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libertarianism without inequality

Libertarianism without inequality (6)

by Chris Bertram on January 2, 2004

Readers with long memories will recall that “I commented”: on chapter 5 of Michael Otsuka’s “Libertarianism Without Inequality”: nearly a month ago. Chapter 6 is very much a continuation of the theme of that earlier chapter, and addresses a central liberal-egalitarian objection to the conception of legitimate state authority that Otsuka advanced there. Below the fold are some reactions to Chapter 6: feel free to comment if you have read or are reading the book.

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Libertarianism without inequality (5)

by Chris Bertram on December 6, 2003

Apologies to those of you who followed my first four posts on Michael Otsuka’s “Libertarianism Without Inequality”: (“1”:, “2”: , “3”: , “4”: ). For various reasons — mainly pressure of work — I’ve taken a while to get around to chapter 5 (though I’ve actually read the whole book now). Some comments on that chapter are below the fold. I’ll try to comment on the two remaining chapters over the next week. (Comments are welcome from those who have read or are reading the book).

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Libertarianism without inequality (4)

by Chris Bertram on November 11, 2003

Below the fold are some more (and slightly belated) reflections on Michael Otsuka’s “Libertarianism Without Inequality”: . Today’s offering concerns chapter four. (Earlier posts concerned “one”: , “two”: and “three”: .) As then, comments are welcome from those who are reading or who have read the book.

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Libertarianism without inequality (3)

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2003

Below the fold are some reactions to chapter 3 of Michael Otsuka’s “Libertarianism without Inequality”: (previous installments “1”: and “2”: ). Mike is giving a paper — “Skepticsm about saving the greater number” — “in my department this afternoon”: , so I wanted to get some thoughts down independently before they became contaminated by conversation with him. As always, comments are welcome from anyone who is either reading or has read the book.

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Libertarianism without inequality (2)

by Chris Bertram on October 25, 2003

This is the second installment in a series of postings to accompany a reading group around Michael Otsuka’s “Libertarianism Without Inequality”: (first installment “here”: ). I’ll put the meat of the posting below the fold. Comments are again welcome from others who are reading or who have read the book.

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Libertarianism without inequality

by Chris Bertram on October 17, 2003

I’ve just started, as part of a reading group, Michael Otsuka’s “Libertarianism Without Inequality”: . Otsuka is a political philosopher at University College, London, and well published in journals like _Philosophy and Public Affairs_ , so I’m expecting this to be an important contribution to the literature on self-ownership and justice. We’ve covered chapter one so far, in which Otsuka outlines his claim that robust self-ownership is compatible with equality, understood along the lines of Richard Arneson’s equal opportunity for welfare rather than Dworkinian equality of resources. What I say here is therefore highly provisional, probably involves misunderstandings, and probably gets an adequate answer from Otsuka later in the book. But anyone else who has _either read the book, or is reading it_ should feel free to post comments (we’re doing about a chapter a week and I hope to post some remarks on each chapter as we read).

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In a famous letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson “set out the problem of intergenerational sovereignty”: :it is as unjust for the dead to impose their laws on the living as it is for one country to impose its laws on another. In both cases, those subject to the laws are being obliged to obey legislation that they had no hand in formulating and have limited opportunity to repeal. As Jefferson points out, later generations may be burdened in all kinds of similar ways by earlier ones. So, for example, they may be held liable for the borrowing of their ancestors. But why should they be any more responsible for the repayment of such debts that the inhabitants of one country are for the repayment of the debts of another?

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Oxford Political Thought Conference

by Chris Bertram on January 7, 2004

I’m off to the Oxford Political Thought Conference (programme “here in Word format”: ) tomorrow. I’ve never been before, but I’m very much looking forward to it. Jonathan Israel, author of the monumental “Radical Enlightenment”: is speaking, as is Michael Otsuka whose “Libertarianism Without Inequality”: I’ve been discussing on Crooked Timber. I’m also hoping to meet up with Chris Brooke of the “Virtual Stoa”: , who has “recently blogged”: about both Jonathan Israel and about Sankar Muthu’s new “Enlightenment Against Empire”: (of which I’ve read a chapter and a half and may comment on soonish).

Till death us do part

by Chris Bertram on January 4, 2004

An issue arises from “comments and discussion”: on Michael Otsuka’s “Libertarianism Without Inequality”: that I’d like to take out of that context and discuss as a free-standing matter. It concerns the freedom people ought to have to make binding agreements, and specifically such agreements as marriage. Currently, marriage as an institution is a creature of law and, whatever the promises the parties make — for richer, for poorer, etc — there exist mechanisms such as divorce to terminate the relationship. But surely this ought to bother libertarians? Why shouldn’t people be free to enter into unions that are permanent and from which there is no possibility of exit? Why shouldn’t people simply define the terms of “marriage” as they like?

Liberals have an answer to this one, which is roughly that given the core interests we take people to have, we ought to describe and circumscribe those rights in ways that further and protect those interests. We know that marriages go wrong but also that people being people are likely to deceive themselves about that possibility in their own case. So we seek to protect people against their own decisions, irrationality and lack of foresight and to provide them with ways to salvage their lives if things go wrong. But it is hard to see how libertarians can be that paternalistic. Suggestions?

1. Ideology

Silicon Valley’s ideology is this: Libertarianism for me. Feudalism for thee.

In more detail:

• Surveillance, manipulation and coercion; at first, just for profit, later by necessity, and ultimately for the hell of it

• Disruption and capture, not competition; monopoly or at least duopoly in each industry it envelops.

• Oligarchy to begin with, creeping autocracy for the win. Overseas autocrats the best of friends.

• Pick me or China wins.

• Ever-increasing inequality and the concentration of capital within a small, interconnected group who back each other’s companies and public moves.

• There is no such thing as human rights. There is only identity politics and culture war, which are profit centres.

• Far right white supremacism; libertarianism for white men, forced birth for white women. Eugenics for everyone else.

• A series of bullshit dark utopias designed to drive the hype and private equity cycles, distract and dazzle gullible politicians and policymakers, and convince everyone else that there is no alternative. E.g. crypto-currencies, Facebook’s Metaverse, AI and, of course, Mars.

• Systematic racism and misogyny in the workplace, the destruction of organised labour, the ever-worsening of working conditions, extreme inequality.

• Denigration of human agency and creativity, beginning with writers, artists and musicians. Systematic destruction of their ability to earn a living and suggest alternatives.

• Obsessive optimisation along narrow spectrums; externalisation of risks and costs to others, i.e. workers, ‘data subjects’, the public sector.

• Gutting of independent media, hatred of journalism in particular and accountability in general. Buying out or shutting down all opposition.

• State subsidies and tax dodging. Hollowing out the state. Making private – both in terms of ownership and secrecy – what used to be accountable and universal public services.

• The spoils to the strong, the costs to the weak. Might is right. Winner takes all. The state is an enforcer, not a support. Let the long tail starve.

Silicon Valley ideology is a master-slave mentality, a hierarchical worldview that we all exist in extractive relation to someone stronger, and exploit and despise anyone weaker. Its only relations to other humans are supplication in one direction and subjugation in the other, hence its poster-boys’ constant yoyoing between grandiosity and victimhood. Tech bros like Thiel, Musk and Andreesen are the fluffers in the global authoritarian circle jerk. Putin is the bro they’d be tickled to receive calls from, making them feel they’re on the geopolitical insider’s inside track. MBS is the bro they envy but tell each other scary stories about. Like most of them, MBS inherited his head start in life. He has all the money, all the power, a nice bit of geo-engineering on the side, and he dismembers uppity journalists without consequence. A mere billionaire like Thiel can only secretively litigate them out of business.
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Happy 20th birthday Crooked Timber!

by Chris Bertram on July 7, 2023

Crooked Timber is twenty years old today, which is an awfully long time for a website, never mind a blog, never mind one that is strictly non-commercial and run on volunteer labour. So here’s to us, and here’s to all those who have been on board at various times during our journey. To quote the Grateful Dead: what a long, strange trip it’s been.

We started the blog shortly after the Iraq war started and in a world that was still shaped by the immediate aftermath of 9/11. A bunch of people who had blogs of their own came together to form our collective after a period of email back-and-forth. It might have been quite a different blog: Norman Geras a strong supporter of the war, had been involved in the emailing, but it became clear that we couldn’t have both him and Dan Davies, so we settled for Dan, and what a good choice that was. Matt Yglesias was invited, but never replied, and has gone on to a rather successful online career.

The initial crew was Chris Bertram, Harry Brighouse, Daniel Davies, Henry Farrell, Maria Farrell, Kieran Healy, Jon Mandle and Brian Weatherson. Four out of nine survivors isn’t bad, but I miss the contributions of those who have moved on, who wrote some of the great posts of the early years. Within a few months we had added Ted Barlow, Eszter Hargittai, John Holbo, John Quiggin, Tom Runnacles, Micah Schwartzman and Belle Waring, and then Ingrid Robeyns and Scott McLemee joined us a couple of years later, followed soon after by Michael Bérubé. By 2008, the Guardian was listing us in its top 50 most powerful blogs, but I think we missed the moment to cash in and become tech zillionaires. Niamh Hardiman became a member around 2011, followed later by Tedra Osell, Eric Rauchway and Corey Robin, then Rich Yeselson. In 2018 we were joined by Serene Khader, Miriam Ronzoni, Gina Schouten and Astra Taylor and then this past year by Chris Armstrong, Elizabeth Anderson, Eric Schliesser, Kevin Munger, Macarena Marey, Paul Segal and Speranta Dumitru. Throughout we tried to keep a mix of people of different experiences, backgrounds, genders and locations, though I’m sure we could have done better. One person, who sadly has left us, deserves special thanks: Kieran Healy was not only an intellectual force behind Crooked Timber, but also, long after he ceased posting, kept us on the road with his technical expertise. The site would have long since fallen over without him.

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Vindictive billionaires

by Henry Farrell on May 26, 2016

There’s been a lot of reaction to the news that Peter Thiel secretly funded Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit (which has led to a $140 million award) against Gawker. Thiel is, of course, not only a Silicon Valley billionaire, but a man of strong, if idiosyncratic, libertarian views. Hence, it’s ironic that he illustrates some of the blind spots of libertarianism – in particular, the tendency of many libertarians to discount the problems of wealth inequality.

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The Declaration as Patrimony

by Henry Farrell on June 19, 2015

I was born in Ireland, not America. This country’s habit of conducting its national conversation through its founders and founding documents still seems a little strange to me. The closest Irish equivalent to the Declaration of Independence, the Proclamation of the Republic, has a vexed status in Irish historical memory. This was in part because the republican promises made were never quite delivered on, in part because of Ireland’s civil war, where the losers declared themselves the true heirs of the Proclamation and took up arms on its behalf, and in part because the proclaimers have not been dead sufficiently long to acquire the incorruptible odor of sanctity. Instead of a civic religion centered on my country’s founders, we grew up in the gaps of a conversation that never quite took form, tacit and tactical silences that carefully skirted a complicated history, and, rising up from somewhere below, the sweet aroma of bodies that hadn’t been buried quite deeply enough. [click to continue…]