From Moldbug: Why I am not a libertarian
This an important article that delineates Moldbug’s reservations about libertarianism, and outlines his proposal of ‘neocamerialism’ as an alternative to democracy and libertarianism.
And this is the first reason I am not a libertarian. Libertarianism is, more or less, basically, the ideology of the American Revolution. And the American Revolution was, in my own personal opinion, more or less, basically, a criminal outrage of the mob – led by leaders who were either unscrupulous, deluded, or both.
The ‘American Revolution’ is not an ideology (although it was ideologically motivated). It was an action to enact, eventually, a constitutional republic, which, although does not concentrate power as tightly as an absolute monarchy, is not libertarianism. Although he later argues that libertarianism is, essentially, revolutionist in its Lockean avocation of ‘natural rights’ of man.
In my opinion, the practical problem with grounding libertarianism in the ideals of the American Revolution is that Americans no longer hold those ideals, and Europeans never did. Both, today, follow a moral code which is essentially socialist. It is true that this is the natural consequence of “education” at the hands of a government which is essentially socialist. It is also irrelevant. The consequence is the reality. You cannot explain to people that they ought to believe in, say, freedom of contract as a fundamental human right, when in fact they don’t. As Hume, again, pointed out, ethical axioms are not debatable.
The Constitution also granted the second amendment, which many on the left want to restrict or repeal. The high rate of gun ownership, as well a America’s culture of individualism, suggests that millions of Americans don’t wish to acquiesce to Europeans-style socialism. America’s constitutional republic endows its subjects with property rights, not only through gun ownership, but through the ‘rule of law’, whereas libertarian purists and anarchists typically don’t believe in the latter. Furthermore, there are few ‘absolute’ libertarians; many, such as Nozik, Rand, and Rothbard, and like myself, advocate some form a ‘watchman state’.
Some argue ‘America is socialist’ or ‘America is communist’, but neither of these labels is correct. America is a mishmash of many things – some elements of libertarianism (free market capitalism), some socialism (growing entitlement spending), some authoritarianism (‘militarization’ of the police, homeland security, etc.), some Communism/Marxism (SJWs, cultural Marxism in universities). If America were Communist, as some erroneously insist, you wouldn’t have all these multi-millionaires in web 2.0; you wouldn’t have the majority of the Forbes 400 list as Americans. China’s government is technically Communist, but they abandoned market-communism long ago, as more evidence of how there is subtly behind these labels.
My ‘theory’ is you start with some tacit assumptions about how a government should work, and in striking optimal balance between individual and state power you end up with something similar to what we have now, albeit with some gradations. Some countries are more authoritarian, some more lenient; some more socialist, some more laissez faire.
Rejecting the American Revolution is especially problematic for a libertarian, because the great libertarian writers of the twentieth century – Rothbard, Rand and Nozick – all defined libertarianism as an ethical ideal. Probably the best rigorous one-book definition of the mainstream libertarian (or “anarcho-capitalist,” a term which has always struck me as utterly dorky) perspective is Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty.
EOL works very hard to define the moral principles that make libertarianism philosophically ineluctable. Needless to say, these principles are none other than the Lockean natural rights of the American Revolution. The theological roots of these “rights” are obvious (Rothbard may not have been a Christian, but Locke certainly was), and any suggestion that they are in some sense philosophically universal violates Hume’s is-ought principle.
This is the crux of Moldbug’s argument – libertarians believe in ‘natural rights’ and ‘liberty’; monarchists don’t.
However, I offer a caveat regarding externalities and consequences. Libertarians, conservatives understand that actions that have negative consequences on others should be punished, thus limiting ‘personal freedom’. For example, I technically have the freedom to hit someone, but I may go to jail. Regarding externalities, consider obesity. Some may argue that an unhealthy lifestyle is a personal choice, but if your lifestyle imposes a cost on society in terms of higher expenses, maybe by being obese and or living an unhealthy lifestyle you ‘waive’ your right to public healthcare.
Thus, libertarian principles cannot be logically justified except an appeal to the historical traditions that have descended to all Americans as received wisdom via the Patriot branch of the evolutionary tree. A libertarian, therefore, is fundamentally a conservative.
And if you admit that the Loyalists may have been right and the Patriots may have been a bunch of asshats, conservatism takes a heavy slash to the neck from Occam’s razor. Because a so-called “conservative” who is a Patriot – or even a supporter of the “Glorious Revolution” – is someone who believes in progress up to a certain point, but no further.
While such a position may indeed prove correct, there is certainly no reason to give it the benefit of the doubt. In fact, considering the length of time for which it has held that benefit, it probably should be treated as if it were a boiling radioactive vial of Ebola.
This is a slippery slope argument, that some ‘progress’ must eventually lead to full-blown liberalism. Maybe it’s true; maybe not. Ironically, a boiling vial full of Ebola would be safer than a room-temperature one, because the heat would have easily killed the virus.
I mean, why in God’s name would anyone come to the conclusion that the US political system is in some sense reformable? Talk about the triumph of hope over experience. And all the energy, and money, and time, that the Beltway libertarians put into trying to apply a single smudge of lipstick to some flap of flesh in the remote vicinity of this hog’s maw is energy, and money, and time uninvested in putting the beast to sleep. Moreover, since the official story of Washington is that it represents everyone, it fits all sizes, it contains multitudes, a few decorative pseudolibertarians may be just the right camouflage for it to weather another century’s storms.
Moldbug believes the system itself, beyond the left/right dichotomy, is irredeemable and that ‘conservatism’ or ‘libertarianism’ is just putting lipstick on a pig. Everything needs to be ‘reset’, ideally to before the Glorious Revolution.
Moldbug ends by offers his alternative to libertarianism, which is similar to minarchism, but with a subtle distinction:
My preference, as a resident of Plainland, is for simple, libertarian or minarchist government. I notice that Washcorp does not provide this service. My question is: why not?
Note how distant this engineering approach is from Rothbardian ethical libertarianism. We treat liberty as a goal, rather than an ideal. We ask: how can we design a system that will achieve this goal, and maintain it sustainably?
And this is how formalism leads us to neocameralism. Neocameralism is the idea that a sovereign state or primary corporation is not organizationally distinct from a secondary or private corporation. Thus we can achieve good management, and thus libertarian government, by converting sovcorps to the same management design that works well in today’s private sector – the joint-stock corporation.
He calls it formaism, which leads to neocameralism.
Note that this hypothesis is entirely testable. It is perfectly practical to create private cities. The step from special economic zones, which are often new cities (see, for example, Saudi Arabia’s forthcoming entry in the game) to sovcorps is quite short. Again, once property rights are stabilized, the difference between primary and secondary property are organizationally irrelevant. Government is management, good government is good management, and bad government is bad management.
If it strikes you as farfetched to imagine the US Government as a corporation with a stock symbol, you might find it easier to start by thinking in terms of private city-states. While none of them comes anywhere near the neocameralist ideal, the city-states of Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong certainly provide a very high quality of customer service. Note that none of them has any concept of constitutional, limited, or democratic government.
A ‘peev’ is that I have mentioned Dubai a couple times on this blog as an example of a modern ‘reactionary’ government, but the idea hasn’t gained any traction, nor does anyone talk about it. I mean…it’s right there – an example of a functioning absolute monarchy – but no discussion about it.
But another problem is ‘neocameralism’ seems kinda vague. How would the shares be allocated? Who gets what? I’m sure a billionaire would get more shares than a pauper. What would happen if someone were to start liquidating these shares; it may cause inflation and other problems. The whole idea is so far-fetched (even by the standards of this blog) that it’s hard to make any sense of it. The solution almost seems more daunting than the problem. Another complaint is that neocameralism and other speculative forms of government are seldom discussed by the NRx community anymore.
My proposal of offering government employees ‘options’ in the S&P 500, similar to employee stock options, seems similar.
But one problem is that all this debate is the equivalent of splitting hairs, or may not have the intended result of starting anew. True, under neocameralism there is no longer a democracy or a constitutional republic, but the result may still not be too much different than what we have now. If the problem is moral decay (smut on TV, porn, etc.), how does the joint-stock state fix that? How does it fix SJWs or rampant feminism? Traditional conservatives, to their credit, take a hard-line stand against that stuff, whereas others tend to dance around the issue or defer to abstractions.
But given that everything is kinda the same in the end, my solution is more incrementalist: gradually retiring America’s obsoleted democratic institutions. Techno-commercialism, for example, is a good start – putting guys like Thiel in charge.
My version of libertarianism, which I call ‘partial libertarianism‘, is more abstract, with elements of neoconservatism, Social Darwinism, futurism, HBD, and neoreaction. Not the usual ‘bleeding heart’ brand of libertarianism that is all too common.