Sunday, November 8, 2015

I wanted to print a defense of 'libertarian brutalism', but ...

Yesterday I excerpted, and linked to, an article by Jeffrey Tucker contrasting two types of libertarians. The first holds culturally 'liberal' or 'cosmopolitan' views: "human co-operation," "the rights of all", "allow[ing] human associations of all sorts to flourish," and "getting along rather than tearing each other apart." The second holds culturally 'conservative,' 'reactionary' or 'tribalist' views: wanting to "form homogeneous tribes" "work out their biases," "ostracize others based on 'politically incorrect standards," and "hate to their hearts content" in their own set-apart space.

The above is a conflict over ends, not means: both types are libertarian insofar as they see liberty as the way to their ends, and state power as an impediment to them. However, Tucker sees inescapable conflict when these two come together. And even the terms he adopts for them - "humanitarians" vs. "brutalists" - show his bias.

That's a bias I share, by the way. But that is not what the blog is for; it's meant to present the "Big Tent", libertarianism in all its facets. So, while I printed Tucker's article, I didn't want to leave it at that, giving only one side of the issue.

Today, then, I went looking for a defense of 'brutalism': a response to Tucker that would either explain why 'brutalism' is fine, or, at minimum, show how 'brutalists' and 'humanitarians' can work together. But ...  I could find nothing on the web. There were a lot of responses to Tucker's article; but none that met his argument directly. Instead, they decided to talk about a different issue.

Christoper Cantwell, for instance, describes Tucker's article thusly: "In the ongoing conflict between leftist infiltrators who want to redefine libertarianism, and purists who wish to stay on message, yet another high profile libertarian has ditched principle for popularity, and condemned principled action as racist, and misogynist." Huh? How are promoting tribalism, ostracism, and hatred "staying on message?" When did promoting those values become "principled action"?

They didn't, of course, and Cantwell does not even try to pretend they did. Instead (while accusing Tucker of attacking a strawman), he attacks a strawman of his own, the idea of "thick libertarianism": "According to Jeffrey Tucker, the people Tom Woods referred to as 'thick libertarians' are the 'humanitarians' who love all that is beautiful about liberty."

"Thick libertarianism" is the idea that liberal, and even progressive, end-values are or should be somehow part of the libertarian message. "Thin libertarianism," on the other hand, is the idea that libertarianism, per se, is end-value-neutral. That does not mean, as Objectivists like Peter Schwartz would have it, that libertarians espouse no end-values: it means that each libertarian espouses his or her own end-values, and advocates liberty as a means to those.

Holding to a "thin" libertarianism indeed means staying on message: if something doesn't affect liberty, the movement and party should leave it up to the individual. So it's not surprising that Cantwell tried this dodge. What is surprising is that virtually everyone else writing against Tucker's article did, too.

For instance, TJ at The Anarchist Notebook responded: "Once more there is an attempt to define libertarianism as something more than simply being against the initiation of violence or aggression against an innocent person or their property." Matthew Muncel, at Divine Anarchy, wrote an "Intro to Brutalism" explaining that was the whole point:  "Jeffery Tucker joined ranks among the Thick libertarians and wrote an entire article in which he labeled himself and all those like him as 'humanitarian' and the 'thin libertarians' as Brutalists."  Daniel Phillips of The Intellectual Conservative chimed in that "I certainly side with the 'thin' 'brutalists' associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute and"

Even those who tried to see both sides did the same, like Henry Moore at The Libertarian Liquidationist: "As someone who respects individuals and ideas in both camps, I can sympathize with each. My alliance with certain humanitarians (roughly left/center thick libertarians) is more pragmatic, and my identification as a brutalist (roughly right/center thin libertarians) is more principled."

And that was it for the day: No attempts to deal with Tucker and his thesis; nothing but attacks on a "thick libertarian" strawman, perhaps in the hopes that the resulting pile of straw would succeed in hiding the issue. Perhaps I'll try again tomorrow.

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