‘Libertarianism is [not] a philosophy of individual freedom’

At Crooked Timber, Chris Bertram, Corey Robin and Alex Gourevitch have collaborated on a post for the ages: “Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace.”

Here is their thesis, succinctly stated in the first paragraph:

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

The rest of the essay is excellent, developing this thesis and applying it to several examples and objections. Read the whole thing. It’s an expansive and forceful exploration of those essential points above.

With their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power. … Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

That’s going to leave a mark. In fact, the last nine words of that paragraph could nicely serve to summarize the effect of this essay:

 

  • aunursa

    Hi Sgt. Pepper.

    I’m having a hard time treating your engagement in conversation with good faith when you do stuff like post a narky, unexplained jibe at the start of a thread like you did yesterday then saunter off elsewhere without facing your response.

    No problem.  I can’t control how you feel.  You’re welcome to ignore my comments if you wish.

  • aunursa

    I’ve never heard of the Hasbara Handbook, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • AnonymousSam

     You forgot the part about how, in paradise, everyone universally agrees on what constitutes injustice and is willing and capable of taking actions which cause enough harm to the corporations to stop it.

    In reality, no matter how many tens of thousands of people find the fact that Wal-Mart (proudly! proudly!) uses Chinese sweatshop labor offensive, they remain solidly in business.

  • Tonio

     Your posts didn’t say those things explicitly, but those were the overall implications. There was no reason for you to even bring up the Palestinians or their critics or supporters. As Neutrino pointed out, this was simply deflection. It had nothing to do with the repulsive claim that Chris made about treatment of Israel’s critics.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    So it’s gonna be like that eh?

  • aunursa

    Your posts didn’t say those things explicitly, but those were the overall implications.

    No, they weren’t my overall implications.  They were your erroneous inferences.  And I have explicitly rejected them.

    There was no reason for you to even bring up the Palestinians or their critics or supporters.

    The reason is to point out the double-standard that some critics >>> (NOT ALL CRITICS — SOME CRITICS) <<< of Israel routinely employ.  But even if you were to reject that reason, there was no reason for my opponent to even bring up Rachel Corrie in the context of the discussion. People bring up lots of issues that are not directly related to the main discussion.

    On at least three occasions during my participation on this blog, I have been asked by others to play by rules that were not subsequently enforced on my opponents.*  I don't accept rules that are not imposed on everyone.

    * e.g. I was criticized for making a reference to another poster who was not around to defend herself.  Shortly after, I was personally attacked on a thread on which I wasn't participating (and I hadn't participated for over a week) and no one criticized the attacker.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Apple didn’t contribute to the creations of the net, either.

    In fact one of Apple’s early misfires was to ignore Ethernet in favor of its own proprietary system, back in the days nobody wants to remember when Apple regularly screwed up. 

    Before the Internet, there were lots of private BBSes, and if the one that had all the useful info that would help you get ahead in life only existed at the other end of expensive long distance charges, well, sucks to be you.

  • Tonio

     I reread through the earlier post, and you’re right that Chris brought up the Palestinians first. My core point still holds, which is that each of you claims that your “side” is being victimized by a double standard. To my ears, that sounds like squabbling siblings complaining about parents playing favorites. The only reason that Chris’ jingoism is worse is because his involves very old anti-Semitic myths.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    anursa- I have no problem with Israel in and of itself and wish them the best but  your arguments are all really old and not very compelling.  This isn’t pat buchanan land but it’s not Commentary either. I just wish you would speak more from the heart.  

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    If Arafat were still alive we’d be hearing (direct quote from the Hasbara Handbook), “HE NEVER MISSES AN OPPORTUNITY TO MISS AN OPPORTUNITY”. It’s like a rhetorical handbook to use when you’re too lazy to do your own research.

  • Madhabmatics

    did anyone post the best libertarian quote yet

    “In short, we must face the fact that the purely free society will have a flourishing free market in children.”

    if we can’t sell our children into slavery then we aren’t free. thanks libertarians, i’ve seen the light.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    did anyone post the best libertarian quote yet

    The… the heck?  Where did you find that one?

  • Lori

    Lawyers, Guns & Money has a post up today that links to and discusses a bunch of articles and posts related to the Crocked Timber post that Fred linked to.  It makes very explicit that libertarianism requires the toleration of cruelty and why that’s a problem for both abusers and the abused.

    It seems to me profoundly obvious that forcing your employee, on penalty
    of firing, to pee her pants and sit in her own urine for hours, is both
    cruel and humiliating. (To actually spell out how I reach this
    conclusion is surely insulting to the reader.) This holds whether it is
    done out of a misguided effort at economic rationality, or motives far
    worse. Cruelty prevention comes before concern for freedom or
    rights-maximization  for many reasons, but an important one is the
    deleterious psychological effect on both the victim and victimizer. Such
    acts of cruelty, repeatedly perpetrated or suffered, are likely to have
    the consequence of moving all involved away from the temperment and
    mentality of liberal citizenship. Cruelty can serve as an engine that in
    transforming ‘mere’ economic inequality to a deeper sort of social
    inequality. A particular type of citizen is necessary for an ethos of
    limited government and broad freedom to thrive, and the toleration of
    cruelty is, to put it mildly, not conducive to such a form of
    citizenship. 

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/07/putting-cruelty-first

  • Greenygal

     I googled it out of morbid curiosity; it’s from Murray Rothbard’s
    The Ethics of Liberty.   I found it in an excerpt
    here:  http://mises.org/daily/2568

    The short version of the excerpt seems to be this: you can’t “murder or
    mutilate” your children, because that would transgress on their rights. 
    But you can’t be required to do anything for them–feed them, clothe
    them, educate them–because that would transgress on your rights.  You
    should, and it says this quite explicitly, be allowed to let your child
    die of starvation if you feel like it.  This will all work out okay,
    however, because the fact that you can sell your child to any passing
    stranger means that bad parents will generally transfer their children
    to good parents who want them.   Well, of course.  Also children may
    leave home at any age, so they can go looking for better parents as
    well.

    …jesus, the child mortality rates in Libertopia must be horrendous.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     >…jesus, the child mortality rates in Libertopia must be horrendous.

    (nods) It’s OK, though. The kids are kept in a broom closet in the center of town, mostly out of sight. Sure, everyone is taken to visit them once, and some people come back, but it’s pretty easy to ignore them.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    …jesus, the child mortality rates in Libertopia must be horrendous.

    The word libertarians would use is “optimal”

    (Incidentally, I was just reading about Grover Cleveland’s second term. I think arguably he was one of the best things to happen to the Democratic party, since the clusterfuck that was his administration is pretty much what caused the populists and the libertarians to go their separate ways)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Jesus. Even the Hobbesian social contract, as authoritarian as it is in its original form, would allow it to be illegal to starve a child to death, because the only entity that’s allowed to kill people is the Leviathan.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Also children may 
    leave home at any age, so they can go looking for better parents as 
    well.

    Wow. So now we know the reasoning behind Rob Reiner’s inexplicable movie “North” – you know, the one that prompted Eberts “I hated, hated, hated, hated this movie” rant.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    Rothbard was an amazing thinker with a varied and massive body of work. He’s getting into the weeds on issues regarding natural rights and maybe he’s wrong but it’s just words, he didn’t starve his own kids.

  • Greenygal

     a) Given that he doesn’t appear to have had any, this is not especially impressive.

    b) It’s not just words.  It’s his argument for a social policy he
    thought should exist.  Just because nobody has yet been stupid enough to
    put said policy into place doesn’t make the implications of what he’s
    saying less horrific.

    c) Maybe he’s wrong?  You can’t just say “I agree
    with him about a lot of things, but I don’t think it should be legal for
    parents to starve their children”?  You can’t be bothered to take a
    position?  (Oh, right, because it doesn’t affect you.)

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    You are just nit picking to make him look crazy.

    check out “for a new isolationism” sometime it’s really good

    “There is, in short, an eminently sound alternative to the loudly trumpeted policies of either pro-Soviet or anti-Soviet interventionism. And that is a new policy of enlightened and realistic isolationism, sparked, as it needs to be in our day, by general nuclear disarmament of the world powers. Abandoning foreign meddling, we need neither continue the cold war nor pretend that the Communist leaders are our “heroic allies.” We need only adopt again that stance of splendid isolation which once made peaceful and free America the beacon-light of the world. ”

    rejected by Natinal review in 1959

  • Blow

    only govt. can force you.  you don’t have to work for or buy from a corporation.
    govt has killed and imprisoned millions and millions of people.  Corporations have spilled some chemicals occasionally, without much harm, except some seals covered in oil.  

  • Fuckface

    the guilded age is a big progressive lie anyhow.  nobody forced those starving people to leave farms and come work in the city.  or hop on boats to come to america.  And their wages were higher than they had ever been.  But you can believe the lies of the progressive muckrackers if you wish.  you probably believe oil is a fossil fuel, global warming is melting the planet because of our cars, and stealing as long as the robber is poor and the victim is rich is a form of economic growth.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh Jesus fuck. Poisoned air, poisoned water, poisoned earth, that’s not harm? The Triangle Shirtwaist fire, that’s not harm? “Sixteen Tons”, that’s not harm?

    I do not remember enough of this quote to go looking for the source, but there’s a quote. Great Depression era, I think. If the only way to feed your family requires obtaining a nickel, and there’s twenty other folks in the room who also have families to feed and must first obtain nickels, and somebody comes along with a nickel and tosses it into the middle of the room? You people will be fighting over that nickel. You people might be killing each other over that nickel.

    Corporations? Especially the big ones? In absence of enforced laws and regulations preventing them from pulling this shit, if you’re employed by one (and it is really fucking hard to feed your family if you’re not employed by one; half of all new businesses fold in the first five years and that assumes you somehow got the startup money) and you get uppity in some manner, wanting a living wage or reasonable working conditions or not to be sexually harassed by the boss, well, there’s twenty more where you came from. And the corporations have all the nickels.

  • Bloame

    funny how lefties want to own libertarianism and morph their coercive progressive philosophies into that title.  Too bad.  It just doesn’t follow.
    The state with good ideas became the third reich.  The good of the “people” always has a villain to gas!  Or chop off their heads.  Or lock in prison.  

  • EllieMurasaki

    One, could you kindly take on a less overtly hostile nick? Thanks.

    Two, where the hell does oil come from if not from eons-old organic matter? That is the definition of fossil fuel, by the way, an energy source derived from eons-old organic matter.

    Three, where have you been this month that you haven’t heard the complaining about the record-high temperatures in the US? Where have you been the past few years, with all the weather cranked up to eleven? Climate change is a real thing, and while cars aren’t the cause, they’re sure as hell a major part of the cause.

    Four, stealing is wrong, you moron, and rich folk do a lot more stealing from poor folk than the other way around, and a fair percentage of that is, because our lawmakers are all rich themselves, legal. Taxation, on the other hand, making everyone pay for the manufacture and upkeep of civilization in accordance to how much they benefit by civilization (and rich folk benefit more than most folks so it’s only fair they pay more than most folks), that is an entirely different ball game.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Some charming newbies, I see.

    I reckon you could build a metric for the objectionableness of any given philosophy according to the rapidity, volume and arseholishness of new commenters drawn into a site when said philosophy is discussed.

  • hidden_urchin

    My money is on sockpuppets.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Corporations have spilled some chemicals occasionally, without much harm, except some seals covered in oil.

    You seem to have forgotten when they’ve bombed people with a private airforce (West Virginia comes to mind) or used machineguns on the children or striking workers (Colorado comes to mind.)

    And of course the chemicals spilled have wiped out entire towns (by which I’m specifically thinking of a town where everyone died, but others have been wiped from the map in less immediately deadly ways), not to mention doing serious lasting damage on those who do survive.  The movie Erin Brokavich had to play down some of the damage done by the corporation because, though it happened in real life, it was just too much to be believable in a movie.

    And of course there’s the part where corporations were causing brain damage to all the children living within miles of some of their plants because they couldn’t be bothered to not leak lead.

    But, honestly, in cases such as these I prefer to focus on the murder.  Absent government oversight corporations have in the past (and will likely continue to do so in the future if given the chance) killed those they don’t like and used the threat of such death to force people to both work for them and buy from them.  (There’s a reason they had company stores, you may not be able to force everyone to buy from you, but you can absolutely force your workers.)

  • Lori

     

    So now we know the reasoning behind Rob Reiner’s inexplicable movie
    “North” – you know, the one that prompted Eberts “I hated, hated, hated,
    hated this movie” rant.  

    That’s still one of my all time favorite rants.

  • Lori

    If oil is not a fossil fuel what is it? Fairy pee?

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    I was booooooooooooorn free!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEdk8YhieSQ

  • Rhubarbarian82

    Regulars, you’re all great people, but are you really gonna reply to a guy named “Fuckface?” Remember: keep calm and don’t respond.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Wow, the Libertrollarians are coming out of the woodwork.

      Corporations have spilled some chemicals occasionally, without much harm, except some seals covered in oil. 

    Whoever said Libertarianism runs on Historyfail was right.

    Look up “Bhopal”, then get back to us.  Or better yet “Love Canal”, since that involved Americans, not Otherplacian Humanoid Meat Units.

    …Oh, wait.  I forgot that to a Libertarian, everyone who’s not them, family, or close personal friends is a Humanoid Meat Unit. 

  • aunursa

    Although it’s three weeks old, I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to respond to this comment:

    If Arafat were still alive we’d be hearing (direct quote from the Hasbara Handbook), “HE NEVER MISSES AN OPPORTUNITY TO MISS AN OPPORTUNITY”. It’s like a rhetorical handbook to use when you’re too lazy to do your own research.

    Since I do my own research and don’t rely on any handbook, I discovered what you were too lazy to learn:

    1. The original quote isn’t about Arafat; it’s about Arabs
    in general.

     

    The Arabs never miss an opportunity to
    miss an opportunity.

     

    2. The authors of a handbook didn’t invent that quote.  It
    was first said by Israeli diplomat Abba Eban in 1973 after the Geneva Peace
    Conference.

     

    3. I took a look at an online edition of this Hasbara
    Handbook
    that you seem so eager to promote.  On page 25 it erroneously cites “Yasser
    Arafat has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” as a famous
    saying.  As confirmed by a Google search,
    Eban’s observation is usually misquoted as referring to the Palestinians
    (100,000+ hits), and only rarely misquoted as referring to Arafat himself
    (~6600 hits).

     

    In other words, you criticized me – an Israel supporter –
    for relying on a handbook that I do not use and did not know existed.   At the same time that you criticized Israel
    supporters for being too lazy to do research, you perpetuated a misquote,
    relying on the same handbook that you revile apparently because  you yourself are too lazy to do your own research.

     

    The irony is breathtaking.


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