Sunday, March 29, 2009

Conservative vs. Libertarian - what is the source of the problem?

Under Dr. Keyes's excellent post United by Right, I attempt to identify the root cause of the confusion and disagreement between libertarian commentator Silent Consensus, and the majority of commenters under that and earlier threads at the site.

Here is an excerpt from my latest comment to the entry:

Re the irreconcilable differences between Silent Consensus and the majority in this forum:

I think what we have here is a failure to communicate. Yes, yes, it's an overused line, but that doesn't negate the fact.

There are three minimal requirements for intelligent conversation to occur: 1) an intelligent mind capable of transmitting a thought, 2) an intelligent mind capable of receiving a thought, and 3) a common mode of communication between them (a common language).

I personally find that it is almost always that third one that gets in the way of carrying on an intelligent conversation between minds. We speak the same (English) language, yes, extracting our words from a common store or reservoir, but at the same time we assign to them different significations, primary and secondary, depending on our philosophical beliefs. Thus, we're really speaking different philosophical dialects of the same language, which acts as a barrier or an impediment to our being able to transmit and receive thoughts with normal clarity. And it goes without saying that a high degree of clarity is an absolute must when attempting to carry on intelligent conversations with someone else, political, religious, whatever.

I, of course, encourage you to follow the link to the entry and read the entirety of the comment in which I quote John Jay from Federalist no. 2 where he lays it down as essential to, and inseparable from, the growth and development of the founding generation into a body politic sufficiently prepared and uniquely qualified to establish "general liberty and independence," the societal cohesion necessary to accomplish the formidable task.

Which, of course, has implications for us and our ability to maintain general liberty and independence, in our time, as well. Something I ultimately chose not to delve too far into in the post, opting rather to keep my focus primarily on the confusion, and what I deem to be the source of the confusion, that Silent Consensus is creating in the forum. Jay's observation is important as it applies to us nonetheless. And I'll have more to say on it here later.


Loyal to Liberty commenter chiu chunling writes in part:

Silent Consensus isn't a libertarian, though he makes free to mouth such arguments. He simply is trying to set up a straw-man idea of freedom to establish a problem that can only be solved by totalitarianism.

I believe that self-government means self-determination, and further that self-determination depends on self-control and self-restraint. I simply use a conceptually consistent idea of "self" as being an entity which has the potential for independent existence, which is to say, I do not mean only the body, which is dependent for its composition and continuation on circumstances.

This response to my comment is, on some level, meant to refute what I said concerning libertarianism's idea of what the term self-government primarily signifies. But in fact it solidifies the point. Where chunling indicates that he believes that self-government means self-determination and further that self-determination depends on self-control and self-constraint, he's simply acknowledging my simpler version of the exact same idea, namely that the primary signification of self-government is self-control, self-constraint, not self-determination. This is not what Silent Consensus believes, and his IS a libertarian understanding of the term self-government.

Now, maybe chunling counts himself among libertarians and was thus offended by my comments. Fine. But as I've said many, many times before, there are libertarians, and then there are Libertarians. A pure Libertarian like Silent Consensus has a strong sense of the absolute autonomy of the individual, or, extreme individualism. Chunling is not a pure libertarian, Silent Consensus is.


The Silent Consensus said...

Thanks for this post. I do need to correct one thing, and it's that I'm not a pure libertarian. I'm more of a LIBERALtarian, and I know you sincerely believed I was a pure libertarian so you weren't lying, but for the sake of integrity I felt inclined to issue this correction

Terry Morris said...

Silent Consensus,

Thank you. I should have updated the post to include your small-l vs. large-L distinction that you made in reply to me over at Loyal to Liberty. Obviously, though, I never got around to doing that.

When chiu answered my assertion in the Loyal to Liberty thread with "S.C. isn't a libertarian...", I chose not to respond to it because I felt that the premise must have emanated primarily from emotion rather than from reason, and I had no intention of eliciting another emotional response from him.

In that response to me chiu seems to be arguing or mounting a defense for some kind of libertarian purism, which is to say that if your brand of libertarianism and the way you articulate it doesn't jive with his brand of same and the way he articulates it, then to him you can't be a libertarian. I, of course, disagree with that altogether.

Nonetheless, you're certainly a lot more qualified than I am to determine your own political philosophy and the name you choose to put to it. But to me a pure libertarian IS a LIBERALtarian. I make that determination based primarily on the individual's apparent weddedness to the concept of absolute human autonomy, or, extreme individualism, which I think is a liberal concept. But please feel free to correct me further if need be.

Thanks again for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I simply had observed more of the actual political positions that SC had espoused and felt that they were, on the whole, overwhelmingly inconsistent with any ideas of limited government.

SC argues for only a few "freedoms", usually of the one-sided form (freedom from religion, or freedom of leftist speech, and so on), and the use of libertarian sounding arguments rang very false to my ear. I've known many libertarians (I am not one myself), and while I frequently disagree with them, I see that they are generally motivated by a principle of severely limited government.

As I stated, SC's motive in using those arguments (without any real sense of their structure, I might add) was evidently (that evidence spread through dozens of prior posts) a desire to wreck the notion of limited government by putting its arguments to untenable positions. I have no real wish to destroy arguments in favor of limited government, even if they are awkwardly deployed, so I simply bypassed the issue by pointing out SC's motive for using those arguments.

My own position favors what would technically be called a form of extreme anarchism, but practically is a preference for limited democratic republics (which have superior competitive attributes in a level playing field). In other words, I do not accept any warrant of authority for theories other than their production of concrete advantages in practice.

I do have emotions, but they do not facilitate my linguistic capabilities, so you'll rarely discover them from my original wordings.

Terry Morris said...


Thanks for your clarification. It's helpful.

You wrote:

...and while I frequently disagree with them, I see that they are generally motivated by a principle of severely limited government.

I too find this to be the case with libertarians -- government severely limited, from my perspective, to the extent that it is rendered impotent or wholly ineffective to its ultimate purposes.