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Libertarian Activism–comments [engineers, etc.]

From LRC Blog

Libertarian Activism–comments

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on January 26, 2006 11:57 AM

LRC must be getting ever-more-popular, because I am seeing an increase in the number of replies to my latest LRC piece on libertarian activism.

Most of the replies have been favorable, e.g:

one of many:

As a recovering activist/do-gooder I whole-heartedly thank you for writing this fine article. The brevity and clarity of it will provide me with a far better tool than my normal rambling to explain to others why I now detest all activists, and the harm their unprincipled actions cause.

Thank you for your efforts to share the light of a principled existence.

However, some of the comments I’ve received from activists have been amusing–they illustrate the activist myopia I critique in my article.

Humorously, one lady, with the “VICFA Voice, the monthly publication of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (vicfa.net), an all-volunteer grass-roots group,” wrote me “because of my perception of the lack of willingness of libertarians in general (not the ones in our group) to ACT to change what they oppose.” Ha–did she even read my article? Activists have such myopia they think even anti-activists are activists!One correspondent wrote, “My problem with Anarchocapitalist models is
that they offer no proof that if the proposed enforcement mechanisms actually work,”

My reply:

Again; you activist types can’t help but imposing “what works” as a standard to critique substantive normative assertions. It’s very exasperating that you don’t even seem to be aware there is a difference.

Another wrote me to argue how successful Milsted has been in Libertarian activism. My reply:

Any activist success does not gainsay my points. In fact, to point to them in this context, as you do here, seems to illustrate my point that activist types just can’t separate strategical concerns from questions of truth and right and wrong.

This guy also scolded me for “making blanket judgments” and said that Milsted’s effect has been positive, to which I said:

These are unconnected statements which are set forth as if they are related. First, I don’t know what a “blanket judgment” is or what you mean; or why you oppose them. I am not a California relativist hippie who “doesn’t like labeling, man.” And in any event, whether he is successful strategically, is wholly irrelevant and has nothing to do with your hortation to avoid “blanket judgments.” If you are trying to say some of my comments were too broad or inaccurate, go ahead and explain why.

In response to hims comment that I don’t “like” what I read in Milsted, I replied:

It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s that it is flawed and is arguing for socialistic measures (taxes).

I am a libertarian, not a socialist.

I am also not one of the starry-eyed activist types. that is not my gig. I have seen nothing to show that Milsted offers much on topics that intereset me–rights and legal theory, and the like. That is not to criticize him; we just have different interests. I’m glad he’s had political success; but in the realm of theory, which is what I was criticizing when he ventured, I disagree strongly with his reasoning and method and conclusions. Sorry to label this so plainly.

He told me Milstead is “about trying different things that move us in the right direction to see what works.” I replied:

That empiricist mindset is not surprising; I think it is correlated with the activist types. The principled types tend to have more of an apriori or deductive or normative framework. Anyway, I don’t think of people being “about” things. Not my way of communicating or conceptualizing things.

Then he said “We should move in the direction of privatizing all types of security, but we need to get that concept on the roadmap before we can get closer.” My response:

You activist types speak in terms of what is next; the “roadmap”; etc. Do you not even see how mired your (plural) thinking is in such concepts? There is nothing wrong with activism in general; but be aware of the difference between tactics employed to achieve political goals, and positions on truth and right and rights.

Yes, we need to have priorities and do “certain things first”–like have jobs and normal lives, and not believe there is some altruistic duty to delude oneself into thinking one is “making a diffrence” by devoting a large portion of one’s life, time, and resources to a futile attempt to ever-so-slightly increase the chance that we will have a very small and very temporary decrease in the rate of increase of tyranny, for the benefit largely of our socialist-advocating neighbors who don’t deserve it. If that’s your hobby, fine. In a way, it’s mine, but I realize I’m in it for the fight, for the process; not because I delude myself that liberty is just around the corner.

He also criticized my critique of Milsted because it is “widening the divide” instead of “bridging the gap between theorists and activists”; that I should not “excommunicate” Milsted; my response was:

You see, it is the activist mindset that leads you to judge my substantive comments on the grounds of whether it widens the gap, etc. Are you saying my substantive comments and reasoning are wrong? Or that I should not utter them in public?

BTW I did not excommunicate Milsted; I have no power to do so and I would not anyway. And let’s be clear here: if anyone did anything wrong, it was Milsted, for using his perch to call for institutionalized theft. If you want to get indignant, get indignant at him. He is advocating criminality; I am criticizing him for it. Think about what you are doing: you are blaming the victim; instead of criticizing the statist you are criticizing his libertarian critic!

Saying we “need everyone to man the oars” is such an activist mentality. I tend to think in terms of what I and my family “need”. I am not a sacrificial beast whose life is to be spent in a futile attempt to marginally benefit others. Have we libertarians turned into altruists? Do it if you want; but exhortations like this imply we libertarians have a duty to be activists. We do not. Our only libertarian duty is to avoid endorsing or employing aggression.

Re my comments about engineers: some have gotten their back up about it. I have pointed out to them that I am a (former) engineer as well, and know many of them; and while they are preferable to attorneys, and are good in their jobs, and while libertarian engineers are fine by me, I am not talking not about engineers doing engineering. I am talking about their m.o. when they try to develop political views. (and I speak here of non-libertarian engineers; they think you can do-it-yourself and concoct an entire philosophy by brute force; after all, they are smarter than the liberal arts majors, why do they need to waste time reading them?)

Gary Hunt perceptively commented, however:

Good article! I know what you mean about engineers. I am an architect so I work with them on a regular basis. Their thinking is what many architects describe as linear. In other words, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line”. However, quite frequently the straight line is not the best solution.

I also disagree with Milsted’s contention that sometmes “the economies of scale” justifies the theft for defense, roads ect…. It appears he has not worked in the real world. My experience has been that public works projects cost significantly more than private ones. In fact I know a contractor who bids on many government projects. His method of bidding is to price it as if it were a private job then double the price. He gets a lot of government work.

Thanks again for the good article.

Another perceptive comment about engineers from Max Schwing (Karlsruhe):

Dear Mr. Kinsella,

I understand your point of view and it tends to be coherent with mine
about engineers in general, because we have been indoctrinated into approaching problems from a rational and planning point of view. Therefore we tend to think that we can solve anything by applying mechanical principles to them, especially when it comes to political problems or societies at large. I think it is best said that engineers would like to “engineer society” (Brave New World – style ?!). However, I also know engineers who are looking beyond this view on society and are also interested in the “human or social arts” (as they are called in Germany).

But to persuade an engineer of it, you have to take the economics way of doing it, because we are largely more open to such arguments, than we are to general philosophical ones. I am studying mechanical engineering, so I am closest to the future engineers in Germany and despite that Germany is a social-democratic country, those young bright students are divided between the two big socialist parties (CDU and SPD).

Somehow, engineers still think of the world and society as a mechanical device. So, we are somehow struck in the 19th century, when it comes to society. But still there is hope to get them to the liberal side.

My buddy Robert Capozzi also has a gadfly-ish blogpost about this here; your boy Milsted replies here.


Robert Kaercher replies to Milsted in a separate piece here.


Milsted’s further reply, Attack of the Hegelian Anarchists; and some blogposts: A Priori Anarchists; and Kevin Rollins’ post Theory and Consequences; and The Seen and the Unseen; and Capozzi’s You Can’t Get There from Here.

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