I said what?

The Vanderbilt Hustler ran an op-ed today asking the all important question, “Are Libertarians and Communists any different?” By describing grossly impoverished versions of both philosophies the writer concludes that they’re not. For example:

Like communists, libertarians have an essentially economistic worldview that tends to dismiss cultural and moral issues as unimportant or irrelevant. I can recall, for example, reading an interview with a former editor of The Torch, in which he argued that all drugs should be legalized and sold in stores, because (I am quoting from memory) “its all just supply and demand.”

No, that wasn’t me. The quote is from a February 2003 interview in Versus Magazine with The Torch’s contorversial columnist Brett Austin. Here’s the full quote, which is a bit more nuanced than the author gives Brett credit for:

ED: What about legalization of pot or other drugs?

BA: I think all drugs should be legal. Drugs and prostitution. I think it is all supply and demand. People are going to demand these things. So, there is a market for it, obviously, and we might as well legalize it and regulate it. It is a lot better than to have a black market trade.

Cato also gets a mention in the Hustler op-ed:

Libertarian philosophy also is casually indifferent to what we might consider national issues. Libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute routinely publish papers extolling the virtues of massive, unrestricted immigration and global free trade, regardless of how such policies might impact a nation’s culture, sovereignty or security.

I may submit a response to this later but will let it pass without comment for now. Thanks for the tip go to Anne Malinee, current editor of that libertarian/communist rag, The Torch.

[Update 2/2/05: Kevin McNish writes a rebuttal.]

Comments

  1. Dante says:

    Piss-poor journalism. Definitely not Torch-worthy. I shot over a brief response, but the mods seem to be a bit slow in updating the board.

  2. Mike says:

    Like most of what the Hustler prints, I don’t really think this merits a response. However, I am always frightened when I agree even somewhat with Brett Austin.

  3. Ben Stark says:

    While I think the article is simplistic and misrepresents aspects of the 2 philosophies, I’m in partial argeement with it.

    To begin with, I disagree with Dante’s comment in the Hustler that cultural and moral issues are irrelevant w/ respect to government policy. Maybe because I see a lot of the world in expressly moral terms. If an impoverished single mother is unable, despite her best efforts, to put food on the table for her kids, I find that to be a moral failing of society. Whether government or some other means of dealing with it is the answer…I leave that to another debate.

    Obviously, I disagree with Mr. Burchard’s characterization of liberals as “watered down communists.” I would echo Dante: look up the word coercion. (Although Dante might disagree on whether certain forms of redistribution are coercion. At least we’d agree that things should be accomplished through democracy, not a dictatorship of the proletariat.)

    But I still sympathize with Burchard’s feeling that libertarians and communists seem to miss the moral – and I might add, human – dimension in their rhetoric. There’s something cold and off-putting about constant reference to abstract economic concepts without looking at individual human lives, values, and passions.

  4. Joel Fagin says:

    Ben that “I feel your pain” philosophy isn’t really a philosophy at all. It’s just an irrational emotional reaction that casues all sorts of terrible government legislation and regulation.

    Libertarianism is founded in core principles that aren’t changed by world events or crying mothers. If you don’t have some kind of bedrock you end up with incoherence.

  5. Dante says:

    Ben: “”"At least we’d agree that things should be accomplished through democracy, not a dictatorship of the proletariat.”"”

    Me: Well, ideally there would be an ozone layer-like Libertarian Directorship Of The Benevolent Dante, but democracy is a very nice second option.

    Also, given the option, I prefer a cold and conceptually applied minimalist government because it prevents subjectivity of administration, which is what tends to happen with most any degree of a collective, coercion-enabled body.

    As a disclaimer, my judgement may be clouded by living amongst the People’s Republic of Daley for all these years. It’s like having power lines over my roof.

  6. Ben Stark says:

    Joel, I like to refer to that “I feel your pain philosophy” as Christianity…which, while not a philosophy that has engendered widespread agreement, is nevertheless widely acknowledged to be a philosophy.

    Let me explain further what I mean about why I’m turned off by purely “economistic” rhetoric. It’s not that I want to see a starving child and therefore reflexively make a Big Government policy that won’t help that starving child or will be too costly to work. I guess my objection to political philosophies and rhetoric that focus purely on abstract principles is 2-fold:

    1) The choice of goals. Much of the policy analysis flowing from, say, Cato and Heritage, will analyze a policy in terms of “efficiency” and “costs and benefits.” But the economic language moves from purely descriptive of human behavior to normative. “Efficiency” is the overarching goal. We want more benefits for the least cost. That’s all well and good, but costs to WHO (whom?) and benefits to WHO? Often enough, it’s a policy that may benefit society as a whole, but at a disproportionate cost to a certain sector of society. If that burden is placed on the least well-off, I find that policy to be immoral. And – here’s where I definitely part ways with libertarians – I might support a policy that harms society as a whole (to a limited extent) but helps the least well-off. We, the mostly upper middle-class graduates of Vanderbilt, live in unbelievable luxury….we’ll survive with just a little less.

    2) The lack of a human element. This is what I complained of before. Let’s take as an example, Brett’s argument about legalizing drugs. I actually agree with him. Only I’d phrase it something like this: “The War on Drugs has failed. It has failed to alleviate the suffering caused by drugs. [Cite some statistics on how much cocaine is sold.] It has overcrowded our prisons with nonviolent offenders, like….. [Tell a story about some guy whose only crime was selling some pot and now he's getting raped in prison.] It has led to the deaths of hundreds of dedicated public servants, dying for a futile cause [list all the DEA agents or police officers who have died in a certain time period pursuing drug cases....maybe mention their families]. Nobody supports drugs, but we could alleviate the problem and reduce human suffering if we legalized and perhaps regulated them.” Note that this is not really that much different from Brett’s argument. But instead of framing it in terms of “markets” and “supply and demand”, I would phrase it in terms of human suffering, of the lives and dreams torn apart by the futile War on Drugs.

    And I bet I would convince more people than Brett. Your average person on the streets would here Brett’s argument and think “but drugs are BAD. They kill people and we shouldn’t allow it.” Unless you can show the human element to why the War on Drugs is a failure, you won’t convince anybody.

    Ok,enough rambling.

  7. Jeff says:

    Thank you, guys, for illustrating the points being made in the George Lakoff book I’m currently reading. Lakoff, as some of you might know, believes that our political views are shaped by the frameworks we use to look at government (or something like that – I haven’t finished the book yet). Both liberals and conservatives use a family model for government. Liberals look at government as a nurturing parent, conservatives as a strict father. Thus, both liberalism and conservatism necessarily have a certain moral element to them. (Liberals have just been really bad at conveying their moral values.) Read “Moral Politics” or “Don’t Think of an Elephant” for more.

    But it appears to me that Dante and Jacob view government as an intruder, as not part of the family at all. Why else would Dante prefer a “cold” government? And why else would libertarians speak of government in more abstract terms than do we liberals or conservatives? I suppose this is what the Hustler guy is trying to say, though he’s saying it badly and incorrectly. It’s not that libertarians have no concern for “cultural and moral issues,” it’s just that such issues are a family discussion that have no place for an intruder like government.

    Also, Joel, the human being is a social animal. It is in our nature to act with emotion towards one another. To pooh-pooh the emotional response is a denial of our very nature as humans. For further reading, T.H. Huxley examined our seemingly innate notions of responsibility to one another in a response to Social Darwinist thinkers, but I can’t remember the name of the essay off the top of my head.

  8. Joel Fagin says:

    Ben you are absolutely right. I think one of the great failings of he libertarian movement is an inability or unwillinglness to demonstrate the humanity of their creed.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Also, Joel, the human being is a social animal. It is in our nature to act with emotion towards one another. To pooh-pooh the emotional response is a denial of our very nature as humans.”

    I won’t deny that emotional responses don’t exist or can be avoided. I’m just saying they are nothing to live your life by or to govern with.

  10. Ben Stark says:

    Somehow I cam across this old post from approximately 8 years ago. This is some quality dialogue. I do miss having the time to have these kinds of discussions. That, and I don’t have much to say about tobacco and alcohol (or policies related thereto), which leaves me with little to post on a modern day Jacob Blog Post. :(

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