Friday, January 31, 2014

Cass Sunstein Warns about "Paranoid Libertarians"

He doesn't refute any of the concerns that libertarians have about, chiefly, the growth of the state. What he pretty much does is say trust the government that not much will get out of hand. That's it. He says this as the NSA monitors all our electronic communications, US drones fly in distant lands blowing up people, the New Jersey governor gets pissed of at someone and blocks traffic for days, local police are becoming more militarized, the TSA requires us to participate in its security theatre of the absurd at airport, Obamacare is about to destroy the health care system, the Federal Reserve prints and prints more money, and on and on and on, but,hey, nothing to be concerned about. You are paranoid if you are concerned, says the evil Sunstein.

Sunstein writes:
[P]aranoid libertarianism, [...] the general category is worth some investigation.

It can be found on the political right, in familiar objections to gun control, progressive taxation, environmental protection and health-care reform. It can also be found on the left, in familiar objections to religious displays at public institutions and to efforts to reduce the risk of terrorism. Whether on the right or the left, paranoid libertarianism (which should of course be distinguished from libertarianism as such) is marked by five defining characteristics.

The first is a wildly exaggerated sense of risks -- a belief that if government is engaging in certain action (such as surveillance or gun control), it will inevitably use its authority so as to jeopardize civil liberties and perhaps democracy itself. In practice, of course, the risk might be real. But paranoid libertarians are convinced of its reality whether or not they have good reason for their conviction.
The second characteristic is a presumption of bad faith on the part of government officials -- a belief that their motivations must be distrusted. If, for example, officials at a state university sponsor a Christian prayer at a graduation ceremony, the problem is that they don’t believe in religious liberty at all (and thus seek to eliminate it). If officials are seeking to impose new restrictions on those who seek to purchase guns, the “real” reason is that they seek to ban gun ownership (and thus to disarm the citizenry).

The third characteristic is a sense of past, present or future victimization. Paranoid libertarians tend to believe that as individuals or as members of specified groups, they are being targeted by the government, or will be targeted imminently, or will be targeted as soon as officials have the opportunity to target them. Any evidence of victimization, however speculative or remote, is taken as vindication, and is sometimes even welcome. (Of course, some people, such as Snowden, are being targeted, because they appear to have committed crimes.)

The fourth characteristic is an indifference to trade-offs -- a belief that liberty, as paranoid libertarians understand it, is the overriding if not the only value, and that it is unreasonable and weak to see relevant considerations on both sides. Wilentz emphasizes what he regards as the national-security benefits of some forms of surveillance; paranoid libertarians tend to see such arguments as a sham. Similarly, paranoid libertarians tend to dismiss the benefits of other measures that they despise, including gun control and environmental regulation.

The fifth and final characteristic is passionate enthusiasm for slippery-slope arguments. The fear is that if government is allowed to take an apparently modest step today, it will take far less modest steps tomorrow, and on the next day, freedom itself will be in terrible trouble. Modest and apparently reasonable steps must be resisted as if they were the incarnation of tyranny itself.

In some times and places, the threats are real, and paranoid libertarians turn out to be right. As Joseph Heller wrote in “Catch-22,” “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Societies can benefit a lot from paranoid libertarians. Even if their apocalyptic warnings are wildly overstated, they might draw attention to genuine risks, or at least improve public discussion. But as a general rule, paranoia isn’t a good foundation for public policy, even if it operates in freedom’s name.

Got that? A concern for freedom is paranoia. This guy is a piece of work.

(ht Ash Navabi)


  1. "The fourth characteristic is an indifference to trade-offs -- a belief that liberty, as paranoid libertarians understand it, is the overriding if not the only value, and that it is unreasonable and weak to see relevant considerations on both sides."

    So what's the other "side" of liberty? Control? So (J)Dr. Evil is arguing for control, and he says it's important to see the relevant considerations for those wanting control over others.

    lol....good to know...what a great thinker he is.

  2. I would call this guys argument one giant case of paranoia. Why is he afraid of a few "paranoid" libertarians that he felt he needed to take them to task? I always am amazed how statists always use the "angel argument" to support the State's encroachment on its citizens liberties. He wants us to believe that because the intentions are good, and the people that are running the program today are good, no evil can come from this, ever. That is utterly laughable and not at all supported by our own history. Thank God there are people that question these paranoid Statists that can't fathom living in a society where their government is not looking after their every need and protecting them from all the imaginary foe's they've invented. You have to be extremely paranoid to buy into what the State is doing today to personal liberty.

  3. I think Sustein is totally frightening.
    Here he's taking a "limited hangout" position here, acknowledging honest concerns, based on repeated history, about which he says "in some times and places, the threats are real". The fact that he has openly promoted "infiltration" into groups, and "nudging" the masses into certain behaviors,is chilling enough.

    1. Yes! First he openly declares war on "them" and targets "them." Then he calls them paranoid for their thinking he's out to get them.

  4. We have nothing to worry about. Ignore history, human nature and the mountain of corpses piled up by The State last century. Just hold your nose and look away. The State is a benevolent God.

  5. "In practice, of course, the risk might be real. But paranoid libertarians are convinced of its reality whether or not they have good reason for their conviction."

    Because the regime is always forthright about their intentions, right Mr. Sunstien? I recall a certain "good intentioned" lawmaker recently- "in good faith"- saying, "You have to pass the bill to see what's in it."

    " a general rule, paranoia isn’t a good foundation for public policy..."

    Libertarians are not interested in directing "public policy"- let alone providing its foundation. Rather, their desire lies in eliminating it!

  6. Lets, see. The NSA tracks our every communication. DHS our every move. The police have become totally militarized. A alphabet of agency's pour over every financial transactions. They are developing bee sized drones to peek in our windows. They feel off our private parts at airports and soon will do the same at major events. BUT NO, NO ITS THE LIBERTARIANS WHO ARE PARANOID!!!!!!

  7. All press is good press I suppose. Does anyone doubt that Ron Paul is the fountainhead for all the attention libertarians are getting these days?

  8. Guess I'm not very well-read. I had to go to wikipedia to see who Sunstein really was (even though his name was familiar to me). Egads! Look at what wikipedia quotes him as saying...........I'm almost paranoid enough to think anonymous libertarians are the ones who are editing his wikipedia entry! Does that make me bad?

    Sunstein has argued, “We should celebrate tax day.”[28] Sunstein argues that since government (in the form of police, fire departments, insured banks, and courts) protects and preserves property and liberty, individuals should happily finance it with their tax dollars:

    In what sense is the money in our pockets and bank accounts fully ‘ours’? Did we earn it by our own autonomous efforts? Could we have inherited it without the assistance of probate courts? Do we save it without the support of bank regulators? Could we spend it if there were no public officials to coordinate the efforts and pool the resources of the community in which we live? Without taxes, there would be no liberty. Without taxes there would be no property. Without taxes, few of us would have any assets worth defending. [It is] a dim fiction that some people enjoy and exercise their rights without placing any burden whatsoever on the public… There is no liberty without dependency.[28]

    Sunstein goes on to say:

    If government could not intervene effectively, none of the individual rights to which Americans have become accustomed could be reliably protected. [...] This is why the overused distinction between "negative" and "positive" rights makes little sense. Rights to private property, freedom of speech, immunity from police abuse, contractual liberty and free exercise of religion – just as much as rights to Social Security, Medicare and food stamps – are taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being.

  9. If a stranger in a van attempts to entice a child into his van with promises of candy, is the child “paranoid” to refuse?

  10. Well ladies and gentlemen, looks like we are the "others" this time around.

  11. Interesting to watch the reactions of these silly old men as the realization that they have become totally irrelevant and of no consequence in the new world that is unfolding.

    Their words reflect the creeping dread that they will be held accountable for their misdeeds. They squirm and lash out like insects burnt under the magnifying glass of public condemnation.

    They see their doom approaching...

  12. I've long found the "paranoid" argument to be nothing more than projection.

    What happens when libertarians argue for no or less government? The statists start going on about how without fear of punishment by the state our neighbors will take everything we own. Without government corporations will kill us with faulty products. Without government foreign invaders will conquer us... on and on with all these horrible things they fear.

    The state itself is fearful. Fearful the middle class will over throw it. Fearful the poor will become an angry mob. Fearful of insignificantly puny countries on the other side of the planet. It's so fearful that it's worried a phone call between a 14 year old and his mother to tell her he'll be late for dinner has to be captured and indexed in a giant data center just in case. The state and those who run it are very fearful.

    The statists always operate out of fear but they aren't fearful of their god, the state. Every good idea they have is backed up with people fearing being arrested, jailed, beaten, murdered, etc. So when libertarians distrust the state, the statists project their fear, their paranoia on to libertarians. They cannot fathom that libertarians operate from logic, evidence, past history, statistics, etc. All statists know is fear so they assume that libertarians are "paranoid".

    "If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed."-Albert Einstein

  13. I tried. For years and years I tried to see and believe in government's "good intentions" but over some time it's become obvious to me that is nothing more than a giant parasite and it's sucking the life out of the host. Government is inherently destructive.
    I suppose I ought to be locked up.

  14. I rather be viewed as a paranoid, anarchist, libertarian than some be some delusional liberal who thinks everything is fine or some scumbag conservative who only ralls against the Obama for the sole reason that they want the hammers of the state in their hands again.