Thursday, February 04, 2010

Will libertarian bloggers ever grow up?

Youtube comments are not noted for their intellectual content, but a comment on the Traffic song Light Up or Leave Me Alone gets it just right: "I think this is the ultimate, 'get out of my room Mom!' song."

And karenparetto has also put her finger on the problem with many libertarian bloggers. They are irredeemably adolescent. The issues that motivate them over and over again are "get out of my room Mom!" ones: alcohol, gambling and smoking.

Even the splendid Charlotte Gore has succumbed to this world view. On Saturday she announced she was closing her blog down because she had run out of things to say. On Tuesday she had a piece on Comment is Free. (Well she certainly didn't write if for the money.)

And that CiF piece was, inevitably, about smoking.

Where are the libertarian writers on education? God knows we need some, given the ludicrous centralisation that has taken place over the last 20 years. What would a libertarian health system look like? Can you have a libertarian foreign policy? Or libertarian social services?

I do not call myself a libertarian. I share much of their analysis of the dangers and failures of the Fabian idea that the state should take over more and more areas of our life. But I don't like their foundationalist approach - the idea that you draw up a few abstract principles in your study or seminar romm and then demand that the world be changed so it is in accord with them. It is a philosophy that is profoundly uninterested in the textures of life as we live today, and this blog is very interested in those indeed.

So the reason that "get out of my room Mom!" issues have such an appeal to libertarians is that I suspect they rarely get out of their bedrooms themselves. Indeed, I am not convinced that some even get out of their pyjamas.

Charlotte trying to shift the Lib Dems in a more libertarian direction was a bracing and useful presence. I fear that if she leaves the party - and she already seems to have done so - Charlotte will become just one more free-floating libertarian and be far less interesting as a result.

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Tristan said...

Unfortunately I have to agree.

I know Brian Micklethwaite has done some blogging on education and there's always Spiked Online which has a very libertarian outlook.

Jock is probably the best UK libertarian blogger I've come across for broader issues.

There is a lot of libertarian thinking on education, health issues and social services - but they don't get as much of an airing (probably because they're more difficult and complex areas and less 'get out of my room').

Another area which annoys me is libertarian environmental thinking which too often is just a knee-jerk response against the authoritarian green movement and ignores the good points they sometimes make (if their solutions are out of whack).

Generally I find the left-libertarian (ad-hoc) movement (such as it is) treats these issues best - along with feminism, equality, discrimination and other issues ignored (or attacked) by most libertarian blogger.

Unfortunately, they're mostly US based so when they look at life today its not as relevant to us as it could be.

A Concerned Student said...

Certainly it would be fair to call much of the libertarian blogosphere...adolescent.

However, I would not say it is so merely because a pet hate of libertarians are social moralistic issues such as alcohol or smoking. It's a symbol of the ultimate interference of the State in the person's body, and a fair issue to trumpet. But I would certainly agree, to see more writing on a wider range of issues would be refreshing.

Then again, as the poster says, people such as in Samizdata and Spiked do a pretty good job of it! And I believe DK's a skilled writer too.

dreamingspire said...

Sorry, I'm an innocent abroad. Who is DK?

Charlotte Gore said...

I think this is pretty fair criticism, although for the record the reason for my piece on smoking was that the Guardian said they'd pay me money if I wrote X number of words on the subject, so I did.

I completely recognise that this sort of bread-and-butter ranting isn't very interesting. It's one of the reasons I'm sick of the blog - fed up of saying the same things over and over. I've never been keen on wonk blogging. For me the acceptance of libertarian policies follows on quite naturally from an acceptance of the fundamentals.

It's these fundamentals I've always concentrated on - the broad, underlying ideas behind libertarianism and trying to do that in an accessible, easy to understand way.

But there's limits to that approach. I think, all in all, I've had very little effect, if any. Preaching the converted, and all that. Despite my earlier determination and optimism, I have had to concede that the Liberal Democrats will never be an economically liberal, civic libertarian party, and that holding out hope for that is psychologically draining and a waste of effort.

I think Comment is Free is a much better venue in terms of reaching a wider, more varied audience and that's great - especially because the readership is far removed from the typical audience for a libertarian blog. To be effective, libertarian writers need to stop being esoteric powerhouses of polemic and start sounding like normal people.

They need to think a bit more 'Nintendo Wii' and less 'Playstation 3', if that makes sense.

But am I less interesting? Absolutely. Of course I am. I've bored myself stupid with all this. It's why I've given it up as a bad job. But the rest of the Libertarian blogosphere isn't going to get anywhere talking about policy. Libertarianism doesn't actually exist as a mainstream political philosophy, even if you'd think it did from the internet.

Anonymous said...

Almost all the so called Libertarianism on the net is a silly attitude directed with greater or lesser accuracy towards a Tory government, or worse.

Those who make a living from it include someone who claimed at one point to be making his excellent living from placing advertising online.

Does anyone seriously think that his clients or the sites he uses disagree with his objective of bringing HMG down?

Or that, in the increasingly unlikely even of a Chameleon government, were he to take as many pot shots at them, his source of income would cease to flow?

Fortunate for him that his ingenuity is unlikely to be tested by that situation.

Jonathan Calder said...

This was meant to be controversial, but the libertarians seem to agree with me.

Tristan: Yes, I like Brian Micklethwaite education blog and I have even written a couple of articles for Spiked myself.

Dreaming: DK is the blogger who writes Devil's Kitchen. Google is your friend.

Daro said...

As the saying goes, there's 2 reasons for everything; the good reason and the real reason. I think the driving force behind Libertarians is greed. With the exception of a professional musician, every Libber I met has been wealthy. People like Grover Norquist who's daddy was CEO of Kodak, or Tucker Carlson, who's daddy has a private umbrella stand collection valued at a million dollars. "I'm OK, screw you" seems to be the mantra.

Sure there's some real Libertarians about. But since there's almost no hope of their grand vision coming true, they're merely serving as useful idiots for Trustafarians and "self-made" successes in the banks who will lever against every government-funded service regardless of it's merit or purpose. They've got their small mountain of gold bars and see any attempt to lay a finger on it as common thievery.

And you don't need to cripple yourself with an ideology as extremist as Marxism to protest and campaign against the creeping Big Brother-ism of government.

dreamingspire said...

So the argument is that society is moved by people who do things, who do one or more of lead, cajole, organise, bully, produce a product or service that catches the mood (add your own driver to the list). (Of course it is also moved by natural disasters, declarations of war, assassination of the leader - again add your own.) It seems that the advice to libertarians is to get out more, which is what Charlotte is trying to do - and therefore I'm sorry that you damned her with very faint praise.
(I was a little lazy over DK, I admit - but just Googling DK didn't get me there - so thanks for the expansion.)

TDK said...

I would have said the main issue which Libertarians write about is economics. I recognise the smoking drinking one but I don't spend much time on those posts.

A Libertarian who does write frequently about education (or more accurately, home schooling) is Bishop Hill. He is more famous, still, for writing about the Hockey Stick.

I'm sure Tim Worstall covers smoking drinking etc but is that what people think TW is all about.

In fact, I wonder if there's some cognitive dissonance going on. A black writer is someone who writes about racism. When a black person writes about anything besides racism they don't appear to be a black writer.
In fact I wonder whether

Jonathan Calder said...

TDK: You have a point, but the amount of swearing in your blog is not going to convince anyone I am wrong. Why do you write like a teenager who has just discovered swearing?

tr said...

Hmm, there's plenty of room for caricature here, if that's the game.

We could say: The left-wing of the Lib Dem blogs has made no substantive contribution to the economic questions of the day, apart from their insistence on free money for students; this is reflective of the left-wing of the party as a whole. They prefer to sit in their bedrooms and write about how terribly un-progressive it is to sell homeopathic "medicines" or to publish touched-up photos of models; that is to say, social issues with about as much relevance to substantive political debate as the right to kill oneself with tobacco. There really isn't a lot of blogging from any group of authords about education policy, is there?

Tim Worstall said...

"I'm sure Tim Worstall covers smoking drinking etc but is that what people think TW is all about."

As TimW doesn't quite know what he's all about it would be difficult for others to work it out....

But certainly, I cover much more than smoking or drinking.

However, Jonathan is I think right about one of my motivating beliefs: Get out of my room, Mom, is as good a summation as any.

Children need Mothers of course and those who are incapable need carers.

Those of us who are not children or incapable do go through a stage of rejecting such nannying: in short we become adults responsible for ourselves.

That many of those in government, who frame the laws on our behalf, don't recongise that we do indeed become adults not needing their nannying means that some of us really do need to be telling them to fuck off: just as you would if you Mother came around to your house to nag you over how you do your ironing when you're 30.

Technomist said...

Maybe you should just read more?

Charlieman said...

Geeks like rule based systems. They like mathematics and computer programs -- they insert some data into an algorithm and get an answer. They can repeat the experiment as many times as they like using the same data and get the same answer (assuming there is no deliberate randomisation). Geeks also like model railways where everything runs according to the Fat Controller's orders.

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between geekiness and libertarianism. Libertarians use a very simple rule set. With a simple rule set, outcomes are more predictable (an outcome may be extreme but extremes are normal), which is satisfying to geeks. And geeky libertarians are more likely to be present in the blogosphere because they were amongst the first to tackle the technological hurdle and, frankly, tend to be a bit more obsessive. Geeky libertarians post on their blogs in torrents and respond to comments, which encourages readers to revisit.

There is also a non-libertarian sort of geek that rejects the output of simple rules. They believe that social, economic and political problems can be solved by complex rules; and by golly, are you going to get rules. These are the geeks who create PRINCE, ITIL and the other managerialism that haunts large organisations. In government, they have created tax/benefit confusion and NHS internal contradiction ("services will be locally managed but will be the same everywhere").

Liberals should not accept either argument. Life is too complicated for the simple rule set, and the complex rule set can never work.

My thanks to Charlotte, Tim W and TDK for their comments on this thread. I understand my liberalism better from reading their blogs than Lib Dem Voice.

Daphne said...

Try googling a bit of Cato and Reason for the full spectrum of educated libertarian policy views on education, health and foreign policy.

Smoking, pot and get out of my room aren't subjects these people are tackling with any vigor.

Ross sent me over from Unenlightened Commentary.

TDK said...

Jonathan & Phil

TDK is not "The Devils Kitchen". I used to use my real name until I got caught at work. I chose the name after the tape brand; maybe I'll try Memorex next time.

Tim Worstall

My question was rhetorical. Clearly you don't have a mono focus on drinking and smoking and I am suggesting that is why you are not seen as a Libertarian Blog

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Daphne.

Dick Puddlecote said...

If government is heavily attacking smoking and drinking now, is it any wonder that libertarians would tend to be talking about smoking and drinking?

I haven't seen any going overboard on gambling as Labour haven't attacked gambling, in fact it's been quite the opposite.

When the threat to a liberal lifestyle shifts away from the subjects you mention, perhaps blog articles might reflect that.