One objection I often hear raised against thick libertarianism is that bundling libertarianism together with other values and commitments is dangerous to the cause of liberty, because a) it tends to alienate potential supporters of libertarianism who don’t share the additional values, and/or b) libertarians whose support for liberty is conjoined with an equally strong support for other values face a greater risk of being tempted away from their libertarian commitments by the possibility of using state power to promote the other values.
The first thing to point out about this objection is that it is not strictly correct to call it an objection to thick libertarianism. On the contrary, this objection is itself a version of thick libertarianism (we might call it “anti-thickness thickness”). After all, its objection to bundling libertarianism with other values is that such bundling makes the achievement and/or maintenance of a libertarian society more difficult – and that is precisely a thicklib kind of concern, specifically a form of what Charles formerly called “instrumental thickness” and now calls “strategic thickness.” After all, the non-aggression principle by itself doesn’t call on anybody to promote libertarianism; so as soon as one starts arguing that libertarians qua libertarians should reject X (where X is not by itself inconsistent with the non-aggression principle) on the grounds that X makes it harder to promote libertarianism, one has moved from thin to thick libertarianism. All that one can consistently do in defense of thin libertarianism is argue that libertarians need not bundle liberty with other values; to argue, more strongly, that they should not is to turn thicklib by bundling libertarianism with a commitment to no-bundles-but-this-one.
The fact that this purported objection to thick libertarianism turns out to express thicklib concerns itself is not a decisive reply, however; for the objector can simply redescribe the objection as directed against forms of thick libertarianism other than itself. Still, the skinnylibber who brings this objection has admitted the relevance of thicklib concerns, so we have our foot in the door.
Turning to the specific objections: it’s doubtless true that thick libertarianism alienates some potential pro-liberty folks who don’t like the extra values in the bundle; but it’s equally true that thin libertarianism alienates some potential pro-liberty folks who have trouble feeling the attraction of libertarianism until they see how it integrates with their other concerns. One simply has to weigh these considerations against one another, and against other thick concerns (not just strategic but also application, grounds, and consequence), to see how it all sorts out.
As for the worry that devotees of Liberty-plus-X might be tempted to violate liberty in order to promote X, well, so they might – but a commitment to X, if it’s the right X, might well help to guard against certain sorts of temptation to sacrifice liberty. (See, e.g., Rothbard’s argument that a rejection of utilitarianism makes one’s commitment to liberty more reliable.) If a commitment to X instead undermines one’s commitment to liberty, then either one has chosen the wrong X – one that is not properly bundled with liberty (and so one that is itself condemned on thickness grounds) – or else one has misunderstood the relation between liberty and X. After all, thicklib values are supposed to be ones that have a natural fit with liberty, values that it would be unreasonable or counterproductive to pursue by nonlibertarian means.
Stefan Molyneux harshly criticized Walter Block for proclaiming allegiance with religious institutions in a kind of ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ article on Lew Rockwell recently. I think this religion befriending does libertarianism a grave injustice for all the reasons you mention in this post.
This seems like a weak defense of the “thick” idea. I agree that the argument you are demolishing is weak, but so what? This is a straw man.
Notice how you refer to “Liberty-plus-X”? The first part is what we are talking about. We libertarians just want a word to describe the “Liberty” part. One would think “libertarian” would do it, but if you are determined to redefine it to include “Liberty-plus-X” can you at least give us a new word to use for the Liberty part? I dunno, “libertyists”? Then, we former libertarians can just start calling ourselves libertyists, until the one day, I suppose, when some fellow libertyist starts saying no no, that’s too thin, libertyism includes X too…
Stephan, I never said libertarianism includes X or that libertarianism means Liberty-plus-X. That’s not what thick libertarianism says.
As for being a weak defense of thick libertarianism, I take the case for thick libertarianism as having already been made; this is just a supplement.
Anyway, a “straw man” is an argument nobody gives; lots of people do give this argument, so it’s not a straw man.
Sounds like a thick libertarian response to me.
“All that one can consistently do in defense of thin libertarianism is argue that libertarians need not bundle liberty with other values; to argue, more strongly, that they should not is to turn thicklib by bundling libertarianism with a commitment to no-bundles-but-this-one.”
Your attempt to shift the debate to just a labeling issue doesn’t let you escape the point above. You’re still stuck making ‘should’ arguments: we should let you thin libertarians have the label libertarian refer to liberty-only (no-bundles-but-this-one). You’ve just got a different reason than that thick libertarianism is dangerous. You also can’t divorce matters of definition and labels from more substantial issues involving its application in the real world. This is not an exercise in pure reason.
“The first thing to point out about this objection is that it is not strictly correct to call it an objection to thick libertarianism. On the contrary, this objection is itself a version of thick libertarianism (we might call it “anti-thickness thickness”). “
Are there any objections to thick libertarianism that are not themselves versions of thick libertarianism?
That’s what I get for reading this post while nearly asleep.
From GAP’s post above (and the quote that it contains) I gather that the answer is no.
Are there any objections to thick libertarianism that are not themselves versions of thick libertarianism?
I’d say any argument for the claim that the added values are unneeded (as opposed to their actually being undesirable) would be a non-thick objection to thickness. So one can nonthickly argue that it’s not that case that we must be thicklib. But one can’t non-thickly argue that it is the case that we shouldn’t be thicklib.
“Stephan, I never said libertarianism includes X or that libertarianism means Liberty-plus-X. That’s not what thick libertarianism says.”
I can never be sure what it says, since it seems vague, imprecise, non-rigorous, and ever-shifting to me. Sometimes its proponents do imply this.
“As for being a weak defense of thick libertarianism, I take the case for thick libertarianism as having already been made; this is just a supplement.”
fair enough. I haven’t been convinced by these either, FWIW.
“Anyway, a “straw man” is an argument nobody gives; lots of people do give this argument, so it’s not a straw man.”
Also a good point. What I mean is I agree this is a bad argument, but defeating it does not mean there are no good criticisms of thickism.
I can never be sure what it says, since it seems vague, imprecise, non-rigorous, and ever-shifting to me.
Well, here’s a fairly precise statement — see the numbered list halfway through:
Couldn’t the objector to thick libertarianism claim, not that he or she wishes to promote the achievement of a libertarian society , but that thick libertarians who also wish to promote the achievement of a libertarian society are at risk of tension in their goals? This seems to avoid the objection that the anti-thick libertarian has adopted a form of thick libertarianism: the argument would aim only at inducing thick libertarians to rethink their views.
I think you’re right. But such a view wouldn’t be a defense of thin libertarianism, would it?
No, it wouldn’t; in fact, the argument could be advanced by someone who was hostile to libertarianism, or who had no interest in it.
Well, thick libertarianism is the claim that libertarianism as such provides good reasons for libertarians to care about other commitments besides a rigorous commitment to non-aggression. So it’s true that if, for example, a would-be thin libertarian is arguing that we should abandon a particular nonviolently held philosophical view about libertarianism (viz. the thick conception of it) for, e.g., reasons of libertarian strategy, then she is really advancing a form of thick, not thin, libertarianism.
But couldn’t a woud-be thin libertarian instead argue that we ought to abandon a particular nonviolently held philosophical view about libertarianism (viz. the thick conception of it) for other reasons distinct from and alongside our libertarian commitments? For example, that it should be abandoned for reasons of intellectual clarity, considered as desirable in itself rather than as a means to libertarian triumph or whatever else?
If so, then, while I would certainly disagree with the argument for abandoning a thick conception of libertarianism, I wouldn’t think that the argument is internally contradictory. The appeal only becomes an appeal to thickness if the reasons being given are reasons that the libertarian is supposed to have qua libertarian, rather than (for example) qua philosopher or qua clear thinker.
Rad Geek, so basically the argument is to keep it separated, not as a philosophical matter, but simply as a personal matter e.g. Don’t Spam.
Reminds me of the Rothbard vs. Cato flap vis-à-vis nuclear energy.
I’ve always wondered why the Rockwell crowd thought support for GMO and industrial agriculture was needed for true “libertarian” credentials.
Couldn’t a woud-be thick libertarian argue that we ought to adopt a particular philosophical view about libertarianism (viz. the thick conception of it) for other reasons distinct from and alongside our libertarian commitments? For example, that it should be adopted for reasons of intellectual clarity, considered as desirable in itself rather than as a means to libertarian triumph or whatever else?
I never thought the sole justification for adopting a thick conception of libertarianism need be only on libertarian grounds.
Or does thick libertarianism only describe those extra-libertarian views adopted solely for the sake of promoting libertarianism?
You argue at Cato that gender and race inequity is state created. While part of it may be, this is a nurturist approach which ignores the biological differences between genders and races. You’re probably familiar with Rothbard’s “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature”; I think your commitment to equality undermines your commitment to liberty.