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John Locke: Not lost in dogma but full of practical thought

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Pardon the pun, but seriously — I didn’t even watch “Lost,” and I knew there was a character named after this great philosopher.

In any case, this is the start of a promising series at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, perhaps because Locke’s libertarian streak is far less rigid and unkind than Rand et al.

A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarian Thought – John Locke – Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

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Libertarian hearts bleed … for themselves

April 15, 2011 2 comments

The Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog continues to disappoint. Today, it’s a whiny post that suggest that if Ayn Rand had just been left-wing, she’d be recognized as brilliant. Oh, woe is us.

The commenters, thankfully, have hit this softball over the fence. (Yes, I chimed in.)

Come on, guys — if you’re not going to present the unique nonpartisan point of view you were promising, give it up. So far, this isn’t “bleeding heart” libertarianism. It’s just “frat boy” libertarianism, using renegade academics to excuse a selfish lifestyle.

Two Hypotheses Concerning Ayn Rand – Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

UPDATE: The post disappeared. Fortunately, I have it cached:

1. If Ayn Rand’s novels had exactly the same feel, tone, and style, but were left-wing rather than whatever-wing she is, she would be considered one of the world’s greatest novelists by the literati who right now hate her writing.

2. If Ayn Rand’s novels had been left-leaning, the literati who now hate her as a person would excuse most of her moral faults (manipulativeness, drug-addiction, etc.) rather than condemn her as a bad person.

By the way, I don’t intend 1 and 2 to be a defense of Rand so much as a criticism of others.

For some evidence in favor of 1 and 2, see this study by Drew Weston.

If the post comes back up, let me know, and I’ll take down the re-creation. Utilitarians are happy to abide by reasonable copyright restrictions.

UPDATE 2: The post has been clarified and reposted. I think my comment is still valid, though perhaps the “frat-boy libertarianism” comment is a little harsher than it should be. The rest of the comments under the new post are frankly better than mine. Consensus: Rand was a mediocre writer who rose to fame because she had a unique view of the world.

That said, Mill isn’t exactly a fun read. At least Rand tried to do something unique.

Categories: philosophy, politics

Pass the potatoes? That would violate my duty to self!

April 6, 2011 1 comment

Surely most Rand disciples don’t apply her philosophy so rigidly to the dinner table. Right?

Our objectivist education, however, was not confined to lectures and books. One time, at dinner, I complained that my brother was hogging all the food.

“He’s being selfish!” I whined to my father.

“Being selfish is a good thing,” he said. “To be selfless is to deny one’s self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs.”

It was my dad’s classic response — a grandiose philosophical answer to a simple real-world problem. But who cared about logic? All I wanted was another serving of mashed potatoes.

via How Ayn Rand ruined my childhood – Real Families – Salon.com.

Yard work, golf courses and collective capitalism

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Home ownership is both the pinnacle of freedom and the most tyrannical aspect of a relatively successful life.

The signature on a home contract is also a pledge to mow the yard, prune bushes whose species you may or may not know, move giant piles of leaves, and identify and destroy weeds. That means you have put down a huge down payment and promised 30 years of bank drafts for the right to do more work in your spare time left over from the job you’ve taken to pay for the house in the first place. (Or you could put down even MORE money and have someone else do it for you.)

Environmentalists, many of them arguing from a utilitarian point of view, would say single-family homes are just fine. It’s the golf courses, guzzling up so many lawn-maintenance resources, that they don’t like.

But in a utilitarian spirit, wouldn’t it make more sense for us all to give up our lawns and live around golf courses, where we can turn over the landscaping to people who know what they’re doing?

Or am I just trying to rationalize being lazy?

Update: The “pocket neighborhood” idea sounds terrific to me. Naturally, some of USA TODAY’s commenters think it sounds like Communism. No one’s forcing them to live there, of course, but it upsets their notion that life is nothing more than a competition and their big house is proof that they “won.”

Categories: philosophy

Libertarians and capitalists, natural … enemies?

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been disappointed in Bleeding Heart Libertarians so far. It’s mostly arguments about whether so-and-so is a Left-Libertarian or a Gaussian Blur. (Yes, I’m confusing academic jargon with Photoshop terminology, but really, does it matter?)

But this post is intriguing, pointing out that a knee-jerk defense of our current economic system isn’t necessarily part of a good libertarian’s daily life.

Embracing Markets, Opposing “Capitalism” – Bleeding Heart Libertarians

Key quote: “The economic system we have now is one from which peaceful, voluntary exchange is absent.”

 

Hope for libertarians? Maybe?

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

An intriguing new blog has popped up, and Andrew Sullivan kindly took notice.

It’s called Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a term I think I once used in casual conversation and should’ve copyrighted while I had the chance. One of its early posts hints at some common ground with utilitarians: “A commitment to social justice does not logically entail a commitment to having government pursue justice through a heavy-handed, direct strategy.”

In other words: We as a society should be working for the social good. But not necessarily through government.

Promising stuff. It’s a little too academic in some places, but the ideals behind it are promising.

 

Reagan reconsidered: An illegal alien-coddling, tax-raising capitalist icon

February 7, 2011 1 comment

When Ronald Reagan died, nary an ill word was spoken. Perhaps that silence tells us the country was at least somewhat civil in its national dialogue in those days.

For his 100th birthday, the Reagan legacy is getting a thorough re-examination. And that’s a good thing, considering the new generation of politicians falsely claiming his mantle.

As various “myth” pieces tell us (see CBS, EsquireThe Washington Post), Reagan raised taxes, expanded government (even outside the Defense Department), gave amnesty to illegal aliens and did absolutely nothing on the “social conservative” front unless you count ignoring AIDS. That leads to a terrific question waiting to be asked of Reagan wannabes in an upcoming election: “You say you admire Reagan. Does this mean you’ll pass liberal abortion laws, grant amnesty to illegal aliens, raise taxes and still increase the deficit?”

Yes, Reagan had a Democratic Congress through much of his presidency, but these were the days of the Dixiecrats, Southern Democrats who had not yet cut their vestigial ties to the Old South’s political machine and become Republicans. Reagan in many senses was dealing with a three-party Congress.

Slate has re-run two Michael Kinsley pieces, one shifting much of the Cold War-ending credit from Reagan to Gorbachev. Indeed, it takes a bit more political courage to tear down a wall than it does to ask for it on behalf of a country unified in its desire to see it taken down.

The second tells us, though not explicitly, why right-wing elites revere Reagan. Yes, he was as much of a tax-and-spend-and-borrow president as anyone else, certainly moreso than Clinton. But he kept taxes down on the wealthy.

So what did Reagan do well?

Communication, of course. The Christian Science Monitor tells us he’s ranked poorly on administrative skills but highly on public persuasion.

And he was far more complex than either his revisionist acolytes or his fervent critics would have us believe. That’s the message of an upcoming HBO documentary and a book by his liberal son Ron, who had a lively interview with Stephen Colbert about Reagan mythology.

It’s another complex man, Christopher Hitchens, who points out many Reagan flaws and says with conviction that he should’ve been impeached over Iran-contra. And yet, says Hitchens, would you rather have had Walter Mondale presiding as the Cold War was coming to an end?

Reagan certainly made us feel better about ourselves, encouraging an economic expansion with the force of his sunny personality as much as his policies. On the flip side, his foreign policy kept us in awkward alliances with Very Bad People in the name of tightening the screws on the loose Communist empire, and you could argue that we’re still paying the price for those alliances in the Middle East and perhaps Central America.

All presidents, like all humans, are flawed. We should try to remember the good in people where we can, and Reagan was certainly amiable to his fellow American. Dishonesty over his legacy serves no one, least of all him, and so the thoughtful reconsideration of his presidency that we’re seeing today gives us some hope that we’re haven’t completely fallen into the abyss of propaganda.

Though it is, of course, great to dig back through the SNL archives and imagine a totally different Reagan.

Categories: mutual respect, philosophy