Toward a Generally Censorious Climate

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