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The idea of libertarian charities, a ramble. - Input Junkie
November 2nd, 2010
12:44 pm

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The idea of libertarian charities, a ramble.
A ramble is something like an essay, but less organized.

Some 20 or 30 years ago, I was struck by an idea from Peter Breggin (a libertarian psychologist)-- that libertarianism would never succeed until there were libertarian charities.

This seemed very odd, and I don't know exactly what he meant by it.

Still, I'd bounce it off people, and the usual response is to ask me what a libertarian charity would be. My answer was, "It wouldn't take government money, and it would have "libertarian" on the letterhead."

This wasn't terribly helpful, though I still think it's a reasonable minimum.

What I've come to believe is that a good bit of how people organize themselves is done through government, and (aside from government's natural inclination to preserve themselves), people are more likely to want to cut back on government if they can see a clear alternative method of having a good society.

Um, I used to believe that, but the Tea Party is something of a counterexample. I guess we'll find out something about how big the tea party movement is-- I'm guessing it's smaller than it looks, but it's only a guess. I've been applying a discount factor to the more flamboyant left-wing worries ever since GW left the presidency without attempting a coup. I bet I'll be right until and unless I'm disastrously wrong.

I expect that only a few of my readers know that Ayn Rand hated libertarians. Her politics were disappointed Republican. R's would say things she liked, and then not follow through when they were in office. She thought libertarians were too unphilosophical, though I don't remember the details of what she thought they were neglecting. Tea Partyers are a lot less philosophical than libertarians.

When the USSR fell, I wished that Ayn Rand had been alive to see it. Not so many years further out, I wondered how closely she would have predicted that the fall would work out badly for a lot of Russians, or what she'd have to say about the whole thing. I was certainly expecting things to get a lot better, and in retrospect, I was expecting them to do a much better job of self-organizing than they did. Please try to refrain from gloating-- I bet anyone who takes a crack at predicting how the world will go has seen a few surprises.

Anyway, back to societies organizing themselves. I think libertarian charities would do a lot to convince people that government was less necessary. There's no reason why there shouldn't be libertarian charities for pre-natal and infant care, for example. Suzette Haden Elgin has written about what a valuable sort of care that is, and I haven't heard of any flavor of organization taking a crack at that one-- maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like a project which would be of manageable size on a local scale.

I'm inclined to think that the Objectivist streak in libertarianism makes it hard to self-organize, and I'd be interested in what people have to say about what makes useful self-organization feasible.

The only libertarian charity I know about is the Institute for Justice</i>, a libertarian public interest law firm.

"A man should approach revolution as carefully as he should perform an operation on his father." A quote I've seen attributed to Edmund Burke, but which I haven't been able to track down.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/440929.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:trinker
Date:November 2nd, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
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I'm baffled by your surprise about the fallout from the end of the Soviet era. Barring strong religious or social prestige pressure to succor for the weak, humans have always tended to fall into warlord-ism, haven't they? Democracy is an attempt to create direct political pressure to the bargain, but it tends to have a majority/mob appeasing flavor to it.

Maybe I'm just too damned cranky for words this morning.
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From:agrumer
Date:November 2nd, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
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She thought libertarians were too unphilosophical, though I don't remember the details of what she thought they were neglecting.

More likely, she saw them as rivals. Competition for pro-capital, anti-government mindshare.

Also, probably some of them disagreed with her about something or other. She was never fond of that.
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From:redneckgaijin
Date:November 2nd, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
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I proposed just this when I was in the Libertarian Party- that, if we wanted to sell the idea of ending the social safety net, we were pretty much obligated to organize private charities to replace it, to prove that government wasn't necessary.

My proposal was treated not merely with silence but with contempt. Many Libertarians- and certainly the ones who drive moderates out of the movement- believe private charity to be just as immoral as tax-funded charity. If you can't make it on your own, they believe, then you deserve to die and make room for better people (like themselves).
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From:vvalkyri
Date:November 2nd, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
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ah, but all the Libertopia discussions I remember on a certain mailing list basically insisted that the roads would be paved out of the goodness of people's hearts.
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From:filkerdave
Date:November 2nd, 2010 08:23 pm (UTC)
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Hearts are very bad for paving. They're MUCH too squishy!
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From:vvalkyri
Date:November 3rd, 2010 02:59 am (UTC)
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I'd actually meant to forward the whole post. As a former Libertarian candidate, do you have thoughts on Libertarian Charity etc?

(edit: didn't mean that to come off so snarky - it was accidental that I forwraded you the subthread - I meant to forward the toppost)

Edited at 2010-11-03 03:02 am (UTC)
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From:agrumer
Date:November 3rd, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
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What would be illegal about just, y'know, starting up a charitable foundation? Give it a name that resonates with libertarians, find a bunch of backers, write up a charter promising not to take government money or initiate force, file for 501(c)(3), and start feeding the poor or whatever.

Or are you saying that you don't have the money, and don't have any legal way of getting some?

Or do you think the no-government-money charter wouldn't be legally binding?
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From:madfilkentist
Date:November 2nd, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
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This sounds like something of a followup to my comment a couple of posts ago. There are several libertarian charities in the sense of being 501(c)(3) organizations. I suppose the IJ stands apart in that most of its work is directed at specific people rather than finding general political remedies.

There have been some sporadic attempts at libertarian organizations providing educational assistance. I'm thinking of some pretty local efforts in New Hampshire. Most have sputtered from thinking it would be easier and less complicated than it was -- which is probably true of most organizational attempts in general.

Ayn Rand's objection to libertarians was largely that they weren't philosophically exclusive; they'd admit others as part of the cause regardless of their root philosophical premises. Rand's Objectivist movement rigorously excluded people who came from different premises. She was afraid that if you started off from the wrong epistemology and ethics, things were certain to go wrong in your politics.
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 2nd, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
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It's something I'd been meaning to post for a while, but your comment inspired me to actually write it up.
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From:agrumer
Date:November 2nd, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
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There are several libertarian charities in the sense of being 501(c)(3) organizations.

Are there any that are charities in the sense of engaging in charity?

Literary and educational organizations can qualify for 501(c)(3) status, but that doesn't mean they get people fed, clothed, housed, or healed.
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From:selenite
Date:November 2nd, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
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I don't grasp how a "libertarian charity" differs from existing charities. My church provides food to the local homeless shelter, part of a rotation with other local churches who each provide one day's food in turn. The Lion's Club is a large-scale private charity. There's charities for prenatal and infant care as well, but as they tend to be partisans in the ab******n debate let's move on. A lot of non-government funded organizations* lept into action in Haiti, sometimes having to evade governmental restrictions. There's a lot of self-organization going on wherever it's not forcibly prevented from happening.

If you're looking for a charity specifically affiliated with a political point of view, I'll point out that there's few Democratic or Republican charities. That's defining charity as a group helping folks in need, as opposed to a non-profit political pressure group. If you're trying to gather support for a cause, such as feeding the homeless, tying yourself to one faction just cuts yourself off from potential supporters who disagree with you on unrelated issues.

*As distinct from an NGO subsiting on government grants.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:November 2nd, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
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A "libertarian charity" might be one that refused to accept government money and advocate for laws. The American Lung Association, for instance, issues "report cards" with high grades for states that have restrictive anti-smoking laws, and a "libertarian charity" wouldn't do that. This doesn't mean it wouldn't accept help from anyone who's willing to support it on those terms.
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From:selenite
Date:November 2nd, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
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That includes a lot of existing charities.
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From:agrumer
Date:November 2nd, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
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They would differ from other charities by being affiliated with some libertarian organization. Like, for instance, a charity affiliated with your church is a Christian charity. If it were, instead, affiliated with a synagogue, it would be a Jewish charity. Get it?

See, one criticism leveled at libertarians is that they're just a bunch of greed-heads who don't want any of their money being used to support the less-fortunate. If there were a bunch of prominent libertarian charities around, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc, a libertarian encountering this criticism could just point to those charities and say "Oh yeah, well, look at those".

Presumably they would also adhere to libertarian philosophical views, and not take any money that came from taxes, not use office space that was appropriated under eminent domain, etc.
From:thedailyg.wordpress.com
Date:November 3rd, 2010 04:29 am (UTC)
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Umm... why does anyone still take Ayn Rand seriously? And eh... didn't the laissez-faire capitalists ruin Russia? And Chile? And a good many places, via the IMF and other forms of Western interference? How many times does this model have to fail before people realise it's just a superstition? Will Americans only give up on it when America is poor?

Why try to mitigate a ravenous philosophy with a side-order of kindness? Why not just have a kind philosophy?
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From:zsero
Date:November 3rd, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
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Rand's didn't hate libertarians as such; she was one, after all. But she hated the organised libertarian movement and the LP, because they accept anyone who has come to the same practical conclusions, regardless of how they got there. Libertarianism consists of the belief that it is morally wrong for anybody, even 99% of a society acting in unison, to initiate force or fraud against anybody. If you believe that, you're a libertarian, regardless of why you do. Liberty magazine runs surveys every 10 years or so, tracking what its subscribers really believe, what philosophy motivates them, how they came to libertarianism, etc., and consistently finds that only a large minority came through Rand or believe in anything like Objectivism. To Rand, all those other libertarians were anathema; it didn't matter that they agreed with her on all practical matters, what mattered is that they did so for the wrong reasons, and therefore she could never predict whether they'd continue to agree with her in the future.

Consider the Right To Life movement: What if someone believed that it's wrong to kill babies because in 2012 the Great Gods will be returning, and will need sacrifices, so as many babies as possible must be preserved alive until then? That person might be a perfect RTLer until 2012, but come the Day you'll want to keep them away from your nursery! That was how Rand viewed non-Objectivist libertarians.
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From:zsero
Date:November 3rd, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)

Rand and Charity

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Objectivism has no objection to charity. Rand was personally generous with her money, and saw no contradiction to her philosophy. On the contrary, a central part of her philosophy was that it is human nature to want to help others, that helping others makes one happy, and therefore it is right and just to do so. What she objected to was "altruism", which she understood to mean helping others for no other reason than that it is a moral duty, and therefore for no reward whatsoever; to an altruist (as Rand conceived such a person), any reward one got for ones charity, including the good feeling one gets from having helped a deserving person (however one defines "deserving"), taints the charity and makes it that much less of a moral deed. To Rand, the reward is the only reason to help others; if a person is born without that particular quirk in his nature, and gets nothing out of giving, then he shouldn't give. Giving despite not wanting to, and believing that only such giving is truly virtuous, horrified her, because it makes the giver a slave of the receiver. It subordinates the giver's needs, wants, and priorities, to those of the receiver. And BDSM is something else that should only be engaged in if one is so wired as to get enough rewards from it to justify what one gives up.
From:thedailyg.wordpress.com
Date:November 4th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Rand and Charity

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"Libertarianism consists of the belief that it is morally wrong for anybody, even 99% of a society acting in unison, to initiate force or fraud against anybody."

Can you say in a sentence or two why it is morally wrong? Because I don't see it as a valid fundamental principle of ethics; it seems like the hang-up of someone who lived in and detested Soviet Russia. We say that murder is wrong yet acknowledge that there may be a time when it is necessary to kill, yet supposedly there is never, ever a time for the group to coerce the individual!? This is dogma. And the reasons justifying it, I bet, do not condense elegantly into a sentence or two.

Objectivism, like Libertarianism, seems less driven by a coherent set of truths than by a romantic longing for a zestful life of individualism. But both ideologies fatally take the self-centred ego at face value, as an unalterable fact, and try to base a cult of objectivity around an illusory entity, and a moral framework around a centre of selfish desire. The Soviets tried to suppress or sublimate the ego within a collective ego: Rand has reacted against Communism by making the opposite mistake.
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From:zsero
Date:November 3rd, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
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As for libertarian charities, I don't see the point. There are already plenty of private charities, who specialise in that field and know what they're doing; why duplicate their efforts? Libertarians who wish to help others can easily find an appropriate framework in which to do so, and unless one is a Rand-style purist it shouldn't matter why the others involved in that charity are there. If one wants to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and has no strong moral objection to Christianity, one can simply give to the Salvos or the Brotherhood or some such organisation; if one does, one can usually find another group that will not offend ones conscience. And even if one can't find a group one can join in good conscience, and feels the need to found ones own group, why label it libertarian and alienate those who object to that for whatever reason? Why not just call it the Alice O'Connor Benevolent Fund, be perfectly honest about what it does, and accept donations from anyone who likes its work, regardless of their philosophical beliefs?
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From:zsero
Date:November 3rd, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
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One more point: for those who can't conceive of the poor being helped in any way but the current welfare system, libertarians have no actual objection to that system, provided that it isn't funded by forcibly-extracted taxes. If you don't mind being taxed to fund the welfare system, then nobody is stopping you from voluntarily donating whatever you save in taxes to that system. Just write a cheque and send it in; I believe the US Treasury does already receive some such donations, and is set up to accept them. If enough people feel as you do, and donate enough to keep the system running, then it will run.

Ditto for any government function that libertarians would defund, and that you think is important; you can always voluntarily pay the taxes that you claim you don't mind. Ah, but what bothers you is that you want everyone else to be taxed too; and the problem with that is that we do mind.

Personally I would never donate to a government-run welfare system, even if it were entirely voluntary, because I don't believe government is capable of running such a system efficiently and properly. But if you disagree, feel free to send your donations there while I send mine to private groups, preferably ones that are small enough to be run by volunteers and so not need the sort of overhead and bureaucracy that a mega-organisation needs.
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From:captain_button
Date:November 3rd, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
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The first thing I'd think of as a "libertarian charity" would be some sort of legal aid service, that give legal help to people are entangled with the legal system or bureaucracies and can't afford the professional help to deal with them.

People being harassed by the police, denied permits for bogus reasons (or being told they need permits when they don't), etc.

This would help people who are being harmed by the kind of government BS that libertarians find so offensive.

(Rant about why I am so disenchanted with libertarians in practice, as opposed to theory, omitted.)
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From:nancylebov
Date:November 4th, 2010 12:27 am (UTC)
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I mentioned the Institute for Justice in the article.
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From:captain_button
Date:November 4th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
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So you did, I missed it because I was a sloppy reader. Sorry.
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