In-Group Microtyranny: Or, When liberals Read Marcuse

Modern man believes he lives amidst a pluralism of opinions, when what prevails today is a stifling unanimity.
Nicolás Gómez Davila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección 459

I just finished reading an article[1] posted to Facebook by an acquaintance which put into stark contrast ‘humanitarian’ against ‘brutalist’ libertarianism. Or as he could have called it without altering the level of prejudice inherent in the nomenclature, ‘beautiful, kind angel libertarianism’ and ‘intolerable-cunt-thug libertarianism’. While Nietzsche might have referred to it as ‘slave’ and ‘master’ libertarianism, and we could equally refer to it as ‘emotional’ and ‘consequential’ libertarianism. I will refer to it simply as ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ libertarianism to try and steady an already intemperate discourse. Let’s pick out a few lines, shall we?

The first values the social peace that emerges from freedom, while the second values the freedom to reject cooperation in favor of gut-level prejudice.

That’s not the point at all. Right libertarianism is a questioning of not just the modern socialist state, but the actions and preferences enforced by that state. There is a simmering tension that we believe bubbles, poorly disguised, under the surface of the ‘social peace’ constructed by the coercion of the state, and given liberty (in the sense of real anarchy or a multiplicity of low voice/ high exit sovereign corporations) we believe it would be found unprofitable. Some communities or sovcorps would try open slather, and we believe they would fail. And of course, no one should stop them from trying. ‘Gut-level prejudice’ is not our problem. Reality is what is at issue here. We do not see peace coming from Left preferences, but rather peace through permanent resolution of state-generated conflicts. And yes, this includes resolving the social manipulations of the modern state. It is just as wrong, in our minds, for the coercive state to play favourites in social policy, because there is a social market and that is a distortion. If the author’s preferences would not have come to the fore but for the coercive modern state and its enforced preferences, can we really say they are right?

Passing over architectural considerations (the state again, I might add):

It cares nothing for the larger cause of civility and the beauty of results. It is only interested in the pure functionality of the parts. It dares anyone to question the overall look and feel of the ideological apparatus, and shouts down people who do so as being insufficiently devoted to the core of the theory, which itself is asserted without context or regard for aesthetics.

I dare say the author has a set of emotional or deontological preferences. Right libertarians too seek to create a beautiful society, and indeed for the entire course of human history bar today (and in certain contexts alone), our preferences would have been considered beautiful too. That he cannot see beauty is not the fault of the Right libertarian, or the fault of the apparatus, but of a conscious decision not to see. Neither aestheticism nor asceticism alone can provide a basis for a society, because there is virtue and cost to both, just as we cannot function without both ‘slave’ and ‘master’ morality. What he refuses to engage with is the civility of tradition, instead adopting what is simply a parody of 20th century fascism, and a crude one at that. It is not thuggishness that drives us, but rather the underpinning of hundreds, even thousands of years of history which suggests (axiomatically) that success is better than failure, and that both failure and success have predictable causes. We don’t see the Darwinian state as the end goal, but a side-effect of liberty, where risks have consequences if the outcome is failure. We choose, for one reason or another, not to shy away from that. We don’t wish to white-wash; we are not squeamish, and our psychology is not emotional. Some people may suffer, and some people’s lives may be made significantly worse off with liberty. But dramatically more people’s lives would improve by such orders of magnitude as to make the costs not worth considering.

These kinds of arguments make the libertarian humanitarians deeply uncomfortable since they are narrowly true as regards pure theory but miss the bigger point of human liberty, which is not to make the world more divided and miserable but to enable human flourishing in peace and prosperity.

But this here is the crux. He believes a divided world makes people ‘miserable’, and prevents people from ‘flourishing in peace and prosperity’. But this is neither the intent of the libertarian Right nor the experience garnered from tradition. We argue for general separation coordinated by the state until such time as there is a general separation coordinated by the market. We do not accept the preference for things like diversity as being helpful to humans in general, but as a drag on us, making it harder to be generous as an ‘impulse generated by the over-abundance of power’ (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 260). We do not agree that it is good, right, or aesthetically pleasing to force people together who, given a chance, would remain apart. We do not agree that separation renders us miserable, but gives us the opportunity, with freedom to trade, build and develop according to libertarian economic principles, to grow ourselves in a place that causes us to be happy. And happiness has, by the general condition of human evolution, become a function of comfort, community and altruism that stem in tangible, predictable ways, from homogeneity. It has been our division into hundreds of city states that has accelerated learning and improved the condition of man, not centralisation, standardisation, and enforced liberalism. Some think differently, and should live differently. But when there is a coercive state which holds and enforces principles that are outside of everything understood throughout the course of human history, we say we must be wary.

Contrary to his apparent assertion, we can make serious general judgments about the direction that will be taken if liberty exists, and move to mitigate shocks by limiting the quantity of the modern state’s engineering. And yet, because the modern state enforces his preferences, he is really quite uncritical about their involvement in changing social attitudes which we would consider beyond the purview of government. We don’t like it when the modern state manipulates the procedural outcomes of society any more than when they subsidise a failing bank, or tax us, or impede our ability to trade. I daresay Left libertarianism would be a smaller subset of the movement without these governmental pressures, and we would suggest that that would have been a good thing. The author is the embodiment of the opening Davila aphorism. He agrees fundamentally with the social goals of the Left, enforced or not, proper or not, effective or not, right or not. As his image control, he sets apart those who are ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ for the mainstream establishment to see, so they can know that views unacceptable to the status quo are also marginalised in our movement. The signal is that libertarianism isn’t a threat, or something to be scared of; it is already part and parcel with the prevailing ‘slave morality’ of our elite.

I’m sure there are people out there who fit his caricature of muscle-bound Aryan warriors living in hideous utilitarian concrete boxes emerging periodically to post anti-Jewish propaganda to their Tumblr accounts. But that isn’t our muscular, Right libertarianism, built on the civility of Restoration and tradition. In answer to probably his most important question, as to the overarching purpose of liberty, we want liberty because of the outcomes it produces. We want liberty because of the distinct way we wish to live our life, and not be beholden to your preferences. We want liberty because while you are happy with the modern state, we are not. The consequences of your preferences are deleterious to the outcomes we desire, and knowing that, we do not wish to enforce our preferences on you in turn. We are here, not because of deontological or emotional arguments, and probably not because we are sold on ‘freedom’ conceptually. We are not here as liberals, or to support ideological Whiggishness. We are here because there is no other system that is capable of doing the things that free markets can do. Unimpeded, unrestrained free markets. Perhaps we aren’t so different. A state is tolerable to both of us, as long as it acts to enforce our preferences. Of course, the compromise we offer is that it should not involve itself in the first place. I doubt you will accept. After all, say the humanitarians, what is human liberty if we can’t lord our perceived superiority over anyone who has the temerity to disagree with our preferences?

Brutalism rejects subtlety and finds no exceptions of circumstance to its universal theory. The theory applies regardless of time, place, or culture.

If there is one argument we have never been accused of making before, it has to be this one. We are not universalists. We do not believe in enforcing our values across all people at all times. We do not believe that non-conforming enclaves should be brutally put down for daring to dissent against you. If you want a government to implement the social agenda that makes you happy then, please, by all means. We want you to have it, and all of the associated consequences. And we believe there will be consequences. Very detrimental ones too. To fall back on Davila once more, ‘Whereas contemporaries read only the optimist with enthusiasm, posterity rereads the pessimist with admiration.’ (Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección 463). We are the pessimists who view the ‘progress’ of the 20th century with fear, not admiration; we look at the body-bags with disgust, not the ever larger percentage with an ever less valuable university degree with contentment. Claiming that we are intolerable for recognising the immutable facts of history and that we are universalist when we are exclusivist is an affront to the very sensibilities that drive us to think the way that we do.

So let’s say you have a town that is taken over by a fundamentalist sect that excludes all peoples not of the faith, forces women into burka-like clothing, imposes a theocratic legal code, and ostracizes gays and lesbians. You might say that everyone is there voluntarily, but, even so, there is no liberalism present in this social arrangement at all. The brutalists will be on the front lines to defend such a microtyranny on grounds of decentralization, rights of property, and the right to discriminate and exclude—completely dismissing the larger picture here that, after all, people’s core aspirations to live a full and free life are being denied on a daily basis.

I thank the author for being kind enough to illustrate my last point for me, because it is the humanitarian Left libertarian who finds ‘no exceptions of circumstance to its universal theory. The theory applies regardless of time, place, or culture’. Of course we would allow people to live illiberally. But a fundamental belief of Right libertarianism is that of exit. I would defend any ‘microtyranny’ as long as all participants are free to leave at any time. You don’t get to choose my values based on yours. I almost certainly disagree diametrically with the vast majority of your values; what you consider nice and what you consider functional. I would probably live somewhere you would never choose to live (right now, that is. I think you’d come around in two decades or so), and I have no right to enforce my little patch of traditional Right libertarianism on your little patch of progressive Left libertarianism, which means, and since I hate to say it, I’ll shout it through cupped hands, neither do you. As long as you can leave your place, and I can leave mine, there is no problem. Your preference for enforced liberalism is the real issue. It is you who is the ideologue, and it is you who should be called into question.

Will it be Right or Left that triumphs? The last two centuries say Left, firmly and unequivocally. But of course, I doubt our author would agree that you can make predictions of the future based on the past. Perhaps he believes induction to be impossible, reliant, instead, purely on his ‘feels’.

But I, for one, disagree. We can make broad predictions about the impact of liberty, and we should not fear or destroy the results we don’t like. With the underpinning economics of capitalism, anything truly is possible. But let us be clear on one point. The longer we wait to abandon governmental interference, the more Left-wing our social policy becomes, and the harder it is to get the economic liberty we need to value above all other liberties. It’s all well and good to talk social policy, and defending our gay marriages and cannabis crops with 100 round mags in our semi-automatic rifles and all that, but take away universal healthcare, universal education, welfare and so on and just see what happens. If we seek to achieve freedom democratically in a world where each generation is markedly further left than the last, now is the time. If we are lucky, we shall see how society will function with liberty soon enough, and whether our predictions are correct. For now, let’s not caricature. Let’s bury the hatchet and consider the bigger picture; not how can we become tolerable to the status quo, or how can we conform to your values, but how do we get to no coercive government? Because that is the real question that all serious libertarians must ask themselves.

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