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 Whitehouse.gov 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-

CW.

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monarchism, libertarianism, and self-serving political bias

As I’m sure anyone who’s reading this knows, neoreactionary thought has been getting some attention in the mainstream media, and a prominent feature of the body of thought is monarchism. Neoreactionary objectors of all stripes may be prone to accuse its proponents of arguing disingenuously, thinking that the resulting political order will favor them (“they probably all just think they are going to be king, hah hah!”) In particular, libertarians are beginning to come out against nrxn, probably in order to distinguish themselves, because the two share some other similarities (e.g. an emphasis on political rights of exit, emphasis on desert over egalitarianism, etc). But I find this objection about wanting to be king particularly strange coming from libertarians, seeing as how they face an analogous objection on the regs.

Take your now-standard, internet-dwelling leftish libertarian. He says that freer markets and smaller government are the way to go, for some melange of principled or moral, and related empirical, reasons. A garden-variety liberal objects to these recommendations, on the basis that she thinks a libertarian world would systematically advantage white men, who would be even less restricted than ever in their pursuit of naked self-interest, and who would be unencumbered to “give back” or fulfill the demands of social justice.

The libertarian has 2 options: deny and/or defend the distributions that would seem to result from his regime. He will deny that freer markets benefit mostly white men (complete with lots of examples of non-white and female entrepreneurs, of course). And he will defend whatever unequal distributions remain, as being earned rather than the product of crony capitalism. “Libertarianism has nothing to do with wanting advantages for oneself, we swear! In some ways, a freer market would disadvantage many white men, who’d face increased business competition due to reduced barriers to entry, for instance.”

But libertarians will also need to defend the white male advantage that libertarianism is likely to preserve to some extent, and this is especially difficult to do as a white male. Actual white guys would get a head start in the libertarian world because of how well they’re doing in the status quo, and it would persist in the climate of freer markets because there are economic advantages associated both with being white and with being male. It may be true that the welfare state harms women and minorities in the long run/on net, but that doesn’t mean that libertarianism would equalize outcomes or even opportunities.

Monarchists find themselves in much the same position with respect to the “you just want to be king” (or to occupy the top echelons of elites) objection: deny that monarchists are just imagining that they’ll be in power, or defend the fact that, under monarchism and its attendant elite, that those people really will be. But monarchists have a better reply. They should outright deny that monarchists each think they’ll be in power, because just mathematically very few people will hold significant political power under such a system – indeed, that is one of its virtues! To advocate for monarchy without realizing this would make you an idiot, so the criticism that all monarchists just think they in particular will benefit power-wise is offered in very bad faith.

Also, critically, note that this is a fair criticism of standard liberals, too. Who do you suppose will end up running and staffing the constantly-expanding crop of bureaucracies underpinning technocratic utopia? It’s the liberals: college-educated, white-collar, politically correct, culturally hegemonized, pseudo-intelligentsia + managers. They stand to benefit financially at least as much as small potatoes welfare recipients, typically much much more, with a huge status bump too.

tl;dr – of course we each harbor both self-interested and impersonal reasons for adopting most of the political beliefs that we do. Striking a balance between these is part of the exercise. There is no particular reason to think that monarchism, and monarchists, fare worse on this desiderata of a political philosophy than do libertarianism or liberalism (both of which are actually prima facie more likely to be motivated by sheer self-interest). So stfu about monarchists all wanting to be king and find something more intelligent to say.