July 21st, 2012


Another random post: Types of Libertarians

Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

Hot on the heels of my “random” post about Objectivism and Austrian economics, here’s another “random” post that deals with libertarianism.

I was just searching one day for “types of libertarians” in Google, on a whim, to see how people see us. I was expecting everyone to just classify us as anarcho-capitalists (which a fair amount of us aren’t.) Turns out I was wrong on that front.

A blogger who goes by the handle of “Lord Keynes” (so you know he is biased from the start) put this classification up late last year of libertarians:

(1) Randians

(2) Austrians

(i) the Anarcho-capitalists, like Rothbard and Hoppe;

(ii) The minimal state Austrians like Mises (with his praxeology);

(iii) Austrian supporters of Hayek’s economics, with a minimal state;

(iv) The “orthodox” Austrians who have a moderate subjectivist position (like Israel Kirzner and Roger Garrison);

(v) Austrian radical subjectivists like Ludwig Lachmann;

(3) Non-Austrian libertarians (but influenced by Austrian economics)

I suspect that it is also possible to put many of the “Free Bankers” in this category.

(4) Neoclassical libertarians (but influenced by Austrian economics and neoclassical theory)

(i) followers of Robert Nozick’s libertarianism;

(ii) followers of David D. Friedman’s anarcho-capitalism, and other non-Austrian anarcho-capitalism (e.g., Jan Narveson);

(iii) other non-Austrian, neoclassical influenced libertarians (e.g., Tom Palmer, Bryan Caplan and Tyler Cowen).

This is an interesting start, though I feel its inadequate. The main reason is that it focuses almost entirely on one’s views of economics, rather than politics and where one sees the purpose and the status of the state.

It’s understandable, since libertarians do talk a lot about economics. (That’s because economics and politics are inexorably intertwined; it used to be called “political economy” back in the day.) But there is more to it than just Econ 101. There are civil liberties to think about, liberties such as the right to marry who you please (as long as they consent), the right to speak your mind, etc. These are all extremely important and are not optional for a fully functioning, healthy society.

Also, “neoclassical liberalism” has a few different meanings, particularly with regards to Bleeding Heart Libertarians, so calling anyone who isn’t at least an “Austrian-influenced libertarian” a “neoclassical libertarian” can, I think, lead into some major complications.

Moving on, though, “Lord Keynes” later put up another post, full of links where he supposedly “debunks” Austrian economics, and a more detailed typology of just Austrians:

(1) The Anarcho-capitalists
E.g., Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Jörg Guido Hülsmann;

(2) The minimal state/classical liberal Austrians in the tradition of Mises
This variety often supports praxeology and utilitarianism;

(3) Hayek’s economics, with a minimal state, and with an empirical (or Popperian) approach to economic method, in place of praxeology;

(4) Moderate subjectivist Austrians
E.g., Israel Kirzner and Roger Garrison;

(5) Radical subjectivists like Ludwig M. Lachmann (1906-1990), and Austrians influenced by him.

If you recall my earlier post on objections to two strains of thought in libertarianism, I put one objection with the Austrian School on the basis of praxeology; I think it’s dangerous, a bit silly, and not at all something we should be really entertaining. If LK is correct here, though, then Hayek represents a different strain from Mises (and Rothbard), where he actually uses empiricism for his work rather than praxeology. Judging from his work that I’ve read, that sounds right to me, and I’m definitely closer to Hayek than any other Austrian scholar (the vast majority of whom look like a bunch of wingnuts.) BTW, it should be noted that even Hayek was okay with a minimal welfare state, and even, at one point, suggesed we have a universal basic income.

Another division with libertarians is explained by Steven Horwitz in his post on “The False Dichotomy of Rothbardian Anarchism and Hayekian Classical Liberalism.” These guys are almost always mixing it up in libertarian circles, but Horwitz notes that we have to “deconstruct this binary” and that there are more than just two things here. For the ease of translating his article, I have made a simple graph explaining what he’s on about:

Bow before my mad MS Paint skillz.

One thing that stood out to me was that I realized what really annoyed me about anarcho-capitalists. It’s not so much that they’re anarchists–I myself would love it if we lived in a world where there was no government–but that they’re Rothbardians. And let’s be frank, that guy was kind of a nut. At least with “Hayekian anarchists,” while we may disagree, they’re not going to vehemently denounce me as an evil statist, and we can have a civil conversation. With the Rothbardians, the crazy seems to (inevitably) rise to the surface. (Just look at some of Ron Paul’s fans.)

Lastly, of course, there is this awesome series of videos that LearnLiberty.org has created, with my friend Nigel Ashford, on the schools of thought within libertarianism. Here is Part 1, with links inside the video to all of the rest:

After examining all of this, I think I am becoming more of a Nozick type libertarian. I’ve never been a real anarchist; I think it’s a nice concept, but will never work in reality. But as I see the nuttery that goes around, more and more I think we’ll need the absolute minimal state necessary in order to survive. I do believe in some welfare as a transitionary state, to get from here to there, but there won’t have any of it. I also, even though I’ve always been a mix of the “consequentialist” and “deontological” libertarians, I’m trending towards “deontological” (or maybe, if this is Nozick, “contractrian” libertarianism.) It doesn’t matter if something will be more efficient or better; there are just some lines you don’t cross. There are certain things that are just wrong. For me, this is a bizarre path to take, since I’ve thought of myself as something akin to a moral relativist in the past, but maybe I’m changing.

Anyways, a random post to show that, indeed, there are many different kinds of libertarians, and we are not all the same.