File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2003/lyotard.0302, message 161

Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2003 12:32:58 -0500
Subject: Re: terms - libertarian

"steve.devos" wrote:

> The standard understandings of the ter libertarian have a different
> meaning in Europe and the USA.

Steve, this is an interesting rhetorical gambit - this magisterial
account of "standard understandings," and "standard understandings" for
whole continents. I'm curious, as someone actively involved in the
ongoing process of defining certain forms of "libertarianism," how the
"standard" here works. I'm also curious why the "commonly understood" is
particularly useful in a conversation between individuals like
ourselves, completely capable of holding our own opinions and
negotiating our own positions. Marxism is *commonly understood* to be an
obsolete form of totalitarian thought - if we take the "common"
understanding to be that of the "average person." I would bet that that
understanding of Marxism was not "common" to the members of this list. I
would certainly insist that it was an inadequate understanding, both
because it does not capture what i take to be the direction and
significance of Marx's work and because it does not reflect the
practices of a significant body of self-identified marxists. When Hugh
posted his collection of dictionary definitions - not even acknowledging
that dictionary definitions are generally multiple - it was clear
enough, i think, that very little political reality was captured in
them. Essentially no history was captured by them.

This relates to the issue of "being unpleasant." In your last message,
you talk about "the libertarian in [me]," but here you go on to explain
to me what "libertarian" means. Here we have the differend in a form not
much more sophisticated than "how long have you been beating your wife."
Honestly, Steve. I'm in the middle of writing a history of some strands
of libertarian thought, and engaged in the ongoing, difficult, but
potentially very positive clarifying discussions between libertarian
factions. If your characterizations were indeed a something to "begin
with," they would take us almost nowhere before they had to be scrapped.
As it is, they really seem to be attempts to dismiss whole traditions.

There are reasons to be concerned with common understandings. Anarchists
frequently debate - all too frequently, perhaps - whether a given label
- "anarchist" or "libertarian," for example - gives a bad first
impression to outsiders. But, more often than not, these debates bog
down into uselessness precisely because they never get beyond hegemonic
"common sense" or dictionary definitions, despite the fact that the
histories of these terms are well documented. I'm happy to be involved
in those debates, to the extent that they are clarifying. I simply
refuse, on the other hand, any attempt either to assign "common"
characteristics to my own "libertarianism" or to deny the historical and
present character and diversity of nominally "libertarian" thought and

Besides, it was only early January when the "libertarianism" thread
happened, and i took the time to talk a bit about these issues. If you,
Steve, or anyone else, want to debate the material i posted then, i'll
be happy to address the issue in more depth. In any event, i think i
have made my own basic position clear: "I'm happy to call myself a
libertarian, a mutualist, an anarchist, a socialist, and an

> In Europe it is commonly understood as refering to a culture and
> ideology based on the defense of individal liberty as a supreme value
> - this may be against the state but also in allaince and with the help
> of  govenments, for example privacy protection, welfare state
> provision and so on. In the USA context 'libertarian' is a
> socio-political ideology that includes a distrust of govenments, often
> including the understanding that the market will take care of
> everything and that individuals will take care of themselves. There
> are other variants but the above are in some way or other sufficient
> to begin with.

The characterization of "the USA context," beyond betraying a real
misunderstanding of the diversity of political positions here - even
within as small an envelope as "libertarianism" (as a careful reading of
almost any nominally "libertarian" forum would, i think, show) - is a
bit vague and/or confused about who or what will "take care" or things.
A "distrust of governments" at this stage of the game is probably just
good sense. And most libertarians i've met - however else we disagree,
and however different our reasons for thinking so - understand at least
at some level that "taking care of ourselves" will necessarily involve
some taking care of one another. I've already suggested, in the earlier
thread, some of the ways in which the difficulties which all of the left
has had in maintaining simultaneous concern for individual liberty and
social justice are a result of battles internal to socialism, and how
there existed within our broad tradition much more balanced approaches -
such as that of Skidmore. Libertarian mutualism - anarchist mutualism -
is one influential minor movement which has attempted, with some degree
of success, to maintain the balance while being hardheaded about

> Whilst the former variant is acceptable, though not a position I agree
> or particularly sympathise with, the latter is not.

Elsewhere, you talk about "crass anti-statism." This sounds like the
kind of dismissive label anarchists encounter frequently. As i have said
on several occasions before, i'm not interested in "crass" anything, and
know enough about these traditions, their possibilities, and the world
context, to make a stab at distinguishing between the crass and its
alternatives. There certainly are "crass anti-statists" out there, both
on the right and the left. There are also Stalinists. These are the
crosses we bear, if we identify with the broad socialist tradition.

But, again, i think i have made it quite clear that the position i take,
and the general tendency of which it is a part (broadly "libertarian
mutualism") is rooted in a history of practical socialism and an
evolving theoretical tradition. To the extent that you keep talking at
me like i'm some Libertarian Party hack - and these folks are the butt
of jokes across much of the "libertarian" landscape, right or left -
i'll be forced to keep responding as if you're someone who doesn't
listen or read so well.

> Do I want to ban the 'cyborg' - no because as a construct, theoretical
> or otherwise I don't believe that they exist and am certainly not
> convinced by the level of argument that Haraway or Gray produce.

More on the cyborg elsewhere...


> As for SUV's yes - they should be banned and at some stage they will
> have to be, because they are environmentally appallingly destructive
> machines...
> (there's nothing wrong with being a romantic - on the whole I
> approve...)
> regards
> steve


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