Friday, August 11, 2017

Another backhanded compliment

As somebody who identifies most of the time as a "libertarian," I noticed some time ago that the movement had received a backhanded compliment; the movement has become large enough that it comes under constant attack.

Few of these attacks come in the form of engaging with libertarians in an honest and respectful manner. Not many people, for example, seem to want to argue that the war on drugs has been a great success, as evidenced by the recent heroin epidemic, or that years of U.S. intervention in the Mideast have brought peace and democracy to the area.

Instead,  there are endless smears. Weirdos and bigots such as Milos Yiannopoulos or that Vox what's-his-name guy in SF fandom are solemnly presented to the world as typical libertarian intellectuals.

And the misrepresentation of what most libertarians believe is endless. Jesse Walker recently caught one and Tweeted about it. A guy named Igor Volsky, deputy director of the Center of American Progress Action Fund,  recently Tweeted that even the Cato Institute found immigration a net benefit.

The Cato Institute, like every other mainstream libertarian group, has argued over and over and over again in favor of immigration. Jesse Tweeted, "Even Cato is pro-immigration. Even the ACLU opposes censorship. Even the NRA hates gun control. Even the pope is Catholic. Even a bear shi—"

The latest smear is a book called Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean,  heavily footnoted but nonetheless filled with deceit, which exposes the supposed conspiracy of libertarians to destroy democracy. MacLean and her minions have answered every attack on her by saying that all of her critics are part of the vast conspiracy.

So here is an article about the book from Vox, which can't be depicted as a libertarian website. Excerpt:

While some on the left have hailed the book, libertarians and conservatives have attacked it online. Several have argued that MacLean misleadingly truncates quotes, to make it seem as if Buchanan and other libertarians such as Tyler Cowen are anti-democratic. While they obviously have a great deal of skin in the game, their critiques of the book have landed a number of solid blows. 


For instance, when MacLean claims that Cowen is providing “a handbook for how to conduct a fifth column assault on democracy,” she cites as evidence Cowen’s statement that “the weakening of checks and balances would increase the chance of a very good outcome.” Unfortunately, she declines to provide the reader with the second half of the sentence, which goes on to note that “it would also increase the chance of a very bad outcome.” Nor, as she has claimed in interview, is the title of Cowen’s blog Marginal Revolution a signal to the illuminated that Cowen is undertaking a gradual revolution by stealth (it’s actually a well-known term for the birth of modern economics). 


She accuses David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, of believing that “close to half of American society is intent on exploiting the rich” when he writes about a “parasite economy” of predators and prey. In fact, the predators Boaz is talking about are specific interests lobbying for subsidies, tariffs, quotas, or trade restrictions. While his claims can be contested, they are simply not what MacLean says they are. 

The Boaz piece that Vox links to is worth reading. 

I certainly wouldn't claim that libertarians "are" correct on every issue. I don't agree with the Libertarian Party on every issue. But it's a shame that political discussion in this country largely consists of distorting what other people actually support.

(The Blogger "add images" tool doesn't seem to be working today, so you get lots of text.)

2 comments:

michael said...

Every time I read about someone pro- or anti- "libertarianism" I find I wish they'd read Korzybski and knew how to EXTENSIONALIZE the term. It's a big ol' floating signifier; there seem to be self-identified "libertarians" who might not agree on nearly anything.

Tom: you turned me on to a faction who label themselves as "bleeding heart" libertarians. This begins to get at what I mean when I invoke Korzybski and his extensionalizing device.

I read a few articles last week about influential books among Trump and the people around him. There's the florid Bannon stuff, but Ayn Rand was cited as probably the most influential. Rex Tillerson loves her. I recall that Ivanka a few months ago identified herself as a "builder."...

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The Ayn Rand fans in the movement tend to be kind of unpleasant folks, hence the satire of Randians in "Illuminatus!"

I'm probably more of a "bleeding heart" libertarian than any other kind.