Russia vs. Aristotle

One of the most important debates about our libertarian future is on the cultural conditions for liberty. Roderick Long's lecture Culture and Liberty (which you can find on the Mises Inst. media page, along with other excellent work) is a better discussion of the topic than I can give, but briefly, one end of the spectrum has people like Ayn Rand, who think we need to agree on a very specific set of cultural conditions, and the other has cats like Walter Block who think we need to agree on very little in cultural matters as long as we don't aggress against each other. As you might expect, Long is sort of in the middle, and he and others (like Geoffrey Plauche) have been arguing for an Aristotelian Liberalism pretty well lately.

Recent news from Russia about widespread anti-gay attitudes, including among the government, made me think of this today.

Basically, Tsarist Russia sucked, and the Communist Russia sucked about as much as is possible, and post-Communist Russia is no great shakes either. I'm not quite the Russian history expert, but it seems like the combined influences of the Orthodox Church and the Tsarist system both discouraged the cultural conditions for liberty, and the Communists persecuted same more vigorously than anyone even thought possible before them. Lifelong Chekist Vladimir Putin has no interest in changing course.

So it's little surprise to read this party of Cathy Young's article:

Sympathy for the protesters seemed scarce. A 19-year-old Russian college student I met on an Internet forum wrote to me that she was nonplussed by Western condemnation of police actions: "The gay parades are forbidden in Russia and to make them without a permission sounds strange and stupid. No wonder that [the police] have to arrest the members." This logic may tell us more about attitudes toward civil liberties than attitudes toward gays in Putin's Russia; but the young woman's specific comments about gays were telling as well. "You see, the gay prides in Russia don't work not because of government but because of people," she wrote. "The majority of citizens truly despise gays. ... I have no idea what will happen if parades become a usual thing in Russia. In that situation gays will be all dead because normal people will just kill them." Ironically, she then added that she couldn't understand what the gays wanted anyway: after all, Russia now has "lots of gay clubs where they can be safe and enjoy their culture."

Such attitudes are fairly typical. ...

Russian culture has produced a lot of deep, moving literature, beautiful architecture, and according to one of my more widely-traveled friends a lot of classy, beautiful women. But the cultural conditions for liberty are in infancy.

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Get Yourself Free

While Russia has had a substantial cultural output over the years, it seems that day to day life for most Russians has always sucked. People are poor; the cities are dirty and crime-ridden; and my God the cold. I'm actually sort of amazed everyone hasn't just moved out of the country by now, although many Russians have taken that route. Call me pessimistic if you will, but I think emigration is the only option for Russians who want to be free.

Thanks for the plug,

Thanks for the plug, Randall.

well, to be fair breaking

well, to be fair breaking the law when you are up against vastly superior forces isn't too smart a thing to do.
even if they shouldn't be arrested for breaking the law, they should be punished in some way or form for being stupid.
i mean, it is one thing to attempt to overthrow a evil government. it is quite another thing to do things by half. if you can't overthrow it, then why meaninglessly oppose it?

Hey, it worked for Gandhi,

Hey, it worked for Gandhi, among others.

the british were no longer

the british were no longer inclinced to maintain such an empire, moreover they may be unable to afford it after WWII. they chose not to take extreme measures.

are you telling me that the russia govt lacks the guts and willpower to take the protestors out? that they will hesitate to use fatal measures?

The Russians

Back in 1990 or thereabouts I read a book called The Russians by Hedrick Smith. The book was written before the collapse of the USSR, but one of his themes was the same; Russians progressed from a totalitarian government under the Tsars to another one under the Communists, and practically accepted this authoritarianism into their nature. Based on what I read and remembered from that book (which has been a while, granted), I can't say that I'm surprised by similar current attitudes.

Oppressed People Suck

I hate to fall back on the old but terribly helpful idiom: Oppressed people suck. As little as a few decades of oppression can render a people quite incapable of running their own affairs in a civilized fashion or behaving like responsible individuals.

Of course, even that is just a restatement of Nietzsche. People without power define themselves by blowing out of all proportion the most trivial and irrelevant differences between themselves and the powerful. If people with power have money, it will turn out that money is the root of all evil. If people with power tolerate gays, then it will be unclean to tolerate gays. If people with power wear blue shoes, it will soon be discovered that it is immoral to wear blue shoes. The weak can always invent ways to make themselves the true moral superiors, and there is no end to the suffering they will endure or inflict to do so.

As far as I can tell, this

As far as I can tell, this didn't happen when the English oppressed Ireland, but it's still interesting.

According to FreeDomain

According to FreeDomain Radio's Stefan Molyneux, the first and foremost condition for freedom lies in how your parents taught you about obedience:

To many libertarians, the answer seems clear: children are turned into statists in public schools, where conformity and a deep, fearful "respect" for arbitrary authority is instilled day after day.

However, this cannot be the full extent of the story. Anyone who has spent any time around toddlers during the "terrible twos" knows that the willpower and independence of very young children is a near-superhuman force. It strains credibility to imagine that a single kindergarten teacher can restrain in 30 children the force that two parents find difficult to deal with in one child.

Thus it must be that many children are delivered into the public school system with their independence already undermined, and filled with unease in the face of arbitrary authority.

This lesson can only have come from their parents.

This does not mean that all parents are malevolents beasts out to destroy their children, but rather that the virtue of subjugating oneself to arbitrary authority -- which is another way of saying that arbitrary authority is always virtuous -- tends to reproduce itself generation by generation. Children who are subjugated to the mere authority of their parents -- without reference to objective values -- tend to grow up with a blind spot about the dangers of arbitrary power, and to assume its virtue in the absence of evidence.

This approach also helps explain another baffling aspect of libertarianism -- why people take political arguments so personally. How many times have you been involved in political or economic discussions with someone who gets irrationally offended by your arguments? Unless you are Condoleeza Rice, if you and I are discussing foreign policy, it has about as much relevance to our daily decisions as the existence of a gas planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. People rarely get offended about mathematics, but economics and politics seems to light an enormous fuse in far too many people.

I don't know

To many question arise in my mind after reading this. Which public school system is accepting 2 year olds? Hom much more "arbitrary" is being made to take a nap at school vs. at home? Do private day care and elementary schools do anything different from public?

I don't know about your

I don't know about your place, but here the school system accepts children around 3. In fact, the left's presidential candidate proposed to make school mandatory for all children of age 3 or older. As for the differences between private and public regarding "arbitrary authority", well, I don't think there are any nowadays ; however one should remember that the entirely private schooling system of last century and earlier was very different from today's schooling (nannies and tutors).

But the cultural conditions

But the cultural conditions for liberty are in infancynon-existent.


- Josh

I was recently in Russia

and I was told there was to be a gay pride parade in Red Square in a week and they were closing off an area (near Lenin's tomb) for it already -- for the whole week, not because they needed to but because they could, as I understood it. Unfortunately I didn't get more details - as to whether it was legal (though I would think it was if they were cordoning off an area for it) or on the general attitude to it. The very traditional young man who told me about it didn't seem too bothered by it. My guess is that the older generations might have a problem with gays or with expressive gay pride parades, but that the young probably don't, especially those who have been more exposed to the west, to other cultures, to global media, etc.