Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Mencken on the scourge of our times

Short, to the point and one to memorize, because you never know when you'll need it.

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.


James Higham said...

Mencken was inspired.

Trooper Thompson said...

inspired? Not sure he'd approve of that designation!

will said...

not to have a pop at anyone's individual preferences but I sometimes feel that libertarianism as a whole does tend toward the culturally/socially/morally conservative. I know that greater individual freedom will necessarily bring a more natural level of individual responsibility and so forth and that the kinds of behaviour that rile conservatives may well decline. however there does seem to be a general tendency toward something that may be a residual trace of puritanism. for example on the issue of drugs, a fair number of libertarians tend to focus on the reduction in unintended consequences of prohibition and downplay the possibility that people simply enjoy taking drugs.
equally the economic arguments seem to assume that we will all strive with a burning protestant work ethic like Randian heroes. noone seems to want to think about individuals enjoying the low living costs of a tax free world and indulging in epicurean dolce vita.

even in a largely secular western world we still carry the weight of puritan values. i prefer the Doug Stanhope style of hedonistic individual liberty. that said there's room for as many forms of individual liberty as there are indivuals of course which is pretty much the whole point.

Trooper Thompson said...

The main dealing maker/breaker is whether you want to impose your views on other people. If you check the thread down below for 'Hitchens and the Great Helmsman Syndrome' you will find me arguing against the notion that the law should enforce morality.

You are no doubt right that libertarians are often conservative, as libertarian values, such as individual responsibility and repudiating the interfering state are conservative positions.

The puritanism arrives via the protestant individualist line, which is very influential in the classical liberal/utilitarian tradition. But the other important line comes via Thomas Aquinas, the Spanish Scholastics and the Austrian School. Here, due to the catholic influence you will not find the puritan issue.

Trooper Thompson said...

The other thing is you'll find that those who are prepared to argue for drug legalisation are usually pretty straight, as those who are actually into drug taking don't want to go out and openly admit it. It's the same with pornography. Few people wil say 'hey, I like a good wank'.

will said...

I knew a bit about the austrians being mostly catholic (Jeff Tucker over at Mises.org writes a bit about this influence - i believe he even converted to catholicism for such political reasons and possibly this attitude can be seen in his book 'bourbon for breakfast') i also have read Hulsmann's 'ethics of money production' which goes into the catholic ethical tradition of the scholastics etc.
that said your explanation of the two historical traditions of liberal thought as influenced by the two sects of christianity is really interesting and not something ive seen before. i havent read any history of libertarian thought though so im not particularly well informed but thankyou for that.
i suppose Bentham et al in the utilitarian tradition were just getting going right at the height of puritanism in england so that may well explain alot.

fyi im an individualist anarchist of the deontological variety so im not wanting to coercively impose anything on anyone.

in the whole uk libertarian blogosphere one of the commenters i find consistently interesting is 'Ian B'. he's always got some nugget of historical information refering to x, y or z being the result of puritan meddling. he may not be an anarchist but he sure doesnt like puritanism.

there's some crap old gag about libertarians being republicans that wanna smoke dope which as far as i can tell is really far off the mark as you say. almost every single piece ive seen on the issue includes a genuine statment that the writer happens to not partake of such substances. myself included, mainly i feel, due to cultural upbringing where booze is a-ok but pills and powders are bad.

there used to be a t-shirt by some skateboard company with the legend 'masturbation is not a crime.' i never had the balls to buy it let alone wear it!

Trooper Thompson said...

I heard yesterday: a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged. A libertarian is a conservative who's been arrested.

I thought it was funny, although it doesn't apply to me.

Regarding the matter at hand, I'm not sure the best source for such things, it's no doubt spread around my Rothbard collection.

Searching for something, I came across this article, which is worth reading:


Let me know what you think if you read it. As for IanB, he's an interesting commenter. I don't think he calls by these parts.

will said...

how could I forget calvinism? the swiss have always been an odd example for me. on the one hand they have pretty good political and economic liberty and yet on the other, they seemingly voluntarily vote-in seriously restrictive policies and regulations. i have wanted to find a good history of swiss politics, philosophy and theology to try and understand why, with the almost ideal political foundations, they dont have a more permissive political culture. perhaps swiss culture is what libertopia will generate and i am wrong to expect hedonistically permssive culture. Rothbard's explanation of Calvinist influence here helps make sense of the swiss.

I would like to find something to blame the fly in the ointment of Adam Smith that is the Ricardian labour theory of value. I need to read up on this protestant influence.

'Kauder attributes this precisely to the Calvinist emphasis on the divinity of work, as opposed to Catholic thought, which only considered work as a means to making a living.' few people i rant toward seem to understand this second attitude. i seem to remember reading somewhere that the etymology of the word 'leisure' is religious. i think it means something like 'permitted time off' - theres a sense of grudging authoritarian permission in there for me. today leisure time is considered by some as nothing more than 'recharging the batteries' for yet more work. as if the work was the ideal. its all individual preference I suppose.

will said...

for no reason here's a block of my favourite quotes from the piece:

'Smith really set back economic thought by injecting... the labor theory of value, thus throwing economics off the sound track for a hundred years.' because 'its emphasis on "costs determining prices" has encouraged the view that businessmen push up prices... rather than governmental inflation of the money supply. Third, its emphasis on "objective, inherent value" in goods led to "scientistic" attempts to measure values, to stabilize them by government manipulation, etc.'
'The Scholastics... concluded that the "just price" was essentially the freely competitive price set on the market, whereas the Protestant-influenced British had to say that the fair price is the "natural" price where the "amount of labor exchanged in each good is the same."
Smith and Locke introduced the idea 'that the just price equals the cost of production plus a reasonable profit.' – a danger that Marx fully exploited (and, in fact, that lingers on in the imperfect competition theories, which are akin to emphasis on some juster world where the "natural" or "optimum" prices reign).'
"society was treated (by Aquinas) as a thoroughly human affair, and moreover, as a mere agglomeration of individuals brought together by their mundane needs… the ruler’s power was derived from the people… by delegation. The people are the sovereign and an unworthy ruler may be deposed.'

The above should be on billboards, schools, x-factor ad-breaks!

i did read a bit about Aquinas when i read the wiki article about epicurianism. ill have to delve deeper.

i dont know whether its my personal confirmation bias but, like the rest of Rothbard, this article makes so much sense. rothbard explains so much that tarnishes the supposed heroes of laissez faire.
the irony that aetheist marxists are indirectly influenced by protestantism/calvinism via Smith and the labour theory of value is pretty funny.
im sure this latent religious morality is what drives most present day emotive irrational do-gooder statists.

on the subject of religion i must say im a big fan of stefan molyneux including his atheism. i was never really bothered by those arguments before i got really into liberty then it struck me that a fair bit number of restrictions on individual freedom stem from left over religiosity. im still not anywhere near as passionate about atheism as i am anarchism. ive voiced my near nihilist tendencies here before with reference to traditions etc so i wont bang on against religion too. id rather a world of religious anarchists than atheist statists!

thankyou for taking the time to dig this out and link to it. i really appreciate it.

Trooper Thompson said...

I was going to quote that part as well, so you saved me the trouble.

I would definitely recommend Rothbard's Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, in which he sticks the boot into Adam Smith, and Jeremy Bentham amongst others. (You can read it for free in the literatury section at Mises.org)

Here are a couple of excerpts on Smith and Machiavelli respectively:



As to the links between communism and christianity, at least the crazy millennarian versions, if you're not aware of the connections, you should definitely listen to this lecture, which is shot through with Rothbard's humour.


It's a good series of lectures. The one on the pre-Austrians is great, as this sets out the case against the, I would say, anglocentric view of Smith as the founder of modern economics.

The sound is a little bad, but not too much.

As for my time, no problem, it's my pleasure!