Deliberative Democracy Dementia

The Foundation for Economic Education posted online the pieces from the May issue of the Freeman.   Here’s my two cents on Deliberative Democracy….  (There are a few extra line breaks in this text; I have cursed it quite thoroughly but the blog software remains recalcitrant).

“Deliberative Democracy” Dementia

By James Bovard

James Bovard ( is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy (Palgrave, 2006), Terrorism and Tyranny (Palgrave, 2006), and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Rights (St. Martin’s, 1994).

A specter is haunting America’s politicians and professors—the specter of illegitimacy. The political-intellectual elite fear that millions of Americans will conclude that the current democracy is a fraud—that they are being given bogus choices at the ballot box—and that the phrase “will of the people” now means as little as “the check is in the mail.”

In the era of the Founding Fathers, government was fairly simple and straightforward. But in the last 70 years government has become far more complex, powerful, and seemingly impossible to leash.

Rather than a republic, we have a Leviathan Democracy. The U.S. government still has the formal trappings of the old republic—candidates, elections, congressional proceedings, judges draped in long black robes. But hollow forms offer little solace to citizens caught in bureaucratic crosshairs.

And, unfortunately, most citizens know little about the system that domineers their lives. Most Americans do not know the name of their congressman, the length of terms of House or Senate members, or what the Bill of Rights purportedly guarantees. A survey after the 2002 congressional election revealed that less than a third of Americans knew “that the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives prior to the election.” Almost two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice. Almost 60 percent of Americans cannot name a single cabinet department in the federal government.

Since voters routinely do not know what their rulers are doing, those rulers cannot claim they are following the people’s will when they impose new taxes and penalties. Instead of being a triumph of the people’s will, government action becomes old-time exploitation and repression. The whole thing looks a bit unseemly, at least to those who see politics as potentially uplifting.

As polls have shown that more Americans distrust government, professors have searched for the holy grail— a way to give legitimacy to Leviathan Democracy. “Deliberative Democracy” is the latest fix from the halls of academia.

Deliberative Democracy is different things to different people—but the common thread is that we will gather and be coached on how to discuss politics. Supposedly, if citizens meet and use “public reason” to deliberate on the major issues of the day, government policies will achieve new legitimacy and citizens will again trust Washington.

Deliberative Democracy is a favorite of Ivy League professors and editorial writers. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois), a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is hailed as a visionary for invoking Deliberative Democracy. In his latest bestseller, The Audacity of Hope, Obama declared that all the Constitution’s “elaborate machinery—its separation of powers and checks and balances and federalist principles and Bill of Rights—are designed to force us into a conversation, a ‘deliberative democracy,’ in which all citizens are required to engage in a process of testing their ideas against an external reality, persuading others of their point of view and building shifting alliances of consent.”

In one sense, Obama’s comment is typical of the rhetorical clouds that blanket the landscape when Deliberative Democracy is raised. His comment has little or nothing to do with how government works in the real world. Many citizens don’t test their views against external reality, and most people don’t go beyond calling a talk radio show and shouting into the phone to persuade others of their point of view.

In their 1996 book, Democracy and Disagreement, Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson declared that the core of modern democracy should consist of lofty debates about issues such as whether abortion should be legal, whether welfare should be provided, and whether racial hiring quotas should be imposed. According to Gutmann and Thompson, “Of the challenges that American democracy faces today, none is more formidable than the problem of moral disagreement.” Gay marriage is perhaps the preeminent contemporary issue for Deliberative-Democracy advocates. Discussion cures all: “Deliberation is not only a means to an end, but also a means for deciding what means are morally required to pursue our common ends.”

Writing in 1993, Gutmann, now president of the University of Pennsylvania, declared, “Deliberative democracy legitimates the collective judgment resulting from deliberative procedures.” Gutmann and Thompson propose that citizens should agree to be bound by certain deliberative principles, which, they suggest, “would promote extensive moral argument about the merits of public policies in public forums, with the aim of reaching provisional moral agreement and maintaining mutual respect.” “Public reason” is the key to Deliberative Democracy. What is public reason? Whatever the professors say it is. Professors “explicate” public reason, with results akin to an Iraqi sandstorm. University of Virginia law professor Micah Schwartzman, in his article “The Completeness of Public Reason,” revealed: “The purpose of public reason is not to end reasonable disagreement. Rather, it is to provide a suitable framework of values and principles within which citizens may resolve their moral and political differences.” Schwartzman stressed that “the indeterminacy of public reason is much less common than its inconclusiveness . . . and there are second-order decision-making strategies that may enable citizens to cope with cases of indeterminacy.”

Professor Fred Frohock, author of Public Reason: Mediated Authority in the Liberal State, proffered a different vision of public reason, stressing “the redemptive powers of uncoerced dialogue on both subjects and participants . . . where the norms of self governance are in the mediated speech acts of public reason rather than in a republican sense of common substantive values and ideals [are] a powerful force to unify persons. This force can make whole the citizens of a liberal democracy. . . . The final magic of establishing a set of processes for resolving differences among individuals and groups may be that the effort can yield a political community with benign rather than malicious powers of union.” (Emphasis added.)

Thomas Jefferson warned, “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” But the Constitution has as much restraining effect on politicians these days as Miss Manners’ book of etiquette has on a drunken football fan. And what do the professors propose in lieu of a Constitution?

The “magic” of a “set of processes.” Will repeating “magic” formulas be like waving a magic wand over the rump of Leviathan Democracy?

The doctrine of “public reason” provides a pretext for professors to wag their fingers at average citizens and chastise them for “not reasoning right.” The fact that average citizens often reason badly about politics is no proof that professors reason wisely.

Some Deliberative-Democracy books and articles read like medieval scholastic tracts compared to the lucidity of the Federalist Papers. What profound guidance can we expect from professors whose political experience may be limited to clashes in the faculty senate over the ratio of male-to-female bathroom stalls in a new campus office building?

The Fatal Good-Faith Assumption

Deliberative-Democracy advocates stress the need to assume good motives and good faith in deliberations about government. People are supposed to begin by assuming that politicians are honest and benevolent, and then discuss how much additional power they should receive to improve other people’s lives.

To assume that politicians are acting and talking in good faith is to assume that they pose little or no peril to citizens. The Founding Fathers would have burst out laughing at such an absurd notion. Jefferson observed in 1820, “Whenever a man casts a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” Citizens are somehow obliged to presume far more good faith in politicians than the government shows in how it treats citizens.

Political scientists almost always understate the perfidy of politicians. It is their occupational blindness, the pervasive error that allows them to masquerade as scientists and not as accomplices. Deliberative Democracy suffers from a white-gloves mentality. But the more important preserving propriety becomes, the easier it becomes for politicians to bury the truth. Advocates of Deliberative Democracy sound at times as if the citizen discussions would be free-range. But a closer reading of their recommendations shows that professors or their graduate assistants would be waiting to blow their whistle at any comment or question they considered indecorous. “We don’t go there” would be the response time and again to citizens complaining about government abuses.

How would a topic like Waco be properly discussed in a Deliberative-Democracy setting?

“Given that we all know that the attorney general loves children . . .

“Given that the FBI are the experts in hostage rescue . . .

“Given that guns are very dangerous except when government agents are pointing them…

“What lessons can we draw when people disobey the government and commit mass suicide? And how should we respond to the threats of cultists?”

The “correct” answer would be to boost the FBI budget (which is exactly what Congress did after the April 1993 debacle). The vast majority of political scientists and “public intellectuals” had no criticism of federal action at Waco. This was a problem not of democracy but of disobedience.

And how would a right-reasoning deliberation on the IRS proceed? Can someone say taxation is theft? That would certainly ruin the evening. Instead, the group leader would guide the discussion to how reforms in the Internal Revenue code can reduce the terrible disparity between the rich and the poor. Perhaps there would be a set of questions pre-approved by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

From Social Security to farm subsidies to taxation, the U.S. government has grossly and intentionally misled the American people time and again. George Washington University professor Leo Ribuffo noted in 1998, “Presidents have lied so much to us about foreign policy that they’ve established almost a common-law right to do so.” Unfortunately, most political scientists are as nonchalant about government dishonesty as is the White House press corps. But no amount of deliberation can substitute for the truth.If people cannot say that politicians or the government is lying, then “deliberations” merely make them complicit in whatever frauds their rulers perpetrate. An assumption of “good faith” is simply the triumph of hope over experience. And why would politicians suddenly cease lying because citizens are deliberating?Another Full-Employment Scheme Professors would set up the rules, and anyone who breached them would be tarred as unreasonable, if not undemocratic. As Harvard professor Peter Berkowitz commented, “Since it shifts power from the people to the best deliberators among them, deliberative democracy . . . is, in effect, an aristocracy of intellectuals. In practice, power is likely to flow to the deans and the directors, the professors and the pundits, and all those who . . . can persuade others of their prowess in high deliberative arts.”

Yet the political scientists who would ride shotgun on citizens’ deliberations have little or no understanding of the vast majority of U.S. government interventions.

Ask the Deliberative-Democracy advocates to explain how the cotton-subsidy program works, and the result will almost surely be an awkward silence, perhaps accompanied by some paper shuffling.

Ask them the rationale for the Small Business Administration’s showering money on politically connected wheelers-dealers, and they would probably offer something that a first-year economics student could shred in a New York minute.

Ask them why the U.S. government continues giving foreign aid when studies prove that government-to-government handouts breed corruption and oppression, and their eyes may glaze over—until they recite some phrases about the duty to help humanity or similar bunkum.

But mastery of political-science jargon is all the experts need—as if the latest phrases were the same as a mystic incantation that permits them to see into the soul of the body politic.

Deliberative Democracy would be a No Political Scientist Left Behind Act. The Deliberative-Democracy fad is a reminder of the circular nature of much of political science. Someone comes up with a phrase—others watch and see that it “flies”—and then the race is on to milk the slogan for as many journal articles and books as possible—to use it to snare funding for conferences and, ideally, even for research institutes dedicated to the notion.

Deliberative Democracy is a home run on all counts. The 2005 conference of the American Political Science Association featured presentations on “The Role of Empathy in Deliberative Democracy,” “Why Deliberation? Three Fallacies of Aggregative Democracy and Efficiency,” and “Emotions and Deliberative Democracy.” Academic centers for hyping Deliberative Democracy are spreading like crabgrass, including the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University, Carnegie Mellon University’s Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy, the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, Res Publica (“a community of public sector professionals dedicated to promoting good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy”). The boom is also spurring derivatives—including jumbo-sized studies on “discursive democracy,” “decisionist democracy,” “deliberational democracy” ad nauseam.

Britain has gone far further along the Deliberative-Democracy path than has the United States. Though Britain has no Constitution or Bill of Rights, the government wants to make people feel they are making the decisions—or at least approving what the government has done. Foreign Minister Jack Straw bragged last year: “We have pioneered deliberative democracy within government—and found the public crying out for more.” In January many Brits were outraged after the government announced plans to allow its agencies to easily transfer confidential personal data on citizens among themselves to “improve the efficiency of public services and make life easier for the public,” as the Financial Times reported. Responding to denunciations of Big Brotherism, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the creation of “citizens’ panels” to discuss the proposal. The Financial Times noted, “The government is hoping that its ‘citizens’ forum’ will see the common sense of its data-sharing project, rather than worry about the civil liberties implications, and thereby confer some legitimacy on it.”

And who will likely control the information the citizens’ forum uses to judge the plan? The same government agencies doing the spying.

The British government can surveil almost whomever it pleases. At the same time, the government uses the Official Secrets Act to prohibit citizens from learning what the government is doing. (Several British government officials have been threatened with prosecution for leaks that revealed government falsehoods about the Iraq war, as well as President Bush’s suggestion to bomb Al Jazeera television headquarters in Doha.) The British government could even wiretap the members of the panels to find out who fed them information exposing government falsehoods.

Deliberative Democracy in America Some advocates assume that deliberation by itself is ennobling. But if deliberation was actually a panacea, then Congress would not be so contemptible. Deliberative Democracy works badly in places where people lavishly pay themselves to deliberate.

“Mutual respect” is one of the most common themes that professors would require citizens to show in deliberations. But what about the politicians? Each political party has rightfully condemned the other for severe abuses of fair play.

In 2005 the Democratic members of the House Rules Committee issued a report entitled, “Broken Promises: The Death of Deliberative Democracy.” They condemned the Republican majority for concocting rules that “severely restrict or sometimes even totally block the minority’s ability to debate or amend” major legislation. The report condemned the GOP leadership for “stifling deliberation and quashing dissent.” Then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared that “the House Republican leadership is working feverishly to undermine democracy here at home.”

The Democrats were treading hallowed ground. A dozen years earlier, House Republicans issued their own report indicting the Democratic majority for the same crime. Republican Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.) declared, “The Republican Leadership Task Force on Deliberative Democracy in the House is here today to expose a dirty little secret to the American people, and that is that 248-million Americans have been disenfranchised from full participation in their House of Representatives this year.” Solomon was indignant because Republicans were blocked from offering amendments to legislation: “What we are saying in this report is that when you lose the ability to deliberate in a democracy, to be fully informed, and to fully debate and amend legislation so that it is representative of this body and the country, then you have lost the very essence of our constitutional system of government.”

Both the Republican minority in 1993 and the Democratic minority in 2005 had legitimate complaints. But the fact that Republicans so quickly copied the abuses of their predecessors is a reminder that herds of politicians will trample whatever they can.

The behavior of congressmen at a typical hearing would get a juror fined and jailed for contempt of court at a trial. Most congressmen do not show up for most hearings, and those who do show up attend sporadically, wandering in and out like bus-station patrons searching for a restroom. Most hearings, especially in the House, showcase members often awkwardly reading questions written out by their aides. An intelligent, spontaneous, piercing follow-up question is as rare as a federal agency requesting a reduction in its budget.

But the hearings are like sagacious philosophic dialogues compared to floor debates. Congressmen from different sides take turns strutting up to microphones stumbling through texts badly written by their staffers. They rarely respond to the other side. They endlessly repeat each other because almost no one attends the floor debates—they simply show up for their scheduled five minutes’ bloviating. Anyone who watches a floor “debate” easily gets the impression that Attention Deficit Disorder is rampant in Washington.

Illusion of Control

Professors imply that Deliberative Democracy would allow citizens the chance to take the reins of state. However, Deliberative Democracy is more like the toy dashboard controls with which children pretend to drive.

If government were simply a matter of paperwork or moral calisthenics, then mere deliberations might solve political problems. But the chance to vent at public meetings is scant consolation for the havoc wreaked by government policies. The number of government agencies that can accost, prohibit, penalize, tax, impound, impede, detain, subpoena, confiscate, search, indict, fine, audit, interrogate, levy, wiretap, sanction, and otherwise harass and subjugate the citizen and/or his property has skyrocketed. Few, if any, of the advocates of Deliberative Democracy seem aware that government fires real ammunition into the lives of innocent citizens—from speed traps, to seatbelt checkpoints, to bogus child-abuse investigations, to arresting almost a million marijuana smokers a year.

It is absurd to expect that discussions will resolve differences between people who wish to live as they please and others who demand the power to bring them to their knees. The more power government possesses, the more fruitless deliberations become between aggressors and victims.

And yet Deliberative-Democracy sessions are supposed to assume that people who advocate government action are disinterested—as if such issues were the equivalent of choosing among possibilities for a Boy Scout troop project. According to the professors, citizens are obliged to act as if those who want to confiscate their guns or raze their houses are merely misguided—not malicious. Suppose the teachers union takes over the local school board (as has happened in many local school-board elections). What if the school board decrees that parents who homeschool their kids are criminals and should be jailed?

Most of the college professors who have rattled on for years about “public reason” and “deliberative democracy” did nothing to oppose the passage of the Military Commissions Act, which effectively legalized torture and suspended habeas corpus for noncitizens. If the Act had had some sub-clause potentially affecting academic freedom or gay marriage, the professors might have rushed to the ramparts. But common, garden-variety dictatorial measures have failed to hold their interest. Neither liberty nor Leviathan are “moral issues” for the vast majority of political scientists.

The town meetings of early 1800s New England, chronicled by Tocqueville and others, were effective because the sphere of government was narrow. The local governments didn’t have SWAT teams to send after critics. They did not have a massive statute book that they could throw against anyone who displeased them. They could not wiretap phones and pilfer bank records on a whim. But the more power government captures, the more contempt it can show for citizens. And how will politicians react to deliberations? At this point in American history, an election victory means whatever the winning politicians say it does. If their oath of office—if their sacred pledge to uphold the Constitution—has no effect on them, why would a committee letter from Butte, Montana, make a difference?

Insofar as government is involved in running the Deliberative-Democracy sessions, they will be as corrupting as high-school civics classes. This is where many Americans learn that government automatically serves them and that it has grown so large because people have so many unmet needs. Government involvement with Deliberative Democracy will assure that people receive one more dose of “Officer Friendly” propaganda.

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote in 1693: “Let the people think they govern, and they will be governed.” The greatest danger of Deliberative Democracy is that it creates the illusion of popular control of Leviathan. At best, it would be another way to con people into thinking that they control the government that skewers them. “You had the chance to deliberate, didn’t you?” will be the new version of the old refrain: “You had the chance to vote, didn’t you?”

Deliberative Democracy is a recipe for docility masquerading as a formula for activism. Deliberative Democracy aims to pacify citizens, not leash politicians. Being permitted to talk about politics is no substitute for being free.

Dignifying the political process is one of the worst evils of the Deliberative-Democracy proponents. If some reform does not provide a useful effective means for citizens to leash their rulers, then it is worse than useless—it is a sop, not a fix. Anything that increases docility breeds oppression.

Deliberative Democracy is a good example of how pretenses of idealism can sanctify servitude. “Lofty thinking” works out well for professors while common citizens fall into the manholes their schemes leave open. The professors’ latest fix is little more than “attitude adjustment” for the American people. Deliberative Democracy will not lighten their chains, but will permit them to initialize their own fetters.

Deliberative Democracy aims to prop up the curtain around the Wizard of Oz—to deter people from seeing or recognizing the iron fist that increasingly domineers their lives.

Unless there is a way to curb politicians’ power grabs, then all the talk in the world isn’t worth a wooden nickel. The types of deliberations most likely to protect citizens are those of a jury deciding whether a politician or other government official is guilty of high crimes or misdemeanors.

A democratic government that respects no limits on its power is a ticking time bomb, waiting to destroy the rights it was created to protect. There is no substitute for more Americans with the wisdom and the courage to demand that government obey the Constitution and respect their rights.


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24 Responses to Deliberative Democracy Dementia

  1. djconnor July 18, 2007 at 9:26 pm #

    “To assume that politicians are acting and talking in good faith is to assume that they pose little or no peril to citizens. The Founding Fathers would have burst out laughing at such an absurd notion.
    “From Social Security to farm subsidies to taxation, the U.S. government has grossly and intentionally misled the American people time and again.”

    No matter where I work, no matter who I talk with, eventually I am pegged as a nut for my obsession with government and its alleged atrocities. So it goes- apparently coercion is a great thing so long as you’re on the right side of it.

    Jim, your writings always reignite my passions. Keep up the valuable contributions.

  2. Sean O'Neil July 18, 2007 at 9:34 pm #

    I like it a lot, Jim. Uncomfortable truths are what you’re uttering, and they need to be said. The process and its spinning have become the focus, both by man-hours/intellect invested, and by money grifted. The founders’ goal was that the process would benefit the citizens, not those playing in the process sandbox.

    The first half of your essay reminded me of why I hate that bullshit offered as “political science analysis” by George Lakoff, that contemptible fraud — I’m talking about his notion of “framing” and how he would have everyone focus on how the arguments are worded, rather than the WHY of the arguments and the solving of the WHY and achieving the related goals.

    Along with the crooks in our Federal Government, we ought to get rid of the professional Political Scientists, spin artists, James Carvilles, Karl Roves, Mary Matalins, Chris Matthewses, etc.

  3. Joe July 18, 2007 at 11:06 pm #

    Sorry, Jim, but there can’t be any “decisionist democracy” because there’s only ONE Decider.

  4. Tom Blanton July 18, 2007 at 11:25 pm #

    Ultimately, for me, the debate always comes down to whether I have the right to be left alone. Invariably the lovers of government say I have no such right.

    The description of “debates” in Congress will ring true to anyone who has watched C-SPAN. The fraud is instantly exposed and the question of legitimacy is answered. There is no legitimacy.

    Should a majority of people decide the state has no legitimacy, our benevolant leaders will have to deliberate how many people they are willing to imprison or kill in order to carry out their good works.

  5. FC Bock July 19, 2007 at 12:04 pm #

    Great article! Your writings always ring true. I’m in the middle of “Attention Deficit Democracy” and don’t know if you cover this there. If not I know the title for your next book.

  6. Tory July 19, 2007 at 3:56 pm #

    I think Americans were distracted from constitutionalism by two things: gun control and the banana republic.

    I’ve always believed that if Americans can respect the 2nd amendment they’ll respect the constitution.

    War profiteers have a monopoly on the podium; many of them owned the news outlets. They have always had the power (money) to speak to the public (and lie to them) to justify war, which helps to destroy freedom (contempt for constitutionalism).

    It wasn’t liberals that started gun control – it was right wingers. Today, paradoxically, it’s right wingers (the war profiteers and war hawks)who are pro 2nd amendment. Their problem though are liberals. Liberals got their start from massive amounts of immigration which caused an excessive supply of labor, which led the way to socialism.

    At the turn of the century excessive population growth on the planet caused migration and socialism.

    Prohibition was caused by the Temperence movement (religious right wingers.) This started gun control (the National Firearms Act.)

    Gun control and profiteering got Americans to ignore the constitution. Liberals (socialists) have contempt for the 2nd amendment and are always saying it no longer applies and is archaic ! From that dies constitutionalism.

    Americans believe freedom means being free to deny it from other Americans. The Bill of rights means nothing to them until it’s convenient.

    Socialism and war profits are what rule America. Today government profit centers are everywhere. Who empowers gentrification ? Government.

    JFK was caught in the middle – he wasn’t a part of the right wing (Eastern) establishment, and he was not yet a socialist. He had money and political power. He was appealing to the sheep on both sides. His significance is his murder by the right wing (including the likes of LBJ.) LBJ was a right winger in disguise. Conservatives are socialists opposed to abortion and gay rights (for example).

    Government is our worst enemy. Americans must learn to respect the constitution, the Bill of Rights and limited government.

    Ron Paul is right (Jacob Hornberger is always lecturing on this): the biggest moral sin today is pre-emptive war and interventionism. Liberals and conservatives have destroyed America so much that our government is a Leviathan. Both sides are to blame for making government so big it is now unstoppable.

  7. Sean O'Neil July 19, 2007 at 5:24 pm #

    Tory, when you talk about “liberals” or “socialists,” who are you referring to?

    I’m pretty unaware of any real liberals or socialists in power anywhere in the USA. The nearest we’ve had in my lifetime was Paul Wellstone, and he’s dead.

    The people I hear called “liberal” most often are run-of-the-mill centrist Democrats like Al Gore or Bill Clinton, people who aren’t even close to being liberal. John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” that describes a liberal perspective. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Al Gore — they are corporate puppets, far from liberal.

    In my view, of course.

  8. Lawhobbit July 19, 2007 at 9:46 pm #

    So Sean, how would you say the politics and policies of a “centrist Democrat” differ from those of a socialist? Enquiring shire-dwellers want to know. 😀

  9. Jim July 19, 2007 at 10:27 pm #

    DjConnor – thanks for the encouraging words!

  10. Jim July 19, 2007 at 10:29 pm #

    F.C. Bock – thanks for the kind words!

    I don’t cover much of this in Attention Deficit Democracy – but this topic is heating up and I’ll reckon I’ll pay my respects to it again soon.

  11. Jim July 19, 2007 at 10:31 pm #

    Sean- thanks for the feedback – and thanks for linking to the piece on your website!

    I enjoyed “giving what fer” to the political scientists. I’ll be damned if I can understand how they ever got so respectable.

  12. Lawhobbit July 19, 2007 at 10:33 pm #

    Because they make it sound “reasonable.” The problem is that often life isn’t reasonable. They are the heirs of the snake-oil salesmen of the 19th century….

  13. djconnor July 19, 2007 at 10:35 pm #

    No problem at all, Jim. I first learned of you when Lost Rights was required reading for the most influential class I’ve ever taken- ECON 306 (Economic Problems and Economic Policy), taught by the great Thomas Rustici at GMU in 2000.

    I know I am not alone in owing my dedication and fervor for the liberty revival to admirable individuals such as yourself and Professor Rustici.

  14. Sean O'Neil July 19, 2007 at 10:55 pm #


    Well, if we start with a broad view of socialist, then pretty much anyone who wants any quasi-governmental person is a socialist! Even Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pecos, would have been a socialist, even though he was the one-man authority in his region.

    When I think of socialists, though, I think of people who want a fully socialized society, with government helping them in almost every single aspect of their lives, regardless of income/personal wealth status. I think of people who are trying to get society to some sort of nirvana where everyone pretty much gets the same stuff, has the same sort of house, drives the same sort of car, truck, motorcycle, scooter.

    I guess what I always have a hard time with is how much government can be allowed as the necessary minima for govt services, while avoiding the “socialist” tag.

    So maybe I can turn the question back to you? 😀

  15. Jim July 19, 2007 at 11:06 pm #

    D.J. – Thanks!

  16. Tory July 20, 2007 at 8:55 am #

    Want a ‘soda’ ? No, I want a coke. You mean coca-cola ? Never drink coke, only pepsi-cola. Well all I got is generic diet caffeine-free soda. That’s the same as diet pepsi. Well do you want one ? Yea, I told you all I drink is pepsi-cola. But this is diet pepsi. Same thing, give me one.

    Anodes are made of zinc, or magnesium, or aluminum. The very first ones were zinc; so we always called anodes ‘zincs’. But today, most are either one of the three. But don’t try and refer to them as ‘zincs’ anymore because any one of the three could be in use. Now they’re called anodes.

    Remember zerox ? You don’t zerox anything anymore – today you copy it.

    There is no such thing as an honest socialist – they’re all liars.


  17. Sean O'Neil July 20, 2007 at 10:06 am #

    Tory, I followed every bit of your statement except the final one. If you could explain that final sentence (not the Etc. phrase!) in view of my response to Lawhobbit and the conundrum in determining the point at which the necessary minina of govt services becomes socialism, I’d appreciate it.

    Folks who lean toward libertarianism seem inable to agree on what are the necessary minima of government.

    However, they tend to agree that anything beyond that minimal govt is socialism.

    SO, obviously we need some sort of test for what are the necessary minima of government.

    I’d have more fun if I sat back and took potshots at “socialists,” but I am not sure that we’re loaded down with a lot of dawdling, meandering time right now. The country is down in the 6-feet-deep hole, and Mr Bush’s gang are tossing dirt on top of the coffin.

    This ain’t some Perils of Pauline silent reel. This is serious.

  18. Tory July 20, 2007 at 10:41 am #

    Socialism does not work – it fails. To entice sheep to eat it the feeders must lie (no exceptions).
    And, Ron Paul always explains it well – whatever he says I agree with it.

    I can tolerate limited socialism; am not opposed to paying taxes. Pre-empted war and Interventionism are examples of unlimited govt (Leviathan).

  19. Lawhobbit July 20, 2007 at 11:07 am #

    I’ll do the asking here, Sean, we’ll have none of that old “turn the question around back on the asker” routine here. Sheeeesh, the nerve. 😀

    There seem to be a number of issues involved in the question. An easy one is that I’m willing to believe that anyone who self-identifies as a socialist is quite likely one, unlike many self-identified “libertarians” for whom it’s only a trendy label.

    Setting aside the question as to whether the label is even an important concern (labels are frequently just crutches for lazy minds) there’s still the problem of just “what is a socialist?” I would offer a slightly different definition than yours, that being “someone who accepts and advances the tenets of socialism.” Lest I be accused of using a word to define itself, I’d also add that I’d define socialism as Wikipedia does: “Socialism refers to a broad array of ideologies and movements which aim to improve society through collective action and to a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community.”

    In simpler terms, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, so long as the many agree on it.” Other, less savory descriptive terms, would include “tyranny of the majority,” “mob rule,” and “democracy.” If the community wants it, the community gets it. While I am sure that many in that community mean well, there is also no real “help” component there. The community decides what is best for everything and everybody.

    Put that way, I am not sure how any aspect of socialism is compatible with a true libertarian mindset/way of life. One of the essentials of libertarianism, besides the non-aggression principle, is an acceptance of the right of private property and freedom to contract. Socialism, by its very nature, must take away – or at best limit – those freedoms in order for the “whole” to allegedly prosper.

    I agree that there is a question as to what the necessary minima of government are, and that’s not something that libertarians alone struggle with. In my case, as a bored certified anarcho-capitalist (though I prefer one socialist professor of mine’s perjorative – “privateer” – as being much more catchy) I agree fully with the adage that “that government is best which governs least.” Since you can’t get more least than “zero,” then the ideal is obviously “none.” I would also submit that any time Thomas Jefferson is in full agreement with Lao Tzu (Governing a large country
    is like frying a small fish.
    You spoil it with too much poking. Tao60), there’s grounds to believe a natural law has been discovered.

    Now, as one of the inestimable masters of the Tao, Brian Wilson, says, “Don’t let the perfect kill the good.” While the ideal may be zero government there is at least arguably “some” government that would be acceptable to a privateer such as myself, much as there can be *some* crap in the water I’m drinking and, while I may not like it, I know it won’t kill me – though the more there is the sicker I’ll be.

    From my point of view a minimally crap government would coordinate some national defense (working with local militias to do so), handle foreign relations (provide an official looking passport to wave at other nations), and maybe be a court system of last resort. Oh, and maybe one other agency with a bit of teeth whose purpose was to haul those who violate the non-aggression principle out into the streets and hang them by the neck until dead. 😀

    It’s more crap than I’d want to take, but a government set up under a strict construction of the current Constitution, after a quick dumping of all those Progressive Era amendments. Probably I could live with that.

    Beyond that (and even at that last), I think you’re getting into more crap than any serious libertarian would want to find in his water.

    In summary, before I drag the discussion to death, I’d say that libertarian/socialist are actually endpoints on a continuum. It may be somewhat simple or even misleading to stick a label of X on a person, particularly if that person’s actions are no way resembling the characteristics of X. Labels can be useful shorthand, but we need to be careful not to let the label blind us to the reality – or worse, let it be nothing more than an epithet.

  20. Tory July 20, 2007 at 1:33 pm #

    Well said.

    We are all hypocrites – sooner or later we (I) will hypocrate. And none of us libertarians are all the same.

    Liberal is a politically correct name for a socialist. But, I’ll call you a democrat (if you go by that) as long as you are not for “common sense gun laws.”
    Once you want common sense restrictions on gun possession then I’m calling you a socialist (Hitler was a socialist and a gun basher.) He helped murder millions of people and destroyed everything he touched. Respect the 2nd amendment.

  21. Sean O'Neil July 20, 2007 at 2:44 pm #

    I agree with Lawhobbit’s thorough explanation, even if I don’t share his fondness for free-ranging capitalism. (As to why, that can be discerned by reading my blog’s posts on Ron Paul.)

    I don’t really understand Tory’s position, other than to gleefully deride his “enemies” with derogatory labels like “socialist.”

    Tory, if you haven’t any logic to your position, how then do you actually hold and defend that position? Your posts seem to say, in a Bill Clinton-esque way, “it is what I say it is.”

    “Liberal” is not a name for a socialist among any people I know, Tory.

    So you use the terms “liberal” and “socialst” way too broadly, in view of my experience.

    As I said, “liberal” perspective may be discerned from reading JS Mill’s “On Liberty,” not by examining the hypocrisy of Al Gore or Hillary Clinton.

    And you still haven’t explained what is “socialism,” Tory — other than to say you hate it, you would destroy it, or whatever that antipathy is trying to convey. I hope that you’re more rational and sensible in person!

  22. Tory July 20, 2007 at 8:21 pm #

    Socialism is excessive government control of the economy. This has been explained to you.

    People have graduated from Georgetown law school and then advocate socialism and disregard for the Bill of Rights.

    America’s socialists (liberals, democrats) believe that as long as they don’t murder citizens who oppose their views then socialism is acceptable. Their tactic to force us to conform is jail or the threat of jail (they know murder is socially unacceptable and contrary to their views on gun control.) This is one of the reasons I accuse conservatives of being socialists too. Conservatives are always defending police power. Police are some of the worst Americans. Society needs a police force to maintain law and order.

    I’m not motivated enough to debate any socialist (unless you’re a pig) ; most cannot be reasoned with anyway. You should try to engage people who do want to debate with you (not me.) Socialists are not logical – they are liars, con artists and plunderers. Hitler is the most famous one.

    You actually believe that because you hold volumes of knowledge on economics or philosophy it makes you right. Or that somehow you can prove that your theory of how we should exist is the right one. I’m a constitutionalist – that’s all.

    I am a rational and sensible person – not because of how I’m perceived by others (such as yourself) but because of my own judgement on who and or what I am. You don’t like me labeling you or Richard Durbin a socialist (too bad); you go to your church, I’ll go to mine.


  23. Lawhobbit July 23, 2007 at 9:07 pm #

    “Free range capitalism.” I like it! 😀

    Tastier and healthier than the farm-bred version, too!

  24. Sean O'Neil August 1, 2007 at 11:41 pm #

    Let’s leave church out of this, Tory!

    I took some time to consider your use of the term socialist. I can understand your point, you’re being very literal and talking about socialism as any government program, basically.

    Are you saying you’re an anarchist, Tory? Is there any level, type, shape or form of government service you would agree with?

    Or am I mistaking part of your view on socialism? I’m assuming you use the term derogatorily. But maybe you’re just being very precise and particular, not necessarily negative. So if that’s the case, I would change my question to ask,

    is there any type, form, shape or level of socialism you find acceptable?

    I’m always curious as to how the more anarchic libertarians can account for the redress of personal injury. Let’s assume Tory’s Anarchic Society is our mutually agreed system.

    Now what happens if I go drive my 4WD truck all over your property, ripping it up? And then afterward, I turn the truck into a giant molotov cocktail and ignite it, burning down the structures on your land. When I finish those two things, I kill all your animals and your children too.

    How does Tory’s Anarchic Society handle the redress of all that havoc, death and destruction I’ve wreaked upon your land, your property and your family?

    Hypothetical No. 2

    Instead of turf-jobbing your land, I simply enter your structures and take everything that looks valuable. I “rape” your beautiful 18 year old daughter (quotation marks because that’s what you’re going to call it, but if you asked her the truth would be 180 deg opposite), and turn YOUR vehicle into a molotov cocktail.

    How’s that one redressed?

    Hypthetical No. 3

    I just hacked into your bank’s and your financial advisor’s computer and stole all of your assets that can be liquidated.

    How is that going to be redressed?