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01/06/2006 Archived Entry: "Join the BB!"

Eavesdrop on this site's discussion BB where we are currently exploring the 'difference' between economic and civil liberties. This morning, I wrote in response to Elizabeth:

You raise an interesting point re: economics v. civil liberties. Of course, this is not a dichotomy in terms of theory because both economic and 'personal' rights derive from the same source of which they are merely two different expressions; the source is self-ownership. In psychological terms, however, I have noticed a big difference in the personalities and concerns of those who enter libertarianism because they are attracted to the economic theories as opposed to those who enter because they are attracted to the civil liberties. I fall into the latter category and I cultivated an interest in economics by convincing myself of how inter-dependent the two concerns are in practice as well as in theory. In short, I integrated the two areas, with civil liberties being my main focus. At this point, my economic theories are pretty much straight and predictable Austrian in the fashion of Rothbard, Mises, Hayek, etc. I doubt if I will ever make an original contribution in the area of economics because I view it. I use it merely as a solid springboard for social theory.

By contrast, I do not commonly encounter libertarians who entered through economics and, then, went on to integrate the more radical civil liberties positions. I think the only category of economists who do routinely integrate radical social theory into their worldview are those who identify with Rothbard, who drew heavily upon the 19th century individualist anarchists. Otherwise, it is common for 'libertarian' economists to balk at extending their principles into social realms. Often, they renounce or 'improve' Austrian economics by turning to cost-benefit analysis, mathematical modeling, the Chicago school, etc. Although I believe these approaches have insights to offer, they are not inherently libertarian in the same manner as Austrian economics. That is to say, they are not based on libertarian principles even if they often come to conclusions that libertarians may like. Someone who argues that the drug war is not "cost efficient" or unConstitutional may make good arguments and do valuable research but they are not making an inherently libertarian argument. After all, their position presumes that the drug war would be acceptable if it was economically effective or Constitutional.

Another aspect of the movement that has contributed to the confusion of core principles and a Reagan-like drift is the inept incorporation of religion with libertarianism. Note: unlike many atheists in the movement, I do not believe that there is any necessary contradiction between religious belief and libertarianism. In practice, however, contradictions often occur. A few decades ago, the influence of Rand and her zealous atheism/rationalism was far greater than it is today. Although Objectivists are far from being libertines and have their own rather puritanical views re: sex, etc., nevertheless they take a good line on the right to be what they call "irrational." That is, the right to be a prostitute, a drug user, and such. They distinguish between morality and rights. This one fact alone provides more common ground with libertarians than you see with the non-Austrians economists or conservative Christians who, as often as not, simply like our general and well-spelled out laissez-faire market approach but aren't wedded to accepting the consequences of true freedom across the board. In short, those who come from a religious background often mix the ideas of morality and rights as though they were indistinguishable. They never get the principle expressed by Lysander Spooner as "Vices are Not Crimes."

The conservative drift is a problem in many ways. And I understand your becoming frustrated. Just one level on which it frustrates me is how effectively it blocks any sophisticated, original discussion of the issues I'd most like to address. Bring up drugs or prostitution and you never seem to get past, "Oh, but it is immoral." Quite apart from the truth-value of that statement, it represents a discussion I've had several hundred times over the past years...and I am not exaggerating. I remember Murray (Rothbard) once refusing to answer the question, "But without government, who would build the roads?" because he said that no one should be forced to answer the same question more than 500 times in one lifespan. I established this BB largely as a forum in which I could pursue my social concerns and wander around a bit in theorizing. I'll try to be better about posting. And more selfish. By which I mean, I'm only going to pursue the questions that interest me rather than engage in debate for other people's benefit.

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