On Distributism and the Futility of Third Ways

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 \AM\.\Tue\.

The search for an economic and political “third way” has haunted intellectuals for over a hundred years in the Western nations. Many forget that fascism was at one time considered a viable “third way” between liberal capitalism and communism, preserving for the most part private ownership of the means of production for profit but subjecting it to near total control and regulation by the state. Many other models would follow, from the local and anarchistic to the national and statist, appearing under many different names.

I too was caught up in the desperate search for a “third way”, as are many Catholics who eventually find their way to Distributism. But it became quite obvious to me that what people who actually defined themselves as libertarians and capitalists were promoting and defending really wasn’t what I had always thought it was, nor was it anything I could possibly find objectionable.

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Tu Quoque Checking the Kochtopus

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 \PM\.\Wed\.

Socrates famously said that the one thing he knew was that he knew nothing. As it turns out, though, he was atypical. In general, people who are ignorant or incompetent tend to consider themselves very knowledgeable or competent, more so even than people who actually are highly knowledgeable or competent. Apparently this is because the skills you need to do something well are the same as the ones you need to recognize whether you are doing it well.

I have a strong suspicion that something similar is true when it comes to political bias and partisanship. Every once and a while you will meet someone who is hyper-partisan and biased, but who claims just to be an impartial rational observer of events. And you wonder: is he serious? Surely on some level he must recognize his own propensities, given that they are so glaringly obvious to everyone else. But no. From his perspective, it just so happens that all his political opponents are wicked and stupid. After all, didn’t he once criticize people on his own side for being too much like the other side? How can he be biased if he is critical of both sides? Etc.

When I hear criticism of a political figure whose politics I disagree with I try to do what I call a “tu quoque check.” Would I find this criticism persuasive if it was about someone I agreed with? The problem is that the brain is very crafty, and can come up with all sorts of pseudo-distinctions for how what the other guy did was totally okay when your guy did it.

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Islamification & The Libertarians: The Dutch Quandary

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 \PM\.\Tue\.

europeIslamProtest

I’ve been trying to think of a good way to discuss a serious problem, which is the ongoing conflict between libertarians and conservatives in the United States over the proper response to the challenges as well as the threats posed by the Islamification of the West, which is well underway in Europe, has made inroads in Canada and Australia, and has not yet impacted the United States – at least until this ground-zero mosque controversy.

I follow the Campaign for Liberty’s updates on Facebook, and it is here that I witness some of the most troubling political conflict. There are many liberty-minded conservatives who follow C4L, who agree with its perspectives on many issues, but who become irate at the manner in which some C4L contributors address the issue of radical Islam (as well as illegal immigration, and the topics are not entirely unrelated). Conservatives are concerned, almost by definition, with cultural preservation and national security. Libertarians are quite naturally concerned with preserving liberty and treating everyone equally before the law. These concerns sometimes overlap, and sometimes diverge.

Though I agree with Ron Paul and other prominent libertarians on a number of issues, and even take their side on issues over which they typically disagree with conservatives, such as the war on drugs or even the “war on terror” – if by that is meant the occupation of foreign countries by American troops and the formation of an domestic police state – when it comes to the challenges posed to the West by radical Islam, many of them are, to use the most accurate and charitable word possible, naive.

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Oh What a Tangled Web…

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 \PM\.\Tue\.

Few things are more annoying to me than the obstruction of both semantic quibbles and logical fallacies to a clear understanding of reality. Thus my experience as a Distributist has become one of near-perpetual annoyance, given the proliferation of both throughout the Distributist camp. Here I want to address a few of the latest examples of this obstruction, and provide some insights as to how and why it ought to be overcome.

First, there is John Medaille’s interview with the Young Turks, in which he declares that one cannot be in favor of both free markets and capitalism, simply because he has defined a free market as a situation in which there are vast numbers of competitors, and capitalism as a situation in which economic power has been concentrated in the hands of a few large firms. When challenged on this distinction by the interviewer, who asserted that capitalism could be defined as a free market economy while this economic concentration could be defined as corporatism, Medaille essentially had no choice but to agree. He then decided to add that “the capitalism we have” is what he claims to be talking about, regardless of how one wants to “define it in the abstract.”

By answering in this way, however, Medaille might leave you with the impression that people who claim to be in favor of capitalism aren’t interested in criticizing that which “we have”, when it is beyond obvious to anyone who actually reads the material of self-identified pro-capitalist organizations such as the Mises Institute that they view “what we have” as corporatism or statism or state-capitalism or some variation on that theme, and oppose it as well.

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Joseph Galambos and Intellectual Property

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 \PM\.\Wed\.

A few years back I read a fascinating book on the history of libertarianism in America called Radicals for Capitalism. Of the many colorful characters in the book, one of my favorites was Joseph Galambos, an astrophysicist-turned-libertarian-guru who took a very stringent view of intellectual property rights. Galambos’ students were forbidden even to mention or paraphrase his ideas with anyone who hadn’t paid for his lecture course (which may help explain why you’ve never heard of him before). One libertarian in the book gives the following humorous account of how a conversation with a Galambosian might go:

“There are five legitimate functions of government,” said the Galambosian.
“No kidding. What are they?”
“I am not at liberty to say. The theory was originated by Andy Galambos and it is his primary property.”
“If the rest of us were free to discuss his ideas,” said the Galambosian, “there is no question in my mind that Galambosianism would spread throughout the whole world like wildfire.”

Wikipedia reports that:

Since his father’s name was Joseph Andrew Galambos, Galambos changed his name from Joseph Andrew Galambos, Jr., to Andrew Joseph Galambos, so that he wouldn’t infringe on his father’s property right in the name Joseph Andrew Galambos.

Galambos also dropped a nickel into a fund box every time he said the word “Liberty,” as a royalty to the descendants of Thomas Paine, who invented the term.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Galambos was kind of nuts. Yet his views are little more than the logical workings out of the idea that intellectual property is a matter of moral right.

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Criminalizing Kindness: Will the Real Hobbesians Please Stand Up?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 \PM\.\Tue\.

I read a lot of bad news every day, but this really tears it. A 78 year-old man named Rosco O’Neil has been charged with operating an illegal taxi service, has had his car impounded and a $2000 fine imposed upon him for offering to give a woman a ride home from a grocery store. The woman, you see, was an undercover police officer, part of a sting operation to rid society of the menace of cheap transportation for people who need it the most. Aside from the fact that this was a case of blatant entrapment, since O’Neil hadn’t even mentioned money and told the woman upon her inquiry that she could give him whatever she liked, this is also a case of the inhumanity that statism breeds.

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