Blogs > Liberty and Power > Some Follow-ups and Clarifications for my Critics

Dec 7, 2007 10:48 pm


Some Follow-ups and Clarifications for my Critics



After reading the Gordon/Johnson exchange that Roderick links to below, I see that David Gordon is responding to my original post here, though I'm so irrelevant and/or evil that he can't mention my name (who am I? Voldemort?). I want to use this chance to follow up on a few things, especially given the dozens of comments that followed here and the many more on other blogs. I'm a glutton for punishment, as I suspect this is not going to quell my critics.

One clarification off the top: I do not believe that I was, as Gordon charges, subordinating libertarianism to other values. I am, after all, a libertarian (and a near-anarchist one at that) and have been for a long time. My point was not that "cosmopolitanism" was more important than liberty, but that the former is and should be part and parcel of a rightly understood commitment to liberty. My complaint with Ron Paul is ultimately that he is not a libertarian on the issues I discussed in that post, which is why I cannot be enthusiastic about his candidacy. (Which, by the way, was all I ever said. Some of the accounts of my original post seem to suggest I was saying all kinds of awful things about him, or trying to persuade others not to support him. Nope, just that I couldn't get enthusiastic about him and that I wouldn't vote for him.) My use of "cosmopolitanism" and "progressivism" was my attempt to capture in a word or two what I thought those issues had in common, or lacked in common. Whether they were the best word choices is a good question.

In his reply to Gordon, Charles Johnson writes:

First, I don’t think that libertarianism should be subordinated to certain cultural values such as radical feminism. I believe that libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism, rightly understood. (For a more detailed explanation of the different kinds of links that there may be between libertarianism and radical feminism, see my reply to Jan Narveson on thick libertarianism.) The independent merit of radical feminism is one reason to support libertarianism as a political project (because opposing the patriarchal State is of value on feminist grounds), but that’s never been the sole reason or the primary reason I have suggested for being a libertarian. The primary reason to be a libertarian is that the libertarian theory of individual rights is true. From the standpoint of justice, the benefits that a stateless society offers for radical feminism are gravy. If there were some kind of proposal on the table to advance radical feminist goals by statist means, then I would reject the proposal, in favor of proposals that advance radical feminist goals by anti-statist means.

That was my point as well, much better stated than I did in the original post. I believe my own stances on the issues on which I criticized Paul to have "independent merit" that are "compatible and mutually reinforcing" with libertarianism. I think Paul's stances are problematic on their own and ultimately incompatible with libertarianism. My inability to support him enthusiastically is ultimately because I don't think he's sufficiently libertarian, which in my book includes an understanding of why libertarianism is or should be "cosmopolitan" in the ways I mentioned.

Two other quick points, to be filed under "if I had it to do all over again":

1. Citing Virginia Postrel favorably turned out to be a huge rhetorical mistake, though I completely believe what I said. What shocked me is how many nasty commenters either: a) seemed to assume that I supported the war or other GOP candidates because I said nice things about her; or 2) are totally dismissive of her ideas, apparently because she has supported the war. Is it so hard to believe that one can accept the ideas in a book she wrote BEFORE 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq and think she's wrong for supporting the war? Or conversely that her later support of the war is orthogonal to the ideas in her book? Not one critic made the argument that somehow the ideas in her first book have a necessary connection to her stance on the war. Had I not cited her, I suspect the ensuing conversation might have been more productive.

I also found it amusing that I was targeted as a member of some "Cato group" or the like. Yes, all of us "Postrelians" take our orders from central command. Even funnier was the charge that I'm some counter-cultural type sneering at middle-class hard-working people like Ron Paul. Come see my wife of 20 years, my two kids, and my minivan. I'll even share some of my drug of choice with you - a nice pinot noir. And when we're done, you can watch me fall asleep on the couch while watching the Food Network. Some hippie.

2. My line about "states rights" sending signals to neo-confederates was a mistake in two ways. First, as some folks pointed out, Ron Paul hasn't really used the language of "states rights." Fair enough and that was my mistake. (And as I said in the original, the language of "federalism" is perfectly fine.) Second, I didn't need to take what some saw as a cheap shot to make the point I was trying to make. To be clear, I did say that I had no reason to think Ron Paul was guilty of any sort of racism or the like.

That said, what I do not wish to back down from is asking the question: "what is it about the Ron Paul campaign that has attracted support from a variety of racist/anti-semitic/nativist groups on the hard right? And should this, as libertarians, worry us?" (As one example, the main page of the Ku Klux Klan website has a Ron Paul banner with a link to Ron's website. And no, it's not a "smear" to point that out.)

Again, to be clear: I am not suggesting that Ron or others in the campaign hold all of the views associated with those groups. What I am saying is that it is worth asking what it is about the Paul campaign they find so attractive and whether that's a problem. I would argue that some of what they find attractive are the very things I pointed out as criticisms and that it should worry us as libertarians. The very reasons he is attracting their support are the very reasons I cannot give him my full support. I didn't mention Paul's scattered comments about some of the hard right's pet stalking horses like the Trilateral commission and the 9/11 Truthers, which also explain some of that support.

A candidate that the KKK and Stormfront find attractive, and not just by accident, is a candidate who I will not vote for. It is not "guilt by association" when there is a possible explanation for the association.

What I understand libertarianism to be doesn't come in a flavor that would be attractive to those groups, and it troubles me to see that not many libertarians seem to find the support of those groups for the candidate they support to be problematic.


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Stephen W Carson - 12/10/2007

I'm reminded of the 2006 New York Sun article that interviewed David Duke about how much he liked the paper on the Israel Lobby by Walt & Mearsheimer. The point, of course, was to derail discussion of Walt & Mearsheimer's thesis, which is not in itself racist or anti-semitic.

Or, perhaps nearer to the heart of a cosmopolitan progressive, I could bring up the way some brought up the sympathy of American communists for Martin Luther King to smear and dismiss the civil rights movement.

I bring up these two examples to argue that what Mr. Horwitz is doing with the KKK/Stormfront angle is a smear that gets in the way of fairly considering Ron Paul and his Constitutionalist/libertarian platform on its own merits.


David Gordon - 12/10/2007

In my article,I didn't mention by name Steve Horwitz, or any other critic of Ron Paul, because I was trying to avoid exchanges like this one. I'm sorry if Horwitz took this to indicate lack of regard for him; I didn't intend this.

I said in my article that some people subordinate libertarianism to cosmopolitan values. Horwitz denies that he does this, but he has a different view of libertarianism from mine. He thinks cosmopolitanism "is part and parcel of a rightly understood commitment to liberty". On this view, clearly, someone who refuses to support Ron Paul because he doesn't accept cosmopolitanism is not subordinating libertarianism to cosmopolitanism. I don't share this view of libertarianism: I think that the tie between libertarianism and feminism, e.g.,is no stronger than what Charles Johnson in his very useful and careful comment on Narveson calls "conjunction thickness." On my view of libertarianism, my remarks about subordination still seem to me valid. ( But see below.)

Horwitz also says that Johnson's point that "libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism" was "my point as well." Johnson's claim, though, is weaker than the claim by Horwitz just discussed. A position can be "compatible with and mutually reinforcing with" some other view without being "part and parcel" of it. I think that Horwitz should clarify whether he not only accepts Johnson's claim but goes beyond him as well.

There is a way, though, that Horwitz can counter my claim of subordination, even on my narrow view of libertarianism. He might hold that Ron Paul's lack of commitment to cosmopolitan values is harmful to libertarianism narrowly conceived, not just harmful to libertarianism defined so that it includes cosmopolitanism. If he thinks this, refusal to support Ron Paul because he isn't a cosmopolitan would not show that he subordinates libertarianism to other views. Of course, my response here would be that lack of commitment to cosmopolitanism is not harmful to libertarianism.


David Gordon - 12/10/2007

In my article,I didn't mention by name Steve Horwitz, or any other critic of Ron Paul, because I was trying to avoid exchanges like this one. I'm sorry if Horwitz took this to indicate lack of regard for him; I didn't intend this.

I said in my article that some people subordinate libertarianism to cosmopolitan values. Horwitz denies that he does this, but he has a different view of libertarianism from mine. He thinks cosmopolitanism "is part and parcel of a rightly understood commitment to liberty". On this view, clearly, someone who refuses to support Ron Paul because he doesn't accept cosmopolitanism is not subordinating libertarianism to cosmopolitanism. I don't share this view of libertarianism: I think that the tie between libertarianism and feminism, e.g.,is no stronger than what Charles Johnson in his very useful and careful comment on Narveson calls "conjunction thickness." On my view of libertarianism, my remarks about subordination still seem to me valid. ( But see below.)

Horwitz also says that Johnson's point that "libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism" was "my point as well." Johnson's claim, though, is weaker than the claim by Horwitz just discussed. A position can be "compatible with and mutually reinforcing with" some other view without being "part and parcel" of it. I think that Horwitz should clarify whether he not only accepts Johnson's claim but goes beyond him as well.

There is a way, though, that Horwitz can counter my claim of subordination, even on my narrow view of libertarianism. He might hold that Ron Paul's lack of commitment to cosmopolitan values is harmful to libertarianism narrowly conceived, not just harmful to libertarianism defined so that it includes cosmopolitanism. If he thinks this, refusal to support Ron Paul because he isn't a cosmopolitan would not show that he subordinates libertarianism to other views. Of course, my response here would be that lack of commitment to cosmopolitanism is not harmful to libertarianism.


Stephan Kinsella - 12/10/2007

Steve,

YOu write, "Again, to be clear: I am not suggesting that Ron or others in the campaign hold all of the views associated with those groups. What I am saying is that it is worth asking what it is about the Paul campaign they find so attractive and whether that's a problem. I would argue that some of what they find attractive are the very things I pointed out as criticisms and that it should worry us as libertarians. The very reasons he is attracting their support are the very reasons I cannot give him my full support....

"A candidate that the KKK and Stormfront find attractive, and not just by accident, is a candidate who I will not vote for. It is not "guilt by association" when there is a possible explanation for the association.

"What I understand libertarianism to be doesn't come in a flavor that would be attractive to those groups, and it troubles me to see that not many libertarians seem to find the support of those groups for the candidate they support to be problematic."

What do you mean, "and not just by accident"? I am really not clear what you are trying to say here. You seem to want to exonerate Paul of being "like" these people, or of being "responsible for" their liking him, while at the same time blaming him for their liking him.

Here's what pops out at me. Surely you, as most here, as libertarians, have (say) pro-gun right views; and oppose (say) laws penalizing private racist or sexual discrimination in the workplace. No?

Now, it is my impression that our general libertarian movement draws a clearly disproportionate share of loonies--conspiracy nuts, "Common Law Court" types, militia and gun nuts (who for some reason seem to have a diproportionate number of conspiracy theorists, and maybe even skinhead and anti-semite types, in their ranks), racists (who agree with us that racism and prejudice in the workplace should not be penalized legally).

I.e., Steve, surely you, and even Cato, etc.--not just "Dr. Ron Paul"--all attract a disproportionate number of anti-semites, gun-nuts, and racists. So what? Socialists attract disproportionate numbers of, well, outright *socialists*, and liberals of other ilk.

What mystifies me is why you can single out Paul as attracting undesirables, when the libertarian movement as a whole--of which you and Cato are part--does too. Why blame Paul


Bill Woolsey - 12/9/2007

That was awful. Orcinus is either blinded by his leftism or else guilt by association is his stock in trade.

As Dresner implies in the other thread, the efforts to smear Paul by his connections to...those extemist...
libertarians.. is hardly going to be persuasive to this crowd.

But Paul does speak to groups in the Patriot movement too. And Orcinus covers that ground.

The Patriot movement is devoted to the U.S. Constitution and a variety of conspiracy theories are common. One major dividing line within that movement is between the racists and nonracists. Sometimes both "wings" of the movement believe the exact same conspiracy theory, with the racists claiming that conspiracy is run by Jews while the nonracists insisting that the ethnic backgound of the conspirators is not important, and that David Rockefeller was a Baptist anyway.

One recent proponent of many of the conspiracy theories described by Orcinus was the late Aaron Russo. Russo was Jewish. There are a good number of Jews and African-Americans in the Patriot movement. Anyway, Orcinus just imagines that the nonracist patriots are trying to somehow legitimize the theories of the racists. I think that is unfair to these people. They are not racists, but they do beleive in conspiracy theories.

Many (and maybe most) libertarians believe that the Federal Reserve is illegitimate in some sense or other and should be abolished. Many (and maybe most) libertarinas believe that the income tax is illegitimate in some sense and should be abolished.

Ron Paul speaks to groups who promote the conspiracy theories. Paul doesn't promote the conspiracy theories about the Fed or the IRS, but rather gives standard libertarian arguments as to why these things are bad and should be ended by legislation or consitutional amendment.

Many (well, maybe, all, with this construction) libertarians would oppose having the U.S. become part of a world government that replaced the U.S. Constitution with something more "modern" that included a list of welfare rights and an explict call for the state to lead society. I believe that most libertarians are less worried than Paul that such a thing is likely to occur.

Anyway, Paul is a hero to lots of people in the partriot movement because he has libertarian views like most of us here.

And he appeals to the racist wing of the patriot movement too, presumably for the exact same reason he appeals to the nonracist wing.




Jonathan Dresner - 12/9/2007

Keith Haldeman and I just had this discussion. Good luck.


Sudha Shenoy - 12/9/2007

Do we know _why_ the KKK & other unsavoury types, support Ron Paul? In what way do _they_ think he's going to advance their antilibertarian aims?


Bill Woolsey - 12/8/2007


http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071224/hayes

"Paleolibertarians tend to be culturally conservative (attracting, on the edges, a fair share of Confederacy nostalgists and white supremacists)"

Seems to me like the paleo-libertarian/paleo-conservative alliance is creating some bad press.


Steven Horwitz - 12/8/2007

No you're looking at what I linked to. And, again, to be clear, I made no claim that the Paul campaign paid for or even endorsed it. My point was just that it was disturbing to me to see the KKK with a Paul ad and that it was equally disturbing to me that it wasn't disturbing to other libertarians.

And yes, the context there is vitamins etc, but I will not back down from the claim that there is something about how the Paul campaign has presented itself, as well as some of Paul's history with other hard right groups, that makes groups like the KKK and Stormfront find him an attractive candidate. I don't think it's an accidental connection, and that's what bothers me.


Bill Woolsey - 12/8/2007

If you go to www.ronpaul2008.com, you can download banners for blogs. The one I saw on the Klan site wasn't one of those from the Paul site. Perhaps someone else produced it?

Anyway, why would you assume that the Paul campaign paid them to have the article placed. Apparently someone in the Klan is worried about the WTO or CAFTA restricting their vitamin supplements. (Hitler was a health nut too, right?)

Or perhaps I am looking at something different?


Jeff Riggenbach - 12/8/2007

"Citing Virginia Postrel favorably turned out to be a huge rhetorical mistake, though I completely believe what I said. What shocked me is how many nasty commenters either: a) seemed to assume that I supported the war or other GOP candidates because I said nice things about her; or 2) are totally dismissive of her ideas, apparently because she has supported the war. Is it so hard to believe that one can accept the ideas in a book she wrote BEFORE 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq and think she's wrong for supporting the war? Or conversely that her later support of the war is orthogonal to the ideas in her book? Not one critic made the argument that somehow the ideas in her first book have a necessary connection to her stance on the war."

I don't see such a connection either. On the other hand, I think her first book is mainly a rehash and elongation of ideas originally expressed decades earlier by Isabel Paterson (without appropriate credit being given to Paterson). Consequently I don't think much more highly of it than I think of Virginia's stance on the war.

JR


Sheldon Richman - 12/8/2007

How did that banner get on the Klan cite? Did the campaign buy the space? This is a question that needs answering. I find it appalling and embarrassing. What should Ron Paul supporters say if asked about it besides trying to change the subject?


Sheldon Richman - 12/8/2007

Good thing one vote doesn't count.


Bill Woolsey - 12/8/2007

I think Steve's general rule about refusing to support a candidate because he or she is also supported by the KKK or Stormfront is mistaken.

That small, marginal groups might choose a libertarian for some kind of strategic reason cannot be sensibly used to determine whether or not a candidate deserves our support.

Of course, the racist groups are dead set against Mexican immigration and one reason they support Paul is because he will stop illegal immigration. I suspect this is what Steve has in mind. Paul is taking what Steve thinks is a wrong position and it is the same wrong position held by some unsavory groups. I agree this is a cause for concern.

On the other hand, they also cite Paul's opposition to the War in Iraq. Some of them may actually be noninterventionists. Others may simply be against interventions that they see as being promoted by american jews for the benefit of a jewish state. But I think it would be foolish to fail to support Paul because his anti-war position results in other supporters who oppose war (or just the war in Iraq or a war with Iran) for the wrong reasons or because their other views are anti-libertarian.

We can't be held hostage to the willingness of other groups to compromise their anti-libertarian views.

Another reason for their support of Paul is that he is least likely to support a federal crackdown on them. I guess like the Randy Weaver business some years ago.

I think they are correct in their judgement about "least likely" though perhaps a bit paranoid about the other candidates.

Some communist group might support Paul based on similar reasoning (the war and defense of their own civil liberties.) What if some communist group thought that Paul's laissez-faire would hasten the workers revolution? How can we be held hostage to what these (other?)fringe groups think?

To me, the only question is whether or not the candidate speaks out strongly enough on the areas of disagreement.

I believe that Paul's statement on racism is adequate in distancing himself from "white nationalists."

One problem with criticism of Paul's statement (say, by Bernstein,) is that while it doesn't really say anything inconsistent with the views of run-of-the-mill Republican racists, who probably do think of "group rights" as a liberal policy to benefit blacks and hispanics, and support "individualism" more or less, the "White Nationalists" are all about white people working together for white rights. Paul's statement is inconsistent with their fundamental ideology.







Steven Horwitz - 12/8/2007

Stayin' home. Ain't no one else in the race even worth batting an eye at - on either side.

Again, RP is the most libertarian candidate out there, but for the reasons I've indicated, I can't vote for him.


Aeon J. Skoble - 12/8/2007

So, are you going to stay home? Or are you thinking one of the others is more attractive? If the former, you'll get no grief from me, although I think I am going to vote for Paul. But if the latter, you got some 'splainin to do.


Robert Paul - 12/8/2007

This is a tense time for libertarians. Anti-war libertarians such as myself aren't sure why we should even have to add that qualifier. Justified or not, I don't think anyone can be surprised by the strong reaction to your citing Virginia Postrel.

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