Who’s the Libertarian?

Sometimes a picture is worth more than 1,000 words. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the diagram that comes with the (in)famous “world’s smallest political quiz” that is so beloved by libertarians. Forget the quiz for a moment and focus on the following adaptation of the diagram as we play a little game of spatial politics.

We have citizens A, B, C, and D standing in their respective ideological positions. Who’s the libertarian?

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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28 Responses to Who’s the Libertarian?

  1. michaeldrew says:

    Who argues that C isn’t a libertarian other than the wackos down at A, whom we haven’t agreed is illegitimately doing so?

    The uninformed just don’t know everyone isn’t down at A, and we’ve agreed that the people who won’t listen when told they aren’t all there are acting illegitimately.

    Now, I think the diagram is just wrong.

    I actually don’t think liberal-conservative is a continuum. Conservatism is more a temperament than anything. And liberalism is a set of beliefs about how the parts of society should relate, how public decisions should be made, and a set of basic freedoms that need to be established. Liberal or conservative is maybe what color the diagram should be overall, with shade representing how strongly those attitudes color one’s views. Potentially (and I think evidently) a person can be both a liberal and a conservative

    Libertarianism-statism is a proper continuum. But in a proper continuum, the whole point is that hard and fast lines are arbitrary. Also: who calls himself a statist? It’s practically an epithet.

    So: the diagram is darker orange or lighter orange, or darker green or lighter green, or some shade of brown. And there’s Libertarian at the bottom and “Statist” at the top, no dotted lines, and that’s it.

    Now who?

  2. James Hanley says:

    Who argues that C isn’t a libertarian other than the wackos down at A, whom we haven’t agreed is illegitimately doing so?

    Anybody in the left quadrant who says, in effect, “libertarians are at A.”

    We do need a better term than statist, but there are people who quiz themselves into that quadrant. Coloring the diagram with the colors shading into each other would be fine, even ideal, but more effort for me–I drew the lines as dashed to emphasize they’re not hard and fast distinctions.

    I do think liberal/conservative is a continuum, but I don’t think movement along it is a one-for-one movement along each particular issue, but the average of one’s position on lots of issues.

    Anyway, the whole point of this diagram is just to demonstrate that libertarianism is more than A. And if you’re going to ask me who questions that, I’m going to point you to my prior post, to Raging Bee at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and to a number of people at the League. Anyone who says, “libertarians believe in this extreme thing,” is saying “libertarians are at A.”

  3. michaeldrew says:

    They may say it. The question is who argues it – whom we haven’t agreed is doing so illegitimately? If people uninformedly say it, but then accept correction, I don’t count that as arguing. If say it and then resist correction when it’s given to them (i.e. argue that all libertarians are C), that’s illegitimate. If they argue or say it and then are not attentive to criticism/correction at all, that’s illegitimate just by the requirements of discourse.

    But now, in any case, how are we to deal with and describe the views at C? What do think of the construction, “The libertarian view that [crazy thing] is crazy” as a construction? This does not claim that libertarians believe crazy thing, only that some do (which, I think, we’ve stipulated they do). Because you think these views are mistaken, do you deny that they are in fact libertarian? How do you ask that views expressed by self-described libertarians that you think are whackadoodle be described? Are people obliged not to say they are libertarian views?

  4. Lance says:

    Are any of them Scottish?

  5. michaeldrew says:

    I meant the views at A, my mistake.

  6. James Hanley says:

    how are we to deal with and describe the views at [A]? What do think of the construction, “The libertarian view that [crazy thing] is crazy” as a construction?
    I thin the phrasing is a bit vague, but giving it the charitable interpretation (which in this case is explicitly the interpretation you mean), it’s fine.

    Because you think these views are mistaken, do you deny that they are in fact libertarian?
    Oh, they’re libertarian all right. Just as nationalization of the oil fields would be liberal, and required prayer in schools would be conservative. Those groups have to accept that those with their beliefs are in fact liberal/conservative, but they are in the right to object if I write “I know their are lots of flavors of liberalism, but here’s what’s wrong with liberals; they want to nationalize the oil fields.”

    How do you ask that views expressed by self-described libertarians that you think are whackadoodle be described? Are people obliged not to say they are libertarian views?
    I think they’re best described as whackadoodle libertarianism, with whackadoodle being used as a modifer denoting a particular strain of libertarianism, not an adjective for libertarianism in general.

  7. Who’s the libertarian? I am. A, B, C, and D are all wackos, and I am the only one who is correct.

  8. Lance says:

    All hail the Great Kuznicki! The one true libertarian…

    Except me of course.

  9. cardiffkook says:

    Actually I am partial to changing our name from Libertarians to The Whackadoodles. Then we can hunt for the one true Whackadoodle.

  10. Matty says:

    Then we can hunt for the one true Whackadoodle.

    That’s one of my favourite party games.

  11. Lance says:

    I am hereby creating my own philosophical political school of thought that I will be calling Freedomtarianism.

    It is going to be represented by a third dimension on the above chart that is orthogonal to the other two. This dimension will be represented by a vector field and the values and directions of political points on this surface shall be formulated by an algorithm known only to me the One True Freedomtarian.

  12. michaeldrew says:

    It’s not clear to me that nationalization of the oil fields would have to be accepted as liberal. I think a liberal could easily deny that in normal times, i.e. outside of extraordinary circumstances justifying it according to a liberal theory of the scope of government in exigent conditions, nationalization of the oil fields would be a legitimate action under liberal government act (and not just in strict Euro sense of liberal as basically libertarian).

    What couldn’t be denied would be that it would be statist, and, perhaps depending on the aim, Leftist. At the same time, nationalization of oil fields could equally be done by a conservative (or perhaps better to say Rightist – I’d concede it wouldn’t be a conservative act except, again, under certain extreme conditions) government, could it not?

  13. James Hanley says:

    It’s not clear to me that nationalization of the oil fields would have to be accepted as liberal.
    Hey, it was the Labor Party that did it in England. So therefore it’s descriptive of liberalism. Just like anything the Koch Brothers say is definitionally descriptive of libertarianism.

    But I think you get my point and are just quibbling. Or are you trying to say that there isn’t anything in the liberal realm that could be used as a bad place marker the way that certain things are in the libertarianim realm?

  14. michaeldrew says:

    There could be some. I just definitely think that a liberal could definitely deny that this action (major industry nationalization for the hek of it) could be pursuant to liberalism (though other might hold that it is), whereas you are saying the things at A are libertarian beliefs, which all libertarians would have to recognize as such, just ones not all libertarians go all the way to holding, i.e. they are simply less extreme libertarians.

    As I mentioned, this is a function of libertarianism being basically a directional ideology – we should be more than this (marginal libertarianism), with that view having a more or less undefined stopping point after which it’s not libertarianism any more but anarchism (or something), and where libertarians are able to hop off at their preferred point. That is just not what liberalism is like. Part of liberalism is drawing up limits on government, identifying rights that must be prtected, and setting up procedures for doing those things in a polity. Liberalism is not directional the way libertarianism is. For a liberal, liberalism could very much stand as much athwart oil field nationalization (though it may not necessarily) as libertarianism does necessarily. What you are saying would hold if you were talking about Leftism or statism, both of which are directional like libertarianism. So no, I don’t think I’m quibbling. If you were willing to switch what you are saying about liberalism and make it about Leftism or statism instead, I’d completely agree about oil field nationalization, or probably whatever other example you were to come up with.

  15. James Hanley says:

    Uh, oh. I’m definitely not going to get into a discussion about the distinction of leftism vs. liberalism. I think that’s just a way of divvying up the group in that quadrant in a convenient fashion. I’m just not accepting that.

  16. James Hanley says:

    Dr. X,
    I wasn’t familiar with Saletan, but a quick review of his writings leads me to think that his self-identification as a “liberal Republican” seems apt. Certainly not liberal in the sense that DeLong is, but not particularly conservative, either. Once upon a time there was a real meaning to the term “liberal Republican” in the U.S. Folks like Jerry Ford, Everett Dirksen, and Lincoln Chafee. Salesan might very well fit within that camp. It’s a shame that folks like DeLong prefer to be tribalistic. I have no doubt he complains about the partisanship of conservatives, too.

  17. michaeldrew says:

    They are not the same. As i mentioned, I would pull both liberalism and conservatism completely off the diagram, and have them represented by the overall color of the print (and there’d only be one for the whole diagram). So I’m not trying to divide up the space – they’re completely different categories of political description (theory of political structures & relationships vs. policy preferences).

    So you wouldn’t have to worry about dividing up the Leftist quadrant. To get me to agree to what you’re saying about liberalism, all you have to do is agree to call it Leftism instead, because that is in fact the ideology you are talking about. Liberalism isn’t directional in the way where it plausibly points to some extreme outcome, and the question is whether it in fact reaches it or not. But Leftism absolutely is. Leftism is what you are talking about here.

  18. Dr X says:

    I agree with your comment about Saletan’s characterization of himself. Just posted the link because of the coincidence.

  19. michaeldrew says:

    …In any case, why would we assume quadrants, much less equal quadrants? If in practice a particular categorization included a much larger part of the population, or a broader set of ideas, or both, why would it be unreasonable or unexpected for them to go ahead divide up that category more narrowly, finding among themselves significant difference is view, and, indeed, more salient identifiers than the one they’d been assigned.

    Ultimately, if the game is to just classify people as they look to you, then receptivity of the people themselves doesn’t matter. Just go to it – it’s you doing the classifying. Anyone can make up some categories and put people into them if they don’t care if the people agree to it. What’s more, these are in any case reasonable categories; even if people won’t assent to being placed in them, they can’t claim you’re doing something completely insane or out of left field. It’s at most a narrow disagreement about the precise meanings of words. But people have the right to be finnicky about precision with respect to words they are being asked to agree with being applied to them. If you’re trying to work in voluntary self-identification, then you need to be willing to listen to what people say about themselves. Otherwise, you’re basically trying to tell them how they should be self-identifying, and that makes no sense at all.

    Basically, I think you’re projecting the actual fact of libertarians’ broadly agreeing about the basic principles of their doctrine while just disagreeing about how extreme the outcomes they’ll accept of applying it will be, while also being rather generally happy to embrace the label, perhaos because few competitors have emerges because it is a newer political identity, or because it is one that to some extent defines itself negatively, so it becomes something of a catch-all – onto groups of people who you simply think share a set of principles, but who from their perspective don’t share a set that defines a common identity. And you seem to just be saying that they shouldn’t be like that; they should be more like libertarians in that, while having differences in views, those differences don’t cause differentiation of political identities: but these people are just not like that, so they don’t act like it. But why should they?

    I would, again, propose a diagram that does not necessarily have the entire area covered by fields representing a very few identities into whom you are trying to place people. I would retain an area in which directions represent ideological directionalities and position represents extremeness in those directions. But I would have the identity labels floating as amoebic shapes that lie roughly in the ideological place you think that they inhabit. That would eliminate the need that someone with roughly those views be aked to embrace an identity label with which they actually don’t identify. (Again, if the interest is merely the classification of policy preferences irrespective of self-professed, then you can draw up the space how you want, and place people how you want to place them.) And if the fact of the matter is that the more libertarian space is jsut basically a place where everyone there happily calls himself a libertarian, then that identity amoeba can basically be the shape of the quadrant (presumably with a small cutoff at the bottom, even below A, where people who do not even call themselves libertarians because they are so against gov’ernment action, or perhaps who are against government altogether, might reside without being placed in the libertarian amoeba.)

  20. Lance says:

    Michael Drew,

    I would have the identity labels floating as amoebic shapes that lie roughly in the ideological place you think that they inhabit.

    Well, these charts aren’t meant to be exact representations of all the nuances of a person’s ideological beliefs. They are just a short hand way to get a rough idea of where people sit relative to other people and political groups.

    The utility of a classification system, at some point, is going to be inversely proportional to its complexity. Each person’s ideology profile is going to be different if the resolution of the model is high enough.

  21. James Hanley says:

    …In any case, why would we assume quadrants, much less equal quadrants?

    It’s a methodology issue. We’re engaged in spatial politics here, which requires a model, and as with any model, you begin with simplifying assumptions, then add complexities over time when you have the earlier stages worked out. Wanting to push to perfect verisimilitude or exact representation right off the bat is getting ahead of the game.

    But if in fact a disproportionate portion of the population lumped into one area, we’d lump them all in there. The quadrants don’t represent populations, but ideological spacing. 100% of the population could be at A without changing the diagram, and that would be A-OK (assume I was mapping the participants in a Libertarian Primary, for example).

    Ultimately, if the game is to just classify people as they look to you

    No, that’s not the game. Not remotely. The whole point of this post was to say that we need to cool our jets on the determinative classifying of others, by pointing out that A, B, C and D are all libertarians. There’s no logical jump from that to “it’s you doing the classifying.” And in reference to my post at the League about taking the quiz, I specifically asked people to self-identify, and I’m going to compare self-identification to where the quiz–which I did not create, and on which I cannot direct the answers of anyone who takes it–identifies them.

    Hell, I’m not even including you in my data set because you don’t give me a clear enough self-identification to be tractable. That’s fine, and I have no objection–but if I was going to to the identifying I sure as hell wouldn’t leave you out; I’d just say to myself, “Ah, he’s really a liberal,” and just stick you in the liberal camp.

    I find this desire to critique me for pinning identifications on others irritating and bewildering, given the context here. It’s saying a lot more about you than it is about me.

    I don’t understand your counterproposal on how to diagram matters, and I can’t see how it would be methodologically workable or valuable. The fundamental thing to know about any kind of methodology is that it involves tradeoffs. If you take in every bit of information in the way that every critic and respondent wanted, you’d have a data set that would be impossible to analyze in any meaningful manner.

    In fact many methodologists will argue that “reality” isn’t much of a virtue, only “predictive power” is of any value in a data set. I don’t go quite that far, but to talk meaningfully about methodology, you have to have an understanding and some appreciation for that claim.

  22. James Hanley says:

    The utility of a classification system, at some point, is going to be inversely proportional to its complexity

    Exactly.

  23. michaeldrew says:

    And in reference to my post at the League about taking the quiz, I specifically asked people to self-identify

    //

    I think that’s just a way of divvying up the group in that quadrant in a convenient fashion. I’m just not accepting that.

    I just think those two don’t go together well, that’s all. And for me in particular the problem would be solved is we just called liberal/conservative Left/Right instead, since I think both liberalism and conservatism are much richer concepts than what you or the ID quiz authors are trying to do with them, while Left/Right are the simple, directional signifiers that all of you are really talking about. That’s all.

    And I’m not critiquing you for labeling people. If you want to label me a liberal for your purposes (where liberal means what it means for you, i.e. Leftism), you should. Just so we’re clear it’s labeling, not my own volitional self-ID.

  24. Lance says:

    Michael Drew,

    First you were arguing that these tests were too simplistic and now you are claiming that a Left/Right dimension will suffice? Where would you put a libertarian that favors same sex marriage and a literal interpretation of the second amendment? Left? Right?

    How about a statist that wants strict gun laws but no marriage rights for same sex couples? Right? Left?

    Both of those words are meaningless in those rather commonplace situations.

  25. michaeldrew says:

    No, I’m saying relabel the liberal-conservative axis Left-Right; keep the libertarian-statist axis.

  26. michaeldrew says:

    …Also, perhaps I’m missing something, but in this post it’s really not a methodology issue, is it? This was just a diagram of ideological groupings based on self-labelling, wasn’t it? I mean, we weren’t saying that C is a libertarian if he doesn’t say he is, correct? Moreover, we’re not collecting and representing data here; we’re modeling how ideological groups sort themselves in terms of their own self-identification vis-a-vis their beliefs. But we’re not collecting data on it with real people as subjects, are we? That’s the other post at the League. This was just an attempt to diagram what libertarianism looks like as a self-identifying group in ideological space in practice. The assertion seems to be that, properly, the space in which we would allow that someone those substantive views is libertarian is pretty much fully occupied by a group of people who do in fact call themselves libertarian, or in any case that that grouping is entirely within that space. I tried to make clear that your point about libertarians having a wide net in which lots of people call themselves while having diverging views was well-taken. But my point was that how other ideologies sort themselves needn’t look symmetrical to libertarianism. And because we’re not simply classifying people based on their policy views independent of their self-descriptions here, and we’re not trying to classify actual individuals, rather trying to map how these groupings are shaped in the space, then the aspect of the diagram relating to self-applied labels needn’t be uniform. (Whereas we can still have a space in which we define ideological dimensions objectively.) Otherwise we’re just saying that groups who voluntarily self-apply labels other than libertarians must/do act similarly to libertarians with respect to those labels – and we know they don’t.

    You were making a point about how people sort in the world – drawing a map of sorts, a representations of how things are. I acknowledged your point about libertarians, then went on to suggest that I thought liberal-conservative is actually not quite really how you’re using it there, that what you meant was Left-Right (and that the distinction was important to me). I wasn’t trying to divvy up the quadrants further; actually i was suggesting there needn’t be quadrants. Ideological space can simply be measured on a continuum, with no arbitrary cut-offs between libertarian and statist, Left and Right (hence allowing to people to speak for themselves whether they are those things definitively.) You then said you wouldn’t consider a Left/liberal distinction, that it was divvying up quadrants. I said I wasn’t trying to divvy up the quadrants, but come to think of it, what would be wrong with that, if what we were doing was to try to relate self-professed identification to actual ideological space? Why would it end up in neat quadrants anyway? If we’re creating a speculative representation of how the groups ar arraysed in space, not actually classifying real individuals, why couldn’t/wouldn’t we let go of a need for simplicity, and just draw a picture that’s somewhat like like reality? I understand why Janda and Goldman can’t do that, because they need the actual responses they get to be systematically representable. but because we’re not plotting actual data points on this schematic, rather guesstimating how the data would end up grouping itself once plotted, there’s no reason we can’t tweak it to better reflect how we think groups are actually arrayed in ideological space – i.e. divvy up the “quadrants” – or change their size and shape – to reflect how the identity groupings are actually arrayed in space. After all, that is basically what you set out to do with respect to the libertarian from the beginning – draw its shape, not represent survey data.

  27. Lance says:

    Michael Drew,

    No, I’m saying relabel the liberal-conservative axis Left-Right; keep the libertarian-statist axis.

    Oh, OK.

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