Friday 18 February 2011

Libertarians 'always' become PC when they get power and make policies


A few years ago, when Gordon Brown was Labour Prime Minister, I was asked to visit the Houses of Parliament to 'advise' two prominent Conservative Opposition Ministers both of whom are now power holders:

David Willetts - currently Minister for Universities and Science -

and Boris Johnson - currently the Mayor of London -


At that time I was solidly libertarian in my views and had written from this perspective in the national media; and these two politicians were both known for their libertarian views.

As it happens, David Willetts didn't show - so I (with three other 'experts') advised Boris Johnson; whom I found to be a genuinely likable man - although I was struck by the fact that he was not exactly a 'wonk' - his interest-in and grasp-of detail was... approximate.

Willetts is a wonk - and has published detailed articles and books on his subject. And he is about as libertarian - on paper - as anyone in UK politics.

Johnson is also known as a libertarian - on paper - being editor of the libertarian/ conservative weekly The Spectator.

Yet of course when both these men got power and made policies they became politically correct. Libertarians always do.



Because not only does libertarianism not make sense (being far too narrow and too arbitrary in its assumptions) - it also doesn't work in politics: or at least not in democratic politics.

It does not work because the mass of people as well as (more importantly) the powerful interest groups do not want libertarianism and will fight tooth and nail to prevent (or more often sabotage) libertarian policies.

Libertarianism has - roughly speaking - zero support: by which I mean real support: people who will turn out, work hard, make sacrifices for it.

Libertarianism will not work - in sum - for reasons articulated by (sincere-libertarian) Arnold Kling's father:


So, when it comes to real-life policy, libertarians will jump. 

They will usually jump to the left, into politically correct Liberalism (because that is the dominant ideology of government, and the best career move), but if not they will jump to the populist right (aka fascism) or to religious conservatism.

Or they will jump out of politics altogether.


Forget Libertarianism - it is a delusion! Make your choice between PC, fascism and religious conservatism.



Anonymous said...


But observe how the Christian right is also becoming PC.

Despite the fact that the most PC churches are pretty much empty, and those few parishioners that show up have one foot in the grave, Christianity is rapidly moving leftwards, even though the empty pews demonstrate that in that direction lies irrelevance and oblivion.

And then there are the Republicans - government spending goes up one and a half trillion since 2005, the deficit goes up one and a half trillion since 2005, and what are they going to do? They are going to cut 61 billion.

The Republicans are moving leftwards.

Bruce Charlton said...


The idea behind my blogging on PC is that it is *almost* all=pervasive - including among many people who believe themselves to be non-PC; and including among people who believe themselves to be primarily religiously motivated. The truly non-PC remnant is regarded as extremist and beyond the pale - whether they are secular or religious. But a further point point is that only religious true-non-PC is *potentially* coherent and sustainable.

Anonymous said...

But a further point point is that only religious true-non-PC is *potentially* coherent and sustainable.

Is it? Obviously it did not sustain itself. Today's tranzi theocracy, progressive theocracy, thought itself a Christian theocracy until about 1940 or so. Supposedly Jesus wanted us to give away other people's goods to the poor (Christian socialism) and supposedly wanted universalism, supposedly thought that women were equal to men in the sense of interchangeable and the same in mean and distribution.

And today's Christian rightist, like yesterday's Christian socialist, will quote Paul on marriage and somehow neglect to quote Jesus on marriage.

Is Jesus on marriage and property, plus Paul on marriage and property, plus the old testament on marriage and property coherent? Face it. Their positions point in wildly different directions.

As the devil can quote scripture to his purpose, so did the Christian socialist.

If it is sustainable, how come every single Christian Church is today far to the left of the vast majority of 1940s voters on issues of family and marriage?

If sustainable, surely there should be one church that sustained it?

Nineteenth century Englishmen thought their marriage laws and family laws were theocratic, based directly on the bible and church teaching, that marriage was something the Church did, a religious ceremony. Marriage laws were not transformed because Christianity expired. Rather, Christianity expired because Christianity transformed, undermining the patriarchal community on which it was based, a trend already foreshadowed in Calvin's rule by saints. Recall the Puritan experiment in Christian communism. One of William Bradford's criticisms of Christian communism was that it undermined the family.

And one of the reason's they fled to America was to escape the Christian socialism of other Christians, which was also undermining the family, though naturally they believed that their Christian socialism would work better.

Bruce Charlton said...

Ahem - Orthodoxy lasted 800 plus years in the Byzantine Empire - then lasted a good while longer in Russia (as one example).

I said sustainable - not indestructible!

By contrast some other denominations of Christianity have hardly been stable for more than a generation or two.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

But Orthodoxy has always been extremely accommodating to whoever is in power. It has been sustainable only by writing off large sectors of influence and focusing on the individual experience in conjunction with observation of forms.

Still, you are largely correct about the churches and their changes. The most liberal churchmen of the 30's would observe even fundamentalist sects with disbelief in their marriage-and-family beliefs and practices, wondering if the Christian church as they knew it continued to exist at all.

Your belief that lack of real actual support for libertarianism does cause nearly everyone to jump ship when they get into the arena. It likely takes someone who actively enjoys fighting and flouting to remain firm in those cases - and those folks can be unreliable for other reasons.

Bruce Charlton said...

AVI - "Orthodoxy has always been extremely accommodating to whoever is in power"

Take a look at this:

You ought to realize that just because a regime does not keep records of its victims, and indeed tries to hide the fact of massive persecution and extermination, that does not imply that there are no victims.

Would many libertarians - or many others on the secular right - or indeed many Christians of any denomination, stand up and be killed, tortured and imprisoned for their beliefs in the way that so very many of these 'accomodating' Russian Orthodox did?

wreaver said...


"Forget Libertarianism - it is a delusion!"

Assuming you meant that literally....

That's like saying atheism is a delusion because most people are religious and will never accept atheism (including most the supposedly "secular" people, who still have animistic beliefs and are thus religious too.)

Whether other people accept libertarianism or not is irrelevant. Belief in a moral authority is a supernatural belief, regardless of most people accepting moral authorities.

I agree that most people won't accept libertarianism. (Libertarianism seems to be strongly correlated with a "masculinized brain" and seems to be largely genetic.[1] And thus it not something most people can be persuaded too.) But rejecting it is like mathematics.

If you want to be a politician, then yeah, you're probably much better off not talking about libertarianism of course. You're probably better off playing to the cognitive biases of the plebs, such as those listed in Bryan Caplan's book The Myth of the Rational Voter. But there's a difference between the faux message you put out to get elected and what's true as a result of logical and empiricism.


Bruce Charlton said...

Some interesting points here.

But if it is not about politics, what is libertarianism supposed to be about? It isn't an abstract analysis, like maths.

Caplan's book has interesting parts, but is actually crazy iin the sense that it assumes it knows what is objectively correct and morally right, and evaluates groups on the basis of how close they get to the 'right' answer.

Some of his examples are not *objectively* right but even when they are, his assumption is that people ought rationally to regard policies one at a time, each in isolated abstraction.

It is not at all clear that this is how people ought to behave, and of course they certainly do not consistently behave in this way.

The deep problem is that decades of progressive proaganda have made us assume that some kind of democracy, some system (that is) of periodic replacement of certain types of political office by mass voting, is intrinsically the best method of government, and renders individual virtue unneccessary.

This is a bizarre belief. It is, indeed, bizarre to imagine that voting is an adequate method of decision making *at all*, in any situation - but to regard it as intrinsically superior to (or more just than) all alternatives is simply mad.

It is in fact a typical bit of progressivism - which assumes that everybody in the past and 90 percent plus of the world in the present are evil; and that we (progressives) have transcended them, that "we know better".

Caplan semi-recognizes this, but I think he has only a technocractic bureaucratic rule of 'experts' to offer in its place. In other words, a rule by commissars - but libertarian commissars, rather than socialists.

But Caplan has such a detached and abstract and selective view of reality, that it leads him to wildly false ideas.

His supposed proofs of the inevitable benefits of any kind of immigration, of any kind of people, at any level - are truly bizarre - the arguments don't hold even a drop of water.

But BC is apparently too impatient, has too short an attention span, to stop and think consecutively for the necessary 10 minutes which would be required to refute them.

wreaver said...

Hello Bruce,

Let me introduce some information that I can refer to when replying to your comment.

Let us look at what morals are. (And note, I said "what morals are" and not "what morals ought to be".)

Jonathan Haidt, Ravi Iyer, and others' research in moral psychology, which has been expressed in their moral foundation theory, provides us with a way to grokking human moral cognitions.

What it seems is that humans are hardwired for moral thinking in a similar way as how humans are hardwired for language. Humans speak different languages, and use different words, but all human language have the concepts of subject, object and verb. Now people may put those in different orders when they speak (for example, the English dominant form is "subject verb object"), but those 3 items always exist, and seem to be hardwired into us.

In a similar way, it looks like there is a hardwired human "moral language". Current moral foundation theory suggests the components of human moral hardwiring are: harm, fairness, ingroup/loyalty, authority, purity/sanctity.

Another thing that comes from their research is that for the vast majority of people, morality is a very emotional and visceral thing. It is only a small small minority of people who's moral cognitions are driven by logical though and rational thinking.[1]

So now, having said all that, let me reply to your comment.

You said:
"But if it is not about politics, what is libertarianism supposed to be about? It isn't an abstract analysis, like maths."

Actually, it is an abstract analysis, like math. Libertarianism is axiomatic, just as set theory.

Now, obviously this isn't going to appeal to everyone. You need to be capable of logical thinking to understand libertarianism, and most people aren't capable of logical thinking. You also need to be rational, and not be driven by your emotions or the visceral, and most people aren't capable of that either. In fact, most people are unintelligent, irrational, and delusional[2]. The modal libertarian is a high IQ, hyper-rational male[3], and that's a very very tiny portion of the population

My impression is that people who become libertarians tend reach it through logical deduction. They start removing logical contradictions from their moral framework, and are left with something that they eventually describe as "libertarianism", once they learn than word.

Just to say it explicitly, people like Glenn Beck and Bill Maher also self-identify as "libertarians"; obviously, I'm not talking about them.

Libertarianism is a logically consistent moral framwork. It's not the only one, but it is an instance of one. Also my current belief is that those who's moral cognitions are viscerally driven probably are not going to find their eudaimonia through it. Regardless though, the logical deductions that are contained in libertarianism are valid. (Ex: moral beliefs in authority, purity/sanctity, and ingroup are supernatural and/or non sequitur, etc.)

[3] Note, I'm not saying if you're not a libertarian then you stupid. There are high IQ people who are not libertarians. I'm saying that it more of a necessary condition.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks for your comment.

I should point out that I used to be a libertarian on rational grounds, and that I teach evolutinoary psychology including the evolutionary basis of 'moral' behavior.

One deep problem with libertarianism are its axioms that individual freedom is primary (and negative freedom - freedom from). This means that motivations become individual and arbitrary, and unarguable. Indeed a person's motivations become very hard to distinguish from 1. what they have actually done (the economists idea of what people want is what they buy), and 2. momentary whims.

So there is a weird dance between regarding peoples desires as overriding every other consideration yet being infintiely plastic and changeable.

Like sexual behaviour - at the same time society is supposed to form itself around peoples expressed sexual preferences, yet these preferences are (for each individual) open-ended and labile.

This is a consequence of trying to make a negative ideal (freedom-from) into a positive idea (freedom to).

In sum - the actor in libertarianism, the individual human being and his wishes, it a radically deficient and inconsistent concept.

It is not the same individual as that of traditional societies and traditional wisdom - not least because the libertarian indiviudal has no soul (I mean, regards the soul as a fiction, a nonsense).