Thursday, 10 February 2011

Delingpole: the unthinking man's libertarian

In politics, one often finds oneself battling those nearer to one's own position. Taken too far, it leads to micro-factionalism. Ignored completely, one's political position becomes compromised and big-tented into meaninglessness. I do not claim to represent the one true libertarianism, but I will at least try to argue the rights and wrongs of any particular case from a libertarian point of view.

Take for example what is euphemistically called an 'interventionist foreign policy'. There are many who support such adventures. Fine. But if you call yourself a libertarian, I will expect you to justify that position on the basis of libertarian principles.

As far as I can see, there is only one way to do that; to claim that the intervention is in some way not an act of aggression, but rather a defensive act, where the harm that would be caused by doing nothing outweighs the harm caused by the intervention. I will still likely take issue, seek clarification of your reasoning and go away disagreeing, but whether or not I consider you a libertarian, will depend on those answers. War is of far greater importance than, say, the issue of mandatory seatbelts. There's no point being right on all the little things, if you're wrong on the big issues. I'm not, by the way, claiming that such matters are easy to resolve, but let's not brush them under the carpet.

Now, turning to Delingpole, my attention was drawn to a piece in the Spectator, which rattles my cage in a number of ways. To begin with:

"The problem is that hardly anyone seems to understand what the ‘l’ word actually means, least of all ‘libertarians’."

What the fuck are you talking about? If there's one word everyone understands, it's 'I'. And why is libertarians in inverted commas? Well, that last is easy to guess, because James wants to attack some straw man libertarians, from his oh-so libertarian position. First up, is someone who thinks; "children shouldn’t be punished for the ‘victimless crime of not doing homework’. And that they shouldn’t have to do up their ties or tuck in their shirts, either."

By the next paragraph, this opinion has been transformed by Delingpole into "encouraging a child to indulge its natural preference for Call of Duty: Black Ops over homework." Furthermore he tells us; "I’m a scruff myself but I don’t think I can decree that all others should be scruffy too."

So the original assertion that a child should not be punished for being scruffy is transformed, without Delingpole even seeming to realise, into the non-sequitur that a child should be punished for not being scruffy. It's not the same, any more than saying 'I think people shouldn't go to jail for smoking cannabis' is the same as saying 'I think people should go to jail for not smoking cannabis'.

On we go:

"Libertarianism is not some free-for-all where the only badge of authenticity is how far you are prepared to let it all hang out. But there are quite a few self-professed libertarians who think it is."

Who's this addressed at? Not libertarians, surely? No, it's for his rightwing readers, for whom Delingpole plays the role of guide to an exotic region. He is erecting his next straw man, the one about libertarians being libertines, who wish to debauch themselves, and/or care not a fig for the poor suffering others.

"If you don’t want Dutch donkey-porn broadcast on BBC1 before 9 p.m., if you don’t want heroin vending machines in every classroom, if you’re not fighting to help enable Islamist suicide bombers to blow themselves up when and where they want, then you’re not keeping it real."

It's the mention of the BBC which gives the game away. Delingpole is too thick to realise that his straw man would necessarily be against the state-run broadcaster. I'll let his other stupid examples drop, and move on to the last page, where he briefly gets back on track, before ending in a flourish of wankery, and an appeal for some kind of 'broad church' where we can all come together against the 'big government', notwithstanding the rest of the article.

From what I can see, American libertarianism splits into the Mises people and the Koch people. I am down with the Mises people. Delingpole wants to go stroke egos at the Cato Institute, and cosy up with what's left of the neocons. It is for him to explain how his opposition to 'big government' squares with his hawkish position on 'intervention', and if he wishes to bring libertarians together in a common endeavour, he would be better debating real bones of contention, rather than duffing up paper villains.


James Higham said...

a flourish of wankery


Mark Wadsworth said...

On the substantive issue, the way forward is called 'armed neutrality'. Foreign adventures should be carried out by mercenaries or pirates acting under diplomatic immunity and paid by results.

As to the rest, agreed. The Cato gang are actually quite evil, they're from the banking-landowning-let the little people pay taxes-school of thought (and funded accordingly).

Dick Puddlecote said...

Very good piece. I'm scared to go read the Delingpole piece at this time of night but will have a look tomorrow.

However, I've come across a small seam of subtle ribbing of libertarians by conservatives before. It's normally along the lines of "you won't get elected so why not join us and bleed stuff in that way". I find it quite encouraging that libertarianism is being taken so seriously by such people. The idea is taking off it seems to me.

In the US, libertarians do exactly as they say, though, as part of the GOP but although they are having electoral success, they are also counteractive at times (but then their version is alien to me in lots of instances).

Perhaps Tories should morph more into libertarianism instead of vice versa. Yes, that would work (but then I would say that) ;)

I'm with Mises too, BTW.

Trooper Thompson said...

James, glad you liked that.

Mark, I guess I agree, but I'm not sure about the pirates.

Dick, I hope I haven't misrepresented the man. You can judge for yourself.

I don't think the Tories can ever embrace libertarianism, certainly not when they're in power. There is a libertarian fringe in the Tory party - I know, I've met them both!