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Monday, December 08, 2008

Question Period: Noam Chomsky on being censored, CHRC censorship, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick and libertarianism

Noamchomsky_2 Yesterday was Noam Chomsky's 80th birthday.

While Chomsky is an internationally recognized intellectual, he is surprisingly accessible and generous with his time.

In fact, I've had several exchanges with Chomsky over the years. Mostly, they were questions about the philosophy of language, Chomsky's primary academic discipline. But Chomsky's career has gone from that of a quiet academic working out the origins of language in children, to one of the world's most recognized public intellectuals. And his status isn't a result of his linguistics -- instead, Chomsky is recognized for his views on U.S. foreign policy.

The Western Standard has published Chomsky's thoughts on the recent U.S. election here. We also ran with an excerpt from the following longer conversation on Canada's Human Rights Commission and section 13(1) of the Human Rights Act. Chomsky, like us, thinks the CHRC is a disastrous form of censorship.

The following email conversation started in late October, and has continued on since. I'm still curious to hear his more philosophical objections to libertarianism. The ones he offers below are more objections to the particular persons who endorsed the philosophy, rather than the philosophy itself. I suppose it might be important whether or not some political philosopher or economist is a decent person, but it really doesn't shed light on whether or not we should endorse or reject an argument of theirs. Even indecent and despicable people say things that are true, and make arguments that are sound or plausible.

At any rate, and for what it's worth, here is the conversation between myself and Chomsky (some of my questions have been edited for clarity, and to cut out irrelevant bits about prior conversations):

Peter Jaworski: Have you seen this?

Here's an excerpt:

South Korea's Defence Ministry, which maintains a force of about 670,000 troops to fend off an invasion from the communist North, also feels threatened by the likes of American linguist Noam Chomsky.

The ministry said Friday it may punish some officers for harming "the military's mental power" by trying to bring books it considers too leftist onto its bases.

The ministry earlier this year banned 23 books from the country's military facilities include two volumes by Chomsky and the best seller "Bad Samaritans" by a Korean professor at Cambridge University, Chang Ha-joon.

What do you think of the military banning your books like this?

How often do your books get banned?

Noam Chomsky: I was rather pleased to be in the company of Ha-Joon Chang, a fine economic historian.

I don't expect much of the military, anywhere. Though I was pleased when I gave a talk at West Point a couple of years ago, and cadets and officers came up afterwards to have books of mine signed, which they'd picked up at the post bookstore, including one that had just come out. Very good experience all around.  More thoughtful and open-minded than most academic departments.

The most extreme banning of a book I've ever experienced -- or for that matter heard of -- was in the US. The first book that Edward Herman (economist at the U Penn business school, Wharton) and I wrote together was published in the early 70s by a small but flourishing textbook publisher. It was called Counterrevolutionary Violence. They printed 20,000 copies, and started publishing ads. One of the ads was seen by an executive at the conglomerate that owned the publisher, Warner publications, now part of Time-Warner-AOL. He didn't like it, asked to see the book, and when he saw it, went berserk. He ordered the publisher to withdraw it, and when they refused, he closed the publisher down, destroying all their stock.

I brought the matter to the attention of civil libertarians, but they didn't see any problem. Ideological fanaticism in the US considers only government interference with freedom of speech to be illegitimate. Private tyrannies can do what they want. Warner also tried to prevent us from publishing it elsewhere, claiming copyright, etc. It was a bit of a legal hassle, but their claim was so absurd that we finally just went ahead and published a much extended version (Political Economy of Human Rights).

In the West, books are rarely banned outright, but they are commonly under an informal ban by the intellectual establishment, which is highly effective. And in Europe, there are severe restrictions on what you can write. If a book or article is published in England, it has to be vetted by lawyers to make sure that no problem is posed by England's utterly disgraceful libel laws, which are a severe infringement of freedom of speech. France is much worse. French intellectuals hardly even have a concept of freedom of speech, and material is often banned. I know of a case in Sweden where a book was withdrawn by the one major left publisher because it challenged doctrines of fundamentalist religion among European intellectuals about their nobility in bombing Serbia. In the third world there are plenty of cases of books banned, or material expunged in translations. If I'm asked (I'm often not), I refuse to allow the translation in that case, though I understand and often sympathize with the publishers.

PJ: Speaking of censorship, what do make of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and section 13(1) in particular? Here's that section:

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

I wonder if you have any thoughts on this particular section.

NC: I think it's outrageous, like the comparable European laws. It's also pure hypocrisy. If it were applied the media and journals would be shut down. They don't expose current enemies of the state to hatred or contempt?

PJ: About Canada's human rights act, you wrote: "I think it's outrageous, like the comparable European laws.  It's also pure hypocrisy.  If it were applied the media and journals would be shut down.  They don't expose current enemies of the state to hatred or contempt?"

That last part may not be applicable in this case.

The law is specific about what groups cannot be exposed to hatred or contempt. Under the CHRA, you can't expose a person to hatred or contempt on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, pardoned criminal conviction (http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/discrimination/grounds-en.asp)

Maybe you could offer a bit of clarification about what you mean by "They don't expose current enemies of the state to hatred or contempt?"

NC: The provision of law that you sent me referred to "persons," not just a person. Hence groups. I think that was the legal basis for barring Rushdie's Satanic Verses briefly, until it was overturned. There are also other mechanisms, like the devious argument used to ban Zundel on grounds of incitement of race hatred that made him a security threat.

The media and journals are constantly exposing Arabs to hatred and contempt. And that's been consistent practice for years with regard to enemies of the state.

I'll look up the NP story when I have a moment. I'm more familiar with Britain, where the primary technique for silencing unwanted opinion, even putting a small newspaper out of business, is the disgraceful libel laws. If a book or article appears in the US, and then is going to be republished in England, it's necessary to get a battery of lawyers to review it to see if anything might be actionable. Some of the things they demand be removed are remarkable. I recall being asked to cut out a sentence saying that Henry Kissinger is guilty of war crimes, which is about as controversial as saying that grass is green.

PJ: Pushing aside the Canadian Human Rights discussion for a moment, I was curious why you call yourself a "libertarian"?

I call myself that, too. Except when I use it, I mean to say that I believe in private property rights, in a free and open market, and in ridiculously small government (sometimes I like to think that getting rid of the state entirely would do all of us a lot of good).

But I don't ever get the sense that you have sympathy for Friedrich Hayek, Robert Nozick, Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand.

There's two parts to this question. For one, I'm curious just what you mean when you call yourself a libertarian and, for two, I'm curious why you continue to use the label, even though most people now associate it with the Nozick/Rand/Hayek type of political philosophy? (I don't call myself a "liberal," although I would prefer to, because it doesn't mean what it used to in Canada and the U.S.)

NC: Actually I don't think I've ever called myself a "libertarian," because the term is too ambiguous. I do often call myself a "libertarian socialist," however.

The term "libertarian" has an idiosyncratic usage in the US and Canada, reflecting, I suppose, the unusual power of business in these societies. In the European tradition, "libertarian socialism" ("socialisme libertaire") was the anti-state branch of the socialist movement: anarchism (in the European, not the US sense).

I use the term in the traditional sense, not the US sense.

I strongly dislike the figures you mention. Rand in my view is one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history. Friedman was an important economist. I'll leave it at that.

Nozick, who I knew, was a clever philosopher. He did call himself a libertarian but it was fraud. He was a Stalinist-style supporter of Israeli power and violence. People who knew him used to joke that he believed in a two-state solution: Israel, and the US government because it had to support Israeli actions.

Hayek was the kind of "libertarian" who was quite tolerant of such free societies as Pinochet's Chile, one of the most grotesque of the National Security States instituted with US backing or direct initiative during the hideous plague of terror and violence that spread over the hemisphere from the 60s through the 80s. He even sank to the level of arranging a meeting of his Mont Pelerin society there during the most vicious days of the dictatorship.

Quite apart from practice, I don't suggest that they understood it, but in their "libertarian" writings these figures were in fact supporting some of the worst kinds of tyranny that can be imagined: namely private tyranny, in principle out of public control.  Traditional European libertarian socialism addressed this issue.  I often found myself agreeing with US-style libertarians -- not those you mention, but many in the Cato Institute, for example; in fact I could only publish in a journal of theirs for years.  But we had fundamental differences, specifically, about the nature of freedom.

I'm not trying to convince you. Merely to respond to your question, and explain why I'm comfortable with the terms I use, "libertarian socialism" -- which to US (and I suppose many Canadian) ears sounds like an oxymoron.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on December 8, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink

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Comments

Pete,

This is an excellent interview. Chomsky standing has gone up a bit in my eyes.

Rand probably thought Chomsky was evil (or would have thought that.)

His comments about Nozick are remarkable. I wonder where he's getting his view of the guy from..? I've read a lot of Nozick, though not everything. The only thing that gets close to the view Chomsky ascribes to him is his essay on the Holocaust (it's very, very good.)

Maybe it's from something that never made it into Nozick's published works. Or maybe Chomsky is exaggerating. Who knows?

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-08 4:50:59 PM


While I'm an advocate of the "private tyrannies" Chomsky despises, I really enjoyed the interview.

Chomsky thinks we should have the right to free speech but not the right as private citizens to refuse to publish books we find offensive?

I'd like to see him square that circle.

We excercise free speech everyday on the Shotgun blog by excluding view points we don't agree with. That's free speech and expression.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-12-08 5:05:08 PM


Matthew:

I think I can help square the circle. :-).

Some of what Chomsky says isn't bad. One of my favorite libertarians, Will Wilkinson, seems to share some common ground with Chomsky, though he would undoubtedly disagree with Chomsky about the policy implications. The same goes for Roderick Long.

See here:
http://tinyurl.com/6fhwzr

and here:
http://tinyurl.com/5plook

The basic idea is that freedom involves having options. People who don't have many options, because (for example) they are poor, black, and live in a racist society, are lacking freedom.

In response, it will be argued that the only time a person's lack of freedom should morally matter is when the person was deprived of options by the direct activity of another agent, especially an agent of the government. In other words, the only time it matters that a person lacks options is when another agent has acted (and intended) to take options away from him.

I find this distinction a bit arbitrary from a moral point of view. Sure, when one person takes my wallet, thereby depriving me of countless options, it is easy to ascribe _moral responsibility_ for my present state to the thief. That makes it easy to identify who it is who has a duty to restore my options: the person who took my wallet in the first place.

But if freedom is the important value, we might expect that to mean agents have reasons connected to that value even when they're not directly responsible for depriving an agent of his freedom. For example, it seems almost incoherent to hold both (a) that freedom is the most important value, and (b) I nevertheless have no reason _whatsoever_ to enhance a person's freedom by handing him a rope to get out of a well he fell into (through no fault of mine.)

Nothing I said implies that agents have _conclusive_ reason to always increase the freedom of others, let alone a duty to do so. But it does mean we should be concerned if various forms of social organization tend to shrink the options of 95% of the population, relative to the other 5%.

I don't think capitalism would do this. Nor does Wilkinson, I think. Chomsky evidently does. That's where the difference arises: it's a difference in predictions about what would happen under free market capitalism, rather than a difference in fundamental values.

Public choice economics, something I don't know Chomsky has ever commented on, puts further limits on the government's ability to do anything GOOD with regard to freedom. But again, that's mostly a difference in prediction, rather than a difference in values.

Best,

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-08 5:30:07 PM


The problem with Chomsky is he is not an honest public intellectual.
Exhibit A - the outrageous slurs against Nozick and Rand in the above interview.
He is reflexively anti-western, yet cares little for liberty when it is attacked by radical Islamists or leftists.
He even went so far as to deny the atrocities committed by the Vietnamese communists after 1975 (including the plight of the boat people).


Posted by: Craig | 2008-12-08 5:53:41 PM


I really disagree with your notion of freedom -- or Chomsky's notion of freedom. If I'm stupid I have fewer options in a free society, but I'm not less free than I would be in a statist society where I might be handed the job of central planner, for instance.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-12-08 5:55:46 PM


I should add to the above comment that Chomsky is a principled defender of free speech.

Posted by: Craig | 2008-12-08 6:32:51 PM


Matthew,

"If I'm stupid I have fewer options in a free society, but I'm not less free than I would be in a statist society where I might be handed the job of central planner, for instance."

I think that's a false dichotomy. Curing stupidity is tricky because the stupid person has to want to be cured. And even then, it's difficult.

But take illiteracy. The illiterate person wants to learn to read, claiming (plausibly enough), the ability to read would expand the range of options available to him dramatically.

Case 1: I teach Joe the illiterate to read in my private time. The project is successful, and now Joe can do many things he couldn't do before. We both agree there's nothing incoherent about wanting to teach Joe to read precisely so that his options would grow in this way.

Would Joe be wrong to say: "Now I can do things I couldn't do before"? I doubt it. Previously illiterate adults often equate literacy with freedom, or at least see it as an important component (Frederick Douglass comes to mind.)

Case 2: Because no one is willing to volunteer his time for free, my local city pays me a few bucks to teach Joe to read in my private time. Now, there's no reason to deny (the way a leftist might) that the collection of taxes involves coercion, and hence a diminishing of freedom.

But I also think there is no reason to deny that the result of that coercion is more freedom for Joe. That doesn't justify the use of coercion in this case. It's the beginning of an argument for the proposal, not the end of one.

Yes, if the state takes a lot of money from a lot of people, or forces Joe to teach other people to read literally (pun intended) at the point of a gun, that would be a serious problem. We all agree on that.

But there is a bit of a gap between my proposal (say, five bucks from each person so that Joe can learn to read, if voluntary contributions would be insufficient), on one hand, and Stalinism, on the other. Literate or not, Joe is likely to fair badly in a totalitarian regime that assigns people jobs.

Given public choice economics, even the people assigning jobs are likely to be worse off and less free than they'd be under capitalism. That's a good reason to oppose the Stalinist proposal. But I don't think my toy proposal is like that: it expands Joe's freedom almost immeasurably (think of all the things you can do because you can read.) It diminishes the freedom of some others a bit (they're out five bucks.)

My point is that, once we accept freedom is valuable, it seems very odd to say that we should never, ever promote it in the lives of others -- even if we could do so for very little cost.

Best,

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-08 6:51:03 PM


I still don't agree with your notion of freedom, at least as it is applies to politics. For me, freedom it is the absence of coercion, not the presence of options. The presence of options improves your quality of life, but I don't think is increases your freedom. Perhaps I'm thinking too narrowly.

You wrote: "My point is that, once we accept freedom is valuable, it seems very odd to say that we should never, ever promote it in the lives of others -- even if we could do so for very little cost."

But since the redistribution does in fact limit the freedom of others -- and often leads to increased government intervention in general -- we should never, ever promote it as public policy.

What we do privately is an entirely separate matter. It has nothing really to do with libertarianism.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-12-08 7:17:39 PM


Interesting conversation in the comments here. I want to chime in a bit.

It seems we're desperately in need of a definition of "freedom" to work with. I like to use a qualifier, like "political freedom" or "freedom in the political sense," to mean "freedom from (intended) coercion" (or something like that). This seems to be the value that libertarians like to promote, rather than "freedom" in a broader sense (the one that would fit the example of a man in a well that you cite, Terrence).

But it seems strange, in a way, to limit the concept of "freedom" in this way. This is the reason G.A. Cohen objects to calling libertarians "libertarians." He thinks libertarians don't care about freedom but, rather, about self-ownership. We ought to be free *because* we are self-owners, and it's self-ownership that ultimately matters (rather than the reverse).

Others object to the label on the grounds that what libertarians really care about is property, not liberty. They think we should call ourselves propertarians, rather than libertarians, since liberty is of secondary interest.

I think both criticisms miss the target while leaving a mark.

The man stuck in a well is a perfect example. It would be ridiculous and absurd to say to him, "yes, you're stuck in a well, and you can't move, but at least you're free!" The absurdity is precisely because the conception of "free" there gnashes against what we ordinarily mean by "free." And the fact that the man is not coerced by other persons seems utterly irrelevant. Which is a reason to start thinking about abandoning the non-intended-coercion libertarian baseline in favour of a more robust conception of "freedom."

I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, Terrence, that Rawls had a similar objection to libertarianism -- when he did something other than wave his hand at the view. What he thinks we want is not merely freedom from intended coercion, but the "values" that freedom can help us secure. We want to be free precisely because freedom is a nice instrument for getting all the other things we want.

That's all for now. I insist on having the right and privilege of revising my thinking on this without notice. My views on this topic aren't yet entirely settled.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-12-08 7:31:45 PM


Matthew,

But doesn't it seem odd -- maybe not wrong, but just odd -- to define freedom as the absence of coercion, when other people don't usually restrict their use of the word in that way? (That's not to say they think coercion is compatible with freedom: they just think there's more to being free than not being coerced by others.)

Take the guy who accidentally falls down a well. He can't get out. He might be able to exercise, even eat (if he can find food at the bottom of the well), but is he _really_ as free as Bill Gates?

I agree that his quality of life is less. But isn't it less, at least in part, because he's trapped in a well?

Now suppose I threw him in the well. I've certainly _made_ him less free (you'd agree with that, right?) But there's no difference in his position, once he's in the well, regardless of how he got there.

But if the absence of coercion is the very definition of freedom, the guy in the first case is free, while the second guy is not. That seems damned odd, doesn't it?

I don't think it helps matters to focus on the coercion I exercised against him getting him into the well. Perhaps I just gave him a mild shove while he was walking beside the well. That's not a lot of coercion, in itself. But the result was a drastic limitation of his ability to do very much of anything.

His freedom is a LOT less, I maintain, but the amount of coercion I used was actually very little. If freedom has something to do with the presence of options, that makes sense. If it only has to do with the presence of coercion, I'm not sure it still does.

Best,

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-08 7:37:30 PM


Jaws,

I can do no better than quote Wilkinson on this point:

"If libertarianism is the view that human well-being is best promoted by ensuring “that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man,” then I am a libertarian. If this is a libertarian view, then the goal to minimize or abolish wrongfully liberty-limiting social norms is a libertarian goal."

This goes a little beyond a focus on "political liberty." What's so good about political liberty, anyway? Or rather, what's good about it that isn't also good about liberty simplicter?

My view runs something like this. Humans have certain valuable faculties, including that of having and revising a conception of the good. We can form life plans and we can stick to them in a principled way, out of a sense of duty rather than inclination. We're able to fit our desires to the good.

The ability to do this is extremely important. But it can be diminished in lots of ways. Living in a racist society, being illiterate (in some cases), and being stuck at the bottom of the well all make it more difficult to exercise the capacity. The government ripping off most of one's wealth also interferes with the capacity.

More concisely: something goes seriously wrong when a child with poor and/or irresponsible parents grows up illiterate, half-starved, and fearful, unable to do more than live from short-term desire to short-term desire. All of this through no fault of his own.

(Notice: a weird stoic, once down the well, might find it very congenial to his own view of the good. At that point, I don't think I'd have much of a problem leaving him down there.)

"Rawls had a similar objection to libertarianism -- when he did something other than wave his hand at the view. What he thinks we want is not merely freedom from intended coercion, but the "values" that freedom can help us secure."

I can do better than that: It's why Narveson thinks freedom is valuable! It's instrumentally important to all of us, almost regardless of our preferences. It's a primary good, to use Rawls's term (so yeah, I think Rawls and Narveson agree on this point, though not the implications.)

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-08 7:56:18 PM


Gentlemen,

If I might interject for a moment....

I think the idea of freedom that goes beyond coersion is best understood as the idea of not only being free of coersion at the hands of other people, but what might be called "circumstantial coersion". Bill Gates has more freedom than the guy in the well does because gates is not constrained by the circumstances of that situation.

One of the reasons that Libertarians sometimes say that "property rights" are the most fundamental ones is because having property can be important - if not essential - to protecting your other rights as well as to your ability to exercise your capabilities and pursue your interests. For the same reason some are interested in a notion of freedom that is more robust, thus one that includes the freedom from the circumstance of being at the bottom of a well or the freedom from the constraints that abject poverty imposes.

In the end, it's not that one version of what counts as freedom is right and the other wrong. The question might not even be which sense of freedom matters more. The question ultimately might just be what version of freedom is politically legitimate to demand be met. Here Chomsky and non-socialist libertarians disagree.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-12-08 8:04:22 PM


Fact Check,

"In the end, it's not that one version of what counts as freedom is right and the other wrong. The question might not even be which sense of freedom matters more. The question ultimately might just be what version of freedom is politically legitimate to demand be met."

Good point. Some coercion can be justified. Sometimes freedom can be legitimately infringed. The question is: under what conditions, and why? What's the justification?

From what I can tell, liberals (and here I include libertarians) answer these questions in one of two ways:

1. The thick way (coercion is justified only within through deep, comprehensive moral framework that specifies the values and interests the coercion is meant to promote/protect. Joseph Raz and Ronald Dworkin go here.)

2. The thin way (coercion is justified only within a "freestanding" framework that does not call upon a deeper moral view. Narveson and Rawls slot in here.)

Hm. I wrote a blog post recently on this...

http://tinyurl.com/56x228

Thanks for the clarifying post, Fact Check.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-08 8:17:40 PM


It is appropriate for Chomsky to name Ayn Rand as "one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history", without further explanation or argument. This fits with his long-standing pattern of making facile statements to which he hopes his readers will assent due to their concomitant inability to reason. He depends on this inability throughout his political discourse, in which he regularly upholds contradictions such as the notion that individuals acting in voluntary concert via corporations somehow negates their individual rights. Or, that Israel - a nation with a free press, an independent judiciary, and complete right of emigration - is somehow morally unworthy, relative to its neighbors, where these institutions are lacking, if at all existent.

In fact, a society ruled under Chomsky's principles would quickly degrade to Totalitarianism. The ruling clique would be "intellectuals" of Chomsky's ilk. Big surprise there.

Oh yes, he once was a tuly original scientist in the field of linguistics. Not always right, but always willing to put his hypotheses to the test. It would be a significant contribution for him to return to those roots.

Posted by: rogerz | 2008-12-09 5:19:35 AM


>>>It is appropriate for Chomsky to name Ayn Rand as "one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history", without further explanation or argument.

This is one thing Chomsky does often that I don't like. I don't think he's in the right shoes to be condemning a philosopher for being hypocritical, considering the stocks he's invested in.

Posted by: von | 2008-12-09 8:36:49 AM


Chomsky should stick to his specialties: linguistics and the effect of mass media on popular culture.

Concerning Canadian human rights expression issues he's completely out of his depth.

(per above) Chomsky said:

"...the devious argument used to ban Zundel on grounds of incitement of race hatred that made him a security threat...."

A clean miss.

Zundel ran to the US to escape a Section 13 complaint, the consequence of running a large,profitable and international Nazi propaganda business in Canada.

Arrested and deported from the US for lack of status,he was returned to Canada his last port of entry.Although he lived here for over 20 years Zundel never received Cdn. citizenship.

Detained as a German foreign national on a National Security ministerial certificate, he was eventually deported, but not for expression issues. Most of specifics of the reasons for his expulsion from Canada were shown in Camera to a Canadian judge. But what is certain is that Zundel was deported for his support of and activism with neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and individuals in Canada, the US and presumably Europe.

Chomsky seems to have a "soft spot" for these types.

Years ago he lauded and wrote the preface to a disgusting Holocaust denial tract by the notorious Frenchman Faurisson.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faurisson_affair

Posted by: Harry Abrams | 2008-12-09 9:28:26 AM


We should ask why the man in the well was there in the first place.

Was he born there? Did his recklessness put him there? Did the state put him there by removing all his (capital) options?

Dr Block would argue that the man in the well MUST face repurcussions. A state bailout would only encourage others to be reckless and soon you'd have 40 people in the well all saying "Please state, can you give me a lift?"

Libertarianism is about the absence of coercion. It is not about socialism. The founding fathers had it right, Stalin had it wrong.

The weak attempt to marry a socialist action to libertarianism has failed miserably.

Posted by: Mudflap | 2008-12-09 10:35:44 AM


Oops. That last comment was from me, and may not represent the views of the Western Standard or its affiliates.

In fact, it probably doesn't :-)

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-09 6:09:24 PM


I'll try to publish this under my own name now. I'm not sure why Typepad stuck it with the wrong designation.

Mudflap,

I think it was pretty clear how the man got into the well. In one case, he accidentally fell. Maybe due to bad luck he tripped and fell into it. In the other interesting case, he fell into the well after being mildly shoved (i.e. coerced.)

The point is that in both cases it's rather odd to say that he's free, once he's down in the well. He's not really free because he can't do much of anything. That's why we would say he's _trapped_ at the bottom of a well.

I agree that coercion makes it easier to ascribe responsibility for his current state, especially legal responsibility.

I'm not sure why a "state bailout" would encourage more people to plunge into wells. And, even if it would, I don't see why individual charity would not have a similar effect. If there's someone waiting with a rope (state funded or not), I might be a little less careful around wells (still, why in the world would anyone want to fall into a well?)

Building from Fact Check's comments, I don't think there's anything un-libertarian about saying the man in the well (however he got down there) lacks freedom.

The question is, does he have the right to demand that others restore that freedom?

My take is as follows: if you think freedom is extremely valuable, then one might think that would give you a reason -- not necessarily a conclusive reason -- to restore the man's freedom

The concerns you say that Dr. Block would raise provide, at best, other reasons not to act on that reason. If helping this one man would indeed produce an epidemic of people jumping into wells, that would be a very good reason not to help him, one that would outweigh the reason to help I just stated.

That said, I think the scenario is rather absurd. Why would people intentionally jump into wells?

Best,

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-09 6:35:28 PM


I Assume that we're on the same page here and that the well represents some sort of disasterous crash.

People may not intentionally jump into a well (crash). But they would commit high risk behaviour (laziness, drugs, idiocy of any sort) that results in our well scenario. If we are not subject to the repercussions of our actions, then more people will commit those actions. You get more of what you subsidize!!

Bottom line - If you act in a manner that will put you at the bottom of a well, you'd better be prepared to use ingenuity to get yourself out, and change your ways, or stay there. It's not up to your brothers to restore your freedom. If you want it it - earn it. The role of the state is to leave you alone in your quest (the absence of coercion).

You're right, according to Dr Block, charity has the same effect as a state bailout. It still subsidizes stupid, reckless behaviour. Dr Block is against handing money to the homeless.

Why would people intentionally jump into a well? Because they know a socialist will be there to extract them.

Subsidize an idiot rescue program and idiocy would skyrocket. Socialism is the subsidizing of lethargy. The USSR had 300 million lethargic zombies.

If you can't understand the very simple and proven notion that bailouts cause reckless behaviour, then maybe a little life experience and reviewing some empirical data will help.

I can forgive your lack of understanding on that. I know you aren't an economist. But it isn't rocket science.

Posted by: Mudflap | 2008-12-09 7:58:46 PM


Mudflap:

I'll break this down for you because you're probably not a philosopher and I can forgive the lack of rigour in your thinking.

Here are some of the things no one has advocated for here or probably anywhere else on the Shotgun:

1. The bailouts (the well example was not an analogy in that sense.)
2. Socialism
3. Policies that reward risky behaviour.

Here are the two issues being discussed:

1. The definition of freedom, and whether a person's freedom can be diminished in ways that do not directly involve coercion from others.

2. The conditions that must be met in order to justify one person's demand that others restore or enhance his freedom.

Everything Jaworski, Fact Check, Matthew, and I were discussing directly connected to these issues. Frankly, your comments have not. I indulged you, because I thought you might have something constructive to say.

Perhaps that was a mistake. If you do want to contribute to any of these issues, feel free to add another comment.

If you're just going to accuse me of advocating socialism or supporting the bailouts, you're not going to get far, because I have never done either of these things on the Shotgun (or anywhere else, for that matter.)

Best,

Terrence

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-12-10 12:24:46 AM


The political term 'liberty' is a more appropriate starting point for explaining libertarianism than the complex and essentially contestible notion of 'freedom'. Starting with 'freedom' is a mug's game.

Liberty is simply the absence of coercion by others. Libertarianism is (as Nozick observes) an historical conception of justice, as opposed to a present-time-slice (or distributive) theory: the present situation is just if and only of it arose from a just starting point by just steps, where just steps are ones that involve no coercion.

That's pretty easy to understand, and it provides the debate about libertarianism's merits a clear grounding. Why address muddles when there is a clear way to proceed?

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-12-10 3:00:43 AM


Where is Gnome's argument against Rand? I think I missed it.

Posted by: PIGMAN | 2008-12-10 10:10:50 AM


Uh, actually Terrence, were you not advocating taking 5 bucks from everyone to teach Joe to read?

That would be socialism, a form of personal bailout and a reward for those who crash and burn.

So, no one one here, other than yourself, is advocating socialism. Albeit, unwittingly.

Posted by: Mudflap | 2008-12-10 6:07:16 PM


I think the big elephant in the room here is conglomeration. There's a reason he singled out the incident with Warner Publications over all others in this interview. Here is a textbook publishing company that decided on its own to print a book and was destroyed by its parent company when it disobeyed a very stupid and ideologically motivated order from a self-important executive who owns it only by proxy. I don't think anyone on this site likes the idea of people's labor being owned to the extent that the publisher's labor was owned.

Posted by: Jason Hendrix | 2008-12-10 9:02:13 PM


Peter,

Its very cool that Chomsky is so accessible to you. Can you ask him in more detail next time about what specifically about Rand's words, philosophy and theme that Chomsky regards as "evil"? Its unfortunate that Greenspan, Reagan, and so many other poseurs of the right have used Rand's name for their bastardized philosophies.

Posted by: Marc Scott Emery | 2008-12-15 7:42:07 PM


"Years ago he lauded and wrote the preface to a disgusting Holocaust denial tract by the notorious Frenchman Faurisson.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faurisson_affair"

It's patently false to say he "lauded" Faurisson's book. He never even read it, nor did he know his essay would be used to preface it. This is all clear from the very page you linked to.

Chomsky has a long history, going back decades before this manufactured controversy, of both condemning the Holocaust and ardently supporting freedom speech, especially for those in academia whose work he personally detests.

Chomsky: "I have taken far more controversial stands than this in support of civil liberties and academic freedom. At the height of the Vietnam War, I publicly took the stand that people I regard as authentic war criminals should not be denied the right to teach on political or ideological grounds, and I have always taken the same stand with regard to scientists who "prove" that blacks are genetically inferior, in a country where their history is hardly pleasant, and where such views will be used by racists and neo-Nazis. Whatever one thinks of Faurisson, no one has accused him of being the architect of major war crimes or claiming that Jews are genetically inferior (though it is irrelevant to the civil-liberties issue, he writes of the "heroic insurrection of the Warsaw ghetto" and praises those who "fought courageously against Nazism" in "the right cause"). I even wrote in 1969 that it would be wrong to bar counterinsurgency research in the universities, though it was being used to murder and destroy, a position that I am not sure I could defend."
http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19810228.htm

Anther illuminating essay on this topic:
http://www.chomsky.info/letters/198509--.htm

Chomsky is about as committed to free speech as one could possibly be. He's been libelled and slandered as standard practice by his critics for decades but refuses to sue on principle. Disagreeing with his libertarian position on free speech is of course legitimate, but those who cherrypick this one example and use it to suggest he is a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer should look at his entire record.

As to the claim by Craig that Chomsky "(denied) the atrocities committed by the Vietnamese communists after 1975," this is another blatant falsehood: http://www.diemer.ca/Docs/Diemer-AntiChomskySmears.htm

A poster here named Martha addressed this in much greater detail a couple months ago: http://westernstandard.blogs.com/shotgun/2008/10/noam-chomsky-if.html Her outstanding post is towards the bottom.

When Chomsky's critics aren't slandering him as a self-hating Jew Nazi, they're usually calling him a Communist, Stalinist, Bolshevik, Trotskyite, et al, when in reality he's one of the few leftists of his generation to have always been a fierce critic of those ideologies.

Posted by: vos | 2008-12-17 6:42:58 PM


I agree completely with that Chomsky says.
Private tyranny is indeed the worst of systems since in that the people have no voice at all.

And do not let my ideological ramblings speak for themselves. Since the de-regulation of media conglomerates under the Clinton and earlier Reagan/Bush Senior days the ownership of media has become increasingly centralised with bigger and bigger corporations getting bigger and bigger shares.

In the future one might even be bold enough to claim that even the remaining giants would merge, leaving you at the mercy of a true private tyranny. A sort of monarchy in which stocks instead of crowns go from father to son from son to grandson and so on.

Horrible, horrible indeed.

Posted by: Boris | 2009-01-12 11:24:00 AM


My apologies for making two comments after one and other. I would just like to mention that all libertarians or freemarket advocates remember what their system is designed to bring from a practical point of view.

It is designed to bring:
1. Equality (Adam Smith)
2. Markets that are mainly affected by supply and demand
3. The end of Tyranny. Specificly the tyranny that the people of America fled from: Monarchy.

And thus you as libertarians must examine if statistics of "freemarket experiments" speak for or against the establishment of these things.

As earlier explained they do not provide this from my experience.

Posted by: Boris | 2009-01-12 11:37:29 AM


"! strongly dislike the figures you mention. Rand in my view is one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history. Friedman was an important economist. I'll leave it at that.

Nozick, who I knew, was a clever philosopher. He did call himself a libertarian but it was fraud. He was a Stalinist-style supporter of Israeli power and violence. People who knew him used to joke that he believed in a two-state solution: Israel, and the US government because it had to support Israeli actions.

Hayek was the kind of "libertarian" who was quite tolerant of such free societies as Pinochet's Chile, one of the most grotesque of the National Security States instituted with US backing or direct initiative during the hideous plague of terror and violence that spread over the hemisphere from the 60s through the 80s. He even sank to the level of arranging a meeting of his Mont Pelerin society there during the most vicious days of the dictatorship."

Is this really Chomsky? I think this may be fake- that or Chmosky has lost the plot. It's a really unintellectual critique of these figures and makes Chomsky look really bad. Asked about 3 of the greatest 21st century intellectuals and he just responds with empty rhetoric and name calling... sad.

Posted by: zasterguava | 2009-03-07 11:29:38 AM



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