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The Late Great Libertarian Macho Flash

I recently posted a meditation to the libertarianism LiveJouranl forum that I wrote in response to an interview I heard on Fresh Air with economist Paul Krugman. I got several responses, including the following:

sir_brettley: The Paul Krugman of 20 years ago might have been worth listening to, but today he is nothing more than a paid shill for the DNC. Until he starts using reason and logic I'd recommend him as a example of what not to say and how not to say it.

kmo: I'm not saying you're wrong, but without some reasoning to go behind your assertion, you're just poisoing the well.

Note the opening phrase, "I'm not saying you're wrong..." With this introduction, I'm letting sir_brettley know that I'm not spoiling for a fight. At this point, he can choose between:

  • 1) Offering some reasoning to go behind his assertion
  • 2) Dropping the matter and directing his energies elsewhere
  • 3) Turning combative

    Which way do you think he went?

    sir_brettley: I'm curious as to which part of a two-year expansion you would point to as the start of running the economy into the ground.

    Whoops, there I go again, "poisoning the well".

    Silly me.




    I wrote a response that did not fit the confines of an LJ comment, so I present it here:

    What's your purpose with that remark? Are you looking to propagate a Libertarian worldview? If so, to whom? Will sarcasm and sophistry lend credibility to your message in the eyes of your intended audience?

    Perhaps it just feels good to fire off that impetuous volley; what thoughtful Libertarian evangelist Michael Cloud calls "The Late Great Libertarian Macho Flash":
    It was a large and expensive home. The architecture radiated impeccable taste. Seated around the dining table were five people: three moderates, a conservative and a libertarian. The conservative was a multimillionaire -- and a generous political contributor. After dinner she turned to the libertarian and said, "Our hosts tell me you're a libertarian. Maybe I'm a little naive, but I don't know what that word means. Could you tell me about your beliefs?"

    "Sure. I can explain them in a sentence: 'Fuck the State!' Libertarians want to get rid of as much government as they can."

    The woman was stunned. She dropped the subject and guided the conversation into other areas. In her mind, two things were associated with 'libertarian': bad manners and gutter language.


    Liberty has something for everyone. With a little consideration and thought, a Libertarian who aims to spread awareness of the value of individual liberty can relate the principles of libertarian philosophy to the values of the person with whom (s)he is conversing, but this requires paying attention to what the other person is saying. They're giving you clues to the most effective way to present the benefits of liberty to them, if only you can stifle the inner macho flasher long enough to listen and think.

    As Micheal Cloud put it, "Flashing makes enemies. It creates active opponents to liberty. Freedom has enough natural enemies -- people who thrive on statism. Why create more through lack of tact?."




    So ends my comments to sir_bentley, but I have one other exchange to share with you that I see as relevant to what I'm coming to see as a major credibility problem for the Libertarian Party:

    kmo:I don't hold out much hope of the Libertarian party ever flourishing in this country. Not unless they tone done the political TB (true believerism), and that seems unlikely, as they pride themselves on standing true as the only "party of principle," which I take to mean the only party who will never compromise their commitment to abstractions to enter into any good faith negotiation with the world outside their heads.

    LJ Libertarian, prester_scott:As to Libertarians: I, a libertarian (not necessarily a Libertarian; I vote my conscience, period), tend to agree that the LP, principled though it may be, is doomed to failure. But I think this not so much because of the True-Believerism, but because organizing libertarians is like herding cats, and because the wacko quotient is so high that it's very easy for them to shoot themselves in the foot when they do manage to get organized.

    kmo:Speaking from personal experience, I know that nothing fuels my True Beleiver mania like defending libertarian principles, and nothing turns off the un-converted as effectively as a wild-eyed True Believer.

    As for cat hearding, yes, organizing a collection of self-styled rugged individualists into a cohesive group unified behind a clearly articulated agenda ranks up there with some of the world's more unlikely accomplishments.

    ...and because the wacko quotient is so high that it's very easy for them to shoot themselves in the foot when they do manage to get organized.

    If the Libertarian Party repudiated the novels of Ayn Rand and drove all of her dyed-in-the-wool followers from their ranks, they would instantly slash the gross LP membership, but would, I think, ultimately raise the party's level of the credibility in the eyes of the population at large.




    I thought back to this exchange with prester_scott when I read the following from Michael Cloud:
    Ayn Rand was a virtuoso flasher. Ponder a few of her colorful phrases: "the virtue of selfishness", "capitalism: the unknown ideal", "America's persecuted minority: Big Business", "give a silent 'Thank You' to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find", "the evil of self-sacrifice", and "a parasite, moocher or looter."

    These phrases are guaranteed to stun the average person. Consider The Virtue of Selfishness. If Rand had been interested only in communicating certain ideas, she would have called her book "A Morality of Rational Self-Interest," "The Case For Ethical Egoism," or something equally restrained. But she intended to shock, attract attention and create controversy. As an author, she could afford to be attacked, but not ignored. Neither apathy nor enemies, however, make for libertarian success.


    In response to this cascade of associations I checked sir_brettley's bio. Sho'nuff, he lists Ayn Rand among his interests.

    Granted, I have written some words that will raise the hackles of Ayn Rand enthusiasts. At this point, they have the option of exercising restraint, ignoring this seeming provocation, or responding to it in an intelligent, measured way that demonstrates that the associations I hold with Ayn Rand enthusiasts could stand some revision. To do so, they'll need to restrain the impulse to lash out reflexively. We'll see how it goes.

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