David Gordon and Stephan Kinsella raised questions in the comments to my last post that require a long enough reply to be a post of their own. After this reply, I'm going to try to restrain myself from further replies for awhile, at least long ones, as I do have "real" work to do. For those just jumping in, my previous posts can be found here and here. And for those who didn't see it, there was a piece in The Nation on the Paul campaign in the last few days that explores the internal libertarian debates over the campaign. Worth a look.
David Gordon writes:
In my article,I didn't mention by name Steve Horwitz, or any other critic of Ron Paul, because I was trying to avoid exchanges like this one. I'm sorry if Horwitz took this to indicate lack of regard for him; I didn't intend this.
No problem then David. To be honest, I’m getting tired of exchanges like this myself, especially since I have my “real” work to attend to.
I said in my article that some people subordinate libertarianism to cosmopolitan values. Horwitz denies that he does this, but he has a different view of libertarianism from mine. He thinks cosmopolitanism "is part and parcel of a rightly understood commitment to liberty". On this view, clearly, someone who refuses to support Ron Paul because he doesn't accept cosmopolitanism is not subordinating libertarianism to cosmopolitanism. I don't share this view of libertarianism: I think that the tie between libertarianism and feminism, e.g.,is no stronger than what Charles Johnson in his very useful and careful comment on Narveson calls "conjunction thickness." On my view of libertarianism, my remarks about subordination still seem to me valid. ( But see below.)
I can certainly accept that we have two different views of libertarianism and that, if one accepts mine, I wouldn’t be seen as subordinating my libertarianism to some other value.
Horwitz also says that Johnson's point that "libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism" was "my point as well." Johnson's claim, though, is weaker than the claim by Horwitz just discussed. A position can be "compatible with and mutually reinforcing with" some other view without being "part and parcel" of it. I think that Horwitz should clarify whether he not only accepts Johnson's claim but goes beyond him as well.
Fair enough. Blame it on my being too quick when I write for blogs. I shouldn’t have grabbed on to radical feminism as an example for making my point. I don’t think the inclusion of it, for example, is a necessary condition for being a libertarian. I do think, though, that a broader and weaker “commitment to cosmopolitanism,” which need not go far as radical feminism, is part of libertarianism as I understand it (and would prefer it). Something like radical feminism may well be “compatible with and mutually reinforcing” but not a necessary part.
I guess my point is ultimately this: when the Paul campaign, for all of its other libertarian strengths, takes up an immigration position that strikes me as both unlibertarian (in its implicit call for stronger state enforcement – see Sheldon Richman’s earlier post) and as against the cosmopolitan spirit of the liberalism that animated Mises, Hayek and others, and takes up other positions that are couched in ways that appeal to nationalism and nativism, I simply find myself very uncomfortable supporting it. I think on a few substantive positions, the Paul campaign is not libertarian and I also think in the way it has presented itself, it appeals to a constituency that does not share the cosmopolitan outlook that is, and has been, part of the libertarianism that I wish to be associated with. The Mises of “Liberalism” and “Nation, State, and Economy” is a good example such a libertarianism.
There is a way, though, that Horwitz can counter my claim of subordination, even on my narrow view of libertarianism. He might hold that Ron Paul's lack of commitment to cosmopolitan values is harmful to libertarianism narrowly conceived, not just harmful to libertarianism defined so that it includes cosmopolitanism. If he thinks this, refusal to support Ron Paul because he isn't a cosmopolitan would not show that he subordinates libertarianism to other views. Of course, my response here would be that lack of commitment to cosmopolitanism is not harmful to libertarianism.
Yes, that would be both my response and yours. I do think the elements of RP’s campaign that either reject or decline to support those cosmopolitan values are potentially damaging to libertarianism (narrowly conceived), at least in the long term, and I said so in my original post. Part of that claim is a claim about what I think libertarianism “should be” but it’s also an empirical claim about what sort of libertarian movement is likely to command the broadest public support. So I do think we’re just going to have to disagree about the the question of harm here, which is fine by me. I may well be wrong on both counts. What has bristled me the most in all of the back and forth the last 10 days is the “subordination” claim. As someone who has committed a life and career to liberty, my pique was perhaps understandable.
One other point on this issue: the claim of “subordination” would be valid if I were supporting another candidate and one who was less libertarian and more “cosmopolitan.” But I’m not. The age-old libertarian option of “sitting this one out” is where I am right now. Call it “conscientious abstention” if you wish, but given my luck with buzzwords, maybe that’s not a good idea. I would agree that libertarians who actually vote for candidates who are notably less libertarian than RP in the name of some other value, including "electability," deserve serious criticism and perhaps the charge of "subordination" of their libertarianism. I would also agree that there are some, to use a term I don't particularly like, "beltway libertarians" who seem to be contorting themselves to great lengths to find libertarian reasons to support other GOP candidates who I believe are deeply hostile to liberty. They deserve criticism. "Socially liberal and fiscally conservative" is not enough, especially if he or she is a hawk. My skepticism about Ron Paul is not in any way an endorsement of any other, far less libertarian, candidate.
In any case, it is precisely because my commitment to libertarianism, at least as I understand it, is so strong, that I cannot get on the Ron Paul bandwagon. If all we are doing is disagreeing over what libertarianism is or should be, then I hope we (and I mean that “we” in as “all libertarians”) can conduct the ensuing conversation without assuming that the other side’s libertarianism is in question. I need to remember this as well.
Stephan Kinsella writes:
What do you mean, "and not just by accident"? I am really not clear what you are trying to say here. You seem to want to exonerate Paul of being "like" these people, or of being "responsible for" their liking him, while at the same time blaming him for their liking him.
See my comments above. On a couple of issues, I think his substantive positions, though not argued for in the way that such groups would, line up with theirs in ways that explain their support. In other words, their support is not unrelated to his positions. I think in other cases, it’s a matter of how the campaign has framed issues and who Paul has been associated over the years that have opened him up to being seen by such groups as someone they could support. Neither requires that I believe that Paul is a racist, etc., only that he has, perhaps shrewdly from one perspective, created a campaign that can appeal to such groups as well as more “mainstream” libertarians.
What I do not blame Paul for is holding substantive views akin to said groups and thus getting their support for that reason, because I have no evidence he does. What I do blame Paul for is running a campaign that takes positions and discusses issues in ways that allow, if not encourage, such groups to believe he is worthy of their support. I wish he were running a campaign that left much less doubt that such groups could see him as an agent of their goals. And I wish he would clearly, forcefully, and publicly distance himself from them because I believe, as Sudha Shenoy put it in an earlier comment on the second post, they have "anti-libertarian aims."
One need not be a racist to take up positions or frame issues in ways that would appeal to racists. That’s the line between blaming and not blaming that I’m trying, perhaps unsuccessfully, to walk.
Here's what pops out at me. Surely you, as most here, as libertarians, have (say) pro-gun right views; and oppose (say) laws penalizing private racist or sexual discrimination in the workplace. No?
You are correct, even as I am repulsed by, and would say so publicly, those who engage in private discrimination on the basis of race, gender, etc.. To paraphrase Mark Twain on free speech, I believe in freedom of association even if I think lots of people use it in really noxious ways.
Now, it is my impression that our general libertarian movement draws a clearly disproportionate share of loonies--conspiracy nuts, "Common Law Court" types, militia and gun nuts (who for some reason seem to have a diproportionate number of conspiracy theorists, and maybe even skinhead and anti-semite types, in their ranks), racists (who agree with us that racism and prejudice in the workplace should not be penalized legally).
I.e., Steve, surely you, and even Cato, etc.--not just "Dr. Ron Paul"--all attract a disproportionate number of anti-semites, gun-nuts, and racists. So what? Socialists attract disproportionate numbers of, well, outright *socialists*, and liberals of other ilk.
What mystifies me is why you can single out Paul as attracting undesirables, when the libertarian movement as a whole--of which you and Cato are part--does too. Why blame Paul?
Because David Beito asked the Ron Paul skeptics to step up, so that’s who I posted about. He didn't ask for an analysis of libertarians everywhere. I find it interesting, by the way, that you put the “gun nuts” in with the racists and anti-semites. I don’t believe I’ve ever said a word about the “gun nuts.” I have much less of a problem, if any, with them than the other groups you mentioned.
If the conversation were about where libertarianism in general should go, I would be first in line to say that we should aspire, as a movement, to do as much as we can to articulate our positions (and, in some cases, adopt substantive positions consistent with liberty) in ways that minimize their possible appeal to racists, anti-semites, nativists, etc.. Ron Paul is hardly the only libertarian who could do better on this score. Can we ever reduce that appeal to zero? Probably not. But if, like me, one thinks libertarianism is and should be cosmopolitan in the way I've argued, one has an obligation to do all one can to reduce one's appeal to groups who reject that cosmopolitanism. In my view, the Paul campaign has not only not tried to reduce that appeal, it has not rejected their support and in some cases made choices that seem willing to accept it.
As I said at the outset, I hope this is my last long post on this topic. Thanks to everyone who commented here and elsewhere and who emailed me privately. I think this discussion is an important one for libertarians to have, and I hope that we continue to have it and can do so respectfully and civilly.