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]

They’re busting out all over!

Who, precisely, is busting out all over? People who call themselves ‘socialist libertarians’ are busting out all over, that’s who.

The latest addition to this roll-call of the ragged is a certain Mr.Paul Anderson who, I am advised, was previously a columnist for the left-wing newspaper ‘Tribune’. Mr.Anderson has started a blog. Good for him. His blog is called ‘Gauche’ which is fine insofar as his Francophonic pretensions are entirely a matter for him.

My annoyance, however, is with the subtitle of his blog which reads:

Democratic Socialism with a Libertarian Punch

May I humbly suggest a clearer alternative to that meaningless bit of cant? How about:

Vegetarian cooking with just a hint of roast beef

That is what he might as well be saying. In fact, that is what he is saying and, one supposes, with a straight face to boot. Mr.Anderson has clearly not yet been advised that he can either be a socialist OR he can be a libertarian but he cannot possibly be both. Nor can he plausibly pass himself off as representing some sort of squishy compromise position between the two. If Mr.Anderson wants to know exactly why, then I can do no better than to recommend this comprehensive exposition on the subject by Perry de Havilland.

I have no intention of apologising for the tetchiness of my tone but, you see, this is something of a ‘hot button issue’ for people like me. We at Samizdata will be tarred, feathered, damned and consigned to purgatory before we sit back and allow the word ‘libertarian’ to be hijacked in the manner that the word ‘liberal’ was once hijacked and then handed over, gift-wrapped, to people who have since proved themselves to be anything and everything but liberal. Were it not for the fact that I perceive a silver lining in this cloud, I would be a great deal angrier than I am now. For a silver lining there most certainly is.

First off, it is clear that, due to the tireless work of such wonderful organisations as the Libertarian Alliance and (with a temporary suspension of modesty) we here at the Samizdata, the word ‘libertarian’ has become worthy of attempted theft. After all, I have not yet come across any persons of the left going around calling themselves ‘socialist wahabbist’. No, they are trying to nab it because they think it has good and positive connotations. That, of itself, is a micro-triumph.

Secondly, and more deeply, it is a trend which speaks volumes about the extent to which the confidence these people once had in their own ideas has been dramatically corroded. Perhaps the more intelligent people of the left (yes, they do exist) have reached a point in their lives and their thinking where they can no longer stand full-square behind the ideas that energised them in their youth. If indeed they are grabbing for the word ‘libertarian’ as a means of papering over the cracks that have started to appear in their own heads, then I do sort of understand it, if not condone it.

Given the years of effort they have put into their causes, I can see why it is so hard to make that emotionally fraught leap from one camp to the other, leaving behind all their friends and writing off maybe a half-a-lifetime of dedication and commitment. Hence the gradual terminology-creep from ‘socialist’ to ‘social democrat’ to ‘centrist’ to ‘liberal’ and, now, ‘libertarian’. That way they can still maintain the pretence, at least to themselves, that they remain firm members of their own gang, while increasingly seduced by the siren songs of our gang. By trying to shoulder their way under the cover of the libertarian umbrella they can postpone the day when they finally have to stop kidding themselves that socialism is anything but a crock of sh*t.

Now I must confess I did not spare the time to read through Mr.Anderson’s blog. I daresay he has a lot of interesting and exciting things to say. But if he wants to go on saying them with anything resembling credibility then he is going to have to stop trying to straddle precariously on that fence of his own shabby construction. Either he is going to fall off or people like us are going to push him off.

Of course, it could be that Mr.Anderson is just such a person as I have described above. In that case, he may like to know that there is way that he can spare himself the pain and humiliation of trying to be something he is not. He could always look down the road to that bright, sunlit oasis to which he is inexorably being led by on his ideological journey and decide instead to jump straight in to the inviting waters without wasting any more time. If Mr.Anderson decides to do that, then he should know that the waters are warm and he will find friends here who will welcome him.

[My thanks to Harry Steele for the link to Mr.Anderson’s blog.]

67 comments to They’re busting out all over!

  • Doug Collins

    Interesting, if only as a case study.

    I too started to read his blog but faltered over the credulity factor. I did get far enough to read his review of a George Orwell biography, the gist of which is that it is pretty good, but not quite as good as his hero deserves. This is someone with the right heros and perhaps a healthy ideological angst.

    I’m bookmarking this and will check back from time to time. It may be a chance to actually see the thinking of someone who is groping his way into the light. It is always difficult to put oneself into the mind of the mistaken when one understands something clearly. Yet that perspective is invaluable if one hopes to persuade effectively.

  • Julian Morrison

    Smile! 😀

    When your enemies try to win points by mimicking you, it means your ideas are on the memtic upswing.

  • Guy Herbert

    Tho’ (as readers of my other comments on this blog will realise) I’m not a fan of purist definitions, the point is well-made: “socialist libertarianism” is an absurdity.

    But it is of interest what he means by it, surely? How does “libertarian” modify “socialist” for Mr Anderson? And why does it?

    My answer to the second one is rather different to David Carr’s. It’s that in the age of Blair any appearance of uncompromising political committment or opinion is to be avoided, coherence is a sign that you don’t feel enough, you aren’t warm and fuzzy as the climate of the time requires. So one can’t be “socialist” plain and simple.

    I disagree that this means any actual watering down, or seduction by opposing ideas. It’s political dressing up. Just as New Labour is in favour of the market (properly regulated) not state ownership, of modernising institutions, not abolishing them–with precisely the same effect in each case–so it is vulgar (and less effective, less convincing) to be a socialist tout court than to have a more nuanced position.

    So what is the nuance? A skim reading of the blog in question suggests that the innovation is that–unlike others on the left whom he criticises–he accepts that conservative and capitalist commentators of various sorts aren’t all fools and knaves in the pay of a global conspiracy to oppress the workers. He’s a conceptual libertarian; he doesn’t do false consciousness. The right may be wrong, but it is conceivably in good faith.

    I think this, at least, is to be welcomed. A normal part of the of the fuzzifying strategy is to imply one’s opponents aren’t quite human–they don’t
    feel like common people do.

    (Note to David Icke: I really am not a blood-drinking lizard, and I’m sure Mr Anderson isn’t either.)

  • Naif Mabat

    I’m a bit mystified by the “Democratic Socialism” part as well. Is this accepted as a technical term in the UK?

    How about “Kosher Bacon with a Vegetarian Punch”?

  • Steady, David. We are not all libertarian here. “We are all individuals.”

    I have stopped calling myself a libertarian some time ago (and so did Samizdata.net) since that particular -ism, has come to harbour almost as many bad memes as good ones. I prefer to describe myself as being anti-collectivist and individualist.

    Before Mr Anderson hijacked the word in his non-sensical oxymoron, it has already been damaged by many a loon within the ‘libertarian’ movement…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I kind of sympathise with Gabriel Syme’s point, if only because a lot of folk who call themselves libertarian are from the fiercely isolationist camp on foreign policy issues, often to the extent of conferrring a weird sanctity on national borders. But unlike Gabriel, I still call myself libertarian if only to differentiate myself from conservatives here in the UK.

    Overall though, I share some of David Carr’s tetchiness. I have been involved in the Libertarian Alliance for nearly 20 years and my fellow LA friends even longer. I will be damned if I am going to let that useful word be corrupted as liberal has.

    Mind you, I still harbour the hope that the word liberal, as it would have been understood by Lord Acton, William Gladstone and Herbert Asquith, will return to the political lexicon as a term which accurately describes what I believe in.

    The meme is spreading!

  • I have encountered any number of so-called “libertarian socialists” or “socialist libertarians.” You have to watch them, they’re slippery. They insist that those are not oxymoronic phrases; that socialism — REAL, TRUE socialism — need not degenerate into the statist, collectivist despotism that we saw over and over again in the 20th century. They claim that REAL, TRUE libertarianism is inherently socialist in character, in the sense of pre-Marxist socialism (which is, apparently, some incorruptible form that makes Marxism look like a shabby poseur). They say that freedom, REAL, TRUE freedom, cannot be had so long as free market capitalism allows an elite cadre to accumulate wealth and power on the backs of the economically enslaved masses.

    They’re fairly persuasive, in a superficial, don’t look too closely, don’t dig too deeply sort of way. Unfortunately, they tend to be as persuasive as self-avowed “free market” libertarians. The latter group often don’t know their subject as well as they ought, and non-libertarians seldom have the time or patience necessary to consider libertarianism to any great depth, anyway.

    You have to know libertarianism well enough to summarize it in a sentence or two (25 words or fewer). Otherwise, the “libertarian socialists” can steal the ball.

  • I find it very funny (and illustrative of why the “libertarian socialists” are getting people to listen to them), to see Jonathan Pearce talking about the “isolationism” of other self-identified libertarians, even as he joins in the discussion about imprecise use of language — specifically, the “hijacking” of the term “libertarian.”

    I don’t know or know of a single libertarian “isolationist.” That pejorative term is deliberately used by those of ill will to marginalize people who believe in the core libertarian idea of a strictly limited, non-interventionist government. It is subsequently, indadvertently adopted by uncritical thinkers, crowding out “non-interventionist” or any number of other terms that might be more kindly descriptive of the opposing position.

    How can you possibly expect people to spend time and effort to get a good grasp on such terms as “libertarian” or “liberal,” when it is obviously so easy to play fast and loose with those and other terms, such as “isolationist”? If precision is your advantage, be precise. There are a lot of skilled “fast and loose” players out there, the “libertarian socialists” noteworthy among them. If you are precise with some words and sloppy with others, you hand such people the advantage.

  • Edmund Burke

    Anarcho-syndicalists also call themselves liberatarians. Perhaps “socialist liberatarians” are thinking along these lines rather than the lines of individualism.

  • Calling Socialist Libertarian Samizdata Bloggers,

    As well as Mr De Havilland’s superb article linked to above, if you’d like a really good book describing the difference between real liberty, and what you call socialist libertarianism, I don’t think you’ll find a better book anywhere, than F.A.Hayek’s seminal:

    The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism

    All becomes clear, as you step through the pages of this distilled gem of a masterpiece, written late in Hayek’s life, but all the more powerful as a result. (Think Obi-Wan Kenobi! 🙂

    After reading Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, and “Animal Farm”, you may have had your confidence shaken in “real” socialism, and therefore moved across to “libertarian” socialism. But I’m afraid you still have a little way to go, to complete the journey.

    Find out why the freedom to do what your leaders currently permit, is different from the freedom to do what you like within the traditions of the rule of law.

    If you’d like a short review of the above Hayek book, please go to my semi-patented Cure for Socialism, where I’ve feebly attempted to describe the thoughts of the greatest man of the twentieth century, and IMHO, humanity’s saviour. But I’d rather you just bought, and read the book.

    It’s far better than anything I could ever say.

    If you need a challenge, to motivate your purchase, I defy you to call yourself a socialist after reading it.

    Go on, do yourself a favour and come to the light side! 😉


  • A fundamental issue here is this simple point. Libertarians see “liberty” and “government” as fundamentally opposed. The more government there is the less liberty we have. What a government actually does is not really the point. In most cases it should not be doing anything.

    People such as the “libertarian socialist” crowd simply do not get this. For them, a large government is seen as a given, and they are more interested in how it should function. When they see the word “liberty” they think perhaps of things like free speech and civil liberties on their own, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter, which is that government is the problem and not the solution. They look at people calling themselves “libertarians”, see some common ground, and think their position is close to a libertarian position because the the common ground is all they see:they simply do not comprehend the key issue by which libertarians define themselves.

    Im with Gabriel in that I tend not to call myself a libertarian. Part of this is that I am a reformed lefty myself, and the word “libertarian” seems somewhat harsh, and I perhaps associate the word with visions of heavily armed isolationists living in cabins somewhere in Wyoming. (Of course, most actual libertarians I know tend to be urbane and highly civilized people, but associations you pick up when you are young are hard to get rid of). And unlike Jonathan, I don’t need a word to make it clear that I am not a conservative, because I am definitely not a conservative. I would prefer to call myself a liberal, but the word has been so badly hijacked that this is pointless.

  • Given this discussion started with my linking to Paul Anderson’s ‘democratic socialism with a libertarian punch’, I have ventured a reply on my blog.

  • HC

    Socialist libertarians?

    It’s the end of civilization…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    James Merritt says he does not know of a single libertarian isolationist.

    Er, how about: Jim Henley, Justin Raimondo, Gene Healy, Radley Balko, the LewRockwell.com types, etc. etc. All, for varying reasons, oppose any use of state force for reasons other than strict self defence, hence their opposition to Bush’s pre-emption doctrine underpinning the recent war in Iraq.

  • Dave O'Neill

    Hijacked libertarism? Hardly.

    Of course if you are going to have a narrow definition of something which fits your won view and not others the that is your perogative. It doesn’t, however, make it true.

  • HC

    In fact, I would argue that there is not a single libertarian interventionist in the LewRockwell.com and Antiwar.com types.

  • Jonathan, it’s possible for liberty-oriented types to disagree completely about war and foreign policy. These matters impose collective action on us whether we like it or not, so the central libertarian principle, ethical individualism, does not apply to them, which casts us into murky waters.

    Libertarian ideas have a domain of applicability, the same as all other ideas. War and foreign policy are outside that domain, at least in this Curmudgeon’s view. So disagreement on them, even among staunch libertarians, is to be expected.

    I discourse on this and comparable topics here.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Re: Libertarian “isolationism”

    This is a distrust of our own states, not “conferrring a weird sanctity on national borders” – the isolationists didn’t support Gulf War I because they didn’t consider Kuwait’s national borders worth dying for.

    I’m not worshipping another government just because I don’t want to turn that spot of land into a colony of our own government.

    Odd to see this in LS considering how some of us consider “libertarian interventionist” as big an oxymoron as “libertarian socialist”.

  • joe

    How can one be libertarian and yet defend the “right” of Saddam and his fellow criminals to claim an entire nation as personal property? How can one defend the MURDER-STATE of Saddam and call themselves anti-statist? How can a libertarian defends one’s own nation-state’s claimed borders as sacred (as that is all that isolationism really is)? How THE FUCK can a libertarian support the “Treaty of Westphalia” which says quite clearly that the STATE is SACRED??????

  • Scott Cattanach

    Joe, nobody is defending Saddam’s “right” to do anything. The point is that when you use govt to deal w/ Saddam, you are forcing others (taxpayers at the very least) to free Iraqis, which is no different than forcing others to pay for health care, welfare, etc. (freeing Iraqis is a good thing in and of itself, but so is charity that gives to the poor).

    Joe, do you support poor people starving and going w/o health care or shelter if you oppose govt intervention to ‘solve’ those problems like you seem to have wanted it to solve the Saddam problem?

  • HC

    Opposing interventionism to make a “regime change” in State X does not mean you support State X or its regime.

    I also think Francis Porretto makes a good point. These are murky waters for libertarians.

  • Kit Taylor

    Libertarians are surely military isolationists, like Republican congressman and former LP presidential candidate Ron Paul.

    No first strike policy, no approval from foreign governments for retaliation.

  • Frank

    I’d agree with my Samizdata friends that libertarianism, as a term, has been tarnished by extremists. But it’s part of life as any group, especially in politics. Either way, there is a spectrum within libertarianism, just as one cannot make a one-issue litmus test as to whether one’s a conservative or a socialist. The leftwingers that I know who consider themselves libertarian-leaning primarily see liberty in terms of mandated diversity. That is, government solutions that produce diversity without tolerance and assistance without a permanent solution. That’s where they’re wrong about libertarianism. If the government mandates you to do something that promotes civil liberties, it’s not a free choice. It may be a good and moral thing, something that libertarians would applaud (but not enjoin), but in the end, it is coerced.

  • Speaking purely for myself here, I am getting heartily sick of this tendency for potentially interesting debates to be sidetracked into this long-running, boring and ultimately sterile argument about the merits (or otherwise) of isolationism.

    That was not what my post was about at all. Did anybody notice? Is there any point in trying to get a discussion started about anything when everything is going to be hijacked by this endless bickering about foreign policy?

  • re the original post {techiness}A-FUCKING-MEN!{/techiness}

    I think one of the progenitors of so-called “socialist libertarianism” may be a Notre Dame professor by the name of James P. Sterba who teaches budding college libertarians that they’re views inevitably lead to a welfare state (No. I don’t know how this is possible).

  • Scott Cattanach

    David, what is “foreign policy” if you don’t accept the legitimacy of the nation-state?

  • Dave Wolfe

    “and I perhaps associate the word with visions of heavily armed isolationists living in cabins somewhere in Wyoming”

    I thought this was hilarious. While I don’t live in a cabin, I am an armed, libertarian Wyomingite. What are you implying about me, Mr. Jennings?

  • Joe


    1. But you are saying the US soldiers DO NOT have the right to enter the criminally-held territory of bandit chief Saddam Hussein. That is the same as defending Saddam’s claim to the territory of Iraq as a valid property right. I maintain that this is wrong, and US soldiers ARE NOT violating Saddam’s invalid property claims and that any issues of trespassing or other property vioations are between the US military (or individual soliders) and the individual VALID Iraqi property holders. Individual Iraqis injured by the US military operation DO have a claim to compensation. But to say that it is morally wrong for US military personal to disrespect the false claims of a criminal is HORSESHIT and STATIST.

    2. The military is a VOLUNTARY force, so they are not being foreced into action. The tax-payer claim is somewhat valid, but given the minuscule percentage that the operation cost, and given that only perhaps 30 percent of taxpayers actually paid the cost, and given how most saw this as a liberty-increasing action for all (as a valid strategic move that increased our defense) you will have to prove how this was an additional infringment of liberty for ALL citizens or specifically name those whose liberty have been infringed, ie. your claim that this was an infringment to all taxpayers is invalid.

    3. Your third claim is HORSESHIT, because it assumes that government invervention actually HELPS the poor or HEALS the sick. A TRUE LIBERTARIAN will spot this immediately as untrue. Welfare is not charity and government “health” care schemes lower overall quality of health. Read any libertarian trestise for more.

    HC: See my point above, it is supporting State C (criminal state) since you are raising a limitation that Military Force X must respect the false property claims of the criminals, which is clearly false. And BTW, if Iraq invaded the US I would authorize the US military to act as my agent and defend my property. Before you try to spring the revese on my argument you must prove that the Iraqi military was in fact a valid agent of Iraqi property owners and not a criminal agent of oppression.

  • As a minarchist, I think ‘foreign policy’ is one of the few acceptable roles for a state and they should butt out of almost all the rest of the things they do.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Only “perhaps 30 percent of taxpayers actually paid the cost” means that the more you force the burden of govt onto a minority of earners, the more moral it is (since an ever increasing majority doesn’t pay). The war is moral because the 10 of us are making Bill Gates pay. Lets bring back slavery, since the slaves would be a minority. Thanks, Joe.

    If a govt social program has majority support, and only a minority pays the taxes for it, is it alright in Joe’s book?

    I’m a US taxpayer, so I can use myself for your demand to identify one taxpayer whose rights have been infringed.

    Joe, regarding my “horseshit” claim, is your only objection to govt social programs that they don’t work, and not that its immoral for the govt to take from A to give to B, whether that helps B or not?

  • Joe

    Scott: but by being anti-war you HAVE accepted the legitimacy of a nation-state…that of the criminal regime of Iraq. If you truly questioned the legitimacy of nation-states you would care less if the US military (a private subsidary of the of the United States of America, Inc) was attacking and killing criminals in the territory of Iraq. By stating that Iraq’s borders are sacrad you are making a statist claim that the territory of Iraq is valid property of Saddam and his criminal thugs.

  • Paul Coulam

    Tempting though it is to annoy David by making a sarcastic comment in agreement with Scott Cattanach I will do as he says and comment on the main point of his post.

    Absurd though socialism is, there is an intellectual tradition of left-libertarian thought (by this I do not mean the lifestyle leftism of people like David Boaz) the main theoretical practioners of this are people like Hillel Steiner and Phillipe van Parijs. Palgrave published two books on left (socialistic) libertarianism a couple of years ago, one ‘The Origins of Left-Libertarianism’ goes quite deeply into the history of the theory and the other ‘Left-Libertarianism and it’s Critics’ is a collection of critical essays by both left-libertarians and their free market libertarian critics. Including a contribution by the inestimable Murray Rothbard who would, of course, find the claims of the Samizdatista’s to be libertarian as peculiar as those of the socialists. (Sorry David 😉 )

    Anyway the point is that left-libertarianism is not a new phenomenon but actually does have an genuine intellectual pedigree of its own. We free market libertarians cannot legitimately claim sole use of this word.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Scott: but by being anti-war you HAVE accepted the legitimacy of a nation-state

    And by supporting your nation state in a war, you’re rejecting its legitimacy? You’re not making any sense whatsoever.

    Joe, put up or shut up – where exactly did I call Iraq’s borders sacred?

  • Scott Cattanach

    Back to the original topic, I suspect “left libertarians” agree w/ “right libertarians” about govt, but not about property. Basically, they seem to favor forced redistribution, but want to do it themselves (thru a collective mob if necessary) instead of trusting some bureaucrat.

  • Joe

    1. Untrue distortion of my arugment that your agrument was invalid – you made a false claim that all taxpayers are being oppressed, when in fact only a tiny minority actually paid.

    “If a govt social program has majority support, and only a minority pays the taxes for it, is it alright in Joe’s book?”

    Nice dodge, but I have in fact said no such thing. How typically Paleo to dodge my argument with something I never said.

    “I’m a US taxpayer, so I can use myself for your demand to identify one taxpayer whose rights have been infringed.”

    Fine, you deserve a refund. But that doesn’t mean the war infringed on the rights of all taxpayers or that it was illibertarian for the US military to cross Iraq’s borders and kill any criminals that got in their way. Again, individual Iraqis should be compensated for violations of their property. But Saddam’s thugocrcacy have no such claims.

    Besides, as pointed out above, your taxpayer argument could be used for ANY action of the military or even its very existance. I do not belive you or anybody else really feels that way, as military defense would still be a purchased good – in libertopia or not.

    Bottom line, the War COULD and SHOULD be considered from a libertarian moral perspective, as there are VALID LIBERTARIAN agruments for it. The idea that it was STRATEGICALLY wrong or incorrect is a whole other discussion but to say that a libertarian couldn’t support the War and still be a libertaraian is HORSESHIT and shows how pathetically empty the anti-war and paleos are on this issue.

  • Joe

    “And by supporting your nation state in a war, you’re rejecting its legitimacy? ”

    I didn’t support the nation-state, I supported the US military to go where it wished as my agent, granted it respects individual property rights.

    “where exactly did I call Iraq’s borders sacred?”

    Was it wrong or not for the US military to cross Iraq’s international borders?

    BTW- I think Rothbard was a very intersting guy. But I would warn every libertarian to read his tracts with a grain of salt. He was a genius economist, an interesting political philsopher but a horrible, horrible politician (a political Leninist) who spends half of his essays philosophizing and half bashing his political opponants over petty strategic differences & party politics.

    I read the essay in question and it seemed 90% the second, so keep that in mind.

  • Dave O'Neill

    Forced distribution?

    I suppose it could be called that. The problem seems to be demonstrating that you could run a “civil society” without it. By that, I don’t mean society in the warm fuzzy sense, but in the sense of the kind of place where there are laws, enforcement of laws, your rights protected, freedom to do what you want and when you want without, obviously enfringing on the same rights of others.

    Its a nice ideal to think it works without some kind of structure but given what people are like, I don’t see it without government or taxes. The real world question then becomes where on the extremes do you want your governmental system to sit.

  • Paul,

    No need to apologise, mate. I realise that Rothbard would probably denounce me every bit as robustly as I have denounced Mr.Anderson. Maybe even more so.

    I also note what you say regarding the provenance of ‘left libertarianism’ but I still maintain that it is nonsense on stilts.

  • Dave Sabin

    Bizarrely ignorant post. Libertarian-socialism is a phrase that’s been floating around all over the globe for over a hundred years. In almost all countries except the US the term “libertarian” in all its multilingual combinations is a clear reference to what Americans term anarchism. American “libertarians” are the ones who have hijacked the term to apply to their strange brand of hating government, but worshipping property and violence. The primary contradiction lies not between socialism and libertarianism, but between any concept of liberty and the remotest defense of property. You dig property, fine. Why not call yourselves propertarians or thatzminians. Liberty isn’t your banner, and can never be your banner so long as something so proposterous as property and ownership remain your guiding force. Otherwise, as the man says, you’re all just pot-smoking Republicans.

  • Scott Cattanach

    “If a govt social program has majority support, and only a minority pays the taxes for it, is it alright in Joe’s book?”

    Nice dodge, but I have in fact said no such thing. How typically Paleo to dodge my argument with something I never said.

    I took “military intervention” out of your argument and put in “social program” to see if you believe that the same logic, for lack of a better term, applies.

    Funny you complain that I’m dodging your argument w/ something you never said when you turn around and claim I said Iraq’s borders are sacred when I simply opposed US military intervention.

    Then again, if typing HORSESHIT (in all caps) is your idea of discussion, I clearly can’t expect better of you than your straw man arguments.

    Joe, you aren’t debating, you’re masterdebating. I only hope to be as good in reality someday as I seem to be in your fantasies.

  • Good Lord. Do people like this Mr.Sabin actually still exist?

  • In response to a point I made, Jonathan Pearce says, “James Merritt says he does not know of a single libertarian isolationist.

    “Er, how about: Jim Henley, Justin Raimondo, Gene Healy, Radley Balko, the LewRockwell.com types, etc. etc. All, for varying reasons, oppose any use of state force for reasons other than strict self defence, hence their opposition to Bush’s pre-emption doctrine underpinning the recent war in Iraq.”

    Mr. Pearce made my point, exactly. We have (or, at least, he has) accepted the definition of the pejorative term “isolationist” as someone who opposes “any use of state force for reasons other than strict self defense.”

    This is an example of imprecise (incorrect!) language, gaining currency and driving out better, more precise language. I said that I didn’t know any libertarian “isolationists.” To me, an “isolationist” policy actually serves to isolate the nation in a real sense, much as ancient China deliberately isolated itself from the rest of the world for centuries, behind physical walls as well as policies that put a damper on cultural and economic exchange with the outside world. I don’t know of ANY Libertarians who advocate anything close for the US. The closed-border, anti-immigration types come closest, but even they want the US to be a major economic and cultural force in the world. I do, however, know people who are imprecisely CALLED “isolationist” for their non-interventionist views. This started in earnest, circa WWI, to marginalize the huge movement that opposed US entrance into “The Great War.” Do you really want to endorse that classic statist propaganda maneuver?

    If the meaning of “isolationist” can be twisted to the point that people like Mr. Pearce can vigorously defend the twisted version without any apparent awareness of the incongruity, just imagine how thoroughly and quickly words like “liberal” and “libertarian” can be turned.

    Words like “isolationist” are intentional, verbal cudgels. Even if we accept and grant that a semantic shift may have pushed its meaning to be synonymous with “non-interventionsist,” the pejorative connotations of head-in-the-sand ostrichism and provincialism remain. Every time you use a term like this to describe an intellectual or ideological opponent, you cast unkind aspersions on that person. If the person actually IS an “isolationist,” the aspersions are fairly, if impolitely cast. But if the person isn’t really an isolationist, if he in fact believes in vigorous economic and cultural interaction between nations and peoples, then using an ill-fitting term to smear the opponent with unsavory connotations is just dirty fighting, or at best, sloppy discourse. If you’re seen as a dirty or sloppy intellectual fighter, then how will you ever persuade ANYONE, except by force?

    I’m sorry if some people here think that we’re veering off topic. The topic does, however, seem to be the careful use of language. If you’re against “hijacking” some terms, you really need to be against the hijacking of ALL terms, at least the terms of political discourse that are routinely used in a blog that covers political topics. If you’re going to cherry-pick the terms that deserve “protection,” and play fast and loose with the rest, don’t be surprised if people disrespect or ignore you and your decisions.

    Because I don’t want state intervention in personal decisions about food and drugs, this does not mean that I endorse profligate drug use or abuse. By the same token, because I don’t want state force to be used except defensively, this doesn’t mean that I endorse the things that statist regimes typically employ state force to oppose. I don’t uphold Saddam’s “right” to be a tyrant and abuse his own people, for instance. But I don’t believe that government — at least the US government — properly exists to spank or depose tyrants EXCEPT WITHIN THE BORDERS OF THE US, OR FOR CLEAR DEFENSE OF THE COUNTRY. The interventionists seem to believe that the mere existence of a bad situation is de facto authorization for people to do something about it via their government. Thus the drug war, the war on poverty, socialized education and healthcare, and yes, pre-emptive and “humanitarian” war, just to name a few atrocities. All of these things ultimately come from the same place, and clear-thinking libertarians see them all to be wrong. When the public sees any self-styled “libertarians” endorsing any such interventions, how can they be anything BUT confused about the proper meaning of “libertarian”? This is how we lost “liberal,” I think: the meaning became diluted and was ultimately reworked to reflect the largest or most visible/vocal population who claimed the label. If “interventionist libertarians” achieve the same result with the term “libertarian,” then that will be one more, unfortunate linguistic development, imho.

  • David Carr asks, “Good Lord. Do people like this Mr.Sabin actually still exist?”

    They do, indeed, and I encounter them frequently, in online discussions especially. This is the kind of thing, to which I alluded in my earlier posting about slippery “libertarian socialists.” Sabin’s brief summary of the libertarian socialist arguments hits every major point that I have been challenged to contest in online activity and offline discussions over the past several years.

    There are a LOT more like Mr. Sabin out there, and they are energetically claiming “libertarian” as their own. What will we do about it?

  • James,

    How ‘strict’ does the self-defence have to be?

  • James,

    “What will we do about it?

    I think people like this Mr.Sabin are pretty easy to discredit actually. I, too, have come across them on the odd occasion and their stupid ideas simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

  • Cydonia

    Paul Anderson’s blog contains this:

    “I think Britain should join as soon as possible and put its weight behind proposals to tone down the anti-inflationary zeal of the growth and stability pact and to give the eurozone the capacity to run a redistributive fiscal policy.”

    Doesn’t sound to me like any kind of libertarian, whether Chomskyite anarcho-syndicalist or otherwise. My guess is that the guy is just a boring old leftish Lib Dem who thinks he’s “libertarian” because he’s in favour of legalising pot.


    p.s. maybe somebody should ask him?

  • Thank goodness I’m a “[U.S.] Constitutional conservative” and don’t have to get involved in these ideological bun-fights.

    I care not a fig for how people may define me: government minimalist, gun nut, neo-interventionist, whatever — I am all of those things, in various measures, and proud of it.

    I would, however, love to kick Justin Raimondo in the balls, just once.

  • Niky Ring

    No political commentary here, but I do have to wonder at the research (or lack thereof) that went into this post.

    Libertarian socialism, as a radical left-wing political identification, goes back to the last century and continues to this day.

    “Libertarian”, in the sense of a civil-libertarian, pro-capitalist position, is a much more recent use of the word.

    One may feel that socialism and libertarianism are incoherent when used in tandem with each other, but please, get the history correct.

  • Niky Ring

    Erk, I guess that would be the century *before* last — the 19th. Sorry.

  • sage mclaughlin

    Kim, you rule.

    This all makes about as much sense as being a “novice expert in economics”.

  • sage mclaughlin

    Oh, I meant to mention also that “libertarian” is in danger of slipping into the same territory as “feminist”–which is to say meaningless by virute of its use by people who don’t agree on anything at all of real substance. Fortunately for libertarianism, it has a long and carefully nurtured political and economic philosophy that distinguishes it totally from other modes of thought.

  • Dave Sabin

    >There are a LOT more like Mr. Sabin out there, and they are energetically claiming “libertarian” as their own. What will we do about it?

    Again, why not pick a better name which actually identifies your priorities. If liberty ain’t your bag, why the bogus moniker? I’ve made some suggestions, but if you’re really fond of the “libertarian” ring, here’s a few more to chew on: psuedo-libertarian, would-be-libertarian, libertarianesque, mostly-libertarian, libertarian-sans-liberty, anti-libertarian, libertarian-sans-conscience, mock-libertarian….

    >I think people like this Mr.Sabin are pretty easy to discredit actually.

    When you have the attention span for it, I suppose….

  • S. Weasel

    All political labels get tainted eventually. Naturally, since they’re used at least as much by their enemies as their friends. Too many of these conversations end up sounding like a debate between the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front.

    When asked, I just tell people I believe in everyone minding his own business. Especially governments.

  • Karl Gallagher

    I’m a globalist libertarian–I want *everyone* to be free.

  • Joe


    In other words, you equate libertarianism with Statism, that the State and territory are the same thing. I contest that you can’t be libertarian and hold this viewpoint.

  • David Carr asks, “James,
    How ‘strict’ does the self-defence have to be?”

    I don’t know what Mr. Pearce meant by it when he used it originally in this thread. I was quoting him, in my reply. But I do know what that phrase means to me.

    To me, strict self-defense means that you act to avoid or deflect an imminent threat, or retaliate for an attack. You don’t go after someone, guns a’blazing, because they might someday pose a threat to you. Also, a notion of “strict” self-defense requires that forceful action is commensurate with the recognized level of threat or actual damage caused by an attack. You generally don’t shoot someone for slashing your tires, for instance, or even for taking a swing at you: only when you fear for your own life.

    If Bush had been able to make his case in open Congress that Saddam had a dagger to our national throat, or was in the process of figuratively shivving us in the ribs — had attacks or documented attempts at attacks ala 9/11 been proven — I would have reluctantly admitted the legitimacy of the Iraq war as a national defense measure. At the time those claims were being made by Mr. Bush, Mr. Powell, Ms. Rice, etc., however, I saw them as basically unsubstantiated; hindsight appears to be confirming that assessment. Even had the airtight case been made in Congress, yet proven in hindsight to have been mistaken, the Iraq War would have been, at worst, a tragic error — all the more so for its good intentions. But no such case was ever made: certainly not in the legitimate (constitutional) way, and not in the legitimate (constitutionally prescribed) forum.

    As a libertarian, I couldn’t accept the need for oil as a basis for war. I could accept the humanitarian argument as a basis for INDIVIDUAL decision, action, and commitment, but not NATIONAL action or commitment on the part of the US government.

    Quite a few people here on Samizdata supported the Iraq Adventure because it was alleged to be, first and foremost, a way to get Saddam’s dagger away from our throats. In other words, it was promoted as a reasonably defensive operation. I don’t fault those libertarians for their infidelity to libertarian principle; rather, I warned them against, and now hold them accountable for, being stampeded into allowing the leaders to dispense with rigorous due process, by which we might have determined the truth or falsehood of charges against Saddam before committing our troops to the Gulf, launching the first missiles, firing the first shots, etc. The prudence of rigorous due process was appropriate because Saddam had not attacked us first, so the imminent threat needed to be proven. It was never proven, even by a preponderance of VERIFIED evidence. Due process isn’t a panacea; many innocent people are convicted in American courts DESPITE scrupulous adherence to due process. On the other hand, we wait YEARS before executing criminals over here, while the appeals process grinds on, precisely because the death penalty is so final. The rules seem different for war. After only a few months of less-than-hard-hitting debate, it is apparently OK to go in and kill not only the target bad guy, but any innocent civillians who happen to be in his general vicinity. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s just wrong.

    We had the time to honor the constitution, uphold the principle of due process, and establish that this war WAS defensive — or to abandon our deadly plans. We did neither. Thousands of people, combatants and non combatants alike, are dead as a result. I sleep a little better — but only a little — knowing that I spoke out against all of this well before it happened. I have a very hard time getting to sleep, even so, when I allow myself to realize how truly ineffective were not only my single voice, but also the millions of other voices that were raised in protest during this time.

  • Joe says, “In other words, you [James] equate libertarianism with Statism, that the State and territory are the same thing. I contest that you can’t be libertarian and hold this viewpoint.”

    You sound confused. I don’t say that the State and the territory are the same thing or that libertarianism and Statism are even similar, much less the same thing. I say merely that the State’s authority to spank or depose tyrants can only reasonably go as far as its territorial borders, or in clear defense of those borders and the people within.

    How is any of that inconsistent with libertarianism?

  • D. Sabin says, “Again, why not pick a better name which actually identifies your priorities. If liberty ain’t your bag, why the bogus moniker? I’ve made some suggestions, but if you’re really fond of the ‘libertarian’ ring, here’s a few more to chew on: psuedo-libertarian, would-be-libertarian, libertarianesque, mostly-libertarian, libertarian-sans-liberty, anti-libertarian, libertarian-sans-conscience, mock-libertarian….”

    But liberty IS my bag, and your monikers are bogus. You seem to be saying that the concept of private property is antithetical to liberty. Kris Kristofferson made your point more artfully when he penned the lyric, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” Buddhists have made the same point for centuries: property and attachments restrict (or at least, circumscribe) freedom. Many people have found both bits of wisdom to be most profoundly applicable to their lives and circumstances. But many other people believe that not having, or not being able to accumulate private property; or not being able to fully dispose of that property at will; are unacceptable restrictions of freedom and liberty. The people who founded the US believed strongly that life, liberty, and right to property went hand in hand. In this belief, they continued and embellished a centuries-old British tradition.

    The basic antonym of “libertarian,” upon which virtually all who know or use the term have agreed for 200+ years, is “authoritarian.” Libertarians believe that people have free will to act independently, and that no authority is justified in impeding their independent action, except to prevent or redress harm to others (including the harm that others suffer when they themselves are restricted from independent action by another party’s actions).

    The place where the phrase “libertarian socialism” or the notion of “libertarianism” as properly some form of “socialism,” become oxymoronic to me, is where socialism — at least as it is always implemented in practice — involves an authority that can overrule individual decision and prevent or punish individual action, based on politically derived considerations and decisions. Whether it is a ruling elite nomenklatura, a pure-democratic uninimous consensus, or a routinely democratic majority, I haven’t ever seen a socialist scheme that didn’t involve someone other than the individual calling the shots for a great many significant things in the individual’s life.

    It seems inevitable that any system that denies private property rights must eventually produce some kind of agency to determine the distribution and disposition of property. Human nature being what it is, it seems just as inevitable that the agency so created will eventually hold sway over even the most trivial actions and decisions of everyday life. We have seen this come true often, certainly EVERY time I have observed or investigated our denial of some aspect of private property rights, and our subsequent vesting of control with government here in the US. These seem not so much failures of capitalism or the free market, but rather of ideology, in the sense that we abandon the principles of individual liberty, only to embrace collectivist, socialist, goals and ideals.

    I can’t imagine that any libertarian — any anti-authoritarian — would condone the apparently inevitable creation of “authorities” to distribute and dispose of property under socialist schemes.

  • Well, I have repeatedly described myself as “conservative with small-L libertarian tendencies,” which I suppose is just another way of saying I kind of like Reagan’s talk more than his walk. Perhaps I’ll drop the “-ism” jargon and go with that from now on…

    Cydonia wrote of Paul Anderson: “My guess is that the guy is just a boring old leftish Lib Dem who thinks he’s “libertarian” because he’s in favour of legalising pot.

    To which I reply: LOL! ROFLMAO! <spit-take> BWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! <guffaw!>

    In other words, I like it.

  • I think James Merritt has produced the best comment on this subject I have seen for a while. Liberty is meaningless if its exercise if subject to political direction and all the so-called left-libertarian ideas, when you wade through the verbiage, involve collective political control over the means of production, one of which is you.

    Paul points out quite correctly that this leftist ‘libertarian’ tradition is not new, but so what? ‘Creation Science’ is not new either and that is also complete bollocks. It’s advocates can call it science for as long as they like but that does not actually make it science. Libertarianism is indeed a ‘broad church’ but libertarianism without the liberty to make you own dumb selfish choices yourself without the collective political authority of others removes the libert- bit and replaces it with authorit-

  • Joe

    Joe, you wrote:

    “you equate libertarianism with Statism, that the State and territory are the same thing. I contest that you can’t be libertarian and hold this viewpoint.”

    Sorry – that’s no contest…

    Because of course we all can and do… we can equate anything with anything and call ourselves libertarian(or whatever name we like), not only because we have the liberty to do so, but in fact because we have to equate different things to reach any understanding of what anyone’s talking about.

    This post about Libertarian Socialism is not based on logic but on our understandings of the vaguaries of language. The problem is not in the logic but in the confusion brought about by using words to mean whatever we want them to mean.

    The name you have used to post on this comment list makes me wonder about your rigid stance on this because by using only the name “Joe” to post comments you place yourself in a contradictory position to your own argument – that a name means one thing and one thing only.

    which of course it doesn’t as you are not the only Joe that comments here 😉

  • There are a LOT more like Mr. Sabin out there, and they are energetically claiming “libertarian” as their own. What will we do about it?

    Remind me why we care so much about the word ‘libertarianism’? The day I will proudly shout from the rooftops that I am not a ‘libertarian’ steadily approaches. No, I won’t be changing my views, just dropping the unhelpful and misleading label, just like Samizdata.net did some time ago…

    Would it be too much to ask to refocus on those who deny individual rights and worship General Will, Society and State as their embodiement? I would find that far more constructive than the history and etymology of ‘libertarianism’.

  • Tim Hollis

    Certainly, it seems odd that someone would describe themself as a “Libertarian Socialist”. It’s like calling yourself a “left-leaning leftie” or a “militaristic soldier” or something. I know there have been recent attempts by right-wingers to co-opt Libertarianism, this site beign an example, but the word still means what it always means. It has always been associated with Socialism, and it always will be in the eyes of the majority – and this is attested to by the fact that the only British politican who is ever described as a Libertarian is Ken Livingstone, a leading Socialist. Certainly, anyone genuinely Libertarian could never vote Conservative, though they could conceivable vote for the LibDems given how far to the right the Labour party has moved.

  • James,

    “To me, strict self-defense means that you act to avoid or deflect an imminent threat, or retaliate for an attack. You don’t go after someone, guns a’blazing, because they might someday pose a threat to you. Also, a notion of “strict” self-defense requires that forceful action is commensurate with the recognized level of threat or actual damage caused by an attack. You generally don’t shoot someone for slashing your tires, for instance, or even for taking a swing at you: only when you fear for your own life.”

    In principle, there is nothing wrong with that formula. However, in practice it is still going to be impossible to avoid bitter conflicts over when to act militarily or not. A prime example is the large number of people who claim that the US has no right to respond militarily to those attacks. Similarly, if a hostile invasion fleet was heading to the coast of Florida, there would still be Rothbardian types denouncing any sort collective or government action is response.

    Wherever you draw the line there will still be no clear consensus about what crosses it and what doesn’t.

  • Mr.Hollis,

    Garbage on stilts. I think your pathetic attempt to equate socialism with liberty is pretty much played out. You seem to forget we have seen, and in many cases actually lived through, the reality.

  • The above should read:

    “A prime example is the large number of people who claim that the US has no right to respond militarily to those attacks on the WTC.”

  • David Carr says to me, “Wherever you draw the line there will still be no clear consensus about what crosses it and what doesn’t.”

    Well, of course. But David Carr had earlier asked of me, “How ‘strict’ does the self-defence have to be?”

    I just want to be clear that Mr. Carr first asked me to draw a line, and then, when I did, added that “well, wherever you draw the line, people will not be sure about it.” THAT I already knew at the outset, if for no other reason than because the people who founded my country drew clear lines on paper back in 1776 and 1787, and people are STILL arguing about those lines today. On the other hand, I think we would be a lot worse off had they not gone through that exercise; it was in that spirit that I responded to Mr. Carr’s question in the first place. I did try to provide some examples to illustrate what constituted crossing the line, in my opinion.

    Let me repeat that, had Mr. Bush and cohorts taken the time to respect our own institutions, making the clear and compelling case in open congress for Iraq’s WMDs and Saddam’s imminent plans to use them against us, I would have supported the war as a legitimate defensive use of US state power (that is, state power in general, and state power as constrained by the US constitution in particular). But I would not and did not support a war based on the hasty rationalizations and unconvincing evidence we received. I would not and did not support a war that had “humanitarian” goals as its primary aim, because such a war, at best, sacrifices an innocent few to benefit an innocent many: I believe that neither I as a US citizen, nor my elected officials in Washington, have the right to play God in that way. (Consequently, I was as steadfastly opposed to the Kosovo operation as I was to the recent Iraq Adventure.)

    I believe that my positions and rationale are solidly libertarian. I also believe that support of “humanitarian” wars or aggressive wars that are not overwhelmingly defensive in character, are inconsistent with libertarianism, and so far, I haven’t seen a good defense of those positions as being libertarian. If we want the word “libertarian” to mean anyhing, we really need either to reconcile the warlike positions with libertarianism (which I believe is impossible), or quit using the word “libertarian” in association with those positions, which I believe to be as oxymoronic as the phrase “libertarian socialism.”

    Mind you, it is not oxymoronic to suggest that one socialist (or socialist philosophy) leans further in the libertarian direction than another. With that in mind, I would expect “libertarian socialism” to be a greatly watered-down version of socialism, indeed. But to suggest that the words “libertarian” and “socialism” are not in some significant sense antithetical to each other, just seems like a real-world invitation to the Orwellian practice of “doublethink.” Remember that the human capacity for doublethink — for “functioning schizophrenia,” in my view — was perhaps the most important enabling condition for the emergence and dominance of Ingsoc. The people who think of themselves as “libertarian,” and yet who enthusiastically support pre-emptive wars without requiring the most rigorously proven justification beforehand, or who believe that it is OK to fight aggressive wars on “humanitarian” grounds, seem to demonstrate this capacity for doublethink to an extent that must give great comfort and encouragement to the up and coming Big Brothers of the world.