Re: poly: polymath digest for 13 Feb 98

From: Perry E. Metzger <>
Date: Fri Feb 13 1998 - 13:57:47 PST

d.brin writes:
> Damien=>One minimal role of a minimal state might be that of occupying the
> role of 'state' so that people don't fill it with something else.
> I agree. Conspiratorial cliques routinely step in, whenever the state is
> weak.


As I've noted, there have been notable exceptions that have been
stable for centuries. Sure, an unstable state is unstable, but that is
almost tautological.

BTW, the U.S. federal government was extremely weak for its first
decades, and yet it seems to have done just fine by its
citizens. Expenditures as a percentage of national income were far,
far smaller than they are now, and yet things survived.

> The tragedy of Libertarianism in America is that the movement has been
> utterly dominated by Platonist purists who believe passionately in their
> ideal-logical conclusions and will grant nothing to gritty cultural
> consensus.

I'm no e-prime fanatic (as you can tell by the fact that I use the
verb "to be" everywhere) but sentence structures like the one you just
used tend to ring alarm bells in my mind. I'm no fan of deconstruction
or structuralist analysis of texts, either, but your sentence
structures here almost scream out and beg for at least a close
analysis. Lets just take quick hack through this one, shall we?

"tragedy of Libertarianism" -> which tragedy are we refering to here?
You are assuming the existance of this tragedy in your sentence in
such a way as to insinuate into the reader's mind the notion that such
a tragedy exists, but without at any time trying to explain what this
tragedy might be.

"utterly dominated by Platonist purists" -> who would those be? It is
easy to tag people "Platonist", but what does that mean in this
context, either? "Platonists" are those who believe in the duality of
reality and the world of idealized objects. Platonism also sometimes
refers to Plato's political creed, which tends to mean "those who
believe chosen elites should rule over the masses". I'm not sure that
this describes the average libertarian, or even a tiny percentage of

"who believe passionately in their ideal-logical conclusions" -> which
might be? Again, you are inciting lots of heat here. Indeed, you are
bringing heat to mind by the use of the term "passionate"
(intriguingly used as a subtle negative here), and you are certainly
implying plenty. (Note again the subtle manner of making it sound like
a pre-concluded fact that we are merely refering to, especially with
this notion that libertarians possess something we would refer to as
"ideal-logical conclusions", and note again you do not define what
these things might be.)

"and will grant nothing to gritty cultural consensus" -> whatever that
might be. We again get a subtle dig with an implication (we are given
the assumption that the Platonist Purist Libertarians will grant
"nothing", which is obviously something bad, although we don't know
what that nothing might be) and a subtle lift to the status quo (a
subtle appeal to "cultural consensus", and again the term "gritty"
being used to apparently constrast with the "ideal" cold/bad of the

Overall, an amazingly dense sentence. You've manged to say nothing,
but to convey a very strong negative against your opponents, and to
leave people with the notion that they've had a reason to gain that
impression. I must say you *are* a good writer, but do you really want
to use your talents creating sentences worthy of a modern congressman?

I would have hoped we could have a more direct statement of your
problems with libertarianism here. A statement like "I think that
libertarians ignore the fact that people will starve to death without
welfare" or some such, although perhaps simplistic, would at least
present an actual target. Instead, you've presented us with an oil
slick of words and invited us to try to grab hold of it. Not very

> It is based on utter contempts for the masses, who have been
> duped into accepting the tyranny of the present American nation state.

I assume you are attributing "wisdom" to the masses, and indicating
that the American state must be a result of that wisdom. However,
we've seen in the past that states, both good and undenyably evil
arise. A claim that we must accept the State because "the masses" are
wise thus does not seem to hold much water. It seems that this is,
again, an attempt to attack libertarianism without discussing its
specific conclusions -- a way to avoid dealing with concrete questions
such as deregulation or reduced taxation by substituting a general
smog of unease about the idea of questioning the way things are.

> This is tragic, because Libertarianism COULD be a great social movement if
> only it was willing to see that people are generally pretty wise,

I'm rather amused at this fragment here. Most of the opponents of
libertarianism criticize it for assuming "man is good" and not
clamping down on the evil people who need to be regulated. Here, you
are criticizing it for not assuming man is good enough.

It would be better, perhaps, if you were to, as I've noted, stick to
your specific problems with libertarian statements, and not with
general philosophical notions about whether libertarianism possesses
more abstract properties that are, again, much harder to argue and
serve only to put a smog over the concrete subject of potential

> and that the present state is doing a fairly good job of creating
> transitional conditions toward its own eventual withering away.

I'm rather leery of that phrase. As I alluded in my last message,
"withering away" of the state was a catch phrase of Marx's. I will not
say that this means the phrase must contain no truth, but it does make
one wonder a bit about what it might mean -- I take the fact that Marx
used the phrase as a red flag meaning "please look here".

Now, at the very least, there is no evidence that the American State
is withering away. It continues to increase in expenditure as a
percentage of national income, and in real dollars, and in per capita
real dollars, and as a per capita percentage of national income. There
is no metric by which it is shrinking. I also must say that I have yet
to hear of an instance of a state disappearing of its own accord --
according to the Public Choice economics folks, the opposite trend is
far more natural. Call me a skeptic, but I'd like to see evidence for
your assertion there.

> There are about a dozen strong bits of evidence and argument for this point
> of view...

Could you state them?

> a lot more convincing than saying that a huge, high tech urban
> civilization should try to emulate meieval Iceland.

It is a caricature of my position to say that I advocate the modeling
of modern society on that of Medieval Iceland. I was merely noting
that stateless societies have existed, and have been fairly stable.

You have yourself suggested that we ought to emulate the ideals of
Athenian democracy more strongly and cited Pericles as a hero. Does
that mean it would be reasonable of me to criticize democrats
[believers in democracy, not the donkey party] by saying that they
wish a modern, high-tech urban civilization to emulate the behavior of
people who lived in a primitive low-tech society?

I'm not really fond, as I've noted, of the use of cheap rhetoric as a
substitute for actual discussion.

Received on Fri Feb 13 21:59:56 1998

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