I first became interested in learning more about right-wing philosophy when I reconnected with an old friend from middle and high school. Since that time, I’d gotten a PhD in philosophy and started working for an editing company.
He'd become a radical libertarian. Collected guns, thought Barack Obama was a socialist, thought George Zimmerman was totally in the right to shoot that teenager. Every conversation we had carried this powerful, personal desire on his part to convert me to radical libertarianism.
They had swallowed the dogma, lived and breathed every witless aggressive meme like it was a hit of pure oxygen, swore they weren’t racist because black people had been bred into criminality and laziness from their generations-long dependence on government handouts.
So with the experience of this two years of online friendship with folks in this extremist society in mind, I sought out the classic popular outreach texts of the founders of modern libertarian philosophy.
I was also coming out of my first major research project, which became Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. I was moving into a more explicitly political direction, thinking about the shape of a new book about the human drive for utopias.
When I consider how people think about and live their political ideals, I see this wrenching contrast, especially among the right wing, but it’s present in all political thinking. There really does seem to be a disconnect of the nuanced arguments in the core philosophical books of a tradition and the sloganeering bludgeons of too many popular activists.
Here's what Steve had to say yesterday.
The problem with your argument comes at the final hurdle. Libertarians like Friedman aren't imagining the state playing any role in these decisions to sell -- or not -- to people of whatever race. So the totalizing conclusions you reach don't necessarily apply.
He's imagining that even if some sellers are racist, it will be to the advantage of others not to be racist because they'll get the discriminated people's custom. Yes, you might end up with a 'separate but equal' sort of society, which is 'racist' in the sense that not all vendors are available to all buyers. But there will be at least one vendor available to all buyers.
In fact, that one vendor could become quite rich, if the other vendors stick to their racist guns. The state simply observes all this stuff, but doesn't adopt an ideological position. I don't endorse this view, on either normative or practical grounds.
But it's more sophisticated than your cartoon version. Specifically, Friedman's point is that you would actually need the state to intervene in the market to bring about the sort of totalizing racism you're railing against. You should be thinking about arguing against a 'separate but equal' position, which is allowed by Friedman's thinking.
|Yeah, because none of this is racist at all. Nope. Nothing to see here.|
One is about how a free market will prevent injustice from racial discrimination because some other business will serve the discriminated group. But that presumes that a totally free market is even possible. Frankly, I don’t think people’s self-interests are enlightened enough to provide the fully rational behaviour needed for a genuinely free market.
Even the free market solution of a ‘separate but equal’ economy isn’t a real solution to the problem of racism. The widespread social rejection that racializes a minority erodes any real equality that would have developed from that separate position. There’ll always be the sneers, the insults, the rocks thrown through windows, and the thickly humid atmosphere of popular disgust.
Despite those counter-arguments, there’s a lot of valuable ideas in these works that are so central to libertarian thinking. But there are also those passages that – like those context-free literally-understood passages from the Bible justifying a whole new regime of racializing discrimination – encourage an activist extremism that you can rightly call cartoonish.
Then they drop a piano on your head.