Libertarianism is inherently progressive and statist

August 5, 2014 § 22 Comments

Libertarianism is the notion that freedom should be a political priority within some scope. “Liberty” is political freedom, which lies at the root of all liberalisms including libertarianism.

One of the great ironies of modernity is that when freedom is made a political priority, it inherently destroys subsidiarity and promotes centralized monolithic authority.

Subsidiarity is messy, hierarchical, distributed human authority. Anyone can look around and see that “that messy human authority over there” is restricting someone’s freedom. That’s what authority does: it discriminates between people in such a way that some people get their way and others don’t.  And because freedom is a political priority, something must be done about it!

The never-ending collection of “something must be done about its” become concentrated in a single monolithic bureaucratic liberal government that manages everything for everyone, to make sure that everyone is free and that anyone who gets in the way of individual freedom is dealt with severely.

This is what libertarians are just too myopic to even begin to comprehend: that the monolithic managerial global all-encompassing liberal megastate is just libertarianism all grown up. Libertarianism is the larval stage of statist progressivism.

§ 22 Responses to Libertarianism is inherently progressive and statist

  • Mike T says:

    One of the great ironies of modernity is that when freedom is made a political priority, it inherently destroys subsidiarity and promotes centralized monolithic authority.

    I came to that conclusion a while ago by noting that most people’s idea of freedom is freedom to “have fun” and that it often ends up with them demanding subsidy by the state when things go wrong. The major flaw of libertarianism here is in failing to understand that for every person’s whose conception of freedom is peaceful, productive activity that is a net contribution to the economy and health of society there are probably five who’d eat, drink, shoot up, have sex and be merry until they nearly die tomorrow when Uncle Sam is expected to pick up the tab.

    The never-ending collection of “something must be done about its” become concentrated in a single monolithic bureaucratic liberal government that manages everything for everyone, to make sure that everyone is free and that anyone who gets in the way of individual freedom is dealt with severely.

    To be fair, this argument has a number of variations. The most common being “the terrorists will win if X is not done” and “will someone please think of the children.” All of these things tend to come from emotional policy making. Often times there are tools already for dealing with the situation and the authorities simply didn’t use them for whatever reason. More government is very rarely the solution precisely because most basic laws handle everything except genuine edge cases.

    The Libertarian Party, ironically, has observed that most environmental regulations are actually bad for the environment because by following them they create a positive argument for why a company should not be held liable for what amounts to a failure of common sense leading to public harm. A lot of people cannot wrap their heads around the fact that there are basic liability laws that are fairly open-ended and can be used very flexibly.

  • jf12 says:

    @MikeT, re: subsidy.

    Yes, the bullying gang which demands freedom for themselves depends upon having a territory, or niche, or range, or market domain in which they are free to monopolize things. Competition, either in the form of a rival gang, the police, an uncowed populace, parents withholding an allowance, enforcing a curfew, etc. severely curtails their fun and forces them to work instead of getting subsidized.

  • Mike T says:


    I’d be curious to know your opinion on the duty to submit to tyranny, especially of the more openly violent sort. For example, would someone in the North during the pre-Civil War era have a moral right to use violence to prevent federal officials from trying and punishing them under the Fugitive Slave Act for aiding and abetting the escape of a slave?

  • Mike T says:

    Let me rephrase that, what are your duties when subjected to tyranny and when/how far can you refuse to submit to the authority of someone engaging in tyranny?

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    It is hard to know how to comment on particular situations without having all of the particulars. In general human authority functions within due limits, but it is always our duty to give unto Caesar that which is legitimately Caesar’s. There are no hard and fast rules because it is impossible to specify all of the facts, among other things.

    We can postulate some clearer and less clear cases. If Caesar demands some of his currency from you that you actually have in your possession, well, it is his currency. (In fact his capacity to demand it is precisely what gives it ‘virtual’ value in commercial exchange). If Caesar tries to kill you unjustly, you don’t have a duty to drink the Hemlock – in fact you have a duty not to.

    Where it starts to get squirrelly is when you are yourself an authority acting as such (a father, say) and Caesar is trying (say) to put your family out of their home. In that case what we have is a microscale just war evaluation, it seems to me, so the usual criteria would apply (including the uncomfortable ones people don’t like, such as a reasonable chance of success). So I’d think that the yankee in your scenario would have a moral warrant to run from the law, but once it came to a firefight he can’t reasonably expect to win he should surrender.

    But remember I am not a positivist so if someone were asking for a kind of definitive ‘demarcation criteria’ between where and to what degree resistance up to and including violence is morally warranted, it isn’t that I just stubbornly won’t propose one. It is that the request isn’t rationally coherent.

  • Mike T, do you think it was acceptable or correct for free blacks to be sold South, or for the South to engage in open violation of interstate regulations regarding slavery? I find it very telling that your slavery examples are about some ostensible legal or moral wrong done to slave-owners and not the repeated violations of lawful authority done by Southerners that weren’t the Civil War itself.

  • nickbsteves says:

    I think some clarity might be had, Zippy, if you could delineate (or at least admit of the theoretical possibility of delineation) between leftism (as an irrational ideology, rooted in envy and motivated by equality of all persons) and liberalism (as an irrational ideology, rooted in pride, which justifies individualism and easy rejection of inherited traditions). I do think these two distinct occult motivations are at work in the modern project. But I see leftism as being responsible for the most caustic effects. It as though liberalism carries the water (e.g., Washington & Adams), and leftism breaks the dam (e.g., John Brown & Charles Sumner).

    It is certainly true they are not unrelated, and I think Jim Kalb in “Tyranny of Liberalism” has shown abundantly well how liberalism (freedom for all) results ultimately in leftist tyranny (freedom for none). It remains, in my opinion, at most an empirical claim, tho’ likely true, that liberalism leads inevitably to leftism. But to declare them to be, in fact, equal, and that statism (a species of leftism) inheres to libertarianism (a species of liberalism) strains credulity. It is perhaps true that anarchy leads, even inevitably given human nature, to statist tyranny. But that doesn’t mean they are the same thing, or that one inheres to another. Ayn Rand got many things wrong, yet it would seem misleading at best to call her a “statist”.

  • Zippy says:

    In my view liberalism and leftism are the same basic thing distinguished by how much impurity they admit, like the difference between 12 carat gold and 18 carat gold. The impurities are what I call unprincipled exceptions, about which much has been written here and at VFR. Libertarianism, liberalism, and leftism share the same essence: it is not mere empirical accident that libertarianism leads to statism, it is the logic of making freedom a political priority working itself out in the context of our given reality and reason.

    Furthermore, making a false categorical distinction between them is precisely what gives rise to right-liberalism or neoconservatism/neoreaction: to useful idiocy which cements leftist/progressive triumphs in place, defends them on the right flank, and banishes all illiberal thought from the Overton window and any conceptual territory even visible from it.

    So what you see as a bug and half-truth of my understanding I see as a feature and the full truth.

    Rand may not have thought of herself as a statist, but her views inevitably lead to statist tyranny. People don’t get to dictate the consequences of their views.

  • Mike T says:

    I find it very telling that your slavery examples are about some ostensible legal or moral wrong done to slave-owners

    I find it very telling you came to those conclusions from a question asking where and when a yankee would be morally justified in shooting dead a federal agent trying to enforce that law against him. The very asking of the question implies sympathy for armed resistance to that law.

  • Denise says:

    Setting aside libertarianism as an “ism” obsessed with freedom and focusing more on the notion of limited government, it seems that limited government has the potential for creating space for other authorities to rise (subsidiarity). Limited government keeps Caesar at bay but needn’t necessarily rail against authority per se.

    I am reminded of the Calvinist political philosopher Kuyper’s useful idea of “sphere sovereignty,” which is essentially the concept that there are appropriate authorities for various spheres of life (family, church, school, state, etc.), and that while they all must work together and not undermine one another, no particular authority should be all encompassing.

    To jf12’s point, this does seem to be more like what we found in ancient Israel. There were religious authorities, and military authorities, fathers exercised a very high degree of authority over their families, etc. But there wasn’t an overarching ruler-of-everything, other than the Lord.

  • Zippy says:

    There is danger though in the very notion of “limited government” presupposing that “government” is a single monolithic uniformity. This can easily result in libertarian tail-chasing: that government over there is tyrannical/limits freedom, so something must be done about it.

    Start stacking up ‘something must be done about its’ – plenty of which will be valid enough on their own terms – and you end up with the monolithic omnicompetent bureaucratic modern liberal megastate.

    Under feudalism a manor or what have you might correspond more or less to what we today call a corporation. The notion that the government is just that one kind of authority right there run by elected officials, and that no other authorities have political quiddity, seems to me to be one of the subtle errors of modernity. There is nothing about a father’s authority (for example) that makes it less deontologically valid than the mayor’s or police chief’s authority.

    So yes, all human authority has legitimate bounds, resolving when those bounds have been overstepped is a difficult problem of particular judgment, and there is no ‘formal solution’ which provides an escape from political dependence on the particular judgments of particular men.

  • Mike T says:

    Serious question here, as I’m trying to understand the “right authoritarian” side better. Since “the Good” is the measure of all policy, how would a “right authoritarian” handle something like the current NSA pervasive surveillance issue? Is there even a way to concretely say whether pervasive surveillance of society is wrong from that perspective, especially since many of the regimes favored by commenters here made use of things like heavy surveillance and secret police forces? I’m not trying to beg the question here since this level of surveillance is qualitatively and quantitatively much more advanced and broader than what was feasible in those regimes so there isn’t enough historic precedent to say what others would have done.

    Lydia and I were discussing this general topic (advanced technology-driven surveillance and how it is reaching dangerous levels of power) on W4 recently. Based on most of the postings here (including by commenters), I don’t see how “right authoritarianism” would have the sort of philosophical language to put hard limits on this technology’s deployment against the public since freedom is superfluous and over time it could yield a lot of benefits for the common good with most of the side effects only being harmful if you consider freedom to be a good in itself.

  • Mike T says:

    Lydia raised the specter of a technology that would connect into the brain and inflict punishment on behalf of a parent every time a child thought something evil. Suppose something more benign such as a device that used machined learning to scan our thoughts and categorize and enumerate our sinful thoughts such that our sinful natures were in no way private anymore. I’d be curious to know precisely what the likely “right authoritarian” take on such an intrusive device would be and if opposed, precisely how such a thing could be opposed.

    This isn’t exactly sci-fi anymore; game companies are already testing devices that let gamers control video game characters with their minds and machine learning is advancing to the point where it’s a matter of when the two will be combined to detect the general nature of a thought and what category it falls into.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    I’m just going to duplicate my comment from the other thread here: I replied to three of your comments in one, not noticing on the phone app that they were in different threads. WordPress is insanely inconsistent in its presentation between app/web and public/admin interfaces.

    Well, first of all, I don’t speak for “authoritarian rightists”. I have my own views and those are what I write about. Someone might credibly propose – and indeed I have proposed, whether credibly or not is up to others to decide – that much of what passes for ‘alt right’ is just the Nazi permutation of modernity: freedom (triumph of the will) with explicit inequality between the superman and the low man.

    You tend to frame multiple prudential questions as though they were single questions of principle. Your questions aren’t even wrong, because the metaphysic underneath them doesn’t frame things correctly.

    I’ve said before that once the gun of formal authority has been unholstered, leadership has already lost and is just trying to mitigate damage. Intense surveillance is a symptom of “formalist” society. It might be warranted if a good sovereign were beset by a wicked conspiratorial people though.

    In general your whole perspective is wrongheaded in my view, because you are thinking of authority as something that is engineered, with design limits, etc. A designed distributed system isn’t subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is organic. You are trying to dissect a horse and are asking questions like “wouldn’t it be better if horses had wheels?” It is an old problem, as some commenters have pointed out going back to the book of Judges.

    Subsidiarity is organic, so the right kind of political questions take the form “if I were in the role of Bob, in Bob’s particular circumstances, what should I do”.

    Obviously a good sovereign would not disarm or do deep surveillance on a functional, good people. He wouldn’t perceive any need, and doing so treats the people like errant children.

    But right now we have neither a good sovereign nor a good people. And since civilizations are organic not designed, questions about how we should design a civilization miss the point.

    The only pertinent political question, then, is what should we do (in all the different role permutations implied by “we”). And the consistent answer for everyone in every role is “repent unequivocally from liberalism, including right-liberal versions which emphasize ‘freedom'”.

    Beyond that, my criticism of your ‘pastoral’ approach – and we aren’t talking IRL here, I am talking about your online rhetoric – stands. You are like the priests and counselors who, every time divorce comes up, go on and on about how sometimes legal separation of assets is OK, and sometimes marriages are invalid, and reluctantly stipulate that every once in a great while a woman might actually make an evil choice, though probably because she was abused by her father. It may be technically true in its brass tacks doctrine – that’s how weaponized nihilism works – but in the end, we all know whose side they are on, and who they are ‘helping’ with their rhetoric.

  • Denise says:

    Zippy said: “So yes, all human authority has legitimate bounds, resolving when those bounds have been overstepped is a difficult problem of particular judgment, and there is no ‘formal solution’ which provides an escape from political dependence on the particular judgments of particular men.”

    I think that I am tracking, but maybe not. My takeaway from this statement (and the post in general) would be that there is no “ism” that can address the problem of abuses of authority without itself becoming a totalitarian authority. To make a political project out of attempting to combat abuses of authority is necessarily self-defeating.

  • Mark Citadel says:

    The correct way to check power abuse is mainly through the separation of commonly held responsibility. Take education for instance. It is seemingly obvious that it is a fundamental abuse of power for the state to be involved in child-rearing, but at the root this is actually just a misallocation of responsibility caused by modernity.

    The organic structure is to have parents be the arbiters of education, leading to a hereditary workforce, where barring unforeseen circumstances, children will mostly enter the trade of their parents because they will be taught by their parents.

    If responsibility is placed in the correct hands, then the abuse of power is largely neutralized. If you favor a monarchy, I doubt you want the king to ever consider the fanciful notion that he should waste his time with building schools.

  • Mark Citadel says:

    “There is nothing about a father’s authority (for example) that makes it less deontologically valid than the mayor’s or police chief’s authority.”

    Yes yes and double yes! This is in keeping with the ‘Four Laws’ theory, that civilized man follows four key laws that determine his behavior. Theonomy, Heteronomy, Patronomy, and Autonomy.

    In the modern age, heteronomy has enlarged itself by using autonomy as an excuse. It has expanded government power for the cause of ‘freedom’. All the while, the authority of religion and fathers (heads of household) have been totally UNDERMINED and neutralized. This is the curse of modernity, we live out of balance. We are most certainly slaves of a political class and ideal that talks of liberty for the interest of tyranny, addicting us like junkies to the saccharine of quenched desires.

    The result? Debauchery, depravity, and debasement. The three Ds.

  • Zippy says:


    To make a political project out of attempting to combat abuses of authority is necessarily self-defeating.

    I would modify the statement to say:

    To make a political project out of attempting to combat abuses of authority by imposing specific formal structures as a substitute for cultivating virtue is necessarily self-defeating.

    We can’t produce the ‘benefits’ of virtue without actually cultivating virtue, and if we don’t cultivate virtue then no ridiculous formalism is going to save the day. More particularly we cannot produce the ‘benefits’ of Catholic Christianity without embracing Catholic Christianity as actually true.

    A typical DE/NRx attitude can be found here:

    Traditional religions are collections of evolutionarily useful customs. They prescribe certain ethics/morality/behaviors because societies that converged on those behaviors were successful and these behaviors survived. Prayer for example can be viewed as a mental health practice, similar to meditation. Traditional marriages, traditional gender roles are all behaviors that were evolutionarily successful through thousands of years.

    Most people don’t understand evolutionary or game theoretical arguments and explanations. ‘Because God said so’ is a better way to get them to behave constructively. Bottom line, traditional religions were beneficial to social stability. DE thinks a lot about what makes societies stable.

    In the first place, the whole evolutionary narrative is tommyrot. Laymen adopt it because doing so signals status, not because they have done due diligence. I’ve done due diligence, and it is a steaming pile of not-even-wrong question-begging BS.

    But even more importantly, the whole notion of building a civilization on what the elites take to be ‘successful lies’ is ludicrous. It may be true that in late stage decadence, poolside elites stop believing in the religion that built the civilization upon which they are blood sucking parasites. But the vultures didn’t raise the cow.

  • Mark Citadel says:

    I am of the mind that the truth, represented in God, is always for the benefit of humankind. Therefore if you have something genuinely good for society that you think is a myth, it will actually be true and your calculations will be wrong. However if you have something from God that works poorly for a society, the chances are you are interpreting or implementing it with malfunction. It is not enough to simply say we are to create a reactionary society with religion at its core because religion is an evolutionary good.

    For one thing, if religion is merely an evolutionary good, one is not amiss in questioning the entire project, for all things at base lose purpose. Any belief we have that a stable society is preferable to an unstable society merely becomes a figment of our evolutionary brain.
    And for another, it is not enough to have a zealous people. Their leaders must also be zealous. If the leaders are licentious unbelievers, manipulating their peons with religion in order to furnish themselves, this will lead almost inevitably to a growing disconnect and eventually some kind of rebellion.

  • MarcusD says:

  • CJ says:

    That kind of Screwtapian instrumentalism is arguably the worst feature of DE/NRx. They are perfectly willing to jettison Christ the second they find something that “works better.” DE/NRx is materialist at its core, even among the self-proclaimed Christians.

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