How And Why The Tunney Neocameralist Petition Split Libertarian Opinion

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen that our friend Justine Tunney has drafted a petition at called: “Transfer all federal administrative authority to the tech industry.” (btw, I had the great pleasure of meeting her IRL recently and let me tell you, her capacity as an “ideological chaos machine” is matched by her friendliness, thoughtfulness, and good listenership).

Anyways the petition proposes basically exactly what you’d expect from its title: retire federal employees, transfer admin authority to the tech industry, and name Eric Schmidt (of Google) as CEO of the United States. It was written up in The Guardian, and a more recent piece by an acquaintance of mine with an interview is at Quartz. Tunney (further) grabbed attention in neoreactionary circles owing to the fact that this is essentially a neocameralist suggestion, and she herself has come out as more or less a neocameralist, like Moldbug of course.

Now, we could discuss the proposal itself at some length. I’ve seen twitter discussions, this stuff riles up the split between… um, who you could call traditionalist reactionaries and the urban/techno-futuristy set. The former are more into monarchy, the latter would basically welcome our pseudo-corporate overlords, so long as they can hack it at the government task.

Additionally, Tunney has directed our attention to this post providing criticism of her proposal, and it’s solid though basically what you’d expect from someone who objects substantively and not in the WOW JUST WOW manner. Its tl;dr — thinking that business leaders will be good at government is actually just an old right-wing piece of ideology, the accuracy of which rests upon the dubious assumption that the two projects (business and government) are relevantly similar. Though, lol, that author suggests that corporations are essentially “benign dictatorships” as if the realization is supposed to turn us off to the Tunney petition, whups.

Anyways substantive critique is not my purpose here. Here in my post-libertarian honeymoon phase, I find myself still firmly intellectually, socially, and professionally situated amongst real libertarians of all stripes: I identify enough with them to understand their trains of thought and to accept many of their premises, but distanced enough to attempt criticism of a different-than-the-boring-libertarian-infighting type.

So, in that context, I’ve been wondering for days: what explains disparate libertarian reactions to this neocameralist proposal? On Facebook, my share of it got some traction, and comments I saw regarding the petition basically split between that WOW JUST WOW thing, and tepid approval or non-disapproval (sentiments like: “couldn’t be worse than the status quo,” and “ok but I’d prefer Richard Branson to Schmidt”).

Usually, explaining disparate libertarian reactions to a policy is both easy and uninteresting: they split along consequentialist and deontological lines. Some people are libertarian because they think, empirically, it best conduces to widespread human welfare. Some people are libertarian because non-aggression principle + muh rights. Coalitions are formed when these considerations closely intersect (e.g., end the war on drugs); coalitions are busted when they don’t (e.g., gun rights, gay rights). The new, hip intellectual ground in libertarianism is to carve out some principled middle ground between the two camps; see especially Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. This is intellectually important work, and therefore unsatisfying to anyone other than the intellectuals… sigh.

Libertarian reaction to the neocameralist proposal didn’t split consequentialist/deontologist-wise. That is, some welfare libertarians who think that a tech industry CEO could do a decent job of running the U.S. found the petition massively repugnant. And some rights libertarians, who think that installing a tech industry CEO would flagrantly violate individual rights to property and political self-determination, found the petition fairly innocuous. This is curious. What does it mean?

First, it means that welfare libertarians are even more leftist than commonly suspected (take that as you will). Welfare libertarians used to seem quite leftist in virtue of advocating for things like marriage equality and social insurance / basic income. But here we see that, at bottom, welfare libertarians prefer the chaos of a demotic system even when it frustrates their own goals of achieving greater widespread human welfare. After all, there is no particular reason to believe that a CEO of America would be any more capriciously, needlessly oppressive to individual liberty than the current state of affairs in the country is. And so is revealed a welfare libertarian deontic constraint on the pursuit of welfare (which of course there had to be), albeit an inane and probably merely aesthetic one: prefer the arrangement that seems more fair and more respectful to individuals, even if it gets them little of what they want or need. Importantly, this reaction also reveals that welfare libertarians are much less into “non-ideal theory” and “second-best” political solutions than they often, self-righteously boast. Disappointing.

Second, the observations above mean that deontic, rights-based libertarians are marginally less awful than I previously thought. Usually they’re all NAP NAP NAP and you want to smack them. Also they systematically undervalue important historical and contemporary academic thought, none of which fully comports with The Almighty Rothbard. However! What’s interesting and promising about rights libertarians is that they do not sugarcoat the realities of a robustly libertarian world — realizing that, left to their own voluntary devices, people will sort themselves probably largely homogeneously, income inequality will abound, and etc (therefore the friendliness with Hoppe).

In other words, rights libertarians are consciously or subconsciously comfortable with social hierarchy in a way that the leftists (libertarian or otherwise) will never be. So, while they still consider the state as a gross, large-scale, systematic violation of individual rights, there is no need to overcome with them the expectation that any viable societal arrangement — conventionally governmental, neocameralist, or anarchic — will secure equality of outcome, opportunity, political power, respect, moral status, or any other good, in any way, shape, or form.

Thanks for joining me in adventures in libertarian political psychology, signing off-