Thursday, March 11, 2010

A bit about bourgeois libertarianism


Quote of the day: Jim Henley on a cultural chasm between brands of libertarianism:

[A]nti-anti-sprawl libertarianism will exist so long as there are libertarians who hate hippies more than they hate central planning ...

Someone -- I think it may have been J. Neil Schulman -- slapped me around awhile back for referring to "bourgeois libertarians."

My use of the term was meant to diverge a bit from Kevin Carson's "vulgar libertarians" label, which he characterizes thusly: For vulgar libertarians, "[i]n every case, the good guys, the sacrificial victims of the Progressive State, are the rich and powerful. The bad guys are the consumer and the worker, acting to enrich themselves from the public treasury."

I'd say that my "bourgeois libertarians" are a sub-set of Kevin's "vulgar libertarians." I'm using "bourgeois" in the sense of "conforming to the standards and conventions of the middle class" (Source: WordNet).

Vulgar libertarianism may, in many cases, be a failure of theory or ideology -- its adherent may be incorrectly applying principles, or may be ignorant of this or that historical fact which is important to the issue, or whatever.

Bourgeois libertarianism is a failure not of theory or of ideology, but of imagination: Bourgeois libertarians simply can't get their heads around the idea that a real free market or a real free society might produce outcomes or phenomena that they aren't already familiar and comfortable with.

The bourgeois libertarian's Libertopia is the same house he lives in now, on the same suburban street that house is on now, with the same brands of clothing in the closet and the same shows on TV (minus Keith Olbermann, perhaps).

He still mails out checks for services -- they go to private contractors instead of government tax collectors, but the services are probably pretty much the same. The more efficient market means those checks represent a smaller percentage of his income, though, so maybe he's added a sunroom to the back of that house, has a couple of extra pairs of Nike® shoes in that closet, and watches a 52" plasma screen TV instead of a 26" CRT model.

I have nothing against the bourgeois libertarian's personal aspirations and preferences, mind you. As a matter of fact, I share some of them. There's a lot to be said for the lifestyle options available even in our relatively unfree (compared to Libertopia) society. But the bourgeois libertarian reacts negatively and viscerally to the suggestion that Libertopia may not turn out as a carbon copy of the present-day Peoria metro, only with private label police cruisers.

And so, bourgeois libertarianism tends to produce knee-jerk reactions in favor of comfortable life-food like "suburban sprawl" as if those comfortable, well-known, beloved phenomena had been produced by a free market ... when in fact suburban sprawl has been a rider on the trend toward bigger, not smaller, government.

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