Atheists Are Not Fascists

This week, my first article on Alternet was published, which spurred several comments asking that we not forget about libertarian and conservative atheists. That’s why it’s so amusing that this same week, PZ Myers points out the curious tale of a pundit named Jeff Sparrow, who’s convinced that the New Atheist movement is so right-wing and “Islamophobic” as to be verging on fascist:

The so-called New Atheist movement, in which [Christopher] Hitchens is a key figure, is not progressive in the slightest. On the contrary, it represents a rightwing appropriation of a once-radical tradition …

Although it’s been said before, it needs to be said again: “New Atheism” isn’t a comprehensive creed. It can’t be “appropriated” because no one owns it in the first place. There is no Institute of New Atheism, no authorized journal which promulgates the official New Atheist views. It’s more like a statistical average of the views of many people – and despite his contempt for us, Sparrow is notably incurious as to who does make up the New Atheist movement. He doesn’t cite any surveys or interview any ordinary atheists on the street. Instead, he assumes that a single individual or a small handful of individuals are diagnostic of an entire movement, and makes no effort to investigate further. If he’d even looked at the rest of the lineup for the convention he’s criticizing, he’d see that some of the other headline speakers include individuals who are known for strong progressive views. But somehow, this is completely omitted from his analysis.

I grant that New Atheists don’t fit neatly on the usual left-right political axis. For the most part, we’re defenders of the secular state, of stem-cell research, of marriage equality, and of reproductive choice. All of these are stereotyped as “liberal” positions (although there’s no reason why conservatives and libertarians shouldn’t also support them). On the other hand, we don’t hesitate to oppose “hate speech” laws, to denounce ignorant and brutal customs like compulsory veiling and female genital cutting, and to proclaim that “culture” is no defense for trespassing on the rights of human beings. In many places, this puts us in the company of right-wing political parties (although, truthfully, any self-respecting liberal or progressive ought to get behind this as well). All this shows is that the usual left-right axis isn’t a suitable lens through which to view every social movement.

It’s regrettably true that Christopher Hitchens endorsed the Iraq war, a position not shared by the vast majority of atheists. No one else, as far as I know, is defending this position, much less declaring it to be representative of all atheists. The only difference is in how we respond. Sparrow’s position, apparently, is that the only acceptable response is to anathematize him and cast him out, and if we don’t, then it proves that we must agree with everything he says. This is intellectual McCarthyism at its finest.

Although atheists don’t agree on politics, here’s one generalization that you can rely on: we don’t share Sparrow’s instinctive desire to shut out opinions that differ from our own. We’d much rather debate, argue, have it out in public; we’re known for that. I’ve personally seen Hitchens draw fierce opposition from other atheists. But the consensus – which I share – is that he’s eloquent enough, intelligent enough, fearless enough that he’s worth listening to even when we think he’s completely wrong. We trust ourselves to be able to tell the good bits apart from the crazy ones.

Garden Lantern

Image by lapideo.

I acknowledge that there’s a historical quirk here, in that some of the best-known atheist speakers and writers hold some views that aren’t representative of atheists as a whole. But that just shows that we don’t subject our spokespeople to a battery of litmus tests. Rather, we praise them for doing one thing and doing it well – making a strong, public case for atheism, and being among the first to do so – which doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with or endorse all of their other views.

To return to an analogy I’ve used before, the atheist movement is less like building a cathedral, in which there’s one master plan which all the builders must follow, and more like the advance of a wild garden. There are many different species of plants, each filling a different niche in the ecosystem, some of them competing fiercely with each other, but all of them playing a role in the pattern of natural succession.

Sparrow is like an explorer who steps into the spreading garden, pricks his hand on a thorn, and angrily concludes that the entire field must be thistles and nettles. If he’d looked around a bit more before jumping to this conclusion, he’d have seen the flowering plants that attract bees and butterflies, the spreading young trees shading cool pools of water, the berries growing ripe and sweet on green bushes. To anyone who takes the time to look around and explore the garden, the diversity is obvious. But if you dislike one plant and just want an excuse to clear-cut, it’s obvious why you’d say that there’s nothing growing there but weeds.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Pete Moulton

    Bravo! I tried to read both of Sparrow’s screeds, having been alerted to the first one over at Brother Blackford’s place and the second at PZ’s, but couldn’t get through them. Sparrow’s surrendered whatever capacity he might once have had for critical thinking to his ideology and the arrogant certainty that only he is right, and his maunderings, like those of all ideological extremists, are completely disconnected from the real world.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I would only qualify your statemet Atheists Are Not Fascists with A Vast Majority Of Atheists Are Not Fascists. I am sure that there are some poor, deluded atheists that harbor fascist aspirations. Atheism is skepticism applied to religion, not necessarily applied to politics.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    “New Atheism” isn’t a comprehensive creed.

    As to the whole class war side of the left/right thing, I think you are broadly right.

    But “New Atheism” has a bit more ideological and even political heft to it than just “atheism” or even “strong atheism.”

    Earlier generations of Occidental atheists were also generally (universally?) mortalists, as the gnus seem to be (but watch out for Sam Harris).

    But the gnus have added a commitment to scientific materialism that was rejected by many of atheism’s leading philosophical lights of the early and mid-20th Century and earlier.

    Too, early and high-profile gnus like Harris and Hitchens made their public, bad-boy reputations on sharp, no-nonsense criticisms of religion that included a blatant, special focus on criticism of Islam and the modern, religion-motivated and violent trends among Muslims.

    And both of them were early supporters of the Bush-born GWOT.

    Frequently, their attitude toward and tone regarding Islam are like those of Bill Maher at his most hostile and un-self-censored.

    They are not as far gone as Geert Wilders, by any means.

    But they are a lot closer to him than is comfortable for American liberals, particularly when they write about Muslim immigration in Europe.

    They are far, in fact, from the squishy kind of liberals who give us that “all religions are alike, equally deserving of tolerance and respect” stuff.

    Or the ones who claim a tiny minority of villains has “hijacked” the “religion of peace.”

    Given that the idea of “The New Atheism” was invented to describe their atheism, it is pretty clear we are right to include in the concept a commitment to scientific materialism [they do that, also].

    But are we right to exclude the pointed, anti-Islamic militancy that has played a key role in making their reputations from the start?

    Often, anti-gnus characterize them as tribally intolerant toward religion, which is their way of spinning the fact that the gnus make no effort to choose kind and inoffensive words in which to express their entirely accurate conviction that religious belief, when not a hypocritical pretense, is a species of idiocy, historically and even now often a very dangerous idiocy that has been and is, on balance, harmful both to the believers and to those around them.

    I think it is fair to regard that attitude as a defining feature of The New Atheism, too, along with one of its consequences: a firm commitment to secularism and a strongly separationist view of church/state relations.

    But I think it is going too far to insist on regarding the views of Richard Dawkins, who seems perfectly prepared to outlaw religious indoctrination of the young, as even typical, let alone definitive.

    He seems to be a bit of an outlier, on that.

    Nobody else seems quite so ready to withdraw from religious education the protection of the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and free exercise of religion.

    But then Dawkins is a Brit and much of what he writes relates to the domestic political context in Britain, not in America.

    And I would like to add that though these are, I think, defining features of the gnus it is perfectly clear that secularism, plain speaking about the foolishness of religious belief, a dark view of the historic and even current social impact of religion, and even a degree of personal anger toward religion and religious figures are by no means uncharacteristic of much of the atheism of earlier times.

    And the gnus certainly didn’t invent atheist militancy.

    By the way, are you sure you are a gnu?

    You might actually be more like the old atheists in any number of ways, however much you have in common with the gnus.

    It’s not a disgrace, you know.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    I’ll defend the Iraq war. As a enterprise, it wasn’t necessarily bad. And so far, it hasn’t even turned into a total loss yet.

    But your point still stands. Atheists are, by and large, empiricists; they are less interested in positions than in process. What you believe is less important than how you came to believe it.

    If you have a good argument for your position, then we’re glad to hear it – whatever your position is. If you don’t, then you should shut the hell up. For people who are used to judging positions by other criteria (such as tradition, group cohesion, the status of the speaker, etc.) this is a perpetually mystifying stance.

    Edit: As Gaius notes above, “New Atheism” really means empiricism, or metaphysical naturalism. This is slightly different than old atheism, in that while many of the old atheists were rationalists, they weren’t quite so uniformly metaphysical naturalists.

  • keddaw

    Why do people constantly mis-characterise libertarians? I can only conclude that it is from the deluded Tea Party in the US and the self-labelling of extreme right wing Christian conservatives as ‘libertarian’.

    While you say there is no reason a libertarian shouldn’t get behind these, please allow me state why libertarians have to be in favour of these:

    A secular state is an essential construct for a libertarian (albeit a small one!) Any government endorsement/sponsorship of religion necessarily benefits some at the expense of others freedoms.

    Stem-cell research can only be stopped by (irrational government) regulation which a libertarian is not in favour of.

    Marriage equality – libertarians don’t favour government being involved in marriage at all so same-sex couples would have exactly the same rights as mixed sex.

    Reproductive choice – to a libertarian a person’s body is theirs hence the state has no right to interfere. The only issue here is the line for personhood, which would take a religious reading to define as conception!

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Jeff Sparrow, who’s convinced that the New Atheist movement is so right-wing and “Islamophobic” as to be verging on fascist

    Yeah, that’s why this atheist supported the right of Muslim-Americans to build an Islamic community center near the WTC site and attended an open house hosted by the Islamic Center of Long Island last year, because I just hate and fear Muslims so much!

  • Alaya

    Christopher Hitchens has advocated the mass slaughtering of civilians in Muslim countries. He has reduced his worldview to such a barbaric, dehumanising Us vs. Them mentality that he has utterly lost any moral compass he might have once possessed. Advocating the slaughtering of innocents because you oppose their ideology/religion is not a “dissident” view that I think I ought to tolerate because Hitchens can say some other nice things. It’s something that, to me, a black woman, puts him beyond the pale of rational discourse. Imagine if he had said a similar thing about Jewish people, and the need to mass slaughter Israeli civilians. Imagine if he had said the same thing about Christians, and the need to kill as many as possible in the bible belt! This is not rational disagreement, this is vicious, murderous, essentially racist bullshit and you know what? Though Sparrow overstates his case, I think there *is* a serious problem in whatever passes in the atheist community for INVITING HITCHENS TO SAY IT AGAIN at other atheist conventions. I read a fair number of atheist blogs and I have seen the line-ups at conventions and it sure does look like Hitchens is a prominent, respected member of our community. A prominent, respected member of our community who advocates mass murder of poor benighted brown people for no sin other than being born into a religion he thinks is evil. That is not cool, and it makes me feel alienated, frankly.

    From PZ’s paraphrase of Hitchen’s truly insane speech: “The way to win the war is to kill so many Moslems that they begin to question whether they can bear the mounting casualties.”

    Muslims. ALL MUSLIMS. I might strongly, vehemently disagree with their position on the supernatural, divinity, and probably many aspects of morality, but I will never, ever want to be a part of an atheist movement that thinks it’s cool (or at least, not uncool enough to NOT INVITE ITS ADVOCATES IN) to murder the religious in order to “win the war.”

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Paul

    Not necessarily bad? Not a total loss? A war built on outright lies, sold to the public under false pretenses, for what now seems to be no more noble a cause than lining American corporate pockets and protecting energy resources for the US’s insane levels of consumption? Countless innocent lives lost, billions upon billions of dollars spent on killing and also embezzled and handed to companies in sweetheart deals? A country left in tatters with next to no infrastructure and no security, torn apart by civil strife and a rise in religious fundamentalism?

    I must be missing the silver lining on this one…

  • TheMightyThor

    @Paul: You are missing the silver lining. But don’t worry; billions of people are desperately looking for it also. If I find it, I will certainly let you know. I’m trying to look for the good of the Afghan war and our (U.S.) unquestioning support of Israel and unending cold war on Cuba. Perhaps you or someone can help in those searches?

  • Miles McCullough

    Yahzi, How is the Iraq War not a total loss? I still haven’t heard a good reason for either the start or the continuation of it, and by now there are millions of Iraqis dead and thousands of our own soldiers dead and billions of dollars lost. I am honestly curious what justification it could all have at this point.

    Keddaw, Many liberals may reflexively dislike libertarianism for its connection to the Tea Party, but in the circles I hang out with, economic libertarianism is disliked for its central idea: free market fundamentalism. It fails to take into account externalities, short term biases and other biases due to nonrational agents, and its emphasis on growth to the detriment of a level playing field – 5% growth concentrated in the hands of the 1% is worse than 3% growth distributed evenly.

    Not just that, but comparing the 1932-1979 period to the 1979-2008 period (major troughs in the business cycle that coincide with a shift from growing government investment to shrinking government involvement), libertarianism fails empirically as well as rationally. Over the past 30 years compared to the 45 years before that, average year-over-year growth has decreased (major fail), wages have stagnated, wealth disparity has increased, education and healthcare have fallen compared to the rest of the world to the point the U.S. is now just behind Cuba and parts of Eastern Europe in healthcare and education and sinking rapidly.

    I support civil rights (very libertarian), and economic socialism (where the market cannot create proper incentives and as a tool promote a level playing field though it must always be balanced with growth in mind). I do so because these things work and are fair, neither of which can be said of ideological libertarianism – I consider free market fundamentalism a greater threat than religion in the long run, after all religion killed 4,000 people on 9/11, but neoliberal foreign policy killed millions in two separate wars in the decade since. Perhaps it is not entirely fair to conflate neoliberal foreign policy with libertarian domestic policy, but they seem so similar to me in that both are based on the axiom that might makes right.

    As for religion, I think it is the second biggest threat to humanity, and I don’t begrudge Dawkins a slight difference in priority in that regard. Identifying a threat or passionately campaigning against childhood indoctrination and labelling on Dawkins’ part does not make him militant or fascist or right wing. Dawkins has never campaigned FOR childhood indoctrination even in humanism, rationalism, or empiricism. He has only ever campaigned AGAINST indoctrination in a specific religion and has frequently proposed exposing children to all kinds of different ideas and religions and letting children make up their own minds. I can hardly imagine a less fascist position. You simply don’t need to be fascist when you have the truth on your side; all you need is to stand up enough to heard next to those trying to shout you down, which can be admittedly difficult when your opponents have strong financial incentives and you don’t.

  • Andrew T.

    To be honest, the tone and persistence of Hitchens’ arguments for the Iraq war…which, as most of us know, was grounded from the outset in lies and religion as a basis…color his character to the point that I’m embarrassed that he often comes across as being the most visible spokesperson in the atheist community.

    But, that makes me wonder: Given how many diverse spokespeople the atheist community really has, why is it that Hitchens does seem as though he’s the most visible? Part of me says that detractors like Sparrow intentionally latch onto his character and blow his prominence out of proportion so that they can paint the community with the unrepresentative aspects of his opinions.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Alaya, I agree that Hitchen’s viewpoint has clearly wandered into the realm of genocide at times. I would like to stress, though, that the mass bombing (or other summary execution) of civilians is evidently one of the prominent pillars of American foreign policy since at least World War II. It is not seen as the slightest bit controversial or immoral among the policy elite.

    The inability to consider seriously the lives and worth of other people is at the heart of the “power is justice” attitude. They don’t address the reversibility of their argument because, to them, there is no one on the other side.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Yahzi at 4, I was thinking of the phenomenalists, logical positivists, and phenomenological existentialists of the last century along with earlier philosophers like Nietzsche and (maybe) Hume, for example.

    None of them were materialists.

    And while you are doubtless right about the general run of atheists the gnus are very particular and quite emphatic about their commitment to scientific materialism.

    But Alaya at 7, holy crap!

    PZ’s summary of Hitchens may not even be particularly harsh, either.

    Hitchens has always enjoyed being provocative, even (if not especially) toward his friends, allies, and admirers.

    And he has always been closer to the “We are at war with Islam” crowd than I personally cared for.

    So if we are at war with Islam, what’s the surprise?

    Isn’t that what you do in a war?

    Keep killing the enemy until they stop resisting and surrender?

    Unless you lose and they do that to you, first, of course.

    On the other hand, PZ is delusional, too.

    He writes, A clash of whole civilizations is a war of ideas.

    The way we can ‘conquer’ is on the cultural and economic level: the West should not invade and destroy, but should instead set an example, lead with strength, and be the civilization that every rational citizen of the other side wants to emulate.

    It just has never worked that way, and it’s not the “rational citizens of the other side” who are the problem.

    As for me, I don’t actually accept the War with Islam premise.

    As for the clash of civilizations thing, it never actually came to much until we made the most benighted regions of Islam rich enough with oil money for things to start to boil over.

    To this day, most of the Muslims of this world wouldn’t care about us much if we weren’t intruding in Muslim territory, and we wouldn’t be doing that if we weren’t such bloody fools in general and didn’t want to protect that neo-colonial interloper, “the Zionist Entity,” in particular.

    But even so the radicals of Islam are far more at war with Islam than they are with us.

    Just read the papers and see where all the terrorist attacks are, and at whom they are directed.

    They aren’t here, and they are not directed at us.

    The upsurge of religiously motivated craziness in the Muslim world has been much, much more a problem for the Muslim world than it has been or is likely ever to be – the possibility of eventual nuclear terrorism aside – for us.

    To be fair, Hitchens in the past has defended the rights of Muslim immigrants in America and insisted he did not fear even so much trouble, long term, here as the Europeans have had and still have.

    Well, I guess that’s being fair.

    You Tube has some parts of his talk at ffrf.

    I wish there was a transcript.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch

    Ebon,

    This is one of my most favorite posts of yours. I’ll have more to say later.

  • karen

    We’d much rather debate, argue, have it out in public; we’re known for that. I’ve personally seen Hitchens draw fierce opposition from other atheists. But the consensus – which I share – is that he’s eloquent enough, intelligent enough, fearless enough that he’s worth listening to even when we think he’s completely wrong. We trust ourselves to be able to tell the good bits apart from the crazy ones.

    Yes. This is one of the most invigorating aspects of the atheist community, for me. After years of living in an evangelical milieu in which dissent was not permitted and even investigating other points of view always came with a built-in Christian lens, I love the freewheeling debate and even the dissension among atheists.

    We agree to disagree, and I wish we could do that more often, more graciously. But in general it’s so refreshing to truly have a “big tent” within the non-supernatural community.

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment #10:

    Miles, there is a diversity of views among libertarians, just as in all ideologies. Libertarianism ranges from minarchism (a minimal constitutional state) to anarchism. They all seem to agree on some issues, but others are matters of contention, which is hardly a surprise. All libertarians would agree with the Tea Party’s view on balancing the budget, but not the unquestioning support for our current wars-especially as these are prime sources of debt, let alone the human cost.

    Let me gently suggest that government is an incredible purveyor of externalities and irrational biases. Both many libertarians and progressives view the existing system as “free market capitalism” but to my mind nothing could be further from the truth. Better terms for it would be corporatism or crony capitalism. I oppose neo-liberalism as just another form of this.

    As you can probably imagine, very different interpretations of the 1932-1979, 1979-2008 periods, the business cycle, and stagnating wages have been offered. I find it hard to sort out the conflicting statistical data and other such empirical studies myself. Suffice it to say many possible causes of such problems exist.

    The perverse incentives of “economic socialism” will speak for themselves I think. Externalities and irrational biases aplenty there. I would be interested to know which particular wars you blamed on neo-liberalism. As for death toll, I doubt it exceeds that of the socialist states, especially the Soviet Union and Red China. Personally I fail to see how libertarianism could in any sense be “based on the axiom that might makes right.” That’s in fact the opposite of what it supports. I know that too many libertarians serve as corporate shills, apologists for the rich, but they are being inconsistent doing so. The consistent libertarian, in my view, understands most of their wealth and power is utterly illegitimate and opposes it as such.

  • Jormungundr

    @#10

    I consider free market fundamentalism a greater threat than religion in the long run, after all religion killed 4,000 people on 9/11, but neoliberal foreign policy killed millions in two separate wars in the decade since.

    Are you attempting to pin the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on libertarians? When you think of Bush Jr. and friends, does ‘libertarian’ come to mind as a great way to describe them?
    With their attitude towards spending I would not paint them as being anywhere close to being fiscal conservatives. Is their brand of corporate cronyism libertarian in nature?

    libertarianism fails empirically as well as rationally. Over the past 30 years compared to the 45 years before that, average year-over-year growth has decreased (major fail), wages have stagnated, wealth disparity has increased, education and healthcare have fallen compared to the rest of the world to the point the U.S. is now just behind Cuba and parts of Eastern Europe in healthcare and education and sinking rapidly.

    And all these bad things have happened because libertarians have had an unbreakable death grip on the government for 30+ years? “Libertarians were in charge for a few decades and here are the results” is what you are claiming?

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    OK, I followed the links and read the stuff.

    That guy Sparrow is really something.

    Go see.

  • Yahzi

    A war built on outright lies,

    You can’t be that opposed to lies, since you immediately follow with a host of your own.

    I would like to point out that when American corporations were colluding with Saddam Hussein to rob the Iraqi people so you could have cheap oil, you were silent. You only raised a fuss when the theft came out of your own pocket.

    As for protecting energy resources, we could have bought Iraqi oil at a fraction of the cost of the war. In fact, we did, for decades. As for innocent lives, those were already being lost (unless you don’t count the gassed Kurds as innocents), and then our economic sanctions added another 100,000 infants to the death toll. Iraq had no infrastructure before we got there, thanks in no small part to those sanctions, and also due to Saddam’s brutal attempt to repress the rise of fundamentalism. And the civil strife was contained, in the sense that the ethnic group inflicting the damage was wearing State uniforms.

    As is depressingly common for so-called liberals, your morality is deontological: as long as Americans weren’t the ones pulling the trigger, you feel no moral obligation to prevent violence. As long as the crime can’t be traced directly back to you, you don’t care. Never mind that you profited from the crime – never mind that you fueled your SUVs and your economy with Iraq’s oil.

    There were good and solid reasons to invade Iraq. Rather than pay a thug to oppress a people so we could steal their resources, for once we put our own blood on the line to try and create a democratic society. This was the most progressive act imaginable: that we should repent of the monster we helped make, and suffer of our own to free the people we had sold into slavery.

    There were good and solid reasons not to invade Iraq, too, chief among which was the notion that the Iraqi people, being dirty brown Muslims, weren’t “ready” for freedom and democracy. It is entirely possible that this is true, that Iraqi society hadn’t brushed away enough medieval institutions to allow for a modern state (it took Western nations 400 years to do so, after all – no blame to the Middle East if they hadn’t accomplished it in the last 100), but I confess I was surprised to hear this argument advanced by progressives rather than conservatives.

    I’m not really interested in re-arguing the entire thing. I just wanted to point out that there is actually a legitimate argument to be made for both sides that goes beyond the simplistic jingoism of “America is great!” or “War is bad!”

    However, the knee-jerk responses to Hitchen’s ugly but entirely plausible comments implies I may be wrong, and that palatable positions are more important than the facts used to reach them. (For the record, Hitchens was only suggesting that the solution to Muslim theocracy was exactly the same as the solution to Christian theocracy; Catholics and Protestants killed each other for hundreds of years, until finally they got sick enough of it to sign the Treaty of Utrecht.)

  • Yahzi

    Jormungundr, libertarianism fails because it is a flawed ideology. It contains no mechanism to prevent the tragedy of the commons. It depends on a flawed conception of human nature, which ignores just how much social environment affects individual behavior at a nueurological level.

  • Miles McCullough

    Government is definitely prey to many biases, which is why a method regulate government is necessary, like with elections in theory. The Soviets and the Reds didn’t have meaningful elections – they had dictatorial socialism, which inevitable degenerated into incompetent totalitarian socialism. Democratic socialism is what the Nordic countries have, which is why I mentioned them; they are far more relevant to a discussion of economic systems than the various dictator socialist governments despite common misperception, more’s the pity.

    One failing U.S. democracy has is our elections are mostly won by campaign donations and advertising, not votes. Unfortunately there is not a huge difference between market bias for the rich and government bias for the rich in the U.S. as things currently stand, which is why campaign finance reform is a bigger deal for me than a ideological battle on libertarianism vs. socialism, though I’ll keep fighting that battle in the meantime as my posts here make it bit obvious xD

    On the whole I think many government functions are hard to argue with despite the handouts for the rich that are created, like pollution regulation or education or infrastructure investment. These things are simply worth the waste (which is much more substantial under Republicans than Democrats, almost as if Republicans want to make the slogan “government is the problem” true).

    You mentioned that the popular idea of free market capitalism is something you would call corporatism, but what do you intend to fix it? Eliminate corporations? Modern factories and production at reasonable scales require major investment and cooperation so that can’t be it. Reform corporations? Perhaps by turning them into worker’s co-operatives, where the management is elected by employees, not investors? I would support that in a heart beat, but that is rarely the preferred alternative of the libertarians I’ve spoken with as it infringes on some sacred right of property or other.

    You mention that the wealth of the rich is illegitimate, but what do you want to do to rectify that? Markets are even better at concentrating capital than pseudo-democracies are – just look at the past 30 years where government has shrunk relative to the economy as a whole and the gini index has ballooned if you don’t believe me. Repeating “let the market decide” doesn’t solve everything.

    Libertarianism seems to me to be “based on the axiom that might makes right,” because it wants to take power away from government (in our case at least technically a democracy) and give power to the market, where power is divided based on dollars, not votes, which fundamentally tilts the playing field even further towards the rich and powerful and away from the poor and powerless. Not to mention the fact that libertarians vote fairly consistently right wing, and are cozy with the religious right, neoconservatives, and neoliberals, all of whom are to my mind united by one overwhelming factor: a belief that might makes right.

    The past 30 years have witness an unmistakable shift toward libertarian policies comparable to the previous 40. Reagan destroyed private sector unions and his successors continued the fight. Reagan also more than halved the top federal income tax rate from 70% to 28% which sets a tone for tax differences between the FDR-Ford period and the Reagan-Obama period (corporate taxes have also lapsed, while property and excise taxes have increased shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor). Welfare payments have been shrinking instead of growing. All of these differences are ways in which the power of government to mold society has been given over to the wealthy to act as they please.

    And yes, I was attempting to pin the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the right wing coalition of which libertarians are a seemingly unshakable pillar. It is hardly unfair to blame the base for the candidates they elect. Or at least for the ways their candidates differ from the competition.

  • Miles McCullough

    I almost forgot to mention that Democrats – the liberal candidates – keep the debt down and Republicans grow it, as seen in the chart midway through the page:

    http://www.fxtimes.com/education/fund-webinar-primer-on-us-fundamental-indicators-part-1-usa-the-world%E2%80%99s-largest-economy-some-figures-and-stats-the-debt-the-budget-debate/

    The debt-to-GDP ratio has grown every single year under a Republican administration since Reagan. Libertarians clearly don’t care about budget deficits, or maybe that’s not true. Maybe libertarians are just hoodwinked into voting for conservatives who are really corporatists and could care less about long term troubles like fiscal deficits, educational deficits, health care deficits, environmental deficits, etc. Honestly, I think the latter is the case, and libertarians need to wake up and realize conservatives are even less interested in an even playing field and good government than the liberals.

  • Miles McCullough

    Yahzi, As a liberal I have no deontological objection to killing people in self defense or solidarity with others in defense of their rights should a case merit such action, but I recognize that bringing democracy to another country doesn’t work. Not because the natives are one race or other, but because nobody likes being invaded and occupied by an empire – especially an empire that’s made a habit of it in your part of the world and is consequently disliked.

    At best, you defeat the regime blocking democratic transformation, and back the fuck out of that country and let the natives figure it out themselves. Maybe liberals respect the natives enough to not insist on holding their hand to teach the poor misguided fools The Way as conservatives seem to want to do. In fact, there’s another reason an empire might occupy a country besides generosity: self interest. Is it really so far fetched to suppose that was the real interest of the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the whole “bringing democracy” was just another lying excuse in the unending stream of Bush apologetics after “preemptive self defense from WMDs.”

    After those pitiful excuses can you blame liberals for disbelieving the U.S. claim to be acting in the best interest of it’s poor little orphan wards (Iraq and Afghanistan)? Can you blame Iraqis and Aghanis? And that’s ignoring the pitiful excuse we gave for invading Afghanistan as well. Hint: we invaded a country of 30 MILLION people for one man without waiting two weeks for extradition talks and ignoring Afghan requests for evidence, though I’m sure if Afghanis wanted a criminal resident in the U.S. we would just turn him over without any evidence (haha).

    Honestly, why wasn’t the whole Osama thing treated as a criminal matter? He would have been dead years ago without any wars. If you really want my opinion on why Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded: partly stimulus for the military-industrial complex, partly to show America was still badass, and partly incompetence. No other reason. For no other reason over 2 million people are dead and a trillion dollars wasted.

  • Vin720

    Miles, the current President has added to the national debt over 3 trillion dollars in just 2.5 years of his administration! Yikes! Wait till this Obamacare comes to full fruition.

  • Miles McCullough

    The health care bill doesn’t add one dime to the national debt over the long term according to the nonpartisan CBO. Obama’s deficits come entirely from revenue shorts due to Clinton and Bush’s Great Recession, Bush and Obama’s tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush and Obama’s wars abroad, and Bush’s Medicare Part D.

    Besides, we have 9% unemployment. That is a much bigger problem than the debt. We need more spending, not less.

  • Alex Weaver

    The consistent libertarian, in my view, understands most of their wealth and power is utterly illegitimate and opposes it as such.

    Then you’re somewhat of a voice in the wilderness since every Libertarian I’ve ever met considers simply HAVING wealth, in particular, to be a prima facie proof that the person who has it deserves it, unless it can be shown to have been obtained in one of a very few gerrymandered ways admitted to be “illegitimate.”

  • keddaw

    An effective libertarian model would factor in all (negative, at least) externalities into the price and redistribute that as compensation by either voluntary agreement or by legal remedy. It’s not ideal and not my own preferred solution, but it is a lie to say that externalities are not factored into libertarian economics or that the tragedy of the commons is a necessary consequence. In fact, the very existence of any communal, natural government is testament to the fact humans, in their better moments, realise that their long term interests must involve curtailing their short term goals.

    To describe anything the US government has done in the last 50 years as libertarian is a woeful misreading of the situation. Markets are not free, patents protect ideas and prevent innovation and protect corporate interests, government power has increased by orders of magnitude, military interventions have increased, the 4th Amendment no longer applies, 2nd Amendment rights have been repeatedly curtailed, 1st Amendment rights are under attack, the police have unbelievable powers over the populace and the security services even more etc. etc. NONE of these is even remotely libertarian and yet your so-called liberal politicians and free market Republicans have voted in favour of all of these. Ron Paul has voted against all of these. But he will massively reduce medicare, medicaid, unemployment, women’s abortion rights (albeit only in Texas!), planned parenthood etc. etc. But apart from abortion, there is no reason personal insurance and private charity can’t do the rest, probably to a lesser standard than government, initially at least.

    The best argument against libertarianism is that the amount we think we should donate to help our community (large or small) tends to be almost twice what we actually give. This means that we have to find a way to force us to do what we think we should because, when it comes down to it, we only do half as much. This involves force in some way, social pressure probably won’t cut it, and that goes against most libertarian’s non-aggression principle, which is as far away from might is right as it’s possible to be.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    You can’t be that opposed to lies, since you immediately follow with a host of your own.

    What a strong statement to make with literally zero backing. If you’re going to make such a statement, I would expect that you would follow it up with some support. Instead, you argued policy.

    A war built on outright lies, sold to the public under false pretenses, for what now seems to be no more noble a cause than lining American corporate pockets and protecting energy resources for the US’s insane levels of consumption? Countless innocent lives lost, billions upon billions of dollars spent on killing and also embezzled and handed to companies in sweetheart deals? A country left in tatters with next to no infrastructure and no security, torn apart by civil strife and a rise in religious fundamentalism?

    The war was built on outright lies.
    The war was sold to the public under false pretenses.
    The war did go towards lining corporate pockets…especially those who were/are friendly to the people who were in power at the time.
    Many lives have been lost.
    Billions of dollars have been spent on killing and others have been embezzled and handed to companies in sweetheart deals.
    Iraq is left in tatters with no infrastructure or security.
    Iraq is torn apart by civil strife.
    Iraq has seen an increase in fundamentalism.

    These things are all true. They are not lies. If you think they are lies, then I would expect you to point out how they are not true, not simply claim there were good reasons to invade (without really providing any) and then make ad hominem attacks.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    To describe anything the US government has done in the last 50 years as libertarian is a woeful misreading of the situation.

    I suppose that’s why Greenspan (Rand devotee) admitted that deregulation and lax oversight of the “free market” was to blame for the latest market crash?

  • keddaw

    OMGF, the problem people like Greenspan have, and any ideologue for that matter, is that they think any step in the direction of their principles, under any circumstances, must be right. Whether they bother to think that it is an automatic improvement over the present situation or think that any short term problem is worth paying for the long term aim I can’t say.

    A pragmatist would look at each situation and decide case by case. A pragmatist would start from where we are and try to chart the best course possible from here even if it means a few steps back before going forward, and this might mean a destination different from their ideal.

    As an example, when Labour came to power in the UK in 1997 they massively increased spending on public services (for political reasons this was in 1999). A libertarian ideologue would be against this since it is in complete opposition to their beliefs and the sooner the public systems broke and free market solutions took over the better. My view was that there was no free market solution available and as much as I am against total state control over education and medicine it was a necessary evil to get the infrastructure up to working standards. I still want more private involvement in health and education, but as long as there is a public option I want it to be viable – even if it is only there to offer competition to the private sector.

    Incidentally, Rand was an idiot. I could give reasons why, but I guess 99% of people here agree.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The point, though, is that the idea that the last 50 years have been anti-libertarian is simply not correct. Greenspan is very libertarian (as was Rand) and pushed for less control and less regulation of industries – essentially allowing the “free market” to be free. It backfired. It didn’t work, and he admitted as such. But, whether it worked or not, the point is that you can’t very well claim that “desrib[ing] anything the US government has done in the last 50 years as libertarian is a woeful misreading of the situation.” If anything, being too libertarian led to the financial crisis we are in, as admitted by someone who worships the idea of the free market.

  • keddaw

    I agree, but it wasn’t a free market, the whole reason it blew up was there was an underwriting of losses by the government allowing riskier behaviour than would otherwise have happened (on that large a scale.) If the government is going to skew the free market then they also have to regulate it to make sure they’re not taking advantage of – like any sensible insurer would do. But, like you say, due to them worshipping the free market (even when it isn’t free) they refused to place sensible limits and allowed the banks to play casino with us willing to bail them out if they had a bad night.

    I’m not saying nothing the government has done in the last 50 years hasn’t been libertarian, or libertarian-based, but the overall shift has been a reduction in our freedoms.

    PS. I forgot you guys had the civil rights movement in the past 50 years, I guess that is pretty libertarian. And I suppose the gay rights movement too. And Roe vs. Wade was in the 70′s. Okay, WHITE MEN have fewer freedoms than they had 50 years ago :)

  • Jormungundr

    @keddaw #27

    The best argument against libertarianism is that the amount we think we should donate to help our community (large or small) tends to be almost twice what we actually give … This involves force in some way, social pressure probably won’t cut it, and that goes against most libertarian’s non-aggression principle

    Yeah. Most libertarians are fine with taxes. But strangely, people I meet in real life and a lot of people on the internet think that libertarianism = anarchy. Libertarians do advocate business regulations and taxes.

    OMFG:
    Your only source to the claim that our government is Libertarian is Greenspan? All of the very non libertarian presidents and laws passed by the legislature don’t count? I would say that the government is, and has been for some time, moving away from the kind of minarchism that most libertarians would prefer.
    I single man at the Fed did some stupid stuff and denounced certain regulatory decisions and now libertarianism is clearly to blame for our current troubles?
    I don’t in the tiniest way agree that our government has come anywhere remotely close to being libertarian in the past few decades.

    I forgot you guys had the civil rights movement in the past 50 years, I guess that is pretty libertarian. And I suppose the gay rights movement too. And Roe vs. Wade was in the 70′s.

    That’s true. It is not all doom and gloom. There are victories to be had.
    But the size and influence of our government is growing and their spending is exploding. The middle paragraph of keddaw’s #27 comment closely matches my view on how our government has not been moving in the right direction at all. That doesn’t mean that zero things that libertarians like have happened in the last 50 years. But the fact remains that our government hasn’t been libertarian at all in that time.

  • Doug Kirk

    There seems to be a raging battle of “No True Libertarian” going on here…

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    keddaw,

    I agree, but it wasn’t a free market, the whole reason it blew up was there was an underwriting of losses by the government allowing riskier behaviour than would otherwise have happened (on that large a scale.)

    What happened, according to Greenspan himself, was deregulation allowing for rules to be too lax. This allowed for the banks and securities to misrepresent their balance sheets and inflate their reports, which further allowed them to raid their own companies and pass the crash off onto the regular homeowners and investors as well as the lower end employees. This is what the free market gets you. Making it more free is not the answer as it only opens us up to more abuse.

    Jormungundr

    Your only source to the claim that our government is Libertarian is Greenspan?

    Please re-read what I wrote before arguing against claims I’m not making.

    I single man at the Fed did some stupid stuff and denounced certain regulatory decisions and now libertarianism is clearly to blame for our current troubles?

    Policies that libertarians have pushed for and tend to defend (like deregulation and letting the free market decide as if it’s some sort of magic talisman) are what got us into this mess, yes.

  • http://darkenedstumbling.blogspot.com/ Leum

    I think what’s being claimed isn’t that our entire government has been skewing towards libertarianism, but that out economic policy has been.

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @#21 I do not think that in the long run government can be regulated, especially as they are regulating themselves.

    “Unfortunately there is not a huge difference between market bias for the rich and government bias for the rich in the U.S. as things currently stand.” I agree. In my view, there is no meaningful separation between government and business. A cartoon I saw said: “We’ve taken out the revolving door and put in an arch.”

    “On the whole I think many government functions are hard to argue with despite the handouts for the rich that are created, like pollution regulation or education or infrastructure investment.” Believe me, there are arguments against them.

    “You mentioned that the popular idea of free market capitalism is something you would call corporatism, but what do you intend to fix it? Eliminate corporations? Modern factories and production at reasonable scales require major investment and cooperation so that can’t be it. Reform corporations? Perhaps by turning them into worker’s co-operatives, where the management is elected by employees, not investors? I would support that in a heart beat, but that is rarely the preferred alternative of the libertarians I’ve spoken with as it infringes on some sacred right of property or other.”

    Existing corporations are creatures of the state. They have been since the East India Company, or even back to ancient Rome. A corporation is possible to establish by contract, except for one thing-limited liability applied to third parties. This is what government is needed for. Eliminate that, along with “corporate personhood”. I believe that most corporate property is illegitimate, as its taken other people’s money (via taxes) and thus can be appropriated by the employees. They could then turn this into a cooperative if they wished. Incidentally, this reasoning comes from the “Mr. Libertarian” himself, Murray Rothbard, co-founder of the LP, who first applied the term to what is now called classical liberalism. The “vulgar libertarians” as they are sometimes called, wrongfully perceive existing property as legitimate-they are being inconsistent.

    “You mention that the wealth of the rich is illegitimate, but what do you want to do to rectify that?”

    Well, most of it is. I said above that redistribution of wealth would be legitimate for cases when they have taken people’s money via taxes, which is basically all of them.

    “Markets are even better at concentrating capital than pseudo-democracies are – just look at the past 30 years where government has shrunk relative to the economy as a whole and the gini index has ballooned if you don’t believe me.”

    Oh please. “Market” does not mean “free market.” I’m not claiming there will ever be absolute equality as this is impossible. However, this massive disparity of wealth only happens with state support. Hence the term “crony capitalism” or “corporatism” as I said.

    Repeating “let the market decide” doesn’t solve everything.”

    I don’t simply repeat that, though others may.

    “Libertarianism seems to me to be “based on the axiom that might makes right,” because it wants to take power away from government (in our case at least technically a democracy) and give power to the market, where power is divided based on dollars, not votes, which fundamentally tilts the playing field even further towards the rich and powerful and away from the poor and powerless. Not to mention the fact that libertarians vote fairly consistently right wing, and are cozy with the religious right, neoconservatives, and neoliberals, all of whom are to my mind united by one overwhelming factor: a belief that might makes right.”

    The state, whether it calls itself, or is called, a democracy, dictatorship, monarchy, whatever, is always based on “might makes right.” That’s simply it’s nature. You yourself have complained of the rich being powerful, yet do not understand why they became so. I have told you repeatedly: the state. If business were made to bear the costs themselves, in a playing field which allows competitors to enter at any time, they would not be so rich. The market, for me, is just one aspect of Voluntaryism, which says that force, fraud, and the threat of them are illegitimate-the Zero Aggression Principle. Human action must be voluntary. The free market is the commercial side of this.

    “The past 30 years have witness an unmistakable shift toward libertarian policies comparable to the previous 40. Reagan destroyed private sector unions and his successors continued the fight. Reagan also more than halved the top federal income tax rate from 70% to 28% which sets a tone for tax differences between the FDR-Ford period and the Reagan-Obama period (corporate taxes have also lapsed, while property and excise taxes have increased shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor). Welfare payments have been shrinking instead of growing. All of these differences are ways in which the power of government to mold society has been given over to the wealthy to act as they please.”

    These are not “libertarian” policies, or at least not what I support. This is simply the same old-wealth redistribution up to the rich, reversing the downward trend that was necessary to stave off revolution in the 1930s and 60s.

    “And yes, I was attempting to pin the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the right wing coalition of which libertarians are a seemingly unshakable pillar. It is hardly unfair to blame the base for the candidates they elect. Or at least for the ways their candidates differ from the competition.”

    Who are these “libertarians” that support the wars? Even if we look at mainstream ones-the LP opposes them. Ron Paul does too. There is nothing libertarian about the Bush Doctrine and neoconservatives’ foreign military adventurism. In any case, I am not a member of the LP and have mixed feelings on voting. Whether or not people can be held accountable depends on how aware they are. This applies equally to all partisans, mind you. So don’t apply it to the opposition but leave yourself out.

    #22 I have never denied Republicans also spent money like there was no tomorrow, Reagan included. I agree with your sentiments on most libertarians. They do indeed need to wake up and reject the Right.

    @#26 Alex, I may indeed be a voice in the wilderness, but I’m not alone. This harkens back to Ayn Rand’s view that big business was a “persecuted minority”-sentiments like that are enough to make you gag. They, like her, assume the existing framework is legitimate, and go from there. More wrong they could not be.

    @#29 Greenspan is no libertarian, nor was his idol Rand (she denounced them). The Fed is anything but libertarian, it’s a central planner. They have been manipulating the economy for decades, which has disastrous results.
    First, we insured banks against their losses. Then they were mandated to make loans for people who were less likely to pay them back, loans they would not have made otherwise. Lack of monitoring followed, without removing either of the first two subsidies. It’s the perfect storm.

  • http://darkenedstumbling.blogspot.com/ Leum

    First, we insured banks against their losses. Then they were mandated to make loans for people who were less likely to pay them back, loans they would not have made otherwise. Lack of monitoring followed, without removing either of the first two subsidies. It’s the perfect storm.

    My understanding was that banks were not mandated to give out loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay them back (as is commonly alleged by right-wingers), but rather that they were forbidden to redline geographic areas out of ever being given loans because such lines tended to be drawn along racial demographic boundaries.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    First, we insured banks against their losses. Then they were mandated to make loans for people who were less likely to pay them back, loans they would not have made otherwise.

    Sigh. This is a right-wing zombie lie, and we’ve discussed it before:

    Why [did] banks permit low-income borrowers to apply for “ninja” (short for “no income, no job, no assets”) loans, or wildly variable “exploding ARMs”, which any reasonable evaluation would have shown stood no chance of ever being paid back? (If they knew these were bad investments, shouldn’t they have taken every possible step to protect themselves?) Why did all the rating agencies give subprime collateralized debt obligations their highest, top investment-grade rankings? Why were firms like AIG (which sold insurance, not mortgages) getting involved in the subprime market so heavily? Why was anyone even interested in buying these CDOs if everyone knew their prospects were so poor?

    Longer comment to follow later.

  • Yahzi

    Miles McCullough: I recognize that bringing democracy to another country doesn’t work

    Japan and Germany don’t count?

    Yes, I know there are significant differences between the situation after WWII and now, and that a serious and legitimate argument can be made as to why those differences lead to disaster instead of success, but you didn’t make that serious and legitimate argument. You made a blanket, jingoistic, simplistic statement. Opposition to which was the point of my comment.

    What you fail to grasp is that “self-interest” and “Iraqi democracy” are not conflicting goals. They are complementary goals, which is why we invaded Iraq and not Sudan.

    Honestly, why wasn’t the whole Osama thing treated as a criminal matter?

    Because the nation of Afghanistan refused to extradite him. “War is the continuation of state policy by other means” and all, you know?

  • Yahzi

    OMFG:
    The war was built on outright lies.
    The war was sold to the public under false pretenses.
    The war did go towards lining corporate pockets…especially those who were/are friendly to the people who were in power at the time.
    Many lives have been lost.
    Billions of dollars have been spent on killing and others have been embezzled and handed to companies in sweetheart deals.
    Iraq is left in tatters with no infrastructure or security.
    Iraq is torn apart by civil strife.
    Iraq has seen an increase in fundamentalism.

    Which of those statements not containing the word “war” would be true even if we had not invaded Iraq?

    Welcome to the school of tautology.

    I did not disagree that the war was sold on lies; I stated that there was a rational argument for why it was justifiable, just as there was a rational argument for why it was not. Instead of rational argument, you’ve presented tautologies, which are essentially lies of omission.

    Congratulations. You’ve sold your position the same way the administration sold its.

  • Alex Weaver
    First, we insured banks against their losses. Then they were mandated to make loans for people who were less likely to pay them back, loans they would not have made otherwise.

    Sigh. This is a right-wing zombie lie, and we’ve discussed it before:

    At least this time the suggestion that the issue was specifically the government being required to offer loans to non-whites isn’t even directly implied. Progress?

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    I wanted to post that of course race wasn’t implied, how redlining started after the Federal National Housing Act etc. but…I’m just so tired.

  • keddaw

    You can play the race card all you like, but the UK had a similar situation that had nothing to do with race – what it had to do with was banks having virtually unlimited credit (market was awash with liquidity), a housing market running amuk, banks (thinking they were) able to transfer the risk of mortgages and mortgage agents (often banks) enabling and encouraging people to fraudulently state their earnings to get higher loan amounts with reduced interest at the start and promises of massive future rewards. (Remind anyone else of drug dealers?) Whether this was mandated from the government or not is irrelevant, incentives were in place to make banks behave the way they did and that is a lack of either regulation or moral hazard – both of which lie at the government’s feet.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    OMGF at 28

    Everything you have written at 28 is true.

    But so is this.

    Nearly all of the horrors of the war in Iraq happened after the US quickly defeated Hussein’s forces and sponsored a new constitution and an elected government.

    The fighting has continued since then primarily because various groups of well-armed Iraqis, many organized under religious figures with political agendas of their own, were not prepared to accept peaceful and democratic rule by that elected government, choosing instead nearly a decade of futile and devastating warfare against it and each other.

    The American role since the formation of Iraqi democracy has been to try to defend the government and establish durable order that will survive our own evacuation of the country.

    I agree the enterprise was ill-fated from the start and ought never to have been undertaken.

    I agree that its costs to the Iraqis, by now, are well above what it would have been reasonable for the Iraqis to willingly pay, even for the success that we still have not achieved and still likely cannot.

    I agree that the supposed benefits to the US, or even to our ally Israel, of getting rid of Saddam were at best slight, on balance, even if we had managed total success from the day the new Iraqi government took office.

    And I agree that the war was sold to the US with lies.

    That does not mean its aims were evil or that we have been fighting somehow on the, or a, wrong side.

    That does not mean that our enemies were or are in the right.

    All the same could be said about the Vietnam War of my youth.

    This is far from unusual for a country that has looked for trouble in faraway places since 1898, and found it with appalling regularity.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Michael,

    @#29 Greenspan is no libertarian, nor was his idol Rand (she denounced them).

    Really? We’re going to play that game? Greenspan was a devotee of Rand whether you like it or not. And, readers may also be interested in this article.

    Yahzi,
    So, your statement that all of those things are lies? Still no support?

    Which of those statements not containing the word “war” would be true even if we had not invaded Iraq?

    Wow…considering that every statement had the word “war” or was a direct result of the war, this question is rather meaningless, isn’t it?

    Welcome to the school of tautology.

    Do you know what that word means?

    I did not disagree that the war was sold on lies…

    So, you admit that the statements weren’t lies even though you tried to blast another commenter for saying them?

    I stated that there was a rational argument for why it was justifiable, just as there was a rational argument for why it was not.

    Yes, OMGF can read.

    Instead of rational argument, you’ve presented tautologies, which are essentially lies of omission.

    Say what? The things that Paul said were/are true. You called them lies. Now, you’re claiming that they are true, but they are lies because you don’t know what “tautology” means? This is ridiculous.

    Congratulations. You’ve sold your position the same way the administration sold its.

    Congratulations, you’ve demonstrated that you have an even worse grasp of the situation than I was giving you credit for.

    GSG,

    That does not mean its aims were evil or that we have been fighting somehow on the, or a, wrong side.

    Then why the need to lie to sell it?

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    OMGF, the quote does not deny that Greenspan was a devotee of Rand. It denies either were libertarian. Rand denied it herself. In any case as I have said, libertarians are not some amorphous blog. The views that you know of do not represent everyone, mine included. Which is the point. Rand has nothing to do with them, I assure you. I’d say they are part of the problem.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Look, if you want to redefine Libertarianism to be anything that anyone wants it to be, thus making us all Libertarian in some sense, then that’s your business. The rest of us will continue to use words with their actual meanings.

  • keddaw

    OMGF, words like liberal?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    C’mon. Michael says that he supports higher tax rates, supports higher welfare payments, doesn’t support the free market, etc. etc. etc., and then claims that he’s a Libertarian. Give me a break.

  • keddaw

    Libertarianism has few binding conditions, but I guess one would have to be self ownership. Over and above that you can have libertarian socialists, anarchists, minarchists, to extreme individualists like Rand. Ayn Rand did reject the label libertarian but most people consider her a libertarian due to the self-ownership ideal.

    So there is a lot of ground that can be covered by the term libertarian.

    As a slightly left-leaning, small-l libertarian, I think we can support higher welfare payments within the current, broken system without even going to the human, emotional side. Since welfare payments have a much higher multiplier effect than tax cuts or government infrastructure programs the best way to boost the economy is to increase welfare payments to the poorest. Which obviously must be paid for by taxes. Ultimately I think these should be reduced, to be replaced for the most part by private charity, but while the government takes so much money from citizens (and fritters most of it away on bad deals, cronyism, defence, wars etc.) there is little engagement from the public, and certainly not the wealthy, for helping out their fellow man. The Gates Foundation being a noticeable exemption.

    However, I cannot support non-voluntary income taxes. They interfere with the principle of self-ownership in my opinion.

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @OMGF So, ok, Greenspan and Rand would be some kind of “libertarian.” However, not the kind I go for. People often mean very different things by “libertarian.” It originally meant “anarchist communist” now it means what was once meant by “liberal.” How things change… Really, is there a set meaning to every word? Especially in politics, as my examples show, they fluctuate wildly.

    @Keddaw My point exactly. It’s a diverse bunch.

    How do the other things you mentioned not interfere with self-ownership, extending to external property rights? Besides, they are funded by compulsory income taxes, no? If it’s voluntary, is there really a “tax” anyway? Sounds more like a “suggested donation” to me.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Yay, I guess we’re all libertarians now and the word no longer has any meaning. Great job.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    OMGF @ 46.

    Because few Americans would agree to getting into a war half a world away that was admitted from the start to have little or no bearing on their own good.

    And you are right on the money about Greenspan. As to the question whether Randians are libertarians, there is and has always been some arcane infighting about that. Personally I would categorize them as a subset of libertarians not in every respect orthodox.

    Just me.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Keddaw at 51, your usage would suit Chomsky but not CATO, Reasonmag, the Libertarian Party, or most of the self-identified libertarians out there in the real world.

    But your usage is historically correct.

    For that matter, once upon a time “libertarian” pretty much meant the same as “anarchist.”

    And then they told us there were socialist anarchists, anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, capitalist anarchists, individualist anarchists, and then even libertarian-anarchists.

    Jeez.

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @OMFG It’s not me who did it. That’s just the way things go. Also why I don’t use the term for myself.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    GSG,

    Because few Americans would agree to getting into a war half a world away that was admitted from the start to have little or no bearing on their own good.

    Do you honestly believe that the war was sold to us on false pretenses purposefully because those lying to us had the best intentions in mind? That they really felt it was all for the best both for the Iraqis and us, but they were fearful that they couldn’t sell it if they fessed up and told us that? Pardon me for saying so, but that’s rather naive. It also overlooks the actual conduct of the war by those same players. Did they have our best interests at heart when they gave out sweetheart deals to their friends, for instance? No, sorry, their actions speak louder than the apologetics you are trying to weave for them.

    Michael,
    Except you did, and you do, and you’re still wrong.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    With reservations, I supported the start of the Iraq war. Not because of the WMD stuff. Rather, I felt that if the US could remove the dictator Saddam regime, and provide the persons of Iraq an opportunity for freedoms including reasonable democratic governance, it would be a good and noble thing, and the populace would run with it to their betterment.

    Well, I was naive. In my opinion, not enough of the population was in a position of influence and power to run with it, complicated by US past history in the region. (That is not meant as a slight to the courageous and forward thinking members of the populace, but it takes a critical mass.) And if it takes decades to get the ship upright and running, arguably there could have been better methods than the war to have arrived at the destination.

    To be clear, I still support the overthrow of oppressive dictatorships. The idea that Iraq was a war on a “legitimate” government holds little weight with me, as I do not consider an oppressive dictatorship to be legitimate. But I only support armed overthrow if the goal of freedom and democracy is reasonably obtainable. It is difficult to drag a population kicking and screaming to something if the critical mass is not ready for it.

  • Jormungundr

    I guess we’re all libertarians now and the word no longer has any meaning.

    Can we all stop playing dumb like this? There is no way you are acting in good faith in this statement. Go look up a definition for ‘libertarian’ if you are genuinely confused. You aren’t, but if you were you could find out its meaning with trivial ease. And then you would know that minarchists, left-libertarians, paleo-libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, Marxists, libertarian socialists and all the other subsets of libertarians are crammed under that one over-defined word.
    There are a few different groups that fall under that term, just as there are different groups on modern politics that fall under ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. These political labels are very broad. We could easily find two different self-described liberals who disagreed on many issues. Or someone could find a single self-described liberal advocating death panels or something else absurd, try to paint every liberal alive as holding that view and then have other liberals denounce that person as not speaking for them. Does this mean that we should accuse self-described liberals of using terms so broad as to be meaningless? If one tells you that a particular self described liberal does not speak for him or hold views that he endorses, is it time to whip out ‘no true Scotsman’ as has been done in this thread?

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    My understanding was that banks were not mandated to give out loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay them back (as is commonly alleged by right-wingers), but rather that they were forbidden to redline geographic areas out of ever being given loans because such lines tended to be drawn along racial demographic boundaries.

    That’s about right. Banks were encouraged to lend to poverty-stricken areas, which they had often ignored in the past. They were not, however, required to make any particular loan nor to make loans to people who would obviously not be able to repay them. Furthermore, they were under no obligation to set up trapdoors with variable interest rates, where a few missed payments would essentially guarantee default under all of the other conditions known.

    Among the banks’ options regarding foreclosures, they have always had the option of renegotiating payments and interest rates on mortgages under threat or reality of default. By and large, they have chosen to not exercise that option. (Financially speaking, why would they? Typically, the value of the house in question is notably greater than the reduced payments they would receive, especially once you’ve fully evaluated the time value of money.)

    Critically, direct housing loans were only a small part of the collapse. The real scam is that new securities were issued on a huge number of the outstanding loans. These securities had no fundamental requirements or meaningful risk management of any kind. Their value was arbitrary and essentially invented. However, banks kept issuing them because a sufficient number of institutions and people were ignorant enough to keep buying them, taking no independent account of the actual risk of default and naively assuming that housing prices would continue to increase in value forever. Part of the fraud is that owners and supposedly third-party evaluators of the securities simply lied about their actual known value and risk. Another part is that the securities were repeatedly re-sold and new bets were taken out between banks and insurers on their actual values (essentially, giant gambles). Even further, there were all sorts of perverse incentives inside the banks, insurers, credit evaluators, and others to maximize the number of “products” “sold”.

    The scheme was designed for failure to begin with. You don’t hear very much about that from people bent on blaming the matter on the poor. Any system leveraged against itself at rates of 30 to 1, 50 to 1, even 90 to 1 is bound to collapse. Consumers played no meaningful role in that; most wouldn’t have been able to tell you what a “security” was if you asked.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Can we all stop playing dumb like this? There is no way you are acting in good faith in this statement.

    The dictionary definition is one who believes in liberty. Well hallelujah. We all do that, so we’re all libertarians. Of course, the debate was about the political use of the word, so the bait and switch here is not mine. If you wish to point fingers, don’t point them this way.

    And, hey, if it’s unfair to talk about the generalities that libertarians all seem to hold, since they don’t actually hold any at all (judging by the comments here) then you can’t rightly criticize anyone for not arguing against your crypto-non-specific, anachronistic ideas that you want to put under the big tent. Sorry, but you don’t get to use the Courtier’s Reply here. If you disagree with this policy or that policy that is held by the vast majority of libertarians, then fine. But, don’t go claiming that the policies, when manifested, of real libertarians that caused a decline are not truly libertarian because they don’t align with your specific, sectarian view. If anyone is guilty of a no true Scotsman, it’s those of you who are engaging in this behavior.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch

    I think it’s funny/sad that this thread has devolved into an argument about the definition of libertarianism.

    Whenever I talk about morality having no place in the law, or wanting to create an amoral legal/political system based upon maximizing individual liberty for everyone, not just the powerful (NOT might makes right), which will necessarily involve a lot of government intervention, first I get accused of being a libertarian. Then, I get accused of advocating for totalitarian authoritarianism. And, usually, by the same persons.

    I have always taken responsibility for not possessing the tools and vocabulary necessary to explain my position properly.

    But, after reading this thread, I’m feeling a little bit better about my seeming failure to get my point across.

  • keddaw

    Sarah, I dare say I hold a fair portion of blame for the tangential nature of this thread, but given it was about the mistaken notions of what atheists are and it contains mistaken notions about what libertarians are I think it was justified.

    I think the non-aggression principle which many, if not all, libertarians accept is the perfect refutation of the pernicious idea that ‘might makes right’ within a libertarian worldview.

    Incidentally, I think you present your view well and while it is not the most obvious worldview it is often the unseen baggage that others bring to the conversation that makes people object to your views on ideas that you never actually state.

    OMGF, I get your frustration, but when people self identify as part of a group, whatever it may be, it is you who make the assumption about what all people must believe if they’re part of that group. In the main you’re not far off, but you have to realise what you are doing and have to back up why Martin (or Jormungundr) is wrong to identify as a libertarian using his actual points and why they are incompatible with your idea of what a libertarian is. I am more than happy to present my ideas about individualism, community, society and rights, but I think in this thread it would be self-indulgent and stupidly off topic.

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    Honestly I can’t say your position makes sense to me yet Sarah, though I’d really like to understand it. Especially if you’re accused of both being totalitarian and libertarian at the same time-epic fail.

    I’m to blame for this “what is libertarianism” tangent too Keddaw. My bad. I said the same thing-the Zero Aggression Principle is complete negation of “might makes right.” I know that most libertarians people know of are vulgar corporate apologists, which is very unfortunate and why I spoke out to begin with.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    OMGF at 57.

    My comment concerned aims of the war.

    Not “aims of the war leaders.”

    Much less “aims of those handing out war contracts.”

    An understandable error, to conflate these.

    But an error, all the same.

    As for the aims of the war leaders and those handing out contracts – aims on which I had no comment, above – I agree there was much venality involved.

    It may even be that the primary force driving American wars and America’s commitment to a huge global military establishment and global alliances, too, is the venality of the military industrial complex.

    Certainly that venality plays a great role.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    It may even be that the primary force driving American wars and America’s commitment to a huge global military establishment and global alliances, too, is the venality of the military industrial complex.

    Furthering the military industrial complex was no doubt a big part of the cause. However, there were those in the Bush administration dumb enough to think they could also extract much of Iraq’s oil at a huge discount with little to no resistance. Beyond that, there is also the issue of personal vendettas against Saddam Hussein.

    Some of the neocons were so delusional as to think conquering the entire trio (Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan) could be done within a decade at modest cost. They wanted essentially permanent control of the Persian Gulf. Or perhaps they simply lied; it’s hard to tell exactly what a snake’s hissing means.

  • Jormungundr

    @#61 OMFG:

    The dictionary definition is one who believes in liberty.

    Nope, it is more than that. Just about everyone pays lip service to believing in liberty; including politicians who wish to increase the size and power of the government. I would not classify such people as libertarians. Libertarians wish to minimize the size and power of the government. That is where they part ways with a lot of other people. How tiny our government should be and in what specific ways it should be lessened are where libertarians split amongst themselves.
    Again, if you actually cared about the definition of ‘libertarian’, you could have looked it up.
    Here:
    “Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs and organizations, all advocating minimization of the state and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and freedom.

    Libertarian schools of thought differ over the degree to which the state should be reduced, with minarchists advocating reduction to only state protection from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and anarchists advocating complete elimination of the state.”

    Sorry, but you don’t get to use the Courtier’s Reply here.

    I didn’t. I don’t expect anyone to be familiar with all the many subsets of libertarianism. I don’t expect anyone to have to read any books about libertarian thought. I personally don’t know about all of the views of all of the subsets of libertarianism. Just look at the wikipedia page and you will see the basic definition and that it is pretty diverse with lots of subsets. Have we gotten so lazy that being told to look up a definition on the internet rather than play dumb and pretend not to get it counts as an example of the Courtier’s Reply?

    But, don’t go claiming that the policies, when manifested, of real libertarians that caused a decline are not truly libertarian because they don’t align with your specific, sectarian view. If anyone is guilty of a no true Scotsman, it’s those of you who are engaging in this behavior.

    Blaming the actions of central planning group on the libertarians is absurd. It boggles my mind that anyone could look at the Fed doing whatever it pleases and think that libertarians are at fault. That kind of centrally planned intentional market distortion is the opposite of what libertarians want. I don’t think that no true Scotsman applies here. The Fed really isn’t a libertarian institution. And the Federal government (which interestingly enough the Fed is not a part of) certainly hasn’t been controlled by libertarians. So I reject blaming the libertarians on recent events. We haven’t been in power. It is not no true Scotsman to point that out. I don’t care how much Rand Greenspan reads, the Federal Reserve isn’t a libertarian institution in the slightest way.
    We are politically powerless. You can’t pin the blame on us. Spitting out the phrase ‘no true Scotsman’ doesn’t change this fact.

    @#62 Sarah:
    A while back a fellow student I knew told me that I was extremely right wing. Then I went home and a my room mate told me that he had never lived with a liberal as far to the left as I am. In the span of a few hours I was accused of being on the extreme right and extreme left.
    I guess that people just are bad at pigeon holing each other when it comes to politics. Which is probably why anyone would have a discussion about whether the head of a central planning committee devoted to intentionally distorting certain aspects market can be said to be libertarian.

  • http://gazinglongintoanabyss.blogspot.com/ Michael

    Jormun, I second everything you wrote. It strikes me the left/right dichotomy is old and outdated. Best not to use it anymore.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Kangaroo at 66.

    Agreed.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    LOL. I am not a kangaroo. Thanks for the laugh, though.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    GSG,

    My comment concerned aims of the war.

    Not “aims of the war leaders.”

    Much less “aims of those handing out war contracts.”

    An understandable error, to conflate these.

    Sigh. Really? We’re going to split hairs that fine? And, when we go to war are the aims of the war really different from the aims of the people who put us in that war? C’mon now.

    Jormungundr,
    I was going to drop the Libertarian thing as Keddaw and Michael seemingly have decided to do, but then I read your post. Ugh.

    Nope, it is more than that.

    No, that is the dictionary definition, and it’s eerily similar to what was being thrown out there in defense of people’s views. You can’t very well chide me and call me lazy because I didn’t use your preferred definition. This is especially so because I was criticizing the use of the dictionary definition as not being particularly apt when discussing the views of Libertarianism as a political and economical entity.

    I didn’t.

    Yeah, you kinda did.

    Blaming the actions of central planning group on the libertarians is absurd.

    Your inability to deal with what I’m saying is what is absurd.

    We are politically powerless. You can’t pin the blame on us.

    FFS. I’ll try again. The plans put in place were leaning towards Libertarianism – i.e. less fed control, less regulation, less oversight. This led to the collapse as a Libertarian himself, Greenspan, admitted. Nowhere did I claim that Libertarians did this or were ever in power. I claimed that Libertarian leaning policies did. That you can’t tell the difference between those claims says more about you and your kneejerk reactions than it does about me.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    OMGF at 71

    Sigh.

    You really don’t get it, do you?

    Really?

    I mean, really?

    Sigh.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    GSG,
    If you’re going to try and play semantic games, don’t be surprised when you get called out on it.

  • http://forums.penny-arcade.com/ Jeep-Eep

    Do not mind Gracchus, OMGF. If it’s the same one on Pandagon, he’s been being something of a sockcooker over there as well.

  • Rollingforest

    What is the likelihood that two people would independently choose the name “Gaius Sempronius Gracchus”? It’s probably safe to assume that they are the same person (though as they say, “on the internet, no one knows you are a dog”)

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Too complicated for your little brain, I see, OMGF.

    Let me try to make it simpler.

    I mistakenly believe you have swallowed your diamonds for safe-keeping and correctly believe you have accidentally swallowed poison.

    I call for help to pump your stomach giving the poisoning as the reason.

    Many rush to help.

    We pump your stomach and I am dismayed I cannot steal your diamonds while we save your life.

    My aim all along was to steal the diamonds.

    Though I did actually, and even intentionally, organize and take part in the saving of your life.

    Simple enough, now?

    Of course, now you would rather die holding your breath until you turn blue than admit the point.

    Then choke on it, fellow.

    And since “sockcooker” looks like some sort of insult, the same to you, Jeep-Eep.

    And likewise in the unlikely event it’s a compliment, by the way.

    As for you, Rollingwhatever, a cheery bow-wow.

    Always a pleasure to chat.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    And so the aim of the war is somehow what in your example? Oh yeah, you’re trying to compare the idea that the Bush administration took us into a bad war for dubious reasons and lied about it to what? The “liberation of the Iraqi people?” And you’re further trying to claim that their liberation was an aim of the war when it clearly was not? You’re a joke.


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