Project August: Day 3 – Why Ignorance of Libertarianism Is Not a Virtue

Yesterday I mentioned the many attempts to smear libertarianism, and today I am going to talk about one of them. Today I am going to respond to a post over at Huffington Post’s section rather boringly, and perhaps arrogantly, titled “The Blog”. I came across it by looking through posts at the blog of another site, libertarianism.org. There, Aaron Ross Powell responds to a post by Ekow N. Yankah at “The Blog”. Yes, more politics today. But as you will see, I bring this around to D/s as well.

Let us begin with Yankah’s post, “Why Government Is Virtuous”. (Excuse me while I laugh at that title.)

The libertarian position is so deeply embedded in the American psyche, it comes across as plain or intuitive. This view is captured, ironically, in the words of progressive Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, who opined that the greatest of all rights is the right to be let alone. Libertarians take this one step further, viewing the right against interference as the sole right against persons and the government. Government power then, in the libertarian ideal, is only justifiable to the extent absolutely needed to protect against unavoidable invasions of rights. From the philosopher Robert Nozick to the less intellectualized Tea Party, it is the right of the single individual as against all others that animates the libertarian.

But recapping political philosophy 101 misses the romance of the picture. Somewhere in the leap from philosophy books to the political arena, the libertarian ideal gets beefed up and ruggedly handsome. He is self-sufficient and brave and thus able to care for himself. She is wise and humble in seeking to limit state power. Wise because she knows that giving any person power corrupts them. Humble because she understands that even well intentioned government officials are more likely to do harm than good. The point explicitly pushed by libertarian think tanks like the Cato Institute is that the libertarian is not just a respecter of other people’s rights; a libertarian is virtuous.

The remarkable thing about this picture is how totally at odds it is with social science, our most ancient philosophical thinking about the nature of human virtue and most strikingly, our everyday experiences. The self-sufficient and virtuous frontiersman is hardly recognizable as a human ideal and certainly not as the achievement of virtue. Aristotle recognized this over 2000 years ago when he described human beings as deeply social and political animals.

The social part is self-evident. Human beings do not like being alone. Of course, I don’t mean that people do not ever want to be alone; that would be silly. But trapped on an island, if one spotted another person, the first impulse would be joy and relief; fear would be a distant second. Think of moving to a foreign city where you found it impossible to make any friends. This would be a frustrating and then terrifying sentence. Some may prefer bustling cities and others quiet hamlets, but there are few people who wish to be socially isolated for extended periods of time and taken to an extreme, such a wish can be a sign of trauma or mental health issues.

[Insert over-the-top sigh and eye roll here.]

Really? Yankah is a professor at the Cardozo School of Law. And still he manages some really astounding ignorance about libertarianism. Basically Yankah is arguing that libertarianism is nonvirtious, or to be more direct, dishonest because people don’t want to live in isolation from one another. If you think I am exaggerating, please notice what he says later in the same blog post:

To be fair, it’s not that libertarians all walk around shunning human contact; they need not deny the value of working together. What libertarianism denies is the ability to govern in the name of the common good. And in doing so, libertarians all to often borrow from the romantic view that standing alone is virtuous.

Yankah’s comments are all the more astonishing because clearly this man is aware of organizations like the Cato Institute. Why does that make his comments astonishing? Because the Cato Institute is a bunch of libertarian types working together to promote social and political policies they believe will contribute to and enhance the common good. This is not a difficult concept to grasp and is quite obvious to anyone giving it a moment’s consideration, yet it apparently fully escapes Yankah’s notice.

Actually, it escapes the notice of an awful lot of people. The Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation and similar libertarian groups are groups of people working together to promote what they consider the common good. They promote people working together, people exchanging ideas and goods and services, and the protection of human rights at all levels of society. And people complain, ignorantly, that these groups promote everyone standing alone and being self-sufficient isolationists. Clearly these people are not paying attention.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am certain that one does not get to be a professor at the Cardozo School of Law by being stupid. I am sure that Yankah is a very smart person. But let us be honest here. His depiction of libertarianism is just flat out ignorant. Astonishingly ignorant because with a bit of easy research he would be able to find out the truth.

I certainly hope Yankah takes the time to read Aaron Ross Powell’s response. There he would find this helpful explanation:

The idea that libertarians reject social ties and also the virtues found in working together for a common cause is even more baffling. The entire underpinning of the free market economics, so central to the libertarianism world view, is that by working together we can accomplish amazing things far beyond what any of us could do on our own. Professor Yankah offers this hypothetical as an example of the sort of thinking libertarians, he believes, reject:

Notice that our connections go deeper than material needs. In contrast to other animals, it wouldn’t be long after one secured food and shelter on the island before one started thinking, “Hmmm… I wonder if we can fashion a hammock? And what would it take to make some wine out of these coconuts, anyway?” Once the material necessities of life are secure, our rational nature is driven to find ways of living well.

All of which could be lifted directly from a intro to economics textbook, where the students begin with Robinson Crusoe and resource scarcity and move into the division of labor. Every libertarian knows this is how an economy works, and how cooperation leads to increasing wealth.

The only way to understand Yankah’s position, then, is to accept that “the state” simply means the same thing as “working together.” And that “politics” means the same thing as “social ties.” If libertarians would reduce the state, then they necessarily would reduce our capacity to work together. And if we would scale back politics, it means we favor impoverishing social ties.

But of course none of that’s true. Consider your most meaningful social ties, the ones that play a key role in enriching your life. Are they political? Do they involve interactions with and through government? Almost certainly not. Instead, they’re found in your family, your friendships, your church or charitable organizations. They come about through the places you work and the people you work with. These are ties that produce obligations and moral duties, but they are obligations and duties to which we bind ourselves, and not ones we are bound to through the threat of violence that lurks within all political decision making. Thus libertarians decidedly do not reject the value and virtue found in social bonds and in coming together to pursue a common purpose. Instead, we believe politics works against them. A state may be necessary to provide an environment in which we are all secure in a persons and property. But a state that grows too large, and that turns over too many of our choices to the political process, ceases to protect us from a Hobbesian war of all against all and instead returns us to it.

Trying to claim that libertarians are against people working together for the common good is like trying to claim that team sports promotes that every individual should work alone to achieve success. It is so clearly and obviously incorrect that making the claim takes a special kind of willful blindness to the reality of the facts.

This is not unlike the way many people object to submissive women and Dominant men. They have conflated feminism with notions of women being strong and independent of men. And even more often they conflate the notion of a Dominant man with chauvinism and abuse. And so the idea of a D/s relationship with a Dominant male and a submissive female is something they consider morally abhorrent. In the same manner, Yankah has conflated people working together for a common good with government acting in the name of the public good. So he is offended by libertarianism and suggests it is nonvirtuous because libertarians object to massive government.

It reveals narrow thinking that is moralistic and judgmental. Why do I say that? Because it also reminds me of the Christians who insist Pagans are all satan worshipers. Boil it all down, and what one is left with is a mentality that says “because you do not adhere to my moral world-view you are therefore judged to be in deliberate service to the immoral.” The person with this mentality is thereby relieved of the need to ever consider the other person’s point of view.

Yes, I am suggesting that feminists who object to female submissives in D/s and also Yankah in his objection to libertarianism are being willfully ignorant. I am not saying they are stupid or that they are bad people. I am saying in these things they are being willfully ignorant. Yes, they have good intentions. Of course they do. Just like the Christians who want to convert Pagans because they believe the Pagans are satan worshipers.  But we all know good intentions are not sufficient reasons to remain ignorant and judgmental.

Wow. I just realized this post is almost 1700 words already. It will be over 1700 by the time I am done. Let’s wrap this up.

I am still open to suggestions for posts to which I might respond as part of Project August. If there are any blog posts out there that cover a topic you would like to see me discuss here at Liberate One, this is a good time to mention them.

Back to work for me. Have a good weekend. And of course, come back tomorrow to see what I will talk about on day four of Project August.

3 Responses to “Project August: Day 3 – Why Ignorance of Libertarianism Is Not a Virtue”

  1. My dominant has given me a very unique wardrobe. He gave me a make over clothing wise and the clothing, well, I look very different to the other people living in my village. I love the clothing. It makes me feel sexy and feminine, but I find people in my village have become unfriendly. They give me filthy looks and whisper and point, and one woman actually aproached me and was very offensive to me over how I dress. I’m sad that people can be so small minded. Does this happen often in D/s relationships, that the rest of society treat you horribly just cause your different to them? I’m trying my hardest to control my patience and temper but struggling. Has this happened to anyone else? Have you ever experienced this kind of thing? How best do I deal with this? My dom says ignore it, but that’s getting very hard to do. Society can be so cruel.

    • Does it happen that sometimes people are unkind to those who are different? Yes. It happens a lot actually. My suggestion is that you discuss with your Dominant setting up a time for you to vent in private all the frustration and anger you feel. Do not do it where all the other villagers can see. Do not repress it until you lash out in anger at someone. Let it out in a private setting, with your Dominant there of course. And the next time someone is unkind to you about your dress or other submissive behavior, be nothing but sweetness back to them. They will not understand it. And if you can do it repeatedly, you will shame them in the process.

      • Thanks for the advice, very wise. I know I have a temper, and I have been repressing it lately. I am trying to work on my temper. Maybe the best way is to find an outlet for it as you suggested, vent it a little. Thank you.

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