Lefty – Libertarian Cage Fight! Get Out the Popcorn…
Matt Bruenig and Demos have thrown down the gauntlet against libertarian ideology. Trevor Burrus at Cato has picked it up. Should be worth tuning in.
Matt pulls no punches. He’s emerged in the last year as one of the mediasphere’s most convincing voices for progressive ideas and policies, based (IMO) on air-tight arguments and thinking, backed by solid, well-presented facts and data. He’s front and center for Demos‘ Gordon Gamm Initiative to counter libertarian ideology.
Matt’s not fussy about “civility” when incoherent, self-contradictory, bad-faith arguments are thrown in his face.
Trevor is one of those “voices of reason” at Cato (like Tyler Cowen, front-man for Mercatus) who mask the dark underbelly of libertarianism behind a facade of judicious, Reason-able moderation.
I’d like to offer up one knife for this fight. Trevor:
Libertarianism is the only prominent political ideology that consistently has to deal with questions about the imperfectness of our solutions as if they were de facto refutations of our position.
What cave has he been living in? Progressive ideas have been under unremitting and steadily-escalating attack by conservatives for four decades — actually since well before The New Deal — with many of those attacks based on the “imperfectness” of progressive policy solutions. (With all those attacks built on a scaffolding of libertarian truisms.)
“There’s Medicare fraud!” So progressive thinking must be incoherent. Progressives have been forced into an endless game of “imperfectness” Whack-a-Mole, with hundreds of billions in libertarian-enabled corporate funding backing the moles.
This reality is apparently invisible to Trevor, which speaks volumes about the reality orientation of libertarian ideology, and of its adherents.
Cross-posted at Asymptosis.
Trevor Burrus’ post is a very slippery refutation of what Libertarians are not, anarchists, free market worshippers, selfish although for each denial there’s a qualifier that says, “well some of us are actually those things”. Mr. Burrus wants his opponents to do something even harder than play whack-a-mole, he wants us to punch at ghosts.
Is Libertarianism Nozick’s night watchman state albeit with a nosy watchman for some? Or perhaps Rand’s objectivism mixed with a bit of Christian fundamentalism? Maybe it’s simple Friedmanism where corporations are corporeal beings existing by natural spontaneity and therefore devoid of responsibility while imbued only with profitable purpose.
Whatever Libertarians pretend Libertarianism to be it seems to me that it is a system of justice that fails miserably at being just and in this failure it seeks to shift into becoming a system of policy advocacy, one that lacks an underlying moral basis, a sort of utilitarianism for the few.
Well, here I go again.
I have no respect for “Libertarian” thinking whatsoever. It is a teenager wish to be given the key’s to dad’s car, but not have to pay for the gas, not to mention the insurance (“I don’t need no steenking insurance.”)
But I don’t have much respect for “air-tight arguments and thinking, backed by solid, well-presented facts and data” either.
From Isaiah Berlin:
To avoid glaring inequality or widespread misery I am ready to sacrifice some, or all, of my freedom: I may do so willingly and freely: but it is freedom that I am giving up for the sake of justice or equality or the love of my fellow men. I should be guilt stricken, and rightly so, if I were not, in some circumstances, ready to make this sacrifice. But a sacrifice is not an increase in what is being sacrificed, namely freedom, however great the moral need or the compensation for it. Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience. If the liberty of myself or my class or nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral. But if I curtail or lose my freedom, in order to lessen the shame of inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs. This may be compensated for by a gain in justice or in happiness or in peace, but the loss remains, and it is a confusion of values to say that although my “liberal” individual freedom may go by the board, some other kind of freedom – “social” or “economic” – is increased. Yet it remains true that the freedom of some must be curtailed to secure the freedom of others. Upon what principle should this be done? If freedom is a sacred, untouchable value, there can be no such principle. One or other of these conflicting rules or principles must, at any rate in practice, yield: not always for reasons which can be clearly stated, let alone generalized into rules or universal maxims. Still, a practical compromise has to be found.
@Mark: You’re gonna like Matt’s stuff.
@Mark Jamison: Nice stuff. Though I do question his blanket dismissal of different “types” of freedom. That’s not something I’ve thought carefully about, but I think I will do so.
Steve – I’ve been following Matt Bruenig for awhile. Libertarianism (especially the Megan McArdle variety) is a real sore point of mine. Bruenig does some of the best takedown’s I’ve seen. Mike Konczal is also very good although not as specific; he has a very good paper on the fallacies of voluntarism.
The Berlin quote comes from his Four Essays on Liberty which is worth the effort. That particular quote is featured in the last chapter of Daniel Bell’s “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism”. The chapter, “The Public Household” is a very worthwhile discussion about public goods, a subject most Libertarians seem to deny as worthy of thought..
Thanks for covering this topic. It is very much worth the effort. Most Right Wing thought today seems to be tied up in some toxic mixture of free market Friedmanism, fundamentalism (religious, constitutional, and otherwise), and slippery Libertarianism all mixed with a good dose of fear and paranoia a la Hofstadter.
(the two Marks are the same just different computers)
Do not mix freedom with power.
If you do then freedom has a lot of responsibility.
Oops, libertarians do not care about responsibility…….