Saturday, November 17, 2007

Do keep up

Oh yes, and the, let's call them 'blogskyists', have got all pouty about what they call "bloggertarians' - libertarian bloggers. Quite right too. What they perhaps unconsciously realise is that the usurped terrain of social justice is slipping beyond the claim of the Marxist left.

Here's an example from Francis Sedgemore:

For a start there is the political and economic naiveté of right libertarians, and their simplistic distinction between the public and private spheres. Private corporations routinely collate databases containing the personal details of citizens. Often, but not always, in the guise of market research. Also, much of private industry is parasitic on the public purse. In the aerospace sector, for example, private industrialists are totally reliant on public money...
I adore accusations of naivety, and because I'm right wing I'm going to use the English spelling for the word. But, um... Francis... we don't care who it is that collates the intrusive databases. RFID used by corporations is almost as much a worry as the ID card. And the thing about the public purse? Well, guess what. That's one of the things we're objecting to - we've even got a term for it: 'corporate welfare'. Milton Friedman always made it clear he objected to 'big' government in part because big business always slips between the sheets and snuggles up next to it.

Then we have:
... and private industry has in general shown itself incapable of innovating on a large scale.
Yup, let's mouth a silent prayer of thanks for the government initiatives that drove the entire fucking industrial revolution.

Then we have:
One of the biggest failings of right libertarianism is its uncritical acceptance of the notion of corporations as persons. This is nonsense, as corporate entities are invariably greater than the sum of their parts. That applies at all levels, and there is in reality no rigid distinction between public and private, just as there is no sharp boundary between individual and community.
And this is where I lose the will to live. Legal persons. Legal persons, Francis. As in: 'can be sued'. As in: 'can be held responsible for their actions'. As in: 'can own property'. As in: 'can enter into a contract'. As in: 'can be held to the fucking contract'.

Sedgemore introduces his piece by referring to a:
particularly obnoxious sub-species of homo blogiens thoroughly deserving of a textual kicking
Further comment would be superfluous.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

let's call them 'blogskyists'

I'd suggest the more apposite term 'blogshites' (reworked 'gobshites').

dearieme said...

Or "bletherskites" becomes "bloggerskites"? Or is that too easily confused with "bloggershites"?

Paulie said...

I'll leave Francis to stick up for himself Peter. But if you can't see the distinction between a reasonably coherent libertarian and the sort of shouty ahistorical 'bloggertarian' that I / we have been going on about of late, then I suggest that you should go and have a lie down for a bit.

It will come to you sooner or later.

If I were an advocate of smaller government (I'm agnostic tending towards sympathetic, as it happens) I'd regard most self-styled libertarian bloggers as an embarrassment.

You could point your colleagues in that particular circle-jerk for to this post as a little homily for them?

http://www.brianmicklethwait.com/index.php/weblog/comments/potlatch_wisdom/

Of course, your blog is an exception. There's none of this immediate branding of all of your imaginary opponents as totalitarians, is there?

Oh, hang on a minute...

Peter Risdon said...

Paulie, I was planning to comment on your post later, but the one I have taken here does not make the distinction you mention; it just talks about 'right libertarians'.

The Micklethwait quote is excellent. In fact, my point in this post is that a lot of criticisms of libertarianism are based on exactly the sort of misrepresentation and misunderstanding this quote addresses.

Of course, your blog is an exception. There's none of this immediate branding of all of your imaginary opponents as totalitarians, is there?

Oh, hang on a minute...


For example?

Don't forget, the concern that Marxism is intrinsically totalitarian is a reasonable one.

Paulie said...

Is this one of those 'OK, I'll argue with you, but I make the rules' conversations?

I have to accept that 'Marxism is intrinsically totalitarian' do I? How far does this extend? I can accept that Command Economies are almost certainly going to be totalitarian. I can accept that left-wing national populists tend towards totalitarianism. I'd accept that isolated socialist states will rapidly decline into totalitarianism because their leaderships will have the excuse of aggressive neighbours.

But that isn't where it ends with you, is it? For you, Polly Toynbee is intrinsically totalitarian. The current government are intrinsically totalitarian. Social democracy is also. And - speaking as someone who is a social democrat - the idea that current government has almost any socialistic characteristics - is just laughable.

Haven't you been paying attention?

I've spent five minutes looking around and I've already found this:

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2006/12/kwiksave-test.html

“Is the socialist preoccupation with wealth distribution an irrelevance at best; at worst a totalitarian intervention that can only fail.”

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2007/04/road-to-hell.html

“And this is the final problem with egalitarianism. It is totalitarian and, therefore, it is tyrannical. Totalitarianism holds that the state has the power to regulate human affairs, rather than make sure the drains work. It is noticable, in fact, that under most totalitarian systems in the past the drains didn't work.”

You portray state interventions indended to promote social change as totalitarian.

Now - think about this for a minute - if you live in a totalitarian state, and you had a weblog called 'Freeborn John' that you use to criticise the state's nutrition policies (totalitarian states actually giving two fucks about anyone's nutrition is a hoot by the way)- what do you think would happen?

I suspect you'd be taken off to a soundproof celar to have your eyeballs gouged out, but maybe your definition of totalitarian is different to mine?

You live in an age and in a political juristiction in which you are less likely to have your rulers forcibly imposing their views upon you than at any time / place in history, and you think that Surestart schemes are totalitarian?

I can understand the view that our current settlement is less than efficient or that it's egalitarianism is misguided. I'd even share those views up to a point. But the idea that this is totalitarianism - of any form - is absolute nonsense, and you know it.

The libertarian becomes - in my terms - a bloggertarian, when they make bizarre leaps like this. And you matey, are a bloggertarian.

In replying, please bear in mind that I don't have a particular beef with 'libertarianism' per se. I'm agnostic about it. So here's my rule about any further debate: Don't assume that I reject libertarianism. I just think that most libertarians that appear on the blogosphere are faintly preposterous.

Peter Risdon said...

I suppose I'm just going to have to accept that patronising remarks and personal slights are a part of your debating style. And no, I haven't attempted to make any rules - that was an assertion, not a 'rule'.

You say: I can accept that Command Economies are almost certainly going to be totalitarian. But you apparently can't accept that one of the most vocal advocates of the same, Polly Toynbee, is intrinsically totalitarian. Why not?

I suspect you'd be taken off to a soundproof celar to have your eyeballs gouged out, but maybe your definition of totalitarian is different to mine?

Plainly so. Why not take the Micklethwaite quote to heart and consider this possibility a bit more seriously? And that's not a 'rule', it's a suggestion (just trying to avoid misunderstanding here).

Alternatively, if you can be bothered, there's a new post here that includes a definition of totalitarianism. It's a definition that goes back at least three decades and became famous during the 1980s, so it's not some sort of goalpost-shifting exercise.

Now, for the avoidance of doubt, I don't give a toss whether you consider me to be a bloggertarian. But - and again this is a suggestion - can I suggest you go back to the Road To Hell post and ask yourself why, if it's one of these shouty affairs you so dislike, a left-wing, Marxist blogger like Chris Dillow would have linked to it in their 'best blogging' sidebar.

Views you disagree with or dislike are not necessarily either shallow or 'absolute nonsense'. You've taken the reductio ad absurdum approach to my use of the word totalitarian, blundering off to the absolute extreme of a type of state that isn't even necessarily totalitarian (authoritarians do that sort of thing as well) and then shouting back that we're not in that situation. No, we're not. My eyeballs remain un-gouged, for the moment. But that has no bearing whatsoever on the argument - which is that we face a creeping totalitarianism propagated by people who are intrinsically totalitarian, in the true sense of the word.

Paulie said...

I'll look at your other post when I get time (I'm off out now).

But a quickie on this one, I can't see any personal slights in the previous post. I said that you are a 'bloggertarian' but then I think that I've made a reasonable attempt to argue the case. My overarching case is that many self-styled libertarians are not - in fact - objective advocates for smaller government at all.

And I'll make my argument again: You say that Polly Toynbee advocates a command economy. Does she? Really?

How would you define a 'command economy'? I have to say that Polly's 'continutity Labour' exhortations (odd, coming from a former SDPer) are somewhat different from the old Five Year Plans - wouldn't you?

This is what I mean about the bloggertarian instinct - leaping on anything that doesn't tick most of your boxes and calling it an extreme manifestation of the phenomena you oppose (at least you avoid calling it Fascism, though there are a fair few Bloggertarians who wouldn't balk at that either).

I think that arguments are always better conducted when the participants aren't looking to make an impact by using big words where little ones would do. You can argue that the current government aren't as liberal as they could be, and we'd agree.

As an aside, I'd argue that liberal democracy is a better guarantor of our liberties than campaigners for specific liberties will ever be. The trajectory of my argument is that many libertarians have an unhealthy disregard for liberal democracy. I'd argue that YOU are objectively anti-democratic. But I'd put in a long explanatory sentance - and not in a shorthand that says that anyone who wants collective action to promote equality = totalitarian.

I'm sorry if you don't like my debating style by the way - I don't think that typing things into comment boxes make for a sensitive phasing of arguments, and if you think I've been snarky, I apologise.

I would add, though, that I've been more snarked against that snarking in this whole 'bloggertarian' exchange.

Peter Risdon said...

Yes, Toynbee does advocate a command economy. What she doesn't advocate is an economy in which there are no aspects that fall outside this. But she wants to see the ratio of expenditure move even more towards the State (and therefore command) than it is already.

What I don't accuse her of is being a Stalinist or a Communist. I haven't seen any signs that she is. But this doesn't mean she isn't a totalitarian.

These things are not little discrete boxes at the far extreme of politics; they are spectra and Toynbee is distinctly in the command economy and the totalitarian hues.

What makes you suggest I'm anti-democratic? I think that State power should be limited, but then so did the people who agitated for the expansion of the franchise in the seventeenth century. Were the Levellers anti-democratic?

I don't believe the State, the democratic State, has the right to interfere with the consensual private arrangements of free people. I don't believe that a democratic mandate for making homosexuality a crime punishable by stoning would justify making it so.

I think we absolutely have to pool some power in various strata of government and I absolutely insist we should select the people who wield those powers by democratic means. But I think these powers should be limited. If that makes me anti-democratic then I suspect we also have different understandings of what the word 'democracy' means.

Peter Risdon said...

Having thought about it, I've strayed into hyperbole. I'm going to correct myself and say Toynbee advocates more of a planned economy, so I withdraw those arguments.

However, I'll also point out that I did include a reasonable definition of totalitarianism in the quote you copied into your earlier comment: "And this is the final problem with egalitarianism. It is totalitarian and, therefore, it is tyrannical. Totalitarianism holds that the state has the power to regulate human affairs, rather than make sure the drains work. It is noticable, in fact, that under most totalitarian systems in the past the drains didn't work.

Peter Risdon said...

And one other thing: your definition of bloggertarian includes the assertion that they are 'ahistorical'. Whatever faults I might have, I really don't think this can be applied to me. See:

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2007/03/sumptuous-commons.html

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2007/09/slaves-of-working-class.html

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2007/10/monarchy-constitutions-and.html

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2007/10/monarchy-constitutions-and_30.html

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2007/10/putney-debates.html

and even

http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2007/10/darkness-visible.html

You might not agree with the arguments, and I know I cover a greater period of time than a lot of people and have a special emphasis on the middle ages (but then I studied medieval history specifically), but ahistorical it ain't, matey ;-)

Paulie said...

I don’t write this from the standpoint that ‘you should have read every post I’ve ever written’, but I should say that I’ve written the wordage equivalent of a victorian novel on my blog asserting the relative virtues of representative democracy as opposed to direct democracy (which I deplore).

From the standpoint that I’ve taken (and elaborated upon ad nauseam), I find this point goes to the heart of where we may differ:

“What makes you suggest I'm anti-democratic? ...I don't believe the State, the democratic State, has the right to interfere with the consensual private arrangements of free people.”

This is the dialectic between democracy and liberty. Your notion of liberty appears to me to be forestall any collective action on a substantial scale. And leaving aside ‘collective action’ (we vote to do something, the state does it), I’d ask you for the evidence of the social liberality of individualist libertarianism that you appear to be advocating:

“I don't believe that a democratic mandate for making homosexuality a crime punishable by stoning would justify making it so.”

Liberal democracy’s experience has been the exact opposite of this. Over the last half-century in the UK (and elsewhere) the political ‘elites’ have consistently out-liberalled the general population - and certainly the degree of liberalism that you would find in much more communal cultures. It was only in 2006 (I’m told) that opinion pollsters found the first popular majority opposed to capital punishment. Direct democracy exposes public policy to a domination by demagogues, and queer-bashers rival sundry racists and populists in this category.

The public may be prepared to vote for hanging and queer-bashing, but they don’t tend to vote for hangers. If you want to see the consequences of direct democracy on social policy, have a look at Switzerland (and look at it’s resolve and it’s ability in combating Fascism as well). In all circumstances, I despise referenda, and I did an extended interview with Chris Dillow on direct democracy here:

http://nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com/2007/02/direct-democracy-interview-with-chris.html

I think it established that much of the basis underlying conventional approaches (not Chris’ though) to DD were politically illiterate, and that direct democracy - if it is to be tried - needs a fair bit of refining and testing.

I don’t think I have anything to add to my arguments about totalitarianism / Polly T. I just think that you are spectacularly wrong on this. Totalitarianism has an anti-human quality that no advocate of liberal democracy can ever really be accused of. Liberal Democracy has substantial safeguards against totalitarianism, and the only EU state that has come close to being a failed democracy is (I would argue) Italy. Mainly because the Cold War anti-communist imperative meant that it never really joined the club of Liberal Democracies in the first place.

Finally, I don’t recall referring to *you* as ahistorical. Leaving aside your views on what makes a totalitarian state (which I think *is* ahistorical - we can argue for hours on this), I said that Bloggertarians are ahistorical. I also said that there is a difference between the Bloggertarian and the libertarian.

You appear to agree with me, having glanced at your other post. Devil’s Kitchen is not - I think you agree - a libertarian. He is simply a Poujadist, or - using the word I’ve been poking him with - a Bloggertarian.

Peter Risdon said...

Well, my arguments with DK (and others) predate this discussion, so we might be better saying that we've independently reached a similar conclusion. I should say in passing that in a way I can't disclose at the moment they've shown a great willingness to value dissenting views, so you might be wronging them. It's a problem: the rather strident tones that are common in blogland can make people who either agree or delight in each other's ideas end up or even start off biting each other's throats.

I can't answer this: I’d ask you for the evidence of the social liberality of individualist libertarianism that you appear to be advocating without knowing what you mean by "social liberality".

"Over the last half-century in the UK (and elsewhere) the political ‘elites’ have consistently out-liberalled the general population"

Quite so, but then I'm not arguing for direct democracy.

"Your notion of liberty appears to me to be forestall any collective action on a substantial scale."

Not at all, and this ties in with the direct vs liberal democracy thing: I'm all for collective action on substantial scales. I just want it to be voluntary - for ALL the participants. It vreally doesn't take a government to organise collective action, but if a government does so it tends to be coercive.

Where we differ, I suppose, is that I don't want to see people forced to do things, even if I agree with those things they're being forced to do.

For me the solution to, say, the disgusting intolerance of homosexuality in the past is not to have a liberal democracy alter legislation so that it no longer criminalises gays, though that is plainly better than the earlier state of affairs, it is rather to remove people's consensual private lives from the scope of legislation entirely.

And that is actually not entirely idealistic. The campaign to decriminalise homosexuality began in Parliament with Lord Monson's libertarian Society for Individual Freedom in the 1950s. It was driven by the fledgling Libertarian Alliance. I knew some of the people, now dead, who were involved in that campaign, and it was a deeply libertarian one - explicitly so.

You are right that so far the experience of liberal democracy has been, well, liberal. But while I'm not as apocalyptic as some I do feel we face a challenge right now from resurgent religious fascism (I know, you've been waiting for me to use the word 'fascism', but then Hitch does too in this context, oh drink soaked trotskyist popinjay) and a democracy that has its tentacles in such areas of human life as sexual preference and acceptable speech is vulnerable when such social movements swell. After all - and let me complete your evening with a Hitler reference - Hitler was elected.

Peter Risdon said...

You are right that so far the experience of liberal democracy has been, well, liberal.

Nope. My typing finger was getting ahead of my thoughts... It was so, generally, until recently. What worries me is that it has become, in part, illiberal. Detention without trial? Restriction upon restriction on speech? The criminalisation of thought?

That ain't liberal.

Paulie said...

"I'm all for collective action on substantial scales. I just want it to be voluntary - for ALL the participants."

I'm a bit baffled by that one.

"....the disgusting intolerance of homosexuality in the past is not to have a liberal democracy alter legislation so that it no longer criminalises gays, though that is plainly better than the earlier state of affairs, it is rather to remove people's consensual private lives from the scope of legislation entirely."

I'd broadly agree, but what about adulthood / vulnerability? Can this be applied universally? I think not. And *sexual* morality may be regulated only in privacy, but wider morality is sometimes subject to collective agreements. Child maintenance, for example.

On 'religious fascism' I have no problem with the use of the word in that context. There is a big difference between calling Gordon Brown a Fascist, and referring to the Taliban in Afghanistan as such (to use a crude generalisation).

Hitler was not elected in a functioning democracy though. Democracy is defined by more than just a vote. Again, I question your notion of incipient totalitarianism. We are not living through any approximation of the Weimar Republic

I posted on that a while ago as well:

http://nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com/2007/10/liberty-what-its-for.html

Peter Risdon said...

"Finally, I don’t recall referring to *you* as ahistorical. Leaving aside your views on what makes a totalitarian state (which I think *is* ahistorical - we can argue for hours on this), I said that Bloggertarians are ahistorical. I also said that there is a difference between the Bloggertarian and the libertarian."

You said I was a bloggertarian (matey), so it did follow.

And please let's try to keep each other's assertions undistorted (obviously I stand willing to be corrected if I commit this error), but I have been talking about totalitarianism, not past totalitarian states. For you to say that my definition of totalitarianism is incorrect by saying that such and such a state had an aspect that isn't in my definition would be like saying that because oranges are orange, and my definition of a fruit doesn't include the colour orange, then my definition is wrong.

Peter Risdon said...

"I'm a bit baffled by that one."

Really? I find that baffling.

"what about adulthood / vulnerability?"

What an important point! So much so that I'm going to resist the temptation to go off into one... It's a hobbyhorse of mine. Yes, children (and some adults) need to be treated differently.

Child maintenance can be seen as a form of contract between two adults ( the parents) and of course contracts should be enforceable. When I say "can", I probably mean "should", but need to think a bit about that before being dogmatic.

The problem generally with "wider morality" is that people have quite different views about what it means. Does it encompass, for example, modest dress for women? That's certainly being argued right now in this country by the ludicrous MCB's Bari.

You haven't, with respect, seen what I mean by totalitarianism yet, I don't think. No, we're not living in an equivalent of the Weimar Republic. I'm talking about the claim made on the totality of a person - so that it is possible, if that is seen as desirable or necessary, to take whatever of their possessions a totalitarian chooses in taxes, or to regulate their private lives. That's totalitarianism. Concentration camps are simply someting you got in some totalitarian situations, but not in all.

Paulie said...

I referred to you as a bloggertarian specifically in your readiness to claim to be in a totalitarian state - one of the factors that I used to define the term. We're still not entirely reconciled on that one.

On this:

"What worries me is that it has become, in part, illiberal. Detention without trial? Restriction upon restriction on speech? The criminalisation of thought?"

Detention without trial is, indeed a problem. How far it is a product of an asymetrical conflict (men in uniforms obeying laws -V- religious fruitcake suicide bombers) should be acknowledged.

I think that the restriction of speech and thought-crime points - while good talking points - are largely journalistic hyperbole.

I would add that I too am concerned about a decline in liberties. My explanation for it is different to yours though. Policial centralisation is being driven by the forces that have an active interest in diminishing the *representative* quality of our democracy: The power of the media, pressure groups (including commercial ones), bureaucracies, political parties and those guardians of our liberties (as opposed to our ability to vote for changes), the legal profession.

I've been around the Labour Party for long enough to know that there is no more appetite for many restrictions upon liberty than there are among the general public (indeed, often less). But Labour have suffered electorally in the past for being insufficiently illiberal for The Sun.

It is important to recognise this: At the moment, politics is played out by human beings. In the US, it is increasingly played out by lawyers and pressure groups. This may be where we're heading, but it is democratic - not liberal - perspectives that are needed to oppose this.

And with that, I bid you goodnight. I'm off to bed.

Peter Risdon said...

"I think that the restriction of speech and thought-crime points - while good talking points - are largely journalistic hyperbole."

You might try telling that to the young woman who was just imprisoned for her 'jihadi poetry'.