Sunday, September 2, 2018

What Moves You?

Tom Woods and Michael Malice discuss “Healing Libertarian Rifts.”  They are reviewing an earlier discussion hosted by Malice between Woods and Matt Welch.

There is discussion between Woods and Malice about this rift – let’s say the rift is between the Mises / Rothbard (meaning Rockwell) wing and the Cato / Reason (meaning Koch, although I think they recently disavowed this label) wing.  Woods asks “if we can resolve it, that's valuable.”

Malice offers a key comment at about the 8:50 minute mark (captured as best as I can without listening to it ten times):

It’s also just bizarre that a movement that’s rooted in individualism and regards value as subjective is going to be baffled that other people have different priorities and different perspectives, and not only just baffled but insist that those priorities are wrong.

Stare at this long enough and dwell on it.  If (and I do not grant this “if”) the libertarian movement is rooted in individualism, do you believe that there is a “movement” that will ever amount to anything?  If the “different priorities” of other libertarians are values that are abhorrent to me – more abhorrent than my libertarian priority – is there a movement?

Abortion, war, torture, immigration, borders.  I think it is safe to say that you will find libertarians on both sides of these issues.  What if the other side of any one of these issues is of more value to a libertarian than supporting “a movement that’s rooted in individualism”?

Family, religion, conservative values.  What if these are more important to some libertarians than gay marriage, pot smoking, and prostitution?  Is there really “a movement that’s rooted in individualism”?

In other words, is there a “movement” at all?

I think not.  If libertarianism is rooted in individualism, there is no movement.  No libertarian who holds conservative values will fall on their libertarian sword for your right to have a sausage orgy. 


Jeff Deist gave a great speech about a year ago, asking just this question: what are you willing to die for?  In history, I am yet to find one example of anyone willing to die for “a movement that’s rooted in individualism.”

I have written before: I admire Tom Woods for his ability to be gentlemanly and balanced in discussion.  He is a better man than I am.  With this said…I have no interest in healing libertarian rifts.  I do have an interest in what it takes to achieve liberty.  Given all that I have read and observed, these are two very different things.


  1. That is an interesting point that individualists can't really form a movement. However, I would think individualists of different flavors could rally around a movement towards liberty. They would have to find common ground and not have a very broad platform. It would have to be very focused and specific. Kind of like your earlier article about natural law being general and having to allow for lots of exceptions when getting into the details.

    Now, if the individualists fought for freedom and won the movement would splinter as all the factions wanting to use liberty to different ends would fight for power OR maybe they would live and let live. One group over here and one group over there, kind of like a federal system.

    1. Decentralization is the future for liberty, if liberty is to have a future. But individualists won't form community with other individualists, they will form community with those who share general cultural, traditional, and political views.

    2. @ BM

      I've been thinking about the above post for days, trying to hash out how to distinguish individualism from decentralization, as I see them related to one another in some sense, from a logical perspective.

      Your reply to RMB is helpful as you distinguish between the two and reinforce the importance of decentralization, which I agree is key to libertarian outcomes. Although I'm unsure how to rectify a certain degree of equivalency between the notion of individuality and that the differences between people(individuality) seems to drive the need for decentralization to achieve peaceful and possibly libertarian outcomes.

      I have to think more on the topic. If you have any thing to add, I'd be most appreciative.

    3. Nick, it is something that I continue to work through. My specific point in this piece is in response to Malice's comment: "...a movement that’s rooted in individualism..." So consider these comments as my continuing effort to work it out – nothing “final” on my part.

      No one is going to war (either with the pen or the sword) for “individualism.” While I certainly don't want laws against sausage orgies (a fully libertarian view), I certainly will not spend one moment of time writing about such freedoms or going to protests in support of such freedoms. I will join in no “movement” on this topic.

      What moves you? Enough people have to have a common answer to make a movement. There are too many people - myself included - for whom advocating for all things allowable under "individualism" ranks about 378th on a list of values. Actually, it would never be anywhere on my list. So…why would I spend time on a movement that had this as its objective?

      If libertarianism is a movement grounded in individualism, there is no hope. But if it is grounded in objective applications of the NAP, progress is possible: there is a broad coalition for anti-war…but many who will join we could never call libertarian. Yet, wouldn’t we live in a more libertarian world if this movement is successful?

      I could say the same for many things: use of torture, end central banking, eliminating mechanisms that support crony capitalism, etc. Each of these has enough support to form a movement – and, if successful, would contribute to a more libertarian world.

      A movement rooted in individualism is a leftist movement; communists would describe their movement in the same way. A movement rooted in individualism is a movement that minimizes (if not eliminates) any recognition that intermediating governance institutions are necessary if we are to be free from a state.

      Count me out (tentatively…like I say, this comment just represents more work-in-progress for me).

    4. "A movement rooted in individualism is a leftist movement; communists would describe their movement in the same way."

      I'm used to commie's claiming the need to "balance" individuality(rights?) with the "needs" of the collective(I'm actually paraphrasing a commie that I dialogue with from time to time) for the "general welfare".

      It's strange, because he accurately describes the tension and the ideological "war", yet when I probe him on why private property is acceptable for individuals(himself), yet not corporations, he comes up short. (usually he starts talking about "exploitation" or pollution regarding corporations instead of answering the question)

      Anyway, in the comment section on your blog, on another/similar topic- someone posted a link to some work done by Tom Woods early in his academic career, a dissertation of some sort that I skimmed over, where this notion of "transcendent values" appeared- after I had referenced such without knowing the term had been used already in describing voluntary associations and what not.

      My point being is that if I was going to try to clarify our dilemma, maybe we suggest that "individuality" isn't necessarily the "root" of libertarianism, but a component that drives the need for decentralization if we are ever going to try to move towards libertarian outcomes.

      That "individuality" can manifest itself in unfortunate ways: prostitution, sausage parties, etc. et al, but individuality does not constitute a "need" for voluntary societies that organize themselves on principles(transcendent values) that don't accommodate all individualities.(word?)

      That can be addressed by property rights(to some extent) with covenant restrictions and a "jury" or set of elders, or whatever to adjudicate the grey areas accordingly...maybe within the moral confines of Christianity for example.(even specific denomination)

      I know that you've written on the shortfalls of some of the above, but I'm just tossing things out.

      There has to be some kind of explanation on the difference between the notion of individuality and that of calls for decentralization(which is recognition of individuality IMO, and calling for governance differentiation as a result).

      Knowing you haven't been a big fan of covenant communities in the past, I'd ask you to reconsider on the notion that the Bible represents a sort of covenant community.


    5. NB: Thanks to your post I now realise that there may be a problem with the framing of the individual vs collective question. Often times -like your communist friend- people look at this from the POV of redistribution. I.e. they want something from other in their group.

      When I promote the interest of the collective I am _NOT_ talking about welfare, I am _NOT_ talking about redistribution (though there is a hook there that also needs discussing - another time).

      In balancing the collective vs the individual I am talking about the need for the collective to survive in order that the individuals in that collective can survive. And since collectives are in competition with each other the collective must not only exist, but it should thrive so it can outcompete the others.

      And in order for a collective to thrive, I believe that a certain amount of libertarianism is necessary. But it would be wrong (IMO) to use the NAP as the central value of a collective, of this I am now more than convinced ;-)

    6. Nick

      “I'm used to commie's claiming the need to "balance" individuality (rights?) with the "needs" of the collective…”

      The non-aggression principle, properly applied, frees the individual from unchosen relationships; it allows us to live within hierarchical structures that are voluntarily (or reasonably voluntarily) chosen. Communism, properly applied, frees the individual from all hierarchical structures.

      In both cases, we find "...a movement that’s rooted in individualism...." There are libertarians who lean toward, or even advocate, the communist position – all hierarchical structures must be abolished. Most prominently (but not exclusively), they attack religion.

      Nick, I don’t cringe from the idea of the individual and the connection to libertarianism – and I see the inherent connection to decentralization. What I was commenting on was the statement that libertarianism is “rooted in individualism.” If this is our root, it is the same root as communism – which, by the way, suggests that my connecting libertarianism and communism might not be far off.

      “Knowing you haven't been a big fan of covenant communities in the past, I'd ask you to reconsider on the notion that the Bible represents a sort of covenant community.”

      This is a good time to revisit this topic. Please note: my essay on this topic was entitled “Contractual Community," not Covenant Community.

      My point in the post: a contract doesn’t last past a lifetime – if it lasts that long. Introduce the Bible (as you have in this statement), and you have a Covenant. In this post, I discuss the need for transcendent values (e.g. values to be found in Christianity or maybe fantasy football (sarcasm on the latter)…).

      I touched on this distinction of covenant vs. contract in a subsequent post:

      “It was in this relationship that one can find the anarchical governance structure: the serf and the lord were bound to each other by oath. The oath was more than a contract – consider it a covenant, with God as a third party and witness. The covenant called for loyalty, even in hard times; it may even require self-sacrifice.”

    7. @ BM

      I use "covenant" and contracts interchangeably. Here's a Google definition:

      noun: covenant; plural noun: covenants
      an agreement.
      synonyms: contract, agreement, undertaking, commitment, guarantee, warrant, pledge, promise, bond, indenture; More
      a contract drawn up by deed.
      synonyms: contract, agreement, undertaking, commitment, guarantee, warrant, pledge, promise, bond, indenture; More
      a clause in a contract.
      an agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people. The Jewish faith is based on the biblical covenants made with Abraham, Moses, and David.

      Thank you both, I've things to consider in both replies.

    8. Nick,

      "It's strange, because he accurately describes the tension and the ideological "war", yet when I probe him on why private property is acceptable..."

      Nick, leftists will always seem strange to you because you have your head screwed on straight. Extreme leftists think accepting a wage in exchange for work is slavery while abolishing private property, thereby concentrating all power in the state, is freedom. It's as if they've all read Orwell, but rather than as a cautionary tale, they've perceived it as an instruction manual. There's not much room for discussion here; it's an irreconcilable difference. Apart from comprehensive political divorce and peaceful international relations between us and them, I can see no solution. Sharing a democracy with them is a disaster.

      "My point being is that if I was going to try to clarify our dilemma, maybe we suggest that "individuality" isn't necessarily the "root" of libertarianism, but a component that drives the need for decentralization if we are ever going to try to move towards libertarian outcomes."

      The problem here is the massive equivocation that typically goes along with the word individualism. Libertarians use it in the sense that the individual is the smallest component of society, and therefore, the locus of all human action, whether political, economic, social, cultural, etc. From this it does not follow that individuals cannot associate or cooperate with one another to create families, communities, cultures, or nations, or hold dear to values over and above personal whims.

      The same can be said of the word freedom. Freedom, to the libertarian, does not mean the allowance or the power to do whatever you like. It is a balance of reciprocal responsibilities and rights that must be fulfilled and respected by each in society if civilization is to thrive and survive.

    9. "I have no interest in healing libertarian rifts. I do have an interest in what it takes to achieve liberty"

      Rothbard would have agreed with you wholeheartedly, and so do I.

      From an article entitled "Why Paleo?" from the Rothbard-Rockwell Report:

      "We are saying, in short, that liberty is great and we don’t wish to weaken or dilute it by one iota, but that for us, at long last, it’s simply not enough. We are still hard-core libertarians, but we now are not willing to settle, as a movement, for liberty alone. We insist upon liberty plus."

      and further:

      "We have said that a certain cultural matrix is essential to liberty" and that culture is a "bourgeois, Christian culture."

      What about those other cultures?

      "I am willing to concede that you can indeed be a good, hard-core libertarian and still be a hippie, an aggressive anti-bourgeois and anti-Christian, a drug addict, a moocher, a rude and intolerable fellow, and even an outright thief. But the point is that we paleos are no longer willing to be movement colleagues with these sorts of people."

      I suppose it might be accurate to say that Murray and Lew are the makers of the rift that some libertarians wish to heal. But should it be healed?

      " the broader movement, these luftmensch types have almost succeeded in making the glorious word “libertarian” a stench in everyone’s nostrils, synonymous with nut or libertine."

      Was Rothbard sad about the split?

      "...although obviously we have a high tolerance level, it has at last been exceeded, and it is with a sense of joyous relief that we scrape the detritus of the standard, or “modal,” libertarian from the soles of our shoes."

      I'll take that as a no. The whole article is worth a read. It's as humorous and it is spot on.

    10. Beautiful. Brings a chuckle to my lips and wets my eyes all at the same time.

  2. If we look at people through the lens of ideology vs realism then everybody is more or less ideological. People at the far end of the spectrum will be almost purely ideological or realistic. (PS: Realistic in this sense means the willingness to reject a view/opinion if proven incorrect)

    The closer we get towards realism the less ideological viewpoint remain.
    But the differences between the ideologies that remain will stand out more. Thus if libertarians are closer to realism than -for example- marxists it stands to reason that differences between libertarians are perceived bigger than differences between the different kind of marxists.

    And hence, libertarians will be more difficult to organize.

  3. Libertarians don't have to agree on a lot. A coalition around "End the Fed" will go a long way towards gutting the welfare-warfare state. Add to that the defunding of State (mis)education and the future will look really bright.

    1. "A coalition around "End the Fed"..."

      I don't even think there is a libertarian coalition for this, just as I don't think there is a libertarian coalition to end pre-emptive war.

      As to defunding state provided schooling...vouchers; many libertarians rally around vouchers, which would only broaden the state's role in schooling.

  4. I've spent the better part of a year reflecting on this question, and what spurned it was a mix of events.

    Professed libertarians, I'd say even well versed libertarians, defending some unlibertarian things (which may have been acceptable under the strictest and most autistic interpretation of the NAP and property rights). Apples and borders come to mind.

    An example BM proposed (Paraphrasing): "A neighborhood has a house that has orgies on the front lawn, ritual sacrifice next door, and a meth lab across the street. Acceptable under libertarianism, but really?" To have a society whose only rallying cry is to be libertarian, this is defensible. I can't picture too many libertarians, at least the ones I know, eager to move into this neighborhood, or even to remain party to this libertarian "nation".

    Then Jeff Deist's speech was the punctuation on this chain of events, prompting this entire reflection.

    If the fight is liberty for liberty's sake, then we're fighting for everyone's right to be as degenerate as they can be, whether we want it or not. Combine this with the neolibertarian crowd pushing for the BIG and other variations of the welfare state, and we're making a society that looks like what we already have, but we might call it something different so we don't realize it.

    This takes me back to secession and decentralization. If these times are as polarized as everyone says, we should be able to find support for this across the ideological spectrum, with the strongest objections coming from those invested in a centralized world.

    Not everyone is going to get along, and not everyone necessarily has to. Maybe it's time to treat the centralized world as the worst marriage ever, and start the divorce proceedings so we can try other things.

    1. I believe this to be the only peaceful answer, yet those who want a centralized world aren't very good at playing nice.

  5. Target Liberty has chimed in:

  6. "...and regards value as subjective" - Malice

    This to me is the most glaring bit of Malice's statement. There is a huge equivocating chasm between recognizing the subjective nature of value in the economic realm (prices, interest rates, etc.) and conceding that all human values (morals, ethics, etc.) in the cultural and political realms are subjective. Not all of us are what Rothbard termed "nihilo-libertarians." Some of us actually believe in something.

    “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” - G.K. Chesterton

    This is sort of like when people don't understand the difference between free trade and free immigration. Imported cars don't vote to further diminish your liberties.

    What's baffling is why Malice (a Randian objectivist) is baffled that libertarians would have objective standards of value in the cultural realm and that these standards might be the most important issue for them.

    1. I recently had a similar discussion about art. Is it possible to objectively quantify art?

      I defended the position that it is possible.

      We ended the discussion like this: Categories exist, but the borders between categories are fuzzy.

      The nihilist will claim that because of this fuzziness the categories themselves do not exist. Which is wrong because we are able to communicate with each other despite the fuzziness of the borders. In communication categories are fundamental. Hence categories must exist despite fuzzy borders.

      In individual cases there might be disagreement on those borders.

      Art is a part of our culture, and since culture is shared, it must be possible to define categories of art (painting, music etc). Hence it must be possible to define broad characteristics of art even when the borders are fuzzy. For example the 'art-litter' that is thrown away by the cleaning lady because she thought is was litter. (Hint: if she thought so, it must have been litter! after all, she's a professional on the subject just as the art-critic is a professional on his subject)

    2. ATL, I focused on just one aspect of the statement, but you are quite correct. I could write 1000 words easily just based on this one statement; I took the lazy way out and asked readers to just stare at it and dwell on it.

      I will insist that the priority on abortion is wrong; I will insist that the priority of gay marriage is wrong. (Note, I did not say "criminal," I just say "wrong.")

      Malice should not be baffled by this.

    3. Rien,

      I think everything has an aspect of art and science to it. Science is the universal and immutable conceptual truth, and art is the practical, local, and temporal application or recognition of this truth.

      If libertarianism is the science of liberty, then Christianity in the Middle Ages has been it's highest art form.

    4. BM,

      I think a good general test of whether something is wrong or not is to imagine everyone doing it and then to think whether this would be a good or bad result. This rule applied to abortion ends the human race. When applied to gay marriage, aside from intervention by modern technology, it also would end the human race. I think everyone, aside from extreme environmentalists, would agree that ending the human race should be considered a bad result.

      I think this method is part of the "rule utilitarian" philosophy. It isn't perfect, but it is generally helpful, especially in convincing others in our secular age. I think the natural law Christian philosophy is much superior, because it is able to deftly cut the complex line through issues that are good on a personal level but may be bad if everyone did them, and actions that in general might result in good outcomes but on a personal level are bad.

      I wonder how often gay men and women feel this inclination because of childhood sexual abuse, emasculating or defemenizing parenting, or its glorification in the media? Regardless, I believe we always have a choice, and any argument to the contrary is simply an avoidance of individual responsibility. But then again, you'll get different results in the 100 m dash if one day the track surface is deep loose sand and the next its springy asphalt. The truth is nuanced and I think there is no contradiction in recognizing the truth in both environmental factors and individual responsibility.

      "(Note, I did not say "criminal," I just say "wrong.")"-BM

      I think homosexuality is something that should be tolerated as a nonviolent personal and social ill (like excessive drinking, gambling, and drug use), but it is certainly not something to be championed as a source of strength. And by "tolerated," I don't mean everyone should have to patronize their businesses and serve them at our own. I simply mean that no physical harm should come to them or their property solely as a consequence of their sexual preferences.

      Here I'm conflating the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage, but I think the same general criticism holds for both. There are perhaps more to be had in regards to the latter.

    5. ATL, just for kicks: If abortion is legal, then it should be legal too for the children to kill off their parents when they age so much that they are no longer capable of peak human behaviour.

      (Symmetry is everything!)

  7. did you delete my link to counter currents? Just curious i don't want coming back here with bad blood in me

    Quite frankly i went full alt-right recently (most of them are morons) i kinda wonder what you'll make of the greg johnsons that you'll inevitably read.

    Think occidental observer, vdare, unz, amren.

    1. I have read Greg's recent book "The White Nationalist Manifesto".
      It is a good book if you want to get an overview of his idea's and the alt-right in general. It is not very well written, which is disappointing as I see that Greg has written a lot of books. It seems he did some re-use of earlier writings making the book a bit disjunct at times.
      As to the content, I find it lacking in causes and thus also in solutions.
      This is not unique to Greg, I see this in many white or ethno state supporters. They seem to think that once an ethno state is achieved, the rest of the problems will sort itself out. Completely missing the point that we have been there and it did not last. To be fair, Greg has tried to address some of this in the last part of the book, but he did not get any further than trying to codify desired behaviour. I.e. working on the symptoms rather than causes.

      IMO the Bionic Mosquito has done more thinking and work on finding a solution than Greg has. Though he is coming from a very different direction.

      BTW: I am doing a multi-part in-depth review of his book at my site..... but in Dutch only... sorry.

    2. LOL, I don't recall an earlier comment on this topic...I am getting a lot of spam in the comments folder - maybe I inadvertently deleted it. Or, depending on your comment, I advertently deleted it.

      I do visit vdare and Unz. I have written my thoughts regarding a community joining together to determine who is and isn't allowed entry - using any criteria that the members choose.

      I am quite hesitant about the label "alt-right." It comes with much baggage. I have written enough regarding my views on such matters that a label seems unnecessary.

    3. They DO use labels such as white nationalists(hard)(versed in JQ, racialists), race realists(softer)(hbd, iq crowd), civic nationalists(soft)(sailer, derb).

    4. As for "alt-right"'s solutions they DO come out of the viennese painter playbook.

      They're much better at diagnosing the malaise, than conjuring up any reasonable path of action Raising the consciousness, Political action ala republican voting or trump supporting is quite common in the less intellectual sphere (see heartiste dismissing unz as nerd cave, while he's blogging for the 105s)