Libertarian Utopians?

There’s an interesting exchange at Tech Central Station (original link is now dead). James Pinkerton replies to Yuval Levin on the subject of the new utopianism of libertarians with respect to science.

Levin makes a conservative case against the “Extreme exercise of the power of man over man, through science.” He protests (too much?) that this is not the criticism of “Simple-minded religious fundamentalists or heavy-booted authoritarians”, but merely “Conservative suspicion of big promises, and a desire to moderate the zeal of the enthusiasts by mooring their project to the firm soil of some familiar moderating institutions”. He gives historical background about the Modern association between science and politics which led to the horrors of the utopianism of Communism and Nazism. Levin tries to argue that there is similar danger in the embrace of the promise of modern biotechnology, even though he acknowledges that the original horrors did not involve genuine science.

Pinkerton argues against the relevance of Levin’s examples, and defends evidence-based optimism and confidence in scientific progress. He also notes that Levin’s criticisms, while invalid, are against something other than libertarianism.

My first reaction was to also deny that it was libertarianism that Levin was arguing against. But, upon reflection, I think he’s onto something.

Both left-liberals and conservatives share a desire to see their, different, visions realized in society. They seem to care about the results more than the means, and seem uncomfortable with the uncertainty that freedom involves; they are willing to sacrifice individual preferences to their goals. Libertarians, on the other hand, don’t have a specific vision for society (which makes the “utopian” charge absurd). They want to leave individuals free to pursue their individual purposes. They consider that to be progress, and good. They embrace the dynamism of freedom; while the left and right both embrace the stasis of their visions.

For those interested in this perspective of dynamism vs. stasis, I heartily recommend this book.

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel (the author of the book referenced above) has some great comments on this on her blog.


I bowled a 278 in league play last night. It’s the second time I’ve bowled ten consecutive strikes in a single game.

I know this won’t mean much to anybody else, but… Hey! It’s my blog and it means something to me!

Disappointed in Lileks

I usually enjoy reading James Lileks’ bleat posts. Lileks is clever, funny, insightful, and a truly gifted writer. Even today, the screedy, political, part of his post was wonderful. But this part made me sick:

Gnat was a pill today, but that’s okay. She’s ill. Small cold. The medicine makes her space out, and when it wears off she’s just Miss Peevy 2003. Everything was a battle tonight: sitting in the chair, eating the corn, sampling the beans, saying “may I be excused” before she dismounts from her chair, getting into the bath, getting out of the bath, giving up her Spot (from Rolie Poly Olie, of course) plush doll so he can be dried out, getting into her jammies. I am always the Heavy here. When discipline is required, Daddy is enlisted. Why? I have the deep voice, and I have the will. I am careful to explain why she is being naughty; I always express my understanding of her position, but I am firm: this will not stand. Comply, or at the count of three you’re locked in your room.

It’s a microcosm of international events, really. She tests me: when first I introduce the possibility of consequences, she pretends to agree. But she doesn’t comply. When I make a motion to enforce my decision, she complies – but it’s always a dilatory effort. And this results in Stage Three, where I live up to my word. I hate doing that. I hate taking her up to her room and shutting the door; the cries of “I’ll be good!” or “you’re not my friend any more!” are like picador spears. But it has to be done.

How can anyone who has children be a diplomat? There’s no more instructive example of the basic facts of human nature than the daily life of a three-year old.

I wish he would apply the same critical stance he takes when examining the horrid Islamic treatment of women, for example, to his own horrid conventional attitudes toward parenting. I wish he wasn’t so certain that it’s beyond criticism that he felt comfortable sharing it with the world as unimpeachable wisdom.

His daughter is sick, and yet he proceeds to torture her over eating food and not saying “may I be excused” before she dismounts from her chair!!! What a jerk!

I wish he would take seriously the ideas that make him “hate doing that”, and question the ideas that make him recite “it has to be done”.

I know he thinks he’s doing it for her own good. But he’s wrong and she deserves better.

I was going to add some criticisms of his equating parenting his child to dealing with brutal dictators, but I had trouble imagining a person to whom the horror of that comparison isn’t obvious.

To borrow a concept from the latter section of his post:

He should hope she wins!

Wesley Clark and Progressive Taxation

Now that General Wesley Clark has declared his intention to seek the Democractic Party nomination for president, I think his past statements and positions have become fair game for increased scrutiny.

On Meet The Press, in June, he said the following:

The Bush tax cuts weren’t fair. The people that need the money and deserve the money are the people who are paying less, not the people who are paying more. I thought this country was founded on a principle of progressive taxation. In other words, it’s not only that the more you make, the more you give, but proportionately more because when you don’t have very much money, you need to spend it on the necessities of life.

If he really thinks “This country was founded on the principle of progressive taxation” then he’s incompetent to be president (and the standards for Rhodes Scholarship and graduating #1 at West Point are not very impressive).

But, even if we grant that he misspoke and meant something like “The income tax in this country was founded on the principle of progressive taxation,” I still have some problems with his position.

First of all, I don’t like his appeal to tradition to support his notion of fairness. Slavery had a long tradition in this country, too. And, he should be very careful before declaring what is or is not a founding principle because he risks abusing his record of service by using it in an appeal to authority.

Secondly, I dispute his notion of fairness. It’s fair to tax people who are more productive at a higher rate than people who are less productive in the same sense that it’s fair to rob banks because “That’s where the money is.”

I don’t think any involuntary tax can be fair. But, it seems to me, if you really want to approach fairness then you’ll couple what government services an individual uses or approves of with what level of tax he pays.

But “progressive” taxation does the opposite and completely divorces these concepts. Instead, it takes the attitude of a thief (somewhat appropriately, I guess) and takes from people based on how much they have, rather than how much they fairly owe. To label this “fairness” is absurd.

Intellectual Property

Eugene Volokh wrote an excellentpost the other day arguing that intellectual property has more in common with tangible property than many people claim.

He doesn’t claim they’re identical, or declare what the best approach towards protecting intellectual property rights is, or even if there should be any such protection. But, the argument helps to keep us honest and forces us to acknowledge that this is not an easy issue to resolve.

For instance, see Lawrence Solum wrestle with the ideas involved here.


It’s September 11th and I’m proud of America and her friends.

I’m proud of the way we (well, most of us) have reacted to that tragedy two years ago. Planes crashed, people died, towers fell; and a people rose up. We have recognized the threat and the nature of the task of defeating it. We understand what’s at stake, and we are determined to preserve it.

Our all-volunteer military has performed superbly, both as warriors and as liberators. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have succeeded in improving our security and, thusfar, preventing any further terrorist attacks on american soil; all without significant loss of civil liberties. We have been generous to the families of the victims, and have restrained backlash against innocent Muslims here.

The war is not over, but it’s going well so far.

We should remember the casualties, but remember that we’re fighting for our values; values that are about the celebration of life and human progress.

Happy Anniversary