Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Civil War, Part Deux

Oct 8, 2004 7:47 pm


The Civil War, Part Deux



[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

Needless to say, my last post has generated a lot of feedback, both public and private, from both sides -- each explaining to me why the sins, if any, of its favoured camp are venial, while those of the other's favoured camp are mortal. I would prefer not to be drawn into evaluating the pros and cons of particular persons or policies -- both because doing so would go against the eirenic object of my post, and because, for reasons I explained last time, I regard such comparisons as largely a red herring. (Notice that I never said, and nothing in my post depended on saying, that the two sides were equivalent; assume that whichever side you think is worse really is worse, and my arguments still apply.) But I do want to comment on one particular issue.

Which is more problematic: seeking strategic association with powerful establishment promoters of statist evil, or seeking strategic association with powerless fringe promoters of statist evil? Half of my correspondents think the former is more problematic, on the grounds that establishment politicos are actually engaging in repression and mass murder right now, and it's worse to commit crimes than merely to advocate them; also, they argue that one is more likely to be corrupted into compromise by powerful pals than by powerless ones. The other half think the latter is more problematic, since there is an excuse for associating with the establishment folks (they set policy, they're widely respected and influential, so it's hard to avoid dealing with them), whereas there is no analogous case for associating with groups that, while perhaps no more intrinsically objectionable than the ruling class, are powerless (and so cannot offer as much aid, nor is there any pressing need to interact with them) and unpopular (and so are more likely to harm the reputation and public perception of those who associate with them).

In short, the very same power differential between the two types of statists is cited by Catoites as grounds for regarding Mises-style alliances as more suspect than Cato-style alliances, and is cited by Misesites as grounds for regarding Cato-style alliances as more suspect than Mises-style alliances. My reaction to this is that each side has a valid point; there is a respect in which Cato-style alliances are more problematic than Mises-style alliances, and there is a different respect in which Mises-style alliances are more problematic than Cato-style alliances. It seems to me that intelligent libertarians of good will could reasonably disagree about both the relative and the absolute weights of these two respects.

By"relative" I mean: which of the two respects is more problematic? By"absolute" I mean: which respect (one? both? neither?) is so problematic that its costs outweigh its benefits? When I call for peace I'm not calling for a consensus on the right answer to either the relative or the absolute question (nor have I suggested any such answers myself); I'm just suggesting that someone can reach the wrong answers to those questions and still be a valuable friend of liberty, worthy of respect. (I would also add that no organisation or movement should be judged solely by the most provocative persons in it, nor should those persons be judged solely by the most provocative things they happen to say.)

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