To be "too smart by half" (also common is "too clever by half") is to be too smart for one's own good, meant either literally or ironically. As an idiom, it is usually sarcastic. The phrase has a wide range of potential uses; for instance, it can mean:
1.) Something so complex that it's self-obfuscating.
2.) A seemingly clever action that is in fact foolish.
3.) Logically accepting something as necessary that isn't.
4.) Over analysis.
5.) Elitism (see ivory tower).
--"Those Harvard scholars are too smart by half."
--"What a dumb idea; I tell you, that guy is too smart by half."
Too clever by half: Shrewd but flawed by overthinking or excessive complexity, with a resulting tendency to be unreliable or unsuccessful.
Too clever by half: To be too contrived or arrogant in one's cleverness or intelligence, to the point of being irritating to others.
Let’s get at some of the key words from above:
- Over analysis
- Flawed overthinking
- Excessive complexity
- Being irritating to others
And this describes those who are too smart by merely half! Imagine the adjectives necessary to get this increased by a factor of five – of being too smart by two-and-a-half.
My journey of diving deep into libertarianism and liberty began at this blog by addressing many left-libertarian ideas, few of which had anything to do with the non-aggression principle and few of which offered anything that would contribute to my liberty. I was able to handle these with little emotion, but with much aggression. In hindsight, I would probably take some of that aggression back.
Then I came across a seemingly well-respected libertarian thinker who advocated killing a child for picking an apple. Technically, he advocated that the property owner was the only individual entitled to decide the punishment for a violation of his property. As one of my readers pointed out, this, therefore, could also include the demand of sex with the minor as punishment.
In this case, I reacted both quite emotionally and aggressively. I wish I reacted only slightly less emotionally. Only slightly. The aggression? No amount was too much. Equating liberty with evil? This deserves damnation in hell.
Then there is the stretching of the theory to the point of absurdity – frankly, to the point of making it a punch line. Open borders, even if it means a million commies come to your town? Sure. Martian invaders demand that you murder someone in order to save the world? Yes, a subject worth addressing.
Recently I have read of the theoretical possibility under the non-aggression principle of forcing individuals to be vaccinated against their will. Boy, I went in with a knife on that one – and not just one wound, but several. I stabbed it with my steely knives…
…but I just couldn’t kill the beast, apparently. Because now comes masks: yes, there is a libertarian case (believe it or not) for forced mask-wearing as well. Keep in mind – both the topic of forced vaccinations and this topic of forced mask-wearing have been raised in the context of our last nine months. Both are addressed in the most esoteric and theoretical manner, yet the context in which these are read is in the reality of today.
Ideologies always present a danger. On the surface, many sound good. Taken to the extreme, none have proven efficacious toward the stated ends. Given that here I am speaking of the ideology of libertarianism, this ideology – taken to an extreme – will not produce liberty; given the examples offered above, it should be obvious that it destroys liberty.
Even if one grants that libertarianism supports forced vaccines or forced mask wearing (I do not, but bear with me), where is the liberty in this? I, as the property owner, no longer have rights as to what goes into my body? I, as the property owner, no longer have rights in what is done in my restaurant or church? Even if one grants that these are compatible with libertarianism (again, it isn’t, but bear with me), it isn’t compatible with my liberty.
This is the problem with ideologies and their ideologues: they focus on one thing while ignoring all else. There is a complexity in human social relations that is never addressed by ideology; historically, this complexity has been addressed by religion – maybe not all religions, but certainly by Christianity (and I don’t purposely exclude others; I am just not as knowledgeable on others nor are these relevant to life in the West).
Which leads me to examining the relationship of law and ideology. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
If law is a system of enforceable rules governing social relations and legislated by a political system, it might seem obvious that law is connected to ideology. Ideology refers, in a general sense, to a system of political ideas, and law and politics seem inextricably intertwined.
For a too-smart-by-two-and-a-half libertarian, this statement clears the field. Armed with his ideology, he is now free to craft his laws – wherever the ideology leads: shoot a child for picking an apple, allow a million commies in, Martians demanding murder, forced vaccinations and mask-wearing.
In contrast to the ideology taken to extreme, we continue:
The ideal of law, in contrast, involves a set of institutions that regulate or restrain power with reference to norms of justice. Thus the presence of the ideological in law must, in some sense, compromise law’s integrity.
As compared to a theory of law based on ideology, other theories of law purport to meet a higher ideal – norms of justice:
Not only is the view of law as ideology at odds with a lot of mainstream thinking about law, it seems difficult to reconcile with the central philosophical positions on the nature of law, e.g. a positivist conception of law as a set of formal rules, or a natural law conception where law is identified with moral principles.
I am not, of course, concerned about mainstream thinking of law nor will I consider arguments for positivists conceptions of law. However, natural law as a basis of law achieves two things not achieved by taking the ideology of libertarianism to the extreme: first, it does away with the absurdities and silliness when one tries purifying an ideology (as seen in the examples above), and second, it offers a path to liberty properly understood. And isn’t liberty the norm of justice that libertarians should be chasing?
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is quite relevant here:
I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale than the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.
What is the non-aggression principle but an objective legal scale? Continuing:
A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society.
What is the “beneficial influence on society” of seeing people by the thousands lined up to be forced to take an injection, or to spend months (going on years) of not seeing another human face?
Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.
Moral mediocrity and paralyzed man; exacerbating the meaning crisis. This doesn’t sound much like liberty to me.
Regarding the necessity of leaning on natural law for liberty (and not merely the non-aggression principle), Murray Rothbard understood this at least as early as 1960:
What I have been trying to say is that Mises’s utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic—an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual—grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man’s nature.
Rothbard goes further, from The Ethics of Liberty:
I at no time believed that value-free analysis or economics or utilitarianism (the standard social philosophy of economists) can ever suffice to establish the case for liberty.
There is something beyond the non-aggression principle – especially when it is as poorly applied as is the case in the above examples – that is required if one is after liberty. Rothbard concluded that it was the natural law. I agree, wholeheartedly.
Returning to the list from above:
- Over analysis
- Flawed overthinking
- Excessive complexity
- Being irritating to others
For those who were raised on Rothbard’s knees, who believe that they are advancing the cause in the tradition of Rothbard, it really is long past time to stop your efforts. Rothbard, even when charting a pioneering path, never came to conclusions as silly as those advanced by these self-proclaimed disciples.
That you make a mockery of yourself is your own business. You are making a mockery of Rothbard, and you are making a mockery of libertarianism. Certainly, you are not advancing the cause of liberty.
I suggest it is time to retire.
See my developing maturity? No emotion, very little aggression. I didn’t even name the guilty, nor link to any of the relevant posts.