1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/16960/can-conservatives-be-libertarians/

Can Conservatives Be Libertarians?

May 16, 2011 by

Libertarianism is not intended to be, nor is it, a complete ethical system; it is rather an overarching constraint on any such system. FULL ARTICLE by Gerard N. Casey

{ 64 comments }

J. Murray May 16, 2011 at 9:39 am

Because the libertarian rejects the criminalization of violating a social norm doesn’t mean that libertarian rejects the social norm itself. When stripped of the political aspect, I’m hardly distinguishable from your average conservative (save the religion thing where I sit in the “I lack enough data so I won’t take a stand on it” camp). I find homosexuality bizarre, but I have no interest in disallowing others to find the one that makes them happy. I see marriage as an important social institution, but I don’t want the State regulating the who, what, where, when, why, and how of it. I’m ready and willing to use heavy violence to defend myself and those I care for, but I won’t force another to be party in the action, either via taxation or conscription. I don’t have any desire to smoke pot despite supporting its legalization.

It seems that the major dividing line between a modern American conservative (not the neo-con that will fight tooth and nail to keep every social program funded) and a libertarian is the acceptance that there are people out there different than you and the understanding that any attempts to change that behavior with legislative fiat will backfire.

Carl May 16, 2011 at 11:24 am

I have found with my conservative/religious parents, that they haven’t realized you cant let a government get a little bit pregnant. They get upset when the government intervenes in the market, but encourage it to use legislation to regulate societal structure. I think I am beginning to show them that politicians, either Repubs or Dems, are politicians through and through. Give them permission to control parts of our lives, and they will take it and run.

RFN May 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Well said. It really comes doen to the politicization of anything and everything. This is one area that I think progressives, should they ever let themselves drop the stereotype of anyone NOT being a progressive, and libertarians could find a lot of common ground. No, just because I find something personally offensive, that doesn’t mean there ought to be a law. Of course this is only germane to social views as the progressive, by virtue of being a statist, does indeed believe that there ought to be a law for just about everything else.

Joe M May 16, 2011 at 10:59 am

It’s funny how the definition of “bizarre” includes odd and queer.

Drigan May 16, 2011 at 11:29 am

Perhaps I have a misreading of the definition of conservatism or libertarianism, but I’ve always considered myself to be a conservative. I’m all for Minarchism (possibly Ancapism, but I haven’t been 100% convinced of that yet), I consider abortion to be murder (as it is scientifically the killing of a unique individual of the human species who has not aggressed against you), I believe a deterrent military capacity to be necessary (but believe it can be provided by private insurance once government defense is phased out), consider social programs to be a complete waste (but give my own money to support charity), I consider the environmental movement to be off its rocker (although, I think that stewardship of nature is a necessary thing, it just has to be reasonable), I think druggies are wasting their best resources.

Which of these contradicts Libertarianism? Does one of them contradict Conservatism?

I don’t think there’s any reason that a person can’t become a libertarian from the conservative direction. There’s nothing that really changed about my philosophy when I moved to a more libertarian perspective, but I’m probably more accepting of dissenting perspectives now.

J. Murray May 16, 2011 at 11:41 am

Conservatism and libertarianism are purely political philosophies. While you can believe all those things, what makes you a libertarian vs an Ameircan-style Conservative is that you don’t believe government should be formed to force your version of norms on others that reject them.

Lifestyle choices and political philosophies are two uniquely separate concepts. You can’t really be a libertarian from the conservative direction because, politically, conservatives and modern American liberals are essentially the same thing – organizations that believe in the use of coercive state power to enforce a standard set of behaviors and practices on everyone.

Politically, socialists, communism, Greens, Republicans, Democrats, all of them are the same thing. They all want to use government power to enforce their vision of the world. You can be a libertarian and still have the underlying belief structure as those political groups. You can be a communist and a libertarian if you engage in the voluntary communistic structure, such as varying utopia projects that have been tried or communes that exist. You can be an environmentalist and a libertarian by striving to reduce your living impact and convincing others to do the same (deefburger is a perfect example of one of the Mises regulars).

A conservative is coming from the same place as a liberal in that spectrum. Libertarianism is basically all about rejecting politics in our lives. The underlying lifestyle choices and what you think is right is a separate matter.

Drigan May 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Ahhh . . . that’s the distinction i was missing. That should have been obvious to me. Thanks for clearing it up, though. :)

J. Murray May 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I don’t think of it as obvious. We spend a lot of time in a society that funnels everything we do through a political lens, so not seeing it is understandable.

P. Pine May 16, 2011 at 11:51 am

I consider myself a conservative/libertarian. I think the author(and others) is making a mistake when using the dictionary description of conservatism instead of a political definition. Politically speaking, an American conservative isn’t necessarily reluctant to change. What they are in favor of conserving is the founding principles of this country. Straying away from the original intent of our country’s mission statement is what conservatives are against.
I think that our constitution is a very libertarian document and true “conservatives” wish to uphold it.

Zorg May 16, 2011 at 9:07 pm

“Politically speaking, an American conservative isn’t necessarily reluctant to change. What they are in favor of conserving is the founding principles of this country. Straying away from the original intent of our country’s mission statement is what conservatives are against.”

There are none I know of committed to “conserving the founding principles,” except rhetorically. I find that that kind of political conservatism doesn’t really exist. Can you name any self-described conservative politicians who are *actually* (that is, in real life) NOT reluctant to change the status quo back to “the founding principles”? Who are these people and where do they hide? The only person who even comes close to fitting the description is Ron Paul, and he seems to be universally despised by so-called “conservatives.” If you listen to Limbaugh, his primary concern always seems to be winning elections. That seems to be what most care about – winning an election. This is why their “commitment” to “founding principles” is entirely rhetorical in nature and without any substance.

Rob May 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm

It seems to me that you have a substantial disconnect between libertarianism and conservatism because conservatism is, in many respects, not so much a political philosophy as a class of political philosophies. Mr. Casey himself provides evidence of almost diametrically opposed positions arising from Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, two of the most prominent names in American conservatism. In his “Why I am not a Conservative,” F.A. Hayek actually exempts Edmund Burke, the presumed “father of conservatism” from his critique on the grounds that Burke held many classically liberal views.

Indeed, Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” is all about liberty, about how it is attained and how it is preserved. It was not the French desire for liberty that Burke opposed, it was their way of going about it. It cannot be achieved by a commitment to ideology. Liberty is achieved by a commitment to social institutions which enable it to flourish. High sounding documents like, “The Rights of Man” do nothing to make those rights effective. Order is preserved by existing social institutions and liberty can only arise within existing order because, if order breaks down, only brute force can restore it.

What distinguishes libertarianism from conservatism is the libertarian’s commitment to the rights of the individual without regard to the social order. A Burkean conservative, however, would argue that the rights themselves are a product of, and specific to, that social order. What is common to conservatism generally is it’s focus on the social order, rather than the individual, as the natural condition of the human race. But not all varieties of conservatism will stress individual liberty to the degree of a Burke or a Nisbet and will instead focus, like Kirk, on virtue. Some will even emphasize a particular religion, like “Catholic conservatism” while others, like Coleridge, will stress pastoralism and denounce urbanization and market economics altogether.

Consequently, it seems to me, that discussions of libertarianism vs. conservatism tend to confuse the level of discourse by trying to equate a political theory (libertarianism) with a class of political theories (conservatism). I believe that Mr. Casey has fallen into that trap.

American conservatism has been heavily informed by the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers but has also become infused with a strong degree of nationalism deriving from the Cold War. I do not believe that, despite the neo-cons, such a heady sentiment is sustainable over the longer term. Thus I suspect that the alliance between libertarianism and an authentic American conservatism will be the rule rather than the exception for quite a long time to come.

Dagnytg May 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Rob,

I agree with most of your assessment. I would only take issue with this statement:

…trying to equate a political theory (libertarianism) with a class of political theories (conservatism).

Though I may get the wrath of some academics, I believe Libertarianism is not really a political theory but an ethical theory applied to individualism.

J. Murray refers to this in a comment above when he says Libertarianism is about “rejecting politics”. I would add to this and say Libertarianism is apolitical.

Libertarianism is a statement of personal ethics and nothing more. It’s a moral code much like religion (minus the deity part) and instead of Ten Commandments, Libertarianism has only one-property rights through non-aggression.

I admit that one can derive economic and social theories from this ethical value, but it still stands that the essence of libertarianism is about personal (individualist) conduct (ethics).

This why Libertarianism has such difficulty in a political discussion…it’s not about politics. Politics is about power over others and Libertarianism is about self-empowerment.

Zorg May 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Definitions can get confusing, but I would say that: A political theory is an applied ethical theory. All actual political philosophies (as opposed to just “politics”) claim to be applying an ethic – whether individualist or collectivist.

Libertarianism is not really a moral code, however, as it does not tell you what you ought to do but what you ought not to do to others (irrespective of their different moralities) in society. It is concerned with rights, which are negative, not with the positive obligations of morality as such. It is a socio-political ethic/rule which can be applied universally and equally to all individual members of society without contradiction.

I think this holds true as long as one distinguishes between morality and ethics. Presumably, we use these two words because they mean different things.

Dagnytg May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Zorg,

Though I probably could have chosen my words more carefully…I take issue with the following statement:

Libertarianism is not really a moral code, however, as it does not tell you what you ought to do but what you ought not to do to others…

I beg to differ because the Ten Commandments (which I assume you see as a moral code) contain many items that one “ought not to do to others” starting with “thou shall not…” (and most those with deal with property).

I suppose I could take it a step further and say isn’t non-aggression a moral value? Most libertarians, I think, would agree that to aggress against someone (i.e. property) is immoral. Or more explicitly I could say… thou shall respect others property or thou shall not aggress against another’s property. Henceforth, a moral code.

Though I understand the difference people try to make between ethics and morality, many times it is nothing more than nuance that separates the two (and more often than not an issue of context).

That being said, even though Libertarian values are ethical or moral (depending on the context) they are not political. In that, they are not political values.

This is why you find the contradiction of those who are pro-freedom but anti-libertarian and why libertarians seem to take positions that are anti-freedom. One is espousing a political value, the latter an ethical one.

The difference may seem subtle, but I believe this is the reason why libertarianism has difficulty being understood and accepted.

Zorg May 17, 2011 at 6:01 pm

It’s just that “morality” and “moral code” are meant to describe a positive set of rules by which one lives – rules that cover all areas of life. The NAP is more properly described as an ethic. NAP is about the negative way of avoiding evil (to others), not doing good or seeking the good. Of course these things overlap, but that’s why we use specific words in specific contexts.

I know what you mean about the word “political.” A free society would obliterate what we call politics because no one would be allowed to initiate force, and yet anarchism *is* technically a political philosophy. I suppose it would be a non-political polity. : )

Hopefully, when we use all these words it’s for the sake of making fine distinctions like we are making here and not for the purpose of obfuscation like most of the rest of the world does. Obviously, I agree with you on your points, but I do think the moral/ethical distinction is important. To me, libertarianism would be a rather vacant “morality.” It would have no substance except in the legal sense of relating to others without violating their rights. So I would not describe it that way, as it is confusing what we commonly call morality.

Dagnytg May 21, 2011 at 3:09 am

Zorg,

I had to shelve my reply to you for a time……you require of me a deeper introspection than most…probably because you’re a fellow anarcho-libertarian. (At least you seem to be based on your numerous replies to Rob.)

To be honest, I agree with many of the distinctions you’ve been making. And if you must know the truth, the original draft of my previous reply read -“You know you’re right. Moral code is a poor choice of words…”

Let me just say that my interpretation of libertarianism comes from a personal orientation, and the challenges to those beliefs are from the streets more than from books.

Through a lifetime of withstanding those challenges, I have come to see libertarianism as an ideal that can be achieved on a personal and social level but not a political level. Like people who embrace religion- a Christian or Buddhist who sees the world through the eyes of their prophet; knowing the world they envision may never come true in their lifetime but believe the potential exists inside every person…that’s how I see libertarianism.

(Thus I have a personal bias in attempting to derive a normative moral value or two from the ethical framework of libertarianism.)

I like your “vacant morality” (again, it inspired thinking) and if I drop my bias and agree with the observation that libertarianism is a “vacant morality”… it is only vacant in respect to morality from a descriptive sense – as in a personal distinction or preference.

But…from an objective or normative sense- nothing could be farther from the truth. We can derive a few, simple, basic normative moral values from libertarian ethics and those are the only (normative not descriptive) values we need.

Rob May 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

Dantyg writes:”Though I may get the wrath of some academics, I believe Libertarianism is not really a political theory but an ethical theory applied to individualism.”I suggest that you have just earned the wrath of Mr. Casey since his claim is the reverse of this. He is claiming that libertarianism is merely a constraint on all ethical theories. Thus libertarianism does not tell you that gambling is ethical or unethical. It merely tells you that you cannot impose your rule, by force, upon others.But my point is a very different one. I am arguing that conservative views hold the common belief that order is necessary for societies to function at all and that traditional order is preferable to order based upon an ideology because an ideologically-based order can only rule by brute force. But within that larger conservative view there are many differences, and some conservatives, such as Burke, emphasize liberty more than others. Consequently, it is misleading to compare all conservative views with libertarianism because different conservative views have different ends in mind. Thus some conservative viewpoints are quite compatible with libertarianism while others are not. Conservatism must be regarded as a class of political philosophies rather than as a unified political theory on the same level as libertarianism.

I seem to have gotten this in the wrong spot. My apologies. I’m new to this blog.

Dagnytg May 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Rob,

I’m not so sure he would disagree with me though he would no doubt question my choice of words. I’m only saying libertarianism is a “constraint” (within the very narrow parameters of property rights) on individualism. Individuals are not equal in their ethical values/ethical theories, henceforth a constraint on those values.

I agree with your comment and the assessment of conservatism as class of political philosophies. Where I am veering form the consensus is my questioning if libertarianism is actually suited as political theory.

Because it is unified as you say (yet I would describe it as simple and self-evident), it runs into grave problems when compared to other political theories. The constraint it puts on all ethical theories, from which much political theory is derived, makes it incompatible.

Libertarianism is a code of ethics and a political theory is not.

This may be a reason why Libertarianism is so misunderstood by many and maligned by others. It is why it is so difficult to convey in a political discussion.

PS>Rob…welcome to the mises.org blog. You make an excellent contributor.

Rob May 19, 2011 at 11:43 am

Dagnytg,

Your view that libertarianism is an ethical and not a political theory may be true, but it is also uninteresting. I am comforted that you eschew the use of force against me, but not everyone provides me with such reassurances.

“Government is about force.” Washington informed us. Because humans are willing to use force against each other, we are forced to respond in kind, and government is about the collective, and legitimate, use of force against recalcitrant individuals. Your ethical views may obviate the need for a government to restrain your acts. The rest of the world is another matter.

Zorg May 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm

You don’t seem to understand libertarianism.

Dagnytg May 21, 2011 at 6:15 am

Rob,

Because humans are willing to use force against each other, we are forced to respond in kind, and government is about the collective, and legitimate, use of force against recalcitrant individuals.

Your ethical views may obviate the need for a government to restrain your acts. The rest of the world is another matter.

The problem with the above quotes is that they presume a violent and uncooperative world where people are inherently bad.

First and foremost, what world are you talking about?

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita

I make no claim to the exactness of these statistics, but if I use them as a starting point it’s pretty clear that the world is not rife with wanton violence. (Let’s remember these statistics do not tell us the type of murders (i.e. premeditated vs. involuntary manslaughter etc.)

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_tot_cri_percap-crime-total-crimes-per-capita

If I take this broader statistic, which fails to describe non-violent vs. violent crimes and the types of crimes committed -many which wouldn’t be crimes in my anarcho-libertarian society (i.e. drugs, prostitution, etc.), we notice the top ten contains mostly first world countries (with hyper-socialist countries like New Zealand, Finland, and Denmark in the top five).

Oh by the way, the xenophobic American media propagated crime capital of the world…Mexico, falls in at #39… below Switzerland at #20 and the good ole highly institutionalized USA at #8.

I suppose you will try to convince me that without your beloved institutions these statistics would be higher. Yet, if you look at the bottom 15 countries, a number of them are considered third world which presupposes the institutions that you value as highly necessary for liberty to exist… are underdeveloped or non-existent.

These statistics beg the question-why is there so much crime in the most advanced countries of the world where institutions are well developed and less crime in underdeveloped countries?…hmmmm

Let me summarize by saying what I find most interesting is how well-intended, overly educated, and extremely well read people are so arrogant in their belief that the world is an evil place when all they have is an armchair view.

So, Rob, what world are you talking about?

Refugus May 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I would tend to agree with the article regarding the emphasis on order in conservative ideology. Moreover, as a conservative, I also believe that personal liberty or freedom is the fruit of order in a society.

matt May 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm

The success of conservatism (and modern liberalism) and the relative failure of libertarianism is in the totality. Conservatism being, as noted above, a blend of political theories and value hierarchies can create movement. More liberty will be gained (though more lost) through the two predominate parties than will be by Libertarians. I realize the article was focused on the distinction but the end result of that distinction is important.

Joe M May 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm

FA Hayek had this to say about conservatism:
“Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesireable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance.”
“Advocates of the Middle Way with no goal of their own, conservatives have been guided by the belief that the truth must lie somewhere between the extremes–with the result that they have shifted their position every time a more extreme movement appeared on either wing. The position which can be rightly described as conservative at any time depends, therefore, on the direction of existing tendencies.” All you have to see is the socialist direction the US has taken in the last decades to confirm this.
This is how Hayek stated what J. Murray has already explained above.
“It is for this reason that to the liberal neither moral nor religious ideals are proper objects of coercion, while both conservatives and socialists recognize no such limits. I sometimes feel that the most conspicuous attribute of liberalism that distinguishes it as much from conservatism as from socialism is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion.”
F.A Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty
please note that when Hayek speaks of liberalism and liberal he is referring to the “classical liberal” not the current liberal or progressive which are really nothing more than statists.

Zorg May 16, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Yes, this is why I find “conservatism” to be meaningless. How can you even define it? The bar keeps moving. Conservatism seems to mean taking the most extreme current socialist agenda as the standard and then backing off of it by 10-20% in any given year. They don’t even seem to want to rollback the feds to where they were in 2000. Such an attempt would be seen as “radical” and might “cost the election.” They are always defined precisely by the most recent “liberal” or “progressive” administration they oppose! It is an entirely worthless “ism” as it doesn’t even distinguish itself from what it claims to oppose.

Rob May 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Here Hayek is making the same error that Mr. Casey makes. He is treating conservatism as if it were a unified political ideology when, in fact, conservatism is a critique of such ideologies. Virtually all modern ideologies rest on the presumption of individualism. Even the “collectivist” ideologies claim to be liberating the individual. But conservatism rejects such individualism. The “state of nature” theorists were not arguing from any condition which had ever actually existed. Humans are not born into a state of nature. They are born into a society. Civil society does not arise from any contract. It IS the state of human nature. Our rights do not derive from some abstract concept of “nature.” Our rights derive from the social order itself.

Our rights are defined and protected within the context of the existing social order. When the traditional social order breaks down, force becomes the only option for restoring order. Then liberty is lost as our rights become redefined to fit the needs of the new Leviathan. The Soviet constitution guaranteed all kinds of libertarian rights, but the INSTITUTION of the Communist Party virtually negated those rights in any practical sense. And that is the focus of conservative thought. Traditional institutions need to be maintained so that traditional rights and liberties are maintained.

This does not mean that the social order cannot be directional. It does not mean that it cannot move toward even more liberty or toward even more security. Conservatism is not incompatible with libertarianism nor is it incompatible with the welfare state. How one proceeds in that regard is a judgement call. Teddy Roosevelt insisted that his progressivism was necessary for the preservation of American liberty due to the rise of the “malefactors of great wealth.” Wilson specifically cited Burke to justify his progressive reforms.

The free market critique of economics, however, suggests that both Wilson and TR were wrong. And the New Deal and WW II spawned a new classically liberal movement, the “Old Right” of Robert Taft and others. Rothbard, still caught up in the myth of autonomous individualism, took this free market critique to the logical conclusion of “anarcho-capitalism.” But since Rothbard got his anthropology wrong, he simply created a new ideology that is as unworkable as the ideologies of the left.

But a conservative critique of libertarianism does not lead to socialism. It leads to libertarian conservatism. Likewise a free market critique of conservatism does not lead to unfettered capitalism. It leads to a greater reliance on the self-regulating principles of the market place and less reliance on some of the traditional coercive constraints. But it does not lead to the wholesale destruction of traditional institutions.

Our individual rights are not derivable from nature. On the contrary, the inherent mutual dependency of primitive society places the emphasis much more heavily on individual obligations. Our individual rights are an achievement of our culture. We have also found them to be highly advantageous to increasing material wealth. But they are not the foundational principles of the social order or of human nature. Our ultimate guide is not liberty, but virtue. Moral obligation cannot be disregarded. Still less can it be shunned. Indeed, it is as essential to our nature as human rights.

Zorg May 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm

“Rothbard, still caught up in the myth of autonomous individualism…”

Whatever “autonomous individualism” is supposed to mean, I’m quite sure it has nothing to do with Rothbard.

Rob May 19, 2011 at 11:27 am

Zorg writes:

Whatever “autonomous individualism” is supposed to mean, I’m quite sure it has nothing to do with Rothbard.

That’s a huge topic that actually goes beyond just politics. I would suggest that in the political realm, the notion of the autonomous individual found its most eloquent expression in the contract theorists, primarily Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. They conceived of society as a collection of individuals. Individuals had “rights” in a state of nature, but they yielded those rights to government in exchange for security. But some rights were, as Jefferson put it, “unalienable.”

The conservative view rejects this. Individuals do not precede the social order. The social order IS the state of nature. We are born into complete dependency and remain in relationships of mutual dependency for our entire lives. Individual rights are defined by one’s relationship to this social order and do not arise from some outside source. The autonomous (i.e. self-sufficient) individual is a myth. It may be possible for a well-trained adult but is still not regarded as desirable. The hermit is seen as a bit odd.

Jefferson was actually on the radical fringe of the revolutionaries. Most of the founders regarded order as essential to liberty and recognized that the maintenance of order required force. They sought to harness and limit that force.

Rothbard started with the Austrian economic view of a self-regulating economy and generalized that to society as a whole arguing that all of society could be self-regulating through voluntary action. Government was not needed to maintain order and should be regarded as a criminal enterprise. Other Austrians such as Hayek and Von Mises have not been willing to go nearly that far.

Zorg May 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm

You claim that Rothbard was “caught up in the myth of autonomous individualism.” You seem unable to define this, however, and tie it to Rothbard. You seem to be just trumpeting collectivism, and like all collectivists seem unable to make a distinction – whether between the individual and a group of individuals, or between voluntary and coerced action. You seem to deny natural rights yet claim that “rights” come from the state – or whatever group uses enough violence to be able to control society and force people into some arbitrary “order.”

You’re not making any sense. You claim conservatives deny natural rights? I didn’t realize they were that sophisticated. : )

Rob May 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I don’t know why you find autonomous individualism to be so hard to understand. In the political sphere I have already explained it. It means that the individual is seen as having rights which are unrelated to any obligations or to his social relationships. His rights derive from nature not from any social context. Burke would probably argue that such abstract rights are meaningless. If you have no enforcement mechanisms, it doesn’t matter what you theorize about. But if, in the name of such rights, you propose to overthrow the existing social order then such theories become very dangerous.

It’s difficult to see how nature “endowed” us with rights which must be guaranteed by institutions created by society. It makes far more sense to say the society created those rights through the construction and development of those institutions.

The claim that it is illegitimate to use force against your neighbor is quite meaningless if your neighbor doesn’t agree, and you have no means of preventing him from using force or punishing him if he does. You want to hire private security guards? That’s what the peasants did when the Roman Empire broke up. Those security guards became known as knights and the peasants soon became serfs. Who polices the police? That is the difficult question, but Western civilization has answered it, not through abstract theorizing but by developing institutions which effectively limit power although, admittedly, in a very imperfect way.

Joe M May 18, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Rob,
I have not been fair to Hayek. I have only presented two short excerpts of his 14 page article on Why I Am Not A Conservative. Please read his complete comments in the Constitution of Liberty.
Your comment,
“This does not mean that the social order cannot be directional. It does not mean that it cannot move toward even more liberty or toward even more security. Conservatism is not incompatible with libertarianism nor is it incompatible with the welfare state. How one proceeds in that regard is a judgement call.”
Hayek continues talking about the direction in which we are moving. ” It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its OWN CHOOSING. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of comtempory developments. But, though there is a need for a “break on the vehicle of progress,” I personally–cannot be content with simply helping to apply the brake. What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move. In fact, he differs much more from the collectivist radical of today than does the conservative. While the last generally holds merely a mild and moderate version of the prejudices of his time, the liberal today must more positively oppose some of the basic conceptions which most conservatives share with the socialists.”
Finally, this will give you better insight on Hayek’s views concerning long standing institutions.
He says, “This difference between liberalism and conservatism must not be obscured by the fact that in the United States it is still possible to defend individual liberty by defending long-established institutions. To the liberal they are valuable not mainly because they are long established or because they are American but because they correspond to the ideals which he cherishes.

Rob May 19, 2011 at 11:01 am

Joe M. I do not think you were unfair to Hayek. In his essay about why he is not a conservative, he specifically exempts Burke and a few others and claims that his critique is directed at people like Coleridge and other “reactionaries.” Why didn’t he title it, “Why I am not a Reactionary?” Such a title wouldn’t attract much attention. Who claims to be a reactionary? I think conservatism could roughly be defined as,” a desire for order through the preservation of traditional institutions.”

The important point to understand, the point that Burke devoted his very lengthy “letter” to, was that traditional institutions are the only alternative to authoritarianism. The French were not wrong in seeking liberty but their methods guaranteed despotism. Conservatism does not preclude directional change, even directional change in favor of more liberty. Burke specifically endorsed the overthrow of despots. The French had attained British-style liberties when the king had yielded to their desires for a constitutional monarchy, but the revolution went beyond that to take the king captive and to govern outside the bounds of any traditional restraints whatsoever. This could only lead to a strongman who would rule by force alone as Burke correctly predicted.

Burkean conservatism IS a classical liberal doctrine. Individual liberty is the primary goal of that philosophy. It simply argues that such a goal cannot be attained by any attempt to impose abstract libertarian principles upon the social order. Such an imposition must, itself, be an authoritarian movement. But liberty is not the primary goal of all conservative philosophical approaches. Yet conservatism in this larger sense is still anti-authoritarian. It opposes arbitrary power, and finds that the only effective restraint rests in traditional institutions. In other words, conservatism is anti-authoritarian by its nature, and it can be directional; but there are varieties of conservatism as well so that it cannot be regarded as a single philosophy but as a classification of philosophies. The fact that Burkean conservatism is a classical liberal doctrine is precisely what requires Hayek to exempt Burke from his critique and, in a sense, direct his criticism at a reactionary straw man.

Joe M May 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Rob,
You say,
“In his essay about why he is not a conservative, he specifically exempts Burke and a few others and claims that his critique is directed at people like Coleridge and other “reactionaries.”
Actually, Hayek heaped praise on Coleridge, Bonald, De Maistre, Justus Moser and Donoso Cortes. Hayek said in spite of being reactionary in politics…they did show an understanding of the meaning of spontaneously grown institutions such as language, law, morals, and conventions that anticipated modern scientific approaches and from which the liberals might have profited. But the admiration of the conservatives for free growth generally applies only to the past. They typically lack the courage to welcome the same undesigned change from which new tools of human endeavors will emerge.” So the critique is more about the modern conservative and not the gentlemen mentioned above. As for Edmund Burke you have a different take then what I read coming from Hayek. Hayek states, “Macaulay, Tocquerville, Lord Acton, and Lecky certainly considered themselves liberals, and with justice; and even Edmund Burke remained an Old Whig to the end and would have shuddered at the thought of being regarded as a Tory.” He then goes on later and says, “If liberalism still meant what it meant to an English historian who in 1827 could speak of the revolution of 1688 as “the triumph of those principles which in the language of the present day are denominated liberal or constitutional” or if one could still, with Lord Acton, speak of Burke, Macaulay, and Gladstone as the three greatest liberals, or if one could still, with Harold Laski, regard Tocqueville and Lord Acton as the “essential liberals of the nineteenth century,” I should indeed be only too proud to describe myself by that name.” Hayek then goes on to say that these people exhibited “true liberalism” as compated to the majority of Continental liberals stood for ideas to which these men were strongly opposed, and that they were led more by a desire to impose upon the world a preconceived rational pattern than to provide opportunity for free growth.
Even though you view Burke as a conservative Lord Acton and Hayek consider him a liberal.
Please again, the comments made about Coleridge, etc.. They are not a criticism but he says that liberals could have learned from these gentlemen.
I believe J. Murray said it best above and cannot be improved upon

Rob May 19, 2011 at 8:37 pm

I don’t see any contradiction with what I have said. Hayek praised Coleridge and others IN SPITE of their reactionary political views. I have already said that Burkean conservatism IS a form of classical liberalism. I am not the one who labelled Burke the “father of conservatism.” That is the judgement of history.

But insofar as Burke was concerned with the maintenance of order, even as he favored the spread of liberty, he was a conservative within the larger intellectual world. That is why I have called him a libertarian conservative. Still, his views are still pretty much foundational to conservative thought in the Anglo-American world. Hayek is not from that world. He is from the continent and there conservatism is much more identified with authoritarian views although I don’t think it is consistent with arbitrary authority. But it is especially identified with the Catholic Church and Catholic moral thought. So it seems to me to be likely that Hayek is really addressing a different audience. But that was my point from the very beginning. Conservatism ought not to be regarded as a unified point of view. It is a classification of political theories, and I think that Hayek, and Casey, have overlooked that point.

You May 17, 2011 at 12:28 am

What the fuck is a libertine?

Joe M May 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

since you seem to not have the ability to search a word on the internet or have a dictionary available I will give you the definition: a person without moral restraints; man who does not respect women.
Now in your case you probably are a libertine. I can just see you telling your mother to please pass the fucking potatoes.

You May 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Joe M – now go to your dictionary and look up “rhetorical question”.

integral May 18, 2011 at 5:46 am

Should we also look up the definition of irony?

Joe M May 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm

You,
I was just merely responding to your “ballsy” approach to the english language. So since I have a imagination I projected it to your youth to see if you had similar conversations or rhetorical questions at the dinner table.

Zorg May 20, 2011 at 12:56 am

Rob wrote: “I don’t know why you find autonomous individualism to be so hard to understand.”

Because it is a term concocted by you which you ascribed to Rothbard, claiming that he was “caught up in the myth” of it. How should I know what it means when it looks like something you cooked up on your own? Is it just your term for individualism? Then why the redundant “autonomous”? What does that add or take away from “individualism” by itself?

And how is individualism a “myth”? We exist as individuals. A group is only several individuals. Do you have examples of a human being that is not an individual? Or a group of individuals which is not a certain number of individuals? If you wish to talk about “society” as over against the individual, you ought to begin by first making the proper distinctions.

Now that you’ve explained that in your collectivist philosophy no one has any natural rights unless some violent gang confers it upon them, I wonder if you might tell us where the gang gets the power or the grace or whatever to confer non-existing rights upon its subjects. Are you trying to say that rights are gifts conferred by conquerors upon defeated subjects? But I thought individuals did not have rights, so how can a group of conquering individuals confer rights then?

“If you have no enforcement mechanisms, it doesn’t matter what you theorize about.”

Are you saying that libertarians want to do away with enforcement mechanisms, therefore it doesn’t matter what we theorize? Or are you saying that since libertarians can’t at this time enforce against, say, the rampant criminal activity of the US gov’t and its agents, that those crimes and the theorizing about theft being morally wrong don’t matter?

“But if, in the name of such rights, you propose to overthrow the existing social order then such theories become very dangerous.”

What does this one mean? Libertarians are “dangerous” if they want to “overthrow the existing social order”? Are they more dangerous than the people that now are running this country into the ground? What sort of context do you have in mind for these statements of yours? What is an “overthrow”? Is that like when the R’s kick out the D’s so that they can have at looting and destroying our country for a few years before the pendulum swings back the other way?

And since you haven’t established the superiority of your idea of how people ought to be controlled and dictated to (except by force, of course), why would you ever be against some other group’s attempt to bring “order” out of the chaos your system has created? And after all, you have no rights except what the conquering group gives you, so why would you even complain about one society supplanting another? It is from society that all of our non-existing “rights” come from in the first place. If you would oppose the victors of the overthrow you would be opposing the new social order, and I daresay you’d be a danger to it. By your own philosophy, you would have to be punished.

“It’s difficult to see how nature ‘endowed’ us with rights which must be guaranteed by institutions created by society.”

This is, I suppose, saying that natural rights must not exist because humans form institutions for the purpose of protecting them, is that right? I don’t see how that follows. Obviously, if you have rights, you want to protect them. You want the market to produce effective and efficient solutions to the problem of rights violation in society, don’t you? I mean, this isn’t really a rational argument. Sounds more like you don’t appreciate the fact that we have to work at the production of goods, that they are not just handed to us. It would be strange if someone argued that since nature doesn’t hand us food without our having to plan and work for it, that this means that the impulse to eat is unnatural – not an endowment of nature. Or that the reason which we use to solve the problem of food production and distribution must also not be an endowment of nature, again, since we don’t reason to the best food production methods automatically and perfectly.

“It makes far more sense to say the society created those rights through the construction and development of those institutions.”

No, it doesn’t! Why would “society” create “rights” through the development of institutions if rights don’t exist in the first place? You’re saying that a group of individuals created institutions which didn’t exist so that they in turn could create rights which didn’t exist in order to “protect” the individuals who don’t exist (except through society) but who nevertheless created the groups which made the institutions – to protect them from “violations” of their new group-created “rights” which the group just created for no reason! There was no reason to create rights since rights don’t exist. You do understand that that is your position, right? It is thoroughly absurd.

“The claim that it is illegitimate to use force against your neighbor is quite meaningless if your neighbor doesn’t agree, and you have no means of preventing him from using force or punishing him if he does.”

Again with the red herring. Since no one advocates not punishing criminals or not having institutions of self-defense, I have no idea why you keep saying such things. The other thing you keep saying besides the red herring of a defenseless and institution-less society that you imagine libertarians advocate for, is that moral claims against the unjust use of force are “meaningless”. They are never meaningless in any case, even this hypothetical that you are so in love with, since the reason some action is wrong depends on the action itself and the nature of the actors, NOT on extraneous circumstances. It is just as illegitimate to enslave people who have rights-protecting institutions as it would be if there were any that didn’t. It is the action of enslavement which violates the person that is wrong. For you to keep claiming that morality is entirely dependent upon the presence of institutions just makes you a relativist. And merely stating that you are a relativist doesn’t establish relativism. Relativism is self-refuting anyway since it doesn’t acknowledge truth. Therefore relativism itself cannot be said to be true nor any statement it makes about reality.

Your comments just don’t make sense to me. I don’t think that it is true, as you claim, that conservatives deny natural rights. That is news to me. And it is obvious that you really don’t quite grasp libertarianism as you keep foolishly implying that libertarians don’t want institutions to protect rights! I mean, how much more off the mark could you be really?

Joe M May 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

Zorg,
Burke is one of Rob’s references on conservatism. Here is what Lord Acton had to say about Burke. It might shed some light on Rob’s thinking.
“Burke is preeminent in the very small number of great political writers, because he refused to concern himself with the sovereignty of the people, divine right, the virginal compact, the law of nature, and all those general principles by which men express the imperfections of their knowledge, and strove only for real securities for substantial freedom, leaving men to hold without contradiction what they pleased.”

Rob May 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Yes. I see conservatism as a philosophical approach that addresses the real world. It is existential, not ideological. As such, it is similar to Austrian economics which connects every step of the economic process through axioms which have assessed the real nature of the facts on the ground. In contrast, modern mathematical economics seeks to reduce economics to mathematical abstractions which can be dealt with through broad mathematical aggregates and equations. Just plug all the variables into an econometric computer model and you can predict how everyone will behave including the people who are reading your model.

Libertarian theory has a few broad concepts and claims that these are adequate to account fully for the human condition. Individual freedom can take care of the rest.

I’ll grant that individual freedom has great practical benefits even for people who are not free, and that self-organization is a very important principle both ethically and politically, but just as Austrian economics must presuppose property rights and other essential ground rules, so must individual freedom be understood against the backdrop of essential human nature and the need for essential social institutions. And we need to keep in mind that these essential institutions are not always governmental.

Rob May 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Zorg writes:

“And how is individualism a “myth”? We exist as individuals. A group is only several individuals. Do you have examples of a human being that is not an individual? Or a group of individuals which is not a certain number of individuals? If you wish to talk about “society” as over against the individual, you ought to begin by first making the proper distinctions.”

Now we are getting beyond political theory to philosophy which complicates the discussion. Autonomous means self-sufficient. The autonomous individual is one who is completely self sufficient. He has no need for others. The idea arose in the West during the Renaissance and became dominant during the Enlightenment. The “lone wolf” is literally, not autonomous. He can not hunt big game on his own, and the energy required for him to catch small game is greater than the energy that the small game provides. So he must hunt in groups that can bring down larger animals. The lone wolf will die. He must find a group to join in order to survive.

For humans the situation is more subtle. Robinson Crusoe, having acquired skills and tool-making abilities from others in the course of his maturation, can survive on his own. The child typically cannot. Occasionally, feral children have survived, but we don’t consider them normal. Their development clearly has been stunted by their isolation. But, overwhelmingly, humans live in groups.

Descartes gave philosophical expression to the notion of this autonomous self with his famous saying, “I think, therefore I am.” He conceives of the self, psychologically, as entirely self-sufficient. He will use his unaided reason to solve the all the fundamental problems of existence. He is the founder of modern rationalism. But Descartes overlooks the fact that he is thinking in a language, and that language was not innate to him. He learned it from others. And because of that he presupposed his own existence. Buddhist philosophers had addressed this problem millenia earlier and concluded that you cannot presuppose the self. The thought exists, but where is the thinker apart from the thought? Psychologically speaking, there is not a thinker here and a thought there. The thinker and the thought are the same thing. Descartes’ autonomous self, the thinker, does not exist.

It is the difference between a holistic and a reductionistic approach. Autonomous individualism assumes that individuals exist, and they come together to form societies. That’s the reductionist view. A brick building is composed of bricks. The holistic view accepts that individuals exist within a society, but those individuals take on their defining, individualistic character from their relationship to the whole. Bricks have very little individuality. They all serve pretty much the same function.

Humans are born into society, and we remain social animals until out death. We do not depart from our true nature as autonomous individuals in order to form a society through some contract. Civil society is endemic to our nature.

“Now that you’ve explained that in your collectivist philosophy no one has any natural rights unless some violent gang confers it upon them, I wonder if you might tell us where the gang gets the power or the grace or whatever to confer non-existing rights upon its subjects. Are you trying to say that rights are gifts conferred by conquerors upon defeated subjects? But I thought individuals did not have rights, so how can a group of conquering individuals confer rights then?”

In primitive societies every does everything. Whatever is needed is addressed by the members of the group and problems are solved through voluntary cooperation. Everyone is an amateur. The first profession, we are told by anthropologists, is that of the Shaman. He specializes in communication with the unseen world. As societies become larger, specialized institutions arise out the process of the division of labor. Political institutions are among these. They are not the product of a contract. They represent the professionalization of functions previously handled by the group as amateurs. Some societies perfect their skills at theft and conquest and conquer others and enslave them. But their own members cannot be treated as slaves or they would have no personnel with which to conquer. It is this need for the group to deal fairly with its own members that provides the basis for ethics.

But the ethics that arise from such a circumstance are basic principles. The details of what is ethical can vary from one context to another. Ancient Egyptian peasants had a duty to grow a surplus of grain to give it to the Pharoah, but they also had a right to receive grain during a period of famine. Rights and duties are mixture of morals and are situational. The underlying principles, however, are absolute. A right to water would pointless in a rainforest but absolutely necessary in a desert.

The basis of social organization is mutual dependency. If I am dependent on others (I have rights), then they are obligated to provide certain goods or services to me (They have obligations). Likewise, I am likely to be obligated to others in some ways. Rights and obligations do not exist in isolation from each other. They grow out of the relationship of mutual dependency.

“Are you saying that libertarians want to do away with enforcement mechanisms, therefore it doesn’t matter what we theorize? Or are you saying that since libertarians can’t at this time enforce against, say, the rampant criminal activity of the US gov’t and its agents, that those crimes and the theorizing about theft being morally wrong don’t matter?”

That seems to be the obvious implication of Rothbard’s “anarcho-capitalism.” It isn’t the view of all libertarians. As I’ve already noted, the idea of private police forces creates the problem of how you control your own police. The fact that Western civilization has come up with a workable solution to this problem is a great achievement of our culture. The problem we are confronted with not so much how to lose our individual freedoms (most societies have never tolerated them very much). The question is how we gain them in the first place. If you have the wrong idea of where they derive from, you are not going to try to seek them in the proper way. That was Burke’s point in his Reflections.

“No, it doesn’t! Why would “society” create “rights” through the development of institutions if rights don’t exist in the first place? ”

Fundamental moral principles do exist (Though they can largely be reduced to the Golden Rule). The concepts of rights, duties, laws, etc. are socially specific ways of implementing the more basic moral principles. It’s popular to say that, “Rights are not absolute.” We have free speech but we also have all kinds of exceptions. Speech cannot present a “clear and present danger.” You cannot incite to riot. You cannot use speech to defraud your customers. You cannot libel or slander another person. You cannot pass on information to the enemy in time of war. You cannot produce child pornography or snuff pornography , and on and on. Our rights are not absolute because the very expression “rights” is a clumsy way of trying to capture the subtleties of social organization. But all language has this difficulty so it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use such expressions.

“It is just as illegitimate to enslave people who have rights-protecting institutions as it would be if there were any that didn’t. It is the action of enslavement which violates the person that is wrong. For you to keep claiming that morality is entirely dependent upon the presence of institutions just makes you a relativist. And merely stating that you are a relativist doesn’t establish relativism. Relativism is self-refuting anyway since it doesn’t acknowledge truth. Therefore relativism itself cannot be said to be true nor any statement it makes about reality.”

We enslave people all the time through prisons, compulsory military service, and other socially-imposed duties including taxes. We no longer condone private slavery, but the details of the relationship involved are governed by more fundamental ethical principles. What was wrong with FDR imprisoning all those Japanese-Americans during WW II? What was wrong was the pretext he used for doing it. There was no evidence that these Japanese were spies or saboteurs nor was their personal security threatened in ways that normal police measures couldn’t deal with. But if these pretexts had been true, then his actions become more reasonable. Even slavery must be considered with the context of its relationship to the larger moral principle.

This is not moral relativism. It simply distinguishes between the moral principle and the context of its application. If the ship is sinking, we don’t exempt the best swimmer from bailing water because his life may not be threatened by the ship going down.

“Your comments just don’t make sense to me. I don’t think that it is true, as you claim, that conservatives deny natural rights. That is news to me. And it is obvious that you really don’t quite grasp libertarianism as you keep foolishly implying that libertarians don’t want institutions to protect rights! I mean, how much more off the mark could you be really?”

Ultimately our rights derive from nature, but the specific nature of rights are socially determined. The concept of rights unrelated to obligations is specific to modern Western culture, and I certainly do believe that conservative philosophers deny that as a valid concept.

I don’t claim that libertarians oppose institutions for the enforcement of rights. Most libertarians favor minimal government use of force. Basically, I agree with that. I am a libertarian conservative. But some libertarians, and I think Rothbard fits into that camp, only support voluntary institutions which would not have the power to coerce beyond mere self defense. This basically amounts to the suggestion that, whatever institutions of mutual dependency we may have been born into, we can go off and form our own institutions based on the principle of non-coercion and absolute individual freedom, AND that such institutions are the only legitimate forms of social organization.

Not only do I think that this is wildly impractical, I think it completely misunderstands the nature of our rights.

Rob May 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Zorg:

Re-reading my reply I see that I failed to respond to this point:

“What does this one mean? Libertarians are “dangerous” if they want to “overthrow the existing social order”? Are they more dangerous than the people that now are running this country into the ground? What sort of context do you have in mind for these statements of yours? What is an “overthrow”

I have in mind specifically the French Revolution. In the name of “rights” the French overthrew their government including their courts, the local constabulary, church institutions and the aristocracy. These institutions constrained the king. But then, they overthrew the king and took his place. So now they formed a government that was not subject to any constraints.

It is probably true that the constraints on the monarchy were inadequate to protect ordinary people and produced disproportionate advantages for the constraining institutions, but destroying those constraints does not advance liberty. The institutions needed to be reformed, not abolished.

Movements devoted to advancing abstract rights or other ideological goals can do far more to destroy liberty than to advance it. Once the imperfect social restraints are broken, the only option left for governing is brute force.

J. Murray May 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Individualism is a myth. I don’t get up unless I check opinion polls as to what time to do it. I read polls to decide what to eat for breakfast, ask for the popular way to drive to work, and refuse to do anything without being told by the greater hive mind.

We are legion.

/sarcasm

Rob May 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm

J. Murray,

I’ll bet you got up in time to go to work, and I’ll bet your breakfast did not consist of rice and beans.

Zorg May 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I’m not going to bother replying to all that sophistry. It’s sufficient to point out that you ascribed “autonomous individualism” to Rothbard and now admit that it refers to some idea of complete self-sufficiency – which has NOTHING to do with anything that Rothbard said. You seem to want to create a bunch of irrelevant false dichotomies which do not add anything at all to the discussion. You compare libertarians to French revolutionaries and take other backhanded stabs at libertarianism such as implying that we don’t want rights-enforcing institutions. I’m satisfied to just point out that you’re full of crap.

Rob May 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Zorg,

I don’t see much substance to your reply. In fact, it seemed to be mostly misrepresentations of what I said. I did not say that Rothbard believed in “complete” self-sufficiency. You confuse my examples of self-autonomy in the larger philosophical sense with my actual examples of their political application. I did not say the libertarians were the same as French revolutionaries. I said that that is a danger of commitment to a purely ideological approach. I did not say that libertarians opposed institutions to secure rights. I directed my critique only at the “anacho-capitalist” version of libertarianism of which Rothbard was the most prominent proponent. Since I didn’t really say any of the things which you object to, I am puzzled as to what you actually do disagree with.

Joe M May 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

Zorg,
Here is what Henry Hazlitt has to say:

[O]ur moral rules are continuously framed and modified. They are not framed by some abstract and disembodied collectivity called “society” and then imposed on an “individual” who is in some way separate from society. We impose them (by praise and censure, approbation and disapprobation, promise and warning, reward and punishment) on each other, and most of us consciously or unconsciously accept them for ourselves.

This moral code grew up spontaneously, like language, religion, manners, and law. It is the product of the experience of immemorial generations, of the interrelations of millions of people and the interplay of millions of minds. The morality of common sense is a sort of common law, with an indefinitely wider jurisdiction than ordinary common law, and based on a practically infinite number of particular cases … [T]he traditional moral rules … crystallize the experience and moral wisdom of the race.

Rob May 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Hazlett has nailed it.

Joe M May 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Rob,
I want to say that I enjoy your posts and hope you continue to frequent this site. You make me rethink and explore further my deep seeded beliefs. You probably have read Henry Hazlett before but if you haven’t he speaks right up your alley. Here is a small excerpt of what he has to say about “Natural Rights.”
“The term Natural Rights, like the term Natural law, is in some respects unfortunate. It has helped to perpetuate a mystique which regards such rights as having existed since the beginning of time, as having been handed down from heaven; as being simple, self-evident, and easily stated; as even being independent of the human will, independent of consequences, inherent in the nature of things. This concept is reflected in the Declaration of Independence. Yet though the term Natural Rights easily lends itself to misinterpretation, the concept is indispensable; and it will do no harm to keep the term as long as we clearly understand it to mean ideal rights, the legal rights that every man ought to enjoy. The historic function of the doctrine of Natural Rights has been, in fact, to insist that the individual be guaranteed legal rights that he did not have, or held only uncertainly and precariously.” I believe Burke and Hayek would agree with this.
Peace Be

Rob May 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Joe,

Thank you for your kind words. No. I haven’t read Hazlett, but you have sparked a curiosity in me. I think Hayek is also closer to the libertarian conservative position than to the pure libertarian view. In fact, his ROAD TO SERFDOM is, in many respects, the same kind of critique of communism and fascism that Burke’s REFLECTIONS

Rob May 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Thank you for your kind words. No, I haven’t read Hazlett, but you have peaked my curiosity. Perhaps I will one of these days.

I think Hayek was also closer to a libertarian conservative position than to pure libertarianism. In fact, his ROAD TO SERFDOM is, in many respects, a counter part to Burke’s REFLECTIONS, but where Burke critiqued the French Revolution, Hayek critiqued communism and socialism. Of course, Hayek was more concerned with economics due to the nature of his subject, but both men were concerned about the processes which, while claiming to enhance liberty, ultimately led to tyranny.

Zorg May 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm

“The term Natural Rights, like the term Natural law, is in some respects unfortunate. It has helped to perpetuate a mystique which regards such rights as having existed since the beginning of time…inherent in the nature of things.”

If rights are not inherent in the nature of things, then what are they based on? What else is there other than the nature of things to base rules upon? I don’t see the relevance of such quotes anyway. You can be a libertarian regardless of how you got there philosophically. I would not agree at all with the philosophy of the people you guys are quoting, but I’m sure we would all agree not to initiate force against each other and prefer peaceful cooperation to coercion.

The trashing of natural rights is unfortunate – and you can quote me on that if you like – but it doesn’t turn libertarians into communists. You two guys and the writers you are quoting seem to have a problem with the idea of a fixed morality – or, more than likely – a transcendent one. That is an entirely different question though. So-called conservatives do not differ from libertarians on account of moral philosophy per se. Since many conservatives claim to be Christian, they would certainly not be trashing natural rights in favor of utilitarianism or whatever else purports to explain how and why rules come to be, and yet they are NOT libertarians. And libertarians can vary widely in their philosophies and moralities and yet agree fully on the non-aggression principle.

So the difference between conservatives and libertarians is in the social ethic applied, not the underlying philosophy of what rights are and where they come from, etc.

I think it’s a complete red herring to contrast natural rights with legal rights. You quote Hazlitt to the effect that legal rights “guarantee” rights people never had before. Well, that’s dangerously close to legal positivism if the law becomes the only source of rights. It kinda reduces everything to law and society as you two seem to also be doing. The law creates everything and solves everything. It’s the first word and the last word on everything. Whatever is legal is good and whatever is illegal is bad. Whatever is in law is real and all else is fantasy. The law “guarantees” everything (what a joke!). I’ve heard many people say things like this. For example, “No one has any rights at all. You only have the rights you fight for and win.” To me, that’s not philosophy. It’s an emotional outburst. The only reason people seek codification and enforcement of their rights is precisely *because* they believe they have those rights by nature and demand justice from others in respecting those rights. They are pointing to some standard using rational argument that they demand others assent to. They do not think that circumstances, or the state of the law, or society’s collective views are the final arbiter. They know and recognize that they have a right to life and property regardless of what any ruler or any system or any philosophy says. They want the law and society to RECOGNIZE their rights.

I really do think that libertarians and the libertarian-minded especially should strive not to insert needless false dichotomies into discussions like this. This is the plague of political parties and pundits. We don’t ever need to split people over natural vs legal rights or over moral philosophy in general since our goal is simply a mutual respect for person and property.

I can tell you why I don’t agree with Hazlitt or Burke or Hayek on some of these points, but that is a separate issue. And I still don’t see what conservatism is supposed to actually mean. I certainly don’t see differences in philosophy as any kind of barrier to libertarianism making headway in the world. The libertarian ethic is specifically designed to be applied universally, and so it does not require assent to anything other than a single principle of action.

Rob May 22, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Zorg,

You raise some good points, and this is a very big topic. Books have been written on it so I don’t assume that we are going to resolve these issues in a few blog posts. But I do think that it makes a difference what the underlying principles supporting your philosophy actually are. It makes a difference because the details of your program derive from the underlying principles of your philosophy.

You raise the issue of morality and seem to think that morality demands freedom. I see it quite the opposite. Morality is about obligation. Liberty is freedom from obligation. Political freedom does not free you from moral obligations. If you fail to provide for your children, the state will take them away away from you and provide for them. We might say that you have forfeited your rights over your children because of your negligence, but the state must also tax other citizens to provide for support of the children. A strict libertarianism doesn’t allow for the state to tax its citizens except for defense, law enforcement, and protecting property rights. The anarcho-capitalist position doesn’t even allow for that.

I do not believe in natural rights, but I do believe in natural law, although I agree with Hazlett that that is probably a rather bad name for it. Our legal rights are not based on nothing whatsoever, they are based on the nature of the pre-existing social order in which they are promulgated, but that social order itself isn’t necessarily ordained by nature. There are absolute principles of morality. That is what natural law means, but there are not absolute moral rights. Rights and obligations are intertwined. If the law says that a child belongs to its extended family, then the alcoholic father who runs away and abandons his children has not created any legal problem. The grandparents, aunts and uncles step in automatically. There is no need for any court adjudication at all. So the law is different from ours, but the moral principle that dependent children need to be provided for is maintained. But rights cannot be separated from obligations so I agree with natural law but not natural rights.

I mentioned earlier that libertarianism is a reductionist approach, and that is my primary objection to it. A reductionist will say that a brick house is composed of bricks all of which are more or less the same, but a holistic person will point out that a house is something very different than a load of bricks. It is a structure, and wooden house bears far more resemblance to a brick house than a brick bears to a tree.

All the bricks in a brick house are alike, and all the citizens of a polity are, in the libertarian view, also alike. They have the same rights. But such an approach does not come close to accounting for human nature which is far more diverse and far more complex than that. Nor does it adequately describe the structure of the polity itself much less of the entire society. Although all citizens are alike in the libertarian polity, we immediately have to make exceptions. Children under 18 do not have the same rights as adults although a seventeen-year-old does have the same rights as a seventeen-week-old. Adjudicated incompetents do not have the same rights nor do convicted criminals. Parents do not have the same rights as childless people. They have control over children, but they also have responsibilities for the children. Rights always come with exceptions which just demonstrates how inadequate the word is for expressing the true nature of human relationships in civil society.

Imagine you are a member of a pirate gang. You have agreed among yourselves that no moral principles at all will guide your conduct toward your intended victims. Prevarication, murder, rape, torture, cannibalism – any crime whatsoever is entirely within bounds. There is still one situation in which those principles will not work. You cannot apply then to each other. As soon as the members begin to betray, lie to, and murder each other, the group will disintegrate or be defeated. I call these the principles of honor. These are the principles of natural law or morality that are absolute. Specific laws must derive from these principles if they are to be effective in governing a society, but the specific laws themselves will differ from one culture to another and from one context to a different one.

If civil society IS the state of nature for humans, and this is one of the fundamental axioms of conservatism, then any “natural rights” must necessarily be those rights that are conferred upon the people by civil society. Any attempt to “revolutionize” civil society must necessarily destroy many of those rights even if the revolution is an alleged libertarian one.

We should proceed with the cause of liberty, but we should proceed cautiously.

Zorg May 23, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Yes, of course, underlying principles of philosophy and morality do matter – just not with respect to the narrow application of the libertarian ethic. As I was saying to Dagny, it’s not really a moral code. People get into trouble when they think of it that way, both critics and advocates. You cannot take it to the nth degree and apply it to the relationship between children and parents, for example.

Libertarianism does not tell you how to live. It does not tell you what your moral obligations are, except honoring contracts and refraining from violating the person and/or property of another. It’s a socio-political principle that is purposely devoid of moral content beyond the rule of non-aggression. Its purpose is to allow maximum freedom within civil society for people to follow their own moral code insofar as it does not conflict with the “reductionist” principle of non-aggression.

Think of it as a universal peace treaty. : )

In a pluralistic society, we require this ethic to be spelled out clearly and adhered to religiously, because otherwise you have the sad state of “culture wars” raging in the political arena where people believe they have the right to make others conform to their morality by force. This conflict over who gets to dominate others is immoral in itself in almost all cases, and what’s worse – it’s totally unnecessary.

What is essential for the acceptance and adoption of this peace treaty in society is for people of all stripes to make a clear distinction between vice and crime. Granted that this may be difficult in some cases, it is actually a moral obligation to do so. We must make a distinction between vice (or sin) and crime so that we take care not to violate the conscience of people who hold different values. In a moral/religious sense, the NAP can be described as the Golden Rule in its negative form of, “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.” So it is certainly compatible with at least Christian moral principles. But it doesn’t allow for Christians to force non-believers to be virtuous – which is an idea as alien to true Christianity as it is to true libertarianism.

At issue is not whether there are universals, but which are enforceable upon anyone and everyone by anyone and everyone. Libertarians have boiled this down to natural rights, specifically property rights. In order to be a moral actor, one must of necessity be free of coercion, so within any system of morality people must have freedom of conscience, freedom of action, bound only in the social context by the same set of rights equally applied to others. Libertarianism is nothing but a baseline for civilization. It’s not meant to be anything else.

What is envisioned is a free society wherein people are governed by the most basic and universal rule between them (the NAP), while they then are free to build the specific institutions which conform best to their own needs and desires according to their own philosophy of life, without interference from others who “know better.” People, through free association and economic choice, will decide how to rank their values against others. They will give their own time, energy, and money to institutions they support, not what some ruling cabal forces them to subsidize.

It is within a civil society where the battle of ideas, values, and lifestyles should be “fought” via the positive means of people actually choosing what enriches them and avoiding and de-funding that which doesn’t. It’s just a free market that allows bad arrangements to fail and good ones to flourish.

As far as law is concerned, a free society allows for polycentric law to arise in a naturally decentralized way. This is very important, especially concerning the sticky issues of family and children. Hoppe calls it a “private law society,” and I like that term. It means that in such intimate matters as the family, for example, Catholics would have recourse to cannon law and Muslims to sharia law (with the understanding that people have voluntarily submitted to some social authority that conforms to their values.) There is no reason why marriage, divorce, runaways, child abuse, child custody, etc. could not be handled by ecclesiastical courts of the church where the couple got married. The Church is a perfect example of a private law society. It can handle education, marriage & family issues, health care, insurance, and charity for very large numbers of people. It is a voluntary organization and, freed from the oppression of the state, can and does function very well as its own society. Now just imagine contracts and agreements with other social institutions like free market insurance companies, independent arbitration firms, and detective agencies, throw in various other secular non-religious institutions, and it is not hard at all to see society functioning without the state.

And libertarians would also stress the value and necessity of contract here as well. There is no reason why the community a person belongs to could not witness, adjudicate, and enforce a marriage contract. This is something that has been stripped from the church community by the state – the ability to directly intervene and adjudicate among members of the community. As for inter-community disputes, they can be handled also be pre-arranged contract and dispute resolution provisions. This is something that society naturally does. The state is NOT special as an arbiter or social authority. It is simply one which asserts itself primarily by force and claims monopoly jurisdiction. In fact, in almost all cases, it is the state which has parasitically co-opted previously existing social institutions such as courts and turned them state monopolies. We seek to reverse that process and allow natural institutions of society to come back to life.

This is a very large topic, so I’ll stop here and perhaps comment later on other points you brought up. I think libertarians understand better than anyone else that “we” are society. The problem is that “we” have very little say in actually forming that society. We are oppressed and impoverished and stunted by the state, which is in fact a demonstrably anti-social institution.

Rob May 24, 2011 at 12:35 pm

You’re right that this is a large topic so I will not attempt to reply to every one of your points. The problem begins with what we are even arguing about. There is the anarchist position which opposes state coercion altogether, and there is the minarchist position that admits a limited role for government, and within the minarchist position there are numerous variations on what should be acceptable powers of government. Added to that there is the question of how one should attempt to bring libertarianism about. Some insist that only immediate revolution is possible while others advocate for incremental change. Obviously, a libertarian conservative would not argue for revolution although some fundamental changes would be necessary for a movement to be regarded as libertarian at all.

The NAG is irrelevant to the minarchist position. A government is, by definition, a monopoly of legitimate violence. So if you reject the anarcho-capitalist position, the question immediately resolves into the issue of how much coercive power the government should have. The primary purpose of government is to protect the population from outside attack (national defense), and to protect individuals from each other (the police power). Other institutions such as diplomatic institutions and courts to determine criminal guilt and to resolve disputes before they become violent are ancillary, but very beneficial additions to the state’s powers because they also limit violence.

Private institutions must have the power to enforce their decisions and that power could not be coercive or they would be essentially state institutions. But the power of defense and the police power do not need to reside in the same institution, and that is essentially what the Founders did when they wrote the constitution. They gave the national government the power of defense and diplomacy and added the power of currency and of taxation to assure that it had the necessary tools for that purpose. But the police function remained largely with the states. The only crime defined in the constitution is treason.

But the NAG principle does not deal with moral obligations. Private adjudicative institutions are fine as long as people voluntary submit to them. That may work for small groups where social pressure is sufficient to enforce compliance, but in larger societies it is unlikely to be very effective. The most obvious moral obligation involves child custody and child support cases, but other situations are more subtle. You must force parents or private individuals to support these children or you must force the public to support them through taxes. Either way, you are using force. The presence of charities to provide funding and of others willing to adopt the children may alleviate the need for the use of force, but that does not mean that we don’t need government power to deal with the extreme case where private means are inadequate.

Ultimately, governments exist precisely because of the failure of the NAG principle. Humans are social beings by nature and that gives rise to a political function. That function may be largely voluntary or semi-voluntary in small, closely-knit societies where banishment or social ostracism is an unmitigated disaster for most of its members. It is INDIVIDUALISM that creates the need for coercive institutions.

I think the hierarchy of separate federal, state, and local governments that arose with the founding of our republic is the optimum model of social organization. Unfortunately, we have allowed that model to involve more and more centralized control through a greatly expanded role for federal and state governments with far less reliance on local governments and private and voluntary institutions. Humans are largely inclined to self organize into cooperative arrangements, but this is only possible when they are protected from the more violent individuals who are not inclined to yield to more pacific social restraints.

This is why I object to the individualistic model, which emphasizes rights without regard to obligations. From the point of view of social order, it is the autonomous individual that we have to worry about. After all, such individuals aren’t always peaceful artists, armchair philosophers, and listless dreamers. Some of them are sons-of-bitches.

matt May 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Rob,

Each bad outcome that you can imagine is possible and indeed many are likely. Replacing them with other bad outcomes, while using force, is simply a lateral move that makes you feel you have achieved your goal at an acceptable price. Once we complete your lateral move and then a few more to make a few more people happy we are back where we started. You have bargained away my right to be free of aggression and if the whole history of statism is a reliable guide no good end will come.

Rob May 25, 2011 at 11:14 am

Who is going to enforce your “right” to be free of aggression? Where does this right derive from? Does it derive from nature? I can’t see how. Nature is violent and profoundly unfair by our modern standards. Individual liberty is not the natural condition of the human race. It is an achievement of our culture. Your right to be free from aggression derives from the very institutions you condemn.

The nation-state is not the only way to deter aggression against peaceful individuals, but the political function cannot be dispensed with. The use of violence can only be deterred by the threat of counter-violence. The question is what use of violence can be considered legitimate, and what use of violence is illegitimate? Few would argue that it is illegitimate to defend yourself, but not everyone possesses that capacity especially against a group that is numerically superior. We make a distinction between vigilantes, who take the law into their own hands, and a posse, which is authorized by the larger community to act. Vigilante’s may be acting on the basis of moral righteousness, but we don’t assume that people are the best judges of their own case. Legitimate acts of violence or threats of violence must be authorized by someone other than the people committing those acts. To argue that those acts are as criminal as the acts of vigilantes, brigands, or gangs is to deny any effective right to be free from violence altogether.

Rights are the product of the human institutions which secure those rights. Abstract theorizing about rights is meaningless without reference to their real manifestation in an imperfect world.

nate-m May 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

Rights are the product of the human institutions which secure those rights.

Human institutions only exist in a abstract sense. Everybody is a individual actor, individual person acting on their own volition and their own self interest. The difference between a ‘posse’ and a ‘vigilante’ is effectively academic. They are both groups acting out of their own self righteousness based on what they think is moral and correct. One group can be wearing a mask and the other a badge, but if the actions are the same and the results are the same then there is no difference.

The state attempts to be the sole group of people with the ‘legal right’ to kidnap, threaten, blackmail and kill not because it’s ethically superior for them to do so, but because it is what is the most advantageous behavior for them to engage in. The people that make up the state apparatus are not automatons whose purpose in life is to carry out the will of the people… they are people with careers to protect. They have their own agendas and goals of their own. As members of the state and engage in violent behavior as they deem appropriate to further their own personal goals.

We are suppose to be living in a Democratic Republic were we have elected officials to represent our viewpoints. The claim is that the federal government derives it’s power from the people. The we have surrendered certain rights and delivered certain powers into the hands of the elected officials so that they may govern effectively.

This is a lie.

It’s a myth perpetuated by the state to give it’s behavior a air of legitimacy. There is not a single person alive that voluntarily gave rights to the government to govern. We are born into the system whether we like it or not, whether we agree to it or not. If we do not obey then we will be meet with violent oppression; depending on our level of resistance.

Just because other governments are worse and that things can be worse does not mean that the current government is legitimate. It does not make their behavior correct or moral or right.

It’s easy to claim that the government performs a important function in preventing oppression from other potential governments and this may be true. That is quite possibly be the only legitimate function of state government: to prevent more oppressive governments from taking over.

However that is the ONLY legitimate function that I can see. The state is evil and it’s behavior is immoral. If it’s behavior is copied by any other group it is automatically deemed criminal completely regardless of the goals or what that group is claiming for it’s motives. It may, however, be a necessary evil.

As such it should be kept to a absolute minimum.

matt May 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

All very true. But imperfection replaced by imperfection is still imperfection, you have not solved the puzzle just rearranged in order more to your liking. In a free society you are more than welcome to arrange with others to provide safety and security provided you do not use violence or against others. You can even choose to allow violence or theft in your community – you can contractually agree that if someone trespasses they shall be subject to finger removal. You can contractually agree that everyone will provide one hour of service to provide for your common defense against base men that prowl the earth. But your contract need not cover my property nor require me being a party to it. The biggest obstacle is my property might be an “island” in your contracts property area your remedies can be contracting with me, shunning me among others or accepting that some externalities are unavoidable. Will fear of others seeing my free ride and the subsequent renunciation of the contract compel you to use force against me? That is where it all starts to go down hill.

If I fall to a misguided mob or professional plunderer that is my fate, you reduce your risk to such an end through your mutual contract at a price you find agreeable. Your security does not have to come at the expense of my autonomy.

Zorg May 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm

It’s NAP, not NAG. It stands for Non-Aggression Principle.

“So if you reject the anarcho-capitalist position, the question immediately resolves into the issue of how much coercive power the government should have.”

Well, apparently as much as it wants. How are you going to stop it when you give it power over you and all of us, claim that anyone who resists is an enemy, and that that state itself IS society? It is the monopolist of violence, like you said. Anyone who resists is an enemy of the state, thus an enemy of society, and must be punished, lest we all fall into anarchy where some gang might become a monopolist of violence and loot us, thus depriving us of the peace and security of the monopolist of violence which loots us and protects us from other monopolists of violence who would loot us. Right?

“The primary purpose of government is to protect the population from outside attack (national defense), and to protect individuals from each other (the police power).

You recite the catechism well, but who protects the population from the inside attack of the gov’t agents? Why must protection come from an organized racket, a monopolist that uses violence and threats of violence to force the people it purports to protect to pay it whatever it demands, for however long it demands, without any recourse, and regardless of performance?

And if it is a noble goal to create an institution of protection, why does the state treat it as a crime when people do this voluntarily and peacefully? If the state’s goal was to see people were protected, it would welcome institutions which take the burden off of it. But this is clearly not the goal of the state. Its goal is quite obviously absolute control and domination of a territory. It cares not what the costs are or how effective and efficient it is in dealing with crime since it isn’t a market player. It exists through arbitrary force. It doesn’t have customers; it has subjects. It doesn’t sell a service; it compels people to pay. Those who would normally cease to support it for its abject failures and ever-increasing unbounded costs and its utter perversion of justice are prevented from doing so under threat of punishment. The people are treated as criminals if they refuse to support a gang that claims to be protecting them despite all evidence to the contrary. This is supposed to be “order,” but it is the exact opposite of a civil order. It is the chaos of institutionalized and unaccountable violence, theft, and corruption. Often these regimes end in conflagration, either killing their own subjects or starting unnecessary wars which lead to global chaos. Surely you have something more cogent to say about this than just reciting statist platitudes.

“Private institutions must have the power to enforce their decisions and that power could not be coercive or they would be essentially state institutions.”

No. This right here shows that you’re not really acquainted with libertarianism enough to critique it properlyl. Once again, the NAP means that no person or group may INITIATE force against another. When a person or a group uses force in self-defense (to repel attack, to capture and punish criminals, etc.), that use of force is retaliatory, and it is legitimate insofar as it is carried out properly for that narrow purpose (you cannot become lawless yourself in dealing with the lawless). The STATE is a group of people claiming a TERRITORIAL MONOPOLY on the use of force, but it INITIATES force against the very people it claims to be “protecting.” It does this through the protection racket of forced payments for dubious incompetent “service.”

A private person or institution is not a state unless they attempt to create a monopoly over some group of people they are able to subject through conquest. It is universally acknowledged (except by you perhaps) that a private person or group may act violently in self-defense in any case. The reasons we create institutions to do this for us when we can are very plain: 1) to avoid the pitfalls of vigilantism and feuds, 2) to allow the division of labor to work in bringing forth those best suited to these tasks.

“The only crime defined in the constitution is treason.”

Ah yes, that bulwark of liberty, the constitution. It works like a charm, doesn’t it?

“Ultimately, governments exist precisely because of the failure of the NAG principle.”

Another stab at libertarianism devoid of context or meaning. The NAP (not NAG) is a principle of action, so if you don’t follow it or are NOT ALLOWED to follow it you don’t get what that principle seeks to preserve. And in your case, when your government saints don’t follow their supposedly enlightened rules and the supposed constraints on them, you get mass murder, civil wars, revolutions, burning cities, starvation, mountains of non-repayable debt, etc. Do you understand that the state upends us if we attempt other peaceful arrangements? The argument is precisely that it PREVENTS society from enforcing the NAP and institutionalizing it broadly because it, the state, is the primary violator of it! It’s a gang of thugs claiming to be the enlightened peaceful guardians of “liberty.”

“Humans are social beings by nature and that gives rise to a political function.”

Then you probably should not be advocating the squashing of the political functions which
would arise out of a free society where people are self-directed and not treated like cattle.

“It is INDIVIDUALISM that creates the need for coercive institutions.”

What???

“I think the hierarchy of separate federal, state, and local governments that arose with the founding of our republic is the optimum model of social organization.”

When you outlaw competition, you can call say whatever you want I guess. Anyone who actively dissents from this view will be imprisoned, fined, or killed.

“Unfortunately, we have allowed that model to involve more and more centralized control”

It is destined to do that. When you create a monopoly and force people to support it and endorse it and worship it and sing songs about it, its growth in power cannot be stopped from within that system. As a monopoly it follows the economic pattern of monopolies. It give you monopoly prices and monopoly service. Since it is a monopoly of violence, it will spread its tentacles into every aspect of life. To say “we have allowed” is to miss entirely the nature of a monopoly. If you want to limit monopoly power, you don’t create monopolies! It’s that simple. When institutions are subject to competition, they are “forced” by the market to serve, not rule, their customers. We are trying to de-legitimize the monopolist aspect of the political functions in society because that is nothing other than outright tyranny. No one can argue that it isn’t without falling into contradiction.

What statists argue is that we must have a very large criminal organization in order to save us from individual criminals. The whole argument is absurd. It’s just ancient barbarism dressed up in fancy language that has no discernible relation to reality. Very few people up till now have described the institution of the modern state for what it actually is and actually does. That’s what libertarians are trying to do. When more people break through their programming and realize what’s going on, then “the people” will be better equipped to resist tyranny en masse through non-compliance and through creating and exerting the social power that they have previously forfeited to the state out of ignorance and fear.

“From the point of view of social order, it is the autonomous individual that we have to worry about. ”

Wow. The exact opposite is true. Individual criminals are NOTHING against society. Relative to peaceful society they are weak, stupid, poor, and vastly outnumbered. All they can ever manage in the area of direct crime are relatively small gangs. The problem of social order is the institutionalization of crime when widespread propaganda is used to brainwash people into submitting to ruling gangs under the guise of the “necessary evil” of the state. It’s the greatest con going.

The state turns everything into a racket and everyone into a criminal. They agree to loot their neighbors in exchange for part of the loot. They support outright mass murders like Bush and Obama, people who are consumed with the worship of power and the desire to dominate militarily through violence and lies. There is no gang in the world that can steal TENS OF TRILLIONS from EVERYONE, but your friendly US gov’t can, through creating the Federal Reserve counterfeiting franchise and the IRS shakedown operation. You need to wake up and call a spade a spade. No one’s going to listen to you when you say the state protects us. That is childish nonsense. It’s a fairy tale you’ve been taught to believe in. The reality is a monstrous perversion of society and culture, the impoverishment of billions, and a few hundred million dead bodies. What kind of “order” is that? The devil’s?

“After all, such individuals aren’t always peaceful artists, armchair philosophers, and listless dreamers. Some of them are sons-of-bitches.”

And those are the ones who seek political power, genius. And people like you give it to them!
How can you tell us with a straight face that these sociopaths are our “leaders” and “protectors,” that they bring us “order” and “liberty” and give us “rights”?

P.M.Lawrence May 23, 2011 at 10:53 pm

When, for example, the fundamental injustice of slavery finally penetrated the conscience of the civilized world there was only one thing to be done — abolish it forthwith.

Wrong. Most places used incremental transitional arrangements (e.g. “freeing in the womb” in Brazil or a tutelage period in British colonies) precisely in order to avoid the damage done by abrupt abolition (e.g. in the U.S.A.).

Such abolition was radically discontinuous with what had gone before — indeed radically discontinuous with human history from its earliest records — but who will argue that this change was not for the better?

I would, precisely because of its entirely avoidable – and often avoided – collateral damage. That is, it’s a faulty comparison just to consider only abrupt abolition and keeping slavery; of those alone, the former is better – but it’s still far worse than the options not considered.

As we have seen, conservatism is rooted in a disposition to resist rapid and fundamental change …

Wrong. That is not its root at all, though that is a corollary that often follows in particular instances because of the logic of the individual cases. It is actually far more a matter of Viscount Falkland’s dictum during the Civil War (the real one) that “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”. There could be cases where abrupt change was desirable, and others in which even incremental, thin end of the wedge change was not.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is always at the mercy of the questions — whose tradition? which customs? what habits?

That’s silly. What count are the traditions, customs and habits of the particular conservative involved, of course – and then it is plain wrong to assert that “If it develops a principled and rational response to these questions then it has ceased to be radically conservative and has begun to move in a direction that, I believe, will lead it to espouse the fundamental position of liberty as the sine qua non of all the virtues, and thus to transmute into a form of libertarianism”.

Rob May 27, 2011 at 12:15 am

You offer quite a long diatribe here, and I do not wish to respond in kind so I will not reply point by point, but I will point out some mis-statements you have made that are crucial.

““So if you reject the anarcho-capitalist position, the question immediately resolves into the issue of how much coercive power the government should have.”

Well, apparently as much as it wants. How are you going to stop it when you give it power over you and all of us, claim that anyone who resists is an enemy, and that that state itself IS society? It is the monopolist of violence, like you said.”

I did not say that the state had a monopoly of violence. That’s absurd. Anyone can commit violent acts anytime they choose. I said the state had a monopoly of “legitimate” violence. That legitimacy is conferred upon it by non-state actors, and it is these that control the actions of the state.

““The primary purpose of government is to protect the population from outside attack (national defense), and to protect individuals from each other (the police power).

You recite the catechism well, but who protects the population from the inside attack of the gov’t agents?” The state is controlled by the non-state actors who give it its legitimacy. There is usually some theory, such as the divine right of kings or democratic elections, backing this up. But ultimately it is people, but it is the people acting through various social institutions. In Europe these institutions often involved the aristocracy and the church. In the US, state and local governments play a bigger role. Political parties used to be much more important but have declined due, in part, to our efforts to “democratize” them.

““Private institutions must have the power to enforce their decisions and that power could not be coercive or they would be essentially state institutions.”

No. This right here shows that you’re not really acquainted with libertarianism enough to critique it properlyl. Once again, the NAP means that no person or group may INITIATE force against another. When a person or a group uses force in self-defense (to repel attack, to capture and punish criminals, etc.), that use of force is retaliatory, and it is legitimate insofar as it is carried out properly for that narrow purpose (you cannot become lawless yourself in dealing with the lawless). The STATE is a group of people claiming a TERRITORIAL MONOPOLY on the use of force, but it INITIATES force against the very people it claims to be “protecting.” It does this through the protection racket of forced payments for dubious incompetent “service.””

Agents of the state are likewise not authorized to initiate violence against members of the society unless someone is threatened. You might argue that this is often honored in the breach, and this is true, but the same problem would arise for anarchist forces that had combined for alleged “self-defense.” How do you protect yourself from the people who are supposed to be protecting you? I’ve already noted what happened in the middle ages when the Roman Empire broke down. The peasants hired guards to protect them and the guards became their masters. I don’t see how anarchism prevents a force of “protectors” from becoming masters. Those who have the force will rule. Thus, legitimacy becomes crucial. When you have a legitimate force, you know which force to needs to be contained and controlled and which forces need to be suppressed. Anarchism puts arbitrary vigilante justice on the same level with non-arbitrary law and legitimate rule. It equates mere gang behavior with true and legitimate law enforcement. But criminal gangs merely seek their own advantage whereas law enforcement is about protecting the innocent population. The idea that anarchists can somehow authorize gangs for their own protection and not become controlled by those gangs is extremely naive.

I will grant that the state does have a right to initiate a quasi-violent act in the form of taxation. That is due to the professionalization of the political function. When people defended themselves in militias, the “tax” was in kind. The young men were expected come forward for the defense of the community. If a young man refused to do so, there was no way, other than social pressure, to force him to do so. When young David visited the camp of the Israelite army, he did so to bring food to his brothers who were in the militia. There was insufficient organization even to feed the troops. But as a society becomes larger and more complex, it becomes necessary to professionalize these activities, and that means that taxes are needed to pay the professionals.

What shouldn’t be professionalized are the politicians themselves. This is where we have moved away from self-government. Congress no longer meets for a few months every couple of years and spends most of their time in other professions and living under the laws that they have enacted, and it is unthinkable that a political party would deny re-nomination to a popular president as the Republicans did to President Grant in 1876.

The growth in the size and power of the US government is not due to the monopoly of legitimate power of the government but due to the growth of the size and wealth of the nation as a whole. We don’t see a similar growth in the government of Switzerland, for example. It has grown somewhat, of course, because its wealth has increased. The government of Tibet hardly grew at all under the leadership of the Dalai Lamas because the country remained poor and the population small.

Libertarians have the answer to that at the theoretical level; we do not have the answer at the practical level. We do not know how to keep giant corporations and other special interests from gaining political power and using it for their advantage. But anarchism faces that problem, as I have already pointed out, at a much earlier level than libertarianism does. It faces that problem even before large corporations have a chance to come into existence.

Only one force can be recognized as legitimate within a given boundary, and that force is a state.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: