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Friday, January 02, 2009

Transitionary libertarianism: Acknowledging cultural legacies

I am a staunch libertarian.  In terms of my morality and basic philosophy, I am pushing the cusp of anarchism, as many libertarians are; government is at best, a necessary evil.  But recently, some of my friends have noted that I appear to embrace statist policies. 

Case and point: on my recent appearance on the Michael Coren Show—where Noa Mendelsohn Avi and I squared off with Warren Kinsella and Bernie Farber—I took the position that  Human Rights Commissions do have a place in dealing with housing and employment discrimination. 

This came as a shock to some of my cohorts, but it’s really been a consistent position I’ve had all along if you read between the lines.  While I’ve never outright criticized HRC abolitionists like Ezra, I’ve also never ended my rants with “Fire. Them. All.” either.

The reason is quite simple—if nuanced—but I completely agree with the HRC abolitionists.  Just not right now.  Right now, the HRC needs to get out policing thought and speech. 

It’s only a matter of time until some learned student of philosophy points out the logical parallels between Marx’s temporary “dictatorship of the proletariat” and my position on transitionary libertarianism.   And they’d be right to make it. 

I believe, like Marx, that cultural legacy is hard to break.  And that the palatability of any political position to the body politic is directly linked to the consummate cultural state of the society. 

While I am sympathetic to the view, that a shift towards individualism would be a form of shock therapy that would set the stage for certain societal woes working themselves out of a series of generations (or sooner), one must understand that the durability of that political arrangement is directly based on contentment of the populace it embodies.

A deterioration of living conditions for large swathes of people, resulting from the cultural legacies of racism, sexism, and other isms, in my view will lead to a backlash against said policies, and set the stage for even more statism.  This is of course the thinking of incrementalism.  And for all our chest pounding moral superiority, it is also immensely practical, which brings me back to the Human Rights Commissions.

I believe that using tribunals to adjudicate discrimination cases within society in order to correct cultural legacies is probably a lesser evil than the other inevitable option: welfare and state-run housing programs.

Denial of employment or housing for reasons of racial intolerance, while in a perfect world is simply a property owner exercising their property rights, in reality is contributing to the systematic exclusion of certain groups from market participation.   Which in turn, leads to the unfortunate trends of ghettoization, increases in crimes against persons and property, and ultimately societal pressure to increase state intervention through policing, jailing and other social welfare programs. 

Liberty is a cultural trait.  Not a political one.  It only becomes a political trait when it’s culturally embraced.  Where cultural legacies exist, which come into conflict with liberty, we must work to address them in order to preserve the cultural value of liberty itself.

This is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of libertarians.  And it should be a temporary pill, that we one day plan to stop administering once these cultural legacies are adequately diminished. 

It is the responsibility of us libertarians who would like to one day see an end to such state interventions to ensure that these sometimes necessary transitional steps are not engrained in our society as inherent, but rather seen as a temporary system to encourage, not diminish, participation in the free market and acceptance of personal responsibility. 

It also means that we should be pushing towards social programs that are means tested, as opposed to universally applied.  Moving towards school voucher programs to allow people to at least opt-out of the public system, is another example of a step.

It means we should be endorsing these programs as necessary evils, but only towards an ultimate correction.  

Note: This thread is no longer accepting comments for some unknown problem with the blogging software.  I am trying to figure out what's wrong.

Posted by Mike Brock on January 2, 2009 | Permalink


Why don't you come on the show this Wednesday? :)
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-04 12:37:43 AM

Two people bitch-slapping Brock, the other being MacDarmid, that would be a hoot. BTW Mike, did you ever follow up by suing Kinsella. Are you going to sue me for saying you "sound more like a liberal or an NDPer"?

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-04 8:58:53 AM



You've exercised your "property rights" and I'll exercise mine. You won't see me around here any more.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-04 9:41:41 AM

Nice try Brock. Never heard of Hide IP.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-04 9:57:46 AM


There is a serious problem with bell curves, and many psychologists and sociologists have identified the problem with the empirical evidence around this. I believe that Malcom Gladwell speaks about this in his latest book Outliers.

For example: did you know that the highest achieving students in school, tend to be born in the first 6 months of the year? It's been statistically shown. And did you know that 40% of all NHL players were born in the first 3 months of the year, 70% in the first 6 months?

Why is this? They've found that a 7 year old child is significantly less mentally and physically developed than say, a 7 year, 11 month old child. So what ends up happening, is if you are born at the beginning of the year, since classes and hockey recruiting programs are on fixed cycles... children get locked into advantaged/disadvantaged cycles as a result of the time of year they were born.

The 7 year old consistently does poor at math, in the sink or swim approach to education, while the 7 year 11 month old child who is nearly a year further along in cognitive development is seen as an overachiever, is moved into a gifted program, receives special attention for his "high IQ", etc.

This is one of the many problems with the immutable IQ theory. And the statistics around what I'm saying now cast a lot of doubt, if you ask me.

Also, Chinese relative proficiencies in math over Westerners are only seen by Chinese-speaking, not English-speaking Chinese. There's a linguistic explanation for this vis-a-vis the awkward nature of numeric expression in Western language versus Chinese.

Do I think a freer market will help alleviate a lot of these problems over time? Yes. I completely agree with that part of the theory that you propose. It's why I'm here.

However, we must take into account the relative starting positions of the different groups in society and understand that some cultural legacies take many generations to overcome. This being the case, I think we need to work on the promotion of cultural ideals (like liberty and free markets) that serve to replace bad cultural legacies (like cultures of victimhood) that are amenable to a freer society.

In practice, this means that people like us go on calling for the abolition of the HRC, and less government, and so on. We're the cultural beacons. We're the ones bringing more people into the fold of thinking that leads us to a freer society. That's what the Western Standard is doing.

What I'm saying in a nutshell, is that this isn't practically a problem of moving from point A to point B. It's moving from point A to point Z; there's a long way to go, and many steps to take before we get there. Those steps involve reducing the power of government, improving fiscal responsibility of the government through lower spending, lower taxes and less impediments to business.

If we suddenly moved to our ideal society over night, we'd be forcing a large group of people to sink or swim. That would be more ideal for some than others. Some people simply do not know how to swim, because they never considered it important, and never valued the practice at all.

The fear is that the drown victims take dependants down with them, and they get stuck living under water, which plants the seeds of discontent.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-04 1:36:59 PM

Oh, by the way... the reason why so many lawyers are Jewish and the fact Jews dominate Hollywood's studios is explainable by history.

Jews were pretty much locked out of the professions, due to anti-semitism in the 1930's and 1940's . Jews who got law degrees found it nearly impossible to get work at American law firms.

It just so happened, that during that time, lawsuits and corporate takeovers were considered "bad form" and not a "mans way of dealing with problems" so very few law firms were interested in dealing with litigation and corporate takeovers.

So as a twist of fate, the Jews filled these gaps... and the rest is history in law: litigation became the most profitable aspect of the US legal industry. And because of this, Jewish lawyers came to dominate.

Many Jews also went into the entertainment profession at the time, because as entertainers (like Blacks) they were accepted, but not in the other professions.

So what appears to be an innate quality of Chinese or Jews... is really a matter of cultural legacy and circumstance.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-04 1:37:15 PM

"Cultural legacies of racism like the ones you described with your Gujarati friend in the American South are, in my view, very problematic from a moral perspective."


Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-04 2:07:02 PM

Mike - I am sorry for being a grammar scold. It's an occupational hazard! And thanks for the offer to come on the show Wednesday. I'd love to (I once did a research paper for the Fraser Institute on anti-discrimination law). However, I am scrambling to get my book finished this week and am not sure how much time I'll have. Shoot me an e-mail and we can talk about it ([email protected]).

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-04 4:49:36 PM

I think Kalim makes a good point about using the dangers of using the HRCs to address discrimination - we have all seen how they violate the elementary norms of due process. As such, they are hardly likely to deal with discrimination fairly. Indeed, many of the most outrageous recent cases do not involve free speech, but rather employment, housing, etc - for example, the complaint against the plastic surgeon in Ontario. I also recall from research I did years ago that there are in fact remedies in tort law that cover some of these issues (for example, workplace discrimination).

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-04 4:59:56 PM

Mike - posted a reply earlier but it doesn't seem to be on the site. Anyway, sorry for being a grammar scold. It's an occupational hazard! Thanks for the invite. I did some research for the Fraser Institute on anti-discrimination laws years ago but I am not an expert. Why don't you e-mail me ([email protected]) and we can discuss it.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-04 6:11:32 PM

Press release from the Chinese Canadian Conservative Association:

Senior Ignatieff Liberal's "cat meat" comment offends the Chinese community

Chinese Canadian Conservative Association calls on Liberal leader to fire Senior Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella

Toronto – Alex Yuan, chair of the Chinese Canadian Conservative Association called on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to distance himself from the comments made by senior Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella. In a recent blog posting Kinsella likened the meat found in Chinese cuisine to cat meat.

“Back in the Big Owe for a couple weeks, so what better way to kick things off than with some BBQ cat and rice at the Yang Sheng, hangout of our youth? Yay!”

Kinsella repeated the offensive comment in a video posting on his website.

“Our community is deeply concerned with Mr. Kinsella's comments. Kinsella repeats the most vulgar and offensive stereotypes by associating the meat served by Chinese restaurants to cat meat. He has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and disrespected the Chinese culture," continued Yuan.

“This is not the first instance of such intolerant remarks by Mr. Kinsella therefore we call upon Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to fire Mr. Kinsella as his senior strategist and apologize to the community.”

Mr. Kinsella was forced to apologize for another intolerant blog posting in 2007. In the 2007, he wrote a post suggesting that Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod would rather bake cookies than run for office.

For more information please contact:

Tom Pang, CCCA Director


Posted by: bob | 2009-01-29 10:47:04 AM

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