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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jamie Whyte preserves the ACT Party's conservatism - libertarians left estranged

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I consider it a fatal flaw in the direction of the ACT Party that they are pursuing a course of action which best depicts the folly of the National Party - the only difference being that their sanction for 'extortion-based' politics is contrived as support for 'small government' when in fact, at issue is:
1. The legitimacy of representative democracy and the extortion it invokes. They support this political game when they cease to make member or constituent views worthy of consideration, simply because they are not popular.
2. The role of government - and not simply the size of it. You cannot know the size of government until you have decided the role.

Now, such issues are seldom discussed by governments, parties or even political commentators. This does not mean that they don't have a view, but it means something; and it can only mean that they think it 'impractical' (or ideological) to consider such issues, or that they are conservatives all to happy to welcome their fate as participants in our contemporary 'representative democracy', which I describe as an extortion racket. They don't see it that way. They think they can redeem the system by appealing to the logic of their counterparts. Nevermind the fact that their opponents don't sanction or entertain reasons; they sanction 'authority' measured in terms of 'numbers' and 'credibility' measured in terms of 'number', 'organisational or hierarchical influence' or plausibly whether you have a 'PhD', but then many people have those these days, and every side has at least one.

So where is the evidence of the ACT Party taking this path. Well, it comes from a recent interview with their two candidates in the forthcoming leadership challenge - to be decided. I have made the argument that the debate or 'battle' has already decided 'epistemologically'; but in a few days, they will make a political decision. So let's examine what was said in an interview with the NZ Herald, and why its important.
“ACT leadership hopeful Jamie Whyte says he does not want to impose his own views about drug liberalisation on to the Act Party. Dr Whyte has been a vocal advocate in the past for the legalisation of drugs on the basis of personal liberty. But he told the Herald this week he was not going to "hijack" the party with a libertarian agenda and push drug legalisation on it”. 
My initial reaction was to say “What is it about politics that makes people sell-out their values”. Jamie Whyte says “He doesn’t want to impose”? Why not, that’s what the ACT Party, in fact all parties, are doing, imposing. That’s what political parties that support ‘popular franchises’ do, they impose their popular views on minorities. That’s how the system is structured. Why can’t Whyte impose his view of drugs on the party with an underlying respect for facts? Is that not what parties are supposed to be about? The ‘virtue’ of the ideas, and not their legacy of historic popularity. At the end of the day, it is the outlawing of drugs which is the 'imposing', and supposedly his role as a 'moral authority' was to defend people's right to smoke pot. For this reason it perhaps requires clarification as to what he means by 'not wanting to impose'. After all someone is deciding ACT Party policy, and if its not a rational perspective, there is no question of avoiding imposition. At issue is whether its justifiable imposition, or simply your garden-variety subjective extortion. But having argued that he supports the right of people to use drugs, he seems to be stepping away from that view because its unpopular with his constituency.
Personally, my love affair with Dr Jamie Whyte was always going to be brief. He has good ‘street cred’ on economics, but his philosophy was always going to disappoint. Sadly, he might not regard himself as a conservative, but he just identified himself as one. i.e. As an intellectual coward. Am I being too hard?
The notion that he is not going to 'hijack the party' might be posturing to placate conservatives. But I would in fact prefer it if he actually just honestly acknowledged that his views are different from most conservatives, and that he would offer explanations for why he holds the views he does, and I'd hope that he would attempt to reconcile his views with others inside the party, and that constituents or members had the opportunity to challenge party policy. That doesn't seem to be happening. This is after all a party 'with an agenda', its just that Whyte is 'disavowing' his hold on it. Maybe its John Boscawen's because he is the main party financier.
"You could not make that Act policy [drug legalisation] and carry the party with you so I am not going to try to make that Act's policy”. 
It bothers me less that he ditched the issue, but rather I’m concerned more by his reasons for doing so. That’s what political leaders do; they make moral cases on issues. i.e. The collect evidence, they make arguments, they listen to arguments. If you can’t make a case to defend the policy, then don’t participate in politics, or alternatively, you castigate the system for not allowing you to make a case to your constituents. There is unquestionably people in the party who are conservatives who belong in the National Party; with a  greater proclivity for "smaller government" than the National Party. But ACT should not be about small government; it should be about government taking its ‘proper role’, whether that role is 'big government' or 'small government', or plausibly 'big government' today but shrinking to 'small government', if at all government in the future.
He says he is not going to try to make [drug legalisation] ACT Party policy because it would estrange members of the party. Clearly Whyte has decided that he is not a libertarian. I don't think you can claw your way back from that position.
“Act held itself together around economics and the role of the state. Focusing on discrepancies within the party was silly”.  
Actually it didn't hold itself together so much as stand on a popularised policy, and fail to deal with less popular, more contentious issues. The reason why it did not deal with the 'drug legalisation' issue is because there had been no resolution. You had party leaders debating their own personal views without having reconciled their views, or made a case within the party to defend them. The problem with this approach is you sabotage debate if you say you won't hold certain values as policy. Calling these contentious issues' or party divisions "discrepancy" is ludicrous. What is the role of political organisations if not to debate the issues. If there is a discrepancy then please elucidate it. That is not an argument for anything. It is an intellectual surrender; a 'conservative' concession to the mindless journalists and voters outside of the party, and those inside the party who retain a conservative perspective, and who don't belong in a libertarian party. If indeed this was ever a libertarian party. Well, it seems therefore that ACT is NOT a libertarian party. It is official. ACT is a 'small government' franchise of the National Party, where people hope for smaller government, but they never achieve it because ideas are vaguely threatening. 
"We don't want to be like the bloody People's Front of Judea [Monty Python's Life of Brian] or whatever it is and splitting off. It's bad enough already”.
No, but we need to ask why people take off and form all-manner of ‘splinter organisations’, and consider the fact that that has already happened. The reason is that there is no attempt to reconcile values. And maybe Whyte is not the person to reconcile arguments if his view is, not to be radical, but to be a ‘National franchise for small government’. My vision of ACT was that it was a party for ideas, a party that honesty and openly entertains different ideas, and by having some respect for people, facts, evidence and arguments, it arrives at policy, using that evidence to defend those values outside the party. But instead, we seem to have adopted the mantra of a conservative party where 'the vaguely threatening, unintelligible, inextricable external world' decides policy because we don't have the confidence to project honesty, integrity or certainty. Perhaps the folly is to think that the debate is to be held in the media, i.e. That the party needs to convince the media that their ideas are good, and therein people like the media's interpretation of the party. This strikes me as a bad approach because the people who take that approach are not going to like the ACT Party's values. This might appear to be a strategy for maligning the ACT Party, but in fact it builds a fan base among those who actually respect ideas. Maybe this party needs to construct its 'constituency' or loyal following among internet friends, and the like, and to simply to circumvent the media, which is becoming an increasing irrelevancy to questions of politics, cited only for talking points rather than for controversial ideas. The contemporary parties are media instruments. I think its folly that drives people to sanction and support these 'media puppets'. That is what they are. The media decides whether a party lives or dies. ACT is dying because it allows the media, who deplores its values, to shape how the world perceives it. Rather than define itself another way, it has instead decided that its going to malign itself to remain 'relevant' to the media. 
"So I have no intention of hijacking the party and ramming a radical libertarian agenda down its throat."
An intellectual defence or argument is not hijacking; its respecting the facts of reality, and making a case for them. The implication is that Whyte’s vision is that he is entrenched in a sceptical view of the world, where, if he can’t reconcile his ideas with others, he just defers to the power of the extortionist, unwittingly giving sanction to the political system of extortion that keeps his ideas at bay. Libertarianism will remain ‘at bay’ as long as he and others ‘sceptically acquiesce’. Now, of course, we as libertarians can go off and form our own groups. Maybe that is indeed what we need to do. We need to stop looking outside; to stop looking to political parties to define our values, and to organise as a group of people without political identity, but with a shared set of coherent & correspondent values, which when we have the support of 5% of the electorate, we might seek representation on the political stage. This is I think a better way to go about this purpose. For this reason, I have established a website and Facebook page. At some point the political system has to be challenged, as constituents in Thailand are currently doing. Democrats in Thailand are standing up to government. Despite having the military on their side, they are not even able to articulate an intellectual argument for their views, and yet they are certain they are against the current system. It may well be that some leaders in fact have a 'purpose' but they don't want to 'impose' their views because people might question the vision. They are not ‘coercing’ they are defending their right not to be a victim. Whyte needs to similarly ask ‘who is imposing upon whom’? Possibly the vision needs to start with his supporters rather than with the general populace. 
Whyte adheres to the principle that "something is good for you if its benefits exceed its costs. Otherwise it is bad for you".
One would have to argue that this is not a profound philosophical statement; it is in fact, a part definition of ‘self-interest’ or ‘the good’, but it’s not even complete, since it neglects to offer an epistemological foundation for one’s interests. This was always the folly underwriting Whyte’s scepticism. This is why he is of the view that life is about leaving other people alone, but he can’t bring himself to defend the idea, because he hasn’t got a working model to go by. He therein renounces his mind, and becomes a conservative. 
“Drug users are simply people for whom the pleasure outweighs the risk of death, illness, addiction and all the rest ... the same is not true of everyone”.
No. Drug users are not thinking about the risks of death, or even getting caught for drug addiction. They are seeking a 'expedited' benefit rather than a long-term one, in the same fashion that a lonely guy might sleep with prostitutes, or a guy lacking self-esteem, might sleep with prostitutes. Its not because they have appraised the risks of prostitution, i.e. Getting aids, otherwise we would all be having sex with kids as they turn 18 years of age, free of the knowledge that they are 'legal targets'. The truth is that most people expect the pleasure or benefits to outweigh the risks; that what acting in one's self-interest entails. This is the type of analysis that makes me question Whyte on psychology. 
“People have just got to believe that it isn't just a vehicle for either careerist politicians or to be used by other parties for their goals - that it is more than that. It really is a party in its own right with strong principles”.
Well, perhaps sceptics need to ask themselves what caused them to become ‘careerist politicians’; how they came to be used by other parties. The reason is:
1. There is no private ‘market’ for skills in extortion and dishonesty that plague ‘practical politics’
2. These people were idealists when they joined the political movement; but in the process of being ‘changed’ by politics, they defined themselves and career direction. In so doing, their values were ‘cemented’. 

The ACT Party has historically defined its ‘strength’ as lying with the balance of power. That is a role vested in extortion. Did the party use that ‘power’ to misappropriate value? Perhaps not, but it apparently uses the same standards to appropriate power, as its unwilling to entertain ideas that it considers ‘unpopular’. The reason why drugs does not get on the table is not because its bad policy; its because no one is prepared to make the case to support it. Jamie Whyte has backtracked on this issue, as Brash and Banks previously did. 

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'Buying NZ Property – Download the free sample readings!

NZ presents some of the most alluring property in the Western World; particularly given the greater easy of residency, the low cost of property, and the liveability of the country. In addition, there is no capital gains tax, transfer taxes, VAT/GST or wealth taxes in NZ, so rest assured that NZ property is tax-effective! Learn more now!

New Zealand Property Report 2010 - Download the table of contents or buy this 180-page report at our online store for just $US19.95.


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