Rebuttal to Will Moyer

24 July 2014
http://www.salon.com/2014/06/14/why_i_left_libertarianism_an_ethical_critique_of_a_limited_ideology/

 

 

I'm glad people find the courage to share with the world the thoughts they have.  It's an important part of humanity's development, of humanity's evolution towards understanding itself.  It will be a process that will never end.  Learning should never stop simply because there will always be problems to solve.

 

One such problem is the way people support and perpetuate the rules of society.  The current status quo for this is to accept what is commonly referred to as 'necessary evil' or government.  This concept is one that ultimately rejects the idea of consent.  It is a concept that author, Will Moyer, does present but does so very fleetingly.

 

In his defense it may not exactly be for the best in his defense of rejecting libertarianism as he proclaims to do in his article titled "Why I left libertarianism" An ethical critique of a limited ideology." (I value many contributions libertarianism makes to challenging power.  But here' why I no longer associate with it.)

 

I would like to point out that a major mistake of many people ranging from hard core Republicans and Democrats, to libertarians and Libertarians, to anarchists and socialists is that they tend to demand perfect solutions to every little problem that may arise.  The perfection of what will be done has to be addressed before they will be willing to accept a change in the status quo that they learned to accept while developing as a child.

 

A lot of people do this as adults by means of searching through texts and other works written before them.  People will quote others and then state that something is broken because an answer doesn't exist.  Will Moyer did just that with his piece.  It is the classic mistake so many make, again ranging from statist to anarchist.

 

If we want answers to questions and we may not be able to find the answers to those questions from others then perhaps we should look to ourselves to lay the ground work for answering such questions.  Just because a perfect solution isn't readily available doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  By that same token just because a one size fits all solution doesn't work doesn't mean that a tailor made solution pending the arrival of a problem won't work either.

 

Evidence of Moyer's fault in this can be found throughout his article.  For starters though I will begin with this:

 

"Once I realized {anarchism was libertarianism fully realized}, there was no going back.  But anarchism isn’t a part of libertarianism. Anarchism is its own broad political and social philosophy. Libertarianism is just one school of thought that can (and should) lead you to statelessness."

 

Here he is telling the world that he is not advancing the idea of libertarianism as it should be.  (L)ibertarianism and (l)ibertarianism both to certain degrees advocate for a government in varying capacities.  Yes, some (l)ibertarians advocate for no government but to be clear it is confusing on which do and which do not.  The moniker of small L libertarians is just a confusing title.

 

Complete advocacy of no government at all but with socially understood concepts of how individuals should interact with one another is more in line with peaceful anarchy and voluntaryism.  So for the sake of an easier argument I will state that all libertarians, big and small L, advocate for government of some kind.

 

This is important to understand because Moyer doesn't make this distinction consistently.  Additionally to further set him back in understanding what he is choosing he makes the following statement:

 

"I’m going to make broad generalizations. It’s hard to criticize a body of thought like libertarianism. There is no one set definition of what a libertarian is or what they believe, so for any criticisms there will be countless exceptions."

 

Here he comes close to recognizing my last statement but stops short.  Worse yet he boldly states that he is going to generalize.  That's dangerous because there are so many aspects of libertarianism.  To be fair immediately following that statement he explains his reasons but later concludes his article in a way that contradicts the general sentiments he dismisses.  In general he is right when he discusses how the crux of such a philosophy is founded in nonaggression and property rights; and with so many of those who are critical of these two very simple ideas he follows them up with this:

 

"But if you allow yourself to have wider moral sensibilities, the framework is woefully inadequate –if not outright grotesque- in certain cases.

 

That statement borders on intellectual dishonesty.  If libertarianism was understood as well as Moyer thinks he understands it then he would recognize that each individual, as his/her own owner in regards to self ownership, will have to make such choices concerning their own general well being in addition to figuring out how to interact with others with different ideas.

 

Here and throughout his entire article he fails to mention the idea of voluntary interactions.  Because of this, he fails to recognize the important connection between voluntaryism and nonaggression.  That changes things dramatically in the understanding of basic libertarianism which leads to peaceful anarchy/voluntaryism.  There is nothing grotesque about the way libertarians deal with morality; yet because Moyer is making that mistake of searching for a solution for every problem by looking at a mere portion of what has been written about libertarianism, instead of looking into how he would deal with each problem as it arises, he fails to see that he as a libertarian would be in charge of himself and not what society thinks he should do.

 

So naturally, like so many who challenge libertarianism and anarchy/voluntaryism from the point of view of maintaining government as it is or as a limited but necessary evil, Moyer demands direct answers to such solutions.  He makes the following assertions about what others might do instead of what he would do with his own time, intellect, and labor.  And that gives libertarianism an unfair bad label to those learning about it for the purpose of making their own honest judgments.

 

"Take Rothbard on parental obligations to children:

The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. (Again, whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question.)"

 

"Walter Block, another prominent libertarian theorist, has attempted to narrow the case where abandonment is permissible (no one is willing to “homestead” the abandoned baby), but rejects that the non-aggression principle applies to children. Why? Because children aren’t full humans with all the same rights as adults."

 

"It’s embarrassing that many libertarians have so little moral clarity on this issue."

 

With that last statement by Moyer it should be clear that he is not looking into what he would do with a libertarian philosophy but what others would do.

 

"The problem is choice"

 

The problem is never choice.  To suggest such a thing is to imply that people are not capable of choosing the right thing.  And what does that mean anyway, 'choosing the right thing?'  Who determines what is right and who it is right for; the right thing for the individual or the collection of individuals that comprise our respective societies?

 

Moyer seems to get himself into trouble with that generalization thing again by bringing up sweatshop labor.

 

"But there is some gray on the good side. Is a rich CEO really in the same ethical position as a poor Chinese factory worker? In the libertarian view, yes. There are plenty of differences, but if that Chinese worker voluntarily chose to work for that factory, they’re not ethical differences."

 

He discusses how there is consent and there is not consent but washes over it fairly quickly. 

 

"Within the libertarian ethical framework, choice is binary. Either something was consented to voluntarily or it was not. This conception of consent marks the line between good and evil. On one side of the line are socially acceptable behaviors and on the other side are impermissible behaviors."

 

Consent is a very important concept.  It is one in which people recognize, even if they cannot explain such, the idea of property rights starting with self ownership.  It is entirely possible that Moyer doesn't understand this concept entirely; or at least hasn't made the connection between consent and property right yet. 

 

"Theft, rape, murder and fraud all lie on the nonconsensual side and are therefore not good. The other side includes all forms of voluntary human interaction which, again because we’re limited to a political ethic, we can’t really say much about. It’s all fine.

But there is some gray on the good side. Is a rich CEO really in the same ethical position as a poor Chinese factory worker? In the libertarian view, yes. There are plenty of differences, but if that Chinese worker voluntarily chose to work for that factory, they’re not ethical differences.

Like the starving-your-child issue, any moral objections you might have are outside the scope of the libertarian ethic. They reflect your personal morality, which has no business being used to dictate social behaviors.

But choice isn’t binary. It’s a spectrum. "

 

What he's getting at is that there are many reasons and stimuli that affect the outcomes of our choices.  There are many choices and choices are binary.  In other words choices we make either have our non-coerced and completely voluntary consent or they do not.  Also Moyer is wrong when he stated that personal morality has no business being used to dictate social behaviors. 

 

It absolutely does.  An individual can choose to feed that starving child or not.  What personal morality may not do under libertarianism is to use unwarranted coercion to gain compliance from others to do what you would do.  Here is another concept that leads me to believe Moyer doesn't understand what to do under a philosophy like libertarianism. 

 

 

"Most libertarians would admit that this spectrum exists, but there is still strong sentiment within libertarianism that any non-coercive relationship is good. And  —  within the political ethic  —  even if it isn’t “good,” it’s still permissible. That’s why you see libertarians defending sweatshops.

A poor Chinese factory worker is far more constrained than a rich white businessman. His range of possible options is tiny in comparison. He is less free. The same may be true depending on your race, gender, class or sexual orientation. The way you were treated growing up  —  by your parents, teachers and peers  —  may contribute. The way people like you are represented in media and entertainment may contribute. Social prejudices and cultural norms may contribute. These factors don’t mean people are being outright forced to do anything, but simply that they’re constrained by their environment. We all are, in different ways."

 

Once again, Moyer makes another classic mistake.  He's not a stupid individual by any stretch of the imagination; and that is plain for the world to see by this essay alone.  The mistake he makes this time is separate from others.  Here he doesn't show any understanding of history and how industrialized countries came to be.  What is unique about this mistake is that Moyer, like many educated anarchists and voluntaryists, doesn't understand basics economics; particularly the idea of wealth.

 

Wealth is something that can be divided into two separate categories.  Real and Artificial.  Real wealth is any good, service, or idea that directly satisfies one or more of the four basics of life; sustenance, shelter, security, and happiness.  Artificial wealth is any easily produced and exchangeable commodity that is useful exclusively in exchange for other commodities and or real wealth.  The production of real wealth is what elevates every society into a technological revolution.  Stated differently, the rate of real wealth production in relation to its consumption is what raises the standard of living for a society.

 

Goods, services, and ideas-real wealth, are produced much faster and cheaper.  In order to make this happen such ideas to be considered are production costs; and the most expensive costs are typically labor.  So to find an area where people are poor and want/need work to acquire real wealth to sustain and improve the quality of their lives they willingly choose to work in such low wage, poor condition facilities because the benefits to them in their own minds far outweigh the negative effects.

 

Essentially what these sweatshop laborers are doing is fixing their poor status in life to slightly wealthier than they previously were.  The notion that these 'sweatshops' are bad is a false notion projected by those of us in societies where our quality and standards of living are much, much higher.  We forget or ignorantly don't know that our great, great grandparents and their parents likely had to endure many of the same conditions that sweatshop laborers endure today.  Of course that's not the only way to improve the overall quality of an individual's or a society's standard of living but it is the most abundant historical example that is made so because of government intervention with regulations and such.

 

"As before, without admitting that this spectrum exists, libertarianism leaves an entire range of human social behavior off the table."

 

"All of these deficiencies of libertarianism result in one thing: a limited vision for the future."

 

These two statements are completely devoid of a previous observation I made before.  He is demanding again that there be perfect solutions for problems that do and do not exist yet.  As far as saying that libertarianism leaves an entire range of human social behavior off the table, well…

 

That's the thing about libertarianism.  By respecting consent, property rights, by means of nonaggression all of human behavior is going to be addressed, not by a centralized authority but by each individual and who they choose to associate with.

 

"Libertarians want a world without a state. Beyond that, the philosophy says little about the shape of human culture. It should be based on property rights and non-aggression. How can we combat racism? Property rights and non-aggression. How should humans approach sexuality and gender? Property rights and non-aggression. What is the place of hierarchies in society, whether it’s families or workplaces or financial classes? Property rights and non-aggression. What role  —  if any  —  should religion and superstition play in society? Property rights and non-aggression.

I recognize that a consistently applied libertarian ethic would make the world a much better place than it currently is. And I recognize that I’m essentially criticizing libertarians for only wanting to take down the greatest threat to human flourishing on the planet. In a world full of people who defend the status quo and apologize for power, those with radical ideas deserve the least criticism.

But for libertarians who see the dismantling of the state as the ultimate goal, I have to disagree. It is not enough."

 

As I stated previously libertarianism generally advocates for some kind of government involvement.  To be a libertarian and advocate for no government is essentially to be an anarchist.  The last passage I quoted from Moyer is pretty much more of the same of a previous passage I addressed with this: By respecting consent, property rights, by means of nonaggression all of human behavior is going to be addressed, not by a centralized authority but by each individual and who they choose to associate with.

 

As far as dismantling the {government} goes…  Moyer makes another mistake of assuming that an immediate dismantling of government will solve the problem.  WRONG!  NO!

 

Teaching critical thinking, nonaggression, voluntaryism, and what wealth is and how these concept interact with one another to produce freedom and prosperity for liberty over the course of several generations, if not dozens, in a similar way that government dependence/obedience was taught, is the way to achieve the desired result; a more free status quo.

 

"While eliminating the state is a massive multigenerational project, it is in many ways only the first step. Human flourishing is the ultimate goal. And if libertarians think they can dust off their hands and head home just because the state is in ashes, they’re wrong."

 

See, Moyer is not stupid.  He knows; at least I want to believe he knows.  He's just falsely attacking libertarianism because it is so widely open and has many branches, like other ideas which perpetuate government. 

 

"The degree to which I’ve moved away from libertarianism is the degree to which I think the ideology is ill-equipped to fight those battles. Once you move your goals beyond the elimination of the state, the ethical framework of libertarianism falls far short. Its black-and-white view of choice is shallow and inadequate when judging the nuances of human interaction and of how power and exploitation affect us."

 

Here Moyer is just repeating himself and taking shots at libertarians despite the fact that he previously stated  " I was hesitant to write this piece because I routinely see libertarians smeared and ridiculed in mainstream dialogue, specifically by leftists who support the current political institutions. That is a bandwagon I absolutely will not jump on."

 

So much for that.

 

"My goal isn’t a society based on property rights. My goal is human flourishing. I want an ethical, free and humane planet. A world where humans take care of each other and other living creatures. I want a world of flattened hierarchies, including the nonviolent ones. A world with human dignity. That may be a future where property rights  — as we think of them today  —  don’t exist. It may be a post-scarcity world full of abundance. It may be a world where our familiar social structures  —  both macro and micro  —  are vastly different. It’s up to us to build it. "

 

Well, if your goal isn't a society based on property rights, starting with self ownership, then it will be something else more akin to a centralized planned government.  I don't know if Moyer understands property rights as well as he thinks he does.  At least he may not be connecting the idea of property rights extending from self ownership to the product of an individual refinement of his/her time, intellect, and labor, and by extension to the traded property/wealth acquired by exchanging such refinements.  Ironically Moyer discusses a means to achieve human prosperity by people taking care of people.  That's essentially free market trade of the produced real wealth.  What produces more dignity in a man or woman than honest and peaceful labors that provide to basics of life?

 

Interestingly, property rights will likely always exist in some form.  They have to or slaves cannot be property of masters, nor can some people be more equal than others.  These concepts cannot exist without the idea of property rights; and those aforementioned ideas being twisted and perverted as they are.

 

"To those of you who consider yourselves libertarians, I say this: You don’t have to reject your current beliefs. But you must expand them. Libertarianism’s narrow views do a disservice to yourself and to the world. Widen the circle of your radicalism until it encompasses all of society. Leave no status quo unexamined. There is work to be done and radicals needed to do it."

 

Well, I'm not a libertarian as Moyer described.  The only narrow views that exist within libertarianism are those interjected by individuals, such as Moyer, who are not entirely secure in their own minds as to what they believe in.  Because Moyer wrote his article prematurely to understanding wealth, history, and what nonaggression and property rights really are, he did himself a disservice.  His advice to widen the circle of radicalism until it encompasses all of society should be his goal.

 

He's not a stupid individual but he is making so many mistakes that are common with those who do less quiet contemplation after some reading and more regurgitation of the ideas of others and knee jerk reactions.

 

-JLD

 

~~~

Support liberty by purchasing a copy of Liberty Defined, an eBook by Jim Limber davis, here:

Or show extra support here!

Be sure to 'Like', Share, Recommend, Tweet, & Pin this article below!

Want to advertise here?

This site is a Google ads free site.  Ad blockers do not work here.  All advertisements are custom made and never blocked! 

Prices start @ $15 / 28 days!  Click here to learn more!