Cats and dogs sleeping together

Sasha Volokh reflects on some of the similarities between libertarians and Communists:

But while one can quarrel with many of their factual assertions, I think that on their own grounds, they're trying to work for what they see as a better world. One can further say that they favor a better America, though they don't express this in nationalist terms, since they're internationalists, as am I.

An important point to keep in mind. Too often in political matters, one side categorizes the other side as operating under entirely sinister motives.

Take, for example, this excerpt from a book review [link found on the Conspiracy] of Richard Posner's Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy written by the famous postmodernist philosopher, Richard Rorty:

Though often pigeonholed as a conservative, Posner has little in common with William Buckley, William Kristol, or George Will. Unlike the neoconservative apologists for the Republican attempt to rip off the poor, he is a genuinely original thinker, as well as a prodigy of learning.

Now, I can understand why television pundits and other low-brow political commentators like Al Franken or Michael Moore might claim - or even believe - that Republicans truly want to rip off the poor. But Richard Rorty? Why would any serious political thinker believe such nonsense?

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"The road to hell is paved

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions"

It's not just a cliche, its the truth. ^_^

Coincidentally, I invited an

Coincidentally, I invited an Econ Prof to come and speak at the College Libertarians meeting held yesterday. The title of the talk was, "The road to hell is paved with bad economics." It focused on how well-intentioned policies lead to disastrous and counterproductive results.

Who was the prof?

Who was the prof?

"But Richard Rorty? Why

"But Richard Rorty? Why would any serious political thinker believe such nonsense?"

Well no one said he was a *good* serious political thinker...

why? Because if you suppose

why? Because if you suppose the republicans (and the dems for that matter) are operating in the service of powerful, moneyed interests it seems obvious that they'd want to rip off anybody who's not powerful and/or moneyed. Because they stand to gain tremendously from doing it. I doubt though that there are many politicians out there who actively want to rip off the poor (in the sense of believeing in those actual words) of course, but that means absolutely nothing, as should be obvious to anyone familiar with the concept of institutional analysis.

institutional analysis What

institutional analysis

What is this? I googled for it and found that half the sites talk about conspiracies and half the sites are official bodies of Universities.

Hmmm... maybe the Universities have a secret agenda to promote conspiracies...

Mark

Matt, when Rorty speaks of a

Matt, when Rorty speaks of a "Republican attempt to rip off the poor," the implication is that a significant number of Republicans knowingly want to hurt the poor. This is silly. If you or he want to argue that the policies Republicans support, while well-intentioned, will result in bad consequences for the poor, that is a fine argument, and we can continue the discussion. But when someone makes a sweeping generalizing about the nefarious motives of a large group of people, without any evidence to back this up (and no convincing evidence could even be gathered, because it is impossible to look inside someone else's mind and determine what truly motivates them), it reeks of intellectual immaturity and ends the discussion right there.

Not all libertarians are

Not all libertarians are internationalists. For example, I'm not.

Internationalism requires a willingness to believe that other cultures will meet one's own on equal terms if persuaded of the supremacy of some abstract ideal, such as freedom. I believed that before extensive business travel forced me to get to know other cultures. I no longer do.

The Professor was Rod Duncan

The Professor was Rod Duncan

I suppose that if you assume

I suppose that if you assume "attempt" means that you are knowingly trying to do something, rather than just attmepting actions that will neccesarily bring about such a thing, then Rorty may have been lazy with language. I hardly think that's much of a critique.

Institutional analaysis is similar to "conspiracy theory" but it has no conspiracy. Like if you pour perfect round balls (quit laughing) on a board it will form a pyrimid. The balls roundness doesn't create roundness, etc. Anyway suppose you claim that a nation-state will always be self-serving, you don't have to claim that everyone comprising the institution is neccesarily self-serving in intent, only that the working out of institutional forces (pressures typical of the structure, like voter pressures, or stockholder pressures, or whatever) that wind up dictating certain things.

then Rorty may have been

then Rorty may have been lazy with language. I hardly think that's much of a critique.

Rorty is a Professor of English and bases most of his philosophical arguments on lingusitic theories. He of all people has a responsibility to be careful with language, and I don't think he deserves us giving him the benefit of the doubt in this matter. He is generally careful with his use of words, and I see no reason to assume he didn't mean exactly what he said.

But my main point wasn't just to criticize Rorty; he was simply a convenient example. I just cannot understand why some people thing that large groups of their political opponents have evil motives. Misguided, yes. Empirically mistaken, yes. Evil, no.

Francis, I interpreted

Francis,

I interpreted "internationalism" in terms of an individual who judges a certain person, product, or good on their own characteristics rather than their country of origin. I live in Detroit but drive a foreign car, likely much to the displeasure of the local "Be American - Buy American" United Auto Workers. A nationalist act would be to consider only the Big 3. Hence, libertarian-leaners tend to shy away from tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions (travel included) that make trade and communication between different cultures/regions more difficult.

Of course, Communists are internationalists in a much different sense (i.e. one-world-government law and order, cross-border taxation, etc).

Again, this was only my personal interpretation of the word's meaning upon first glance.

I would say "international"

I would say "international" in that I believe the virtues of the right to be secure in one's home, body, and property to be universal and thus applicable to all regardless of nationality.

A libertarian theory of justice would necessarily apply to all humans, which makes it international.

Of course, there is a lot of social capital that must exist before an advanced economy can exist, or even just a libertarian one (such as the example of medieval Iceland).

I also don't believe that all cultures are equal (which follows from the above) since not all cultures and societies have the same social capital built up. The differences are significant enough that I agree that Francis' idea of internationalism would certainly fail.

Well, but what difference do

Well, but what difference do the *motives* make?
How can anyone look at the actions of the Republicans, their preferred modes of government distribution of its (mis-)appropriations, and call it anything other than an 'attempt to rip off the poor'? Yes, it may be an attempt to do other things, perhaps, even probably, has other goals and desires in mind than 'ripping off the poor', but so what?
We as (individuals within)a society are far too ready to excuse any monstrousness on the basis of some presumed 'good intentions'. I for one don't give the hindquarters of a dead rodent what someone's intent is. What were their actions?
Intentions are not the basis for the moral, or economic, evaluation of actions.

cheers,
Bill

Bill, I'm not trying to

Bill, I'm not trying to excuse anything. In fact, I think you and I are mostly in agreement; motives simply do not make a difference when judging political policies (although they can make a difference when judging individuals).

Motives matter, though, if

Motives matter, though, if you're judging future proposed policies (or platforms) and want to gain insight on how they would react to situations X, Y, or Z. If someone's motive is to take and monopolize power with no intent to give it back, then one can rightfully question that person's publicly professed "dedication to liberty, democracy, and the electoral process", for example. Take gun-control activists, for example. Putting all reason aside in judging various utilitarian claims, history has shown gun-control movements to often negotiate & argue in bad faith- i.e. they use rhetoric they don't mean to get them further to the ultimate goal of gun confiscation and illegality. Australia is the prime example- the registry that was sworn to be just a precaution to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals was a trojan horse, as the next thing enacted was to use the registry to find gun owners and take their weapons. The people advocating the registry had this as their goal from the beginning.

So it would have been (and is) important to have dismissed their arguments as bad faith (which is essentially what slippery slope arguments do with a bit more tact than saying "our opponents argue in bad faith"- it assumes the results of bad faith without making it a conscious act).

It's a cynical view, but important in politics.

Brian, Excellent point.

Brian,

Excellent point. This is the essence of Eugene Volokh's law review article on the slippery slope. But notice that slippery slope arguments are an exception to the general rule of policy debate; instead of opposing the actual merits of the policy itself, we are opposing the merits of future policies that may come about as a result of the current one in question. However, in order to make this argument, as Eugene notes, one must explain the mechanism whereby the slip can happen, and demonstrate that it is likely to happen.

In the gun control example, Eugene cited the various instances where gun control advocates explicitely stated their ultimate desire to confiscate all guns, and their plan to use a gradual process of more and more regulation to get us there. In such a case, motives do matter.

But in terms of Rorty's statement, and statements similar to it, that "Republicans attempt to rip off the poor," one would need to actually cite examples of leading Republicans saying something along the lines of, "I hate the poor; let's rip them off." Barring that kind of evidence, I think its silly to impugn the motives of such a large group of people when all other evidence points to them acting in good faith (at least as much good faith as political actors of all stipes have).

Micha, I actually used the

Micha,
I actually used the weaker argument to defend Rorty. It's obvious that Rorty can mean exactly what he says if you guys can say "the gov't steals money from us through taxation." Suppose republicans want to make the tax code less progressive: from your perspective that's just removing unfair burdens from thge rich. However, from the perspective of Mill-style utilitarian, that's actually ripping off the poor, who are morally assured of such a tax code. Simple as can be.

When we say that the

When we say that the government steals money through taxation, we are not impugning anyone's motives. We acknowledge that those who advocate taxation disagree with our premises and act out of benevolent intent. If we said something along the lines of, "All leftists hate the rich and wish to hurt them as much as possible," then you might have an argument.

So I would have no problem if Rorty said that from the leftist perspective, Republicans are hurting the poor. But the implication of his statement is that even from the perspective of Republicans themselves, they are intentionally hurting the poor. And I see no reason why any serious commentator would say such a foolish thing.

oh, come now: you'd be

oh, come now: you'd be uncomfortable with the phrase "a socialist government attempts to steal your money and allocate it toward things you don't want?" Of course not.

In fact your statement "at least we're not impugning people's motives" as the difference between you and rorty is just question begging. My point is that rorty isn't impugning their motives either.

oh, come now: you'd be

oh, come now: you'd be uncomfortable with the phrase "a socialist government attempts to steal your money and allocate it toward things you don't want?" Of course not.

First of all, your sentence refers to the government and not the people who share a socialist ideology. But even if you said that socialists attempt to steal wealthy people's money and allocate it towards things they don't want, many socialists admit this with pride and I don't see anything wrong with this desire of socialists, given their belief that private property rights are unjust. Taking something away from someone that doesn't belong to them isn't a bad thing.

But take a look at the Rorty's description of the Republicans. There is no possible way to justify "ripping off the poor," and this is clearly not what the Republicans want to do.

My point is that rorty isn't impugning their motives either.

But you haven't made any good arguments for this interpretation. When Rorty says that Republicans attempt to rip off the poor, how does this not impugn their motives? He didn't give us any qualifiers like, "the Republican policy attempts will have the effect of ripping off the poor." He is clearly not talking only about consequences. He is talking about the actual desires of Republicans: to rip off the poor.

But even if you said that

But even if you said that socialists attempt to steal wealthy people's money and allocate it towards things they don't want, many socialists admit this with pride and I don't see anything wrong with this desire of socialists, given their belief that private property rights are unjust. Taking something away from someone that doesn't belong to them isn't a bad thing.
yes I know. But it certainly isn't stealing now is it? And you know people who believe it isn't stealing but would still say that it is? From your perspective it is stealing (because you believe it belongs to them) and from mine it isn't. Both of us are justified in using terms consistant with our beliefs. If Rorty thinks Progressive taxes are ethically dictated, then he's fine saying that republicans (many of whom would freely admit to opposing progressive taxes) are being unethical. We do it everyday- if I call "A slipping Roofies to B and then having sex with her" date-rape, and X calls it "voluntary exchange"- I'm not going to switch my definition.