More Libertarianism Thread

by John Holbo on April 12, 2010

Let me continue the discussion I started in my previous thread. (Speaking of which, Arnold Kling showed up in comments – and most indignant. I await his explanation of what sane thing he can have been thinking, which caused him to write what he did, which caused me to write that he has a bizarre blind spot for major classes of infringement to liberty. If he has some sensible explanation for what he wrote I am willing to retract my assessment. [UPDATE: if it will help keep comments from derailing, I am happy to assume Kling doesn’t hate on freedom for women and black people. There is a reason I said I was critiquing blind spots. Namely, I assume that is what Kling is suffering from: a blind spot. He isn’t a neo-confederate or moral monster. The problem isn’t that he hates on freedom for women and blacks. I assume not. The problem is that he is unhealthily averse to giving credit, where due, to the people who fought on behalf of women and blacks, and lots of other regular plain old male white folks, too. So he wants to sort of pocket huge victories for liberty, without much fuss, and get back to the important business of grousing about the anti-libertarian motives of people who were instrumental in achieving them. This isn’t actually incoherent. But it produces sort of a screwy picture. And it causes Kling to read short, clear posts by Will Wilkinson without really getting what they are saying. But, all the same, I am sure he is fully in favor of rights for women and blacks and all the rest. Seriously. I’m sure he likes that stuff fine.]

While we wait: several people wrote in comments that it could be that ‘the 1880’s were Golden’ should be reconstructed more in the spirit of ‘yes, there was a lot that was wrong, but a few things were right, and we ought to try to get those things right again. Namely, small government.’ Firstly, this is total step-back from the Golden Age stuff. It admits the validity of the Boaz-Wilkinson criticism, which means this line really isn’t open to Kling (unless he says otherwise [UPDATE: and I sincerely hope he will!]). Beyond that, this line has further problems. Obviously there can be even smaller government any place that is experiencing total anarchy. The point has to be, rather, that in the 1880’s small government worked. So the attraction is that we have a kind of proof-of-concept. The problem with this (in case it isn’t obvious) is that the infringements to liberty in the 1880’s weren’t just some incidental accretion or contingent burden on the system at the time. The sorts of things Wilkinson and Boaz point to, as the reasons why the 1880’s weren’t a libertarian paradise, were the way society and politics and culture worked. It makes no more sense to say that we need the 1880’s, minus the infringements to liberty, and leave it at that, than it does to make Louis “the Sun King” XIV your libertarian ideal on the grounds that: dude had a lot of liberty. If what makes liberty possible for some is lack of liberty for many, then you can’t just wave away the latter as some incidental problem. Piecemeal proof of concept only makes sense if the pieces really function in isolation.

So the problem with holding up the 1880’s and saying ‘we need to restore this … minus a few incidental faults’ is that it is, so far, not even a concept, let alone proof of concept. (And then there’s the additional problem that the 20th Century hasn’t even started yet, to say nothing of the 21st. And the bigness and connecteness of all that is the real challenge.)

Jacob Levy made a very good point in comments, so I’ll quote him:

There’s a basic American understanding of history that says: the Founding created The Freest Society Known To Man, and then adds in bracketed footnotes “except for some problems which were real problems but were destined to work themselves out as the logic of liberty unfolded.” The combination of an official American ideology of liberty and the genuinely broader franchise in the US than in peer societies get conflated into an idea that the U.S. had a telos of freedom that counted in its favor even when there was a lot of unfreedom about.

This means that slavery is deeply discounted, Jim Crow is deeply discounted, and comparisons between 18th/19th c US and either contemporaneous peer societies or the modern era are deeply screwed up.

This much isn’t unique to libertarians. I think it runs deep in white American Whiggism all around—which is to say almost all of white American political thought other than southern conservatism.

For libertarians there’s then the subsequent step of seeing the 20th century as an era when the official ideology ceased to be (in our sense) liberal and progressive, and so things started moving in the wrong direction. Once you’ve elevated ideology over practice so far that slavery was an anomalous footnote to be worked out, you’re bound to overreact to this intellectual shift. The Progressive Era or the shift from the Lochner court to the New Deal court becomes a breaking point in the history of freedom. It no longer seems that the idea working itself out is a liberal idea. And so you can find even libertarians like Hornberger and Kling—who, as Boaz says in his article, are not part of the Confederacy-worshipping cult of pseudo-libertarians—unable to really grasp what Boaz and Wilkinson are on about.

Let me try to boil that down: you give people an A for effort, so long as they are aiming high, even if their practice is sort of lousy in spots. Which is maybe not such a sensible grading scheme – but this is America. Love it or leave it. But it gets worse once you start doubting people’s ideals. You keep applying that old scheme, which purports to grade achievement, but emphasizes ideals over practice, and you end up giving F’s for effort, to people who are fighting hard for liberty, and winning concrete, lasting victories on major fronts. Because you suspect they really want to put us on the Road To Serfdom.

{ 83 comments }

1

Sebastian 04.12.10 at 1:22 am

“You keep applying that old scheme, which purports to grade achievement, but emphasizes ideals over practice, and you end up giving F’s for effort, to people who are fighting hard for liberty, and winning concrete, lasting victories on major fronts.”

Lucky we aren’t talking about actual school improvements there. ;)

2

ben w 04.12.10 at 1:24 am

Obviously there can be even smaller government any place that is experiencing total anarchy

That isn’t, I assume.

Here is a comment on unfogged about this debate. “While I sympathize more with Wilkinson, he still has a big blind spot going when he refers to freedom for white men. Even in the ‘economic freedom’ sphere, there was no freedom of contract in employment even for white men. When one small group has the right to use violence to impose wages and working conditions on the rest, that’s not ‘freedom’.”

As the comment in the previous thread quoting Debs was getting at as well.

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John Holbo 04.12.10 at 1:32 am

Yes, the Debs quote in the previous thread, which showed up while I was composing the follow-up, is a good one. I think Wilkinson would grant the point. In one of those posts he is quoting from Brink Lindsey, who admits all this stuff. Tales of the Pinkertons cracking skulls and all that.

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Nick 04.12.10 at 1:43 am

‘If what makes liberty possible for some is lack of liberty for many, then you can’t just wave away the latter as some incidental problem. Piecemeal proof of concept only makes sense if the pieces really function in isolation.’

Hang on, this is a key claim. You are saying that one pre-requisite for liberty for some, was lack of liberty for many. But is that true? If we take the white, male and well-off in the 1880s, take away their power to impose restrictions on women, blacks and the poor, are they actually now lacking in liberty? Sure, they are less wealthy, and they have less power over various other people around them, but they are still free in the sense that libertarians care about.

If thats true, then the lack of liberty for many in the 1880s, could be considered conceptually incidental. It is, at least, conceivable that everyone could live with plenty of liberty and have a relatively small government.

At that point, it then becomes more contentious. Did the expansion of Government from the 1880s onwards actually help the plight of the unemancipated? Or was emancipation a project that could have taken place using small Government means? Perhaps the expansion of Government was incidental to the improvements for blacks, women and the poor post-1880, or perhaps it even slowed down their improvement in status. After all, the progressive movement that spearheaded the expansion of Government was more than happy to dabble in things like eugenics, and drug and alcohol prohibitions, which have certainly boded fairly poorly for any unemancipated individuals.

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Justin 04.12.10 at 1:52 am

Kling makes a silly misreading–he thinks Wilkinson is saying that “if we had a libertarian polity we would be back in the days of Jim Crow or women’s subservience.” That’s silly, and he should know better than to think that was Wilkinson’s point. But it hardly sounds like Kling was saying the 1880s were a golden age or even a bronze age.

As far as I can tell, you’ve made some nasty insinuations that have no basis in what Kling said.

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John Holbo 04.12.10 at 1:57 am

Nick, you are right that it is more contentious. A little. A very little. But once you add in, say, the Debs point – which I, like Wilkinson, was sort of skating over – it becomes a lot less so. The Golden Age point goes like so: look how much wholesome social order you can achieve without the cold hand of the government on our shoulders! But the fact is that the order in question was (when it wasn’t just a function of fairly wide open spaces, which is nothing libertarianism gets credit for) manifestly a function, not of some ideal freedom being expressed, but of a lot of mostly non-governmental social/local repression, and certainly of stuff that doesn’t pass libertarian muster. This is far from “conceptually incidental”. You might be able to argue that an ideal libertarian polity is possible, but 1880 is not going to be any more evidence for that proposition than the possibility of Louis XIV is evidence for it.

“Perhaps the expansion of Government was incidental to the improvements for blacks, women and the poor post-1880, or perhaps it even slowed down their improvement in status.”

No doubt progressives did things that were bad and foolish and contrary to ideals of liberty. And now that I have granted that – and it is certainly not enough to establish your proposition – I await your defense of your proposition with some curiosity.

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John Holbo 04.12.10 at 1:58 am

Justin: “As far as I can tell, you’ve made some nasty insinuations that have no basis in what Kling said.”

Kling is welcome to show up and explain what was really going on. I will say this: if it turns out you are right, and he just couldn’t see what the point of Wilkinson’s post was – even though it was perfectly clear – I will take that as confirmation of my point. Namely, Kling has an odd blind spot for a point that ought to be perfectly clear.

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Sebastian 04.12.10 at 2:01 am

“but of a lot of mostly non-governmental social/local repression”?

I don’t see how slavery counts as non-governmental repression.

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Bernard Yomtov 04.12.10 at 2:03 am

But it hardly sounds like Kling was saying the 1880s were a golden age or even a bronze age.

I may have lost the thread, but I thought that Kling was mostly defending Hornberger, who did seem to be saying that.

10

Doctor Science 04.12.10 at 2:17 am

I shall rollover my latest comment from the last thread:

In Albion’s Seed, David Hackett Fischer quotes a colonial-era Virginia planter who said:

I am an aristocrat: I love liberty; I hate democracy.

This planter was exactly the sort of person, as Robert Walmann commented, who despired Creon as a democratic tyrant. The big difference between him and the libertarians at Reason is that the planter *knew* he favored aristocracy, and said so. The boys at Reason+ are actually proponents of aristocracy (or plutocracy++), because that’s what you call it when liberty for the top 10% of society is more important than its lack for 90%. They call themselves “libertarians”, but what they’re selling is plain old aristocracy in new bottles.

+or possibly just Hornberger and Kling

++in practical terms: If you believe that wealth can and should be inherited, you believe in aristocracy. If you believe that the rich should rule but not inherit, you believe in plutocracy. Interestingly enough, both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are leaving the vast bulk of their vast fortunes *away* from their children: they are plutocrats who reject aristocracy. This is extremely rare.

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Justin 04.12.10 at 2:30 am

John, in, the last post, you described Kling as giving “some sort of defense of how things actually were in 1880″. That characterization is what demands explanation.

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Bloix 04.12.10 at 2:30 am

“But once you add in, say, the Debs point … it becomes a lot less so. The Golden Age point goes like so: look how much wholesome social order you can achieve without the cold hand of the government on our shoulders! But the fact is that the order in question was … manifestly a function, not of some ideal freedom being expressed, but of a lot of mostly non-governmental social/local repression…”

But that’s not the Debs point. The Debs point is that the federal government crushed the strikers. Debs was coming out of federal prison when he made that speech. He said that the strikers would have prevailed if federal troops hadn’t been called out. He was arguing that the government had betrayed the cause of liberty. And the fact is that the economic order of the Gilded Age was maintained by more brute government force than has ever been deployed in our country before or since, with the sole exception of the Civil War.

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Joshua Mostafa 04.12.10 at 2:30 am

Liberty is not the only good. But even if it was, private property beyond the bounds of what one can use generates huge restrictions on liberty. So-called libertarianism in America is a hypocritical pose.

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kth 04.12.10 at 2:32 am

If you turned the dialogue around, if a pro-New Deal person responded to a proposal to massively reduce the size and scope of the government we have now, it wouldn’t be persuasive to merely assert that doing so would take us back to the Gilded Age. And if that were the conversation we were having, Kling would be perfectly right about at least not being able to assume the connection between apartheid and relatively limited government (though I suspect that a plausible chain of causation wouldn’t be difficult to posit).

But that’s not the conversation we are having. In our conversation, the anti-government side up and said, unprompted, gee whiz, the Gilded Age was pretty sweet. Even assuming the proviso that there were a lot of messed up things about that era that they don’t endorse, the clear implication is that those things were outweighed by understandings regarding the proper size of government. Otherwise, why bring it up in the first place?

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John Holbo 04.12.10 at 2:35 am

Sebastion: ““but of a lot of mostly non-governmental social/local repression”?

I don’t see how slavery counts as non-governmental repression.”

By 1880 slavery had been abolished.

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John Holbo 04.12.10 at 2:37 am

“But that’s not the Debs point. The Debs point is that the federal government crushed the strikers. Debs was coming out of federal prison when he made that speech. He said that the strikers would have prevailed if federal troops hadn’t been called out. He was arguing that the government had betrayed the cause of liberty. And the fact is that the economic order of the Gilded Age was maintained by more brute government force than has ever been deployed in our country before or since, with the sole exception of the Civil War.”

Yes, good point. I should have made the point in a way that acknowledged all this, so the point about freedom for white men doesn’t even stand on it’s own. And it isn’t an incidental point at all. Quite.

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Glen Tomkins 04.12.10 at 2:37 am

@ Nick

It took a household

It might make sense to talk of your well-off white male of 1880 rendered incapable of controlling disadvantaged groups, but with undiminished personal freedom, if this person lived in a contemporary economy. But he didn’t, and daily life at that time required the personal service of others, of people who had to be consigned to meet the basic needs of their social betters, because society was not organized to let all equally purchase the means of life on the money economy.

How would your disempowered white male of 1880 eat on his own? Who would care for him if he got sick? How would he get around even his own small town, much less the wider world, without people to care for his horses?

Much of the work of living was still done off the economy in those times, by members of one’s household, if one was fortunate enough to have such a place in society. Some of these functions, like eating, might be met by commerical establishments such as restaurants, but only at ruinous expense. Keeping even poor quality meals on the table for a family was a full time occupation, and probably for more than one person per household.

Some supportive functions now easily purchased, were not really available at all in those days. Hospitals existed, and supplied supportive care for the infirm — but, in weird juxtaposition to the current situation — only to the indigent. No one who had his own extended family or household to care for him would be caught dead in a hospital, or pest-house, as it would more likely be called. The indigent would be cared for there if sick, at public charge, because the solid citizens didn’t want poor, sick people who didn’t have families who could care for them, out on the streets passing contagion to solid citizens. But no one with a family to care for him would go to such a pest-house, with its increased risk of contagion. Some one at home would have to take on the burdensome work of nursing.

All that social safety net, and all the public accommodations like roads that make private economy services so widely available, all that we now get by forking over those taxes that the glibertarians imagine so constrain our freedom, all that was once supplied by women and other servants of various stripe, in households and largely off the economy. These servile people really could not all be brought to the same level as the privileged few until and unless society had evolved the public accommodations and safety net to make it no longer necessary to have an entire household arrayed to get so much of the necessary work of living done.

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Nick 04.12.10 at 2:58 am

‘No doubt progressives did things that were bad and foolish and contrary to ideals of liberty. And now that I have granted that – and it is certainly not enough to establish your proposition – I await your defense of your proposition with some curiosity.’

I wish I could, but I am not sure I can. The question, I suppose, is whether the poor and dispossessed would have gained enough resources to challenge the status quo in the absence of a strong central government. I can conceive of it. Perhaps the poor would have become more mobile, and would have moved away from districts and states that were controlled by predatory employers, and public officials that denied civil rights. A more decentralised, less governed, US might have offered more opportunity for social and political experimentation. In such circumstances, if employers wanted to maintain their businesses, they might have been forced to improve their practices without regulation. Something like this would have to have happened presuming the poor were actually getting substantially richer in the 1880s; which I understand is the case. But I understand I am being ridiculously and speculatively counter-factual.

I guess that is why I am firmly in the Wilkinson part of the Libertarian camp. It is more important to see where we can go from here. But I guess this question of what the state actually did to help the poor, minorities and women (rather than take the credit at the right moment), is related to the more practical question of how much of the current state we could do without.

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Bloix 04.12.10 at 3:01 am

And no one has yet mentioned government censorship, via such devices as the Comstock Act, which barred dissemination by mail of anything the Postmaster General felt was obscene or seditious, including novels, political tracts, information about birth control or STD’s, advocacy of racial equality, and labor organizing.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.12.10 at 3:11 am

John, that’s it, the doubting of others’ ideals is a main key. This is a deeply emotional thing. It is a matter for “the sober inquiry of competent psychologists.” You might only describe by metaphor. It has a weird ideology of blaming, and they sometimes respond by saying “Oh well the Left does it too!” although they are not talking to the Left, they are talking to you. There is a simple verbal moral distinction (“freedom = no government”) that is buttressed “scientifically” by bad history plus an undercooked interpretation of Hayek’s observations upon market prices, in fact resulting in type of thing which Hayek himself termed a “scientism.” So they have plenty of intellectual ammunition. It’s like a neurosis; it is a condensed system of experience with both emotional and intellectual ties. The discourse usually takes a quick flight through the abstract realms, and then there is a sense of not speaking directly, of speaking by metaphor or perhaps an 1880s cartoon. But if you haven’t accepted the moral distinction, then you are not really part of the conversation, and there will be no policy discussion. In that way, it’s like the abortion debate. It’s also like an historical agglomeration stuck in a just-passing era, as if there might be “vicinal isolation” that is temporal as well as spatial-geographic. It is also like the essential definition of an organism: a hard-wired core, in which self-proven ideas are most deeply stored, is stochastically intaking and sloughing-off at its outermost membrane. Sometimes it suffers. Gregory Bateson noted that adaptation and addiction are in formal ways very similar.

Yes it was Hornberger and not Boaz quoted in the other post. I don’t know Mr. Boaz’ writings either and I wish to apologize for jumping the guns with my own common two cents. You know how it is! I also have bad teeth, a bad knee, irritable bowel syndrome (in the full mode of confessional prosaics,) and a medical condition with the initials AGE has introduced interstitial stopgaps into my thoughts over which I have trouble locuting. There is hardly any other way to say it, you can’t have perfect information.

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Nick 04.12.10 at 3:12 am

‘How would your disempowered white male of 1880 eat on his own? Who would care for him if he got sick? How would he get around even his own small town, much less the wider world, without people to care for his horses?’

I didn’t say that the rich white male would be as well-off without that surperior status. I am saying he could have been as free. I.e free to leave town, free to express his opinion, free to make, buy and sell. He would clearly have had to work a lot harder for his food, and would have had to contribute to the healthcare of his family on more equal terms that he actually did. In some ways, however, he could have had more opportunities. If blacks and women had had equal access to offer employment or services to people, then the economy could have become more advanced more quickly.

‘All that social safety net, and all the public accommodations like roads that make private economy services so widely available, all that we now get by forking over those taxes that the glibertarians imagine so constrain our freedom, all that was once supplied by women and other servants of various stripe, in households and largely off the economy. These servile people really could not all be brought to the same level as the privileged few until and unless society had evolved the public accommodations and safety net to make it no longer necessary to have an entire household arrayed to get so much of the necessary work of living done.’

I am not sure exactly what it is you are imputing the ‘public accomodation’ in itself to have contributed here. If servants had not been available, then things like roads and social insurance for the rich white males would have had to be provided through genuinely voluntary transactions. There must have been the resources and expertise to provide those things, or else they wouldn’t have been built either before or after the state expanded to provide them. The rich white males would have had to work and pay for these services rather than expropriate to get them, and be poorer for it, without the public provision. But they could still have been free in the sense with which libertarians are concerned.

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roger 04.12.10 at 3:14 am

Nick: “Hang on, this is a key claim. You are saying that one pre-requisite for liberty for some, was lack of liberty for many. But is that true?”

Surely the first place you would want to look for evidence is among the men of the 1880s themselves. So, if we quote sources about the need for subordination of the negro and the woman back then, will this answer the question? Or is this some version of central planning in history, where we – looking back, with our perfect knowledge – can see that the the people who made the argument that liberty depended on that kind of subordination were nuts. Hmm, so, they had this one little tiny area – the lack of civil rights for more than half the population – that they were wrong about? But were otherwise architects of this cool system of liberty?

An interesting concept of historical agency, there.

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weaver 04.12.10 at 3:17 am

The Debs point is that the federal government crushed the strikers.

Which goes to the heart of why holding up the Gilded Age as a libertarian utopia is wrong-headed. It’s not because the liberty was inequitably distributed. As roger was saying in the previous thread, it’s because America in the 1880s was not characterised by liberty, it was characterised by state capture. Having the government in their pockets gave the robber barons the “freedom” to adulterate meat and pollute rivers, but just as much the “freedom” to send Pinkerton thugs – or Federal troops – to break heads when they didn’t get what they wanted. The heads, presumably, of people who had the freedom to get their heads broken.

As always, what minarchists imagine is a system lacking state intervention is rather a system of state intervention on behalf of a privileged class. Or perhaps minarchists realise that but have no problem with it, as they only tend to object when the state intervenes to protect the other fellow.

Incidentally, dude, that’s the preferred nomenclature: minarchist. Let’s stop besmirching a venerable term like libertarian by applying it to to these pillocks.

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John Holbo 04.12.10 at 3:17 am

Justin: “John, in, the last post, you described Kling as giving “some sort of defense of how things actually were in 1880”. That characterization is what demands explanation.”

Kling’s post is, by the evidence of tone and cross-linkage, an indignant protest against Wilkinson’s post. But his post is perfectly irrelevant to Wilkinson’s unless it is, somehow, a defense against Wilkinson’s points. How is that defense supposed to go, if it doesn’t in any way shape or form amount to a defense of 1880?

Seriously, Justin: we can agree that Kling just clean missed the point of Wilkinson’s post entirely. And yet Wilkinson’s post was perfectly clear, and Kling is not such a bad reader. So he’s got a blind spot. That’s the point. Can we agree on that?

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roger 04.12.10 at 3:23 am

I would start with the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision and move backwards.
Or forwards to the present rage against ACORN for, uh, wanting to get out the black vote. I’ve not seen this as one of those pre-eminent libertarian causes. Maybe I missed all the articles in Reason about it.

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Nick 04.12.10 at 3:36 am

‘Hmm, so, they had this one little tiny area – the lack of civil rights for more than half the population – that they were wrong about? But were otherwise architects of this cool system of liberty?

An interesting concept of historical agency, there.’

Well I am not defending the Golden Age thesis myself. But I think we are discussing the sort of institutions, not really the ideology of its establishment class. What libertarians are saying is ‘give us those institutions, except apply them equally to everyone rather than just the rich white males’. I am saying that doesn’t seem conceptually problematic (it is possible for everyone to have equal free status under small Government institutions), nor would it be a particularly bad place to live.

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Nick 04.12.10 at 3:40 am

But Roger, you are right in so far as the rich white men needed those institutions in order to stay as rich as they were accustomed to. That would certainly account for much of their pro-subordination ideology.

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Ceri B. 04.12.10 at 3:45 am

Nick: The question is, is there any evidence for the proposition that these institutions can work for everyone as they did for high-status white males of the Gilded Age? And if there is, is there also evidence for the proposition that they can be changed so as to do so without massive, sustained state effort?

The post-Civil War experience of African-Americans suggests powerfully to me that it can’t, and I’d like to recommend Slavery By Another Name to anyone wanting to argue the affirmative. Basically, the moment anti-slavery pressure let up, ingenious ex-Confederates and their heirs reinvented every single major feature of slavery they could, everywhere they could and it took another century to really push back hard on that.

It’s okay to say “This would work if you could change everyone’s habit of thought”, but Kling accused Wilkinson of needing rape drugs to get that for his cause, and I don’t see that anything short of it would likely work for Kling’s either.

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John Holbo 04.12.10 at 3:50 am

“What libertarians are saying is ‘give us those institutions, except apply them equally to everyone rather than just the rich white males’. I am saying that doesn’t seem conceptually problematic (it is possible for everyone to have equal free status under small Government institutions), nor would it be a particularly bad place to live.”

The problem is that, to precisely the same degree, perfect communism is conceptually unproblematic. You just pick a social situation that is sort-of kind-of communistic, ignore any glaring problems with it, and stipulate that it is instituted globally, despite the fact that there are obvious problems scaling it up. It’s not that I’m opposed to ideal theorizing, but this sort of libertarian ‘Golden Age’ argument actually seems to signal a dangerous lack of awareness of the practical obstacles. It makes it seem that we are all perverse for not trying to go for this golden stuff – which once we had so very easily.

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Justin 04.12.10 at 3:52 am

We can certainly agree that Kling’s response is bizarre. I almost wrote something long and silly about interpretation and principles of charity here. Capsule version: I think Kling’s comment comes out looking so baffling on either of our interpretations that it’s going to be hard to argue that one is superior.

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Nick 04.12.10 at 3:55 am

‘Nick: The question is, is there any evidence for the proposition that these institutions can work for everyone as they did for high-status white males of the Gilded Age? And if there is, is there also evidence for the proposition that they can be changed so as to do so without massive, sustained state effort?’

Well how about Canada’s economic boom? I can’t claim any history is devoid of various kinds of subordination, but presumably there is much less of it associated with Canada, indicating that these institutions can certainly work for more people than an elite.

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Ceri B. 04.12.10 at 4:00 am

Just to clarify and illustrate my last:

Say that we had a culture in which it was more or less universally understood that everyone had the same right to the fruits of their labor. Now, even without getting into any elaborate scheme for compensation for old wrongs, it’s obvious that there’s a whole lot of property claims that rest on coercion, theft, and fraud. If we confined ourselves to restoring the land to which people were clearly entitled before being dispossessed and to acknowledging that no clear original title is possible because of a history of violence and oppression, then we’d be radically redistributing things, for the duration of the transition. Even if we just say something like “for now, all of those who are clearly descended from the victims of systematic disenfranchisement will be entitled to some reliable income out of general revenues”, or other acknowledgement of a systemic commitment to equalizing the effects of past oppression, we’re shifting things around a lot.

The point is that you can’t get from here to justice without a lot of force along the way. Even if we treat it all as defensive and responsive force by a virtuous citizenry against the perpetrators of oppression and their accomplices, so that basic human rights cover it under the non-initiation principles, it’s still a hell of a lot of work. And setting up a system in which property claims are automatically checked for basic signs of future violence, theft, and fraud would keep things changed up in a permanent kind of way, since we now collectively figure that a lot will happen and we’ll just catch some of it rather than designing all our transactions and recording systems to require a clear, active demonstration of a real right to make a claim.

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Ceri B. 04.12.10 at 4:03 am

Nick: Um. No. “Presumably” Canada has a big nasty history of its own. It doesn’t have the large-scale legacy of African slavery, but its relationships between newcomers and the native peoples are just as ugly, and to the extent things work better, they’re intimately tied to just the sort of active state and social effort at social justice that American libertarians frown on.

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Holden Pattern 04.12.10 at 4:05 am

One also wonders how a libertarian story about the Golden Era of liberty of the 1880′s can coexist with the expropriation of the land of the Americas from its native inhabitants by government and government-sanctioned violence and deceit. The liberty of the white male property holder to exploit his land was bought on the Trail of Tears.

35

roger 04.12.10 at 4:11 am

Let’s see. Women, immigrants, blacks – they all might find giving up their economic freedom for the economic slavery of making more money, taxing the wealthy, having the social security, etc., a very welcome thing. And they might actually vote for candidates that offered them these choices. Now, how to solve this problem. Well, perhaps we could make sure blacks and women don’t vote? Or we could produce political machines that would reliably fend off the immigrants? The fly in the ointment of libertarian freedom is that dratted democracy. Thus, popular agitation led to electing senators the vulgar way; city machines produced candidates who – to win slavish hearts – promised to curb the malefactors of great wealth; and the working class, obsessing about working conditions, organizing, and not being massacred by Pinkertons, started electing candidates who promised to end libertarian utopia. Which really only meant switching the role of government from guarantor of capital to leaning occasionally towards labor.

That’s the broad story, but there is the microstory, in which – in order to make sure libertarian utopia endured – a policy of divide and conquer is pursued. This is especially the case with race. When, for instance, the Coeur d’Alene strike occured (the subject of J. Alan Lukas’ Big Trouble – the Federal Government made sure to send Black soldiers to break the strike.

This kind of thing was the ground war that went on during the Gilded Age, a time that sensible observers thought was the fall of republican virtue in America – and not the rise of ‘freedom.’ In order to maintain an order of Freedom that largely shunts wealth to the top 10 percent, you need either to work upon the ruins of the former mixed economy that produced the middle class – today’s politics – or you need a racist, anti-democratic policy in which you can call upon the resources of the state to put down rebellion – the Gilded Age version of ‘economic freedom.”

36

John Holbo 04.12.10 at 4:15 am

“I think Kling’s comment comes out looking so baffling on either of our interpretations that it’s going to be hard to argue that one is superior.”

I honestly don’t think it really matters. It’s not my business or yours, anyway. Kling can look to his own soul’s salvation. But it is interesting for the way that Kling is defending the Tea Partiers, as libertarian in spirit, against Wilkinson’s allegation that they are traditionalists, which is something else entirely. I would be happy if Kling simply admitted he totally misread Wilkinson, but far happier if he admitted that, since Wilkinson has a point, Kling should probably be a bit less gung-ho on behalf of the Tea Partiers.

37

Francis 04.12.10 at 4:27 am

so if I get this straight, what Kling is saying is that if people, as a group, were not so conniving, cruel, short-sighted and just plain mean, then we could have a lot less government and lot more “freedom”.

So wishes are horses and beggars do ride?

38

piglet 04.12.10 at 4:27 am

Nick 4: “If we take the white, male and well-off in the 1880s, take away their power to impose restrictions on women, blacks and the poor, are they actually now lacking in liberty?”

How ignorant one has to be of economic history to believe in libertarian utopia is mind-boggling beyond words.

39

Substance McGravitas 04.12.10 at 4:27 am

Kling on the Tea Partiers a while back:

Now, the elitism of President Obama and his supporters has reached in-your-face levels. They have utter contempt for the Tea Party-ers, and the Tea-Party-ers know it.

I wouldn’t want the Tea Party-ers at the faculty picnic, either. But my sense of class solidarity with Obama and other educated progressives does not make me want to see them exercise power. If anything, being a member of the educated elite and knowing knowing them as well as I do makes me share the Tea Party-ers’ fears.

40

JLR 04.12.10 at 4:37 am

“Perhaps the poor would have become more mobile, and would have moved away from districts and states that were controlled by predatory employers”

To where, to wit?

41

JLR 04.12.10 at 4:49 am

“so if I get this straight, what Kling is saying is that if people, as a group, were not so conniving, cruel, short-sighted and just plain mean, then we could have a lot less government and lot more “freedom”.”

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary”

42

gavinf 04.12.10 at 4:52 am

And of course this wonderful liberty of the so-called Golden Age existed on land taken from the existing inhabitants, whose liberty by the 1880s was rather seriously dimished.

43

ben w 04.12.10 at 4:52 am

Other employers would have sprung up to meet employee demand, JLR.

44

Bloix 04.12.10 at 5:00 am

We should also note that in most of the country a white man, no matter how rich, was not free to marry a black woman, and in that nowhere in the country was he free to marry another man.

45

Bloix 04.12.10 at 5:07 am

In fact, all aspects of sexuality were far more strictly controlled – you could go to jail for adultery; bastards could not inherit; the government would enforce promissory contracts of marriage (there were civil suits for breach of promise); the police enforced standards of morality in dress and in speech; censorship of books and periodicals was the norm; even writing about birth control was criminal. As I believe that the sexual revolution of the ’60′s, combined with the feminist movement of the 70′s, was the advance in human freedom since the Enlightenment, the notion that people were somehow more free in 1880 than we are today seems utterly bizarre to me.

46

Substance McGravitas 04.12.10 at 5:10 am

There was plenty of cowpokery that would not be tolerated today.

47

joel hanes 04.12.10 at 5:22 am

“After I asked him what he meant, he replied that freedom consisted of the unimpeded right to get rich, to use his ability, no matter what the cost to others, to win advancement.” — Norman Thomas

48

b-psycho 04.12.10 at 6:18 am

Just because a relative increase in equality coincided with the emergence of ameliorative government intervention doesn’t automatically mean the intervention caused it…

On that note: John, what would you say to someone with a view that the point to government is inherently for the benefit of a narrow elite, & whatever extent the modern State appears to “help” is meant mostly as bribery to let the typical corporatism & war continue as close to unchallenged as possible?

49

JLR 04.12.10 at 6:38 am

“Other employers would have sprung up to meet employee demand”

For a second, I thought you were being serious.

50

Chris Edmond 04.12.10 at 6:52 am

Notice also that at his blog Arnold turned off the comments feature just specially for this post:

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/04/group_status_an.html

Classy stuff!

51

Chris Bertram 04.12.10 at 7:22 am

I think the anti-Boaz libertarians believe something like this:

A maximally free society is something like that set out by Locke in the 2nd Treatise.

That’s the sort of society envisaged by “the founders”.

[Note: "the founders" is a phrase like "out of wedlock" that marks the user down as a dickhead.]

Of course, early post-independence American society failed to be a true Lockean society becasue of stuff like the “tragic exception” [another dickhead phrase] of slavery [and women etc.]

Nevertheless, at least “the founders” were trying to be Lockeans, FDR, JFK, MLK etc (to cite the most prominent examples) weren’t even trying, so the principal ideologists of the republic by mid-20th century were “enemies of freedom”.

52

alex 04.12.10 at 7:36 am

That’s a bit harsh on “out of wedlock”, it has a lovely archaic ring to it.

53

Anarcho 04.12.10 at 7:52 am

I should point out that the term “libertarian” was first used by the left in 1858. It was coined by a communist-anarchist in New York and by the 1890s had become an accepted alternative for anarchist (i.e., anti-state socialist):

150 years of libertarian

Right-wing use of “libertarian” dates 100 years later and starts in America. This usage was unknown outside of free-market capitalist circles for some time (George Woodcock’s 1962 book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements does not mention them at all, for example).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many anarchists dislike how “libertarian” has changed its meaning completely in the USA since the 1970s. Propertarian would be a better description of their ideology, for in any conflict between property and liberty it is property which wins…

54

Jack Strocchi 04.12.10 at 8:10 am

Chris Bertram@#50

[Note: “the founders” is a phrase like “out of wedlock” that marks the user down as a dickhead.]

Describing Franklin et al as “Founding [Fathers]” does not “mark the user down as a dickhead”. Although saying that says something about the sayer.

Those guys took a very paternal interest in their ideological issue. So much so that Franklin expressed a desire to be embalmed in alcohol so that he could be revived in a hundred years to see how the kid turned out:

“For having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence, I should prefer to any ordinary death, being immers’d in a cask of Madeira wine…to be later recall’d to life by the solar warmth of my dear country!”

Those are very beautiful sentiments and we are lucky he felt like that, or he would not have risked his life (“hang together”) at the birth of the nation. Everyone should feel that way about their country (no wonder they call it “patriotism”!). That way you leave your part of the world a better place.

I suppose it is uncool to revere our patrimony. Comparisons with ancestors are usually not very flattering.

55

Chris Bertram 04.12.10 at 8:40 am

_Describing Franklin et al as “Founding [Fathers]” does not “mark the user down as a dickhead”._

Nor did I say that it did. I was referring to the repetitive use of the tag phrase “the founders” that one finds in US conservative (incl. “libertarian”) discourse.

56

Chris Bertram 04.12.10 at 9:10 am

People should definitely check out the latest post by Kling’s sidekick Bryan Caplan

“How Free Were American Women in the Gilded Age?”

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/04/how_free_were_1.html

You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

57

bad Jim 04.12.10 at 9:11 am

Thirteen weeks of vacation for everyone is, in the aggregate, a larger share of liberty than anything ever bestowed in the name of deregulation.

58

Phil 04.12.10 at 9:46 am

If by “marriage” most people mean “monogamous marriage,” it’s reasonable for monogamy to be the default rule. If by “marriage” most people mean “a marriage where the wife needs her husband’s permission to work,” it’s reasonable for that to be the default rule.

O my Libertaria, my New-Found-Land!

59

SusanC 04.12.10 at 10:19 am

Both economic and social notions of “liberty” seem to be gaining ground, thought it is often the right arguing for economic liberty and the left arguing for social liberty (and these two notions of liberty may conflict with each other).

Social liberty:
- The current Catholic church child abuse scandal: secular society will no longer tolerate Church officials molesting children. (Though there’s likely a moral panic element to this, as well as a trend of increasing liberty).
- Gay marriage/civil partnerships. The state will no longer prevent two people marrying on the grounds of their sex. (Though–for the moment–they may have to call it something other than marriage).
- Gender Recognition Act. The state still thinks it has the power to determine what gender a person is (e.g. rather than it being a fact of biology, or a matter of how a person chooses to act socially), but at least you can appeal to the state to get its decision changed.

Economic liberty:
- Free trade, economic deregulation etc.
- Privatization (the state no longer controls utilities such as the phone company)
- The European Union, the World Trade Organization etc.

(The recent banking collapse may be a reversal in the trend towards economic liberty: bailouts, banking regulation etc. being state intervention)

60

Jacob T. Levy 04.12.10 at 11:18 am

Chris, that “would-be Lockeans” idea is much what I was trying to express. But I’ll object to treating the phrase “the founders” like the phrase “tragic exception.” Americans use the phrase “the founders” (or “the founding fathers”) almost no matter what their substantive views or normative judgments. I just checked Eric Foner’s book on Paine; he doesn’t have any allergy to “founders” or “founding fathers.” I think even an American who found the phrase objectionable would have a hard time getting rid of it– it’d be stuck as a linguistic tic.

And, for what it’s worth, I don’t find the phrase objectionable and see no reason to purge it from my own vocabulary when talking to or writing, especially for mostly intra-US audiences. Uncritical founders-worship is bad, but the phrase is too weakly associated with that attitude for me to think that that’s all that concerns you. So why is it that you think saying “the founders” marks one out as a dickhead? And do you say that intending to identify almost all Americans who talk about the 1780s at all as dickheads? (Or do you not know how common the phrasing is?)

61

John Holbo 04.12.10 at 11:45 am

I agree with Jacob about ‘the founders’ being a completely neutral and bland term, Chris B.

On the other hand, Bryan Caplan did just put up one wild post, didn’t he?

62

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.12.10 at 11:50 am

Governments are in the business of protecting/enforcing the underlying socio-economic system; in America, in Mongolia, in Cuba, and everywhere. The US government was doing it in 1880, and it’s doing it in 2010. Along the way it had to adapt to technological, geopolitical, demographical, and various other changes in the socio-economic environment, and this is how we have ended up with what we have now. ‘Liberty’ has nothing whatsoever to do with this.

63

eric 04.12.10 at 12:31 pm

And if Caplan’s post isn’t enough to make your head spin, there’s this comment :

“As horrific as spousal rape might be, isn’t that just another issue like coverture that could have conceivably been contracted around?”

Oh yes, certainly!

64

Sebastian 04.12.10 at 5:00 pm

“And yet Wilkinson’s post was perfectly clear, and Kling is not such a bad reader. So he’s got a blind spot. That’s the point. Can we agree on that?”

ACK. But you are claiming it is a LIBERTARIAN blindspot.

Both Wilkinson and Kling are libertarians.

You can be a libertarian without believing in some kind of golden ageism of liberty. In fact it is quite common.

And blind spots on American slavery are super common across all sorts of political dimensions. Which is not the dismissive “they do it too” game. I’m pointing out that you are noticing a common feature of US political discourse, and then locating it safely in libertarianism where it doesn’t really need to be dealt with. But in reality, it isn’t a libertarian blindspot which can be safely laughed at with no real consequence. It is a real and very important blindspot that exists for liberals and conservatives and all sorts of other Americans.

Yes Caplan has a stupid blindspot. And yes, that blind spot is common in the US. And yes, because libertarians in the US are a subset of people in the US, there are lots of them with that blind spot. But liberals in the US are also a subset of people in the US who often can be found with that blindspot. And heaven knows conservatives are too. That blindspot is enormous in the US, and its pernicious effects on politics are found in hyper-paternalistic liberals, law and order conservatives, and crypto-racists of all stripes.

Ha, ha, stupid libertarians….

65

Anderson 04.12.10 at 8:11 pm

“As horrific as spousal rape might be, isn’t that just another issue like coverture that could have conceivably been contracted around?”

And why stop at spousal rape? Women should carry form contracts with them instead of mace or pepper spray. Because once you’ve consented, ladies, it’s not rape anymore! Yes, that’s right — 100% effective!

66

Alex 04.12.10 at 8:38 pm

Women of the Gilded Age were very poor compared to women today. But from a libertarian standpoint, they were freer than they are on Sex and the City.

Aside from the utter stupidity of that post (destroyed by those below, I might add), what does it say about Caplan that when he wants to stereotype 21st-Century women’s life, the first thing he jumps to is Sex and the City? Do I detect a whiff of misogyny?

67

Chris Bertram 04.13.10 at 6:40 am

Jacob, I’m willing to be corrected. However, my sense (as an outsider) is that the phrase “the founders” (as opposed to other phrasings such as “the founding fathers”) is endlessly trotted out in an incantory manner on blogs of a certain stripe. So, for example, google search for

site: volokh.com “the founders”

give 1920 hits!

68

John Holbo 04.13.10 at 7:32 am

“ACK. But you are claiming it is a LIBERTARIAN blindspot.

Both Wilkinson and Kling are libertarians.”

OK, the blindspot in question is: thinking that Americans were more free in 1880 than they are today, due to careless overlooking of the lot of women and minorities, and lots of poor white folks. Do you really think lots of liberals and progressives think this, Sebastian? Just as much so as conservatives and libertarians. I would suspect otherwise.

As to the fact that I quote Wilkinson and Boaz as well as Caplan and Kling and co. – what is the problem with doing so? You are, I take it, accusing me of sweeping under the rug the evidence that not all libertarians suffer from this blind spot by … putting the evidence of this out there, front and center? Is this supposed to be some ‘hide in plain sight’ ninja trick on my part? I don’t get it.

69

John Holbo 04.13.10 at 7:48 am

Chris, the fact that the Volokhs use the phrase a lot really doesn’t signify. I myself use ‘founders’ and ‘ founding fathers’ indifferently. You slip into the former in any conversation because it’s shorter.

I just did a search in Ronald Dworkin’s “Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution” and got hits for ‘founders’ (just a few), none for ‘founding fathers’.

70

Jack Strocchi 04.13.10 at 7:53 am

Chris Bertram@#67 said:

I’m willing to be corrected. However, my sense (as an outsider) is that the phrase “the founders” (as opposed to other phrasings such as “the founding fathers”) is endlessly trotted out in an incantory manner on blogs of a certain stripe. So, for example, google search for site: volokh.com “the founders” give 1920 hits!

And I’m willing to correct you. This sounds like one of those “consenting adult” deals, so beloved by libertarians!

Why does using the verbal contraction “founders” make volokh.com et al “dickheads”? It sounds like a handy shorthand, rather than “endlessly trotting out” the more verbose “founding fathers”.

I don’t agree with everything that conservative legal theorists say. But it makes alot of sense to me to frequently go back to what the “founders” said. They seemed to know what they were talking about.

And while we are on the subject of archaic usage, whats so awful about the phrase “born out of wedlock”. Its more tender to certain sensibilities than “illegitimate” or “bastard”.

Unless you are suggesting we do away altogether with all references to the marital status of a child’s parents. This seemed to be the fashion in some quarters from the late sixties through late sevcnties. Then tax-payers were presented with the bill and got sticker-shock.

Which lead to…[drum-roll]…libertarianism!

Do you see now how the anthropological base conditions the ideological super-structure?

71

Chris Bertram 04.13.10 at 9:22 am

#68 John, I’d say that (whether I’m right or not) _Freedom’s Law_ tends to support my view that “the founders” is a kind of insider linguistic tag preferred by conservatives. Dworkin himself tends to use “the framers” and all the uses of “the founders” are either quotations or quasi-quotations (he’s discussing or paraphrasing their views) of Robert Bork or Clarence Thomas.

#69 “whats so awful about the phrase “born out of wedlock””. Nothing, intrinsically. It is just that, in practice, it is a phrase almost exclusively used by disapproving conservative moralists pushing their view of impending or actual societal disintegration. People like you, in fact, Jack. (Oh and Theodore Dalrymple, Philip Blond etc.)

72

Jacob T. Levy 04.13.10 at 11:04 am

Chris’ 1920 hits is a lot– an order of magnitude more than
site:balkin.blogspot.com “the founders” (157)

and more than double
site:thenation.com “the founders” (815)

but to test whether that’s just because originalist constitutional lawyers have more occasion than others to refer to the founding, and because the volokh blog produces a whole lot of words overall, compare “founding fathers”

site:volokh.com “the founders” (1010)
site:balkin.blogspot.com “founding fathers” (101)
site:thenation.com “founding fathers” (372)

an order of magnitude between volokh and balkin, and almost triple The Nation.

“framers”– volokh 2160, balkin 279 , thenation.com 213 .

If anything, I find that “the founders” sounds less reverential than “Founding Fathers,” almost always capitalized and putting me in mind of Old Testament patriarchs. But they’re used almost-interchangeably, and Chris’ was the first suggestion I’d ever heard that there was a strong political slant to the difference. Sometimes an outsider can notice real patterns that are invisible to the insider, but I don’t think this is such an instance. In any case, I’m sure that *ever* using “the framers” is a massively overinclusive indicator for whatever Chris is looking for.

73

Jack Strocchi 04.13.10 at 1:43 pm

Chris Bertram@#71 said:

Nothing, intrinsically. It is just that, in practice, it is a phrase almost exclusively used by disapproving conservative moralists pushing their view of impending or actual societal disintegration. People like you, in fact, Jack. (Oh and Theodore Dalrymple, Philip Blond etc.)

Its reassuring to know that conservative guilt-by-association taints even the most innocuous phrase. “Good [thought] police work there, Det. Bertram!”

Although I doubt very much that the phrase “born out of wedlock” is “almost exclusively used by disapproving conservative moralists like…Jack…and Theodore Dalrymple, Philip Blond” and other scourges of humanity. Google reports 10,300,000 pages using this phrase. A whole five for me, though I wasn’t really trying. Many are straight news reports, no doubt aimed at tax-payers who will be doing the lions share of footing the single-mother bill.

Undoubtedly there have been quite a few moralists alarmed about the rising trend of children born out of wedlock. I’m not sure that they all started off as “conservative” fogeys though. You might want to have a gander at the Moynihan Report before going off half-cocked yet again. Do you think the history of the 1965-95 period might vindicate a “view of impending or actual societal disintegration”? Or has that history been neatly flushed down a memory hole?

Incidentally, Caplan does use the phrase “born out of wedlock” in one article. But he goes out of his way to abstain from disapproving moralism. So libertarians are off the hook on the conservative moralism charge, which should have been obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with this silly ideology.

Every one is a conservative about what he knows best.

Conquests Laws of Politics

74

mds 04.13.10 at 2:42 pm

Given that I frequently refer to “the founders” as a rhetorical shorthand, I (naturally) don’t think the phrase is generally a problem either, though the context certainly matters. “By the blood names of the founders!” That would probably be a bad sign.

75

Steve LaBonne 04.13.10 at 2:49 pm

Well, as long as they leave the Jem’Hadar out of it.

76

Nabakov 04.13.10 at 2:51 pm

“the founders”

I sorta prefer “Ambitious Enlightenment-era Colonial Gentry Punks With Attitude” although I realise that’s unlikely to catch fire as a common catchphrase.

Can’t help thinking we’d have a rather different view of ‘em if Ben Franklin’s proposal to make the turkey the national emblem had gone ahead.

77

mds 04.13.10 at 3:09 pm

Well, as long as they leave the Jem’Hadar out of it.

Ah, but that’s just it. You don’t get enclosure without Jem’Hadar or their equivalent.

78

Chris Bertram 04.13.10 at 3:44 pm

_Do you think the history of the 1965-95 period might vindicate a “view of impending or actual societal disintegration”? _

No. In fact I think the increasing ethnic diversity, racial and gender equality and the liberation of gay people from oppressive legislation and social mores over that period demands celebration.

79

Jack Strocchi 04.13.10 at 10:04 pm

Chris Bertram@#78 said:

No. In fact I think the increasing ethnic diversity, racial and gender equality and the liberation of gay people from oppressive legislation and social mores over that period demands celebration.

Phew, now I know what conservatives mean when they talk about “knee-jerk liberals”. Would it kill you to, just for the moment, drop the posture of self-righteous indignation?

No doubt we should set aside a day to celebrate the diversity of each shade in the rainbow coalition during the festival of libertarian progress. But that only shows that libertarians, whether of Left- or Right-wing stripe, are still triumphal Whigs at heart. Notorious for putting their fingers on the scales of History.

The Good Guys don’t always wear the White Hats. Betcha didn’t know that Richard Nixon was the most effective exponent of de-segregation?

The Crooked Timbers are quite right to point out that Right-libertarians look at the evolution of freedom through Dead White Male spectacles. No doubt this casts a rosy colored hue over the late 19th Century. And corresponding pall over later events. But as a rotten “conservative moralist” I can’t help but extend to Caplan et al a “welcome aboard” to the good ship “Ambivalence”.

Call me an old-fashioned prig but I see every half-full glass as always half-empty. (Both Berlin and Hayek were liberals but at least had the decency to acknowledge Oakshotte on this score.) As every student of calculus knows, the flip side of differentiation is integration. And its always harder to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

Freedom will always be “essentially contested” which is why we conservatives spend so much time cultivating our world-weary tragic sense of life (“no straight thing…”). Liberals still need neo-conservatives* to “take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going”.

Sad to say it took them two decades (1965-85) before they finally got over the post-modern shock of the new. Too late for those who used their new-found freedom to run off the rails. Do you really need me to reel off a list of casualties from the Culture War, as it was fought house-to-house at the Mean Streets level?

* By which I mean liberals mugged by reality, not the regime-changing sort.

80

Alex 04.13.10 at 10:56 pm

Can we please stop misusing language, people?

It’s not “founders” or “framers”, but “revolutionaries”.

81

Sebastian 04.14.10 at 7:56 am

“You are, I take it, accusing me of sweeping under the rug the evidence that not all libertarians suffer from this blind spot by … putting the evidence of this out there, front and center? “

No, I am pointing out that you provide evidence and then seem to have a blind spot about what it means. If there are libertarians both noticing something and not, and non-libertarians both noticing something and not, perhaps it isn’t really a libertarian blindspot in the sense that it is PARTICULARLY associated with being a libertarian.

And I’m not sure why you would feel the need to frame that as an ‘accusation’ but whatever.

82

Alex 04.14.10 at 7:11 pm

So because there are non-Catholic child abusers, then the Catholic church has/had no child abuse problem?

83

StevenAttewell 04.16.10 at 4:42 am

Two important things to point out:

1. The denial of freedom for the many WAS a pre-requisite for the 1880s-style freedom of the many – to whit, the dismantling of Reconstruction. Getting rid of the Freedman’s Bureau and federal subsidization of schools and interference in labor contracts, removing the Army from the South and the taxes needed to support it, removing Federal registrars from Southern voting booths and returning elections to state control, and the judicial restriction on Federal power through the narrowing of the Privileges and Immunities clause, the striking down of the 1875 Civil Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act (two years after 1880), greatly enhanced the freedom of whites at the expense of blacks, and the rich at the expense of the poor.

I don’t think there’s a better argument against libertarian conceptions of coercion than the fall of Reconstruction – opponents of Reconstruction overwhelmingly used private means (chiefly violence, but also control over land, credit, and hiring) to create the most brutal system of coercion since slavery, and this was done to, among other things, keep blacks from becoming economically independent of the white-dominated cotton economy.

2. While Debs certainly experienced his share of public coercion, the use of corporate spies and gunthugs, the restriction of free speech and free association through the yellow dog contracts, the restriction of the right to work through the creation of blacklists, the creation of company towns and company scrip to deny workers economic liberty was a reality throughout this period.

I don’t know how this period can be seen as anything other than the creation of a private police state used systematically to violate the economic liberties of workers.

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