2014-01-13

Controlling The Dialogue

Part One:
Jeffrey Tucker has a new pamphlet out, yours free upon signing up for updates about Liberty.me. (Read my previous post on Liberty.me here.) Although the pamphlet is ostensibly "25 pages," the font is large, the language is easy, and most people will be able to finish it in a few minutes.

Overall, I'd say it is a good read. Most of the pamphlet is dedicated to helping the Tucker readership - call them "new" libertarians in the sense that they are young people with limited exposure to academic libertarianism - learn how to advocate for liberty without being boorish. Some obviously have more to learn about this than others. In fact, my lone point of criticism for the pamphlet is that those for whom it was written may not recognize themselves as being the intended audience, and thus may not take the time to internalize the key messages. But, so be it. No one else is writing this kind of pamphlet; the world is a better place with Tucker's having written it.

The key take-away, if I had to choose just one, is this:
The secret here is to [follow one of Tucker's approaches] not as a strategy but as a sincere attempt to praise the good in another's way of thinking.
Tucker writes this sentence almost casually, but for my money it is the key to understanding his whole point. Tucker doesn't speak to people with an "angle," and he's not always trying to sell everyone on his world view. He seems to approach life from the confidence of his own knowledge (indeed, that is one of the recommendations he makes in the pamphlet). He is one of those rare human beings whose convictions lead him naturally toward praising the good in everything he sees. It should surprise no one that he has become such an effective and beloved advocate for the libertarian way of thinking. I really don't think he's advocating, per se, I think he's just being Jeffrey Tucker, and the result of that is that it draws people in, makes them want to be a part of that knowledge, that perspective, and that goodness.

It's a rare and special quality that makes Tucker the man he is.

Compare that to a recent Facebook post from Steve Horwitz:
Note for my FB friends: if you think left-libertarians, and those of us who think it's important for libertarians to talk about race, gender, and sexuality, are trying to import "cultural Marxism" into libertarianism, please do me a favor and think twice about using that phrase. You appear to have no understanding of what we are talking about and you are using a $10 term for a 10 cent concept, and one that I don't think you really understand. If you did, you'd realize how wrong its application is in this case. 
Throwing that term around has too often become a blank-out for not actually addressing the issues at hand, nor reading with any charity what people like me are arguing. You look silly and your criticisms would be better framed with actual substantive arguments rather than tossing around that wrongly-used term.
Part Two:
I'm not really trying to single Horwitz out here. I consider him an excellent economist and a passionate advocate. But the difference in tone between Horwitz and Tucker is palpable.

Jason Brennan, who co-writes the Bleeding Heart Libertarianism blog with Horwitz, is notoriously dismissive of opinions he views to be wrong. He ruffled my feathers some months back, and as Ross Levatter puts it (emphasis mine),
It IS unfortunate that some commenters (not here, but elsewhere on the web) seem to think I was personally affronted by Prof. Brennan saying, "charitably," that "Levatter is just widely misinformed about the state of economics". That's not true. I was surprised and amused, but not affronted. We all have our own personal debating styles. Mine is more confrontational than yours and I'd been warned by several libertarians in academics that Jason's is even more confrontational than my own.
The ironic thing about all this, of course, is that it is the Rothbardian stream of libertarianism - the "internet Austrians," and so forth, those who are more likely to read Tucker and less likely to read Brennan or Horwitz - who have the more boorish reputation.

But note how both parties have approached the problem of perceived boorishness. The Bleeding-Hearts respond in kind, becoming "confrontational" and calling people names; Tucker responds gently and practically, reminding us that no one has ever been persuaded by a jerk, and urging us to find common ground.

Part Three:
A major problem I have with Bleeding Heart Libertarians is that much of what they write appears to be an attempt to reclaim libertarianism from the masses, if you will. They seem to feel that the uneducated hoard, armed with a lack of comprehensive education/understanding and an aggressive rhetorical style, are "taking over" libertarianism, and they seem to want to get the masses to keep quiet so that they, the intellectuals, can claim their rightful place as the advocates of liberty.

I am not very sympathetic to this point of view. For one thing, it calls into question the idea that one can hold a belief in libertarianism that is not backed by hundreds of years of economic and philosophic theory. This strikes me as being plainly untrue. Could a man with no education, born in a remote and rural village, come to a belief in libertarianism of his own volition, without having to re-invent centuries of social science theory? In my opinion, yes.

More importantly, most people who acquire a political ideology do so first because it makes sense to them. Only later do they acquire an education in the finer academic points. This is true of millions of people, regardless of their politics.

In short, I do not see conservative thinkers, nor liberal thinkers, who invest much time in disparaging the teeming masses who already agree with them under the argument that the masses are insufficiently educated. It seems to be a problem unique to libertarians.

And it is very off-putting. One need not be a genius or have a lot of education to believe in or advocate for liberty. Tucker seems to understand this. Many others do not.