46 Responses to Competition, Government Style

  1. Roderick February 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    And yes, I believe that White did say it before Gell-Mann.

    • Roderick February 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

      Oh, I just saw Maddow’s comment on this: the advantage of paper money over commodity money is that its value doesn’t fluctuate daily!

      You just can’t make this stuff up.

      • Rad Geek February 20, 2010 at 5:14 am #

        I demand a form of currency whose value remains constant in all frames of reference.

        Monetize c!

      • MBH February 20, 2010 at 5:26 am #

        Dear Rachel, paper money already is commodity money. Just ask China how many US dollars they’ve bought.

        • MBH February 21, 2010 at 12:33 am #

          You may say, “but fiat money surely isn’t commodity money.”—-I think it is. Just because it’s more tricky to recognize that one currency is bad, doesn’t mean we can’t sell it.

        • Aster February 21, 2010 at 3:25 am #

          I’d wished to post this reply on the earlier thread on concurrent currencies, but this seems like a rational time to bring it up. Many apologies for the asynchronicity; life has been somewhat adventurous for me lately.

          i. When market libertarians and anarcho-capitalists talk about alternative currency systems, they advocate the use of private and concurrent but otherwise conventional and commonly recognised media of exchange. I think this is a great idea. Global elites effectively have this already, in the form of currencies guaranteed by different states. I certainly would prefer a system which incentivised issuers of currency to make sure that their wares were backed by real commodities or were themselves commodities, as with gold. The Rockwellian fetish for an unalloyed gold standard, however, has always struck me as impractical and ahistorical. I also find it very interesting that if one looks at the very matter of the world’s serious business one finds that the chosen measure of value is primary (that is until the development of integrated circuits) a beautiful and useless decoration. One of the few things which gives me some hope for humanity is the realisation that even the war-girded oligarchs of our world fight for values which are in the final analysis aesthetic and symbolic, and no different in essentials than those things which move the poets and philosophers.

          ii. When Greens and others on the decentralist Left talk about alternative currency
          systems, they typically desire to normalise the use local alternative currencies such as LETS or the “hour”. I certainly think people certainly have a right to use local currencies, but I would personally shy away from this approach, because I don’t trust anything which ties me to any locality or bounded social reference group. I suspect the reality of such systems would resemble American Southern company stores more than anything which idealistic leftists may envision.

          iii. When the pot-smoking bohemian wing of social anarchism discuss alternative forms of trade, what they have in mind is a gift economy. The proper response to such people is to congratulate them for their beautiful minds over coffee and maybe invite them home once or twice to share pirated CDs. And then one ought to conspire with the bourgeoisie to make sure that such lovely people NEVER EVER get their hands on macroeconomic policy, or anything around the house that can be easily damaged or borrowed.

          Gift economies truly work between people with an extraordinarily level of trust. But such friendships are very rare, take much investment in time, and seldom emerge from the places which either society or political radicalism expects them to flourish. Stable gift economies exist among those with the rare privilege to to wave aside the seriousness of material reality and can afford to enfold what would otherwise be commercial activity within sublime and graceful gestures, but this situation could only be universalised in a mass post-scarcity future, the promise of which has waned since 1973. The gift economies of paleolithic tribes endlessly romanticised by anarcho-primitivists sound like horrible places to live, and leave little room for privacy or independence. What many socialists and anarchists desire is a world without material constraints to consciousness. And so say we all, but only transhumanism or privilege or the rare perfect storm of social conditions which allows a golden age can make it possible. Libertarians have not been wrong to emphasise that a just and rational economics must surrender to reality or crash with tragedy. (It’s strange to be a spiritual Keynesian who agrees with Mises and reality on economics. But then as in the long run we truly are all dead.)

          Bohemians properly specialise in forms of production which demand at least some distance from instrumental kinds of valuation and (largely unintentionally) perform vital social services towards the maintenance of liberal civilisation. They should be respected and accommodated within reason and society should be able to reconcile both economic and less economic forms of flourishing. But bohemians should stay away from the complicated and dangerous economic machinery until and unless they’re willing to take the responsibility to be bourgeois as well as bohemian, and it is a rare human being who is capable of doing both. This hippie certainly cannot.

          It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.

          iv. When agrarian and traditionalist conservatives decry the cash nexus and demand alternatives, they, unlike the bohemians, know exactly what they want, and what they want is a society within which men trade obligations and duties in place of coin. They decry ‘commercialisation’ because they don’t like a society where one person’s money is as good as a next person’s. The social mobility permitted in the most crass bourgeois society which judges human worth by one’s bank account is too liberal for those who want to see you judged by your lineage, breeding, and place on the social register. This is feudalism protesting against capitalism, and it would be far less dangerous were it not for the fact that progressives of the previous two categories are prone to recklessly endorse this kind of reaction out of unthinking impatience with the present system. The leftists who make brainless excuses for fealty economies are recklessly endangering everyone who desires to preserve their liberty. The agrarian conservatives who really want to reverse 1789 are simply excellent candidates for bullet therapy.

          Individuals who wish to keep their freedom would be wiser to trust in Lenin than in those who wish to revive Medieval notions of economics which camouflage desires to reestablish premodern social relations. And this is anything but a dated concern; the difference between liberal and conservative notions of marriage, for example, is precisely a question of whether one looks in human relations through the lens of Locke or tribal custom. (Conservative feminists such as Elizabeth Fox-Genovese who fear free men more than female slavery and cling to chains for security have always been the most implacable enemies of feminist individualists, and properly ought to be drugged and then buried alive within their conventional walls.) In the real world a fealty economy always has a tilted field of power relations, leaving the party of lesser status with a standing injustice and little means to enforce those claims which the system allows them. Even were fealty economies made interpersonally just they can promise nothing better than a world of people pulling each other’s chains to fulfill their own needs. Of course, socialism in its statist interpretations also proposes precisely this.

          Compared to feudalism, capitalism is paradise. Of course, there are also moderns who operate within archaic forms while disregarding or subverting their content, for reasons of necessity or of opportunism. I find this kind of Kuhhandel way more fun that is remotely defensible, since what it amounts to is playing with the system’s unjust rules for one’s own amusement and benefit. Some European intellgentsias seem to have internalised this approach so deeply that they’ve truly confused this chair dance with noblesse oblige “socialist” beneficence. Prudent philosophers should judge such things by the spirit and not the letter and take care never to leave themselves in a position where feudal obligations are de facto enforceable.

          v. And then there’s Kevin Carson’s mutualist economics, which encourages the informal exchange of commodities and services as a means to escape the injustices of the standing established economy. To this kind of alternative I’m cautiously friendly. Kevin has a strong point that it’s the need to acquire the system’s dollars which drives people into the alienated and exploited army of labour. I have certainly found in my own life that the only expenses which feel like chains are those which force me to run the energy circuit through the established economic channels. The bastards who run the show don’t like anyone to get off the grid and free not to work for a boss to pay the rent.

          I’ve only two reservations to Carsonian economics. One is that mutualism is still inadequately distinguished from feudal reactionary programmes such as Catholic distributism. Otherwise I would merely emphasise that Carson at least partially advocates a return to barter as an answer to corrupted media of exchange. This may be quite sound given the current conditions, but it is also at least partially an acceptance of less than ideal answers in response to an unjust and unfortunate situation which, in a better world, would not exist. There are good reasons why currency is an improvement on a barter economy, and while I suspect a free economy would in fact be a looser ‘bazaar’ of diverse economic relations it would also quickly develop widely or even universally recognised media of exchange.

          More importantly, the rationality of barter is the same in kind as that of a monetarised economy; the latter is a refinement of the former and the former is the essence of the latter. “I swear by my life and my love of it than I will never live my life for another man, nor allow another man to live for mine”. Socialists and premodern conservatives who consider the cash nexus immoral or undignified should object to informal markets for the same reasons; the Soviet Union certainly did. Carson’s theoretical construction of an unexploitative market is among other things a useful means of distinguishing those who oppose markets from a fear of slavery and those who oppose them from a fear of freedom. Countereconomics in economic form as well as content can be a promising way to avoid the powers that be and reroute around blockage in Isabel Paterson’s energy circuit. But it still is a circuit and carries the same current.

          This, at least, is my own reconciliation of romanticism and egoism. It is doubtless far from perfect, but most in this world fear to try, and thus forsake any chance to experience life as it might be and ought to be.

        • Brandon February 21, 2010 at 10:56 am #

          paper money already is commodity money.

          Not unless you think debt is a commodity.

        • MBH February 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

          Not unless you think debt is a commodity.

          You mean, not unless someone — anyone — wants to buy someone — anyone — else’s debt.

          Right? To classify as a commodity there just has to be demand somewhere. Aren’t some people willing to risk holding another person’s debt in order to receive their labor or the product of their labor?

          Isn’t debt bought and sold?

        • Brandon February 21, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

          A commodity is a “good”. I don’t think debt is a good, since it’s a liability, I think it’s a “bad”.

        • Roderick February 21, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

          Having someone owe you money is a good thing so long as the chances of their repaying you are high enough to compensate you for your risk — and of course that’s a subjective evaluation.

          Likewise, owing someone else money can be a good thing if it beats whatever the alternative was.

        • MBH February 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

          Yeah. Say A owes B money. But A is a brilliant contributor to the cause of C, D, and E. C, D, and E may buy A’s debt because they prefer A to be in the best position possible to continue his brilliant contributions. A’s debt is one hell of a good for C, D, and E. They evaluate that it will pay off for A and themselves.

        • Brandon February 21, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

          As long as we’re constructing tortured, clause-driven hypothetical situations, I’d just like to point out that coincidentally next month I’m planning to start a company. Instead of producing widgets, it’s going to produce vast amounts of debt. I’m hoping to attract lots of investors.

        • MBH February 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

          No one’s saying it’s a good strategy. Only that in some situations, it’s better than alternatives.

        • Rad Geek February 22, 2010 at 4:03 am #

          MBH: Right? To classify as a commodity there just has to be demand somewhere.

          No. Not all goods are commodities. Among other things, a commodity good is (1) fungible and (2) produced by multiple producers. But debt in general is not fungible: its value varies with the risk of default, among other things, which has historically made it very difficult to commoditize successfully.[^1] U.S. government debt (within particular classes of debt) is fungible (e.g., US$1 of one T-bill is as good as US$1 of another T-bill), but it’s fungible precisely because it is only put out by a single producer, not by multiple producers.

          Of course, technical quibbles aside, the real point of distinction here is that the kinds of money called “commodity money” are typically based upon an existing good which is already in hand. (Because of the standard list of desiderata for monetary goods, the goods-in-hand tend very strongly to end up being classic commodity goods like precious metals, base metals, agricultural produce, etc.) The other kinds of money which we’re discussing are not a record of an already-existing good, but rather are based on promises for future delivery of some good which does not yet exist, or some service which has not yet been performed. (In the case of government fiat money, the “service” not yet performed is simply the “service” of not punching your head — that is, the value of the money comes from the fact that it pays your taxes.)

          [^1]: Of course, there were some pretty prominent recent attempts to do so — that is, to convert debts into fungible goods by adopting some common standards of classification for the “quality” of the debt (e.g. the risk of default) which could be used as a reliable signal for the real value of the debts, without having to consider much of anything about debtors on a case-by-case basis.

          You may have noticed that this has so far turned out rather poorly, and has generally not succeeded at its intended aims.

        • MBH February 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

          But you can’t a priori rule-out the ability to commoditize debt — especially were there program which did consider debtors on a case-by-case basis. Right?

        • Rad Geek February 23, 2010 at 4:12 am #

          MBH: But you can’t a priori rule-out the ability to commoditize debt

          No, but I think you can discover some apriori conditionals (of the form “If condition X obtains, then you cannot successfully commoditize debt”). And I think that some of those conditions have antecedents which can be known (aposteriori) to be very unlikely to ever turn out false. (E.g., basic facts about the extreme diversity of ways of making a living and the extreme diversity of time-preferences among human beings.)

          And, in any cae, like I said, I think that the important distinction between what’s being called “commodity money” here and other kinds of money isn’t actually the distinction between commoditized and non-commoditized goods, but rather an underlying distinction which (under present conditions) the commodity/non-commodity distinction tends to track — the distinction between goods in hand and promises of future delivery of goods. I certainly think that that distinction is conceptual, not just empirical, and has a lot of important features which can be spelled out apriori, on praxeological grounds.

          MBH: especially were there program which did consider debtors on a case-by-case basis.

          Huh? I’m not sure I understand where you’re going here. My point is that, to precisely the extent you have to consider debtors on a case-by-case basis, you’re (therefore) no longer treating debt as a commodity. People evaluate Van Goghs on a case-by-case baiss; they don’t buy barrels of petroleum or tons of wool that way.

        • MBH February 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

          Rad Geek: My point is that, to precisely the extent you have to consider debtors on a case-by-case basis, you’re (therefore) no longer treating debt as a commodity.

          Yes and no. Not debt alone. A ratio between debt and risk of default.

          Gold isn’t commoditized alone. The shape and weight of gold are. You still have to evaluate “gold” on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes you’ve got a chunk; sometimes a shaving.

    • Anon73 February 20, 2010 at 2:50 am #

      I don’t really get this “bucketful of change” misunderstanding. The point is to have freedom of entry into making currencies, not to haul large buckets of gold around. The first person I tried to explain this idea to said his pockets weren’t large enough for gold currency!

      • Rad Geek February 20, 2010 at 5:13 am #

        Given that gold is currently trading at upwards of US $1,100 for a 1oz round about the size of an old dollar coin, dude must either have some really small pockets, or else needs to carry around a lot more money than most of us do.

        • Joshua Lyle February 21, 2010 at 11:38 am #

          To make the image more concrete, a pure-ish gold coin the weight of a quarter would be worth about USD 180.
          Lets say this person had to carry a lot of cash. Cash is pretty heavy, actually, a million dollars in hundreds weighs over 20 pounds. The same value in gold at current rates weighs only three times that, and would take up considerably less space.
          I could have easily purchased my house with gold that would fit in my jean’s pockets.

  2. Brandon February 20, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Reminds me of what Rothbard quoted Mises as saying, that each government intervention to solve a problem creates two new ones, which it must then intervene to solve, and so on. It’s stated in a more thorough way here.

    • MBH February 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

      I like how Roderick breaks it down in the AOTP essays:

      (1) Government grants business the right to play with other people’s money

      (on the condition that)

      (2) Business plays by the rules of government.

      In reality (1) occurs without (2). The people lose. We’re led to believe that the solution is to input (2), but we never stop to realize that removing (1) is a much simpler solution.

      I think that’s right, but I don’t think (1) can be removed in all situations. I think rational people can disagree whether (1) ought to be removed under all circumstances or that we have to build circumstances under which (1) can be removed.

  3. James February 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    “One is that mutualism is still inadequately distinguished from feudal reactionary programmes such as Catholic distributism.”

    Really? What makes you say that?

  4. Gene Callahan February 23, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    “The agrarian conservatives who really want to reverse 1789 are simply excellent candidates for bullet therapy.”

    A favorite “liberal” solution to dissent since… well, since 1789!

  5. Gene Callahan February 23, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    “Individuals who wish to keep their freedom would be wiser to trust in Lenin than in those who wish to revive Medieval notions of economics which camouflage desires to reestablish premodern social relations. ”

    Individuals who suggest we are wiser to trust in Lenin than in our traditions wish to camouflage their revolt against reality.

    • Aster February 23, 2010 at 4:25 am #

      Rhetoric is a part of life. Deal with it.

      The intended meaning of the second statement implies awareness and disapproval on the reader’s part of Lenin’s crimes. My alternative to tradition is not emotionalism or postmodernism but Randian reason, or what Randian reason would be fully cleansed of classism and other authoritarian patterns of social relation.

      Your traditions torture human lives and have tortured mine. I reserve the right to resist them with lethal force if necessary, because death is more pleasurable than the slavery they imply for me and most of those in this world whom I care about.

      Roderick, may I please ask what you think of these issues? Is there a philosophical voice in Greater Libertaria who will take up Ayn Rand’s standard against paleolibertarianism’s parochial anti-Enlightenment authoritarianism? The American Republic has fallen in all but name as a direct result of the near-total eclipse of her rational and revolutionary legacy. Are reason and freedom, and the curious mind, values which ought to persist anywhere within the libertarian universe?

      I no longer have any spiritual investments left within libertarianism. I have had the rare fortune to find my own liberty and I am enjoying it. I see little reason not to forget libertarianism as the worst and longest mistake which I have made in my 31 years of breathing and 6 years of life. And I know from the evidence of everyday life in Wellington that the socially liberatory kind of culture considered irrevelant, immoral, or impossible by the majority of contemporary libertarians can be respected by the populace of an entire polity. What on Earth is wrong with you people?

      [Y]outh is the incarnation of reason pitted against the rigidity of tradition; youth puts the remorseless questions to everything that is old and established– Why? What is this thing good for? And when it gets the mumbled, evasive answers of the defenders it applies its own fresh, clean spirit of reason to institutions, customs and ideas and finding them stupid, inane or poisonous, turns instinctively to overthrow them and build in their place the things with which its visions teem….

      Youth is the leaven that keeps all these questioning, testing attitudes fermenting in the world. If it were not for this troublesome activity of youth, with its hatred of sophisms and glosses, its insistence on things as they are, society would die from sheer decay. It is the policy of the older generation as it gets adjusted to the world to hide away the unpleasant things where it can, or preserve a conspiracy of silence and an elaborate pretense that they do not exist. But meanwhile the sores go on festering just the same. Youth is the drastic antiseptic…. It drags skeletons from closets and insists that they be explained. No wonder the older generation fears and distrusts the younger. Youth is the avenging Nemesis on its trail….

      Our elders are always optimistic in their views of the present, pessimistic in their views of the future; youth is pessimistic toward the present and gloriously hopeful for the future. And it is this hope which is the lever of progress– one might say, the only lever of progress….

      The secret of life is then that this fine youthful spirit shall never be lost. Out of the turbulence of youth should come this fine precipitate– a sane, strong, aggressive spirit of daring and doing. It must be a flexible, growing spirit, with a hospitality to new ideas and a keen insight into experience. To keep one’s reactions warm and true is to have found the secret of perpetual youth, and perpetual youth is salvation.

      – Randolph Bourne

      You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or it is nowhere.

      – Ursula le Guin

      • Roderick February 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

        Roderick, may I please ask what you think of these issues?

        Well, I’m in general agreement with your values, but when it comes to applying them to particular historical events and periods I think I see more complication than you do.

        Not everything modern is better than everything medieval. (In addition to the points I make here I would point out that I’ve often seen it claimed that freedom for women was actually somewhat stronger in the late medieval period than in the early modern period. Of course I’ve seen the opposite claimed as well. I haven’t studied the issue enough to judge one way or another, but I don’t rule either position out.) 1789 was likewise a mix of very good and very bad things, so that I’m reluctant to use “1789” as a label for either what I favour or what I oppose.

        • Rad Geek February 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

          Roderick: I’ve often seen it claimed that freedom for women was actually somewhat stronger in the late medieval period than in the early modern period. Of course I’ve seen the opposite claimed as well. I haven’t studied the issue enough to judge one way or another, but I don’t rule either position out.

          One of the funny things that happens in discussions about this stuff is that the Middle Ages often get indicted for events that actually happened in the Renaissance and early modernity. One of the strong reasons for saying that early modernity Europe was even worse for women than medieval Europe had generally been, is the mass torture and mass murder of hundreds of thousands of women in the European witch-craze from the mid-15th through the mid-18th century.

          Yet this gynocide is almost never discussed, except by a handful of feminist scholars, as an important feature of modernization; witch-hunts are far more commonly treated as either an isolated incident that just happened to overlap with the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution, or, worse, as if it were somehow a medieval phenomenon, quite in spite of the fact that it didn’t start until the last half of the 15th century, whereas most secular and religious authorities in medieval western Europe, from Charlemagne up until the 14th century, held to the Augustinian doctrine that witches did not exist, that any belief in the efficacy of witchcraft was heretical, and even (as at the Council Frankfurt) held that witch-hunters could be punished by death.

        • Jesse Walker February 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

          Roderick, when did you write that Free Radical piece? I’m curious whether the heavy Objectivist framing is a byproduct of the audience you were addressing or the period of your career in which you composed it.

        • MBH February 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

          Relevant to Jesse’s question: I have to throw this out there. I don’t think it can be said enough.

          Roderick’s work that puts Objectivism in perspective is priceless. I personally know a handful of folk who might still be stuck in Randroid-world were it not for that work.

          {Gratitude!}

        • Roderick February 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

          when did you write that Free Radical piece?

          2003.

          I’m curious whether the heavy Objectivist framing is a byproduct of the audience you were addressing or the period of your career in which you composed it.

          More the former than the latter.

        • Roderick February 23, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

          Re Charles’s point: weird chronology gets applied to the Middle Ages on a number of issues. I remember my college physics textbook informing me (and I’ve seen the same claim elsewhere) that Aristotle’s works in natural science enjoyed unquestioned authority in the West for 1000 years.

          They never seem to give start dates and end dates for this 1000-year period, however.

          But since Aristotle’s works on natural science weren’t available in the Latin West until the 12th century, I figure we’ve got another century to go before Aristotle’s period of unchallenged ascendancy comes to a close.

    • scineram February 24, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

      Gene owns, as usual.

      • Roderick February 24, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

        He has property?

        • Anon73 February 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm #

          http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=owns

        • Roderick February 24, 2010 at 9:37 pm #

          He wins a competitive event?

        • Anon73 February 24, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

          Or demonstrates excellence, would be my interpretation.

        • MBH February 24, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

          What is excellent about emphasizing a choice between communism and our “traditions”?

          If I can take-down those who think the earth is flat rather than square, then will I “own”?

        • Roderick February 25, 2010 at 11:49 am #

          Your fame will reach to the four corners of the earth.

        • MBH February 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

          Madame Defarge told me: it’s either fame or limbs at the four corners.

          Strange game.

        • scineram February 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

          Yes. We are all his bitches.

  6. Aster February 24, 2010 at 2:49 am #

    Sigh.

    My more calm and considered views on the French Revolution would also be ambiguous. I picked “1789” for the final digits of our agency’s phone listing, which probably wasn’t the most prudent business decision. But Karl Popper liked the number, and as the threshold of modernity’s actualisation it’s a symbol to me of everything which is worth dying for because there’s nothing left but pain if it goes. The most active factions of libertarianism are working to murder it. What political movement since socialism has become such an inverted travesty of humanist ideals?

    Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure myself where I stand on the Revolution. I don’t trust the establishment and I don’t trust the people. I have absolutely zero use or reverence for traditional orders qua traditional and consider the paleo reaction a betrayal of everything which liberal civilisation has achieved since Thales and Socrates (the same is true of neoconservatives, but Strauss at least thought he was defending philosophy). Hierarchies punish honest thought, encourage cruelty and self-abasement, and even in the best cases warp friendships and sprain the human spirit. I’m not a socialist in any but the very broad mutualist sense, but an ideal society is one in which there are no formal distinctions in kind between citizens and where even real distinctions of achievement and character are granted no formal recognition. But the French aristocracy in the 18th century was in many ways less premodern than it was a fairly advanced modernity sturctured, financed, and sheltered by an intensified and very premodern monarchial exploitation.

    Actually the situation resembles our contemporary conditions in too many ways, where the functional bastions of secular liberalism are attached to ‘new class’ social structures; their dependence upon state and empire encourages a Left criticism which is apologetic or reformist or fanciful or nihilistic but seldom clear, practical, and to the point. This is largely why liberalism is in disarray and continually incapable of effectively confronting the imperial corporatist state.

    But populism is worse, and with due respect to Charles Johnson, simply throwing the keys of civilisation to a majority which is still largely premodern in mentality (precisely because of the dehumanising effects of structural injustice and exploitation) is a good way to get minorities excluded from social citizenship, civil liberties trashed, and philosophers killed. Charles’ references to the social situation of women in the Medieval and early modern period are very revelant but I believe he crucially misreads how the essential philosophical issues apply. I have work and don’t have time to go into the details, so I’ll just say that I consider this book profoundly wrong, pseudo-feminist, are far more likely to re-enslave women than aid the feminist project.

    In any case libertarianism will not recover its grounding in Greece and the Enlightenment by polite scholarship or by the sacrifice of first philosophical causes to feminist consequences, no matter how well or how seriously intended. Libertarianism will not recover its grounding without an internal philosophical revolution and there exists no living libertarian intellectual able and willing to carry it; Chris Sciabarra tried, and they tore him apart for it. Libertarianism will not recover its philosophical grounding.

    Libertarianism divides the world into two domains, that of the state and that of civil society. It will not act to improve the human condition within the first sphere because that would be impure engagement with teh tsate and will not act for improvement within the second sphere because that would be second-guessing the realm of freedom. It does nothing but sit there and refine pristine positions which have little to do with the liberation of individuals and nothing to do with the liberation of individuals who are not respectable white men. It accomplishes less for actual liberty than either the establishment or radical Left even tho’ these seldom consider liberty a primary conviction. If there are to be any heirs to the Enlightenment’s intellectual bloodline they must come from another branch of descendants.

    I have few illusions that the Left is any better, but at least it can do something, any has done so many beautiful somethings for me that I can only wonder what my life might have been like if I had trusted them since the time of my first political awareness. I’ve a date in four weeks’ time with a Marxist liberation theologian. He doesn’t strike me as a very good Marxist, but then I’m not a very good social democrat. And he and the society he represents have gone above and beyond call and bent every rule for the sake of showing that I and those I care about merit social citizenship under universalist principles.

    Enough is enough. I’m moving out Left. My two remaining libertarian close friends understand and both have made their own withdrawals for closely parallel reasons.

    Goodbye, professor Long. You live a philosopher’s life in every essential sense of the term, and I have long admired you for this, and there are other individuals in the libertarian universe worthy of the deepest respect. I have a love and a life in this world, and I have found and felt both to the degree that I have not been a libertarian.

    Not your kind of world. I’m selling out.


    In ethics class so many years ago
    our teacher asked this question every fall:
    if there were a fire in a museum
    which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
    or an old woman who hadn’t many
    years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs
    caring little for pictures or old age
    we’d opt one year for life, the next for art
    and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
    the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face
    leaving her usual kitchen to wander
    some drafty, half-imagined museum.
    One year, feeling clever, I replied
    why not let the woman decide herself?
    Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
    the burden of responsibility.
    This fall in a real museum I stand
    before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
    or nearly so, myself. The colors
    within this frame are darker than autumn,
    darker even than winter – the browns of earth,
    though earth’s most radiant elements burn
    through the canvas. I know now that woman
    and painting and season are almost one
    and all beyond saving by children.

    • John March 2, 2010 at 1:35 am #

      I’m a reader of this blog who enjoys reading your comments often as much as the entries. They often could be read on their own. You’ve had an influence on professor Long, and points you have made have been brought up by him in lectures given at the Mises Institute. Plenty of people in the audience are just the sort you worry about doing you harm. Therefore, your perspective is influencing them. A culturally closed off religious and social conservative, who would never consider listening to something branded “progressive” otherwise can end up running across something which may give him or her pause, part of which you may have contributed to. I’m sure there are others who appreciate your contribution. Consider yourself whatever you’d like ideologically, but please stick around.

    • Rad Geek March 3, 2010 at 1:49 am #

      Aster,

      Charles’ references to the social situation of women in the Medieval and early modern period are very revelant but I believe he crucially misreads how the essential philosophical issues apply.

      Maybe, but I’m not yet sure we agree what my reading is of the essential philosophical issues or of their application.

      I have work and don’t have time to go into the details, so I’ll just say that I consider this book [Leonard Shalin’s The Alphabet Versus the Goddess] profoundly wrong, pseudo-feminist, are far more likely to re-enslave women than aid the feminist project.

      I agree with you about that, but I don’t know why you brought it up. I’m not advocating a primitive matriarchy theory (or a medieval matriarchy theory, which I suppose is even less plausible) when I say that the mass torture and murder of women in the Renaissance and early modernity did have something importantly to do with the process of modernization. Or that this ought to complicate the attitude that we take towards modernity and the social process of modernization. And I really don’t know what I said that would give you the idea that I would believe in such theories.

      That women were generally better off in, say, the 12th century than they were in the 16th or 17th seems to me to be a matter of empirical fact, and so does the fact that mainstream treatments of women’s history often get this wrong — indeed often say things that are the exact opposite of the truth, and blame the Middle Ages for things that never happened until the height of the Renaissance or later — typically because they tend to presume that modernization is the same thing as intellectual and moral progress. That that progress-narrative happens to be wrong is, I think, a datum that any adequate theory needs to explain. But recognizing this basic fact is one thing; deciding what to do with it, having recognized it, is another.

      Certainly, seeing a problem with the common progress-narrative is not the same thing as rejecting the notion that there can be moral or intellectual progress. Or believing that the only way to achieve such “progress” is by recovering some mythic past. Believing that there was something deeply wrong with the process of modernization is not the same thing as believing that everything was wrong about everything that happened in the course of modernization. I don’t believe any of those things.

      What I believe is that there were and are alternatives to the master’s modernization. Alternatives which would represent genuine and unalloyed progress, rather than the massacres and mass enslavement that we actually got. When I criticize the latter, and point out that there were very important respects in which it made some things very much worse than they had been, that doesn’t mean that what I’m calling for is a recovery of the premodern status quo ante, in any sense. I’m calling for the achievement of something else entirely, which is neither forwards, nor backwards, but rather simply beyond (and therefore off the tracks).

  7. Aster March 2, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    John-

    I appreciate the compliments and kindness you show here, and they are certainly greatly welcome. And I’ve known for some time that I’ve had a measure of influence within libertarianism, if very rarely acknowledgment, altho’ you are the first who has ever mentioned this issue openly in a public space. And of course there are many profoundly good people within libertarianism- professor Long far from least among them.

    But I have decided to approach life differently, to “work within the system”- not because I love or have illusions about the system, but because social reference groups which inhabit the system have shown me kindness while my years among libertarians have been a Hobbesian nightmare. I cannot develop my talents or love life deeply while I must walk everywhere armed and expecting spiritual assault, and the rules of libertarian society will never provide a shore of refuge where I may enjoy social citizenship. So I’ve chosen the Left, at some Price of authenticity perhaps, and in direct contradiction of the first letter of a Romantic code of values. But I don’t regret it, and it is final.

    In Wellington’s liberal democracy I have found a society which grants me freedom. I’ve found a family. A man I love. A business which shows promise. The beautiful apartment which I’ve desired for years. A social circle where I find respect and acceptance. Heck, I’ve found that I can cook decently- it’s amazing what you discover about yourself when people care, and you can stop running.

    You all mostly take these things for granted, but I have had to fight literally my entire life for them, and three times fled and left everything behind to find my liberty. And all this time my involvement with libertarianism has been nothing but a destructive attachment and a sinkhole for spiritual and material energy. I have a room of my own now because half a dozen people of the ‘new class’ Left so despised by libertarians have seen and respected my potential and extended hands not in charity but in respectful trust, which I have repaid and will continue to repay. I’m just so much happier- I’m not wealthy in any sense but that in which all social citizens in developed countries are unimaginably wealthy, but I’ve found some via activa and I love it.

    And I’m having influence here- influence which I know for certain cannot be historically acknowledged but which is socially tangible and not unappreciated, nor unrewarded (I managed to get a few of my words on New Zealand national television a few weeks ago, actually- tho’ I can’t tell how).

    And I truly have let go and given up on the libertarian dream. There is something about your ideal which attracts and excuses a certain kind of sexually repressed and socially enraged white male bourgeois personality type obsessed with hatred of the Left which prefers to blame the government for its unhappiness and wrap himself up in constricting privilege rather than examine his life, open his emotions, and learn to become human. Libertarianism is certainly more than this but it can’t escape its imprisonment within this mentality and this toxic spirit sets the tone of libertarian society (and would set the social tone of a larger society altered by a successful libertarian movement). This world is aged, rigid in spirit; it appeals to none of the best energies of youth; what it has is leveraged on anger, rage, fear, moralism, formuliac floating idealism, and increasingly desperation. And Murray Rothbard was a monster at heart, and since the decline of the counterculture his movement has become something which I am ashamed to have been a part of for so much of my life.

    I wish you all well. If any of you enjoy my writing, please say so and write to me; my relevant email address is aster_perelandra — at — hotmail.com . I’m currently looking for centre-left values in which I may continue political writing, and certainly intend to do creative work of a less socially engaged nature which I hope to put up on the Web somewhere. I’m informally involved in local politics and may become more so if this engagement continues to look promising. And, of course, please drop a note if you’ll be passing through Wellington; my apartment has a guest room. I do take visitors, and would love to show anyone with a mind and a life my city.

    Aster
    ~~~~

    P.S. To the gentleman who showed off his solidarity to those Briddish aristocrats who stood there and turned up their noses after their buddy beat Voltaire bloody right out the back door:

    I’m sorry, but that went right off the scale of one the most disgusting things I’ve ever read in my life. You’re literally willing to countenance violent assault to one of the greatest human beings ever just for the sake of sucking up the class ladder to a bunch of self-important born-and-bred and dead airheads who make the suits who run our world look like rational saints. You scream out to everyone listening that no amount of human quality will ever command human decency in your presence when there are mindless conventions of the powerful around which need to be sucked up to. Just what do you think that says to the rest of us when you promise that we won’t merit decent treatment even if we actually somehow score a 1600 SAT and a perfect 10 for human perfection even as we scramble up the mountainside of your idiotic and murderous class heirarchies? I can’t quite believe that a rational animal said that, and I hope everyone watching this was paying attention, because seldom does one get such a clear exposure of what soulless cringing to power looks like. You really are the kind of person who would help Nazis and Communists and Christian inquisitors kill poets and philosophers. And never mind what that means for the rest of us, who can only admire and dream about such accomplishment, but might dare to demand our rights and dignity despite that.

    And yeah, I read your website with the racist poetry. May I suggest that if you want to try the more-royalist-than-the-king thing you stop calling attention to your willingness to cringe and be nasty for the sake of getting in good with the powers-that-be? Here’s a hint: they really prefer people who are pleasant and charming and subtle enough that the high-ups don’t even notice that you’re sucking up to them. Oh, and don’t confront their minds with emotionally difficult ideas not in 100% agreement with their expectations. You think too much and aren’t enough of a social animal to get past the vestibule of that game, and you’ll hate every moment of your existence if you do win. This is what you worship.

    And if you want to do the aristocrat thing right, according to megalopsychia ‘the best that has been thought and said’ and all that, may I please suggest that you emulate Roderick and not some douchebag with way too many syllables sagging off the edges of his family name? Trying to look good in other people’s eyes is just that loud form of slavery known as ruling. Real achievement is science and poetry and philosophy and making your own damn living. Go plunk down some jink and take some classes from our hosting professor. He’s a lord of time.

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