Post-Libertarianism Is A State Of Mind, or How To Spot A Reactionary Libertarian

it has come to my attention that my political and personal activities confuse some people. namely, I retain a wide range of acquaintances across social media venues, especially libertarians of various stripes (“bleeding-heart libertarians,” “classical liberals,” “libertarian brutalists,” “anarcho-capitalists,” and more). 

of course, I understand the need for any particular affinity group, well, to protect its affinity. I can see especially why a semi-anonymous, token female (sometimes employed by the political enemy) would raise suspicions amongst neoreactionaries. I wrote about where I stood politically with respect to reactionary thought earlier this year, but much has changed in the past six months. however, upon extensive reflection, it’s hard to pinpoint to any hard policy changes of mind as having followed from this reactionish turn.

mea culpa for this gag-worthy phrase, but it’s beginning to seem like post-libertarianism is, above all, a state of mind. here are some examples, from libertarian platform issues, to illustrate what I mean. if you are committed to pegging a libertarian-seeming person as The Enemy, you’ll never find out enough about him to tell. but if you are an intellectually curious person who remains interested in understanding the changing topology of (especially internet) political philosophy, this matters.

  1. Welfare: at this point, I basically favor a Murray-style guaranteed basic income (have been weakly in favor of a GBI for some time, so no superficial change here). the difference? many libertarians, and previous me, would have argued for a GBI as a way of giving poor people autonomy with respect to their benefits, preserving their dignity, saving money administratively for a smaller state, and honoring the fact that individuals know best when it comes to making welfare-enhancing purchases. at this point, I think a GBI is basically right because (1) it acknowledges that we as a society have kind of chosen a way of arranging things that systematically disadvantages unskilled laborers and those who otherwise would have lived on the land, and (2) it gives everyone something to lose as a way of internalizing costs of their behavior, especially when it comes to having children. prospective deadbeat dads will stop receiving actual checks as child support, not maybe get non-existent wages garnished later. prospective single moms will have to promptly shift consumption from stuff for themselves to stuff for their babies (and it doesn’t depend on how many they have). this is good not because it shrinks the state, but because it applies eugenic pressure. everyone becomes capable of being meaningfully punitively fined, for things for which throwing them in jail doesn’t really fix. do I expect people to spend their GBIs especially well? not really. will it make dumb people in dysfunctional communities dignified or substantively autonomous? nah. is it better than the alternatives? probably. 
  2. Drugs: this has become a dumb “I’ll-out-libertarian-you!” litmus test by which you are judged as a statist, if you think anything other than literally “all drugs should be made over-the-counter immediately.” unfortunately, with respect to marijuana, the law is trailing changes in social norms – when in reality, you need more norms shaping drug use where there are fewer laws, to keep society running smoothly. for instance, pot brownies were apparently served at a wedding recently. you don’t have to think marijuana users ought to be jailed to believe that hosting a stoner wedding is déclassé and inappropriate. here’s the answer: decriminalizing most minor possession, and leaving most kinds of dealing illegal. not a double standard but an appropriate asymmetry. that way, the costs of turning large numbers of people on to drugs are internalized to the dealers who stand to benefit, but the costs of minor drug use remain roughly proportional to the social harm (e.g. you get sick or lose your job, instead of languishing in prison for a few years). libertarians will try to make comparisons across substances for legal parity, e.g. but alcohol is more dangerous than weed! who cares? the rule of law can and should take strong cues from custom. let the change be slow, to minimize social collateral damage of these changes. marijuana legalization at this point does respect custom: people basically know when and where it’s ok to be high. legalizing opioids for recreational use? not so much. let those dealers run a very high risk indeed. 
  3. Feminism: libertarians already realize that they’ve got a feminist schism on their hands. you’ve got very “equal rights under the law”-type libertarian feminists, and rampant gender differences-deniers who think that a libertarian-to-anarchic world will free people to pursue all new kinds of gender identities, relationships, and families. choosing the former perspective and defending it honestly is all you have to do on this count. libertarians love applying economics to everything, so it’s appropriate to do it right back to the bullshit libertarian feminists: e.g. why do you refuse to acknowledge the comparative advantages inherent to a traditionally-gendered male-female dyad?  
  4. Immigration: another dumb litmus test – these days if you say anything short of “open all the borders now,” the libertarians will eat you alive. but there’s plenty of classical liberal tradition exposing tensions here: we could do a better job of forcing the choice between a welfare state and open borders, and how immigration patterns would affect free society on the whole for the worse in the long run. evidence cited against this position typically focuses on the fact that immigrants do not currently receive greater welfare expenditures per capita than U.S. citizens, but our dark enlightenment sensibilities alert us to the fact that potential future immigrants are almost certainly not relevantly similar to the enterprising souls who’ve made it here already (i.e. the immigrants who’d come next are very likely stupider and more violent than those we’ve so far seen). anyways, the point is not that allowing more immigrants isn’t unaffordable, the point is that it’s unjust. indeed, opening the borders today runs deeply afoul of the generally-accepted leftish/Rawlsian principle that special attention to (if not outright prioritization of) the interest of the least well-off in society is morally imperative. even if there is empirical reason to think immigrants don’t literally “take jobs” as straightforwardly as they are perceived to, especially amongst the lower classes, honoring this mistaken but understandable belief to some extent may be the right thing to do for political tranquility’s sake.
  5. K-12 Education: I still think that it’s ok to have public schools, and that “choice”/voucher programs are fine but overhyped. now I can be more honest/forthcoming with myself and with others about the reasons. public schools in many areas are basically daycares. even if the schools suck, it’s likely to be better than those kids spending all their time at home or unattended. school reforms should be attempted, but not within the frame of “closing the achievement gap” because that is unrealistic, given what we know about income, race, and intelligence. instead, focus school reforms on efficiency: getting more education per tax dollar. it’s true that more motivated families will get more out of charter school programs, because they take the initiative to use them, but that’s a feature not a bug of such programs. 
  6. Higher Education: I still don’t support subsidies for individuals’ college educations, for all the same reasons I used to: they drive up tuitions, the government is a shitty manager of these programs, they are unfair to actually-disadvantaged members of so-called “privileged” groups, economists already know that virtually all of the benefits of a college degree accrue to its holder so incentives are already internalized, and so on. but now I’d probably just be more brutally honest about all of it. the longer we push college-for-all policies, the less and less like a marginal additional college student is to get the kinds of returns from his degree that we’ve seen in the past. college doesn’t make stupid people smart, and there are a hell of alot of stupid people (plus, inconvenient racial correlations to these observations). college doesn’t even inculcate pro-social values: it just provides a venue for privileged people to act out for a while and for underprivileged people to incur moral as well as financial baggage that they might otherwise have escaped. people who make it out of a bad neighborhood and successful finish college (of which there are necessarily few) don’t take their degrees back home and elevate the community, they gtfo. 

there are more topics I could cover in this manner if you like – gay marriage, healthcare, etc. – but the gist of it’d be similar. moderate libertarian (not anarchist) policies, but with moderately conservative and totally non-PC justifications. by this phase in this kind of political evolution, you can pass the liberal, conventional libertarian, and anarchist ideological turing tests, which is a very good capability indeed. these positions are at least prima facie libertarian and stand up to many challenges, but the thoroughgoing spirit of liberty (lol) and robust methodological individualism (at least as they’ve been demonstrated to me by trendier libertarians) is just no longer there.

I don’t think that judicious and non-heavy-handed welfare can turn bad lives good and imbue them with possibility, that ending the drug war can eradicate all the evils associated with drug use, that advocating for women politically has much room to benefit them or society on the margin, that countries’ borders are morally arbitrary, or that education policy can transform individuals or groups. I am a libertarian in the sense of “socially conservative, fiscally conservative, skeptical about top-down anything.” government needs to get out of the way so that proven social institutions and norms can regenerate, not because muh rights. 

so, at the end of the day, if you ask me: “are you a libertarian?” – the answer I give will depend entirely on the context, especially including who you are. when it comes to who I like to call the “internet libertarians” – a mostly college-aged crowd centered around the activities of Students for Liberty, The Institute for Humane Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the like – they can mistake me for a libertarian due to some shared opinions on policy for all I care, but I have no respect for the rampant and accelerating leftist preening, unqualified optimism, and juvenile appeals to vacuous individual freedom that you find there, and I won’t pretend to.

to most other people: who is going to be literally asking about my preferred political label? apart from clarifying myself in the context of these internet communities, it’s basically unnecessary. like every decently educated, socially competent adult, I will speak my mind regarding political matters as I find appropriate. others are also welcome to infer what they will from my lifestyle (i.e. that I am taking my place amongst the young women who were Girls-y in their 20s but who age into conventional gender roles and a traditional nuclear family scenario by their 30s). 

to the neoreactionaries (the “real” ones, not including me, from what I gather), I say this: what do you really want from someone like me, who comes from standard secular and liberal roots and whose socio-political awakening took a tour through academic libertarianism? would you prefer that there be anyone circulating in libertarian circles who is willing to say something honest (if tactful) about race and intelligence and social mobility and so on, or not? I was never a candidate for conversion to WN or the Orthosphere anyways.

to all alt-right twitter buddies: I know that Man Of The House and I often look exactly like some of the people that we (or, me, I’ll speak for myself) have come to criticize: secular elites who are progressive to the core, who take oblivious pleasure in their unfit-for-popular-adoption lifestyles, and who ignorantly wish their values upon the incapable masses. the fact of the matter is that I do think that drugs, pre-marital sex, and the like have a place in a healthy society, but they are not to be elevated as values publicly by those who ought to know better. it is exactly in doing these things quietly and in a manner consistent with high-functioning adult life that I now practice what I preach. when I find myself in libertarian conversations, as I often do, I am newly careful to suggest that many (most?) adults lack the pre-conditions for substantive autonomy in a “free society” of the kind they envision, and that liberations of various sorts are more likely to do more harm than good, for most. 

in other words, I am happy to be understood as a libertarian by libertarians, and to be understood as a neoreactionary to neoreactionaries (and maybe even to be understood as a conservative to conservatives, although this just hasn’t come up). it is not because I am constantly misrepresenting myself to get in good with various crowds for fun, and that would be uncharitable of you to assume. it is because this particular spot in the political landscape is new, apparently historically anomalous, and serves as a kind of rorschach test to concerned parties.

know that I am not alone: reactionary libertarians are becoming a thing. reactionary in attitude, nominally libertarian policy-wise, in the current U.S. milieu (if not from an ideal political philosophy perspective). there is no need for reactionaries to feel threatened by entryism on the part of reactionary libertarians; as far as I can tell only the libertarians and conservatives should have any such concern (as established political movements with anything at stake in the short-to-medium term). but now at least you know how to spot one.


3 thoughts on “Post-Libertarianism Is A State Of Mind, or How To Spot A Reactionary Libertarian

  1. Frigging crazy.

    The typical welfare recipient is going to spend all Guaranteed Basic Income on hookers and blow, and then you are going to have feed him, let him starve, or put up with the crimes he commits in order to eat. Most of the really poor don’t need welfare. They need owners. Let us reintroduce slavery and sell people into slavery when they repeat offend on minor crimes typical of the undeserving poor such as vagrancy.

    Everything should be available over the counter to middle class white people. Very little should be available over the counter to people like Trayvon Martin because they are dangerous to themselves and others

    Notice that there are some places, such as Indian reservations, where freely available alcohol has intolerable costs – well, to cut the hypocrisy, there are some races who should not be allowed to touch alcohol, notably native Americans and native Australians.

  2. I think immigration is the purest test of the reactionary post libertarian. It is salient, and the options are very limited. If you go for anything less than open borders, then you’ve bought into the terrible statist notion of a state possessing its land and having some reason for existing, as well as the horrifying idea of HBD.

    Another thing I’d love to see among this set is proper capitalization. Do you want readers or not? You’re not e e cummings. (Actually, I find to my amusement that he wasn’t either.)

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