Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Cato libertarians take a step to the left

The Cato Institute is a leading libertarian organisation in the U.S. The Institute recently published a significant article about race. It's fascinating to read because it shows the logic of how left-liberalism developed out of classical/right-liberalism.

But I need to quickly set the scene for this. All forms of liberalism begin with the idea that what matters is a freedom of the individual to be autonomous: to have the liberty to choose to be or to do whatever, as long as it does not limit a similar liberty for others to choose to be or to do whatever.

But this raises the question of how a society of atomised, autonomous individuals each seeking their own subjective good can be successfully regulated. Although there is no single answer given by liberals, the dominant form of liberalism in the mid-1800s, classical liberalism, emphasised the idea that the market could best regulate society. Millions of individuals could participate in the free market, each seeking their own profit, but the hidden hand of the market would ensure that the larger outcome was a positive one for society.

So what went wrong? The classical liberals would say that as long as everyone had an equal opportunity to participate in the market, then everyone had an equal human dignity as an autonomous individual.

But in the later 1800s this was queried. If I am poor and uneducated do I really have the same opportunity in the market as someone who is born to private schools and so on? The new liberals thought that there needed to be a greater role for government intervention to overcome institutional disadvantage.

And so the modern left emerged. For decades there has been a right-liberal party which emphasises markets (Republicans, Tories etc.) and a left-liberal one which emphasises government programs to overcome inequality (Democrats, Labour etc.). Libertarians have mostly been purist right-liberal types, pushing for limited government, markets, and liberty understood as individual autonomy.

So it is no surprise that the Cato Institute piece on race begins as follows:
Libertarians tend to think of freedom as either a means to an end of maximum utility—e.g., free markets produce the most wealth—or, in a more philosophical sense, in opposition to arbitrary authority—e.g., “Who are you to tell me what to do?” Both views fuel good arguments for less government and more personal autonomy.

That's exactly what you would expect from someone on the liberal right. Autonomy, free markets, limited government, freedom. But look at what happens next:
Yet neither separately, nor both taken together, address the impediments to freedom that have plagued the United States since its founding. Many of the oppressions America has foisted upon its citizens, particularly its black citizens, indeed came from government actors and agents. But a large number of offenses, from petty indignities to incidents of unspeakable violence, have been perpetrated by private individuals, or by government with full approval of its white citizens.

You can tell what this is leading up to. It's leading up to the left-liberal idea that there are institutional, systemic barriers to equal participation. That disparities in outcomes are to be explained in terms of institutional oppression, racism and systemic discrimination. And that's exactly where the Cato writer goes:
Take, for example, the common libertarian/conservative trope: “We believe in equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.” Most people, outside of the few and most ardent socialists, should believe that is a fair statement. But to say such a thing as a general defense of the status quo assumes that the current American system offers roughly equal opportunity just because Jim Crow is dead. Yet, that cannot possibly be true.

Think of the phrase “Don’t go there, it’s a bad neighborhood.” Now, sometimes that neighborhood is just a little run down, doesn’t have the best houses, doesn’t have the best shopping nearby, or feeds a mediocre school. But, more often, that neighborhood is very poor, lacks decent public infrastructure, suffers from high unemployment, has the worst schools, and is prone to gang or other violence. And, in many cities—in both North and South—that neighborhood is almost entirely populated by minorities.

There are only two conclusions possible when facing the very real prospect that thousands or millions of Americans live in areas you warn your friends not to go, even by accident: Either everyone in those areas is a criminal, or is content to live among and be victimized by criminals; or there is some number of people, and probably a large one, trapped in living conditions that cannot help but greatly inhibit their opportunities for success and advancement.

He goes on at length about racism and white supremacy and how the Federal Government has helped to overcome this more than markets have. He stops a short of endorsing big government solutions, but you can see how the logic of his argument prepares the ground for this.

The mainstream left and right are not so different from each other. They both exist within the same philosophical framework, sharing the same assumptions about what human life is for. Mainstream leftism is an attempt to perfect the liberalism that came before it, to realize it in a more equitable and consistent way.

The challenge for those who dislike what the modern West has become is to step outside of the liberal framework entirely - to be neither of the left nor of the classical liberal/libertarian right.


  1. "The challenge for those who dislike what the modern West has become is to step outside of the liberal framework entirely - to be neither of the left nor of the classical liberal/libertarian right."

    "The West" is a geographical area referring to countries occupied primarily by people of European descent. However there it is not a single civilisation but two separate civilisations which are the antithesis of each other.

    The first civilisation, European Christendom, is the successor of the Roman Empire. This is a civilisation built upon the religion of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The European and Russian people were for centuries, dominated by a single Church and a single Royal Family (all Kings were related to each other) in a hierarchical society headed by a monarch or Tsar and arranged in distinct social classes. The culture was authoritarian, undemocratic and not meritocratic. The basic social unit, the family, was sacred. The preservation of family bloodlines and wealth took precedence over the individual.

    The second civilisation founded by an alliance of German Jewish bankers and the Anglo Saxons of England arose in the peripheral part of Europe. This civilisation founded upon liberalism, individual (ie human) rights, atheism and anti monarchist sentiment was the antithesis of the first. Its aim and purpose was to destroy the first civilisation of Europe by the destruction of religion and monarchy. Revolutions followed. It expanded to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand by the exportation (often forced) of the surplus populations of Great Britain, now the most powerful country as a result of its imperial conquests making up the Empire. This position was expropriated by the USA after World War 2. The USA exports this culture world wide in an attempt to build its own global empire. The EU is the tool to subvert Christian Europe. The Anglo Jewish empires have always been pro Islamic and anti Christian.

    Only one of these civilisations will win and the other will be destroyed. The winner will be the one which returns to the Christian and monarchist path. Old Europe never accepted its defeat, it stayed quietly underground and regrouped. We see the return of Russian Orthodoxy and a uniting of the countries of the Austro Hungarian Empire. The collapse of the EU will allow Europe to recover. The Anglo countries need to decide which way they will go - back to the Old European civilisation or final collapse.

    1. Can agree that Anglo countries amongst the worst offenders in creating liberal modernity, but French Revolution and German philosophy contributing factors also.

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    3. Of all the European peoples, it will be the most difficult for Anglos to return to Christendom. The problem is that we have lived under the Anti-civilisation so long & have been so thoroughly liberalised & secularised that Christendom seems foreign to us. I hope we do find our way back, but I am rather pessimistic.

    4. The French Revolution was fomented and financed from outside France by the Anglo Saxons in one of their first regime change operations. The template has been used repeatedly throughout the world since then in any country opposing the liberal, atheist world order - Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and so on.

      German liberal philosophy was pushed by Jewish publishers. However Germany is an occupied country, a vassal state, without its own foreign policy. It is controlled by the USA. Despite this, it is still highly orderly, hierachical and authoritarian.

      The template of revolution is the same in each case; propaganda is used to inflame the ignorant masses to rise up in revolution against the ruling class, and violent actors then emerge to complete the process. The masses are the targeted for elimination after they have served their purpose. France and Russia were the key targets as these countries were the lynchpin of Christendom.

    5. Anon, I mostly disagree. Yes, great powers do foment regime change. But you don't have to look this far. The secular intellectuals in Western society have not held to a viable philosophy for centuries. Whether Jewish or gentile, there has been a descent from a proto-liberal concept of man and society to a fully fledged liberal one. And the secular intellectuals have only grown in influence with the rise in urbanisation, education, the media.

      Even by the mid-1600s, you had Locke with his oddly individualistic philosophy of man, in the 1700s you had the Enlightenment, which caught on amongst French intellectuals as much as it did in England and which prepared the ground for the Revolution.

      The clergy have not been able to hold the line against the secular intellectuals, to the point that secular intellectual movements now have great influence in the Western churches.

    6. " The secular intellectuals in Western society have not held to a viable philosophy for centuries"

      What have intellectuals got to do with it? Intellectuals, writers, artists, musicians, philosophers have no power on their own. They are dependent upon patronage, sponsorship and support until they achieve fame and recognition. Patronage comes from the powerful, the wealthy and can be removed in a flash. In Europe, monarchs, aristocrats and the Church provided patronage and controlled the public space.

      The Reformation split the Church and the vacuum left behind, was exploited by ruthless men to wage war on society by the promotion of secular and revolutionary ideas. Without the patronage of these men of evil intent, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau and the small number of other eccentrics would have died marginalised and unknown, their ideas shunned.

      Revolutions, like major terrorism, are state backed endeavours. Intellectuals can provide the narrative that powerful men want to use, but on their own, have no ability to create a revolution.

      No intellectual or writer can achieve recognition without powerful backing. The men who control the publishing houses and the media decide what the masses will hear. The masses are sheep and take their values and beliefs from what is fed to them. The average person has no cognitive ability to formulate a world view.

      In Old Europe, the monarchs, aristocrats and Church maintained the values and eliminated that which threatened the social order. The clergy held the line against secular intellectuals and many heretics for over a thousand years until these people were used and promoted by wealthy men against the Church. The aim of the Anglo - Jewish culture was to use the promotion of marginal ideology to overthrow that order.

      The situation continues today. Australian Germaine Greer would be an insignificant eccentric academic if she had not received powerful backing from people who wanted her ideas promoted. Transgenderism and homosexuality would not be promoted in the public sphere unless powerful interest groups wanted to destabilise society.

    7. Again, yes and no. It is true that patronage matters, something that is immensely problematic for traditionalists today as we have no class or institutional base of support.

      Ideas do matter. The intellectual mind needs a philosophy to live by. Once you have a secular intelligentsia this becomes problematic, as they will not live by the theology of the church. It was therefore essential that the secular intellectuals had a philosophy that supported, rather than undermined, the society they lived in. I doubt if Hegel and Mill really wanted to destroy Western civilisation, nor would Lord Acton have thought he was doing this. But they nonetheless did great harm.

      You can still see this today. Corey Bernardi is, I believe, an honourable man and a courageous and independent thinker. He believes he has a programme that will restore the West. But I'm afraid there is still a lot of the dissolving liberalism in it that he just won't break from. The history of our side is replete with this kind of thing.

    8. You miss the point I made that ideas do not become intellectual movements without patronage from the powerful. All humans need a philosophy or religion to create the framework of society and the values by which they live.

      The secular man exists everywhere, even in Islamic societies. Saudi Arabia has secular people. However individuals cannot create a secular intelligentsia without patronage. Therefore Hegel, Mills, Voltaire, Rousseau would not have their works published or made known without powerful backers. In any profession, academia, medicine, law individual views and ideologies are insignificant. The professor, lawyer or doctor who takes a controversial position can be marginalised and destroyed or promoted at the behest of powerful elites. On his own, he is just a private opinion.

      The restoration of Europe is very simple in terms of actions. There must be a return to the old order of Christendom and Monarchy. Russia has taken this path effectively and we see the countries of the Austro- Hungarian Empire come together. It is a matter of the will of the elites, the masses will follow.

      People who hold on to Liberal ideas are essentially frauds who want to deceive the electorate. A genuine conservative person understands tradition and rejects liberal ideas.

      Europe can be restored. The Anglo countries probably cannot be recovered as they are ideological states founded by oligarchs and have never been part of Christendom. Having no social order, it is impossible to restore something which has never existed.

    9. Anon, we're going to have to accept that we disagree on this. The Western European/Anglo countries have declined together for similar reasons. The challenge is not only a restoration of church, but the restoration of a wider traditionalist culture as well, i.e. the force of both philosophy and theology applied to uphold the traditions we belong to.

    10. Anon, I understand your arguments about the British New World/Anglo countries. As a New Zealander, I see it more than I would like to. I also recognise that (re)turning to Christendom, let alone to a traditionalist culture would be an essentially Herculean task if at all possible, because of what I said before, but the alternative, at least in my mind, is letting the Anglo countries fall. Perhaps we have fallen irretrievably, I hope not. There is no discernibly traditionalist base here, at least back in Britain it's been hidden under cemturies of liberalism. I believe the way forward is destroying liberalism & creating a traditionalist society from those ashes. I don't know how that would work. I don't know if it is even possible, but as someone who does not want to see his country be destroyed, it is the only option I see.

    11. There is no discernibly traditionalist base here, at least back in Britain it's been hidden under centuries of liberalism. I believe the way forward is destroying liberalism & creating a traditionalist society from those ashes.

      There's virtually zero traditionalist base in Australia as well. In fact there's very little of a traditionalist base anywhere in the western world. And the tiny handful of traditionalists are entirely excluded from all the possible avenues of influence - the universities, the schools, the media, the entertainment industry. Short of a complete collapse of the current order it's difficult to see any chance of changing the course we're on.

      Of course sudden collapses do occur, usually brought on by unpredictable outside events. The Czarist regime in Russia would have survived had it not been for the shock of the First World War. There's no reason why the French Second Empire should not have survived indefinitely, had it not been for the shock of the humiliating military defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian War.

      The only reason to continue what seems to be a futile struggle is to be ready in case a collapse does occur.

  2. Libertarianism strips away most social and personal values from the public square and relegates them to private darkness. Therefore it is too abstract and alienating for most people. This Cato author is trying to help remedy this and make an appeal to a wider post-modern audience that has been hyper-sensitized to race issues.

    As this article points out, "racism", like most interpersonal and conceptual things humans value, is irrelevant to the libertarian view:


  3. The challenge for those who dislike what the modern West has become is to step outside of the liberal framework entirely - to be neither of the left nor of the classical liberal/libertarian right.

    I couldn't agree more. Both the left and the classical liberal/libertarian right are equally dangerous. Personally I'm inclined to regard the classical liberal/libertarian right as the more dangerous of the two.