We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

I conclude, then, that it is not good long-term libertarian propaganda to argue for various alternative systems of politics, or incremental political changes, on the basis that they are somewhat better than what we have now and they are more easily achievable than radical libertarianism. For such a strategy can only waste endless time in endless compromise, while failing to explain properly the libertarian alternative and thereby making converts. It is far better to argue immediately and always for the radical libertarian option.

– Jan C Lester puts the case for libertarianism and against compromise in a talk, entitled “Democracies, Republics and other unnecessary evils”, which he gave to Libertarian Home at the Rose and Crown in August of last year.

I first heard Lester speak these words while watching this video of the event, but I was later able to copy and paste them to here from this full text of the talk, also made available by Libertarian Home.

41 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Bruce Hoult

    I don’t know.

    We’ve had “no compromise” libertarian parties here in New Zealand for a couple of decades and they’ve gained no traction at all.

    It’s looking as if a new party is about to emerge from the ashes of two old ones with a libertarian core philosophy but which will support any measure that increases freedom vs the status quo, even if still not the perfect solution.

    A ratchet, if you will, to try to reverse the ratchet of socialism and statism.

  • Alsadius

    I disagree with this approach entirely. Radicalist agendas without any compromise never succeed except through violent revolution. Yes, you’ll make converts, but going from 0.1% of the population to 0.2% isn’t helpful. There’s room for radical activists, but their role is to convert the people who will actually do something useful – they’ll never get anything done themselves.

  • William O. B'Livion

    The middle ground is defined generally by the extremes.

    There is a place for a significant number of players who disavow compromise and agitate for immediate and radical changes to the organization of society[1], and the more of them and the more articulate they are, the better.

    These people directly will have NO serious say in the politics of the day. They will simply play the Black Panther Party to the more centrist appearing Dr. M.L. King, if the achieve anything at all.

    So IMO Jennings conclusion is wrong, but usefully so.

    [1] Making radical and sudden changes to complex systems is a really, really bad idea, whether these changes are deliberate, or unintended results of stupid ideas. You *have* to give the system time to adapt and adjust or shit breaks quite spectacularly. Most people prefer a mostly non-free world where they knew the rules and had food, shelter and etc. to a totally free one where they did not know the rules and did not understand what was coming next.

  • If I am in London and want to go by train to Birmingham, telling me I must buy a ticket to Glasgow is no good way to get my custom.

    However, on my train journey to Birmingham, I would see no reason to shun the company of someone otherwise pleasant, whose destination was Glasgow.

    But, and definitely but, “otherwise pleasant” would not include rubbishing Birmingham for the whole journey, and telling me that Glasgow is Utopia and the only destination for anyone but a fool.

    Best regards

  • I have also moved away from being a ‘gradualist’, I must admit. Seeing actual systemic collapse as a likelihood rather than a mere possibility might have something to do with that… well that and perhaps the inevitable contempt that follows from advancing years.

  • veryretired

    Purists always end up in a room with 3 other people arguing about who the purest truly is.

  • I would separate the question into the realm of politics (actual political parties) and what I’ll call ‘propaganda’ (is that a dirty word?). The former can only operate on the basis of the gradualist approach, because politics, almost by definition, means compromise. At the same time (and there’s work to be done in both realms simultaneously) the only way to change people’s minds – i.e. for propaganda to be effective – is to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is what outfits such as Samizdata and others are for. As long as the two “mechanisms” are kept clearly separate, they can coexist along each other just fine.

  • Richard Thomas

    Compromise is not necessarily a bad thing in-and-of itself but the Statists have found a way to turn compromise to their ends. It’s always a compromise between the way things are and what they want. It is necessary to properly define what one is compromising between before a compromise is to be drawn therefore vocal hard-liners . are definitely needed.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see that either hard-liners or moderates are able to make any headway Arguing for either may be a lost cause, it’s all sewn up. I think it may be an unfortunate fact of life that those who would take your freedoms will always find a way to do so until you personally actually stop them from doing so.

  • Thus through the ‘gradualist’ agenda, instead of having my head hacked off by a guillotine today, I am to prefer a death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach?

    Sorry, I’m with Perry. The system is near collapse, I much prefer to tip it over and then attempt to build something that I can at least recognize as libertarian from the ruins.

    At least then we’ll be able to show people that the road to ruin WAS COLLECTIVISM. If there was an effective libertarian choice in the UK, then I might feel differently, but there isn’t, so I don’t.

    Time for this game of pushme-pullyou politics to be brought to the temple and slain for all to see.

  • Tedd

    I subscribe more to Alisa’s approach. I use libertarian principles as a basis for determining and defending my position on specific policy issues or political questions. That involves explaining those principles, in many cases.

    I don’t subscribe to the “systemic collapse” strategy. In the first place, I’m not at all convinced that the system is as close to collapse as advocates of this strategy seem to be, though I don’t claim any special prescience in that area. More importantly, I think the argument against collectivism and progressivism needs to be won before the collapse happens. Once the system collapses, people will assess blame according to the political paradigm they already subscribe to; if collapse happened this year then blame would go squarely on those evil free-marketers, and the cry would go up for massive collectivist policies as the solution (and whatever “institutions” that need to be built to enforce them). Remember wage and price controls in the 70s? Think that, multiplied by a few orders of magnitude. That is what the reaction to systemic collapse will be, minus effective persuasion before the fact that the collectivist/anti-freedom policies of the past and present are actually the problem.

  • I don’t subscribe to the “systemic collapse” strategy.

    I don’t either, Tedd, even though I am convinced that the collapse is imminent. The reason I don’t subscribe to a ‘collapse strategy’ is that when the collapse does arrive, there will be no room for strategy – the best we can hope for then is some kind of damage control, not to mention sheer survival. I made my comment with the original post in mind, and systemic collapse doesn’t seem to be part of its premise.

  • Oh, and I agree with the rest of your comment.

  • JohnB

    The main thing is to achieve the objective – to establish reality.
    So one has to bear in mind and focus upon the reality of what one is trying to achieve (the ideal way things should be) while accepting and celebrating the milestones along the journey.
    That is harder and requires more honesty and inner discipline than either the simply compromising or confrontational approach, but it is fairly self evident as the most effective way.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Riffing off Nigel’s comment:

    Adam’s in London, and is considering leaving London by going to Birmingham. Bill wants everyone to go from London to Glasgow. Bill refuses to encourage Adam to go to Birmingham, because that won’t get Adam to Glasgow, even though it is generally admitted that Adam is much more likely to make the shorter move.

    The question is which is the better strategy:

    Urge people to leave London and go to Birmingham or Glasgow, which will get some people to both places, but most only to Birmingham.

    Or

    Urge people to leave London and go to Glasgow, which will get more people to Glasgow, but fewer to leave London at all.

  • RRS

    Do we want to complain or get results?

    Normative Libertarianism is framed by the impacts of the functions of governments on Liberty and thus to limit those impacts by limiting those functions.

    The function of government and its functioning must be central to political thought and political action. The megastate in which this century indulged has not performed, either in its totalitarian or in its democratic version. It has not delivered on a single one of its promises. And government by countervailing lobbyists is neither particularly effective–in fact, it is paralysis–nor particularly attractive. Yet effective government has never been needed more than in this highly competitive and fast- changing world of ours, in which the dangers created by the pollution of the physical environment are matched only by the dangers of worldwide armaments pollution. And we do not have even the beginnings of political theory or the political institutions needed for effective government in the knowledge- based society of organizations.

    If the twentieth century was one of social transformations, the twenty- first century needs to be one of social and political innovations, whose nature cannot be so clear to us now as their necessity.

    - Peter F. Drucker 1995

    No government can be “effective” unless its functions are determined and limited.

    While Liberty, not “effective government,” is the objective of normative libertarianism, the objective should be to reduce and ultimately limit to minimums the functions of governments. Failure to concentrate on that objective will be a major failure of libertarianism, normative or radical.

  • Chip

    When the system collapses, people will seek more comfort and security in government, not less.

    Crises are always opportunities for politicians to exploit fear.

    I prefer the compare and contrast approach in which people eventually realize that, for example, California was a terrible experiment compared with Utah or Texas, and adopt some policies of the latter.

    But this requires reason and critical thinking. Too much to hope for perhaps.

  • RRS

    Maybe I’ve missed something, or gone off on the wrong track.

    So, what is this “system” that is going to “collapse;” how has it come into being; what interests does it serve and support it; are they insufficient?

    I do believe we have entered the period of “The Coming Oligarchies” operating the larger enterprises and the mechnanisms of governments – is that the “system?”

  • @RRS:

    You should read The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein.

  • Julie near Chicago

    RRS,

    I ask this in good faith, as the usage has always puzzled me: What is the meaning of the phrase “normative libertarianism”?

    And what is the difference between that and “radical libertarianism,” which I would take to be a version of libertarianism which is firmly in accordance with its “root,” or most profound (fundamental) principles?

    Thanks.

  • RSS asked:

    So, what is this “system” that is going to “collapse;”

    The entire Ponzi scheme of regulatory welfare statism. There comes a point where the productive and taxable cannot be robbed of enough wealth and still remain productive and taxable… and the currency cannot be debased any more to pay for all the goodies. And the Gilt Edged Paper Promises-to-Pay eventually are seen for the literal impossibilities that they are.

    That which cannot go on forever… will not go on forever.

    I suspect that point may be closer than many think. Years, not decades.

  • Chip

    I see the system as the decreasingly self-sufficient people and increasingly expansive government borrowing or printing money to meet their short term goals.

    It collapses when the money runs out.

    Then we either rationally embrace a more decentralized and responsible governance coupled with freed-up economic activity, or a recoil in fear toward a more coercive state that redistributes what’s left under the guise of guaranteeing bread and shelter.

  • The collapse of any system of government is generally illustrated by a gradual period of decline over many decades followed by rapid collapse (usually over a period of weeks or months).

    This has been true of everything from the final days of Rome, through the collapse of the British Empire, the Soviet Union and much of the Middle Eastern Regime change of the Arab Spring.

    I agree with Perry that we are closer to collapse now than we were and it is years, not decades away. My reasoning is that a line of separation has been drawn between the politicians of ANY PARTY and the electorate.

    There is an ambivalence defined by a ‘them-and-us’ attitude that is not just the editorialising of the Daily Mail, but something much deeper.

    We are rapidly reaching the point where for the average family (2 adults + 2 children) the benefits of working over welfare are becoming marginal. If there is a further downturn or escalation of tax rates this will push the UK past the tipping point.

    It is these ‘tipping points’ that are the movers of history and I suspect that a Labour government during 2015 – 2020 will provide the necessary shove over the edge of collapse.

    A Tory government, improving economy and reducing taxes will push the ‘tipping point’ back into the future, but not very far.

    At some point, the clock WILL strike midnight.

  • bloke in spain

    One line that encapsulates why ‘libertarianism’, as advocated by many here, hasn’t a prayer of succeeding:

    ” At the same time (and there’s work to be done in both realms simultaneously) the only way to change people’s minds – i.e. for propaganda to be effective – is to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

    For heavens sake! Go look at your enemy. The relentless march of stateism has been brought about by deliberately distorting & obscuring the truth. If you’re the slightest bit interested in libertarianism being anything other than an interesting subject for academic discussion, learn from them. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with lying, cheating, stealing, intimidating, murdering. It gets results. Worry about fine principles when you’ve hung your last bureaucrat. I’m reminded of the flower of French nobility charging the English lines at Azincourt. They regarded the use of the bow in war as unchivalrous. Worked out well for them, didn’t it?

  • Bloke, I thought it was fairly obvious that the people to tell the truth to are the ones who may be converted into allies – unless you see everyone outside the hard-core libertarian fringe as an irredeemable enemy?

  • RRS

    JinC, et al.,

    There has been a current trend to associate the term Libertarianism with various concepts of appropriate social organization. We now have Bleeding Heart Libertarianism (BHL), as well as Radical Libertarianism (RL); and perhaps for some, Anarchic Libertarianism (AL) – no doubt there will be (or are) other labels as well.

    In all the forms of Libertarianism, regardless of his priority, there is the standard element of the relationship of the members of a social order as conducted through mechanisms of governments. That standard element constitutes the “Normative” of Libertarianism.

    The objectives, or concerns, of BHL appear to call for, or propose acceptance of, uses of the mechanisms of governments to impose obligations on some individuals in order to ameliorate the “undeserved” plights of other individuals in the social order.

    From what I understand of the way it has been expressed, RL proposes that a form of social order can be conceived of, designed or constructed in which all of the deficiencies of, or impositions upon Liberty by, the forms of governments heretofore conceived can be avoided or prevented. From some of the statements it is possible to deduce the assertion of positions that efforts toward those ends should be undertaken aggressively. Of course, RL is also concerned with the relationships that would otherwise exist between members of a social order conducted through instrumentalities or facilities other than governments.

    As further consideration: Those who are convinced of the arguments for spontaneous order, observing the current trend of the apparent objectives of the greater body of members of our existing social orders, and the means being chosen to attain those objectives, will probably have doubts as to the efficacy of RL other than to advance a basic standard. It is doubtful that we can design a successful social order in the form of Libertarianism (of any variety) than others have been capable of designing and constructing other forms of social orders, such as Socialism. Observation of those forces which shape the developments of spontaneous order does not currently indicate the likely development of AL, or even the acceptance of the broader form of RL; and there are only faint, vacillating stirrings of the recognition of the validity of Normative Libertarianism.

    The “People” have concerns other than Liberty.

  • I agree with Tedd regarding systemic collapse and people’s tendency to “assess blame according to the political paradigm they already subscribe to”. I would just add that part of the art of persuasion is allowing people to save face when they change their views, by giving them time and privacy. This is hard to do in the midst of a crisis.

  • RRS

    @ J Galt –

    why should I read again that particular piece of Orwell, which I first read about 63 years ago?

    However I am always open to learn something I might’ve missed. Unless that is just some kind of genteel “put down” (and of what I do not understand) please feel free to instruct me and the others here.

  • RRS

    PdeH,

    Ok, the “system” is the economic structure of social orders in the “developed” world. Presumably, that would encompass the “economic culture” in most of the Western societies.

    If I understand correctly, economic culture is framed (like the framework of a building) by the objectives of the members of the social order where that particular culture is found;e.g. most of Northwestern Europe and the UK, in the form of “Social Democracy.”

    If the economic structure resulting from that economic culture becomes unsustainable is it not more likely, rather than “collapse,” that the economic culture (arising from the desires of the members of the social order -who,pace, John Galt, seem inured to collectivism) will produce a replacement, possibly totalitarian in economic structure, in order to maintain the current quests for devolution of responsibilities (“collective obligations”) and aggregation of “entitlements?”

  • Julie near Chicago

    RRS,

    Thanks for the explanation. I think I understand now what you mean by “Radical Libertarianism.”

    “Normative Libertarianism” I shall have to ponder further. Do you use that phrase to refer to whatever responsibilities or obligations or duties persons in a society with minimum or no (official) government should or would voluntarily assume toward each other (without being ordered to do so by government)? Or do you mean it to refer to WHATEVER standards of behavior toward each other the system of libertarianism under discussion would require? That is, to refer to the dimension of good behavior in general within the context of any given libertarian society?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Peter Taylor,

    …[P]art of the art of persuasion is allowing people to save face when they change their views, by giving them time and privacy.

    A very good point. “Knowing when to shut up.” *g* –Not my strong point.

  • If the economic structure resulting from that economic culture becomes unsustainable is it not more likely, rather than “collapse,” that the economic culture (arising from the desires of the members of the social order -who,pace, John Galt, seem inured to collectivism) will produce a replacement, possibly totalitarian in economic structure, in order to maintain the current quests for devolution of responsibilities (“collective obligations”) and aggregation of “entitlements?”

    Of course it is ‘possible’. But such a system will still face the problem of where to get the wealth to fund its entitlements, given that the ‘collapse’ will doubtless leave even less enterprises to be taxed and regulated and a more totalitarian order will most likely make it even harder to accumulate a stock of milk-able economic cash cows. So it is also ‘possible’ that quite opposite could happen. But as I cannot see how collapse of the current order can be avoided, given the nature of the prevailing culture, I suppose we are going to find out… so I am more inclined to argue from a ‘purer’ position these days as I don’t really care if what I am saying does not fit the current meta-context of most people and thus it puts me on the lunatic fringe. I would rather not be in the non-lunatic ‘middle’ when the wheels come off as it happens :D

  • @RRS:

    Don’t worry, you are neither being mocked or instructed, it was simply a play on your quote:

    I do believe we have entered the period of “The Coming Oligarchies”

    Being Manx/Irish I have a sense of humour which many people don’t get. This is my fault, not yours.

  • RRS

    J Galt,

    Appreciated.

    Must be mostly Manx. Years of work in Eire got me inured to some of the turns of talk.

  • RRS

    J Galt,

    oh! I forgot to add: Touché!

  • RRS

    PdeH et al.,

    Your follow-up has made me simplify the expression of my viewpoint, which is that we are likely to see an accelerating transition in the economic structure, rather than an immediate “collapse” (although there may not appear to be much difference in effects from collapse in that abandonment); and, that as you note, unless the underlying economic culture (reflecting the characteristics of the citizenry, which supports the current economic structure), change, any economic structure framed by the current economic culture will fail; possibly through a series of transitions, but ultimate collapse.

    Gee, that’s not near as simple an expression as I had hoped.

    Incidentally, I was brought up to recognize and accept that we are always in periods of transition.

  • RRS

    Julie,
    You ask:

    Do you use that phrase to refer to whatever responsibilities or obligations or duties persons in a society with minimum or no (official) government should or would voluntarily assume toward each other (without being ordered to do so by government)?

    No, I don’t. Perhaps I have a different concept of “government.” Government is not some form of freely operating entity distinct from the relationships of the members of a social order in which it appears. Government is a mechanism through which certain of those relationships are conducted. The form of the mechanism is determined by the nature of the relationships and alters as those relationships alter; though not always in coincident order. To explain by example, I would change your parenthetical phrase to read: (without being coerced to do so by other persons in the society using the mechanisms of government for that coercion).

    Further, I see duties, responsibilities and commitments all as forms of obligation (ultimately based on oughtness, the personal sense of right and wrong). Each of those forms differ in regard to the circumstances giving rise to the obligation response. A commitment would be a voluntarily undertaken obligation. A responsibility is an obligation arising out of the nature of a particular relationship or form of action by an individual. A duty would represent the commonality of recognition and acceptance of individual obligations amongst a broad or particular segment of the members of a social order. All of those matters are distinct from Libertarianism as an “ism” in the sense of “give and take” relationships within the political sphere.

    Or do you mean it to refer to WHATEVER standards of behavior toward each other the system of libertarianism under discussion would require?

    No, I don’t. While there may be standards of behavior within a social order necessary to support the existence of Libertarianism, as a form of political conduct in that social order, my reference is not to those standards of behavior. My reference was to a standard element to be noted in all the discussed forms of Libertarianism and that is the nature of the:

    relationship of the members of a social order as conducted through mechanisms of governments.

    I do not think you will find any form of Libertarianism which is not concerned with that particular form of relationship and attempts to deal with it. However, I am open to other views.

    If I understand correctly, “normative” refers to some standard element. So that if restated to include the prescription of that standard element, one would say:
    “That form of Libertarianism, whose standard element is the relationship of the members of a social order as conducted through mechanisms of governments, is framed by . . ..

    That is, to refer to the dimension of good behavior in general within the context of any given libertarian society?

    No, not at all. My reference was only to Libertarianism as a political aspect of the social order and not to any particular form of society.

  • Julie near Chicago

    RRS,

    I think the problem is that my understanding of “normative” differs from yours. I thought it would refer to the standards of what is good (or right or acceptable) in human interpersonal or social behavior or activity, within a Libertarian political system. And in the end, I do think there are certain standards of conduct that must be met by the people constituting any genuinely Libertarian society.

    From your explanation, it sounds to me as if by “normative Libertarianism” you mean either the standard (i.e. the set of criteria) which defines “Libertarianism” as a political philosophy; or else, you mean that which all forms of Libertarianism have in common–that which might be called “normal” vis-a-vis Libertarianism, except that “normal” might be too weak a word since it could be taken to imply that there are forms of Libertarianism (in theory, if not in actuality) that are ABnormal, that are NOT common to all forms of Libertarianism.

    Thanks for the explanation…hope I have it straight now.

  • Laird

    Julie, FWIW my definition of “normative” is the same as RRS’s.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird–I don’t know how to get at this distinction in a single sentence. So….

    In trying to define proper Libertarianism as a political philosophy, one might draw up lists of necessary and sufficient features that a properly Libertarian political system must have, and possibly a list of conditions that must be absent.

    So, would “normative Libertarianism” refer to the (abstract) defining characteristics of a Libertarian political system properly so-called, or would it refer to those actually-existing (if any) Libertarian systems that meet the defining conditions?

    In the first case, “normative Libertarianism” would mean something like “a political philosophy which sets the standards that a Libertarian political system must meet.” In the second, the term would mean “the elements of Libertarianism that you will find in any properly Libertarian political system (if you can find one).” (With the proviso, in this second meaning, that those elements must include all the defining characteristics, but that there may also be other commonalities which are logically entailed by the interplay between the abstract definition and the Real World.)

    OK, here! In short: Is “normative Libertarianism” a description or definition which SETS the standard, or a real existing system which MEETS the standard?

    (Or to all those commonalities which real existing systems turn out to share, even if not directly prescribed in the definition?)

    Apologies for the length and apparent rambling…. :(

  • Laird

    To me, it’s the former: a description which sets (or better, defines) the standard. RRS may feel differently, though.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, Laird. It’s really helpful to know what people mean by some of the current buzzwords. :)