Sunday, August 02, 2020

Wimps, Boors, and Philosophers

I am mining my accumulated blog posts to convert them into one or more books and have started the first chapter. It is based on exchanges with a group of libertarian political philosophers who describe themselves as Bleeding Heart Libertarians. It occurred to me that the argument I was making there was related to a different argument in a different post.

My central claim in the first group of posts was that, while the BHL were offering legitimate criticisms of arguments made by their fellow libertarians, they were unwilling to apply a similar standard to arguments made by academic philosophers. They wanted to add "social justice" to libertarianism but were unable or unwilling to give a clear explanation of what it was or on what basis it could be defended. They spoke respectfully of John Rawls but were not prepared to actually defend his central argument, which, I had long concluded, hinged on a claim about as defensible as 2+2=5, even less defensible than the libertarian arguments they had attacked.

My conclusion was that what they were offering was a version of libertarianism designed to appeal to their non-libertarian colleagues.

My other post came out of the controversy over the Ron Paul newsletters, some of which contained articles attacked as racist. While I may have missed something, I do not think any of them either asserted innate inferiority of blacks or hatred of blacks qua blacks. What they did was express a derogatory opinion of particular blacks — Watts rioters or muggers — in a gleeful fashion. They were thus likely both to appeal to racists and to offend liberals — more generally, people who accept current conventions of acceptable and unacceptable speech. My guess is that both effects were intentional.

I see the clash as between people who see non-PC speech as a  virtue and those who see it as a fault, between people who approve of offending liberal sensibilities and those who share enough of those sensibilities to prefer to respect them. The former group see the latter as wimps, the latter see the former as boors.The wimps have friends on the left they respect, so prefer to think of those on the left as reasonable people who are mistaken. The boors are more likely to have friends on the right, including some, such as religious fundamentalists or neo-confederates, whom the wimps disapprove of, so in that case the pattern reverses, with the wimps seeing those they disagree with as evil or stupid, the boors seeing them as reasonable people with, perhaps, some mistaken views.

Ron Paul, or whichever of his people wrote the relevant articles, identified with and was appealing to the boors and so offended the wimps. The Bleeding Heart Libertarians are professional academics, associate mostly with people well on the left, so speak respectfully of even bad arguments that such people respect and would like to revise libertarianism to make it more palatable to their left wing friends.


Brandon Berg said...

Some important context on the Ron Paul newsletter, which was allegedly written by Lew Rockwell. Rockwell and Paul were both associates of Murray Rothbard. Rothbard, knowing that libertarians were too few in numbers to have a major impact, was big on outreach and coalition-building. He tried to form alliances with both the New Left and the populist right. You can see this in the material Rockwell runs (ran? I haven't read it in 15 years) over at He had a number of regular columnists all over the spectrum, from the fringe left to the fringe right.

I suspect that the newsletters were a deliberate attempt to pander to the populist right.

Thomas L. Knapp said...

Correct, except that "populist" right paints with too broad a brush. The newsletters -- in fact, the whole "paleo strategy" -- were a deliberate attempt to pander to the racist right. That attempt backfired terribly when Paul ran for president, and has continued to damage the libertarian movement in two ways (first, by making it easy to paint us as racist ourselves; second, by attracting racists who believe the pandering and think libertarianism sanctions their beliefs).

It was dumb.

John Schilling said...

Absolutely dumb. The set of potential allies who can only be appealed to by joining them in hatred or mockery of their outgroup, is almost always too small and impotent to be worth the bother. If they're worth having on your side, try appealing to them in a way that speaks to their concerns without so blatantly attacking anyone else you might someday want as a friend.

William H. Stoddard said...

I have to say that Murray Rothbard had a lifelong record of poor judgment on political alliances, starting with his support for Strom Thurmond in the 1940s. Over and over, he tried not for libertarian-moderate, or libertarian conservative, or libertarian-liberal alliances, but for various flavors of libertarian-authoritarian alliance.