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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

We’ve all felt that need to tell the hard truth. Assert the raw and unadorned core repeatedly and dogmatically. React with righteous anger and fury, even without elaboration, to the point of being downright offensive. There is a role for this. Injustice in our midst — and there is so much of it — cries out for it. I wouldn’t call this brutalist. I would call this righteous passion, and it is what we should feel when we look at ugly and immoral things like war, the prison state, mass surveillance, routine violations of people’s rights. The question is whether this style of argument defines us or whether we can go beyond it, not only to lash out in reaction — to dwell only in raw oppositional emotion — but also to see a broad and positive alternative.

Jeffrey Tucker, whose recent essay on what he sees as being the less charming features of libertarian commentary has provoked quite a storm, thereby validating his point.

12 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • RRS

    Tucker is one of those who confuse “rights” with freedom.

  • Laird

    I don’t claim to have thoroughly read either Tucker’s original essay or his subsequent one quoted here, but on an initial review I’m not impressed by either. Paul Bonneau says that “it has the flavor of one big straw man argument, as well as looking like a bit of ‘divide and conquer,’ splitting libertarians unnecessarily into two distinct camps (as if we did not have enough camps already).” He seems to have it about right. At the end, I guess I don’t really understand Tucker’s point: if a libertarian society permitted some people to act (or, rather, to think) in ways he finds offensive, does that make them any less “libertarian”? And if so, what is his remedy? The application of force? Who is the “non-libertarian” now?

    Tucker says that the article began as “a memo to myself, a reminder of why we are in the liberty business.” Perhaps it should have stayed that way.

  • Tedd


    You really should go read the original article. I’m biased because architecture is the art form I feel that I have the best appreciation of, but, for me, the analogy of the Brutalist school of architecture to the archetype of political discourse that Tucker labels “brutalist” is brilliantly apt. I think Tucker’s “brutalist” and “humanist” archetypes are at work in many discussions we have here at Samizdata, such as those concerning Alynsky-ish tactics, BHLism, and maybe even optimism versus pessimism. These are all subjects that Samizdatatistas can have strong disagreements about, even when in complete agreement about the underlying facts and principles.

    The analogy was especially powerful for me because I like Brutalist architecture, even while understanding very clearly what’s wrong with it.

  • CaptDMO

    I’m certainly open to suggestion as to the proper way address denial of evidence to cabals of serial liars.
    After the third time, of MY time educating those of “prove it you liar” ilk, I have no other recourse but “negative reinforcement”.
    But of course, When spanking is outlawed, only outlaws will do the spanking.
    Is “bossy” still OK on this site?

  • Laird

    Tedd, I did skim the original article (although, as I said, I didn’t read it thoroughly). I understood his analogy to “brutalist” architecture (which, by the way, I very much dislike); I just don’t buy it. Or, perhaps more precisely, I don’t see any value in it. But if you insist I’ll go read it again.

  • Laird

    OK, Tedd, I’ve gone back and read it all the way to the end this time. Still not convinced. Undoubtedly Tucker is in contact with far more self-described libertarians than I am, but frankly I don’t know of anyone who meets his description. “Thus do the brutalists assert the right to be racist, the right to be a misogynist, the right to hate Jews or foreigners, the right to ignore civil standards of social engagement, the right to be uncivilized, to be rude and crude. It is all permissible and even meritorious because embracing what is awful can constitute a kind of test.” Well, I would also assert those rights (although I see little point in being “rude and crude” about it), but I don’t accept that “embracing what is awful” is any sort of libertarian litmus test, and I don’t know anyone who does. Take a look at the Paul Bonneau reply I linked above. I think he’s right: this is essentially a straw man argument.

  • I am totally with Laird and Bonneau on that.

  • Tedd


    I’m disappointed to hear you say that. Tucker said, “Of course the brutalist as I’ve described him is an ideal type, probably not fully personified in any particular thinker.” I don’t see how you could have read that, and the related paragraph, and responded with, “…frankly I don’t know of anyone who meets his description.” You’ve somehow completely misunderstood his point, as so many commenters at fee.org clearly did, and I did not expect that of you (or I wouldn’t have suggested a closer reading). But, as I have no reason to think that I can explain it any better than he did, you may not find anything of value in my comments either. Your loss, I guess. I found it one of the most interesting things I’ve read in months.

  • Laird

    Well, it may indeed be “my loss”, Tedd, but to me the key takeaway was: “It is all permissible and even meritorious because embracing what is awful can constitute a kind of test.” I understand that Tucker acknowledged that probably no one meets the Platonic ideal of a “brutalist”, but my point (perhaps poorly expressed) was that I know of no one who embraces the concept embodied in that sentence. That is, I know of no one who thinks that there is anything inherently “meritorious” about espousing illiberal viewpoints, but rather only people who accept that such viewpoints are permissible in a libertarian society and defensible by someone who considers himself a libertarian.

  • Tedd


    Maybe I’ve given up too easily. Maybe I can improve on, or at least add to, what Tucker said.

    I’d first like to comment that few (if any) of the comments to the original article talked about architecture. That’s a clue right there, because it’s probably not possible to get what he was saying without seeing that the discussion of the Brutalism school of architecture is more than just a stylistic flourish in the article, more even than a metaphor. It’s a crucial analogy. Personally, I’ve always found Brutalist architecture somewhat attractive; the emphasis on function over form appeals to the rationalist in me. And yet I believe that I do understand why so many people dislike it, or even loathe it. And when I compare it to many other architectural styles it’s clear even to me that they are much more attractive, even when they are equally functional. The key point about Brutalism is that an equal degree of function can be achieved in something that is more aesthetically pleasing. (At the same cost, or at tiny marginal cost.) What’s wrong with Brutalism is not that function is achieved just at a cost in form, but that it is achieved at a cost in form that did not have to be paid. Form was rejected merely for being form; that is, merely for not being function.

    That is what happens when one, for example, counters an argument about racism or misogyny by arguing that its practitioner has a right to hold and express those ideas, and even act on them in his own domain. It’s not that the counter argument is wrong. It’s just that it defends liberty at a cost that does not need to be paid, by giving a “look and feel” to the counter argument that will be unappealing to most people. (And that unnecessarily risks insulting them, since most people already know that the person has that right, even if they are reluctant to acknowledge it.)

    As Tucker said, this style of argument does not define any one person. It’s merely something that any one of us is apt to slip into from time to time. But it’s a style of argument that only achieves the goal of correctness in a technical sense, and will probably fail in every other sense. All those Brutalist buildings could have been more attractive buildings that achieved equal functionality. And all those austere libertarian arguments could have been more appealing arguments that were equally true, but more appealing — and therefore more likely to be persuasive.

  • Laird

    Tedd, my (possibly incorrect) understanding of brutalism in architecture isn’t quite the same as yours. It’s not that function is achieved “at a cost which did not have to be paid”; it’s that that “cost” is not viewed as a cost at all, but rather is affirmatively sought out as a benefit. In brutalism, architecture isn’t merely stripped down to its bare essentials, but that bare functionality is celebrated as a virtue.

    And that is Tucker’s point about “brutalism” in libertarian circles, too: he asserts that some people intentionally seek out ways to be offensive because that’s somehow being “true” to libertarianism. And that’s the fundamental premise with which I don’t agree. As I’ve said several times, I know of no one who believes that. There may be such persons (and Tucker may interact with them regularly), but I don’t believe they are significant in either numbers or impact.

    As to your example of defending racism or misogyny, how can the “counterargument” defending liberty be expressed in any way which doesn’t bear that “cost”? What sort of filigrees and finials can be used to adorn it? Does one simply assert that “I don’t hold those views, but he is certainly entitled to them” and quote Voltaire? Isn’t that what we all do anyway?

  • Paul Marks

    One can indeed be a “rule utilitarian” (i.e. not believe in rights or natural law) and still be a libertarian.

    All one has to do is say “the greatest good of the greatest number is generally served by the non aggression principle (i.e. the respect for PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS) so I support it”.

    That is not my position (I am not a utilitarian – not even a rule utilitarian) but it is a perfectly reasonable position.

    As for political conflicts between libertarians.

    The fundamental economic principle of both Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism is the harmony of long term economic interests between rich and poor, employers and employees.

    People who bang the Class War drum or the “down with Big Business, down with the Corporations” drum are not libertarians (or Classical liberals) they are swine – and they should be treated as swine.

    And remember Edmund Burke said “a swinish multitude” (not “the swinish multitude” as even text books misquote him as saying – Burke was NOT attacking the poor, he was attacking thieves and murderers some of whom were actually rich).

    As for “civil liberties” – as the late Murray Rothbard pointed out “human rights are property rights” and that is true even if one does not believe (formally) in the concept of “rights”. Civil liberties are still about private property – in one’s goods (such as the use of a privately owned printing press to print a newspaper) and in one’s own body.

    Practical consequences?

    They are NOT seeing America as the bad guy – Rothbardianism (and Murray Rothbard was like that for years – a lot of his stuff from the 1960s and 1970s was like Radio Moscow, I remember both).

    But also NOT slavish devotion to anything with the label “National Security” pinned on it.

    “Paul is now going to say that Senator Rand Paul gets the balance right between not selling out to Mr Putin and the FSB, and also not just accepting whatever Mr Clapper and the rest of the National Security state say”.

    Yes I would say that – because it is true.