Toward a Generally Censorious Climate

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There
are folk – value-relativists I will term them – who take libertarianism
not merely to be a theory of rights; but as itself a being a guide
to the good life.

The
idea here would be that we ought to generally give up on trying
to socially promote rules concerning the good life, even when
such promotion is non-coercive. So, for example, one might refuse
to hire people who denounce one's religion. While such actions would
be within one's rights, taking libertarianism as a guide to the
good life might lead one to conclude that it would be better to
let the potential employee develop their ideas un-hindered by the
crude prodding of your blacklisting. (I tend to associate this position
with a lot of the material at Reason magazine, although thankfully
it does not appear throughout all the articles of this fine publication.)
After all, since it is impossible to have knowledge of a correct
comparison of intersubjective valuations of goods, it is not clear
why one would attempt to change others' valuation in any specific
way. It is certainly fine to provide some kind of stimulation for
other's thinking, but, in the end, they have to make their own valuations.
Who am I to say that another's valuations are incorrect? All I can
really concern myself with is whether rights are violated.

This
is an interesting line of argument, but one that is wholly without
real grounding. For among the things I can value is: others engaging
in behavior different from that which they are currently engaging
in; and others having thoughts different (in specific ways) from
those they currently have. Who is the value-relativist to tell me
that I cannot have such valuations, after all?

Well,
clearly the value-relativist is someone who has valuations about
how I ought to behave. So it cannot be a question of simply ruling
out such valuations tout court. Perhaps it is a case of arguing
that one should not use one's non-coercive abilities to keep certain
ideas from gaining widespread circulation? Well, this can't be it
either, as such would involve ruling out providing critical reasoning
on other's ideas, and apparently the value-relativist libertarian
is interesting in providing such reasoning – regardless of
its "chilling effect."

To
be honest, I am not sure what the value-relativist libertarian is
after. It seems to have something to do with denouncing certain
attitudes toward "culture." Specifically, the value-relativist
seems suspicious of culture as an ideal to be promoted, since such
promotion involves using non-coercive means (withholding funds for
non-esteemed projects, funding valued projects, hiring admired individuals,
blacklisting non-desirables, etc.) that may be grossly out of step
with other's valuations.

Culture
is essentially a social entity; the radical individualism of value-relativist
libertarianism thus has little place for "culture," except
as a way of referring to the totality of human-created objects and
practices that one might take up or contemplate. And so the value-relativist
is only interested in "more," not "better."
We need more "options" from which to choose, and never
mind that adding some options will inevitably remove others. Thus
illegal immigration from Mexico is praised by the value-relativist
because it puts us more in contact with Mexican culture, giving
us further cultural choices; but who cares that such immigration
necessarily detracts from possibilities for valued forms of cultural
unity in the previously Anglo-American or African-American neighborhoods
that receive the new arrivals? These choices are neglected, because
they involve using non-coercive means (withholding right of entrance
to private property, or to the public property that is jointly owned
by the American citizenry) to promote a vision of the good life
even among others who might not always share one's vision.

A
true market sensibility is one that realizes that even the adding
of options often has a cost; one that not all market players may
be willing to accept. One individual values the availability of
the Howard Stern show; another values its un-availability. So long
as non-coercive means, such as consumer boycotts, cartel systems
that blacklist, etc., are used to achieve either proposed end – a
counter-factual situation, of course – then there is little point
in speaking of failure to live up to market ideals. One can only
debate the relative value of attaining the availability of the Howard
Stern show, vs. the value of attaining its un-availability.

It
might be thought that Americans should be able to purchase the cultural
artifacts that that they like "as cheaply as possible."
But why? What I would argue, to the contrary, is that most Americans
need guidance from their cultural betters; and that that guidance
should involve efforts to create higher prices for those artifacts
that the cultured judge to be un-worthy (relative to other cultural
goods that might be offered instead), and lower prices for those
artifacts that the cultured judged quite worthy. Now unfortunately,
I don't have the capital required to make quite the progress I would
like in enacting my vision – a vision which of course include some
rather particular ideas on who counts as Americans' cultural betters.
But I am hopeful that a team effort could make a dent – if it weren't
for the government constantly destroying much of the needed capital
for the project, while also re-directing much of what remains from
talented individuals of taste, to various social parasites who seem
largely intent on subverting the culture that I value.

In
any case, a rigorous, generally censorious, but market-based climate
is needed to provide guidance to the masses who – probably
due to statism – have wandered far, far from the path of good
taste and sacred culture. Private censorship is vital to the preservation
of true pluralism. Without it, there is an inevitable tendency to
move from preservation of a variety of plausible viewpoints, to
the preservation only of relativistic ones. Certainly, different
kinds of censorship are needed in different times and places, and
it is true that in certain forums, such as university ones, the
censorship required involves a lightness of touch that gives much
room even to ideas that initially seem absurd or evil. But in other
contexts, crude blacklists and angry boycotts work best.

To
claim otherwise, and suggest the feverish wants of the masses need
to be respected over higher cultural aspirations, is to take up
the materialist project begun by Epicurus and Lucretius, and continued
with such disastrous effects in Marx. This brand of materialism,
which sees traditional religious belief as a tool by which to reify
illegitimate social orders, has of course today morphed into a race-
and gender-centered neo-Marxism. In this contemporary materialist
view, there is ultimately only pleasure, license, and oppression.
Culture, in its true form, is for the materialist only oppression
of one sort or another. Of the Aristotelian and Aquinian hope that
the virtuous might lead the community, precious little remains.

March
8, 2004

Marcus
Verhaegh [send him
mail
] is an instructor in philosophy at Kent State University.
Here is his philosophy website.

Marcus
Verhaegh Archives


        
        

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