2012-04-26

The Next Big Controversy?

I have been (silently) following this new notion of "Bleeding Heart Libertarianism" for the last little while. As part of the journey, I have had the pleasure of discovering the intellectual thoughts of one Roderick Long (no relation - as far as I know).

First a couple of things by way of background. This idea of crafting a "bleeding heart libertarianism" seems to have originated from a man named Matt Zwolinski. As far as I can tell (I'm still withholding ultimate judgement until I can figure out what these guys actually stand for), BHL is an attempt to fuse a leftist "social conscience" with the political philosophy of traditional free-market libertarianism.

I'm sure we can all agree that, at least prima facie, such an idea is a noble - or at least unproblematic - endeavor. Whether or not they actually succeed in being convincing is another question. My current view is that, aside from Roderick Long, none of them stand for anything other than watering-down the language used by the most polemic libertarian theoriests. Like RL, I'm not so sure this is a useful endeavor.

A man by the name of Todd Seavey, on the other hand, considers BHL to be nothing less than evil. Contra Seavey, Bryan Caplan thinks that the BHLers at least ask good questions, even if they're wrong; and more importantly, they're good for fostering a sense of "friendliness" in the libertarian intellectual community.

I tend to side with Caplan here. To paraphrase a short comment in one of the first chapters of the book A Profile of Mathematical Logic by Howard DeLong (also no relation that I know of), the Ancient Greeks gave society an immeasurably valuable gift when they developed a spirit of friendly, sportsmanlike debate.

It is easy to become indignant and turn every debate into an emotional battle between good and evil. It is easy to draw others to your position by demonizing the other side and claiming your position - and only your position - to be the one, true, defensible gospel. This, however, does nothing to address the points raised by one's debate partners.

How much more satisfying to destroy the arguments of one's opponents, rather than one's opponents themselves! To that end, I recommend that all my readers re-read Plato's The Republic and observe how Thrasymachus is depicted: a sore loser, a bad logician, overly emotional, and insufferably stubborn.

The truth doesn't have any reason to run and hide from its opponents. The truth doesn't have any reason to become indignant and proclaim the evil of its foes. The truth can courageously confront and calmly disarm any opposing view by demonstrating its falsehood.

Finallly, I'd like to point out that some of the most powerful libertarian thinkers of the 20th Century - most notably Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard - often completely undermined the strength of their best arguments by couching them in the language of extreme polemics. This did libertarianism no favors, in my opinion.