Thursday, November 08, 2007

Libertarians of straw?

The blogosphere has been a little quiet of late - not so many enlivening feuds and spats as there used to be. So it's always nice to be able to watch one develop. It all started with a series of posts between Peter Risdon, the DK and Mr Eugenides on the nature of libertarianism versus conservatism. It was, in fact, a thoughtful exchange, given that the DK is very strong on being a libertarian in a minarchist way, and Mr Eugenides appears to view libertarianism as a tendency more than an ideology.
In any event, Paulie, of Never Trust a Hippy, wrote a piece that attacked what he described as 'bloggertarians' (the phrase originated, I think, with Pootergeek, who is not currently blogging) for, effectively their nihilistic approach towards Government in general - or at least for negativism. The DK took exception to this - with some justification in my opinion, as he has written numerous posts in which he sets out alternative policies, and is I think involved to some degree in policy formation with a political party. As might be expected, he was as forthright in his opinions on the merits of the piece as he usually is, and a lively little exchange took place in the comments. Interestingly, given that one of Paulie's principle objections was that the DK's use of swearwords lowers the level of debate, the DK is remarkably restrained.
Paulie has subsequently expounded on this theme on the Drink-Soaked Trots page. And I don't really agree with him. In his first post, for example, in a list of policies that these purely negative 'bloggertarians' don't try and propose an alternative for, he comes up with:
  • CCTV
  • ID Cards
  • DNA Databases
  • Police powers in general (though the distinction between bloggertarians and libertarians is that they only oppose police powers where they are endorsed by a Labour PM).

Well, if you are opposed to ID Cards, and the DNA Database that is its prerequisite, there's not much that needs to proposed as an alternative is there? Just don't proceed with ID cards. This is, obviously, a negative approach - but that isn't necessarily the same as a generally negativist approach. But it isn't the philosophical nature of this debate that irritates me - as a confessed Conservative, I don't really have a dog in this fight - it's more the tone of the debate.

I remember it first from Pootergeek - in this piece - and it's the sneery nature of the style that puts my back up.

Now that is an inspired rhetorical curlicue. How can I translate it and still embed a clever double meaning like the one Justin rightly draws our attention to in the original?

I wish I could say I hadn’t seen its like since I was an undergraduate, but, with the state of debate these days, I can’t. Read the rest as we bloggers say. It’s crushing stuff. Turning on his PC every day to face criticism like this—its wit, its rigour, its scholarship—must have been what drove Matthew Taylor to resign.

I have to say that this itself reads like undergraduate humour - the combination of heavy-handed sarcasm and pomposity was depressing then and it's depressing now - all the more so since I probably once wrote like this as well. Paulie isn't very different. The fastidious sneering is both wearisome and pretentious, and I don't like it. Well, bully for me, and I'm sure he'll be suitably stricken.

I would note, just briefly, that of the three bloggers Paulie cites as true libertarians one is a self-defined 'classical liberal' - which is rather different.

UPDATE: Incidentally, this looks like it might be something of a recurring theme...



Blogger Paulie said...

Sorry to weary you out Reptile.

My objection isn't to DK's lack of involvement in discussions of policy matters, it's the negativist nature of those policies when he does get around to them. As I pointed out in my 'Definition of Bloggertarian', political negativism is instrumental for the far-right of British politics - and consequently, it is more likely to be seen as an objective asset by a Tory, I suppose.

Is obsession with the EU is just ahistorical. Arguing against him is like arguing against some religious crackpot - you'd have to go right to the very beginning and question is basic understanding of enlightenment principles before even getting on to the substance of his arguments on specific issues. There is no use of counterfactuals or any notion (odd for a libertarian) of trade-offs in his arguments.

Since you are a graduate, you will acknowledge that he wouldn't get very good marks in any essay on the basics of liberty, democracy or the anatomy of government.

And to argue against "ID Cards, and the DNA Database that is its prerequisite" does beg the question:

- Database technologies and datasharing is getting easier and better these days
- The police can use DNA evidence and they are getting better at it
- There is a popular demand for more use of surveillance and for more by way of tracking (spokespeople from your own party are very keen to highlight the failings of the current government in keeping track of immigrants)

I'm agnostic about ID cards. I wish the issue would go away. But it won't. And there are much bigger forces that are nothing to do with 'NuLab' that are behind what will be growing demands for ID tracking and DNA databases.

DK and his ilk only see 'NuLab' - and even worse - specific ministers who are given fascistic attributes - as the originators of these demands.

10:54 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

There's an argument to be made that what you see as negativism is what William Buckley saw as the true role of a Conservative - to stand athwart the tide of history and shout stop!

The EU tends to attract one of two reactions, indifference and a blinding rage. As with other areas - abortion is one that comes to mind - useful argument on the whole area is becoming harder and harder - because both sides are (or seem) unable even to see the other's argument.

That said, there is a distinction between an analysis of a specific policy proposal (which, although DK is more than capable of speaking for himself, he does produce) and a 'for God's sake' reaction. When Romano Prodi, for example, (and I know this is not wholly analagous) proposed an Italian law governing who may and may not publish on the internet, the immediate reaction was less an attempt to explain why such a law was both impractical and a bad idea in itself, and more of a 'for God's sake'.

On both sides of the blogosphere - and this actually goes wider than this niche - there is a tendency to feel that 'to state it clearly is to refute it'. Preaching to the choir is a staple diet of commentators across the spectrum.

On ID cards - I agree there are arguments to be made for the scheme. It's just that I disagree with them, and further, think that it's not necessary to have an alternative. This is, obviously, a negative view, but since I genuinely feel that the scheme is both impractical and unnecessary, I don't see that I need to propose a competing policy!

It's not, incidentally, that I find you or your website wearisome - I don't (which is doubtless a huge relief!). It's just that the 'foolish children' approach to 'bloggertarians' grates. Thanks for responding though.

12:09 pm  
Blogger Paulie said...

This whole thing has got a bit protracted now - I don't usually get picked up as much I have been this week, so it's usually easier to track what I / allies / adversaries have said now.

But there is one element of my argument that is central to it - and which appears to be overlooked everywhere. It's this.

Libertarians are fine - I don't agree with all of them but I agree with an awful lot of what some of them say. I may even be one myself in one of it's variations (in my case, a decentraliser, euro-federalist social democrat).

Bloggertarians are a pain in the arse. They aren't libertarians at all. They are simple negativists - and there is no recent Conservative GOVERNMENT that has ever *really* adopted Buckley's prescription (and the neo-Thatcherites that make up a lot of the bloggertarian numbers certainly wouldn't agree with it).

The fact that barriers to entry have been removed means that there are a lot more people who contribute to political discussions than there used to be. And for the most part, this is a really positive thing.

But my 'bloggertarians' (often subconsciously) regard the poisoning of political debate as a good thing, and they do so on the fairly ahistorical basis that - if debate is poisoned - then politics will be replaced by something better. I covered this in some detail in this post here.

So, in summary, they aren't libertarians. The are very right wing, or they are the objective allies of very right wing people. And the Conservative Party is going to look back on it's bloggertarian friends in the same way that we - in the Labour Party - look back on our ultra-left 'friends' in the 1980s.

With scorn and regret.

12:37 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

You're certainly right that no Conservative Government has ever been Buckleyite in practice. Perhaps the closest serious candidate was Goldwater in the States, and look what happened to him.

But just because 'in reality' bloggertarianism is unrealistic/purely negativist doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing. The voice of Polly Toynbee (to pick a name at random) calling for more public policy, spending commitments etc is balanced by the voice of bloggertarians (and their media equivalents) calling for less.

I'm not sure either that right/left wingism is very useful here, although there does seem to be a tendency towards the Tory.

3:13 pm  
Blogger female political and social comment said...

anyone want to comment about GB's attitude, and nihilistic would be preferable.
has anyone else worked out who has funded the nuffield council report into alcohol consumption in the UK? if you want to read my piece it's on
do you think this is ok?
personally i think:
devious, underhand, sly, scottish cultural arrogance.
comments please

6:04 pm  

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