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]

What Samizdata is all about

Responding to a posting a fortnight ago on CrozierVision, I posted a piece the day before yesterday on my (Brian’s) Culture Blog entitled Do blogs convert people? Jonathan Wilde commented on that piece in a manner which suggests that the early editorial meetings concerning Samizdata may have been bugged. By Jonathan Wilde. He certainly gets what we’re trying to do here:

As I stated in my original post on Patrick’s entry, I do believe that blogs at least influence people, if not convert them. Yet. I was a libertarian prior to finding Samizdata, but over the 18 months or so that I have been reading Samizdata, I have been directly influenced by what I have read. I used to be a reluctant voter thinking that to be a libertarian meant being a Libertarian (i.e., member of the American Libertarian Party) and that taking part in the political process was the only way to be a libertarian. When I read Samizdata, I saw people who didn’t really care that much which political party was in power, but were in the business of changing ‘meta-contexts’ and going around the state, rather than through it. Further, I saw people who were influenced by Mises, Popper, and Hayek rather than the usual Rand and Rothbard that you find in America, yet arrive at the same basic conclusions on most issues. I saw people who were proud of Western culture. I saw people who were proud of defeating the Nazis in WWII rather than simply seeing it as just another state war, with all of its side-effects. These were all things that made me believe that it was okay to be a libertarian and agree with those ideas.

Since this is a culture blog, let me mention that the ‘culture’ of Samizdata had a lot to do with its success. Yes, the brilliant writing on the blog is vital to convert readers. But the culture is also essential. Pictures of Samizdatistas drinking, acting goofy, fondling women, and making fun of war protestors gives the impression that libertarians aren’t angry gun nuts from Montana (the stereotype in America), but are simply regular, everyday people.

And the last way in which Samizdata influenced me is to start my own website with similar characteristics – a group blog focused on Austrian economics, with a ‘laid-back’ non-angry-gun-nut atmosphere, and periodic ‘off-topic’ content.

I was already a libertarian, and perhaps I’m not the best example of blogs influencing, if not converting people, but the blogosphere is young. If our ideas are better than the rest, then they will rub-off with time. After hearing Perry being on a forum with ‘mainstream’ media on BBC last week, I really think that Samizdata has a chance to be something special. And it’s a classic libertarian strategy: carve a new niche, go around the established paths, and succeed on what you do best. The blogosphere is the new niche, and Samizdata is at the top.

Jonathan Wilde

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24 comments to What Samizdata is all about

  • Kelli

    When I first met my husband he was a self-proclaimed libertarian, devoted reader of the Economist, and a dirt poor graduate student (subsidized by well-off parents). I was a left-leaning Democrat, devoted reader of the Nation, and a dirt-poor graduate student (unsubsidized, natch). I invented a slogan for him and his fellow libertarians: I’ve got mine, go get your own.

    How times have changed. The Nation is long gone; the Economist remains. We are now good capitalists who worry more about schools than income redistribution. Did he convert me? Did I get middle-aged and bourgeois? Maybe a bit of both. I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged libertarian, but then I’ve only been reading Samizdata for a few months, so there’s always hope, eh?

  • Jim

    I usually describe myself as being a “lower case libertarian” rather than a “Libertarian” — I voted for the Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 but couldn’t imagine actually joining the Libertarian Party. Sometimes I say I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal, but that’s not quite right either. I strongly believe in marriage and family values, etc., but see no reason why marriage should not include gay couples. I agree with a lot of what I read on Samizdata, but not everything. On the other hand, I don’t always agree with myself, either. (That’s the advantage that doctrinaire leftists — or rightists — have over thinking people; they don’t have to think, just have to parrot their “official wisdom”)

  • George Peery

    I also agree with much I find on Samizdata, but what I agree with is probably less the libertarian part than the conservative part.

    Liberterianism (which one cynic defined as “low taxes and low morals”) is the natural home for people who are young, bright, and ambitious. It’s also something most people grow out of once they perceive its limitations and contradictions.

  • Well George, I like think we are bright and ambitious, but a great many of us are not all that young, alas.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    George Peery

    Your cynic is missing the point of the “low morals” bit. Libertarianism is not the claim that morals should be low. I do not know of any libertarian who believes this. It is the claim that a lot of low morals (the non-invasive, self-destructive ones) shouldn’t be illegal – a different proposition altogether.

    Libertarians oppose e.g. state welfare because, among other reasons, it de-moralises. It separates people from what would be the consequences of their immoral behaviour.

    I favour libertarianism because in a libertarian world low morals are punished and high morals are rewarded.

  • George,

    In common with a lot of Conservatives you seem to be under the impression that we are dismissive or contemptuous of morals. I find it odd that you read our blog regularly and still labour under that misapprehension.

    We very much believe in morals but where we differ from many Conservatives is that we see moral principles as being both the product and property of civil society. They are not within the gift of politicians nor should politicians be entrusted with their safekeeping.

  • George Peery

    Bumper-sticker definitions (e.g., low taxes and low morals) necessarily lack nuance. I’ve no doubt that many who call themselves libertarians favor an elevated level of moral conduct. But I would suggest that such a sentiment is a matter of personal inclination, rather than something characteristic of libertarianism.

    Brian says he favours litertarianism “because in a libertarian world low morals are punished and high morals are rewarded”. Fine words, but I’d contend that mainstream libertarians are less interested in punishing than in permitting, or at least ignoring, transgressive or destructive behavior.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    George

    Yes. Less interested in the state punishing “transgressive” behaviour by LAW, or to be more exact, interested in the state NOT punishing it by law.

    If these libertarians think that, in a libertarian world, transgressive behaviour (a good example might be a seriously obnoxious comment on Samizdata – such as yours have not in any way been I hasten to add!) would not be penalised (in the sense of scrubbed out by PdeH), they are making an error. But most of the ones I’ve met or read don’t make this kind of error.

    Incidentally, David and I wrote our first comments in reply to you in mutual ignorance. That we both said almost exactly the same thing reinforces my point about what libertarians in general believe about these things.

  • George Peery

    “That we both said almost exactly the same thing reinforces my point about what libertarians in general believe about these things.”

    Sure, but so what? Two Marxists would probably have no trouble independently developing compatible opinions about this or that.

    Of course as it turned out, the Marxists got lots of things wrong.

  • Brian et al,
    I meant every word of that post. I truly see you guys as our site’s ‘blogfathers’.

    George,

    Certainly, the stereotype is true that libertarians espouse loose morals, at least in the US. However, this is just another misunderstanding. In addition to the utilitarian outcomes that Brian mentioned of bad morality being punished, a libertarian society also respects the individual’s free will. When you point a gun at the head of a man who wants to solicit a prostitute, his will is no longer his; rather, it is yours. Sure you may stop an incidence of prostitution, but there has been no ‘elevation of morals’. You have made the choice for him.

    A true ‘elevation of morals’ would be the individual choosing, of his own free will, not to solicit the prostitute.

    Thus, morality is a product of civil society – that part of society that is based on voluntary interactions among individuals, not the state. Contrary to your view, libertarianism is all about morality.

    Libertarianism isn’t something I grew out of; rather I grew into it, after being essentially a conservative.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    George

    David and I may both be wrong. We don’t think so, of course. But he and I and you were arguing about what libertarians believe, not about whether we are right to believe what we believe. You said we believe in low morals, we said no we don’t. That more than one of us said “we” at this point is thus very relevant to what we were arguing about.

  • George Peery

    Jonathan writes: “A true ‘elevation of morals’ would be the individual choosing, of his own free will, not to solicit the prostitute.”

    Well, we would hope that people would actively engage their free will in such a way was to elevate their moral conduct (and perhaps, by extension, that of society). That is a Christian trope and one with which I’m most sympathetic.

    But now I must trot out my second anonymous cynic in this discussion: the wag I onced read who observed that the only verifiably true doctrine of Christianity was that of Original Sin.

    Libertarians are Big Idea guys: They believe if only their big idea were accepted and implemented, society would inexorably (even scientifically) move in the direction of peace and light. During the last hundred years, we’ve observed the catastrophic devastation that can come in the wake of the Big Idea. (And no, I am NOT comparing libertarians to Nazis!!!)

    This sort of discussion never goes anywhere, in my experience. I take my political philosophy from Burke, James Madison, Orwell, Isaiah Berlin, and Solzhenitsyn (to name only a few). Their message was that you can’t adopt some “correct” political philosophy, put it on auto-pilot, and expect things to turn out just dandy.

  • George,

    Well, we would hope that people would actively engage their free will in such a way was to elevate their moral conduct (and perhaps, by extension, that of society). That is a Christian trope and one with which I’m most sympathetic.

    But this cannot happen when morality is regulated by the state. Free will goes out the window.

    Libertarians are Big Idea guys: They believe if only their big idea were accepted and implemented, society would inexorably (even scientifically) move in the direction of peace and light. During the last hundred years, we’ve observed the catastrophic devastation that can come in the wake of the Big Idea. (And no, I am NOT comparing libertarians to Nazis!!!)

    I’m not sure what this has to do with libertarianism and morality – it seems more like a general critique of libertarianism. Fine, but I believe you are failing to draw a crucial distinction.

    Yes, I do believe that the future is about ideas; otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging. The difference between libertarians and Marxists/Nazis is that we don’t use violence to put our big ideas in place. We don’t use force to make everyone follow our version of ‘good’ morality. We don’t use force to make everyone charitable. We only use force in self-defence.

  • George Peery

    Jonathan writes: “We don’t use force to make everyone follow our version of ‘good’ morality. We don’t use force to make everyone charitable. We only use force in self-defence.”

    Yes, of course you don’t “use force” to compel what is good (or ‘good’, as you say) — and maybe this highlights the “distinction” you say I’ve failed to make.

    A conservative of my sort (I’m actually right-wing rather than conservative, there being – it seems to me – rather little left to “conserve”) believes that the liberal and benevolent state has a positive duty to encourage what is good and discourage what is not. Yes, I know … how are we to know what is “good” and what isn’t?

    I can only respond that we “know” through trial-and-error, conducted over hundreds – thousands – of years. We encourage moral conduct; we set standards and limits; we deal justly but emphatically with those who would subvert those minimal conditions that allow for a society that is free and secure. We do this imperfectly, but we do the best we can. We muddle through, applying countless lessons from our culture. When things don’t turn out as we hope, we back up and try again. Civilization is a very fragile thing — much too fragile for us to simply apply our theories, sit back, and hope for the best.

  • George,

    I can only respond that we “know” through trial-and-error, conducted over hundreds – thousands – of years. We encourage moral conduct; we set standards and limits; we deal justly but emphatically with those who would subvert those minimal conditions that allow for a society that is free and secure. We do this imperfectly, but we do the best we can. We muddle through, applying countless lessons from our culture. When things don’t turn out as we hope, we back up and try again. Civilization is a very fragile thing — much too fragile for us to simply apply our theories, sit back, and hope for the best.

    What you have described is civil society. The state is rigid, and based on violence. It does not evolve. It does use trial-and-error; otherwise, the welfare state would not exist. Civil society is dynamic and evolves with the wisdom of the individuals that comprise it. Cheating on your spouse did not become something to be frowned upon because the king said so; rather, the social shunning grew out of civil society.

  • George Peery

    Jonathan writes: “The state is rigid, and based on violence. It does not evolve. It does use trial-and-error; otherwise, the welfare state would not exist.”

    I think the problem here, Jonathan, is that you are British and I am American. It would not occur to an American (other than someone on the political fringe) to say what you have said.

  • George,
    No, I am an American. Believe what you may. If the state was truly about trial-and-error, then social programs would not exist. They don’t work.

  • Jacob

    What George Peery and other conservatives mean when they say libertarians suffer from loose morals is not that libertarians cheat or steal or lie. What he complains about is the attitude toward religion, sex and drugs. And he is right. We, libertarians, have a different view on these matters from most conservatives. It is not a matter of less or more morals, but of a different view of what is moral.
    That is why we are not conservatives.

  • Jacob:
    What George Peery […] complains about is the attitude toward religion, sex and drugs. And he is right. We, libertarians, have a different view on these matters from most conservatives. It is not a matter of less or more morals, but of a different view of what is moral. That is why we are not conservatives.

    My view of what is moral is not that different, Jacob, firmly wedged in Christian principles. The issue is my “attitute” to morality, whatever it may be. I do not consider morality any less important than the conservatives (not that I care about their position). It is merely the premise that morality should not be imposed by the state and frankly not by the society either. Morality is the individual’s business and the consequences of his actions will be either a reward or punishment for his (im)moral behaviour. Even in a ‘libertarian world’ (again the true nature of this eludes me) this would by no means function perfectly. But that is not the point. We know the state is the last institution you’d want to govern morality or social interactions.

    My emphasis is on individual responsibility and people facing consequences of their actions. That to me is the best ‘trial-an-error’ evolution for a civilised society.

    George Peery: God save me from Big Ideas! If libertarianism is or becomes a Big Idea -ism, I will simply cease to be a libertarian (which is what is more or less happening anyway). What matters to me is the individual and his position vis-a-vis the society and the state in its very minimal form.

    I sometimes wish we removed all references to libertarianism on this site, since the label blinds many people to what we are really about…

  • George Peery

    Libertarianism’s “big idea” (unless I misunderstand completely) is, um, liberty. Whatever the problem, the answer is basically always the same: liberty (or more liberty).

    Conservatives love freedom too but believe it always involves caveats. Thus, conservatives insist on “ordered liberty” (as Russell Kirk put it).

  • Jacob

    Gabriel,
    I absolutely agree to everything you wrote.
    I think libertarians are deeply commited to a moral view, sometimes so deeply that in situations of apperent conflict between the practical and the moral (abstract) they side with the moral.
    I only stated that when conservatives opine that libertarians are loose on morals they refer to a style of life (drugs, free sex) not to what we understand under morals.

  • Andy Duncan

    George Peery writes:

    Conservatives love freedom too but believe it always involves caveats. Thus, conservatives insist on “ordered liberty” (as Russell Kirk put it).

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with this, George. Purist Randites may care to put me right, but I think one of Ms Rand’s essays summed it up quite well when she said that socialists want to control the body, and conservatives want to control the mind.

    Thus, socialists don’t care what kind of sex you have, and with whom, what drugs you smoke, what abortions you perform on yourself, what religions you follow, or even what you think. As long as your body does what it’s told, and engages in no economic or business activity which contravenes their power to order your body about, or disobeys their regulations (either tighter, or looser, depending upon socialist regime, from cosy Sweden, to the bad old SSSR). They’d like you to agree with them, but as long as you accept your place as a serf, do what you’re told, and keep your mouth shut, you are free to do what is permitted, to the benefit of the tribe. Socialists are, what’s that phrase she uses, coercers of muscle. Think what you like, do what you’re told.

    Whereas conservatives are coercers of the mind. They want everyone to think the same thoughts, and wish to impose their morals upon everyone else (or God’s, or Society’s, or whichever spurious unproven “entity” they’ve chosen, to force their own opinions upon other people.)

    They don’t want you taking drugs, because you might think dangerous thoughts, they don’t want you engaging in what they choose to call “perverted” sex, because your mind may slip out of its straitjacket, and they want you to follow “approved” religions (eg: in England, the Anglican church, in the US, Protestant or Catholic Christian churches), again, to chain the mind down.

    You can do what you wish, with your body, in the economic arena, because to a conservative interested in controlling your mind, this is irrelevant. You can build businesses, make millions, turn the natural resources of this planet into wealth and plenty, but however you do it, you must “think” correct thoughts, and never stray from an imposed set of morals. You can be an economic robot, but you must follow your programming. You must be controlled, mentally, through disciplined schools, Army discipline, whatever, in order to preserve the certainty of the tribe. Woe be to you, if you step out of line, and start thinking your own thoughts, or discovering your own morals, especially those which threaten the cohesion of the tribe. Rand calls these conservatives, coercers of the mind. Do what you like, think what you’re told.

    Although both groups, socialists and conservatives, are equally bad, in this strategic sense, we libertarians tend to side with the conservatives in political contests, because economic freedom is far more important tactically than mental freedom, the great lesson of the great F.A.Hayek (we really are not worthy).

    What the socialists discovered, was that mental freedom was fine, but it kept interfering with socialist economics (ie. people realised socialism doesn’t work! 🙂 Therefore, more and more as they developed their systems, they crossed further over the lines of murderous evil, in order to keep us serfs on the economic straight and narrow, and to make us do what we’re told. Their only incentives to make us work for their benefit, became starvation and the noose. Hence the Gulag, hence full-blooded socialism’s fortunate collapse.

    It is not so bad under the conservatives. Because under their regime we are free to physically do what we like (eg: run our own businesses), it’s much easier to get away with thinking what we like, even though they hate us for it, especially when we say things like “please take your morals, which you have decided to invent and follow, and keep them. I will live by my own morals, and if they don’t directly harm you in any way, it really does have absolutely nothing to do with you, and I don’t care what you think, in the same way that you don’t care what I think – there is no moral high ground, there is just my opinion, and your opinion, and if you try to force yours onto mine, then shame on you”.

    Libertarianism, and I still have much to learn about it, is to me the removal of both the mental control of others, and the physical control of others. Obviously this must take place within the rule of law, because you have a right to your life, and its products, and all the rights cascading from that, but I have a right to my life, and all of its products. I want to think what I like, and do what I like.

    Socialists hate one part of that last sentence, Conservatives hate the other half. Which is why we are neither.

    And of course fascists hate both halves, that curious amalgam of socialism and conservatism, as seen in New Labour.

    And here’s the best part. If you let me get on with my life, and my thoughts, one day I may even do or think something (it’s highly unlikely! :), which benefits you and your interests. A truly free liberal system will be one where evolutions of ideas, and products, can develop without the hindrance of tyrants trying to drag it down.

    Thus there are no caveats to economic freedom. Assuming a legal system, where your own rights to life are guaranteed, and the tragedy of the commons is dealt with (yes, two very LARGE assumptions :), you either have economic freedom, or you don’t. You’re either free to think what you like, or you’re not.

    Unfortunately, we’re a very long way from true liberty on Planet Earth, and I fear it is going to several thousand years in the future, when we finally escape from the moochers and tyrants on this planet, that some of us can achieve it somewhere else, such as Mr Heinlein’s Moon.

    Conservatives don’t insist on “ordered liberty”. They insist upon mental tyranny. They don’t love freedom. They tolerate it, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their mental control, and keeps the socialists and fascists at bay.

    Saying all this, I regularly help my local Conservative Party, for all of the reasons above. They make me sick, sometimes, but as the UK is (picking figures at random) 39% socialist, 39% conservative, and 20% fascist, the 2% of us left who fit into a fourth camp have to go with the lesser evils of conservatism, or at least I personally don’t feel I have any other choice. I’ve got to do something to get rid of this cretin Blair, and if that means the Conservatives, well, mea culpa, so be it.

    Isn’t life a monkey sometimes? 😉

  • George Peery

    Andy, there are so many problems with what you’ve written that I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’ll mention only one thing: your charge that conservatives are the guys who are trying to make us all think politically correct thoughts. You and I must live on different planets.

  • Andy Duncan

    George Peery writes:

    Andy, there are so many problems with what you’ve written that I wouldn’t know where to begin.

    Just start from the top, and work down! 🙂

    As I said, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about libertarianism by reading as many good books on the subject as I can, and by trying to pick up other people’s thoughts, such as yourself, who have more experience of these matters than myself.

    Though I still stand by my post above, until the errors of my ways are corrected by arguments I can personally and objectively (I hope) accept.

    That’s what I love about Samizdata. I’m learning from it all the time! 🙂

    …your charge that conservatives are the guys who are trying to make us all think politically correct thoughts. You and I must live on different planets.

    No George, not politically correct thoughts, a phrase I didn’t use, but “morally” correct ones (anti-abortion, anti-drugs, anti-atheism, anti-homosexuality, anti-stupidity, God, Queen, and Country, etc). These “morally” correct thoughts often originate from traditionalism, which as a neo-Hayekian, I agree is a fine thing, but they’ve got stuck, and won’t grow any further, as living and breathing traditions should do (usually because they’ve been codified in some way, such as in the Bible, with an Old Testament mainly written in Babylon in about 800BC, or thereabouts, and a New Testament written in circa 100AD, ie. at least 1900 years of frozen Christian moral development leading to Christianity’s endless schisms, as various people try to move these morals on in different opposing directions).

    Politically correct thoughts belong to the fascists, and usually tend towards the opposite of morally correct ones (eg: pro-homosexuality, pro-abortion, pro-atheism, pro-drugs, pro-stupidity, anti-God, anti-Queen, anti-Country, etc – and castigation of those opposing these views).

    Many socialists tend to start out not worrying about people think, as long as the people do what they’re told and pay their taxes. But as increasing socialism brings increasing failure, they have to suppress more and more what people think, in order to “make” socialism work, ie. they end up as fascists, creatures who want to control both what we do and what we think, aka. political correctness.

    The process is perfectly exemplified by New Labour, here in the UK. They originated as a secret quasi-Marxist organisation in the late 1980s, filled with what are laughingly known as “libertarian socialists”. And then, as they steadily acquired more power, they’ve had to seek to suppress antagonistc thought more and more, until in the mirror they have become the politically correct group of fascists they once professed to hate.

    You may have seen the same process occuring within your Democrat Party?

    One other thing I should’ve put in my original post above. You say that “Libertarians are Big Idea guys”. Again, I think this looks at things the wrong way round.

    I like to think we’re “Small Idea” guys. You, I, all the Samizdata bloggers, and the entire population of the world are all having ideas all of the time, very small ideas. Sometimes we’re in a minority of one, with these tiny ideas. And in a statist society (whether conservative, socialist, or fascist), these small ideas tend to get crushed underfoot.

    But every now and again, and yes it’s very rare, one of these small ideas is beneficial to humanity. Gradually, we all take on this excellent idea, as its meme-like success spreads, until eventually most of us believe it is a wonderful idea (eg: the alphabet, universal reading, marriage, not telling lies, not killing other people, the use of fire, the wheel, relativity etc).

    It is only as true liberty breaks out from its shell of the three statisms that these ideas can grow, and spread, to the benefit of us all. The greater the liberty, the more powerful and more rapidly these ideas spread, the better off humanity becomes – I’ve only experienced it once in my life, in California, but even self-flushing toilets (which came as a shock!) qualify as one of these life-enhancing ideas! 😎

    It is only in the world’s free-est country, the good Ol’ US of A, that somebody could have come up with self-flushing toilets, and PCs, and aeroplanes, and calculators, and the Perl programming language, and many of the other fine things that you’ve brought to the world. But it was liberty which gave you these things, not conservatism, the liberty of thought to throw off the shackles of convention and tradition.

    I just wish I could’ve been around when the original libertarians, who created the US, freed it from the statist yoke of the British Empire; what a time that must have been! 🙂

    And none of them were conservatives. They were the ones in the red coats.