The Libertarian Defense League v.

The Libertarian Defense League v. George Will — George Will bizarrely characterizes libertarianism as “faux conservatism.” Have libertarians ever tried to pass off their ideology as conservative? Are gay marriage, legalized heroin, open markets for prostitution and so forth easily confused for conservatism? Someone please explain this to me.

In any case, the libertarian view is not “that freedom exists where government compulsion does not,” as Will puts it. If my next door neighbor puts a gun to my head, dresses me in a latex body suit, and chains me to the pool table in his rec room, my freedom no longer exists, and government compulsion didn't have anything to do with it. The libertarian view is just that government compulsion is not morally special. If it's wrong for my neighbor to force me to do things I wouldn't volunteer to do, then it's wrong for the government too, and for the same reasons. After all, the government is just a bunch of folks like me and my neighbor.

Will goes on to argue that libertarians make a fetish of freedom in a way that fails to face the reality of conflicting political values, such as freedom, equality and order. Well, these don't seem to me to conflict. Freedom is about being unconstrained by others to do what you like as long as you don't use violence to keep others from doing what they like. Order is just the efficient maintenance of the peace that freedom entails. And the only kind of equality that matters morally is equality of violent power over others. We should all be as equal as is possible in having no (or as little as is really necessary) violent power over others. If everyone is equal in violent power such that no one can coerce others, then there is order, and everyone is free. Ta da!

Of course, the trick is how you keep people from coercing others by allowing some people (police) to have special powers to use pre-emptive and retaliatory violence, but without allowing this power to be abused? And how do you defend your borders against agressors without a big expensive military? And how do you pay for it if no one is allowed to just take your money, whether you like it or not? Good questions, all of which have interesting anwers!

  • It makes more sense to discuss and promote behaviors you think are worthwhile, rather than praise individuals in the third person. Someone can spend a lot of time with their kids while abusing them. None of us are capable of making absolutely true statements about why people do or don’t do certain things, or the intricate details about family dynamics such as fatherhood. There are children involved with priority sets different from the father. A good father to you might be an overbearing busybody to his children.

  • Y81

    “You could say “Larry spent lots of time with his kids” as a thing he did, that would be a do not an is praise. ”

    Ooh, but the original Hanson comment suggested praising people for RESULTS. As we all know, a parent can spend lots of time with his or her kids, and things can still not work out. So while Wilkinson thinks that we should say, with mingled admiration and regret, “Larry is a good father, but his son grew up bad,” Hanson appears to think we should say dismissively, “Larry is a loser, his son grew up bad.”

    • Well if we had to wait until the end of the universe to see the ultimate results we could never praise anyone for results before then. Input vs. output is a matter of degree; I’m arguing to move more toward the output direction.

  • I don’t want to be defined merely by who I am.

  • I find this post at FEE by Steve Horwitz complimentary to Robin’s post.

    Horwitz talks about the danger of the “myth of merit.” I recall Hayek saying somewhere that “the market does not reward intentions, it rewards results.”

  • Re: Eric H’s Hayek quote:

    The market should reward results. By my argument, peers should reward sincere efforts/intentions. These are separate facets of life.

  • markvc1

    It’s a great mistake to praise a child for being intelligent, for example. Instead, give praise for asking good questions. A child who has been praised for intelligence will attempt to maintain that aspect by refraining from asking potentially ignorance-revealing questions.

  • Don Arthur

    There’s some evidence for markvc1’s position. Psychologist Carol Dweck shows how children can be handicapped by the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait (see ‘Self-Theories’).

    On the issue of character, philosopher John Doris argues persuasively that there’s surprisingly little empirical support for the idea of character. (see Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior’).

    The belief that success and failure are due to stable traits is one of the things that continues to disadvantage women.

    Instead of looking at the environment, defenders of the status quo point to the historical record of women’s achievement in art, science, war, political leadership (etc) and conclude that women lack the traits necessary for performance. Similar arguments have been made about blacks and other groups.

    For members of dominant groups who favor hierarchies of power and status, trait theories are advantageous.

    Not only to do they enhance self-esteem (“I’m successful therefore I must be intelligent and virtuous”) and justify inequalities, but if you can persuade subordinate groups to buy into the theory, they’ll be much less of threat.