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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8211/why-be-libertarian/

Why Be Libertarian?

June 20, 2008 by

Murray Rothbard asks: Why be libertarian, anyway? By this we mean, what’s the point of the whole thing? Why engage in a deep and lifelong commitment to the principle and the goal of individual liberty? For such a commitment, in our largely unfree world, means inevitably a radical disagreement with, and alienation from, the status quo, an alienation which equally inevitably imposes many sacrifices in money and prestige. When life is short and the moment of victory far in the future, why go through all this? FULL ARTICLE

{ 70 comments }

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 9:08 pm

J.W.: “When a man says, “Men ought not to kill one another”, he says nothing about what they actually do, just that they should do a certain thing. When judging a moral axiom or deduction, we never compare it to reality (because we cannot), but to some other fundamental axiom.”

You make some excellent points. The way the natural law theorists handled it was to combine some utilitarianism with it. Their basic assumptions were that God created mankind and therefore mankind has a right to life and to flourish. Murdering another human violated those rights. Therefore man ought not murder.

J.W.: “As for the claim that man’s moral nature is evidence of God, well, that still requires an act of faith.”

Actually, it’s a simple application of the law of cause and effect in which the effect cannot be greater than the cause. That’s the most basic problem with Godless evolution: it produces an effect greater than the cause. It creates personality, (including the desire for morality, ability to reason, love, self-awareness and the other things that separate us from animals) where none existed before, similar to the ex nihilo creation that Christians attribute to God but without a sufficient cause.

Brainpolice: “Some philosophies and philosophers do not posit that morality cannot exist without god.”

That’s true. But the very fact that they do proves my point because they have changed the definition of morality. Morality used to mean what one ought to do at all times in all places. Today it means what any individual thinks one ought to do under the circumstances. Why do you think ethicists changed the definition? Because they couldn’t work under the old one. All philosophers before them had painted themselves into a corner by acknowledging that morality can’t exist without God. But mankind can’t live without morality, so they got around the problem by changing the definition of morality.

Brainpolice: “There is a boatload of non-religious morality.”

You need to specify which definition of morality you’re using, the traditional one or the modern one. In the traditional definition you’re wrong; using the modern definition you’re right.

Brainpolice: “Your assumption that atheists only act morally for practical reasons is nonsense. Many of us have philosophies.”

That doesn’t make them morality in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, what is called morality today by ethicists is anti-morality, the opposite of real morality.

Brainpolice: “Atheism /= existentialism. Sarte and Camus /= an exemplification of atheism as such.”
Never said it did. But atheists of all stripes, from Marx to Nietzsche, Dostoevsky to Sartre and Camus and most post-modernists, have all agreed that the death of God destroys morality.
Ron: “I don’t believe in any moral authority. I do, however, adhere to ethical principles that I believe to be right because I believe they stem from a state of nature and are logically consistent.”
It’s commendable that you act in a way that you believe is moral, but as I have tried to get across to Brainpolice your philosophy is actually anti-moral. Morality means universality and that’s how all philosophers have used the term from the beginning of philosophy until very recently. If your “morals” are particular, that is, devised by you, then they’re not morals, except in the modern twisted sense of the word. The proper word for what you describe is mores (there should be an accent over the “e” so that it’s pronounced moor-ays), which means personal or cultural attitudes.

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 9:30 pm

Danny:”Why don’t you give us some examples of philosophers…”

Actually I can help you there. It’s all of the so-called philosophers of ethics. And there are a lot of them. But as I wrote earlier, they have not solved the problem of authority, they ignore it and change the definition of morality to exclude authority and universality, essentially killing traditional morality in order to save the discipline. What they call morality has nothing to do with what the great philosophers debated, no what those in the mainstream tradition of philosophy recognise. Ethics today is nothing more than an attempt to gain consensus through endless discussions.

Brainpolice: “He’s essentially proclaiming to speak on the behalf of “philosophy” as such and as if theologans have a monopoly on moral philosophy. ”

Actually, you’re trying to twist my words into a straw man who’s easier for you to debate. If you don’t consider the philosophers I mentioned as being among the great ones, or representative of the main drift of philosophy, then please tell me who you think is representative. I have merely tried to tell you what I have read from what many consider among the greatest philosophers. I never claimed that theologians have a monopoly. In fact I haven’t mentioned any theologians except for those in the natural law tradition.

Brainpolice: “I’m talking about evolutionary theory as an explaination as to how humans developed morality. Big difference.”

Sorry, the difference is too small for me to see.

Brainpolice: “Nothing changes when you add a deity as a rhetorical authority for the morality of picking up a gun and wiping out another group.”

Yes, it does change things. Without God, every man is free to choose the code of conduct that suits him, which means that morality doesn’t exist. Does that mean everyone will accept the morality that I believe comes from God? Not at all. Does that make it any less true? Not at all. Truth does not depend upon consensus, but upon sound reasoning.

Brainpolice: “Sorry, the assumption that a god is necessary for free will or that evolution inherently implies fatalism is false.”

You seem to be completely unaware of what the top evolutionary scientists teach. Go see Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” and you’ll learn what they actually teach. If Godless evolution is true, then morality, meaning, and free will are just illusions.

Brainpolice: “Furthermore, it is actually christian theology that puts foreward the notion of fatalism with the idea that god has a divine plan that will inevitably plan out throughout history.”

You misrepresent Christian theology. Although Christians cannot reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s free will in ever instance, Christianity has always taught that man has a free will. God knows the future not because he has determined it but because he has infinite wisdom. He knows how we will respond to events. He has a grand plan, though with very few points, within which mankind has the freedom to choose.

TLWP Sam June 23, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Wouldn’t mind telling, fundamentalist, if morality accounts for the rights of everyone why the Book of Deutoronomy contains the first historical account of ordered genocide (from God)?

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 11:55 pm

“That’s true. But the very fact that they do proves my point because they have changed the definition of morality. Morality used to mean what one ought to do at all times in all places.”

Once again, you assume precisely what you’re trying to prove by making this argument: that a diety is necessary to propose universal morality. This is false. No change in the definition of morality is necessary here. All that is being said is that a deity is not necessary for morality, while the definition of morality remains exactly the same.

“Today it means what any individual thinks one ought to do under the circumstances. Why do you think ethicists changed the definition?”

I’m unaware of anyone save hedonists and various existentialist interpretations of morality who actually propose this definition of morality. You’re being disingenous by redefining the terms to suite your own agenda. Your arbitrary distinction between “the old definition of morality and the new” is silly and demonstrates an irrational reverance for the old while being willfully ignorant of large segments of contemporary secular ethics which do not claim that “anything goes” by any stretch of the imagination.

“It’s commendable that you act in a way that you believe is moral, but as I have tried to get across to Brainpolice your philosophy is actually anti-moral. Morality means universality and that’s how all philosophers have used the term from the beginning of philosophy until very recently.”

For the millionth time, it is disingenous to act as if no atheists believe in universal principles of morality. I’m argueing that there can be a secular and universal morality. You’re trying to claim that religion has a rightful monopoly on universality, which is bullocks. You keep conviently avoiding this by mischaracterizing all of modern and secular morality as purely personal.

“If your “morals” are particular, that is, devised by you, then they’re not morals, except in the modern twisted sense of the word. The proper word for what you describe is mores (there should be an accent over the “e” so that it’s pronounced moor-ays), which means personal or cultural attitudes.”

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but nothing about religious morality is exempted from the derivation of men and personal and cultural attitudes. Furthermore, the fact that a moral proposition may be posited by a human being does not mean that it cannot be put foreward as a universal principle. All moral propositions are ultimately posited by men, including religious ones. So please stop this disingenousness.

Brainpolice June 24, 2008 at 12:01 am

“Yes, it does change things. Without God, every man is free to choose the code of conduct that suits him, which means that morality doesn’t exist.”

Incorrect. Even with a god, human beings can choose whatever code of conduct they want and act immoral as they please. The introduction of god into the picture doesn’t magically make people more likely to be moral or deny them the ability to choose among different moral codes.

“Does that mean everyone will accept the morality that I believe comes from God? Not at all. Does that make it any less true? Not at all. Truth does not depend upon consensus, but upon sound reasoning.”

And a deity is not necessary for sound reasoning. Hence the error in your approach. Furthermore, your religious morality is nothing but a consensus around an interpretation of texts and the authority you ultimately rely on to interpret those texts is man.

“You seem to be completely unaware of what the top evolutionary scientists teach. Go see Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” and you’ll learn what they actually teach. If Godless evolution is true, then morality, meaning, and free will are just illusions.”

Now it seems to be you who is making an argument from consensus.

Keith June 24, 2008 at 6:37 am

Quote from fundamentalist: “Without God, every man is free to choose the code of conduct that suits him, which means that morality doesn’t exist.”

With God, every man is free to choose the code of conduct that suits him. What’s the difference? The God, the code of conduct and the morality are just inventions of the human mind. There is no support.

The atheists morality may flow from practicality, but at least it is practical and as nearly universal as you’ll find. So, if the choice is practicality or fantasy, I think that choice is easy.

Danny June 24, 2008 at 7:24 am

Fundamentalist,

I laud your efforts. I have had this argument many times, and it almost always, depending on whom you are arguing with, devolves into a muddled mixture of bad philosophy and confused definitions.

In the end it is pretty simple. Without God, an intelligent creator, we are the result of random particles combining, evolving, etc. We serve no great purpose, there are no absolutes, but we can still reason ourselves to what we believe to be the best way to live. This is why an atheist should only argue libertarian ideas from a utilitarian perspective.

That morality couldn’t exist without a God was understood by philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche, but started to become muddled by shoddy philosophers like Descarte, who while admitting that morality could only exist if a God existed, sowed the seeds for philosophers after him to assert the opposite.

When people improperly define morality, it can create a huge chasm in an argument, sometimes insurmountable, as they will proclaim, ‘you are changing the definitions to suit your needs’, while not understanding that it is not the words that you use that matter, but the ideas that those words convey. The same can be said of the Austrian definition for inflation, when I say it is an increase in the money supply, Keynesian refute that now we are fighting on my choice of definitions, when that is just not the case.

Each side may, in their own way be right, but one side is able to distinguish between good and bad definitions, and the other not so much.

fundamentalist June 24, 2008 at 8:38 am

TLWP: “…if morality accounts for the rights of everyone why the Book of Deutoronomy contains the first historical account of ordered genocide (from God)?”

You missed the worst one, the flood in Genesis that wiped out all but 8 people. God is the ultimate judge. If he decides that some people have become so evil that he no longer will allow them to live, he has the authority to do that because he has ultimate wisdom. Mankind doesn’t have that authority

Brainpolice: “For the millionth time, it is disingenous to act as if no atheists believe in universal principles of morality.”

Explain how you can have universality with man-made ethics. You keep asserting it without demonstrating it. I have shown why it’s impossible: no man has authority over other men. So how do you get around that without just ignoring it?

Brainpolice: “All moral propositions are ultimately posited by men, including religious ones.”

But if men can demonstrate that they originate with God, they have universal authority. If not, then no authority whatsoever.
Brainpolice: “So please stop this disingenousness.”
Who is being dishonest? My position is clearly in line with the greatest tradition of Western philosophy. You’re position is the renegade one.
Keith: “With God, every man is free to choose the code of conduct that suits him. What’s the difference?”

The power to reason. If God exists and I can demonstrate that morality issues from him, then I have power in my reasoning and universal application. Also, if God exists, mankind is obligated to try to discover his moral principles. If God exists, man is not truly free. Many men act as if God does not exist and are therefore free. But at the most basic level, people ought to be concerned about what is true, not what they want to be true. The attainment of truth should be sufficient motivation for hones people.

Danny, You make some good points. Thanks! I find that people who care about the truth will find it. Those who have an agenda to defend will never find the truth. To know truth, you have to put yourself in an attitude where you don’t care what the consequences are. To paraphrase Paul, very few people care about truth.

I don’t have any illusion that I’ll change the minds of people like Brainpolice. That’s not why I respond. I do so for the people who read this blog and rarely post but are interested in the truth.

Michael A. Clem June 24, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Without God, an intelligent creator, we are the result of random particles combining, evolving, etc. We serve no great purpose, there are no absolutes, but we can still reason ourselves to what we believe to be the best way to live. This is why an atheist should only argue libertarian ideas from a utilitarian perspective.
As an atheist, I’m glad to know that you think I should not argue from moral principles. But if we’re really interested in truth, as fundamentalist claims to be, then you’re back to trying to prove that God exists, which seems very pointless to me. You can’t say that absolute morality exists because God exists, and you can’t say that God exists because absolute morality exists. Neither is proven and neither is proof of the other statement.
Either morality is absolute or it isn’t. Adding a deity into the picture clarifies nothing about the problem. If there is a God, then you have yet to show that He has provided an absolute morality, much less that such morality proves that there is a God. If, on the other hand, “God” was created by man, then it’s quite obvious that even believers have to “reason ourselves to what we believe to be the best way to live.” And reality proves over and over again that religious people (and non-religious people, too) do that very thing. Were you born Christian, or did you come to believe it over time?
Furthermore, we can reason for ourselves any principles that we find worthwhile to follow. Which ones are worthwhile to follow? Life does follow certain patterns, and has shown again and again that cause and effect are real–to accomplish certain goals, one has to use certain means. Thus life is not so random as Danny makes it out to be. There may not be a “Great Purpose” provided by a deity, but that just means we are free to find our own worthwhile purposes in life, and to take the necessary steps to achieve those purposes. Deriving worthwhile principles helps to achieve those purposes. Arguing from a principle has its limits, but is still a very powerful argument for anyone who wants to achieve the same goal. Thus, atheists are quite justified in using principled arguments as well as practical arguments.

fundamentalist June 24, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Michael: “…you’re back to trying to prove that God exists, which seems very pointless to me.”

You’re right, but whole encyclopedias have been written on that topic. We’ll never accomplish much with that on a blog. But the argument in brief is that morals is an effect for which chemical/biological processes are insufficient causes. It’s circumstantial evidence for God. Sort of like saying a child’s water pistol could not make a hole in a person’s body. If such a hole exists, the likely cause is a gun.

Michael: “Either morality is absolute or it isn’t. Adding a deity into the picture clarifies nothing about the problem.”

I’m not going to argue with you and Brainpolice on that one any more. You don’t get it because you simply don’t want to. I have the testimony of the great atheist philosophers of all time on my side, including Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, Derrida and others. These atheist philosophers are the ones who claim that morality is dead with God, not Christian theologians, although Christian theologians agree with them.

By the way, not only is morality impossible without God, it seems that the great postmodern philosophy Foucault believed that reason was impossible also. I should point out that Foucault is not a fundamentalist Christian, but an atheist philosopher. The following is an excerpt from an article on the subject with the Foucault quote in the middle:

“A good argument can be made that faith must necessarily precede reason. How do you know that all truth must be proved through the use of reason? You cannot use reason to prove this because doing so would violate the very principles of rational inquiry because you would be relying on circular reasoning. A second possibility is that some intuitive knowlege (faith) revealed this principle to you. But if you rely on faith to understand that all truth must be demonstrated through reason, you have just denied your own principle because you have relied on a non-rational form of knowledge, which disproves the very precept at issue, that all true knowledge must be rationally verifiable.”

“A good argument can also be made that God must precede reason. A fundamental assumption of rational proof is that using this method of proof will tell us something about the nature of reality. However, this is an undemonstrated presupposition. Michel Foucault asked in Truth and Juridicial Forms:

“What is it, really, in Western philosophy that certifies that things to be known and knowledge itself are in a relation of continuity? What assurance is there that knowledge has the ability to truly know the things of the world instead of being indefinite, error, illusion, and arbitrariness? What in Western philosophy guarantees that, if not God? Of course, from Descarte, to go back no further than that, and still even in Kant, God is the principle that ensures a harmony between knowledge and the things to be known. To demonstrate that knowledge was really based in the things of the world, Descartes had to affirm the existence of God.”

Therefore, you have two options. You can accept as your first principle that there is a God, and as a result you can legitimately assume that reason corresponds to reality, or you can become an epistemological nihilist like Foucault and dangerously reject any possibility of objective truth or meaning.”

Joe Stoutenburg June 24, 2008 at 1:49 pm

EnEm said:

You may want to read the article again, this time keeping Ron Paul in mind.

I translate:

You may want to read the article again, this time with the preconceptions that back my view.

If you’ll forgive my sarcasm, I’ll suggest a different view with which you could read the article. Read it from the view of one who opposes all institutionalized violence and desires not the remaking of the state, but its elimination.

This desire is one that many (though not all) people at this forum share. I am a little critical of people who claim to entirely oppose the state yet endorse Ron Paul.

Brainpolice June 24, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Fundamentalist: once again, it is disingenous to argue as if atheists have no choice but to become existentialists, post-modernists or nihilists or to speak as if these are the only philophical movements that atheists have been part of. It is further disingenous for Danny argue that an atheist must fall back on utilitarian arguments. I rather passionately argue against a utilitarian approach all the time.

Rothbard’s own position contradicts your claims, as he argued for a rational and universal morality without relying on a any god-concept. The same is true for Ayn Rand, Stefan Molyneux, Geoffery Allan Plauch (a contemporary who hangs around here) and a whole slew of associated libertarians. If you wish to denigrate or ignore the brilliant contributions of these libertarians, that’s your problem, not mine.

“But if men can demonstrate that they originate with God, they have universal authority. If not, then no authority whatsoever.”

This reduces to relying on the authority of men, which contradicts your previous claim. Let’s not be dishonest: what we are really dealing with here is men that claim authority over other men by relying on god-concepts. This is what the history of organized religion has more or less involved: god concepts as an apologetic for the authority of men.

I’m sorry, saying that we must choose between nihilism and your religion is not only intellectually dishonest but insulting.

Michael A. Clem June 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

You’re still missing the point. Whether God exists or not, you’ve still shown no irrefutable link between God and morality. If God exists, and God provides universal objective morality, why is it even necessary to argue for either point? Why do men continue to argue about the existence of God or the validity of objective morality? The answer is simple: because your assertions are simply invalid assumptions.

But the argument in brief is that morals is an effect for which chemical/biological processes are insufficient causes. It’s circumstantial evidence for God.
Perhaps chemical/biological processes ARE insufficient causes–so what? Asserting a deity instead is no answer, and provides no real solution to the problem.
I have the testimony of the great atheist philosophers of all time on my side, including Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, Derrida and others
So, let me understand this: you disagree with atheist philosophers about atheism, but you then turn around and agree with them that atheism requires subjective nihilism? Perhaps I, as an atheist, don’t agree with ANY of their arguments, or perhaps I agree with them about atheism, but not about morality? If you can pick and choose, why can’t I?
Foucalt’s argument is very interesting, and I’m not going to pick it apart here, except that he, like you, is simply assuming a deity. This is bad logic even IF he is right about faith undermining reason. Asserting the existence of a deity still does not guarantee the certainty of knowledge. Once again, God is an unproven assertion whose existence provides no validity to morality or knowledge.

fundamentalist June 24, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Brainpolice: “Rothbard’s own position contradicts your claims, as he argued for a rational and universal morality without relying on a any god-concept.”

And how does Rothbard and others deal with the conclusion of other atheists that deny the possibility of what they attempt? They don’t. They simply ignore the problem.

Brainpolice: “Let’s not be dishonest: what we are really dealing with here is men that claim authority over other men by relying on god-concepts.”

Why would atheist philosophers do such a thing?

Michael: “Whether God exists or not, you’ve still shown no irrefutable link between God and morality.”

I have, but you refuse to understand. Maybe it’s my fault. I just am not smart enough to explain it in a way you can understand. Maybe you should try reading some of the atheist philosophers I mentioned above.

Michael: “Why do men continue to argue about the existence of God or the validity of objective morality? The answer is simple: because your assertions are simply invalid assumptions.”

You’re asking why aren’t men interested in the truth. There are many reasons, but it’s true that most men aren’t interested in truth.

Michael: “Foucalt’s argument is very interesting, and I’m not going to pick it apart here, except that he, like you, is simply assuming a deity.”

Then you didn’t understand what he said.

newson June 25, 2008 at 10:05 am

to fundamentalist, m.clem, brainpolice, danny et al:

where else but mises.org? what a great and impassioned series of posts. a real treat, even for the lookers, like me.

fundamentalist June 25, 2008 at 10:52 am

Newson, Thanks! People have debated this issue for at least 400 years. I don’t think we’ll settle it on this blog. But if you’re interested in the history of the debate, Alister McGrath has a good one in his book “The Twilight of Atheism.”

fundamentalist June 25, 2008 at 11:05 am

Michael: “So, let me understand this: you disagree with atheist philosophers about atheism, but you then turn around and agree with them that atheism requires subjective nihilism? Perhaps I, as an atheist, don’t agree with ANY of their arguments, or perhaps I agree with them about atheism, but not about morality? If you can pick and choose, why can’t I?”

What’s the alternative to picking and choosing? You would have to decide to accept all of nothing of each. That doesn’t sound very reasonable. I don’t accept all of nothing of anyone’s writings. The real issue is on which basis you pick and choose. Do you use sound logic and theory, or do you just pick what suits you?

newson June 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

to fundamentalist:
i seem to recall on another post, where the argument was darwinism vs creationism, you recommended a book on the latter. it addressed what were held to be the scientific flaws of evolution theory.
what was the title?

fundamentalist June 26, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Newson, A book that covers a broad area is “In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood” Dr. Walt Brown of MIT. It’s online at creationscience.com/onlinebook.

fundamentalist June 26, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Newson, I also recently finished “Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome” by former Cornell professor Dr. JC Sanford. Dr. Sanford explains what most geneticists know about genetics but refuse to talk about: the nature of the genome makes evolution scientifically impossible. It’s a depressing book, however, because he shows that mutations are accumulating rapidly and the human genome is falling apart. The future holds little more than increasing numbers of genetically caused cancers and other diseases.

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