MLK and non-violent protest

Yesterday in DC, the Martin Luther King memorial was officially inaugurated. I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch celebrating the event afterwards, where the speakers were veterans of the civil rights movement Andrew Young, John Dingell, and Harris Wofford. Video here

There were some interesting recollections of Dr King and his struggles, but not surprisingly, much of the discussion focused on the events of today, particularly the Occupy Wall Street movement. One of the speakers made the point that the Tahrir Square occupiers had been inspired by the example and ideas of Martin Luther King.

Now, of course, the circle has been closed with the example of Tahrir inspiring #OWS. There has been more direct inspiration too. When I visited the Washington occupation in McPherson Square to drop off some magazines for their library, I picked up a reproduction of a comic-book format publication of the civil rights movement (cover price, 10 cents!), describing the struggle and particular the careful preparation given to ensure a non-violent response, even in the face of violent provocation.

And that brings me to the question I want to discuss, one that is as relevant today as in the civil rights era.  When is violence justified as a response to manifest and apparently immovable injustice? My answer, with Martin Luther King is: Never, or almost never.[1]

In large measure, my reasoning is consequentialist. Violence directed against established authority rarely works, and hardly ever produces enduring gains. Most revolutions fail, and most successful revolutions produce a new tyranny, often worse than the old, followed eventually by a return to the status quo ante.

Symbolic violence is almost invariably ineffectual or counterproductive, precisely because it derives whatever force it has from the implicit or explicit threat of revolution, which most people rightly view with fear and horror. Since symbolic violence the only kind of violence that is likely to arise in the context of the current #OWS protests, it’s important that it should be avoided as far as possible, and condemned, without qualification or excuse by reference to police violence, when it does occur.

 But those aren’t the only arguments. Symbolic violence involves essentially random harm to people or destruction of goods or productive capacity. Even where a case can be made that the targets are in some sense deserving, random and capricious punishment is always unjust. And the obvious enjoyment that so many of those who engage in symbolic violence take in the activity is morally indefensible.

Violence on a scale sufficient to effect political change is bound to lead to the deaths of innocent people, both directly and indirectly.

Directly, the immediate victims of political violence are likely to be working people – police or soldiers (often conscripts). Once deadly violence has been adopted as an instrument, whether by a state, a nationalist movement or political organization, the class of ‘legitimate’ targets expands steadily, to include alleged propagandists, collaborators and so on, and then to would-be neutrals. Moreover the tolerance for “collateral damage” invariably increases over time.

Typically, these direct deaths are only the beginning – retaliation from the other side, especially from a state against a revolutionary movement, is usually far more deadly. Attempts to disclaim moral responsibility for the predictable outcomes of a resort to war or violence (see, for example, Norman Geras on the Iraq war), are dishonest and dishonorable.

A further important point is that the belief that injustice is immovable is often wrong. The advocates of the Iraq War argued that Saddam’s regime was immovable, and that the inevitable death and suffering associated with an invasion would be less than that from leaving the regime in power for decades to come. The Arab Spring has shown that claim to be, at best, highly questionable.

How far does this argument go? Not to the point of denying a right of self-defence against an attacker who is trying to kill or maim you, or (with more qualifications) to defend others against such attacks. Or to the point of disallowing resistance to slavery by whatever means necessary.

I don’t have a final position on this, beyond saying that the presumption against violence ought to be much stronger than it has generally been. Following on from the marathon Pinker thread, I hope and believe that understanding of the futility of violence has increased over time, if only because the lessons of the first half of last century were so hard to ignore.

fn1. I hope it goes without saying that war in pursuit of “legitimate national interests”, as opposed to self defence is almost always foolish and never justified. Even in the US, this lesson seems to be coming home.

 

 

79 thoughts on “MLK and non-violent protest

  1. The ‘Arab Spring’ of course, it is now plain, was a con-job from the beginning. The US threw Mubarak overboard, as they did the Shah, Suharto, Noriega, Saddam etc, when his usefulness was over. Egypt is now being steered to a new pro-US tyranny, with the US trained and financed military, every bit as corrupt as Mubarak, being prepared for the task. Even if there is a sham election, there will be massive Western interference by the NED and similar interferers from the US, and various other Western subversives plus the usual NGO culprits. A ‘colour revolution’ is certain, with vote-rigging if necessary. Same scenario in Tunisia, and Yemen and Bahrain remain bloodbaths as the US steadfastly supports brutal despotisms, aided and abetted by the Saudis and other Gulf tyrannies. And if Turkey doesn’t watch itself Erdogan will discover that annoying the Zionists can have dire consequences.
    No, I’d say the whole farce was a facade behind which the real work, the destruction of the Libyan, Syrian and Iranian regimes was to progress. This is Oded Yinon’s ‘Zionist Plan for the Middle East’ meeting Dick Cheney’s plans to seize control of the region’s hydrocarbon riches. The brutal NATO onslaught in Libya (50,000 dead, the UK actually running out of ‘ordinance’)has installed the same type of salafist murderers who have served the Empire with such enthusiasm before, in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Algeria, so Libya’s hydrocarbons are once again made safe for looting by the West. The aggression against Syria has failed in its diabolical intent to foment civil war, so far, thanks to Russia and China drawing an overdue line against Western regime change. And Iran is being fitted up for a mob hit with propaganda so crudely unbelievable that only the reptiles of the Western MSM could peddle it without conscience or laughing out loud. I did enjoy the spectacle, surely one of the pinnacles of hypocrisy in all human history, of Hilary Clinton abusing the Iranians for their ‘use of violence’. Priceless!

  2. And that brings me to the question I want to discuss, one that is as relevant today as in the civil rights era.  When is violence justified as a response to manifest and apparently immovable injustice? My answer, with Martin Luther King is: Never, or almost never.[1]

    That kind of mirrors the libertarian question about when government involvement in some sphere of life (ie violence or the threat of violence) is justified. Never or almost never.

  3. Terje please explain the disdain for governments that seems to be the only thing that unites libertarians? Historically and philosophically, from whence comes this conviction that the state is necessarily against human progress?

    I am with Spinoza when he says that he does the best he can for the well-being of the state in order to derive for himself, the maximum of happiness and safety. Oh right, you libertarians value freedom, not safety and happiness.

  4. Governments, notionally, represent the popular will in democracies. Libertarian hatred of Government is simply their hatred of others (including one another and themselves) made manifest. There was an interesting doco on SBS last night which featured the libertarian deity Ayn Rand. Plainly a psychopath, poor dear, surrounded by dullard sycophants who imagined her to be a genius, she made little attempt to disguise her visceral contempt for others (including her tiny coteries of acolytes, I would imagine). She spouted a deal of puerile crap about freedom and will and the virtues of self-interest. Altruism came in for a kicking, and Rand opined that she was one with some dead Greek in believing that the world would end upon her death.
    Alas, we are still here, thirty years after Rand paid her debt to nature. Thesis disproved, I would say. Of course many others have come to the conclusion that death is the end for the individual, but not many have decided to, therefore, hold humanity in such active disdain. They go on working for human betterment if only for the sake of their children, let alone others’. Call it bias, but I find their toil in the face of annihilation, to ensure a better life for those who will be extant when they are dead, somewhat nobler than Rand’s nihilistic misanthropy.
    Poor old Ayn yearned to be loved, but, in rejecting altruism, real selfless love becomes a little difficult. The end of her love affair with a colleague brought an end to the gilded circle who surrounded her and who met in an adjacent phone-booth from time to time, to hone their contempt for the moochers. You’d almost pity the libertarians, wasting their one life on such pathetic ego-trips, if they were not so utterly pernicious and dangerous and were not their death-cult grown to be such a threat to humanity’s survival. After all, if the omniverse ceases to exist when you cash in your chips, why be concerned over non-events like ecological collapse and mass death?

  5. Julie: it’s a really silly, narrow, ahistorical definition of freedom.

    As for their precious non-coercion principle – haven’t seen any of them follow it – eating steak, wearing shoes made in sweatshops, working for oligopolistic enterprises. In short, hypocrites.

  6. Mulga I did see the doco. I thought it was brilliant. They managed to say so much with the images, that words were unnecessary – particularly the footage of Clinton flirting with three teenage girls.

    It was quite clear from the footage showing Ayn’s disordered eye movements and the tension in her body that there was something ‘wrong’; that she was a ‘troubled’ woman and nobody recognised how needy she was; they saw her as a hero! The power of the psychopath to fool people is truly awesome, but also, as a Russian her views must have been useful for those who wanted a symbol of the superiority of American capitalism.

    The doco makers also managed to show, without many words, that both of her former friends who were interviewed, had actually felt empathy for her and had acted altruistically toward her. Her manipulative and narcissistic tendencies were so obvious in the way she took her female friend’s lover for her own; but you know, she didn’t ‘force’ anybody and it was a ‘rational’ thing to do.

    I wonder if Terje and his band of freedom loving individuals have any qualms about characterising this woman as a ‘philosopher’ and lauding her contribution to humanity?

  7. Julie, Rand was, in my opinion, a psychopath, and her ‘philosophy’ appeals in particular to the greedy rich, particularly the nouveau riche ‘entrepreneurs’ who imagine that their business success indicates their superiority to the rabble. Unfortunately, success in business is more often due to financial manipulation and other forms of finagling, that most would abjure because they have scruples, moral and ethical. The successful entrepreneur or business leader, most of whom are, in my opinion, more or less florid psychopaths, feel no such compunctions, being only interested in their own greed and hypertrophied egos. They were and are perfectly suited to a cult like Randian libertarianism predicated as it is on absolute contempt for the rest of humanity.

  8. Pr Q, an interesting and thoughtful discussion. What are your opinions about Ciaron O’Reilly and the ANZUS/Jabiluka/Pitstop Ploughshares’ activities? Would you count their actions as “symbolic violence” or something different? I’m not so sure; it did not appear random or capricious, but was certainly symbolic (and somewhat effective).

  9. Mulga – hmm, perhaps, imo moreover severely limited ability to see and acknowledge broader social and historical factor in any individual instance of success. A particularly annoying and damaging manifestation of the well-observed psychological phenomenon of people taking credit when they succeed at games of chance.

  10. Returning to JQ’s post, I can agree that the bar on violence ought to be very high. But I would not put it as high here as he does. The examples cited hardly show much understanding of the role implicit and explicit violence has played in winning a more just order – or of the role of overt violence in maintaining injustice. In particular, the assertion that “most successful revolutions produce a new tyranny, often worse than the old, followed eventually by a return to the status quo ante.” is cavalier almost beyond belief – a staple of Whig history that simply does not bear examination. It does not even apply to Britain unless your history is straight from Macaulay (successful violent revolutions in 1640-45 and 1688, violent suppression of the peripheries for most of the next century, reform driven by fear of violent revolution after 1815, liberation of Ireland by violent revolution 1920….). Time for a few serious history classes?

  11. Julie Thomas :
    Terje please explain the disdain for governments that seems to be the only thing that unites libertarians? Historically and philosophically, from whence comes this conviction that the state is necessarily against human progress?

    Government equals violence and coercion. The legal right to use violence and coercion is what sets government apart from every other social institution. Government brings nothing to the equation that could not be done by other institutions except for violence and coercion. In general society and human relations are healthier when there is less violence and less coercion. So we should have a limited small government. The minimum necessary for law and order and no more. Libertarians believe that voluntary action is a far better organising principle for society. The concept really isn’t that hard. Libertarians also have consequentialist arguments based on the empirical evidence that government involvement, in spite of good intentions, frequently leads to inferior outcomes or undesirable consequences.

    I don’t hate anybody. Occasionally I might get cranky with somebody but I lack the emotional energy for anything like sustained hatred. I might disagree passionately with some people regarding some things but it’s not personal. If you love violence as an organising principle for society I think that is sad but I’m not going to hate you. I’m more likely to pity you.

  12. Dan, every human achievement is built on the work of generations of others, now a-moulderin’ in their graves. And our very existence depends on the co-operation and toil of myriad others currently extant. To live as an island, if only in one’s own deranged ego phantasies, simply makes no sense, whatsoever.

  13. There seems to be some disconnect between ideal ‘libertarians’, who are made to sound like anarchists,( a much more benign type in my opinion), and really existing libertarians, who have no real problem with violence, so long as it is largely privatised to the likes of Xe (former Blackwater) and mobilised strictly to keep the rabble in line and protect the rich libertarian’s property. State violence in pursuit of global empire seems not to trouble most really existing libertarians, either.

  14. Mulga – in the USA the vast majority of libertarians opposed the Iraq war. Libertarian figures like congressman Ron Paul voted against the war. The US Libertarian Party was opposed. The website antiwar.com is libertarian. And I personally opposed the war on this very blog at the time. In short you are talking sh!t.

  15. This is kinda like trying to extrapolate an individuals demand curve…

    Of course you can’t condone acts of violence but when there is a systemic failure which leads to a revolution it’s understandable.

    Funny world isn’t it.

  16. @Julie back at #3 — Does much of people’s happiness really come from the government? Of course we’d be unhappy without some protection from coercion by other people, but libertarians don’t disagree with that. The government has one idea of ‘safety’, but you may have another — for instance you can’t sell unpasteurised milk. If you do, the state will fine you, and if you don’t pay the fine they will send you to prison, using as much force as is required to get you there.

    The state uses the threat of violence to stop people enjoying relatively harmless drugs, and to stop people who would be good, peaceful citizens coming to this country. In the past they’d use violence to stop homosexual sex.

  17. Paradoxically, advocates of non-violent protest can also play a role in causing deaths; deaths of their own followers. That too is a kind of collateral damage.

    Though most well socialised civilian people appear to be relatively timid, non-violent and compliant most of the time, they have enough repressed anger and innate aggression to react violently when pushed too far for too long. Regimes who push too far find this out sooner or later.

  18. I recall the effect on me when i first read about the iterative prisoner’s dilemma. One of the commentators on the (surprising to many) tit-for-tat results pointed out that there have been some very outstanding examples of the application of these principles. King was one of the examples given as was Gandhi. I’d read much on Gandhi and had found him inspiring but i’d not read much on King so off i went to see what his inspiration was and whether he was moved to his solution by pragmatism.

    What i discovered altered the way i saw Christianity – until then i had assumed that Jesus had brought nothing new to human knowledge having only reiterated much of what great thinkers of his era had already provided. I came to the conclusion that Jesus had solved (or found, learned the solution for) the problem of tit-for-tat and that in this and only this he had departed from the code of Jewish Law – because Jewish Law demands an eye for an eye.

    King was a Christian – through-and-through.

    I’m not Christian but i recognise that non-violent protest and to “turn the other cheek” is the only viable solution for confrontation between approximately equal parties. Of course total annihilation is the best solution if you are the stronger and if you can be sure of a thorough job.

    I also recognised at that time that because neither Muslims nor Jews would ever adopt the solution for the dilemma (it being decidedly Christian), we’d never see a solution to the “problem of Israel”. They will be stuck in tit-for-tat forever. The Israelis do have a lot of games theorists though so maybe there is hope yet.

    Martin Luther King – what a truly inspiring human being.

    Would that there be many many more like him.

    pop

  19. TerjeP :

    Julie Thomas :Terje please explain the disdain for governments that seems to be the only thing that unites libertarians? Historically and philosophically, from whence comes this conviction that the state is necessarily against human progress?

    Government equals violence and coercion. The legal right to use violence and coercion is what sets government apart from every other social institution. Government brings nothing to the equation that could not be done by other institutions except for violence and coercion. In general society and human relations are healthier when there is less violence and less coercion. So we should have a limited small government. The minimum necessary for law and order and no more. Libertarians believe that voluntary action is a far better organising principle for society. The concept really isn’t that hard. Libertarians also have consequentialist arguments based on the empirical evidence that government involvement, in spite of good intentions, frequently leads to inferior outcomes or undesirable consequences.
    I don’t hate anybody. Occasionally I might get cranky with somebody but I lack the emotional energy for anything like sustained hatred. I might disagree passionately with some people regarding some things but it’s not personal. If you love violence as an organising principle for society I think that is sad but I’m not going to hate you. I’m more likely to pity you.

    So, in your ideal Libertarian society assuming that if minimal laws were to prevent violence and other social harmful behaviour such as selling drugs etc.

    Would business owners’ “volunteer” give pay increase to reward the improvements of workers?

    Assuming that investors’ exist because funds are needed to start up a business or invest in large projects, would they “volunteer” to allow executives to give workers pay rise to cope with inflation even if it will harm their return of investment?

    Would landlords and food providers “volunteer” to not inflate their prices because they know that wage level of the average worker will not rise?

    Would universities, hospitals and transport service etc (providing public transport does not exist because minimum government interference in the economy), “volunteer” to provide services to the young generations that have no required skills/age to work and pay for the services if government do not give a loan to the young generations or provide public services?

    Would landlords and food provides “volunteer” to give pensioners, disabled people free goods and services because of their inability to work?

    Would the government have money to spend to assist all the people mentioned above if no tax were implemented in the society?

    Did your ideal Libertarian society ever existed in the past or current?

  20. My wife said something to me the other day that brought all this into perspective for me.

    She was talking about militant feminists at the time and she said they have this outlook where they live in a world where all the power is owned by men. They don’t want these men to have power over them, so therefore they want to take that power off them.

    Subtly but importantly.. completely misguided.

    I always thought the idea “Peak Oil Poet” just talked about was THE central part of Jesus’ teaching… earth changing stuff. I first had this inkling when my english teacher told me the central theme of ‘1984’ was how important it was to have power over other people. She was such a bitch.

    But I never ‘really’ understood it. It really is very simple game theory. If I want self-determination.. power over myself.. I must make it abundantly clear that I will not take power from other people. Otherwise we devolve into an arms race. I also must make it abundantly clear I will not give up power over myself. Otherwise we end up with a dictator.

    You have a real responsibility to not be a bully nor to be bullied.

    The same idea is central to democracy. Basically, I will have my opinions and not give up on them, but I will agree to go along with the majority even if I do not like what they say. That said, I will still do everything I can to persuade them short of taking their power to make their own decisions from them. ie. I will not kill them, I will not lie to them.

    It is a gentlemen’s agreement and it is a house of cards, it is not perfect or even stable, but it works.

    In a perfect world I would actually extend John’s non-physical-violence to non-anykindof-violence – basically anything which wrests someone’s power from them is a kind of violent act. This is probably difficult to achieve. In this world, I just try to use violence only in immediate defence of someone’s life. I have never had to do this, I hope I never will.

  21. TerjeP :

    And that brings me to the question I want to discuss, one that is as relevant today as in the civil rights era.  When is violence justified as a response to manifest and apparently immovable injustice? My answer, with Martin Luther King is: Never, or almost never.[1]

    That kind of mirrors the libertarian question about when government involvement in some sphere of life (ie violence or the threat of violence) is justified. Never or almost never.

    Yep, roads are totally evil and intrusive. And public libraries. Close them all. Schools as well. If you can’t pay for it, bad luck! Free vaccination. Another intrusive evil.

  22. …my point being:

    Libertarians have enjoyed the luxury of publicly funded projects and programs for decades, but refuse to acknowledge just how much they underpin the functioning of a modern, technology society.

    Public sanitation? Investments in port facilities? And that little thing called “da interwebz” that grew out of government funding (academic and military in the US).

    There is a delicious irony in libertarian posters and bloggers decrying the role of government on a platform built by government.

    Most amusing 🙂

    And don’t get me started on Ryan and her cult of personality… Remember, it was the right-wing libertarians who opposed vaccination and fluoridation in the US during the 1950s.

    They all saw it as part of a communist/socialist plot. Just like they see climate change as well.

  23. Terje, it is this belief that government necessarily equals coercion and violence that I would like explained. What is the basis for this belief? Who are the philosophers you read who have considered the nature of government and the relationship between government and the people? Hayek’s arguments just do not cut the mustard in this area. His ‘consequentist’ arguments are not at all convincing. Fundamnetally, his undertanding of ‘human nature’ or psychology was flawed. His assumptions about these things are contradicted by the latest scientific knowledge and therefore his arguments are not valid. Can you not see that if the foundation of his argument – his premises – are faulty then his conclusions are suspect?

    Have you ever read any of the ‘real’ enlightenment philosophers or any Chinese philosophy? Can you point to any historical evidence that shows that governments will always tend toward totalitarianism? Surely in these days of such plenty in terms of the availability of knowledge, one has an obligation to consider a wide range of ideas, and consider alternative possibilities, rather than being so certain that one has found the truth. I am not saying that you haven’t read widely and cross culturally but I see no evidence of any ‘philosophy’ the underpins your assumptions, other than that of Hayek and Rand and these people are just not up to it.

    For example, Rand defines the concepts of violence and coercion in a particular way and she was ostensibly very much against them, and yet, in her personal life she was violent and coercive. She also manipulated people and used them for her own ends, The psychological effects of this type of ‘underhanded’ exploitation can be as harmful as actual violence. Emotional abuse of children can be just as damaging as physical abuse. It can ‘cause’ death via suicide, just as physical violence can ‘cause’ death.

    It is simplistic and possibly arrogant – or just silly? – to believe that you can assess ‘undesirable consequences’ and ‘inferior outcomes’. I think it is quite clear that I would have a different idea about these things. Spinoza said, to see the truth, one needs to have no opinion either for or against anything. This and other ideas he had about human nature, are consistent with current knowledge of the way the human brain works and that is one of the reasons that I value Spinoza’s ideas more than I value Hayek’s.

    I do not think that you hate or self-hate. I do think it would be a good thing for the world and yourself, if you could free yourself from the bonds of your existing brain chemistry. Do some brain exercises that will develop your ability to appreciate complexity and uncertainty.

  24. Tom Davies, Surely we are talking possibilities for government and not about the actual governments that we have? Although I am so off topic, and indulging my own particular obsession, the background of the OWS as a movement toward a different kind of government, is germane, no?
    So, the thing to do is to sort out the fallacies about ‘states’ or ‘governments’, in the abstract and the blanket prohibition that libertarians have against governments being able to provide happiness and safety for the people, is an obstacle to such a discussion.

    Your example of selling milk is actually very relevant because I do buy unpasteurised milk from a local dairy farmer. Heaps of the conservatives out here where I live, also break the law in this way. It is great milk, takes so much better; it’s cheaper and the money goes to the farmer, not the supermarkets. We all take this freedom upon ourselves, risk our health and safety because we trust the farmer. I get the best of both worlds I think; the government provides a set of regulations that ensure my health and safety and I can disobey if I want. There will be very little force or coercion applied to me if I am ‘caught’; or possibly none. I think it would be the farmer who takes more of a risk, but that is his business.

    The state doesn’t use violence to stop people enjoying smoking dope. You only get busted if you draw attention to yourself and make it impossible for them to ignore you, or do something else that is regarded as anti-social. I would be extremely surprised if the local cops would bother exerting any force against me, even if somebody phoned them up and said ‘this woman is smoking drugs’.

    And if that happened, it would be a good thing because, I suspect that it would add to the feeling the locals have that the law does need to be changed on this issue. They do know I am a ‘greenie’ but I contribute to the community so they accept me and even value me; lol I even had an invite to the mayor’s morning tea in return for my voluntary community work. So, if force was used against me, this would motivate the people to change the way the government responded to this issue.

    Your arguments against government show a lack of imagination and seem to me to have no foundation in reality.

  25. i tried reading Spinoza once–wurgh.

    and left it to those of larger brain.

    but even a minor intellect such as mine can see that there are areas in any society where the market has no business.

    such as health.

    a business that profits from sickness requires sickness.

    the more sick people the more profit.

    tests and treatment are not predicated by need but profitability.

    people without assets are not profitable and have no place in the business.

    where this service is provided from the public purse the focus is not to increase treatment and tests but to find the most efficient and economical path to the restoration of health.

    the public health system focusses on less sick people in society.
    the for profit system focusses on the more cashes up or insured sick people the better.

  26. @may

    Strongly agree, I have old relatives from China that are considered as common in the health status (not particularly health or unhealthy). Everytime they go and see the doctor, they will get them to do scans, tests and checks which then ends up with a medical bill of five digits RMB (median income in China is similar or lower than Australians in “money amount” e.g. 2000 RMB:2000 AUD); not only that they prescribe literally a “box” full of drugs and medicine as if as long as it won’t kill you, it’s fine to do that. I know that this is also happening in the US, I hope it doesn’t happen here in Australia.

  27. Spinoza is my favourite philosopher and for me really nailed better than anyone the links between the universal and the particular.

    I think at a vague, hand-waving, metaphysical level, libertarians are limited by their place in history and can only think in terms of the particular – assuming that all phemomena can be explained purely in terms of aggregating individual phenomena, rather than there being different, larger, more ineffable forces at play. Essentially it’s positivism run amuck.

  28. Julie: the relevant example for Terje will probably be taxation.

    Yes, it is coercive – if you do not pay it, and if the system’s working the way it’s designed to, eventually get prosecuted and be punished.

    The libertarian, however, does not truly understand that with rights come responsibilities; not just in the sense of, “If I pay tax, maybe it’ll be worth my while (or maybe not)”, but in the sense of *this is what is required to keep societies and economies ticking over* (yes, there are public goods that the private sector just doesn’t deliver – check around chapter 11 of your micro textbook, Terje): if you run down your infrastructure, your health system, your education system, your national defense, not only do you and your country lose today, but tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow… maybe forever.

    Most of the libertarians I know – I’d count a couple of them as friends – are actually outright anti-democratic, as they see no reason for individual choices to be trampled just because they are in the minority. But they have no solution for how decisions that affect and need to be made by groups should be made (seriously – they just come up blank, and mutter about “the best we can do with what we’ve got”, which is side-splitting after they’ve been on rants about completely normative, utopian ideals).

    Interestingly, I don’t know any poor libertarians or vegetarian libertarians: apparently being made to pay taxes is coercive, but killing defenseless animals isn’t.

  29. @Dan

    Libertarians

    The first Libertarian i ever met was and has been for more than 40 years – a vegetarian

    i also know poor Libertarians

    the problem is that “Libertarian” has been captured and twisted to new meanings mostly by people who call themselves Libertarian

    The Libertarians i know are not anti Democratic – far from it – and in explaining it answers your questions but what Librarians do when needing to deal with issues that need a group to solve – they form groups. There’s nothing wrong with forming groups of any size as long as the purpose of the group is to solve the problem and nothing else. Maybe new problems will result in the group reforming – anything is possible.

    The main thing about Libertarians is that they do not believe in any more government than is needed to maintain courts of Law

    they believe that if you vest permanent power in any group then that group will be corrupted and will abuse its power

    Libertarians do not believe in taxation – because taxation is always channeled to abuse of the freedoms of others

    I’m not Libertarian but most of what i read here i terms of criticism of Libertarians is simply misinformed or is based on those “Libertarians” who define themselves in some way related to Aynn Rand or some of the more extreme Americans of the Rush Limbaugh type.

    Just as some of the people i know who call themselves “democrats” or “republicans” or “socialists” or whatever are completely uninformed about those they class as enemies, it’s typical of people to cast themselves permanently in some mold and to remain for their whole lives ignorant of anything else. Christians ignorant of Islam, Muslims ignorant of Buddhism etc etc.

    The scientific principle – to try forever to destroy your own theories and to constantly attack your own assumptions – this is something those in the political sciences could learn from

    radicals only attack other peoples ideas and never ever ever really turn a critical eye on their own beliefs

    and that leads to wars

    and hatred

    pop

  30. Ah! You have found a better class of libertarian than I 🙂

    If your implication is that I am a radical, try again – I’m just a social democrat.

  31. @Dan

    no/yes, i agree, you are not a radical

    but all of us have an element of the fundamentalist/radical in us at times – there will be something that you believe without question – and it’s very hard to see such beliefs they are so “fundamentally” a part of us

    lots of people call for fairness – yet think nothing of owning material goods that only exist because somebody somewhere is being exploited – mobile phones, computers, cars

    I’m surprised that you know any Libertarians at all – there’s not many of them about – there’s more chance of meeting anarchists – who differ from Libertarians only in that they do not believe in formalised permanent courts of law

    I’m very anti government because every government i have ever lived under except in NZ for a short period has contributed heavily to what i consider to be atrocities – eg invasion and destruction of Iraq

    I object to having to pay taxes when i have no real control over where those taxes get spent – my choices are limited to them being spent by one set of corporate cronies or another set

    but there’s little i can do about it

    pop

  32. dear cognoscenti
    has there been only one school of libertarian thought? and, to my point, what is the libertarian take on compulsory voting – on “compulsory suffrage”, a “free vote, compulsorily cast”, as it were? or are there a number of libertarian takes on compulsory voting?
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  33. To the central thesis, that use of violence is (almost) never justified…
    I would say that a situation such as existed in Libya probably justified violence, but then I never lived there, so I don’t really know whether it was intolerable or not.

    In the case of the Soviet Union, when Lenin, and then Stalin, had huge purges, perhaps that would be adequate justification for rising up. In fact, I guess that the purges could in some way be defined by their instigators as putting down perceived uprisings—historians please take mercy on me 🙂

    The great difficulty in deciding where the line is to be drawn is that it can place, at first blush, some rather surprising candidates on the wrong side of said line: for example, a regime that has mock elections whilst merely passing power back and forth from one member of the elite to another; that exploited the population as a mere resource for ever growing accumulation of wealth concentrated on the elite; that secretly captures and tortures members of its population, without fear of prosecution; etc. The USA is such a place, and yet there is much to admire about it as a country.

    My concern with the #OWS situation is that at some point the practice of infiltration may be employed, and that these infiltrators egg on or even initiate acts of violence and intimidation against the state. We all know the next step, namely that infiltrators point out the supposed ringleaders, who are later seized by the men in black. In some cases, anticipated to rile protestors further, the supposed ringleaders are picked up in public. The whole thing ratchets up, one predictable notch at a time, until something implodes…

    The McCarthy Era in the USA was one such period in history, where the USA took a big step towards the abyss; today there are some equally dangerous politicians in the USA, they never really went away.

  34. @The Peak Oil Poet

    Libertarians do not believe in taxation – because taxation is always channeled to abuse of the freedoms of others

    Oh really. I suppose universal health care and universal education are an “abuse of the freedom of others”. And that’s just for starters.

    It is exactly this sort of unmitigated nonsense that the majority of the population can see through in the blink of an eye that will forever consign Libertarians to the political fringe with a role of little more than providing ideological cover for quite identifiable class interests.

  35. dear Donald Oats
    “at some point the practice of infiltration may be employed.”
    yes indeed! i’m also concerned at the prospect of the state deploying channels of misinformation into their facebook pages, twitter feeds, and other information media they use. feed misinformation & debauch the currency, as it were. introduce suspicion & undermine trust. if they aren’t already.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  36. Humans are intensely social creatures. That we are “rugged individuals” is a nice illusion. Libertarians believe the illusion.

  37. John Brookes :
    Humans are intensely social creatures. That we are “rugged individuals” is a nice illusion. Libertarians believe the illusion.

    This is rubbish. Libertarians are just as sociable as any other group of people. Libertarians want smaller government and stronger society. They recognise that powerful government ultimately over time weakens the bonds of community.

  38. @quokka

    to keep it really simple – the answer is yes – if your “free” healthcare comes at the cost of having to support the death and destruction of others then if i was a Libertarian i would be against it.

    I see it like this – if we give the mob bread, and circuses (and the illusion of free health care etc*) we can get away with anything

    i visualise you and i walking across a field of bloody stinking corpses that stretches to the horizon – we are having a chat about some finer points of “freedom” and “fairness” – we are actually arguing too because i am claiming that your ideas are not generous enough – neither of us can actually see the bodies under our feet – we suffer from cognitive dissonance – they do not register in any way at all – in the middle of the conversation your iPhone rings and you break off for a mo then ask me if i’d care for a latte – i answer ‘sure’ – and we walk off into the (blood red) sunset still quibbling over the finer points of fairness

    pop

    http://thepeakoilpoet.blogspot.com/

    footnote * – consider all those poor old people on waiting lists – i know a few – they will tell you straight up your universal health care is an illusion

  39. Weakens the bonds of community? I rather thought that one thing most libertarians object to is regulation of labour. That employers and employees should ‘freely’ enter into ‘mutually agreed’ contracts.

    We know full well what happens to ‘community’ when employers have total freedom to impose whatever working conditions they like in the the contracts they ‘offer’ to prospective employees.

    Try organising a working bee at a school or kindy. Try and find someone, anyone, who can commit to every Thursday afternoon after school to coach a sports team. What time and day can we set for choir or band practice? What about helping with reading or other school-based assistance, or helping out at the local aged care facility – if you can’t be reliable you’re no use to a needy child or lonely pensioner. None of these worthy community activities are possible when the vast majority of employees are at the beck and call of employers changing rosters or arbitrarily disallowing previously arranged absences – powers set by them in contracts.

    I have yet to understand any proposals put by anyone that allows any co-existence with unregulated commercial conduct and real community commitments.

  40. Yes, and those pesky child labour laws – really dick everyone’s freedom, interfered with the free market, and truly perniciously: “weaken(ed) the bonds of community”.

    It would be a shame if the countries that haven’t introduced them do 😛

  41. adelady@41 – libertarians don’t actually understand the ruthless logic of the market they advocate.

    They don’t recognise that pure capitalism is a race to the bottom (wages, conditions), the purpose of it is to achieve monopoly, or that well before that point, demand has been demolished by said race.

    Furthermore, they are historically blind to the fact that a huge amount of government intervention is not stifling free enterprise, but *making it possible* (eg. antitrust legislation, competition law – awfully coercive, those) and civilising it (minimum wages, fair IR laws, social insurance, redressing market failures in health and education). And that, after all, we live in societies, not economies anyway.

    Sure – governments do bad things and make mistakes; but the notion that, left to their own devices, people won’t, or at least things will be better, or problems will evaporate, is just wishful thinking.

  42. @Dan

    I think Dan that if you ever lived in a place where corporations were unknown you’d click. Where there are no big companies there is far less inequality and far more community. I think about peasant rice farmers living on like $8K a year and getting by and all pulling together whenever things turn to poo. They don’t have iPhones and they tinker with their cars year in year out to keep them running for 30 or 40 years or more and only use them to fetch things from local markets.

    Then along comes government – and the first thing it does is give free medical – and blam – people stop saving for medical and start buying Toyotas and iPhones and start moving away from community and into the big city and before you know it they are enslaved to big corporations.

    I know i’m simplifying – i’m trying not to appear to be an ideologue – i am not actually pushing any system – i’m just trying to get across the idea that to hold any system up as perfect is silly – or even to suggest that any system like Libertarianism (or Socialism or Sharia Law or free kool-aid) is inherently (more) flawed (than any other system) is to act out of some degree of blindness – or faith (of the fundamentalist variety)

    pop

  43. So basically you’re arguing in favour of social/policy agnosticism.

    That’s completely unhelpful.

    And yes, you are simplifying; give me first-world over third-world life expectancies any day.

  44. I thought I had posted this earlier but it doesn’t seem to have happened. Blame it on youngest son who is doing stuff to my pc

    POP
    The first ‘libertarians’ I knew were hippies who were disillusioned by the ‘stupidity’ of the air-head flower children, and then 2 decades later, I encountered another generation of libertarian types among the IT blokes at Uni. In both cases, it seemed to me, that the motivation for their dislike of government was that governments ‘force’ them to do things they don’t want to do, like paying to look after the rest of us who are just ‘stupid’. We must be stupid if we don’t see things their way.

    And POP, you say that radicals only attack other peoples ideas and never critically examine their own beliefs; this describes all the libertarians, I have ever met. They deliberately avoid reading anything that challenges their belief system or ever acknowledging any error of judgement when their claims have clearly been shown to be wrong.

    I think Robert Trivers, in his book, “Deceit and Self-deception” explains this behaviour. His premise is that if we can only see our own point of view, we can authentically argue our case because our deceits blind us to the truth.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/07/deceit-self-deception-robert-trivers?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

    And POP, as you say, it is a good thing to form groups to solve problems. But it seems to me that libertarians miss the most important principle of ‘self-organisation’. You don’t see that the system can only self-organise when there is a mutual goal and self-interest isn’t a mutual goal. The state is a group, formed to solve the problems that are created for the weak by the strong. The strong are motivated by their particular type of brain to look out for their own self-interest but some of us – because of evolution and the need for diversity, have the type of brain that won’t or can’t compete with your type of brain; not because we are stupid, but because we are different. I need protection from your ‘strength of mind’ just as I need protection from those with the physical strength to take stuff from me.

    You say that power in any group will be corrupted and that is just what I see has happened in the self-organised group we are calling the 1%. But it is not necessary for power to be corrupted. There is a lot of knowledge out there about how to ensure that governments do not become too corrupt.

    I keep asking for some historical and philosophical basis for your theory, apart from Hayek and Rand but you are not responding to this request.

  45. Julie: Rothbard is the other lightweight they often mention. Suffers from the same deficiencies you’ve noted above.

    Unfortunately, I had to read part of Milton and Rose Friedman’s *Free to Choose* for one of my uni subjects. I gave it a scathing review on FB, I’ll see if I can find it to re-post here.

    Incidentally Hayek described himself as being in favour of a comprehensive system of social insurance, and Adam Smith was nowhere near as doctrinaire as he is usually interpreted as. In comparison, contemporary libertarians really are ideologues.

  46. Dan, perhaps some of them – the nice ones – are deluded. Deliberately as a defence mechanism, they delude themselves so that they can continue to believe that they see things in a rational way, and the rest of us are not able to see the underlying rationality. Ayn Rands disciples totally believed in her ‘superior strength of mind’ and believed her flawed reasoning to be ‘rational’. A tendency toward hero worship is another trait that seems widespread among that type of mind.

    Is Rothbard an economist? Hayek did say some things that might suggest that he had some compassion for those of us he didn’t value. He was prepared to tolerate ‘some provision for those threatened by the extremes of indigence or starvation, be it only in the interest of those who require protection against acts of desperation on the part of the needy; see “The Constitution of Liberty”, chap. 19.

    The way I understand it, libertarians take Adam Smith’s ideas out of the christian context in which he situated them. So I don’t think their interpretation of this philosopher is going to be anything but cheap and nasty, more self-serving crap.

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