Libertarian Purity Duels

Many of my colleagues are reading Brian Doherty’s "Radicals for Capitalism," so I read the first chapter.  Doherty describes how movement libertarians competed to show who was more devoted to principle: 

Many a movement libertarians’s favorite pastime is reading others out of the movement for various perceived ideological crimes.   As Fred Smith, head of the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, says, "When two libertarians find themselves agreeing on something, each knows the other has sold out."  Libertarians are a contentious lot, in many cases delighting in staking ground and refusing to move on the farthest frontiers of applying the principles of noncoercion and nonaggression; resolutely finding the most outrageous and obnoxious position you could take that is theoretically compatible with libertarianism and challenging anyone to disagree.   If they are not of the movement, then you can enjoy having shocked them with your purism and dedication to principle; if they are of the movement, you can gleefully read them out of it.

Libertarians … have advocated … private ownership of nuclear weapons; the right of parents to starve their children; and that if you fell off a building and grabbed onto a flagpole and didn’t have the explicit permission of the person who owned the balcony, you ought to let yourself fall rather than violate their property rights by crawling to safety. 

Seems quite a bit like arguments leading to duels.  Duels signal ability and willingness to defend yourself, which women find attractive because it suggests you can and will defend them.   Perhaps women like men committed to principles, in the hope that such men stay more committed to their women as well.

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  • Brian Burke

    Communists/socialists do the same thing.

  • sa

    brian above nails it.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    Any libertarian yet claiming that the state has no right to lock up criminals? “T’is a gross violation what he did; but we sadly lack the right to intervene.”

  • Stuart Armstrong

    All these extreme libertarians (like most of those who engage in purity duels) lack the means to implement their policies, and don’t ever seem to try and get that power (campaigning, reaching out to others, attempting to get themselves elected, setting up idealised libertarian communes, etc…). It’s easy to engage in purity duels when you have no stake – in fact, it’s pretty much all you can do then, if you want to impress people.

    (I’m not sure women find it attractive – they seem more impressed by dueling if some risk is involved).

    If you get involved in such a duel and want to keep it honest, then keep it utterly practical – specific, everyday situations, that happen to everyone.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/halfinney/ Hal Finney

    Don’t we suffer from the same problem here? “What? You believe your political views come from dispassionate analysis of the issues? How shockingly naive of you!” I do see a tendency to be more unbiased than thou, and to some extent we seek out ever more shocking departures from social norms.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Brian and sa, I didn’t mean to imply that only libertarians have principle purity duels.

    Hal, we should indeed watch out for anti-bias purity duels. We should continue to overcome biases while they exist to be overcome, but we should not make up biases just to have more to overcome. How far one thinks we should go in this direction will depend both on beliefs about how many biases we have, as well as duelling to be more anti-bias than the next guy.

  • http://audivolv.com Ben Rayfield

    “Libertarians … have advocated” … “and that if you fell off a building and grabbed onto a flagpole and didn’t have the explicit permission of the person who owned the balcony, you ought to let yourself fall rather than violate their property rights by crawling to safety.”

    I vote Libertarian and think I can explain this one. I would probably be against that, if I thought a lot more about it, but I’ll tell the advantage.

    It would set a precedent that anything less important than getting hurt is not justification for violating property rights. That would include forced selling of property for the purpose of businesses building things on your land, like a mall or sports stadium, without paying the owner the amount it is worth to the buyer (the same way patents are used). It would also result in less “unreasonable search and seizure” which the USA’s Constitution says is illegal.

    Nobody would get hurt because of that law unless they are stupid enough to prefer getting hurt over trespassing. The disadvantage is the person on the flagpole may be charged with trespassing.

    People being forced to trespass is rare compared to property rights being violated for other reasons which the government currently approves of.

    On average, much less rights are violated by charging some innocent people with trespassing.

    I predict a response will be “The ends dont justify the means”, and I agree. Instead, the ends plus the side-effects justify the means.