like claiming that Lord Acton would be a leftist because he   called himself a “liberal.”

        No. That’s what you’re doing. Simply because Acton was a conservative does not mean he thinks like modern conservatives. Conservatives today don’t even think like conservatives before WWII. The appropriate name is neo-conservative. See Rothbard’s book on the betrayal of conservatism in the US.

  • A Pained Economist

    I am deeply disappointed by this hateful post.  I call it hateful because it disdains the founding principles of our nation.  No, not the pacifism that the author blames on libertarians…he conveniently ignores the fact that libertarians differ on this subject, and selects one particularly quirky libertarian as a foil for his comments.  I call it hateful because it disdains the very foundational principle of both a morally just and an economically sound world.  He disdains the key principle of American society that “we must not separate choice from consequences”.  Then he chooses to call that disdain “conservatism”, twisting a quote from Edmund Burke into a proof for his case that we should preserve the status quo AT ALL COSTS.  

    Ah, but the foolishness of this position will prove him wrong.  In fact, his desire that the banks be protected and that the housing bubble be re-blown is precisely what he has gotten.  The resulting years, nay probably decades, of recession are his well-earned result.  Yes, it is true.  There are global penalties for refusing to make people accept the consequences of their actions.  We now ALL must pay the penalty that Mr. Carter seems to believe should not be bourne by those at fault. 

    The desire to avoid consequences is the farthest thing from a conservative position.  It is the farthest thing from a Godly position.  It is the farthest thing from a moral position.  And it is a disaster economically.  Thank you for voicing the foolishness of the conservative movement that will walk your movement to defeat.  It is always instructive to learn from those who are self-destructing.  Lest we do likewise.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

      ***I call it hateful because it disdains the very foundational principle of both a morally just and an economically sound world.  He disdains the key principle of American society that “we must not separate choice from consequences”.***

      Oh, good grief. Where did I disdain the idea that “we must not separate choice from consequences”? I didn’t. In fact, my argument is based on the idea that libertarians cannot separate their choices from the (unintended) consequences that would follow from following their policy.

      ***Then he chooses to call that disdain “conservatism”, twisting a quote from Edmund Burke into a proof for his case that we should preserve the status quo AT ALL COSTS. ***

      I didn’t say that either. You really should go back and read my post again.

      ***In fact, his desire that the banks be protected and that the housing bubble be re-blown is precisely what he has gotten.***

      I guess you missed the part where I said, “That is essentially what happened *with* the non-libertarian safety net that we already had in place. If Americans had endured the forced austerity required by pure libertarianism it would have lead to an even *more* empowered and intrusive government.” What about the sentence makes you think was my preferred option?

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

    ***Libertarianism is realistic because it recognizes the mammoth danger of empowering the state to do things when human beings are sinful. This is an absolutely crucial point missed by many conservatives, who are happy to have the state do things they like, then are shocked and dismayed when it ends up doing things they hate.***

    Again, we find that an example of someone who doesn’t understand the difference between libertarianism and conservatism. Libertarianism does not take a position on human sin. Whether humans are inherently sinful or ultimately perfectible doesn’t really matter one way or another in the philosophy since it doesn’t change the underlying principle that people should be able to have maximum freedom. 

    Conservatives—at least traditional conservatives—have historically been the ones who recognizes the mammoth danger of empowering the state to do things *because* human beings are sinful. 

    ***That is a problem that can only be addressed by having a government with very limited, specifically enumerated powers, that forbids all but a few, necessary actions. That is a very libertarian construct.***

    No, actually its not. Libertarianism is, in a nutshell, the philosophy that advocates for a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” A government could be very limited, specifically enumerated powers, that forbids all but a few, necessary actions and still not be consistent with libertarianism. For example, the State may believe that securing the borders is a necessary action. That is consistent with limited government but not consistent with libertarianism. 

    ***As for pacificism and free-riding, that is a silly argument. For one thing, many libertarians — most, I’d guess — see the need for a strong defense, though they might object to lots of ways in which the military is used.***

    Depends on what you mean by “strong defense.” Most American libertarians believe that the military should only be strong enough to defend against aggression. I think that Caplan’s version of pacifism is more consistent with libertarianism since it recognizes that national boundaries are “morally irrelevant.” 

    ***Moreover, I served in the U.S. Army for four years — though not during war time — and while part of my motivation was a sense of defending freedom, I was also well paid, enjoyed blowing things up for a living, and generally thought it was fun. ***

    I don’t disagree. Almost no one has just one motivation for doing anything. But how many people did you know that did not include “defending freedom” in their list of motivations? My point is not that everyone in the military had completely selfless motivations but only that they were motivated to do more than Caplan is willing to do. 

    • NP

      Libertarianism does not take a position based on the term “sin,” but  recognizes that people are inherently self-interested and will tend to use state power for their own gain. And a Christian can (should) be a libertarian because he recognizes that same selfishness, which he calls sin.

      Conservatism (and at this point we’re bogged down in semantics) does not necessarily need government of specific, enumerated powers, but is primarily motivated to conserve those things conservatives deem necessary for a moral and “ordered” society. So they can have seemingly little problem balancing things that should cause them great cognitive dissonance, like supporting government programs that are “pro-family” while opposing government programs generally. Conservatives can be rudderless in terms of what they empower government to do while still feeling consistent as conservatives if they try to push government to support policies they like.

      As far as open borders go, again you ignore possible conclusions consistent with libertarian principles but inconsistent with your straw man. If, for instance, a libertarian believes it is the job of government to protect citizens from those who would impose harm on them, it is totally consistent to say that we should have border crossings and agents intended to keep the border closed to those who might threaten the citizenry. This is harder to argue when it comes to trade, but even then there is a perfectly acceptable libertarian argument that laborers should have to meet some requirements at least to help weed-out those who would do other harm.

      Finally, lots of people might have included “defending freedom” in their list of motivations, and I can’t read their minds, but I suspect many did that to make themsleves sound or feel good. And, frankly, my experience was more with people for whom the Army was a job with good benefits.

       

      • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

        ***Libertarianism does not take a position based on the term “sin,” but  recognizes that people are inherently self-interested and will tend to use state power for their own gain. And a Christian can (should) be a libertarian because he recognizes that same selfishness, which he calls sin.***

        Again, that’s is not what libertarianism is about. Libertarians aren’t primarily concerned about limiting state power because people are inherently self-interested (that is a conservative view). They are interested in limiting state power because when the state has more power it tends to interfere with the maximization of their own self-interest. 

        ***Conservatism (and at this point we’re bogged down in semantics) does not necessarily need government of specific, enumerated powers, but is primarily motivated to conserve those things conservatives deem necessary for a moral and “ordered” society. ***

        I agree. 

        ***So they can have seemingly little problem balancing things that should cause them great cognitive dissonance, like supporting government programs that are “pro-family” while opposing government programs generally.***

        I agree with you there too. That is why conservatives should be non-ideological and not try to impose an ideological template (e.g., all government programs are bad) where one is not warranted. 

        ***Conservatives can be rudderless in terms of what they empower government to do while still feeling consistent as conservatives if they try to push government to support policies they like.***

        Yes, that’s true. 

        ***As far as open borders go, again you ignore possible conclusions consistent with libertarian principles but inconsistent with your straw man. If, for instance, a libertarian believes it is the job of government to protect citizens from those who would impose harm on them, it is totally consistent to say that we should have border crossings and agents intended to keep the border closed to those who might threaten the citizenry.***

        You keep claiming that I’m presenting a stawman when I quote from sources like the Libertarian Party platform. Why is that?

        Here is another example: “Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders.” That is one of the core tenets of libertarianism. So how can you have closed borders and unrestricted movement of human capital at the same time?

        ***This is harder to argue when it comes to trade, but even then there is a perfectly acceptable libertarian argument that laborers should have to meet some requirements at least to help weed-out those who would do other harm.***

        There are? Can you point to a consistent libertarian that is making such arguments?

        • NP

          If you think a primary reason libertarians oppose state power is not that they know it will be used for ill by selfish people, you really need to meet some more libertarians. Indeed, public choice theory — very popular among libertarians — is rooted in the understanding that all people are self-interested, and government power enables them to pursue that self-interest unfettered by the need for voluntary cooperation of others. Libertarianism is as much defensive as it is about maximizing one’s own self-interest.

          Perhaps I’m wrong — please correct me if I’m misrepresenting this — but your open borders argument is the first I have labeled a straw man. That said, quoting from the Libertarian Party platform neither argues based on the core principles of libertarians, nor does the party speak for libertarianism. I sure don’t think whatever the Democratic Party says tells me what democracy is all about, nor does the Republican Party speak for republicanism.

          As for pointing to specific libertarians who make arguements I assert are consistent with libertarian principles, that dodges the point. You need to show where the principles are incompatible with the policy, not demand a reference to someone who has defended the policy. And as long as protecting the populace from those who’d impose themelves on them is consistent with some border controls, my principles and policy are in harmony.

          I have to say, I think you have repeatedly underestimated the ability of libertarians to defend their principles, both in terms of their consistency and real-world application. That said, it does make for some interesting (and lengthy) blog discussions, and helps us libertarian types keep sharp.

          • http://www.facebook.com/joe.p.carter Joe Carter

            ***If you think a primary reason libertarians oppose state power is not that they know it will be used for ill by selfish people, you really need to meet some more libertarians.***

            I didn’t state my point quite clearly enough and left too much assumed. For instance, when I said “Libertarians aren’t primarily concerned about limiting state power because people are inherently self-interested”, I left  it unstated that libertarians tend to think that self-interest is, all things equal, a good thing. 

            That is the reason I say that the are interested in limiting state power because when the state has more power it tends to interfere with the maximization of their own self-interest. It’s not self-interest that bothers libertarians, it’s self-interested people using the power of government to limit the ability of libertarians (and everyone else, of course) to maximize their own self-interest. 

            ***Perhaps I’m wrong — please correct me if I’m misrepresenting this — but your open borders argument is the first I have labeled a straw man. ***

            Sorry, you’re right. I think I may have been confusing you with another commenter.

            ***That said, quoting from the Libertarian Party platform neither argues based on the core principles of libertarians, nor does the party speak for libertarianism. ***

            While it it true that not every libertarian would agree with everything in the Libertarian Party platform, if it *is* in their platform then it likely  isn’t a strawman version of the libertarian position.

            But I chose that example because it tends to be something that flows naturally from libertarian first principles and is held by most hardcore libertarians (as opposed to those who are merely libertarian-leaning). 

             
            *** You need to show where the principles are incompatible with the policy, not demand a reference to someone who has defended the policy.***

            I think it is rather obvious (and suspect most libertarians would agree) that the principe that  individuals are sovereign over their own lives and should not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries is incompatible with a policy of closed borders. The idea that the government should be able to do something for people’s own good is not something that tends to carry much weight with libertarians. For example, the TSA’s used of body scanners may be used to “protect the populace from those who’d impose themelves on them.” Does that mean the TSA methods are compatible with libertarianism? If so, where are the lines to be drawn?

            ***I have to say, I think you have repeatedly underestimated the ability of libertarians to defend their principles, both in terms of their consistency and real-world application.***

            If I have underestimated the ability of ability of libertarians to defend their principles it is only because I’ve rarely seen it done—at least here in the comments section. The problem is, I suspect, most readers of Acton’s blog aren’t all that consistent in their libertarianism (which I consider a good thing). 

            Whenever I point to a libertarian who has provided a consistent link between their principles and their policy views (as Caplan does), everyone acts as if they are the oddballs. When push comes to shove, most libertarian I’ve seen are not willing to follow their principles to their logical conclusion. For instance, I’m still waiting to hear how Christian libertarians feel about laws against public nudity (an issue I raised in another post). 

          • Martial_Artist

            As to your comment that you “left it unstated that libertarians tend to think that self-interest is, all things equal, a good thing,” I would suggest that you have omitted a necessary condition which consistent austro-libertarians (who aren’t typically LP members) would impose, namely that we think that only in a society which is governed by the strict enforcement of property rights and of the Rule of Law.

            With regard to laws against public nudity Christian libertarians (or at least I, a Catholic libertarian) believe that public nudity would be a wholly unwelcome intrusion into the public square, and should be reserved for those places which are removed from public view (i.e., private property screened from public view) for a variety of reasons, including shielding children from forced viewing of same. You seem to conflate libertarians with libertines, an all too common category error, in my opinion.

            Pax et bonum,
            Keith Töpfer

          • Ray Ogden

            ” For instance, I’m still waiting to hear how Christian libertarians feel
            about laws against public nudity (an issue I raised in another post). ”

            I’m guessing if a Christian libertarian, such as myself, was to say they support such a law you would respond that it would be an inconsistent position with libertarianism?

            My answer, I do not want to see public nudity.  In the garden of Eden, I would fine with it.  In man’s fallen state I would not.

            How far back, in this country, do “no public nudity” laws go?  Do they not go back to a time preceding central government?  Back to a time when communities dictated public decorum?  Back to a time when non-compliance meant public ridicule or banishment?

            A person has a right to act in their own rational self-interest until that interest conflicts with the sovereignty of another individual.  Public profanity and lewdness being one of those infringements.  Those who wish to be part of a community that advocates such actions are free to form them in the confines of their own private property arrangements and we are free to not trespass into a nudist colony.

        • http://profiles.google.com/kdhall61 Kenneth Hall

          “Again, that’s is not what libertarianism is about. Libertarians aren’t
          primarily concerned about limiting state power because people are
          inherently self-interested (that is a conservative view). They are
          interested in limiting state power because when the state has more power
          it tends to interfere with the maximization of their own self-interest.”

          There may be consequentialist libertarians out there who use that construction, but by refusing to recognize deontological motivation for libertarianism Mr. Carter either works from a lack of knowledge, or is straw-manning.

          I came to libertarianism because it aggression is impermissible to the individual (the Ten Commandments are a fair encapsulation).

          So tell me: by what mechanism do we delegate a right we do not ourselves possess, having been forbidden it by the Word of G_d Himself?

  • RogerMcKinney

    NP and Martial Artists did an excellent job responding to Joe, but I have a few points to make as well..

    Joe: “Libertarianism does not take a position on human sin.”

    That’s not accurate. Libertarians insist on the rule of law because they know that evil people exist. They don’t use the term “sin” because they are engaged in a political discussion, but they are well aware of the sinfulness of man.

    Joe: “Conservatives—at least traditional conservatives—have historically been the ones who recognizes the mammoth danger of empowering the state to do things *because* human beings are sinful.”

    It’s good that you introduced the term “traditional conservatives” because as Hayek points out the conservatives of today are not traditional conservatives. Hayek shows that the conservatism of Burke and Acton does not exist in modern conservatism; it exists in libertarianism.

    Hayek didn’t like the name “libertarian” and called it made up. But he couldn’t call himself a conservative because American conservatives had compromised too much with socialism and no longer promoted liberty. He couldn’t call himself a liberal because Americans had destroyed its meaning. He wanted to be called a Whig.

    It would be very interesting to have Joe point out some differences between traditional conservatism and modern conservatism, as Hayek did.

    Joe: “the State may believe that securing the borders is a necessary action.”

    I think you’re right on showing that difference between modern conservatism and libertarianism. Consistent libertarians want open border for trade and immigration. The border would close only because of military aggression.

    The problems that unrestricted immigration cause are the result of socialism. Conservatives complain that immigrants use government services, such as education, healthcare and welfare. The want to prevent “illegal” immigrants from using those, but those are socialist policies. Conservatives have compromised so much with socialism that they can’t even recognize it. Without socialism conservatives would have no reason to complain about “illegal” immigration.

    Conservatives point to the crime problem among “illegal” immigrants, but they exacerbate the problem by criminalizing immigration: immigrants they consider illegal are afraid to go to the police to report criminal activity and that makes them easy targets for criminals.

    In addition, punishing hundreds of millions of good people for the criminal activity of a handful is immoral by anyone’s standard, yet that is the socialist and conservative position on immigration.

    Joe: “They are interested in limiting state power because when the state has more power it tends to interfere with the maximization of their own self-interest.”

    I don’t think we should get into the business of reading the minds of other people, something only God can do. As for me and the libertarians I know and read, exercising our self-interest (not selfishness) is what God has called us to do. It gives man his highest dignity. At the same time, we a terrified of the evil that men with good intentions can cause when they seek to remake the world in their image using the deadly power of the state.

    Joe: “Conservatives are the ones who want to “move things slowly.”

    That’s very true. And it is so slow that the nation has continually grown more socialist as conservatives continually compromise with socialists. Conservatives have failed miserably and don’t even know it.
     

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  • RogerMcKinney

     I can see Hoppe’s point, but in a free market the immigrant would need to find an employer very quickly or he would run out of money and have to return home anyway. Immigrants cans stay without employment only because of the advanced socialism in the US. Without that socialism there would be no need for laws restricting immigration unless the immigrant had a sponsor.

    I come from more of a natural rights background, the old Catholic/Protestant kind, not Rothbard’s version. In natural rights, people have a right to immigrate simply because they’re human and natural rights theory says that God wants mankind to flourish. So as long as an immigrant doesn’t steal, kill, enslave or defraud others, he should be free to go where he decides he can flourish the best.

    • Martial_Artist

      I have no fundamental disagreement with your analysis. That having been said, I am not immediately aware of any historical instance in which a nation with the sort of advanced socialism that exists in the US has successfully abandoned its socialism. Therefore, unless the US can throw off the bonds of its existing socialism, I don’t really see much likelihood that we could practicably adopt open borders in such a way as to allow the US to flourish, irrespective of whether based on natural rights or a more Rothbardian view.

      Pax et bonum,Keith Töpfer

      • RogerMcKinney

         I agree there. The advanced state of socialism in the US would require something like Hoppe’s restrictions.

    • Martial_Artist

      P.S. to my last comment:

      A minor clarification. Hayek actually called himself an “Old Whig,” an explicit reference to Edmund Burke’s book of 1791, An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs. The reference, as I suspect you are aware, is from Hayek’s short essay Why I am not a Conservative.

  • Ray Ogden

     Amen.  These are complex matters and anyone who is concerned with the truth and not propaganda and demagoguery needs to take a second look at the causes of the so called “just war”.

  • Miller_g

     Militias have also more consistently engaged in things like rape and pillaging than professional armies.  For all the “problems” you speak of regarding a standing army, I suspect there are far more with those that aren’t formed in a culture that emphasizes rule of war, ethics, and honor.  Fear causes us to make costly mistakes.  Systematically training people to cope with fear, as is done in professional militaries, is more likely to reduce the cost of war than the alternative.

  • Miller_g

     I almost forgot…it is our military that has been the first responder in the majority of natural disasters and humanitarian crises of the last 50 years (think the December tsunami years ago), because the professional infrastructure and logistics enable rapid transit over impassable terrain.  Dismantling that would imperil and kill thousands or tens of thousands.

    It is not true that “giving them something to do” necessarily results in killing people and breaking things.

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  • Oudeicrat Annachrista

    I don’t think loving YOUR liberty more than loving the liberty of others qualifies as “loving liberty more than a libertarian”. I think it’s precisely the other way around.