Tuesday, May 14, 2013

ah, freedom

Corey Robin writes a detailed, measured, and well-researched piece about Hayek's connection to Nietzsche, which cites, among other things, Hayek's indisputable support for the horrific and murderous despot Augusto Pinochet. In response, libertarian blogger Jason Brennan calls for a purge. What great support for intellectual freedom!

I read a lot of libertarian writing. I did my homework years ago, reading my Hayek and Friedman and Rand and Nozick. I read essentially everything Reason publishes, I keep an eye on what Cato puts out, I follow Bleeding Heart Libertarians, I read Marginal Revolution. But more than that I try to read comments and interact with libertarians on Facebook, because those places are where you find the actual heart of a party, a movement, or an ideology. I do this both because I think it's essential to engage with opinions you disagree with almost every day, and because I maintain a (perhaps foolish) belief that there's hope to be found among the type of libertarians who oppose the limitless projection of American power. Now, I fight with conservatives, liberals, libertarians, my fellow leftists, and assorted fringe groups constantly. No group is more taken to groupthink and the expression of their ideological boilerplate than libertarians. None. In fact, it's not close.

Mainstream conservatism has taken a great deal of heat for its epistemic closure, and rightly so. For reasons that escape me, libertarianism has avoided similar criticism. Yet I can identify very real currents of reformism and heterodoxy within conservatism, and I find no similar strains within libertarianism. Bleeding Heart Libertarians is supposedly such a vehicle, yet here you have one of its members meeting an intellectual challenge by calling for the author to be banished. (Libertarians have insisted that leftists consider the intellectual proximity between our intellectual fathers and brutal regimes for decades. They are apparently unwilling to be asked to do the same.) Check the comments at BHL. They are always filled with snarky dismissal and invective for anything outside of a terribly narrow band of presumed libertarian ideas. I look at the inter-libertarian squabbles between my Facebook friends, and it's remarkable how quickly apostasy is punished and how quickly libertarians move to get into lockstep with Hayek or von Mises or Rand. If someone suggests that, say, the federal free lunch program isn't a matter of creeping authoritarianism, they are swiftly dispatched. It's like clockwork.

Part of this is merely the pleasures and lack of responsibility that face an ideology that controls nothing. For all the ballyhooed irrelevance of the left, socialist governments have existed and continue to exist. Socialism is a powerful force in Europe and an ever-growing one in South America. Yet there exists no country that would prove adequate to libertarian requirements. The closet analogs are the failed states like Somalia that, my libertarian friends always insist, have nothing to teach us about what libertarianism would be like in practice. So we are left with the pleasing lack of accountability and real-world conditions that are the privilege of purely theoretical politics. What percentage of libertarians prefer to remain in such a condition is an open question.

I don't expect a single libertarian to care for the criticisms of someone like me. I do think that anyone within an ideological camp should always ask where internal criticism and reformist tendencies reside within that camp, no matter how politically or procedurally healthy. To me, an ideology that is founded on the idea of personal liberty should be a wild collection of disparate ideas and conflicting philosophies, one that is full of dramatically different ideas and convictions. What I see in libertarianism is the opposite; I see an orthodoxy. But then, you wouldn't think an ideology that is founded on personal liberty would have had such long and deep support for a man like Pinochet. For the time being, I expect libertarianism to continue to fight for only certain kinds of freedom: the freedom to sleep under bridges, the freedom to die of preventable disease, the freedom to face total economic despair, the freedom of banks to defraud their customers, the freedom of bosses to terrorize their workers....


circadianwolf said...

For someone who has fairly recently discussed the difference between statistics and anecdotal evidence, you've done a remarkable job here of generalizing a huge swath of people based on some Facebook interactions.

I don't say that because I disagree with your conclusion (although I have to wonder what you think of C4SS--do they just not count?) but because that same sloppiness has gotten you into trouble recently and I'm honestly kind of baffled you'd do the same thing again so quickly.

Freddie said...

Well I'm not sure where I got myself in trouble recently, other than in not being convinced of a scientific argument for racial inferiority (which I share with most of the world).

But of course this is anecdotal evidence. I'm recounting my own experience. My own experience is necessarily anecdotal. More to the point: what statistical evidence would you find appropriate to answering this question?

j r said...

what statistical evidence would you find appropriate to answering this question?

How about the number of Nietzsche citations or references by classical liberal/libertarian philosophers, economists, writers, etc.?

It is odd that you call Robin's piece "well-researched." There's simply no there there.

circadianwolf said...

I was referring to your ridiculous comments on anarchism, but I suppose you probably don't consider that troublesome.

I don't know of what statistical data would measure "epistemic closure". But that's sort of my broader point: I don't know what your practical goal is in discussing the theoretical epistemic closure of libertarianism. Libertarianism is a much smaller movement, with a shorter history, than those who identify as "conservative", so it seems rather natural there would be more visible distinctions among "conservatives"; so what?

I mean, in practical terms, a libertarian is still probably the only Congressperson who's stood on the floor and uttered "Abdulrahman al-Awlaki" or "signature strikes", and the apparently open-minded liberals are still standing lock-step behind a president who runs an institutionalized murder program. And I don't say that because I like Rand Paul--he's an execrable human being--but simply to ask, again, what's your point here?

And I'd really like to know what you think of C4SS--I shouldn't have included that only in a parenthetical, since it seems rather more apropos to your specific argument.

ohtarzie said...

If how random people interact online gets at the essence of an ideology or sect, where do the Twitter Obamabots who refer to Greenwald's husband as his 'Brazilian whore' and routinely wish for his murder by drone fit? What does the smearing of Bradley Manning variously as traitorous or unhinged say about the liberals who do it? What lessons shall we take from the In These Times commenter who openly wished for my pepper-spraying by cop to approving up-votes from three other ITT readers?

Or what about the ones who today are blaming a Republican filibuster for the DOJs unprecedented assault on the Associated Press? Where do people like Corey Robin, who skull fuck 10 dead libertarians for every single discouraging word they ever write about live, office-holding liberals, fit? And what lessons can we take from a blogger who, after waking to find his liberal comrades awash in scandal, can't find anything better to do than co-sign Robin's embarrassingly stupid project of rooting out the secret evil essence of the anti-statist right?

Not that any of this online activity really should matter when weighed against what government office holders actually doing things says about their true essence and effects. But then I can't really fault anyone who regards these people as their obvious comrades in struggle for not going there, at least not on tactical grounds.

Jason Brennan said...

A purge? That's a dramatic way to put it.

Robin's piece isn't well-researched. It's an intellectually dishonest piece of garbage. He had a preset conclusion, provided no good evidence for his conclusion, and his empirical research indicated that he was wrong.

My problem with Robin isn't that we disagree. I have plenty of respect for good members of the Left and plenty of disdain for cartoon libertarians. My problem with him is that he's a cartoonish ideologue and intellectually corrupt.

ohtarzie said...

Someone says, offhandedly, that Corey Robin should be kicked off a blog, for quality issues, and this is a 'purge.'

Freddie, do you even know what smear is? And why they're bad?

Kevin Carson said...

Jason Brennan: Corey Robin falls into the same category of assclowns and charlatans as Mark Ames.

Kevin Carson said...

If anyone's a textbook example of epistemic closure, it's Robin.

If anyone presents him with evidence of pro-labor and other left-leaning free market libertarians that challenge his pre-determined conclusion, he contorts himself like an intellectual Plastic Man to fabricate some reason as to why that evidence should be dismissed as irrelevant.

If he spent half as much effort to know what the fuck he's writing about in the first place, maybe his existence wouldn't be a net drag on the intelligence of the human species.

It's people like Robin and his Amen Corner who inspired me to write this:

ohtarzie said...

"Corey Robin falls into the same category of assclowns and charlatans as Mark Ames."

Not surprising since they're both part of the same NSFWCorp, Jacobin, Exiled circle jerk.

Ames is certainly in a class by himself though, what with his well-documented and disgusting misogyny and his famous Nation hit piece on a guy who had the temerity to object to TSA groping.

Perhaps that he has found fellowship with the likes of Corey Robin, Bhaskar Sunkara and Connor Kilpatrick speaks to Freddie's implication about liberal openness. Who but a purist could object?

James said...

I'm pleased at the level of contempt displayed towards Robin. And apparently Jacobin/Exiled, or something...?

The shift towards the conspiratorial in this comments section suggests the left is getting somewhere. Or maybe it's just the latest spectre for people to gripe about, idk, either way it's entertaining.

ohtarzie said...

"The shift towards the conspiratorial'

You guys and your smears. You're hilarious.

Corey Robin is a contributing editor for Jacobin. Mark Ames writes for Jacobin. Connor Kilpatrick is an editor at Jacobin and writes for The Exiled, which Mark Ames co-founded. I am not demonstrating a conspiracy. I am demonstrating a clique of like-minded people, many of whom are awful in the same ways. I am wondering aloud how their awfulness fits with Freddie's theory of online behavior and ideological suckage.

Part of me is perhaps foolishly convinced that Freddie is not as awful as these people, so his endorsements for them and his increasing tendency to trade, as they do, and as you just did, in smears and generalizations is very bothersome to me. Feel free as your sort often does to construe criticism as further proof of your virtue and strength, but, trust, you can't be further from the truth in my case. In my view, liberals are self-destructing with this bullshit and closing off avenues to genuinely useful alliances.

I am curious, fellas, what's the right way to object to intellectual frauds and their smeary generalizations without eliciting more smears and generalizations?

Conor Friedersdorf said...

"For the time being, I expect libertarianism to continue to fight for only certain kinds of freedom: the freedom to sleep under bridges, the freedom to die of preventable disease, the freedom to face total economic despair, the freedom of banks to defraud their customers, the freedom of bosses to terrorize their workers...."

If you read Reason regularly, you know that libertarians fight for all sorts of freedoms beyond the ones that you allude to in cartoonish terms above. So does the Cato Institute. Go read the work Julian Sanchez and Tim Lee and David Boaz have done there. For a completely different view, go check out the clients that the Institute for Justice has represented. If you're going to draw rhetorical credibility from assuring us how widely you read in libertarian circles, you can't end with that factually inaccurate sentence and expect for your critique to be taken as if its offered in good faith.

ohtarzie said...

"suggests the left is getting somewhere. "

Pretty sure the only people commenting who are not of the left are Jason Brennan and JR.

Try 'getting somewhere' by actually engaging with objections people have raised.

Freddie said...

I read every word you write here, Tarzie. Carefully.

ohtarzie said...

"you can't end with that factually inaccurate sentence and expect for your critique to be taken as if its offered in good faith."

Oh good, someone with actual status has called on Freddie to answer for a smear. That means he might answer in good faith.

ohtarzie said...

"I read every word you write here, Tarzie. Carefully."

That's probably sarcasm but it hardly matters. Blog comments are only very incidentally for the blogger.

James Vonder Haar said...

I spent a summer in the belly of the beast, interning with the Heartland Institue of all places, as part of the Koch Summer Fellow Program. I had the opportunity to interact extensively with my fellow interns tat were a part of the program at seminars tat bookended the experience, deliver a policy presentation on energy degegulation at the Cato Institute, and spent several months at ground zero of global warming denial (my assignment, thankfully, was in school choice, not climate change). I'm also a left-libertarian in the Wilkinson mode, or perhaps a neoliberal similar to Yglesias, and differed sharply with my colleagues on many issues, most significantly the morality of taxation and the desirability of the welfare state. My ideal policy is close to Scandanavia's - market-friendly policies paired with significant wealth redistribution.

I can't speak for every libertarian, and I can imagine civility is as lacking in libertarian online spaces as they are in most online forums. What I can say with a certainty is that, at least among those who are motivated to work within the movement and make a career of it, there is absolutely no desire to enforce stict ideological conformity. Indeed, I was offered the internship despite (because?) having been pretty outspoken about my leftist bona fides at prior Koch seminars, one of whose primary purposes is to identify promising candidates for the internship program. My co-workers and fellow interns were fundamentally interested in ideas, and relished the sharp intellectual back-and-forth that having someone who didn't toe the party line completely allowed (indeed, few of them toed the party line entirely). They even seemed genuinely happy for me when they learned I had gotten a letter to the editor supporting the Sotomayor nomination published in the New York Times, an opinion which was understandably unpopular in the conservative-leaning institute. They put a pin on the giant map of the country that we used to track all our publications in New York, even though it wasn't officially under the Institute's aegis.

I have rarely met a group of more open-minded, intellectually curious people than those I met through my times with Koch programs. You needn't take my word for it, either: you could probably get into some seminar or other that the Kochs put on as a grad student. I can speak from personal experience that having a strong leftist voice or two at such seminars can significantly improve the experience by preventing it from turning into an echo chamber, and you seem to have an admirable commitment to engaging with people who disagree with you. Check out IHS's website and see if anything catches your fancy. http://www.theihs.org/seminars-conferences

ohtarzie said...

I must say it is a special kind of entertaining to toggle between these comments, where Freddie shows up once and only to snark dismissively, while a pal attempts an incoherent smear about conspiracism and then click on over to the LGM site where Freddie is holding forth on how mean and unfair and unscholarly fallacies and smears are. Freddie, you are one fucking entertaining asshole.

I am actually, quite to my surprise, starting to like Loomis, who unlike DeBoer, makes no pretenses of hand-wringy, angsty non-dickishness when he's giving an opponent the business. For all his faults, he's not as big a fake.

Afshin said...

The commentators who speak with such disdain of Freddie and Corey are par for the course. None the posts here actually indicate that any of the commentators have read Robin's blog or article and yet they speak with such authority over the subject and are quick to dismiss anything critical of their ideology. Pathetic, yet unsurprising as the people who narcissistically proclaim their libertarian ideology are no different than the brain dead mainstream liberals who use warped logic to support the candidates and policies that the have thus far.

Libertarianism is an ideology of pretense. It's not an honest 'ideology' as it cannot reconcile abstract thinking with reality and when stake out positions that seem liberal are only that for political gain, yet never address the ideological inconsistency and incongruence to reality.

If they were more honest with themselves, they'd have more credibility. But as how so many here are quick to throw personal attacks, it's quite clear how vapid their intellectual positions are. It's a shame really.

Tristan said...

I think you're overreacting here - I don't read it as calling for a purge, but of calling for someone to be dropped because their work is sub-par.
I didn't see anything about Hayek and Pinochet in the main article either - the criticisms were about the argument being made trying to link Hayek et al to Nietzsche.

There certainly are some within the broad libertarian grouping who are like this (although its nowhere near as bad as some Objectivists who will not brook any original thought or criticism of Rand - I'm also told that many early Marxists were the same).

I don't think this is limited to libertarians - the trots and tankies are just as bad in the UK, if not worse thanks to their hierarchies and inner circles.
I've even encountered it amongst anarchists, especially online - there's a reflexive action against non-communist anarchism in some areas.

I think part of the problem is you go looking on facebook - unfortunately vulgar libertarianism attracts a lot of juvenile selfish idiots and they are more likely to congregate around facebook - you've probably ended up with a lot of the lowest common denominator :/

I did give up on a broad section of right wing libertarianism online - there's too much juvenile behaviour (not to mention that in the UK 'libertarians' seem to be pro-military and pro-war).

My experience with left-liberarians (mostly based around C4SS) is much more positive though. Debates tend to be more reasoned and there's far more attempt to understand other views, even when they're disagreed with.

Paul Sherrard said...

"If how random people interact online gets at the essence of an ideology or sect, where do the Twitter Obamabots who refer to Greenwald's husband as his 'Brazilian whore' and routinely wish for his murder by drone fit?" etc etc.

Seriously? You feel they say these things in a monolithical liberal echo chamber where there's no dissent?

d c said...

Vallier misunderstood Robin (nothing about Robin's article requires that Austrians and Nietzche "uniquely" share any views), and Hayek's claims in Constitution of Liberty go further than Vallier admits. I don't think Robin is entirely right either, but Brennan is off-base to think Robin is so wrong that he's incorrigible or evidently dishonest.

That said, as a left-liberal I can't agree with the claim that libertarians have anything approaching the epistemic closure of conservatives. They aren't all Objectivists. To the extent that there's any sort of intra-libertarian "purge", it seems to be top-down (e.g. Koch money) rather than popular (e.g. the Tea Party looking for RINOs). Yes, libertarians tend to reach laissez faire conclusions I disagree with, but, well, to most people, that's what the word "libertarianism" means--as soon as someone stops tending to reach laissez faire conclusions, they tend to stop calling themselves a libertarian. (As I did.)

d c said...

"Where do people like Corey Robin, who skull fuck 10 dead libertarians for every single discouraging word they ever write about live, office-holding liberals, fit?"

You don't follow Robin's blog very closely, do you?

ohtarzie said...

"Seriously? You feel they say these things in a monolithical liberal echo chamber where there's no dissent?"

No, I am saying that even if I accept Freddie's idiotic premise that Facebook and BHL can tell me all I need to know about libertarians, 'epistemic closure' is an arbitrary benchmark.

Generally I see online liberal discourse as a toxic waste dump of smears and general stupidity. This post and the comments from Freddie's little acolytes don't help.

ohtarzie said...

"You don't follow Robin's blog very closely, do you?"

Oh touche!!! '

Let's pretend Robins isn't the Richard Dawkins of anti-libertarianism.

I did follow Robin for a while, but he's a horrible dishonest and very very bad writer. I also followed him on Twitter and noticed a disproportionate preoccupation with dead libertarians in relation to live badly behaved liberal office holders. When you engage him, he is abusive, childish and smeary.

I must say considering that our topic is the 'epistemic cloture' of libertarians, the smears, snark and stonewalling that constitute the defense of Freddie's stupid post is really rather amusing. A comparison to the the very civil conversation taking place between liberals and lefts about Robin's widely criticized essay over on BHL doesn't really make Freddie's point very well.

Living entirely without self-awareness must be very liberating.

ohtarzie said...

Congratulations Afshin. You wrote three whole paragraphs and rebutted nothing.

ohtarzie said...

Freddie, if you stop writing deeply stupid, deeply conformists smears of anti-statists, I'll stop calling you a dumbass on my blog.


Paul Sherrard said...

"Generally I see online liberal discourse as a toxic waste dump of smears and general stupidity."

I think there's a lot to be said for that sentiment. There are many meaningful and possibly fruitful discussions that could come from pursuing it.

On the other hand, I could just dismiss it on the ground that "toxic waste dump" is an arbitrary benchmark and hammer away at that fairly obvious point for days.

d c said...

You said Robin would "skull fuck 10 dead libertarians for every single discouraging word they ever write about live, office-holding liberals".

I think you can find plenty of discouraging words right here:


Like I said, I'm not sure Robin's right about Hayek/Nietzche. (He's right about Hayek/Pinochet, though), but Vallier misread Robin (as some commenters at BHL pointed out) and there's a lot more in Constitution of Liberty than Vallier admits (honestly, that should have been clear just from the passages Robin originally cited, but there's a bit more quoted here.)

BTW, if you actually read my posts, you'll see that I was disagreeing with Freddie re: epistemic closure. (If all libertarians acted like you, I'd have to change my mind, but they don't).

Afshin said...


Have you found someone who takes you seriously?