More to the point, Dougherty says that Joe Francis’ unhinged lewd behavior makes his brain play the word libertarian on repeat—it’s not my favorite track, it just got stuck, he protests—and so maybe, sure, this is what anarchic freedom gets you in a secular, pluralistic, sexually “free” society like we have today. But I don’t need to remind Dougherty that Francis’ crudeness isn’t a result of a dominant libertarianism in government, because that’s not something we’ve had. Maybe this is just my ideology talking (now I fear the wrath of Larison!), but it seems to me that lifestyle libertarianism is apt to be more dominant in a society with a powerful state; the more power you give to a monopolistic secular authority like the government, the more secular your society will become. ~Peter Suderman

As glad as I am to jump on the old guv’mint for just about anything, and as much as I think there is something to the idea that what a state actively promotes as cultural values will have considerable impact on the state of the culture, I am a little perplexed.  What real difference does it make whether libertarianism is “dominant” in the government?  When it comes to “cultural libertarianism,” it is dominant in the society at large in some of its most obnoxious and abusive forms.  From Nelly Furtado’s Promiscuous Girl to the dreck on television to the mores governing relations between the sexes to the idiocies of The DaVinci Code, the entire culture is inundated with the message: do and believe what you feel; human nature and reality are irrelevant. 

Further, isn’t Mr. Suderman’s connection between Francis’ “crudeness,” “lifestyle libertarianism” (is that what these videos are?) and a secular society a perfect example for why all of these things should be overthrown?  Let’s start with Francis and “lifestyle libertarianism” and go from there. 

If this is an argument that we should have more local, morally self-regulating communities and less centralised pablum about universal values and secularism, I am on board.  If this is some roundabout way of saying, “The culture (or government) made him do it!” I am not at all interested or persuaded.  If it is an argument that there is basically nothing wrong with what he is doing, well, I expect I would have more to say about that.  

But what did Michael say to prompt all this?  He wrote, in part:

Perhaps I’m a monomaniac but I kept thinking of libertarianism as I read the article. Joe Francis has all the qualities one thinks libertarians would like. He has a bracing entrepreneurial spirit. He is not bound by conventions. He even seems to put a few things over on the cops from time to time.  He pushes the boundaries. He is the liberated man. 

Now, Michael annoyed some folks when he said this, because if it’s one thing the respectable, educated libertarian set cannot stand it is to be associated with the stoners, pornographers, morons and riff-raff who move in and out of LP and other libertarian circles.  Many of the polite libertarians, as we might call them, are often from good families (what a reactionary phrase that is these days!), may go to church and will live with a level of restraint that they assume everyone who hears about individual liberty will also embody–except that they are benefiting from all the functions of tradition and traditional authorities while simultaneously denying that these things have any necessary value for the maintenance of a healthy society. 

They may talk about “cultural libertarianism” all they like, but they personally despise people like Joe Francis (and I’m glad if they do), not least because he and his sort are the ugly canker on the underside of libertarianism in the sense that libertarians have no coherent way to censure, object to or otherwise control profoundly immoral men like him and can only accept what he does as “his choice,” which causes a sense of embarrassment and resentment against such exploitative bastards.  It isn’t that all libertarians are on the road to becoming Joe Francis–far from it–but that in principle they have no way of speaking about public morality on the assumption that the enforcers of public morality will abuse precious, sweet freedom, which is unforgiveable and unthinkable. 

Libertarians endorse an ideal world where Joe Francis would flourish even more than he does right now, because the norms and authorities that limit the damage he can do would go right out the window in that world of theirs.  They would become “voluntary,” which is to say they would cease to be authoritative and would lose all force and influence.  Thank God libertarianism is not also dominant in government, or Joe Francis or one of his clones would probably own half of cable television by now.  The libertarians would throw up their hands in shock and say, “It’s just the market, kids!”  The paleos will in turn throw up their hands and say, “It’s just original sin, kids!” 

But Michael has a point: what is there about Joe Francis that a libertarian as a libertarian would obejct to and ridicule?  Wouldn’t they instead respect him for being a true individualist?  Let’s go down the Checklist of Libertarian Priorities: 1) Is there any aggression?  Not exactly, so check that one off; 2) Is there consent?  More or less, so check; 3) Is someone making a tidy sum?  Yes, so definitely double check; 4) Does it annoy prudes and theocrats?  Yes, yes, yes, so it must be good.  Four out of four.  If the Checklist has other points that I have neglected, I would ask for the indulgence of our libertarian friends to help me in supplementing it. 

Now someone will say that I just made up that Checklist, but I ask you: would I do something like that?  Seriously, is there anything about Joe Francis, except perhaps his roughing up of reporters, that actually offends libertarians that they think some kind of, oh, I don’t know, public decorum and morality ought to restrain?  Anyone? 

Michael wrote, a little later:

For all his blather about freedom, Nick [Gillespie] would not prefer a culture where another set of private institutions, say, Churches, had more influence than the pop culture industry.

Or, to put it in the cute language of libertarians, Mr. Gillespie might prefer churches have more influence (he also might prefer another whiskey or a plate of appetizers, so meaningful are such “preferences”) but he is not going to force anyone to follow his preferences.  That is how some libertarians smuggle in intolerable moral positions“I personally don’t support abortion, but it isn’t up to me–it is the private choice of the individual.”  Nice.  You get credit for being a Concerned Citizen, but don’t have to do anything to earn the credit.  The recourse to “private choice” is just a way to never say sorry or have people accept public responsibility for their choices.  Perhaps we can call this sketchy line of reasoning the fallacy of reductio ad privatam.  Then again, considering that Mr. Gillespie declared his unwillingness to be bound by “bullshit tradition,” perhaps his preferences run more along the lines Michael originally supposed. 

The deeper problem with libertarianism is not that it pretends that ethnicity, nations, religion and culture are just some kind of frosting on the cake of economic life, or, worse still, some sort of nasty fungus that is interfering with the enjoyment of said cake.  The deeper problem is that it is founded, along with the entire liberal tradition since the 17th century, in a spirit of revolt against legitimate and venerable authorities.  It makes the self the center of the moral universe.  It celebrates self-will, when every civilised society constrains and cuts off self-will.