Conservative Under-Representation in the Academy

The topic of conservatives in the academy has recently gained a lot of attention -- for instance see here. There has been much gnashing of teeth over whether or not conservatives are somehow repressed or otherwise under-represented in the academy. I think this is a bit more diffuse a phenomenon than has been made out, and I think a lot of the works in the genre are either awful or just crude propaganda. So, I think I can do better, and in particular do so with the help of some distinctions because that's how philosophers roll. I begin with a (non-exhaustive) typology of (British and American) conservatisms.

  • Risk-Averse Conservatism: the basic idea here is that societies are very complicated things indeed, and lives are on the line if we mess up. As bad as things are now, we may still want to be very cautious in reforming things; because short of a state of Hobbesian anarchy they could always be much worse, and our ignorance of the nature of society is such that we are disturbingly likely to blunder into the bad state (or at least a worse one) should we try to interfere with the present order. People in this group are likely to say `Chesterton fence!' more often than a randomly selected member of the population, will probably have read Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, maybe also take inspiration from some of what Oakshott said in critiquing rationalism in politics (I don't know Oakshott as well as I should), and if they are a bit historically aware maybe also the Tamworth manifesto. Looking at this list, it seems like a peculiarly British tradition of thought? That probably just reflects my education!

  • Libertarian Conservatism: this is probably the form of conservatism most familiar to philosophers who are most of my reading audience, so I will say least on it here. Just a note on why I do think (contrary even to some of its proponents) it is properly classified along with the rest of the conservative genre. I take a lot of the spirit of libertarianism to be pacifistic: the underlying emotional core is that coercion is a very bad thing -- one cannot permissibly reach a better state in a way that involves violating people's liberty or engaging in some involuntary coercion (maybe there can be voluntary coercion in some kinds of sexual practice or if I make a binding agreement against future changes of mind -- I don't want to enter into that here). We really should walk away from Omelas. This quite naturally introduces a kind of status quo bias: it makes it harder to move away from wherever we now find ourselves. So, yeah: Rand, Nozick, Hayek -- you know the drill here.

  • Western-Civ Conservatism: comes in (at least) two very sociologically different forms, though I think outsiders often class these together. There is a shared belief that there is something about Western Civilisation which makes it very special and worthy of promotion and protection and special reverence, at least from those of us in the West. There is then disagreement about what the source of this specialness is. The (a) group think that what makes it special is the racial constituents of Western Civ -- the fact that it was distinctively European, a group whose peculiar biological stock make them especially good at civilisation building, or at least a group whose peculiarities are such that unless we act to protect their contributions via some sort of racial selection in who gets to occupy positions of power, cultural esteem, or maybe just physical presence in nations, we shall lose their extremely valuable contributions to world life. Folk arguing for this are effectively the intelligentsia of the alt-right, who have recently occupied so much of our cultural attention. The (b) group are more institutionalist, and usually focus especially on religious and Christian institutions. Some ideological innovation that just happened to occur in the West allowed for massive and special and superior progress to occur there -- maybe it was the Catholic Church, maybe it was Calvinism, maybe it was capitalism or the right kind of property arrangements, maybe all of the above -- and it is vital that we preserve this, preferable that we expand it, for this is the source of the goodfullness and superiority of the West. I see both (a) and (b) Western Civ Conservatism types online -- and they actually get into very heated arguments; this is a difference which doesn't look that significant from the outside but seems (as far as I can tell) to be felt as deeply meaningful from the inside. Both (a) and (b) to some extent represent very traditional lines of conservative thought in the West, but are currently undergoing somewhat of a renewal so it is not yet clear who they will claim as intellectual ancestors -- e.g. I see Weber appealed to far less than I would have guessed given the character of what (b) types say. In any case, a safe bet is that folk in group (b) will have a very high opinion of Aquinas but a more directly relevant intellectual expositor is Weaver, and group (a) must surely see Spengler as some sort of forerunner, though I am a bit less certain of this.
To clarify, I don't think these are always kept entirely separate -- in fact one of my more controversial-among-anyone-who-would-care opinions is that Anna Julia Cooper mixes Risk Averse Conservatism and Western Civ Conservatism (and then both (a) and (b) types) in her thought, in ways that are generally under-appreciated. I just think that these are logically separable ideologies in a way that can make a difference to this debate. Ok, that said, now a few notes on this. First, I think Libertarian Conservatism is pretty well represented in the academy. Tendencies towards it are pretty common in business schools and economics departments; Nozick is required reading in political philosophy; my more thoughtful leftwing academic friends generally cite Hayek's `The Use of Knowledge in Society' as one of the most insightful challenges to their position out there. This is also, mind you, the form of conservatism that is closest to liberalism. But in so far as the claim is that there are just no forms of conservatism that get any love in the academy, I think this falsifies it.

Second, I actually agree that the Risk-Averse Conservatism doesn't get enough attention or due respect in the academy. It is not that I agree with the kind of social philosophy that tends to result from it, and I think that with effort one can generate the sort of considerations characteristic of it even as an outsider. But, it's a set of considerations worth taking into account when one advocates for social change; there are actual examples of disaster following from not being significantly aware of this point. People generally make their own best advocates, so it is worth having about some inclined to think this way, and in any case we could at least make some texts from this tradition required reading -- they do not seem to be the kind of thing that one just encounters as part of a liberal education, and I think that is a shame. I don't think this tradition is actively suppressed, I think people literally just do not so often think about it. 

Third, there is a strand of thought that I have not included here and that some might think I should -- something like Realist Conservatism, whose advocates might be a certain-reading-of Thucydides, Han Fei, or Carl Schmitt. The underlying thought here is something like -- the world is a fundamentally amoral place, one has simply to act effectively to achieve one's goals in a more or less ruthless fashion without any expectation that righteousness or justice shall be rewarded or even noticed. The problem for me is that I have never really understood why this is associated with the right; certainly there have been conservative proponents of it, but I don't think it is such a stretch to put Lenin or Mao in this tradition either (I think Mao actually was a fan of the `legalist' tradition that Han Fei fits into?) and I think that telling. 

Fourth, I do not claim that the above typologies represent the underlying psychological bases of adhering to any of these positions. I think it quite possible that desire to maintain certain gender relations, for instance, is highly significant in determining people's thought towards Risk Averse Conservatism -- but I think there is none the less a difference between the role this plays in that kind of defence of conservatism and, say, the role it plays in Western Civ conservatism, where it can often be an explicit part of the platform. I am trying to track that difference in ideological form, rather than make a claim about political psychology.

Fifth, there is something interesting about the fact that Risk Averse and Libertarian Conservatism are not straightforwardly tied to a particular cultural form, whereas Western Civ is obviously so linked -- though I left it vague what exactly the Western Civ people see as ever so valuable in, well, Western Civ; this because I have not yet been sure myself from reading their stuff. I am focussing on stuff one encounters in the British and American academy or broader society because that's where I know, but I think one can generate analogous arguments to the Western Civ conservatism in other places. Indeed, from what I know of Confucianism and its role in modern China (which in both cases but especially the latter is very limited!) my impression is that not only can one generate some notable equivalencies, but that even the division between (a) and (b) types might reoccur. Note that I said that the first two are `not straightforwardly' tied to a cultural form rather than just ruling out because: one might think that attitude to risk or the value placed on non-coercion are themselves culturally determined, or subtle expressions of cultural conditioning. 

Sixth, I think that it is overwhelmingly Western Civ, and especially but not only type (a), that people are complaining about when they talk about Conservative under-representation or repression in the academy. This for two reasons: in one direction, I think it is the form most likely to actually get one shouted down or cast under social suspicion for advocating. While I don't think Risk Averse Conservatism is well represented, I would be shocked if one got in serious social trouble for arguing that after all social reform is difficult and we should be very careful when we change this that or the other law -- whereas I would not be surprised if one is not so welcome in polite society for trying to advocate that one just so happens to be part of the master race. In the other direction, I do think it is just that kind of disaffected übermensch stuff that people most often point to when they want to say that conservatism is under-represented (I've seen a surprising number of apparently sincere people engage in things that I am barely parodying when I summarise it as: ``The untermench are mean to me when I try and point out that maybe I am the master race!'' One can't help but feel that if they were really that über of a mensch they probably wouldn't be so easily thwarted by tepid statements from the American Philosophical Association.) 

And the problem here is that Western Civ, unlike the other two, rests much more heavily on contentious empirical claims. I think that a lot of people on the left (and many also on the right in its other forms) think that they are justified in not crediting Western Civ (a) especially for just the same reason that they are justified in not giving creationism more representation in biology departments -- it rests upon refuted empirical claims, and the academy simply has no general duty to take seriously demonstrably false claims. All the more so, one supposes, when said claims tend to result in serious harm towards people, since there is at least some reason to think there is a historical link between advocating Western Civ positions and genocide and colonialism, and I see relatively little recognition of that or clear differentiation from such murderous projects among people online advocating for Western Civ type (a) or (b). I think it is for similar reasons, for instance, that one finds very few academics advocating Stalinism or Maoism, and one suspects that they would soon find themselves unwelcome in polite society if they did so. I think if members of this group want to be taken more seriously they would do well to first focus on the latter project of differentiating themselves from historical projects of mass murder, since it will be hard to gain a hearing while people see Leopold's Congo somewhere downstream of one's position.

(A friend of mine points out to me that Western Civ (b) type gets some representation in legal theory through this text being required reading, and that Divinity faculties may also contain plenty of people who would agree with Western Civ (b) type. Good points both, and even further complicates the notion that Conservatives do not have representation in the academy!)

So there we go. I think that ``Conservatives are under-represented or repressed in the academy'' is neither straight forwardly true nor false, and must rather be evaluated against a more fine grained under-standing of what conservatism amounts to. Once one does so one sees that the point at which it is most plausible that there is repression is the point at which one might think it is reasonable given general academic norms, but that is not to say I have no sympathy for the position that we ought to take more seriously certain strands of conservative thought.


  1. Reposted from Facebook:

    I think that your general sense of which types of conservatism are most welcomed/taken seriously is accurate. I would say, though, that I am suspicious that this kind of typology is the best way to measure bias against or underrepresentation of conservatives in the academy. This is because how to classify a given thinker, what attitudes are taken towards a particular tradition, etc. are going to be fairly subjective judgments that are difficult to inform with hard data.

    I think the best way to measure underrepresentation of conservatives in American universities is just to operationalize "conservative" as "Republican." Then we find that in virtually all fields, Republicans are underrepresented, often quite drastically. According to this recent post on Heterodox Academy (, the Democrat:Republican ratio in the five fields this study measured ranges from 4.5:1 in Economics to 33:1 in History.

    Obviously there are problems with this operationalization, and philosophical objections that one could make to this identification. But this operationalization is not obviously biased towards any philosophical or political perspective, and it has the benefit of actually being measurable. (I myself would consider a coherent conservative ideology to lead to rejection of many platforms of the Republican party. For example, I think that risk-aversion and concern about changing things too much should lead to a greater concern about climate change. But what we actually have in academia is an underrepresentation of people who disagree with me about the risks of climate change, not people who agree with me.)

    1. Also reposted from Facebook:

      Ah so I was taking `under-representation' to be a normative rather than a descriptive claim, and this for reasons related to the discussion of the sixth point. I do not know of anybody in the academy who thinks that ideas should be represented in fields proportional to their representation in the population. This is just not a view I take people to have, and I think for good reason. I thought rather that the Conservatives Are Under-Represented genre was arguing that due to the degree which certain ideas are taken seriously, or rather fail to be, we are missing out on something epistemically or morally valuable. To evaluate this latter sort of claim I think this kind of typology is necessary: what one is missing out on when one lacks the Risk Averse conservative representation is different from what one is missing out on when one lacks the Libertarian tradition -- the latter group are often proposing quite radical overhauls of given social institutions or modes of cultural life.

      -- thanks for letting me clarify, Nevin!

  2. Great post! So it seems as though risk-averse conservatism will come in two flavors. For the first flavor, the salient risk is that changing one's institutions will cause instability and risk the welfare of the populace. So for instance, Democrats are making this argument right now about repealing the ACA, which in a sense would bring us closer to a state of nature (although in this case I guess we do know what will happen).

    For the second flavor, the risk aversion concerns one's power. Changing the existing institutions may not affect welfare—in fact it may improve it—but it will change the relations of power in the community. If one is in an appropriately powerful position, one may not be interested in risking one's current position to improve the institutions that constitute that power. It strikes me that this latter conception is the one that best describe contemporary conservatism.

    Two notes on this:
    First, assuming that losing power may track reduced welfare outcomes for oneself and one's descendants, on some level these flavors of risk aversion may come to the same thing. There are no doubt interesting questions here about ideology and rational decision making worth exploring here.

    Second, it seems plausible that western civ. conservatism can be analyzed as a species of risk-as-power-averse conservatism. Insofar as this form of conservatism is a response to a perceived threat to western power (e.g. China stealing manufacturing, immigrants stealing jobs, etc.) then the attempts to consolidate institutions around white western, christian values is form of aversion to the risk of losing the power one has.

    1. Very interesting points all! I think that to some extent this might be covered under the fourth of my notes; while I do think that is a distinction worth tracking in some circumstances, when trying to distinguish among forms of conservatism that might be worth preserving it seems to be not the sort of thing I would pay attention to. I'd add further that unless tied to a kind of welfarist point (maybe something sort of Hobbesian) the risk-of-losing-one's-power seems to fail a kind of publicity of reasons test. It is hard to see why people not so empowered should care much about that risk; indeed in so far as there is zero sum competition, that may appear to them as an argument in favour of reform.

    2. It seems like there might be a defensible version of the power branch if one admits people like Nisbet, Oakeshott, or (if one classifies him as a conservative at all) Tocqueville. As I read them, all are worried about shifting power relations in the community. Specifically, they seem to fear that the state is taking on powers that were previously held by smaller associations. I take it they believe these changes do typically involve making people materially worse off, but the sense I get is that they would still oppose them in the welfare neutral case (provided a narrow reading of "welfare"). Tocqueville's warning about the emergence of a "regulated, mild and peaceful" despotism might be read this way.

      The power-oriented branch of risk-averse conservatism can be self-serving (if only meant to save the aristocracy, say), but it can also be principled. Nisbet, for instance, puts cooperatives and trade unions alongside churches as examples of vital intermediate associations. Neither, I assume, were institutions that kept him on top.

    3. That is a good point! So I guess it depends on what one sees the risk of upsetting the balance of power to be. I was, it is true, imagining something like a zero sum competition for who occupies positions in a fixed hierarchy. I think the reason I was thinking in these terms is: often when I see instances of something like this concern in modern politics it is neoliberals and reactionaries fighting each other, the former wanting there to be More Diversity In This Well Remunerated High Status Profession for Great Justice and reactionaries thinking that if black people are CEOs or are filmed pretending to be space revolutionaries then we're but a few steps away from Ragnarök. I.e. the situation I most often see this play out in is in fact pretty close to one of zero sum competition for a limited number of positions in a fixed hierarchy.

      But what I think this is highlighting is that one might see the issue not so much as redistribution within a hierarchy as changing the nature of the power structure itself. There are then worries that it will become more concentrated or come to rest in the hands of some systematically more cruel groups or generally be somehow maldistributed. I agree that this seems to be Tocqueville's worry, when he compares the modern state to an aristocratic system. I don't often see this kind of thing in modern political debate (and maybe one could reduce it to welfarist concern in any case) but I agree that it is a possible principled base for this kind of conservatism.

  3. I think that your inclusion of libertarians among conservatives is questionable for a number of reasons. Actually, in most western countries the political status quo, by which I mean simply the current state of things, is definitely not libertarian-friendly in various respects: there are plethora of economic regulations, wealth redistribution policies, limitations of contractual freedom, anti-drug laws, instances of legal paternalism in general and so on, that most libertarians consider unjustified. Libertarians argue that we should just get rid of those laws and policies, moving away from the status quo in a substantial way. Furthermore, the widespread belief that libertarianism legitimises all current socio-economic inequalities is false: for instance, Nozick claimed that a complete theory of property rights should have included some rectification principles to fix past injustices; the members of ethnical minorities which have been historically victims of unjust expropriation would be among the beneficiaries of such a rectification. Another neglected non-conservative tendency of libertarians is to defend policy reforms that they consider to be less than ideal but more feasible in the short run than the minimal state: an instructive example is offered by Matt Zwolinski’s arguments in favour of basic income (see and Finally, libertarians seem more inclined to consider alternative institutional forms than leftists: think to anarcho-capitalists, who propose to replace the state with an utterly alternative social order, namely a protection agencies free market. Apart from this extreme option, it is worth stressing that in the last decade the most influential studies on the flaws of democracy and the possible remedies for them have been produced by broadly libertarian thinkers like Bryan Caplan, Ilya Somin or Jason Brennan. Overall, libertarians seem far from favouring the status quo. With this in mind, one cannot take the diffusion of or the respect for libertarianism as falsifying the claim that conservatives are under-represented in academia. [to be continued]

  4. That said, the point of your post is not entirely clear to me: in particular, it is not clear to me whether you are concerned with statistical under-representation or with the intellectual reputation of conservative thinkers. If we talk about mere statistical under-representation, what matters is whether the percentage of conservatives in academia is substantially lower than in the total population. With this in mind, qualitative estimations about the presence or the intellectual respect for conservatism is academia seem to me to miss the point: only quantitative studies can be helpful here. Actually, quantitative studies seem to provide robust evidence that academics lean disproportionately to the left, at least in the United States: see, for instance, and (the first study considers the category of republicans, which provides only an imperfect indicator of conservative views, whereas the second one invokes more fine-grained criteria). Whether leftist-liberal academics tend to discriminate against their conservative colleagues is another matter and I agree that in the blogosphere many discussions on this topic are focused only on particular cases or on anecdotal evidence; that said, the thesis that leftist-liberal academics have such a tendency is actually supported by indirect evidence ( and for some fields even by direct evidence ( Things are different again if one is concerned with the intellectual reputation of conservative thinkers in academia: in particular, I share your impression that prominent defenders of risk-averse conservatism like Burke, Oakeshott or Scruton are studied and considered less than they deserve, although it would be interesting to have more reliable data (for instance data about the frequency in which they are included in the programmes of political philosophy modules).

    1. Thanks for the reply Matteo Benocci; I do agree that's a point of unclarity with regard to the post, that's why in the exchange with Nevin above I tried to make it clear that I did not have in mind here a statistical representativeness claim but rather a kind of normative notion of ``represented to the proper degree for the good functioning of the academy'' or something of the sort.

      I also agree that there is something a bit odd about classifying Libertarians with Conservatives for that reason -- so I didn't mean to be entirely taking it back when I noted that after all they are somewhat odd ones out here. But I think a couple of things none the less persuade me. First, a fairly principled point and one mentioned in the post that is consistent with you say here, libertarianism is the philosophy that makes it hardest to transition out of the status quo -- it sets up a high bar for what counts as justifiable coercion (and a relatively low bar on what counts as coercion) and then bans all non-justifiable coercion, or at least such is the tendency. I think this then introduces a kind of conservativism even though -- as you well note -- a lot of libertarians would actually like the world to look very different from how it now does.

      Second, and I admit this is a bit less coherent, reflective more of my anecdotal experience, and kind of depends what one thinks about the Lib Dems to see whether it travels across the Atlantic, the libertarians I know tend to vote right in America, their political champions tend to run from within the Republican party or at least get their starts there, and in general they form part of the Republican coalition. Now the thing is it's not really clear why that is relevant given that I am not talking about statistical representation of right wingers in the academy -- but I think it probably swayed my decision to count them here.

      I would also very much like to get some data on this! I have done a bit before in my life on sociology of the academy, it's something I am very interested in. It would be a much better basis on which to found my claims than my anecdotal experience and broad sense of things! Thanks again for contributing :)

    2. Thanks for your clarifications. As regards the alleged conservative aspect of libertarianism, I see what you mean: libertarians, at least those who assume a rights-based underlying moral theory, put strong constraints on what one can do to other people, and this can be seen as an obstacle to certain kinds of socio-political change. What makes this criterion sound odd to me, is that it makes sense only from a leftist-liberal standpoint, whereas a useful classification should be trans-theoretical. From a leftist-liberal standpoint, libertarianism can seem conservative because it posits moral constraints which make it harder to move to certain conditions that leftist-liberals consider to be desirable. Fine, but by the same token a libertarian might say that egalitarian liberalism is conservative because it supports policies which make it harder to protect individual freedom and private property (I’m writing this with a tongue in cheek, but I hope that my point is clear). Another thing to keep in mind is that some libertarians would disagree even about the desirability of certain conditions. It is not a coincidence that often libertarian philosophers also object to the axiological assumptions underlying other political theories: one can think of Nozick’s notorious objections to hedonistic utilitarianism or, more recently, of Michael Huemer’s arguments against egalitarianism (intended as the view that welfare equality has an intrinsic value).
      As regards the flirting of libertarians with republicans, again, I see your point. To be sure, that is made possible by a de facto convergence between libertarians and conservatives on some specific policies, especially related to issues like market, taxation and wealth redistribution. However, this kind of political flirting can be very volatile and situational, so I doubt that in this case it reveals a conservative kernel within libertarianism. An instructive case is offered by the Italian Partito Radicale (literally “Radical Party”), which used to bring together various advocates of strong individual freedom and was joined by minimal state advocates, anarcho-capitalists and communitarian anarchists. Some Italian politicians have been, at different stages of their career, members of Partito Radicale and, in other moments, members of classical liberal parties and of socialist parties, without changing their political views in any substantial way. Nothing surprising to me: the political agenda in complex and the left-right dimension carves it in a very rough and simplistic way; politicians with vastly different backgrounds can easily find something in common. As regards the USA, one must also consider that, given the entangled package deal of bi-party system and first-past-the-post voting system for legislative elections, representatives of minoritarian views like libertarianism have stronger incentives either to join major parties or to form coalitions with them, even at the cost of some compromise. In countries with a proportional electoral system, like Italy from 1948 to 1993, things go differently because minor parties can get enough seats even without forming pre-electoral coalitions.

    3. Thanks for the reply! On the second point I think I just agree: the coalitions that form in a two party system are especially bizarre, and political coalitions are odd beasts in any case. Good point, thanks for noting this here!

      But on the first point I guess I am still inclined to hold fast. Two reasons. Reason one, I think that the plausible about-as-theoretically-neutral-as-could-be-hoped-for kernel in `conservativism' is just this: a tendency to conserve stuff, to resist various social changes. How that gets worked out and why it should be done and when it should be relaxed -- these are matters for conservative philosophers or movements to hash out and debate among themselves. But that's the reasonably atheoretical core. And I think, then, the fact that libertarianism makes it hard to move away from the status quo places it within a tradition with that as core -- even though, as we both agree, it has this odd feature that none the less its proponents strongly agree that a state of affairs quite different from any that does exist or has existed would be far preferable to that which we've seen.

      Reason two, I don't think this is especially tied to difficulty of achieving left wing goals. Suppose, after all, that one is a kind of Throne and Altar monarchist who longs for the ancien regime. Libertarian strictures on coercion (and accounts of what constitutes coercion) are going to make it just as difficult for you to get from where (say) Finland is now to where you want it to be as they would make it to get from where Finland is now to where a Marxist Leninist would want it to be. The sense in which libertarians are conservative isn't just conservative relative to left wing politics, I do not think.

    4. Thanks again for you clarifications. I don't really get the example of the ancien régime monarchy. Actually libertarianism easily justifies any rebellion against oppressive regime, be it an instance of ancient régime monarchy or a modern dictatorship, since those regimes gravely violate individual rights, and rights are enforcable. The same applies to the expropriations and the unjustices that occur in such regimes, be them the over-taxation of farmers by nobles or the soviet collectivization of land. In particular, a reparatory re-allocation of properties during the post-rebellion transition would be justified according to the rectification principles defended by Nozick. This justification of rebellion obtains a fortiori for those anarcho-capitalists who deny that the state has any special authority, and claim that people have the right to disregard every unjust law: the recent book "The Problem of Political Authority" by Michael Huemer is a good example.

      Odd as it might sound, classical liberals were even more flexible in certain respects. Since they had less strict moral constraints, some of them were even willing to justify authoritarian regimes as temporary solutions to critical socio-political scenarios. A telling case is offered by Von Mises's (in)famous judgment on Italian Fascism, that (in 1927) he defended at least as "an emergency makeshift" ( Recently, a neo-classical liberal like Jason Brennan has also granted that a dictatorship might be permissible in a catastrophe-like scenario where no other social order is feasible. By the way, I guess that this kind of position would be rejected by most contemporary libertarians.

    5. Ah the point of the ancien régime monarchy example was not that a libertarian could not justifiably rebel against it. Rather, the point was: libertarian strictures make it just as hard to move from where we are now (in Britain or America) to an ancien régime monarchy as they make it to move from where we are now to a Marxist-Leninist state. So I don't think libertarianism looks conservative only relative to a desire to move the country in a leftwing direction -- libertarianism is conservative in the core sense, and so also makes it difficult to move the country in a reactionary direction. It is conservative in the sense that it makes changes more difficult.

      It's an interesting aside you bring up there, re. libertarian intellectuals and rebellion. On the one hand, libertarian thinkers do have a history of supporting dictatorships. You mention Von Mises on fascism, another instance might be the Chicago Boys working with Pinochet. But I also agree that under some kinds of dictatorships one presumes there is a libertarian right to rebel; I am guessing, and in my experience this is borne out, that most libertarians would agree that the French and American revolutions were justified even if they do not agree with all aspects of the governments that followed -- and I think they should agree, though have somewhat mixed success in actually garnering agreement (for reasons that I guess relate to broader demographic conflicts in America), that most slave revolts as in Haiti or Jamaica or Nat Turner's rebellion were justified from a libertarian point of view too. Quite why libertarian intellectuals have such a mixed record on resistance to tyranny may well speak to an interesting aspect of it as an intellectual tradition -- I think, for instance, that one learns a great deal about certain Marxist intellectuals when one hears them try to justify why it was that revolution against the Tsar and Batista was quite justified but the soviet peasantry were not justified in resisting forced collectivisation and mass murder by the USSR.

    6. OK, now I get your point about the ancien régime example, but honestly I find it a little puzzling... Every political theory allows exclusively (at least in normal conditions) the transition to the state advocated by the theory itself, this is just a truism. Likewise, egalitarian liberalism makes hard the transition to a minimal state, to an absolute monarchy or to a communist dictatorship.

      The topic "Libertarians and dictatorship" would deserve a discussion of its own. That said, I think that the case of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys is different from Von Mises's judgment on Fascism: as far as I know, Friedman has never justified Pinochet's dictatorship. Sure, he was the inspirator of the economic policies implemented in Chile by his former students, but that tells nothing about his political views about the regime. One can advise or influence a dictatorship to try to make it less bad than it would be otherwise. From a libertarian standpoint, a dictatorship with a free market economy is still less bad than a dictatorship with a centrally planned economy, so one has good moral reasons to promote that state of affairs. Actually, Friedman later said that in Chile the best outcome of those policies had been the transition to a free society (whether this is true or not is another matter, but as a statement it is telling about his position). It is very sad that he got the reputation of "economic consultant of Picochet", which is maybe close to the truth but potentially misleading.

    7. I just want to apologise to you! I became distracted and then the holidays happened and I dropped this fascinating conversation! I promise I will return to it after this month; please do not feel discouraged from contributing, I feel very bad for neglecting such thoughtful engagement with my blog!


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