March 09, 2005

Locke's Loopy Libertarians

Robert Locke's recent article on libertarians is one big hit piece. That's not too surprising out of TAC but it's a useful forensic exercise to sort out the nuggets of truth that Locke uses to make the lies go down better. Locke calls Libertarians the "marxists of the right" and claims

But because 95 percent of the libertarianism one encounters at cocktail parties, on editorial pages, and on Capitol Hill is a kind of commonplace “street” libertarianism, I decline to allow libertarians the sophistical trick of using a vulgar libertarianism to agitate for what they want by defending a refined version of their doctrine when challenged philosophically. We’ve seen Marxists pull that before.

The high variability of libertarians is both an impediment to making blanket statements about the movement and a very positive sign of intellectual activity. If anything libertarianism consists of the fundamental proposition that on any given policy question, the libertarian can be spotted by his first impulse which is to ask why not solve the problem through a consensual, pro-liberty solution. The radicalness and the strength of the impulse are a separate issue. Difference there helps to identify flavors of libertarians. It is by no means shown by Locke that this first impulse towards liberty is wrongheaded, much less an evil like marxism. The closest you can get, I guess, is the dogmatic libertarian.

The dogmatic libertarian, like dogmatists of all stripes, doesn't bother actually considering the public policy question at hand, he has a lookup table which he plugs in a libertarian answer (or what he considers to be a libertarian answer) and just moves on. Differentiating between the dogmatic libertarian and other dogmatists is as simple as identifying the sources of his lookup table. If they are libertarian, he too is a libertarian, if a very unthinking one.

The difference between practical libertarians, and those who are impractical in one way or another does not lie in their libertarianness, in the common impulse to answer liberty as a first reaction at the posing of a public policy question. It is in what happens afterwards. Do you actually consider the question? Are you willing to acknowledge that libertarian solutions are not practical sometimes because the surrounding conditions are not yet ripe? How much real world pain are you willing to impose on society in order to force the development of libertarianism in the real world.

It is only those libertarians who are willing to take libertarian solutions and push them on the world in the face of unacceptable consequences that should be condemned (and I do condemn them). Those who would rather society be taken over by totalitarians than impose a draft, for instance, can be realistically likened to right wing marxists. They would rather lose all than compromise in the least and recover later.

Locke, however, dedicates his article to painting with a broad brush and tarring the practical libertarians right along with the impractical ones, the ones who would do america proud if they were to win power in government and the right wing marxists who unfortunately have an outsized influence in the institutional LP right now. It's unfortunate that Locke's email is not public. A short conversation would certainly clarify whether he's libeling the large bulk of libertarians on purpose or merely through sloppiness.

Posted by TMLutas at March 9, 2005 11:37 AM