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Article "Introduction to libertarianism" - please critique

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Wheylous Posted: Wed, Jul 11 2012 9:35 AM

Along with the effort to start up the website Liberty HQ for education, activism, and leadership, I am writing the universal "what is libertarianism" article.

I want it to

1) be not too long

2) be appealing to reasonable audiences

3) cover the most important bases of libertarianism

I want to address corporatism, the difference between us and the mainstream, and what type of thinking libertarians need to engage in.

I was thinking of outlining it first and then writing it, but I got ahead of myself and wrote it out. It's a bit hectic right now (especially at the end), so I'd like your thoughts on what to add, what to remove, and how to organize it better.

Here it is:

Libertarianism - Liberty HQ

Thanks! Let's get this party started!

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gotlucky replied on Wed, Jul 11 2012 10:14 AM

The essential libertarian contention is that government intervention in the free market fails on both utilitarian and moral grounds. Here we should provide a working definition of "free market":

Isn't the essential libertarian belief the NAP?

Essentially, you own the product of your labor and any other gifts you receive legitimately. No one can say otherwise as long as you are using your property peacefully.

What about when you work for someone else? Though I know what you mean, the bolded seems like it could be misinterpreted as Marxist.

The popular perception of libertarians as "social darwinists" is incorrect on two levels.

To be honest, I've never heard anyone make that claim. And I seriously doubt if most Americans believe that. It is far more likely that most Americans will just think of libertarians as crazy people who want to smoke pot than as social darwinists.

Don't give 'em any ammo!

+1 for mentioning Herbert Spencer

3) Anarcho-capitalists - Possibly the most unpleasant words in our culture slapped together - anarchy and capitalism.

Don't give them freebies! Positive thoughts! Positive thoughts!

Regarding opportunity cost and seen/unseen: you should mention war. Certainly there can be nothing more obvious than spending trillions of dollars on stuff to only destroy them should be able to get the point across about that which is seen and unseen. Sure, maybe you won't convince chickenhawks, but not all Americans are chickenhawks, and you aren't going to convince the chickenhawks anyway.


 

A lot of it looks good, those are just some of the things that popped out to me. Nice work!

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Wheylous replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 12:56 AM

About the NAP - I didn't know whether to introduce this so early on. Maybe I should do that and then deduce the dislike for government intervention from the NAP proposition.

About the product of labor - yeah, it might give Marxists easy fodder, but explaining it in long form sounds a little clumsy because I'd have to explain homesteading right from the beginning. Like this: "You own the product of your labor from unowned resources and any other transactinos you've made contractually with people who legitimately own other resources and allow you access."

Bump. Come on, guys. Thoughts? JJ, Clayton, Autolykos?

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gotlucky replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 1:30 AM

The NAP is far more intuitive than you are giving it credit for. It's the golden rule, "Respect me and what's mine, and I'll respect you and what's yours." The implications of the NAP are not as intuitive. But people can grasp the concept easily enough in their everyday life. How many people actually go about violating other people's property regularly? When was the last time someone you know aggressed against another? And the percentage of criminals in society is quite low, especially if you factor out victimless crimes.

The problem is that everyone is used to the state. So while a moral argument might be easy, the best way to go about convincing is probably through economic arguments.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 1:56 AM

A couple questions:

- What is your intended audience?

- Do you intend to persuade or merely inform?

- What are the three most important thoughts that you think you need to convey, based on your answers to the above?

The article looks a bit scattered in its focus. If this intended for first-ever learners about libertarianism, you don't need to mention The Jungle, for example.

Read this. What is your inventio? How do you plan your dispositio? And lastly, you will need to polish your elocutio.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 1:58 AM

I agree with making the NAP the first concept you introduce but I would recommend not using the term because it will carry whatever baggage people have already associated with it, which will probably be negative. There is definitely something to be said for "fighting the battle to preserve the language" since the ideological battle can be won/lost just in the language itself, however, a first-ever beginner's introduction is not the place to fight this battle. I would just call it the Golden Rule, I can't imagine any normal person can object to the Golden Rule.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 2:04 AM

Also, Bastiat was a master rhetoritician. Even today, many of his passages come off with a tone that could appear on Slate or Cracked. I would highly recommend reacquainting yourself with any of his introductory/preface passages, particularly to help yourself decide on the dispositio.

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Seems nice Whyleous. When its finished, if you wish, I can translate it to spanish (I'm spanish).

I am currently translating "The Anarcho-Statists of Spain" by Bryan Caplan (with his permission of course). I think I am going to finish it soon, so I could do with another libertarian translation. :D

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Wheylous replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 10:45 AM

Thanks for the advice on the NAP. I am going to work it in.

Dylan - if you've checked out the "Participate" section of the website, you'll see that there will be online projects on the website - crowdsourcing work for liberty, you see. I hope to make this include translation of the most popular libertarian texts. I'm thinking that Spanish will likely be the main focus. I'd love to have your help once this gets kicked off. I'd first like to get some of the website functionality coded while getting some primary content in (the website is currently static). At that point I will start getting people involved in the projects to hopefully get this community buzzing. I hope to get an influx from Daily Paul, libertarian subreddits, Mises forums, FreeDomain Radio members, etc.

Clayton, as to your questions:

1) audience - Intelligent 14-35 year olds, probably, though I really hope that the appeal of the website would spread beyond this. I want the website to have an academic air to it (and indeed have good quality articles), and I want to be able to catch the attention of both liberals and conservatives.

2) I want the introductory article to be expository (inform), but I want it to have "hooks" that would make people of different ideologies pause and think either "huh, I agree with this" or "wow, this is thorough and consistent; maybe I should give it a second look."

3) NAP, corporatism, regulation, wars, gay marriage, how libertarians are different from the mainstream, how libertarian thinking is unique and sometimes counter-intuitive.

I'll check out the links for rhetoric.

One of the features I wanted this to have was for the article to be evolving even after being published, because there's always better ways of saying something. As users send in suggestions (for example, a salient example of the Law of Unintended Consequences) I'd like to work them in and to borrow rhetoric from large names in libertarianism (like Bastiat).

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Clayton replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 3:58 PM

Clayton, as to your questions:

1) audience - Intelligent 14-35 year olds, probably, though I really hope that the appeal of the website would spread beyond this. I want the website to have an academic air to it (and indeed have good quality articles), and I want to be able to catch the attention of both liberals and conservatives.

It kind of feels like you're not willing to focus, though. I fully understand the "I don't want to drive anyone away" feeling but, at the same time, you still need to have some kind of target group. This is the Internet, so you're more likely going to be dealing with a younger audience (14-35). But then you say "academic air"... why? You expect to have lots of traffic from academic types in the 14-35 age group who are not familiar at all with any of the concepts of libertarianism? Appealing to both liberals and conservatives is fairly easy, IMO... just criticize the warfare state (the liberals will like that) and the welfare state (the conservatives will like that).

2) I want the introductory article to be expository (inform), but I want it to have "hooks" that would make people of different ideologies pause and think either "huh, I agree with this" or "wow, this is thorough and consistent; maybe I should give it a second look."

 

Can you identify an article on CATO, FEE, mises.org, online Library of Liberty, etc. that does something like what you're thinking but not quite?

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I think you should start off right away not with saying that libertarianism empowers the the free market, but that it puts decision-making into the hands of individuals, families, communities and society as a whole, rather than into the hands of the state.  The state is not society nor does it necessarily represent society in all or most of its actions - and it is certainly not healthy for society.  This is perhaps the differentiating mark of libertarianism vs. other political philosophies.  For more on this, see Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy, the State, and Frank Chodorov, The Rise and Fall of Society (as well as other works by these authors).  I think this approach would start the article on a much more receptive basis and encapsulate the the entire problem more fully.

Apart from that, I think you should focus on the fact that power corrupts - that no matter who tries to take control of the state, their programs will be inevitably captured by special interests that end up taking over politics.  You can use examples of this from both 'sides' of politics.  The conclusion to draw from this is that the problem is not in trying to get the right people into office - since capture will always follow - but from denying the state this power in the first place and, in line with my first point, returning it to society.  Combine this with some examples of where the state not only fails to achieve its goals, but in fact achieves the opposite, and the statist position looks utterly ridiculous.

I think you should also have something on the monopolisation of law by the state which takes away its basis on the people's notions of justice and replaces it with the state's dictates.  The key changes here were the disappearance of jury nullification and the imposition on judges of binding precedents.

On the last point see the following articles:

http://www.washburnlaw.edu/wlj/46-2/articles/parmenter-andrew.pdf

http://fija.org/docs/ES_William_Kunstler_Jury_Article.pdf

http://faculty.msb.edu/hasnasj/GTWebSite/TIL.PDF

 

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Clayton replied on Fri, Jul 13 2012 8:02 PM

@Aristippus: +++++1

Another point you can make is to explain the public choice problem - as a utilitarian argument, it comes across as very neutral and unbiased (which it is, but so are almost all the other points, the difference is that public choice has not yet come under the intellectual assault that our many other points have).

Majority vote is just one among many decision-making procedures and the "democracy narrative" has glorified what is just a particular social technology into its own religion. Unfortunately, majority vote doesn't scale. Once you get a group larger than a few hundred or maybe a couple thousand, voting becomes essentially meaningless and it is the vote-buying, lobbying, mass media propaganda and ideological "herding" where the influence resides, not in the individual. The obvious answer is to reduce the scale of political systems. Democracy is a lot of nice talk about individual empowerment but the fact is that any real empowerment of individuals requires that the power actually be moved closer to, not further from, individuals!

A point that I find gets rhetorical traction is to point out that I live on the West Coast, 3,000 miles from Washington, DC, yet I pay 5 times in Federal taxes what I pay in State taxes - shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't 5 times the taxes be staying here where it can help the friends, neighbors and family in my community and help the local economy? How is "democracy in action" supposed to work when I - like the majority of people in my area - can't even afford to fly to Washington, DC to protest or exercise that "democracy in action"?? The State Capitol is at least within driving distance. Of course, I shouldn't even have to go protest to keep my rights from being violated but the point is that even on their own definitions of what constitutes "freedom", their proposals for political progress (world democratic government with global taxing authority) are obviously anti-freedom!

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Good news then Whyleous, glad to know I can help. :D

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Marko replied on Sat, Jul 14 2012 3:42 PM

The HQ site thing looks ambitious. It kinda reminds me of when the first real thing I was going to write was going to be a four part, 20 page long super-grounbreaking essay. In the end, after months of effort, it was scrapped and the first product ended up being a 2 page satire.

I'm not saying you're not going to make it with the large scale project, I'm just saying don't feel bad if you see along the road that you may have overreached slightly and that it would be good to put it on hold and settle for smaller, more easily chewed pieces for the start — most everyone before you did.

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A few things that are worth pointing out.

Libertarianism has a bad rep. You'll be "fighting" on uneven ground, will have to de-frame people's already held misconceptions, then with masterful rhetoric paint Libertarianism in the best light possible. This task is extraordinarily difficult. 

14-35 is a good age group to focus on, you want the site to have a "academic air" to it, this makes things even more difficult. Most young people won't go for the "academic air", remember you'll already be on uneven ground, you will have very little time to make a good impression before the average person gets bored and leaves the site.

Having multiple sites that are tailored to more specific groups of people would be a better idea. Example: Have a site meant to persuade teens, having a site meant to persaude the 20-30 year olds who aren't very academic, having a site meant to persuade the 20-30 year olds which are academic etc. etc. Each one of them would require a different approach.

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Wheylous replied on Sun, Jul 15 2012 5:04 AM

criticize the warfare state (the liberals will like that) and the welfare state (the conservatives will like that).

I try to do that in my article.

Can you identify an article on CATO, FEE, mises.org, online Library of Liberty, etc. that does something like what you're thinking but not quite?

I was thinking of the same question. I'll have to look around.

 The state is not society nor does it necessarily represent society in all or most of its actions

While this is obvious to you and me, the average person doesn't see this at all. They're stuck in the "but without government how do we have morals?" mentality.

I think you should also have something on the monopolisation of law by the state which takes away its basis on the people's notions of justice and replaces it with the state's dictates.

Aaaand this is wayyy complex. I'd save this for like the 3rd such list of articles to read :P Monopolization of law is so far off of anyone's radar at this point that I think people would just stare at their screens blankly.

The HQ site thing looks ambitious.

Yes, it does. And it doesn't help that I'm getting new ideas every day :P

That's why I'm thinking of focusing on only some of the features first (like getting that article base down). After that I will look into creating the architecture behind the events done. Then I will work on personal user features (saving articles and having personal lists), and finally I want to add sections on both entrepreneurism and on how to become a leader in the movement (will include things like rhetoric, giving speeches, etc).

Most young people won't go for the "academic air", remember you'll already be on uneven ground, you will have very little time to make a good impression before the average person gets bored and leaves the site.

​Good point. And that's why maybe the website will only be the second tool in the libertarian arsenal. I guess that in the end, the website will act more of a knowledge base for libertarians to hone their understanding rather than a hook to get people interested. What will be the real hook is the events and activism (which would be much more successful, because speakers can tailor their speeches to their audiences, something a general website like this would have trouble doing). After they're hooked by the event, they get linked to the site, which whittles away at the statism and teaches them libertarian thinking.

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Marko replied on Sun, Jul 15 2012 12:18 PM

Having multiple sites that are tailored to more specific groups of people would be a better idea. Example: Have a site meant to persuade teens, having a site meant to persaude the 20-30 year olds who aren't very academic, having a site meant to persuade the 20-30 year olds which are academic etc. etc. Each one of them would require a different approach.


In theory, in practice you must have content or they will not come. Fragmenting your content among 3-4 sites isn't going to help here, on the contrary...
Ideally you would start a group blog to increase your writing skillz and because with multiple writers there would be new content every day ergo the possibility of an actual readership. In the meantime you would also write articles more ambitious than a regular blog post and try to pimp them to sites that would have them. Then, after a few years of this maybe you could start thinking about gathering and organizing everyone's best stuff into an ambitious, central site like that. - My 2 cents.

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Clayton replied on Sun, Jul 15 2012 1:11 PM

Aaaand this is wayyy complex. I'd save this for like the 3rd such list of articles to read :P Monopolization of law is so far off of anyone's radar at this point that I think people would just stare at their screens blankly.

This goes back to the Golden Rule thing... it's all about how you phrase it. You can slip in an innocuous note about how the government is judge in its own disputes. This is a consequence of the government's monopoly on law and it is the ineradicable problem that a monopoly on law gives rise to but the reader doesn't have to even think about law or monopoly, merely that there could be something askew in the government judging its own disputes.

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Aristippus replied on Sun, Jul 15 2012 11:57 PM

While this is obvious to you and me, the average person doesn't see this at all. They're stuck in the "but without government how do we have morals?" mentality.

What on earth are you talking about? Firstly, I would dispute that people generally think that morals come from government.  It's rather that they think that the state is necessary as a means to the end of morality - e.g. in order to 'help the poor' we need government.  Secondly - and more importantly - the fact that people do not necessarily see it this way is the very reason why you would want to include such a belief in your description.  If your outline of libertarianism is based on popularity then you can't really include anything about the free market, or non-monopolised education or healthcare, or decriminalised drugs etc.  Your objection to pointing out that the state is not society seems completely fallacious and counterproductive to your own goal.

Aaaand this is wayyy complex. I'd save this for like the 3rd such list of articles to read :P Monopolization of law is so far off of anyone's radar at this point that I think people would just stare at their screens blankly.

Again, you are way off and have the issue entirely backwards.  Justice by the 'will of the people' is perhaps the most powerful idea of the day, usually under the name 'democracy'.  My point was that the law by the will of the people has been stripped away and has been replaced by the state's own arbitrary rule.  This is the cornerstone of libertarianism.  What is called 'democracy' today is not what most people see it as, and the disappearance of the former system of common law is key in this corruption.   See Clayton's further elaboration on my points for someone firmly hitting the nail on the head.

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Whyleous, if you are trying to make a good libertarian introduction I think it would be really important to address the three following issues:

  1. Why deregulation hasn’t been the cause of the current global economic crisis. Here in Spain the ‘official version’ is that too much deregulation in financial markets caused the current crisis.
  2. The myth that the Scandinavian social democracy is the best possible model. I think here it would be important to stress both why the Scandinavian states aren’t as socialistic as they seem to be and how other countries are better off with freer markets (like Switzerland in the case of Europe).
  3. Most people believe that, without “free” state healthcare, the poor would die in the streets when ill. It would important to argue why private healthcare could be better for everyone.

Judging from my expiernce, these three are the most common statist myths/misconceptions I tend to find when talking with Spanish statists.

 

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Dylan - Good points and on the second one it must be emphasised that the Scandinavian countries have a lower standard of living than the more free market countries, even the USA (not to mention that they essentially free ride on NATO for defence).  When this is shown, the social democrats don't really have a leg to stand on.

Heaps of resources on this:

http://wiki.mises.org/wiki/Sweden

http://theuklibertarian.com/2010/06/22/the-myth-of-scandinavian-socialism/

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Marko replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 7:53 AM

Dylan - Good points and on the second one it must be emphasised that the Scandinavian countries have a lower standard of living than the more free market countries, even the USA (not to mention that they essentially free ride on NATO for defence).


That's something Buchananites and CATOites insist on, but actually even what they spend now is excessive and could be brought down. NATO membership fees, costs of taking part in the occupation of Afghanistan and buying American military hardware, including over cheaper alternatives, to suck up to Washington is all European NATO members could do without. Also Sweden and Finland aren't in NATO.

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Wheylous replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 8:34 AM

Also Sweden and Finland aren't in NATO.

Herd immunity?

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 11:46 AM

I highly suggest that if you do write about the three issues Dylan suggests, that you do not go into great detail about them in your introductory article. If you mention them, they should be hooks leading to other, more in depth articles about those issues. The focus of an introductory article should be on hooking people into the topic, and introducing the main points of the topic. In this case, it is the NAP and anti-statism. Dylan's suggestions are great, but if you use them they should be hooks to get people to read more articles. Don't explain and justify those topics too much, or you will lose your focus.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 11:57 AM

LOL - you stirred up the hornet's nest, Wheylous...

On the "oratio" or "delivery" component of your article, I would commend Ben Powell's video I linked above as an example of striking the right "tone". The human brain is well adapted to stories, so if you can relate a "story" (thought-experiment in terms of people), it helps draw people in and keep their imagination firing and their attention at full capacity. In fact, I think this is exactly the thing that makes the difference between what people call "dry" or "dull" writing versus writing that is alive and captures the attention.

Graham Wright's and bitbutter's videos are both great examples of this kind of communication accompanied by illustration. I'm not suggesting you need to make the article a "story about George" but that you should think about how to introduce a human element into the article that will draw the reader in and then keep his attention to the end.

This is part of the reason I objected to "academic air" - I think LvMI (and FEE, FFF, Econlib, etc.) has arleady cornered the market on that.

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David B replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 3:39 PM

@Wheylous, I want to encourage you, more needs to be done in this vein.  There's more work to be done IMO on the theoretical side, mainly because too many libertarians are stuck trying to turn the ought structure of socio-political norms and laws into is.  Meaning trying to turn subjective should, into objective IS.  My argument would be the healthier approach is to embrace the subjective nature of the arguments, and then use objective logical analysis to examine the by-products of specific normative rules on a society.

 

Though, I personally seek to do more work on the theoretical side, I believe the biggest gap is in the rhetoric.  The socialist/collectivist political pundits in (pick a country and  party), have done a very effective job of using and establishing narratives through rhetoric and anecdotal stories which tug at the heartstrings, and while we argue about theory, trying to win the minds, we lose because they've already eloped with their hearts.

Our job is to win back the hearts by retelling the stories, and putting faces on the unseen victims of socialist and interventionist political systems.

For example, we all understand from basic economic theory that price-gouging is presented as a story of a poor old woman, Martha, on social security who is dying of thirst being outbid for the only bottle of water around by a rich man who's a little thirsty.  But what's forgotten is that there are another x number of people who are also in need of water, and there are variations in how immediate that need is and in how much money they can bring to bear.   So while Martha may in fact die, between now and when additional water shows up.  The more extreme that price, the faster you'll see entreprenuers with money show up to bid down that price.  Putting a face on Martha's 3 sisters who instead of dying today, will die tomorrow is important too.  Then it becomes more obvious that there's a greater likelihood that Martha and her 3 sisters will survive if the rich man can pay $100,000 for that bottle of water.  But though Martha may make it one or two extra days, she and her sisters are almost certainly doomed to death, unless elsewhere someone uses force and theft to get water to the area at a fixed price.   In fact, the higher the price for a unit of water, the larger a signal it provides to the market.  That large signal is an extremely powerful signal to move water to this location because it's in extremely high demand. 

So, finding some bit of Rhetoric, like They say, "Fix the price. Save Martha.", but we should respond with, "Fix the price, Kill Martha and her sisters tomorrow!"

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