Political Movements & Theories

Dispatches from the Front

I correspond almost daily with a friend of 40 years: B. He initiates a lot of our exchanges by sending links to articles in The New York Times and comments that he has received from others about those articles. In the last few days, B and I have had three exchanges that are worth noting here.

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Another correspondent, D, sent this to B:

Obama has been pictured as having many negative qualities by the Right Wing.    Three things are especially repugnant to many on the right.  He’s black, he’s a Socialist or Communist and lately (including this latest one) he is thought to be like Hitler.  Do they see some inconsistency for Obama being thought of as both Fascist and a Communist?

B replied (with copy to me):

You could bend your mind like a pretzel trying to portray Obama as both a Fascist and a Communist.

My response to B:

There is a fairly easy way to reconcile Fascism and Communism. Both are (in practice) forms of statism, wherein the power of the state is marshaled to attain certain ends that are proclaimed to serve the “common interest.”

I think of political ideologies as compass points. Placing anarchism arbitrarily at 0, hard statism (whatever its label) is at 90, “social democracy” (including the U.S. variety) is at 180, and at 270 is libertarianism (the minimal state for defense of life, property, and liberty — close to the spirit of the Constitution).

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B forwarded some quotations culled by another friend, marking the 106th anniversary of the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich. Two of the quotations:

The Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich always has been singularly irritating to this  chronicler… Whenever I hear one of his marches, my imagination fastens upon a picture of the parades in Red Square and the banners of Uncle Joe, and my irritation becomes powerful.

- Cyrus Durgin, The Boston Globe (25 October 1952)

The composer apparently does not set himself the task of listening to the desires and expectations of the Soviet public.  He scrambles sounds to make them interesting to formalist elements who have lost all taste…  The power of good music to affect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, “formalist” attempt to create originality through cheap clowning.  It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.*

- Pravda (on the Shostakovich opera Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk,
“Muddle Instead of Music,” January 1936)

B called out Durgin’s commentary. I replied:

I like Durgin’s statement and share his irritation. In this case, I am also in sync with Pravda, which homes in on the truth about “modern” music: “scrambles sounds to make them interesting to formalist elements who have lost all taste.”

“Modern” music is an “inside” game, played by composers for their own benefit and for the benefit of effete critics and certain audiences who place a high value on being au courant. The latter are the kind of people who applaud Occupy from the safety of their Park Avenue penthouses (radical chic). The practitioners of radical chic are (I suspect) the major source of private funding for the “arts,” which would explain the otherwise inexplicable degree to which modernism permeates not only formal music but also formal dance and the visual arts.

I was a faithful listener of WETA-FM, in the days when it carried classical music in the morning, afternoon, and evening — before the intrusion of “relevant,” consciousness-raising news and blather (e.g., Fresh Air). There was (and probably still is) a 5-minute feature that ran in the afternoon, called Composers Datebook. Every segment closed with “reminding you that all music was once new.” Yes, it was all new (what a blindingly obvious statement) — just as a lot of formal dance and visual art was once new — but was it good?

The foregoing is adapted from a short post of mine: “The Arts: Where Regress Is Progress.”

*   *   *

B often links to something written by David (faux conservative) Brooks. Today, he linked to a piece titled “The Conservative Mind,” wherein Brooks tries to drive a wedge between what he calls economic conservatives (i.e., free-marketeers) and traditional conservatives (i.e., Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and — in his later years — Friedrich Hayek):

There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock.

Another of B’s correspondent’s said, quite sensibly:

I would suggest that it is because of government intervention in the neighborhood that we have 40% of American kids born out of wedlock.  If the government didn’t make it economically affordable and in some cases beneficial to have children out of wedlock, the rate would be much lower.

This was my reaction to Brooks’s muddled attempt to discredit economic conservatives:

The kind of social conservatism that Brooks rightly praises cannot flourish when government distorts social relationships, as it has done through various welfare schemes that created dependencies on government, and through ham-handed egalitarianism (e.g., affirmative action as I have seen it in action, first hand). All such efforts are divisive, not unifying, because they disrupt traditional social relationships and create suspicions, animosities, and rivalries (e.g., who gets to be first in line at the public trough).

Where Brooks goes badly wrong (as I read him) is to place economic and social conservatism in opposition to each other. Economic liberty, where it is allowed, requires and fosters mutual trust and respect. It is, in other words, a unifying instrument of social comity and law-abidingness. Economic liberty requires government, to be sure, but it is a government that is concerned with enforcing the rules of the game (no stealing or cheating), not with enforcing certain outcomes.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (V)

UPDATED (08/13/12)

This is the fifth of a series of occasional posts that link to and discuss writings on matters that have been treated by this blog. The first edition is here; the second, here; the third, here; the fourth, here; and the sixth, here.

Added 08/13/12: Patience as a Tool of Strategy

I wrote about this a while ago. My closing thoughts:

Patience is not a virtue that accrues to amorphous masses, like nations. It can be found only in individuals or groups of individuals who share the same objectives and are able to work together long enough to attain those objectives. Whether such individuals or groups lead nations — and lead them wisely — is another matter.

Imlac’s Journal has a relevant post, about Roman consul and general Fabius Maximus (280 – 203 B.C.),

exemplary in terms of his patience, endurance and self-sacrifice.  He reminds one in many ways of George Washington. Both men lost battles, but in the long run their steady and sensible strategies won wars.

It is possible to be impatient in small things — to have a hair-trigger temper — and yet to be patient in the quest for a major goal. Impatience in small things may even serve the strategy of patience, if impatience (deployed sparingly and selectively) helps to maintain discipline among the ranks.

Added 08/13/12: Beauty-ism

I was amused to find that my post “How to Combat Beauty-ism” has been linked to in the opening paragraph of “Beauty and the Beast: The ‘Othering’ of Women by the Beauty Industry.” This post is on the website of something called The South African Civil Society Information Service: A nonprofit news agency promoting social justice. Seeking answers to the question: How do we make democracy work for the poor?

The author, one Gillian Schutte, who seems to be a regular contributor, is styled “an award winning independent filmmaker, writer and social justice activist.” Ms. Schutte (if “Ms.” is the proper appellation for a South African) appears to be a well-groomed, passably attractive (but not beautiful) person of middle age. She writes:

Beautyism is an assumption that physical appeal prevails [sic] knowledge, value, or anything personable [sic]. It is the inherent bias that bestows all sorts of unproved talents and privileges onto a person simply because she is beautiful.

And it could be, as Ms. Schutte’s writing demonstrates, that a lack of beauty is no guarantee of intelligence. In fact, it might be a source of bitterness, which surfaces as rage against the West and those who dare to be civilized and prosperous. Thus, according to Schutte, the beauty industry

along with the mainstream media, is premised on beautyism and has employed a very effective tool of “othering” those who do not fit into the idealised picture of what is pleasing to the male gaze….

“[O]thering” is a tactic that is used in the marginalisation of many groups of people by the moneyed mainstream. These include the LGBTI sector, the poor, Muslims, and Blacks – and they are marginalised so that those doing the marginalisation can use them as a means to an end. An example is the demonization of Islam in order to push the imperialist oil grabbing agenda of the West.

Wow! From beauty-ism (my preferred spelling) to oil-grabbing in a single post.

I have not seen any oil-grabbing recently, unless it is considered oil-grabbing when Westerners choose to buy the oil that Islamic nations deign to offer for sale. If Islam has been demonized, chalk it up to Islamic extremists, who — among many things — have committed acts of terror against innocents, have punished and murdered persons of the “LGBTI sector,” and are not known for their appreciation of the social value of women, except as bed-partners, bearers of children, and domestic slaves. Such is the selective outrage of the professional “social justice activist.” I could not have written a better parody of “social justice activism” than the one that Ms. Schutte has unwittingly produced.

Income Inequality — The Pseudo-Problem That Will Not Die

The Mismeasure of Inequality” (Kip Hagopian and Lee Ohaian, Policy Review, August 1, 2012) is as thorough a primer on the pseudo-problem of inequality as anyone is likely to find, anywhere. The authors’ facts and logic will not convince hard-leftists who believe in income redistribution and are blind and deaf to its dire consequences for low-income persons. But reasonable people might be swayed.

Closely related are Deirdre McCloskey’s powerful defense of free markets: “Actual Free Market Fairness” (Bleeding Heart Libertarians, June 26 2012) and authoritative demolition of MIchael Sandel’s anti-market screed, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limit of Markets” (Prudentia, August 1, 2012).

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
A Short Course in Economics
Democracy and Liberty
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
A True Flat Tax
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Nature Is Unfair
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%

Cass Sunstein

Ken Masugi’s “Missing the Significance of Cass Sunstein” (Library of Law and Liberty, August 7, 2012) is a just indictment of Sunstein’s anti-libertarian agenda. For example:

Sunstein has written among the most radical critiques of the American Constitution ever espoused. While not a Marxist revolutionary, his criticism is scarcely less transformative. His project of radicalizing the New Deal and the work of Progressives is captured in the subtitle to his book The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever. But the book that is even more explicit is After the Rights Revolution: Reconceiving the Regulatory State (1993).

Sunstein claims to present the regulatory measures of bureaucratic government “in a way that is fundamentally faithful” to the American Constitution. The book’s second sentence acknowledges that “Modern regulation has profoundly affected constitutional democracy, by renovating the original commitments to checks and balances, federalism, and individual rights.” That transformation of basic constitutional principles “culminated in the rights revolution of the 1960s and 1970s”—meaning the Great Society and post-Watergate programs. Sunstein’s task is to reinterpret the regulatory regime “in a way that is fundamentally faithful to constitutional commitments and promotes, in a dramatically different environment, the central goals of the constitutional system—freedom and welfare.”

Sunstein weaves three “more particular goals” throughout the book: 1.) the practical one of combating the Reagan and Thatcher reforms, which were based on market principles and “private right,” 2.) defending the history of government regulation in America, and 3.) proposing “a theory of interpretation that courts (and administrative agencies) …. might invoke in order to improve the performance of modern government.” Sunstein emphasizes that he wishes to save the “basic commitments of the American constitutional system,” not the text of the Constitution or the structure it sets forth. Of course the “rights revolution” has transformed the meaning of those commitments, so we are left in a universe that is open to Sunstein’s creative interpretation. As Postell observes, “The final triumph of postmodernism is to avail itself of modern or pre-modern justifications whenever they come in handy, and disparage them when they don’t.”

This post-modern perspective is richly abundant throughout After the Rights Revolution. If you thought freedom of speech is a “basic commitment” of America, think again: The “fairness doctrine” and even more extreme measures are justified to protect citizens from injuries to their “character, beliefs, and even conduct.” (For Sunstein’s regulatory schemes for the internet, including schemes for requiring links and pop-ups to alternative points of view, see Edward Erler’s Claremont Review of Books  essay, “Liberalchic.gov”)  In a regime of equal opportunity, racial preferences remedy market failures that permit employment discrimination. Of course property rights yield to the common good, as determined by political arrangements on behalf of the general welfare. Thus, the Civil War was fought not to affirm the founding principle of self-government (not to mention the quaint notion that each man owns himself) but to herald the regulatory regime of the New Deal.

With “friends” like Sunstein, liberty and the Constitution need no enemies.

Related posts:
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Libertarian Paternalism
Slippery Sunstein
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Sunstein and Executive Power
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
Are We All Fascists Now?
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do

Free Will

This perennial subject of philosophical and psychological debate gets another going-over by Steven Landsburg, in “Free to Choose” (The Big Questions, July 18, 2012). Landsburg defends the idea of free will. I prefer my defense (from “Free Will: A Proof by Example?“):

Is there such a thing as free will, or is our every choice predetermined? Here’s a thought experiment:

Suppose I think that I might want to eat some ice cream. I go to the freezer compartment and pull out an unopened half-gallon of vanilla ice cream and an unopened half-gallon of chocolate ice cream. I can’t decide between vanilla, chocolate, some of each, or none. I ask a friend to decide for me by using his random-number generator, according to rules of his creation. He chooses the following rules:

  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an odd digit, I will eat vanilla.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat chocolate.
  • If the random number begins in an odd digit and ends in an even digit, I will eat some of each flavor.
  • If the random number begins in an even digit and ends in an odd digit, I will not eat ice cream.

Suppose that the number generated by my friend begins in an even digit and ends in an even digit: the choice is chocolate. I act accordingly.

I didn’t inevitably choose chocolate because of events that led to the present state of my body’s chemistry, which might otherwise have dictated my choice. That is, I broke any link between my past and my choice about a future action.

I call that free will.

I suspect that our brains are constructed in such a way as to produce the same kind of result in many situations, though certainly not in all situations. That is, we have within us the equivalent of an impartial friend and an (informed) decision-making routine, which together enable us to exercise something we can call free will….

Even if our future behavior is tightly linked to our past and present states of being — and to events outside of us that have their roots in the past and present — those linkages are so complex that they are safely beyond our comprehension and control.

If nothing else, we know that purposive human behavior can make a difference in the course of human events. Given that, and given how little we know about the complexities of existence, we might as well have free will.

See also “Is Free Will an Illusion?” (a virtual colloquium at The Chronicle of Higher Education), “Brain might not stand in the way of free will” (New Scientist, August 9, 2012), and my post, “Free Will, Crime, and Punishment.”

Tolerance on the Left

UPDATED (BELOW), 08/10/12

I begin with the Chick-fil-A controversy. If you know more about it than is good for your mental health, jump to the text that follows the  second row of asterisks.

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For the benefit of anyone who has just returned to the U.S. after spending six weeks in Tierra del Fuego, the Chick-fil-A controversy began when the company’s president and COO, Dan Cathy,

made what was seen as an inflammatory statement. Cathy stated: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’. I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”[43][44][45]

And it took off from there:

On July 2, 2012, the LGBT watchdog group Equality Matters published a report with details of donations given by Chick-fil-A to organizations that are opposed to same-sex marriage, such as the Marriage & Family Foundation and the Family Research Council.[46][47][48] Also, on July 2, Biblical Recorder published an interview with Dan Cathy, who was asked about opposition to his company’s “support of the traditional family.” He replied: “Well, guilty as charged.”[49][50] Cathy continued:

“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized. “We intend to stay the course,” he said. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”[49]

In the wake of this interview, Thomas Menino, the Mayor of Boston, stated that he would not allow the company to open franchises in the city “unless they open up their policies.”[51] Menino subsequently wrote a letter to Dan Cathy, citing Cathy’s earlier statement on The Ken Coleman Show and responding: “We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom for all people.”[52] In Chicago alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno announced his determination to block Chick-fil-A’s bid to build a second store in the city: “They’d have to do a complete 180,” Moreno said in outlining conditions under which he would retract the block. “They’d have to work with LGBT groups in terms of hiring, and there would have to be a public apology from [Cathy].”[53] Moreno received backing from Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel: “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” Emanuel said in a statement. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”[53] San Francisco soon followed suit on July 26 when mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted, “Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone.” Lee followed that tweet with “Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”[54]

In the wake of this interview, Thomas Menino, the Mayor of Boston, stated that he would not allow the company to open franchises in the city “unless they open up their policies.”[51] Menino subsequently wrote a letter to Dan Cathy, citing Cathy’s earlier statement on The Ken Coleman Show and responding: “We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom for all people.”[52] In Chicago alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno announced his determination to block Chick-fil-A’s bid to build a second store in the city: “They’d have to do a complete 180,” Moreno said in outlining conditions under which he would retract the block. “They’d have to work with LGBT groups in terms of hiring, and there would have to be a public apology from [Cathy].”[53] Moreno received backing from Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel: “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” Emanuel said in a statement. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”[53] San Francisco soon followed suit on July 26 when mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted, “Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone.” Lee followed that tweet with “Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”[54]

The proposed bans in Boston and Chicago drew criticism from liberal pundits, legal experts and the American Civil Liberties Union. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine said “[T]here’s really no excuse for Emanuel’s and Menino’s actions… you don’t hand out business licenses based on whether you agree with the political views of the executives. Not in America, anyway.”[55] UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh observed, “[D]enying a private business permits because of such speech by its owner is a blatant First Amendment violation.”[56] Echoing those views were Glenn Greenwald of Salon, professor [Jonathan] Turley of George Washington University, and Adam Schwartz, a senior attorney with the ACLU.[57]

The city of New York is heard from, as well:

A powerful New York politician claims she was just speaking as a private citizen when she tried to run Chick-fil-A out of town, but she used her official letterhead and even invoked her position as City Council speaker to apply pressure on the embattled chicken chain.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has mayoral aspirations, sent a letter to New York University president John Sexton on Saturday asking the school to immediately end their contract with the fast food restaurant. The Atlanta-based company’s sole New York City outlet is in the school’s food court.

“I write as the Speaker of the NYC Council, and on behalf of my family. NYC is a place where we celebrate diversity. We do not believe in denigrating others. We revel in the diversity of all our citizens and their families,” the letter begins….

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week that he would not follow the lead of his counterparts in Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, who all said Chick-fil-A was not welcome in their cities. Bloomberg said it was “inappropriate” for any government to decide if a business can or cannot operate in a city because of someone’s political views.

(The first two block quotations are from Wikipedia, as of July 30, 2012. I note the date because history and interpretations of history are notably unstable elements in the hands of Wikipedia’s contributors and editors.)

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It is good to know that there are those on the left (the ACLU, Kevin Drum, and Glenn Greenwald, RINO Bloomberg) who defend Chick-fil-A’s right to exist. But those few voices do not cancel or diminish the left’s general stance of vitriolic disrespect toward persons who oppose the LGBT agenda. That agenda includes legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” (of course), the legalization of adoption by same-sex couples, and a laundry list of other “rights.” All would be secured by depriving non-believers in the LGBT agenda of  freedom of conscience, freedom of association, and property rights.

Tolerance in America — left-wing style — has become a one-way street: Conservatives must succumb to the left’s social agenda, but the left need not tolerate the beliefs of conservatives. Conservatives who oppose the left’s social agenda are not viewed as mere political opponents. Nay, they are — depending on the issue at hand — hate-filled racists or hate-filled gay-bashers.

In a lifetime that now surpasses the number of years prescribed in Psalms 90, I have heard, read, and witnessed much hate. But for sustained, high-volume hate, nothing in my experience exceeds that which pours from the lips and keyboards of left-wingers. As a group, they are intolerant of truth, where it contradicts their cherished beliefs , and hateful toward those whose values conflict with theirs. For example:

  • Skeptics of the flimsy evidence for anthropogenic global warming, and who offer ample evidence against AGW, are flat-earth-global-warming-deniers.
  • Those who believe that governmental interference in economic affairs leads to slower growth and more poverty are not merely drawing out the implications of economic logic and empirical analysis. No, they are the hand-servants of greedy, exploitative corporations and super-rich fat cats (who, oddly enough, bankroll many left-wing causes).
  • Persons who object to the killing of human beings at the fetal stage are not merely principled defenders of life, they are meddling moralists who seek to deny women the convenience of abortion.
  • Those who understand that marriage is a long-standing social institution which cannot be redefined by statute are hate-filled, bigoted troglodytes, not defenders of an essential, civilizing institution.

Left-wingers march in lockstep like wind-up toy soldiers. And all it takes to wind them up is to propose a governmental intervention in social or economic affairs — preferably one that flouts a social tradition that is based on decades and centuries of of experience. Why do leftists have so little respect for the wisdom that accrues in social norms?  Because leftism is rooted in two psychological tendencies. One of them is adolescent rebellion, which can persist for decades past adolescence. This explains the left’s hatred of conventional authority figures who (usually) represent conservative (civilizing) values (e.g., parents, police officers, military officers, members of the clergy).  The other psychological tendency is the urge to dominate others, an urge that leftists project onto conservatives. (See this, this, and this.) In that regard, I have observed, at first hand, that vociferous leftists are fiercely defensive of their autonomy, despite their willingness to deny autonomy to others. (Think “liberal” fascism; more here and here.)

In the face of incessant propagandizing for LBGT causes by the left’s vast academic-entertainment-opinion-cum-news conspiracy,  those who dare to be different are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons. No, the LGBTers are figuratively ensconced in the left’s sheltering arms, where their outré “lifestyles” are celebrated, promoted, and proclaimed to be normal — or, at least, The New Normal. Those who dare to be different, these days, are the defenders of traditional sexuality, traditional marriage, and traditional families — the core of civilized society. UPDATE: It fact, it is now possible to be accused of a crime for the mere act of stating a preference for traditional sexuality, traditional marriage, and traditional families. This is not surprising, given the growth of the thought hate-crime industry.

And so it has come to pass that heads of hugely influential corporations (e.g., Google and Amazon) lend their names and money to the LGBT cause. Having become “the thing to do,” the LGBT cause is joined by lesser corporations. That cause is today’s version of affirmative action; it is embraced by boards of directors and senior executives who do not have to live with the consequences of their politically correct policy edicts. The consequences include the reduction of corporate income (which belongs to shareholders) by the  hiring, retention, and promotion of otherwise unqualified persons — so that the directors and senior officers can feel good about their commitment to “inclusiveness.”

But that is nothing to the destruction of liberty that is sought in the name of LBGT “rights.” Consider the case of same-sex “marriage”:

It was only yesterday, was it not, that we were being assured that the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex partnerships would have no impact on persons and institutions that hold to the traditional view of marriage as a conjugal union? Such persons and institutions would simply be untouched by the change. It won’t affect your marriage or your life, we were told, if the law recognizes Henry and Herman or Sally and Sheila as “married.”

Those offering these assurances were also claiming that the redefinition of marriage would have no impact on the public understanding of marriage as a monogamous and sexually exclusive partnership. No one, they insisted, wanted to alter those traditional marital norms. On the contrary, the redefinition of marriage would promote and spread those norms more broadly.

When some of us warned that all of this was nonsense, and pointed out the myriad ways that Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and others would be affected, and their opportunities and liberties restricted, the proponents of marriage redefinition accused us of “fearmongering.” When we observed that reducing marriage to a merely emotional union (which is what happens when sexual reproductive complementarity is banished from the definition) removes all principled grounds for understanding marriage as a sexually exclusive and faithful union of two persons, and not an “open” partnership or a relationship of three or more persons in a polyamorous sexual ensemble, we were charged with invalid slippery-slope reasoning. Remember?

No one, they assured us, would require Catholic or other foster care and adoption services to place children in same-sex headed households. No one, they said, would require religiously affiliated schools and social-service agencies to treat same-sex partners as spouses, or impose penalties or disabilities on those that dissent. No one would be fired from his or her job (or suffer employment discrimination) for voicing support for conjugal marriage or criticizing same-sex sexual conduct and relationships. And no one was proposing to recognize polyamorous relationships or normalize “open marriages,” nor would redefinition undermine the norms of sexual exclusivity and monogamy in theory or practice.

That was then; this is now….

…[A]dvocates of redefinition are increasingly open in saying that they do not see these disputes about sex and marriage as honest disagreements among reasonable people of goodwill. They are, rather, battles between the forces of reason, enlightenment, and equality—those who would “expand the circle of inclusion”—on one side, and those of ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination—those who would exclude people out of “animus”—on the other. The “excluders” are to be treated just as racists are treated—since they are the equivalent of racists. Of course, we (in the United States, at least) don’t put racists in jail for expressing their opinions—we respect the First Amendment; but we don’t hesitate to stigmatize them and impose various forms of social and even civil disability upon them and their institutions. In the name of “marriage equality” and “non-discrimination,” liberty—especially religious liberty and the liberty of conscience—and genuine equality are undermined.The fundamental error made by some supporters of conjugal marriage was and is, I believe, to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.” There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted. Perhaps parts of such a bargain would be accepted by liberal forces temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined; but guarantees of religious liberty and non-discrimination for people who cannot in conscience accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed. After all, “full equality” requires that no quarter be given to the “bigots” who want to engage in “discrimination” (people with a “separate but equal” mindset) in the name of their retrograde religious beliefs. “Dignitarian” harm must be opposed as resolutely as more palpable forms of harm….

The lesson, it seems to me, for those of us who believe that the conjugal conception of marriage is true and good, and who wish to protect the rights of our faithful and of our institutions to honor that belief in carrying out their vocations and missions, is that there is no alternative to winning the battle in the public square over the legal definition of marriage. The “grand bargain” is an illusion we should dismiss from our minds…. [Robert P. George, "Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the 'Grand Bargain'," Public Discourse, July 19, 2012]

The battle over the legal definition of marriage (and other items on the LGBT agenda) will be won through the exercise of political power, abetted by lies and chicanery, and not by sweet reason. Conservatives will (and should) eschew lies and chicanery, leaving them to the LGBT crowed and its allies. But conservatives should not flinch from the use of political power; their cause is liberty, and it is just.

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Related reading:
Michael Brown, “The Rise of the Intolerance Brigade,” Townhall.com, August 2, 2012
Matthew J. Franck, “Truth and Lies, Nature and Convention: The Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage,” Public Discourse, July 30, 2012
Christian Smith, “An Academic Auto-da-Fé, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 23, 2012
Michael Barone, “Supporters of Ted Cruz and Chick-fil-A Break News,” The Examiner, August 4, 2012

Related posts:
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and “The Authoritarian Personality”
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
The F Scale, Revisited
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
The Psychologist Who Played God
The Left
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
The Left’s Agenda
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty

Liberty and Society

This is the first installment of a series that explores the true nature of liberty, how liberty depends on society, how society (properly understood) has been eclipsed by statism and its artifacts, and how society — and therefore liberty — might re-emerge in the United States.

The typical libertarian — like the one who commented on my post “Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism” — will say something like this:

Liberty is simply defined as “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others.”

This is just a restatement of John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle,” which first appears in Chapter I, paragraph 9, of Mill’s On Liberty:

[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Mill himself reveals the emptiness of his formulation in paragraphs 11 through 13:

[11] …I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. Those interests, I contend, authorize the subjection of individual spontaneity to external control, only in respect to those actions of each, which concern the interest of other people. If any one does an act hurtful to others, there is a primâ facie case for punishing him, by law, or, where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation. There are also many positive acts for the benefit of others, which he may rightfully be compelled to perform; such as, to give evidence in a court of justice; to bear his fair share in the common defence, or in any other joint work necessary to the interest of the society of which he enjoys the protection; and to perform certain acts of individual beneficence, such as saving a fellow-creature’s life, or interposing to protect the defenceless against ill-usage, things which whenever it is obviously a man’s duty to do, he may rightfully be made responsible to society for not doing. A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury….

[12] But there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished from the individual, has, if any, only an indirect interest; comprehending all that portion of a person’s life and conduct which affects only himself, or if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation. When I say only himself, I mean directly, and in the first instance: for whatever affects himself, may affect others through himself; and the objection which may be grounded on this contingency, will receive consideration in the sequel. This, then, is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience, in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it. Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.

[13] No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

The latter two paragraphs (12 and 13) would seem to satisfy the typical libertarian. But they are as empty of content as the bald statement of the harm principle in paragraph 9. What Mill does in paragraph 11 is to pour content into the harm principle — content that the typical libertarian would find abhorrent, for its statism if not for its utilitarianism. The discussion of liberty in paragraphs 12 and 13 cannot be understood without reference to Mill’s restrictive definition of harm in paragraph 11.

To put it another way, liberty — “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others” — is an empty concept unless it rests on a specific definition of harm. Why? Because harm is not a fixed thing — like the number 1 or your house — it is a vague concept that has meaning only when it refers to specific types of act, which then may be judged as harmful by some and unharmful by others. But until harm is defined and agreed through mutual consent (explicit or implicit), liberty lacks real meaning.

My goal in this post is to outline the social conditions that conduce to actual liberty, that is, a kind of liberty that could be found in the real world, given the nature of human beings as self-centered, quarrelsome, often aggressive individuals, as well as loving, cooperative, and generous ones. (Social behavior, in this context, includes what is usually called economic behavior, which is just a kind of social behavior.) I will try to be realistic (rather than pessimistic) about the degree to which liberty is attainable.

I begin with my definition of liberty, which is

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

That may seem just as vague as the harm principle, but it is not. The harm principle is meaningless without an agreed definition of harm. My definition is operationally meaningful, in itself. It says that liberty is found wherever there is peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. Why? Because a society which meets those conditions is a free society to its members, who (by definition) prefer it to alternative conditions of existence. Among other things, they must be agreed about what constitutes harm and how it should be treated.

It is now only(!) a matter of describing the kind of society in which there can be peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. Going from broad characteristics to narrow ones, this is such a society:

1. “Society” has many meanings. This one rings truest:

an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

The “organized patterns of relationships” will include rules about behavior (a moral code). On the negative side, the rules will specify (if only tacitly) what is allowed, what is not allowed, how transgressions should be treated, and how certain mitigating circumstances figure into judgments about and the treatment of transgressions. On the positive side, the rules will specify (if only tacitly) expectations about how certain members of society should treat others (e.g., respect for elders, voluntary aid to those in need, mannerly behavior of certain kinds). A society, in other words, is inseparable from its moral code.

2. Mutual trust, respect, and forbearance allow differences within a society to be resolved through voluntary means, according to its moral code (1).

The means will include compromise; not every member of a society will agree with every rule, the way in which rules are enforced, or every resolution of differences, but every member of society will accept them. When a member of society can no longer compromise his preferences with the enactments of society, and has voiced his discontent to no avail, exit is his only option. Exit, at this stage, is exit from a society, as defined in 1. Unlike the situation that pertains when a person can no longer abide the rules imposed on him by a distant and unrepresentative government that controls a large geographic area, exit from a society need not require physical exile.

3. Mutual trust, respect, and forbearance (2) depend, in turn, on genetic kinship and cultural similarity.

Human beings are, at bottom, tribal creatures. This is a fact of life that cannot be erased by wishful thinking: “Why can’t we just all get along with each other?”

4.  The voluntary institutions of society (civil society) inculcate and enforce a society’s moral code (1), foster mutual trust and respect (2), and help to preserve cultural similarity (3).

The institutions of civil society include families, friendships, neighborhoods, churches, clubs, markets — and interconnected circles of them. Enforcement of the moral code, up to a point, is by voluntary observance (for fear of the social and physical consequences of non-observance. Where unacceptable behavior persists or is egregious, it is dealt with by civil institutions, including ad hoc groups organized for the purpose of controlling, confining, and punishing behavior is uncontrollable through the usual means. Those means include intra-familial punishment, physical retaliation, social signalling (ranging from expressions of approval and disapproval to ostracism, at the extreme). The means, themselves, are encompassed in the moral code.

5. A society’s moral code (1) and culture (3) evolve by trial and error, through the operation of the institutions of civil society (4).

The members of a society perceive that certain behaviors enable the society to thrive, and that others do not. Thriving is a matter of social and economic success, of the attainment of outcomes that the members of society find pleasing, and which they seek to promote by encouraging the behaviors that are consistent with pleasing outcomes and discouraging the behaviors that work against those outcomes. These signals — pro and con — are transmitted through the institutions of civil society (4) and thus become part of the society’s culture (3). Observance of the signals is essential to the maintenance of mutual trust and respect (2).

To summarize: A society coheres around genetic kinship, and is defined by its common culture, which includes its moral code. The culture is developed, transmitted through, and enforced by the voluntary institutions of society (civil society). The culture is the product of trial and error, where those elements that become part of received culture serve societal coherence and — in the best case — help it to thrive. Coherence and success depend also on the maintenance of mutual respect, trust, and forbearance among society’s members. Those traits arise in part from the sharing of a common culture (which is an artifact of societal interaction) and from genetic kinship, which is indispensable to societal coherence.

If the foregoing description is correct, there is one aspect of society — and one only — that a society cannot “manufacture” through its social processes. That aspect is genetic-cultural kinship. To put it another way, it is unlikely that a society’s membership can be drawn from more than one genetic grouping (or cluster), of which there may be dozens. Throw in cultural differences, originating in the geographic separation of otherwise genetically close populations, and the number of distinct genetic-cultural groupings must be very large indeed.

Though it is possible that an occasional outsider can be accepted into a society through acculturation and acceptance, because of bonds that develop between the outsider and insiders, it is far less likely that a society will welcome significant numbers of outsiders. This contention is borne out by the checkerboard and tipping models of voluntary racial segregation:

[E]ven when every agent prefers to live in a mixed-race neighborhood, almost complete segregation of neighborhoods emerges as individual decisions accumulate. In [Thomas Schelling's]  “tipping model”, he demonstrated the effects which emerge when people have varying levels of perception as to acceptable levels for other ethnic groups in the neighborhood. The model shows that members of an ethnic group do not move out of a neighborhood as long as the proportion of other ethnic groups is relatively low, but if a critical level of other ethnicities is exceeded, the original residents may make rapid decisions and take action to leave. This tipping point is viewed as simply the end-result of domino effect originating when the threshold of the majority ethnicity members with the highest sensitivity to sameness is exceeded. If these people leave and are either not replaced or replaced by other ethnicities, then this in turn raises the level of mixing of neighbours, exceeding the departure threshold for additional people. Domino and tipping models were suggested to be explanatory factors for white flight in the 1960s US. Schelling also noted that in different societies, people have residential preferences, for factors other than ethnicity, such as age, gender, income levels.[41] In 2010 Junfu Zhang found support for both the checkerboard model of residential segregation as the only stable spatial arrangement (arrangement not subject to tipping effects), and for tipping effects, showing how these lead to integrated residential areas being irreversibly tipped into complete segregation.[40]

This is “wrong,” in the “liberal” and left-libertarian view of the world.  That view is not based on what can be, given the nature of human beings, but on what ought to be: a desirable but unattainable ideal (see nirvana fallacy).

I will next consider several possible objections to my model of a society’s essence and workings. This series will close with a blueprint for the restoration of society and liberty. The first sequel is “The Eclipse of ‘Old America’ “; the second is “Genetic Kinship and Society“; the third is “Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?

Related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
What Is Conservatism?
Zones of Liberty
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Rush to Judgment
Secession, Anyone?

Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do

Every once in a while, Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) warns against calling Obama a socialist. Here’s a sample:

It is a tactical mistake for libertarians and conservatives to label Obama a socialist. For what will happen, has happened: liberals will revert to a strict definition and point out that Obama is not a socialist by this strict definition. Robert Heilbroner defines socialism in terms of “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production.” To my knowledge, Obama has never advocated such a thing. So when the libertarian or conservative accuses Obama of socialism he lets himself in for a fruitless and wholly unnecessary verbal dispute from which he will emerge the loser.

It is enough to point out that the policies of Obama and the Democrat Party lead us toward bigger government and away from self-reliance, individual responsibility, individual liberty, and sound fiscal policy.  If you want to use the ‘S’ word, you can say that Obama & Co. are pushing us in the direction of socialism.  But calling him a socialist is tactically inadvisable.  Never forget that the whole point is to remove him and his gang from positions of power.  To achieve that goal we need to persuade large numbers of fence-sitters that  that he is leading us down the wrong path.  That persuasion is less likely to happen if we come across as extremists who misuse language….

It’s good advice, and not just for the reasons given by Vallicella. It seems to me that persons of the left — and I mean to include so-called left-of-center “liberal” moderates as well as their “bomb-throwing” brethren on the hard left — suffer a not-fully requited passion for government control of almost everything. As long as it’s their kind of government and as long as their livelihoods are unaffected by what that government controls, of course.

How can so-called “liberal” moderates and “bomb-throwers” be brothers under the political skin? Simple. The so-called moderates like to say that they are against socialism — saying that is what makes them so-called moderates. Yet, whenever a something comes to their attention that they consider unjust, unfair, inequitable, and so on, their knee-jerk response is that government ought to “do something” about it, or to endorse (without thought) the usual and inevitable call for government to “do something” about it. In sum, so-called moderates differ from “bomb-throwers” mainly in being less honest with themselves and others about the depth of their attachment to socialism.

As Vallicella says, leftists will argue that Obama isn’t a socialist. But they will do so only because they know “socialist” is a scare word. And they don’t want their “boy” tainted by a scare word. So they will get technical and defend him (and themselves) by denying that he is in favor of something scary

But, really, they don’t care. To be a socialist is a good thing, even for the so-called left-of-center moderate who tries to conceal his true feelings from himself.

And that is the real reason why it is counterproductive to call Obama a socialist. To be thought of as a socialist (i.e., a lover of big, all-powerful government) is high praise to a large chunk of the citizenry. Daniel B. Klein explains:

Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims — and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romance (henceforth TPR)….

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests….

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved….

[N]ested within the conventional view that government is not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government (“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimum wage law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government…. ["The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)," The Independent Review, v. X, n. 1, Summer 2005, pp. 5–37]

Which brings me to the “f” word: fascism. This is the core meaning of fascism:

Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism. [Morris and Linda Tannehil, The Market for Liberty, p. 18]

That is a proper definition of fascism. It is proper because it is devoid of the emotional baggage that the word carries because of its association with the (rightly) despised regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and lesser figures of the past and present. (That Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei — is an inconvenient fact, and therefore one that is ignored by the left.) Fascism is not — I repeat — not synonymous with such things as concentration camps and the Holocaust. Those were vile  aspects of Hitler’s regime, but they were not fascistic as such. But — and this is a big “but” — it is the lingering memory of concentration camps and the Holocaust that invests “fascism” with its emotional baggage.

The emotional baggage carried by “fascism” can be very useful to libertarians and conservatives who want to see the back of Obama and his crew of brown-shirts. Why? Because, the Tannehills’ definition of fascism fits Obama’s regime (and that of his spiritual predecessors) like a bespoke suit.

If only Romney could find copywriters who had the skills to connect Obama and fascism — subtly but convincingly.  The evidence is there, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots. The word “fascism” couldn’t be used, of course, because it’s a smear word, and its overt use would backfire. But the word could be implied by factually describing the thrust of Obama’s policies, then adding punchlines like these: “Policies that were disgraced long ago”; “Is this the America you want your grandchildren to inherit?”;  “Utopia comes at a high price.” The punch lines would be accompanied by newsreel clips that do not show Hitler, Nazis, or Nazi rallies, but which unmistakeably depict the Germany of the 1930s. Let viewers connect the dots.

Am I going too far in calling Obama a fascist? I think not. Fascism is simply another manifestation of The People’s Romance:

Notwithstanding the arguments of political scientists – who would distinguish fascism from other collectivist –isms such as communism, socialism, or national socialism (Nazism) – these distinctions are really irrelevant because all these forms of collectivism are equally pernicious to, and destructive of, individual rights and freedom. Leftists like to use the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives because they naively believe that socialism is somehow less evil than collectivism of “the right” – that the murder of millions of people killed by Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, by Mao in Red China, or by Pol Pot in communist Cambodia somehow was less evil than the murder of millions of people killed by Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s regime in fascist Italy. Leftists have no legitimate claim on the truth, and neither do they have any monopoly on use of the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives. [David N. Mayer, "2008: Prospects for Liberty," MayerBlog, January 11, 2008]

*   *   *

…B.C. Forbes, the founder of the eponymous magazine, denounced “rampant Fascism” in 1933. In 1935 former President Herbert Hoover was using phrases like “Fascist regimentation” in discussing the New Deal. A decade later, he wrote in his memoirs that “the New Deal introduced to Americans the spectacle of Fascist dictation to business, labor and agriculture,” and that measures such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, “in their consequences of control of products and markets, set up an uncanny Americanized parallel with the agricultural regime of Mussolini and Hitler.” In 1944, in The Road to Serfdom, the economist F.A. Hayek warned that economic planning could lead to totalitarianism. He cautioned Americans and Britons not to think that there was something uniquely evil about the German soul. National Socialism, he said, drew on collectivist ideas that had permeated the Western world for a generation or more.

In 1973 one of the most distinguished American historians, John A. Garraty of Columbia University, created a stir with his article “The New Deal, National Socialism, and the Great Depression.” Garraty was an admirer of Roosevelt but couldn’t help noticing, for instance, the parallels between the Civilian Conservation Corps and similar programs in Germany. Both, he wrote, “were essentially designed to keep young men out of the labor market. Roosevelt described work camps as a means for getting youth ‘off the city street corners,’ Hitler as a way of keeping them from ‘rotting helplessly in the streets.’ In both countries much was made of the beneficial social results of mixing thousands of young people from different walks of life in the camps. Furthermore, both were organized on semimilitary lines with the subsidiary purposes of improving the physical fitness of potential soldiers and stimulating public commitment to national service in an emergency.”

And in 1976, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan incurred the ire of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), pro-Roosevelt historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and The New York Times when he told reporters that “fascism was really the basis of the New Deal.” [from David Boaz's "Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt: What FDR had in common with the other charismatic collectivists of the 30s," a review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch's Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933–1939]

Obama’s regime is nothing less than a new New Deal — on steroids.

Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
The People’s Romance
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America

Obamacare and Zones of Liberty

Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics at Princeton, offers this tantalizing idea:

Let us set up two distinct systems for health care within our nation. Call one the Social Solidarity system and the other the Libertarian system. Ask young people — at age 25 or so — to choose one or the other.

People joining the Social Solidarity system would know that they will be asked to subsidize their less fortunate fellow citizens in health care through taxes or premiums or both. They would also know, however, that the community will take care of them, and they will not go broke, should serious illness befall them.

People choosing the Libertarian system would not have to pay taxes to subsidize other people’s health care, and they would pay actuarially fair health insurance premiums — low for healthy people and high for sicker people.

Libertarians, however, would not be allowed to come into the Social Solidarity system, unless they were so pauperized as to qualify for Medicaid. Hospitals would have every right to use tough measures to make them pay their medical bills in full, to prevent freeloading at the expense of others.

Furthermore, care would have to be taken to prohibit the kind of estate planning that now often permits well-to-do individuals to take advantage of Medicaid benefits. ["Health Care: Solidarity vs. Rugged Individualism," in Economix, The New York Times, June 29, 2012]

Reinhardt’s suggestion has much merit — his loaded labels aside. The “social solidarity” model really amounts to freeloading, or the futile attempt to freeload. The “rugged individualism” model really amounts to a preference for making one’s own decisions instead of having decisions rammed down one’s throat by government — in other words, a preference for liberty.

But, as I say, the suggestion has merit. And the merit extends far beyond the matter of health care. As John Goodman puts it, “why restrict the choice to health care?”

Which leads to my immodest proposal for zones of liberty:

The 50 States (and their constituent municipalities) are incompatible with the kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers. Today’s State and municipal governments are too bureaucratic and too beholden to special interests; they have become smaller versions of the federal government. For, in today’s populous States and municipalities, coalitions of minority interests are able to tyrannize the populace. (The average State today controls the destinies of 25 times as many persons as did the average State of 1790.) Those Americans who “vote with their feet” through internal migration do not escape to regimes of liberty so much as they escape to regimes that are less tyrannical than the ones in which they had been living.

The kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers — and the kind of federalism necessary to liberty — would require the devolution to small communities and neighborhoods of all but a few powers: war-making, the conduct of foreign affairs, and the regulation of inter-community commerce for the sole purpose of ensuring against the erection of barriers to trade. With that kind of federalism, the free markets of ideas and commerce would enable individuals to live in those communities and neighborhoods that best serve their particular conceptions of liberty.

What do I have in mind? A zone of liberty would be something like a “new city” — with a big difference. Uninhabited land would be acquired by a wealthy lover (or lovers) of liberty, who would establish a development authority for the sole purpose of selling the land in the zone. The zone would be populated initially by immigrants from other parts of the United States. The immigrants would buy parcels of land from the development authority, and on those parcels they could build homes or businesses of their choosing. Buyers of parcels would be allowed to attach perpetual covenants to the parcels they acquire, and to subdivide their parcels with (or without) the covenants attached. All homes and businesses would have to be owned by residents of the zone, in order to ensure a close connection between property interests and governance of the zone.

Infrastructure would be provided by competing vendors of energy, telecommunications, and transportation services (including roads and their appurtenances). Rights-of-way would be created through negotiations between vendors and property owners. All other goods and services — including education and medical care — would be provided by competing vendors. No vendor, whether or not a resident of the zone, would be subject to any regulation, save the threat of civil suits and prosecution for criminal acts (e.g., fraud). Any homeowner or business owner could import or export any article or service from or to any place, including another country; there would be no import controls, duties, or tariffs on imported or exported goods and services.

The zone’s government would comprise an elected council, a police force, and a court (all paid for by assessments based on the last sale price of each parcel in the zone). The police force would be empowered to keep the peace among the residents of the zone, and to protect the residents from outsiders, who would be allowed to enter the zone only with the specific consent of resident homeowners or business owners. Breaches of the peace (including criminal acts) would be defined by the development of a common law through the court. The elected council (whose members would serve single, four-year terms) would oversee the police force and court, and would impose the assessments necessary to defray the costs of government. The council would have no other powers, and it would be able to exercise its limited powers only by agreement among three-fourths of the members of the council. The members, who would not be salaried, would annually submit a proposed budget to the electorate, which would have to approve the budget by a three-fourths majority. The electorate would consist of every resident who is an owner or joint owner of a residence or business (not undeveloped land), and who has attained the age of 30.

A zone of liberty would not be bound by the laws (statutory and otherwise) of the United States, the individual States, or any of political subdivision of a State. (The federal government could impose a per-capita tax on residents of the zone, in order to defray the zone’s per-capita share of the national budget for defense and foreign affairs.) The actions of the zone’s government would be reviewable only by the U.S. Supreme Court, and then only following the passage of a bill of particulars by two-thirds of each house of Congress, and with  the concurrence the president. (A zone could be abolished only with the approval of four-fifths of each house of Congress, and with the concurrence of the president.)

Absent such an experiment, I see only one hope for liberty — albeit a slim one — a Supreme Court that revives the Constitution. Politics as usual will only take us further down the road to serfdom.

I wrote that two years ago, and it is based on a post that is now more than six years old. Much has happened since, almost all of it to the detriment of liberty. Would our rulers dare allow at least a few of us to undertake an experiment in liberty? It is doubtful, because they fear the possibility that the experiment would succeed. And if it did, they would face the prospect of demands for more of the same. And where would that leave them? Without vast power. Scratch the idea of asking the federal government or any State government for a zone of liberty.

But maybe it isn’t necessary to ask. Suppose that a new (unincorporated) city were to spring up in, say, an isolated county with a friendly government. Suppose, further, that the new city’s citizens were to do nothing to organize themselves but (a) set up a police department and (b) hire legal counsel to ensure that the residents obey those State and federal laws that they must obey. And suppose that the city were to be an economic and social success, despite the absence of all of the codes and ordinances that ensnare the residents and businesses of today’s typical city.

Isn’t it worth a try? And doesn’t it beat trying to entice libertarians to move to New Hampshire (brrr!) or to live in international waters (pirates off the bow)?

Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism

I highly recommend “Understanding Hayek” as a companion-piece to this post.

UPDATED (BELOW), 06/01/12

This post is in response to Jason Brennan’s post of May 30, “We Are Statists in Classical Liberal Clothing.” Brennan’s post was triggered ” by “Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists,” which I posted on May 10.

I must say, first, that I am grateful to Brennan for linking to my blog, my bio, and the post that offends him. Today, the number of page views at Politics & Prosperity is about double the usual total for a Wednesday.

Now, what is right and what is wrong in Brennan’s reaction to my (admittedly and intentionally) provocative post? The first thing that is wrong with it is that I am not a libertarian, at least not of a kind that Brennan and company would recognize as such. I call myself a Burkean libertarian because (a) I am a Burkean conservative and (b) true libertarianism is found in Burkean conservatism; to wit:

A “true” libertarian respects socially evolved norms because those norms evidence and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?

If socially evolved norms include the condemnation of abortion (because it involves the murder of a living human being) and the rejection of same-sex “marriage” (because it mocks and undermines the institution through which children are born and raised by an adult of each gender, fate willing), the “true” libertarian will accept those norms as part and parcel of the larger social order — as long as it is a peaceful, voluntary order.

The “pseudo” libertarian — in my observation — will reject those norms because they interfere with the “natural rights” (or some such thing) of the individuals who want to abort fetuses and/or grant same-sex “marriage” the same status as heterosexual marriage. But to reject and reverse norms as fundamental as the condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage”  is to create strife and distrust, therefore undermining the conditions upon which liberty depends….

The pseudo-libertarian … is afraid to admit that the long evolution of rules of conduct by human beings who must coexist  might just be superior to the rules that he would arbitrarily impose, reflecting as they do his “superior” sensibilities. I say “arbitrarily” because pseudo-libertarians have not been notably critical of the judicial impositions that have legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, or of the legislative impositions that have corrupted property rights in the pursuit of “social justice.”

All in all, it seems that pseudo-libertarians believe in the possibility of separating the warp and woof of society without causing the disintegration of the social fabric. The pseudo-libertarian, in that respect, mimics the doctrinaire socialist who wants prosperity but rejects one of its foundation stones: property rights.

A true libertarian will eschew the temptation to prescribe the details of social conduct. He will, instead, take the following positions:

  • The role of the state is to protect individuals from deceit, coercion, and force.
  • The rules of social conduct are adopted voluntarily within that framework are legitimate and libertarian.

There is much more to it than that, of course. So, before anyone challenges my view of what truly constitutes libertarianism, he or she should first read the many posts that I link to at the bottom of this one.

Brennan’s second mistake is to assume that I am interested in libertarian purity. The original title of his post was “Libertarian Purity: Statists in Classical Liberal Clothing”; he calls me a hardcore libertarian; and — following a flawed reconstruction of my argument (about which more, below) — he links to an “antidote,” which is a piece by Alexander McCubin called “Let’s Reject the Purity Test.” But, as a non-libertarian, I am uninterested in libertarian purity.

What I am interested in, in the case of Brennan, many of his co-authors at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and others of their ilk, is how they can call themselves libertarians when they are willing to invoke the power of the state to bring the social and economic order into compliance with their preconceptions of its proper shape. It is not as if I suddenly arrived at that assessment. Here is a list of fourteen earlier posts in which I address various aspects of the contorted libertarianism of BHLs:

The Meaning of Liberty” (03/09/11)
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty” (03/25/11)
More Social Justice” (03/30/11)
On Self-Ownership and Desert” (04/22/11)
Corporations, Unions, and the State” (06/30/11)
In Defense of Subjectivism” (08/02/11)
The Folly of Pacifism, Again” (08/28/11)
What Is Libertarianism?” (09/06/11)
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?” (09/22/11)
Regulation as Wishful Thinking” (10/13/11)
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?” (12/17/11)
The Morality of Occupying Private Property” (12/21/11)
The Equal-Protection Scam and Same-Sex ‘Marriage’” (01/03/12)
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts” (02/13/12)

A third, arguably wrong thing in Brennan’s post is his statement that “Hayek was more ‘statist’ than Zwolinski or I.” I do not know how to measure degrees of statism (perhaps Brennan can tell me), but I respect Hayek and his memory because, for one thing, he did not pretend to be a libertarian. This passage from the Wikipedia article about Hayek comports with what I know of him and his ideas:

Hayek wrote an essay, “Why I Am Not a Conservative”[94] (included as an appendix to The Constitution of Liberty), in which he disparaged conservatism for its inability to adapt to changing human realities or to offer a positive political program, remarking, “Conservatism is only as good as what it conserves”. Although he noted that modern day conservatism shares many opinions on economics with classic liberals, particularly a belief in the free market, he believed it’s because conservatism wants to “stand still,” whereas liberalism embraces the free market because it “wants to go somewhere”. Hayek identified himself as a classical liberal but noted that in the United States it had become almost impossible to use “liberal” in its original definition, and the term “libertarian” has been used instead.

However, for his part, Hayek found this term “singularly unattractive” and offered the term “Old Whig” (a phrase borrowed from Edmund Burke) instead. In his later life, he said, “I am becoming a Burkean Whig.” However, Whiggery as a political doctrine had little affinity for classical political economy, the tabernacle of the Manchester School and William Gladstone.[95] His essay has served as an inspiration to other liberal-minded economists wishing to distinguish themselves from conservative thinkers, for example James M. Buchanan‘s essay “Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism”.

A common term in much of the world for what Hayek espoused is “neoliberalism“. A British scholar, Samuel Brittan, concluded in 2010, “Hayek’s book [The Constitution of Liberty] is still probably the most comprehensive statement of the underlying ideas of the moderate free market philosophy espoused by neoliberals.”[96]

In Why F A Hayek is a Conservative,[97] British policy analyst Madsen Pirie believes Hayek mistakes the nature of the conservative outlook. Conservatives, he says, are not averse to change – but like Hayek, they are highly averse to change being imposed on the social order by people in authority who think they know how to run things better. They wish to allow the market to function smoothly and give it the freedom to change and develop. It is an outlook, says Pirie, that Hayek and conservatives both share.

If Hayek was, in some respects, more statist than Brennan and company, his essential program was nevertheless more libertarian — by my lights — because it was more grounded in an understanding of and respect for society as a complex organism. That is why I dedicate this blog to Hayek’s memory.

BHLs, in contrast to Hayek, strike me as shallow and naive. They seem to believe that their proposed interventions in the name of “social justice” would (a) work as intended and (b) not invite further interventions from entrenched (and more powerful) interests. Interventions are to the state what raw meat is to a beast. Libertarians should be proposing ways to tame the beast, not feed it.

Which brings me to my final point: Brennan’s reconstruction of an argument (my argument?) that he attributes to “hardcore libertarians”:

  1. Most of the BHLers think that the consequences of different kinds of institutions matter sufficiently that, under at least some hypothetical circumstances, they would not advocate anarcho-capitalism or minimal statism.
  2. If 1, then BHLers are left-statists.
  3. Therefore, BHLers are left-statists.
  4. Either the BHLers are stupid and don’t know they are left-statists, or they are conniving and know they are left-statists.
  5. The BHLers are not stupid. [Thanks for the bone!]
  6. Therefore, the BHLers are conniving and know they are left-statists.

My argument was rather more complex and nuanced than that. I will not replicate or summarize it here; you can read it for yourself. Brennan focuses on one (non-essential) aspect of my argument, the one that offends him — namely, that BHLs are conniving left-statists. Brennan’s post convinces me that I was wrong to imply that BHLs are connivers; they (or too many of them) are just arrogant in their judgments about “social justice” and naive when they presume that the state can enact it. It follows that (most) BHLs are not witting left-statists; they are (too often) just unwitting accomplices of left-statism.

Accordingly, if I were to re-title the offending post I would call it “Bleeding-Heart Libertarians: Crypto-Statists or Dupes for Statism?”.

UPDATE (06/01/12):

I will not respond to every commentary about this post, but I will say some things about “Saving Liberty from the ‘True Libertarians’,” by “dL” of Libérale et libertaire. First, though, I want to thank dL for using an attractive WordPress theme, Suburbia, I liked the look of dL’s blog so much that I switched to Suburbia almost as soon as I had finished reading dL’s post. [06/08/12: I later found and switched to DePo Masthead. It is another multi-column theme, but unlike Suburbia, the front page of DePo Masthead displays complete, properly formatted posts.] [06/12/12: DePo Masthead had drawbacks that were not evident when I previewed it. I am now using NotesIL, which is much like Enterprise, the theme I had used for at least a few years, but with a brighter look and a sidebar on the left.]

Now, for the serious stuff. It would seem that dL did not heed what I say in the original post:

[B]efore anyone challenges my view of what truly constitutes libertarianism, he or she should first read the many posts that I link to at the bottom of this one.

Had dL done what I suggest, he or she would have learned that I do, in fact, accept Hayek’s “evolutionary social framework methodology.” I repeatedly invoke “voluntarily evolved social norms” as the bedrock of a truly libertarian social order.

And why is such a social order “truly libertarian”? Well, it is easy to say, as dL does, that

Liberty is simply defined as “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others.”

This is an empty formulation that is nowhere close to an operational definition of liberty. Real liberty — what I call “true liberty” — is not a string of words on paper, it is a feasible social order. It is — as I say in several of the posts that dL evidently did not read — a modus vivendi. To spare dL (and others) the trouble of digging through my posts, I quote at length from “The Meaning of Liberty“:

[A]t least one of the bloggers at Bleeding Heart Libertarians — a new group blog whose eight contributors (thus far) are professors of law and/or philosophy — advances the proposition that “liberty” means whatever non-philosophers think it means. The contributor in question, Jason Brennan, justifies his preference by saying  that liberty “is a concept philosophers are interested in, but it’s a not a philosopher’s technical term.”

That may be so, but I would think that philosophers who are going to use a term that is central to the theme of their blog — the connection of libertarianism to social justice — would begin by searching for a relevant and logically consistent definition of liberty. Brennan, instead, casts a wide net and hauls in a list of seven popular definitions, one of which (negative liberty) has three sub-definitions. That may be a useful starting point, but Brennan leaves it there, thus implying that liberty is whatever anyone thinks it is….

I am struck by the fact that none of the definitions offered by Brennan is a good definition of liberty (about which, more below)…. I therefore humbly suggest that the next order of business at Bleeding Heart Libertarianism ought to be a concerted effort to define the concept that is part of the blog’s raison d’etre.

To help Brennan & Co. in their quest, I offer the following definition of liberty, which is from the first post at this blog, “On Liberty“:

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior

The problem with the definitions listed by Brennan should now be obvious. Those definitions focus on the individual, whereas the relevant definition of liberty is a social one. That is to say, one cannot address social justice and its connection to liberty unless liberty is viewed as a modus vivendi for a group of individuals. There is no such thing as the ability to do as one pleases — the dominant motif of Brennan’s list — unless

  • one lives in complete isolation from others, or
  • one lives in the company of others who are of identical minds, or
  • one rules others.

The first condition is irrelevant to the matter of social justice. The second is implausible. The third takes the point of view of a dictator, and omits the point of view of his subjects.

The implausibility of the second condition is critical to a proper understanding of liberty. Brennan says (in “Positive Liberty and Legal Guarantees“) that “[w]e often equate freedom with an absence of constraints, impediments, or interference.” In a political context (i.e., where two or more persons coexist), there are always constraints on the behavior of at least one person, even in the absence of coercion or force. Coexistence requires compromise because (I daresay) no two humans are alike in their abilities, tastes, and preferences. And compromise necessitates constraints on behavior; that is, compromise means that the parties involved do not do what they would do if they were isolated from each other or of like minds about everything.

In sum, “peaceful, willing coexistence” does not imply “an absence of constraints, impediments, or interference.” Rather, it implies that there is necessarily a degree of compromise (voluntary constraint) for the sake of “beneficially cooperative behavior.” Even happy marriages are replete with voluntary constraints on behavior, constraints that enable the partners to enjoy the blessings of union.

The specific landscape of liberty — the rights and obligations of individuals with respect to one another — depends on the size and composition of the social group in question. It is there that the question of positive vs. negative liberty (really positive vs. negative rights) takes on importance. I will tackle that question in a future post.

I would expect dL (and many others) to protest that I hold a morally relative view of what constitutes liberty. I might let that assertion bother me if morality existed as an ideal (Platonic) form, visible to superior beings like dL, but not to mere mortals like me. But morality, itself, arises from the nature of human beings as social animals, a nature that is widely (though not universally) shared across races, ethnicities, and cultures. (On this point, see my posts “Libertarianism and Morality” and “Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote.”) Unlike dL and his or her ilk, I prefer to ground political theory in the possible, not the imaginary ideal.

It seems that dL is especially vexed by what he or she calls my “byline.” This is a slogan that appears near the title of this blog, a slogan that I change from time to time. The current slogan is “Gay ‘marriage’: a tyranny of a minuscule minority.” This, to dL, is evidence that I am a defender of a “’tradition’ is not the actual tradition”; that is, I am anxious to defend a particular status quo instead of allowing social norms to evolve, as a good Hayekian would do.

I do not see how it is unfaithful to conservatism of the Burkean-Hayekian kind to oppose gay “marriage” in the current circumstances. Put simply, we have on the one hand a long-standing social institution that pre-dates the state, and on the other hand a “movement” to redefine that institution through the use of state power: legislative, executive, and judicial. If popular opinion is swinging toward support for gay “marriage,” as has been reported, we can chalk up a good deal of the swing to the influence of state action on popular opinion, and not vice versa. Is that dL’s idea of “actual tradition”?

The “About” page at dL’s blog opens with this quotation:

Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

This is exactly 180 degrees from what is true and feasible in the real world. It is order (of a socially agreed kind) that fosters liberty and defines its precise contours.

David Brooks, Useful Idiot for the Left

David Brooks’s latest atrocity, “The Role of Uncle Sam,” appears in The New York Times of yesterday. I quote, in relevant part:

[T]he federal [government's] role [in the economy] has historically been sharply limited. The man who initiated that role, Alexander Hamilton, was a nationalist. His primary goal was to enhance national power and eminence, not to make individuals rich or equal….

But this Hamiltonian approach has been largely abandoned. The abandonment came in three phases. First, the progressive era. The progressives were right to increase regulations to protect workers and consumers. But the late progressives had excessive faith in the power of government planners to rationalize national life. This was antithetical to the Hamiltonian tradition, which was much more skeptical about how much we can know and much more respectful toward the complexity of the world.

Second, the New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt was right to energetically respond to the Depression. But the New Deal’s dictum — that people don’t eat in the long run; they eat every day — was eventually corrosive. Politicians since have paid less attention to long-term structures and more to how many jobs they “create” in a specific month. Americans have been corrupted by the allure of debt, sacrificing future development for the sake of present spending and tax cuts.

Third, the Great Society. Lyndon Johnson was right to use government to do more to protect Americans from the vicissitudes of capitalism. But he made a series of open-ended promises, especially on health care. He tried to bind voters to the Democratic Party with a web of middle-class subsidies.

In each case, a good impulse was taken to excess. A government that was energetic and limited was turned into one that is omnidirectional and fiscally unsustainable. A government that was trusted and oriented around long-term visions is now distrusted because it tries to pander to the voters’ every momentary desire. A government that devoted its resources toward future innovation and development now devotes its resources to health care for the middle-class elderly….

In his engrossing new book, “Our Divided Political Heart,” E.J. Dionne, my NPR pundit partner, argues that the Hamiltonian and Jacksonian traditions formed part of a balanced consensus, which has been destroyed by the radical individualists of today’s Republican Party. But that balanced governing philosophy was destroyed gradually over the 20th century, before the Tea Party was even in utero. As government excessively overreached, Republicans became excessively antigovernment.

We’re not going back to the 19th-century governing philosophy of Hamilton, Clay and Lincoln. But that tradition offers guidance. The question is not whether government is inherently good or evil, but what government does.

Brooks begins by assuming that the Hamiltonian approach to government is the correct one: An assertion that Madison and Jefferson would refute.

Beyond that, Brooks ignores the evidence of his own analysis, which is that each aggrandizement of governmental power (economic and social) — beginning with Hamilton’s nationalism — fostered subsequent expansions of governmental power. It is a combination of ratchet effects and slippery slopes. The status quo is a baseline from which retreat is nigh impossible because of vested interests; the only possible next step, therefore, is an expansion of government to serve the newest “compelling need.”

Dionne’s so-called consensus never was a consensus. Consider, for example, the relative narrowness of FDR’s and LBJ’s “mandates,” which were in fact  60-40 splits. The fact of the matter is that the rules of the political game — as they have evolved through utter disregard of the real Constitution and the wishes of large segments of the populace — simply have allowed the accretion of power in Washington, even when there has been a “consensus” to diminish that power. I am, of course, thinking of the election of presidents like Harding, Coolidge, and Reagan by margins as great as those bestowed on FDR and LBJ.

If “government excessively overreached” — as Brooks admits — how could it be that “Republicans became excessively antigovernment”? It would seem that their (largely imagined) excessiveness is necessary and proper.

Nor should the “antigovernment” label be allowed to pass without comment. There is a difference between being “antigovernment” (i.e., anarchistic) and “pro-limited-government” (i.e., Madisonian and Jeffersonian rather than Hamiltonian). The “antigovernment” label is a cynical libel routinely deployed by the forces of big government in an effort to discredit those who are bold enough to point out that the expansion of governmental power has undermined social comity and prosperity. (The most cynical of efforts to discredit the opponents of big government occurred in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s atrocious act in Oklahoma City. McVeigh was an antigovernment terrorist. And so it became the theme-of-the-month among the NPR crowd that everyone who is for less government is “antigovernment” and, by extension, a kind of terrorist.)

Brooks wants a limited government, but only if it is limited to a Hamiltonian scope. But the instant that government is allowed to exceed its brief, as it was when Hamilton’s “nationalism” became the central government’s leitmotif, the proverbial genie comes out of the bottle. It can only be stuffed back into the bottle by getting government completely out of the business of trying (in any way) to help business (except to protect it from domestic and foreign predators, of course).

Markets respond quite nicely to real needs, thank you. On the other hand, powerful governments (Hamiltonian and worse) respond to the capricious and costly commands of those who govern.

Related posts:
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
Social Security Is Unconstitutional
The Constitution in Exile
What Is the Living Constitution?
Blame It on the Commerce Clause
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and the States’ Police Power
The Price of Government

The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
Columnist, Heal Thyself
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Left
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Our Miss Brooks
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Undermining the Free Society
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
The Left’s Agenda
The Public-School Swindle
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Miss Brooks’s “Grand Bargain”
More Fool He
Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Society and the State
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
A Nation of (Unconstitutional) Laws
Are You in the Bubble?
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”

Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already

Regular readers will know of my disdain for the “bleeding heart” variety of so-called libertarianism. I not only find bleeding-heart libertarians (BHLs) to be unnecessarily apologetic about libertarianism, but also all too willing to impose their views about “social justice” through state action. (On the latter point, see my post “Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists,” and this from a BHL who clearly advocates state action on utilitarian grounds.)

A recent post by Aaron Ross Powell at Libertarianism.org reminds me that not all useful “libertarian” idiots are housed at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog. Powell’s post, “Libertarian Caring,” makes some good points; for example, Powell ends the post with this:

Liberty does not come at the exclusion of all other concerns. Rather, liberty is the best way to maximize all other concerns. Yes there are libertarians who want nothing more than “to be left alone.” But that feeling doesn’t carry with it Haidt’s implied “and screw all the rest of you.” Instead, “left alone” means freed from officious government so we can better go about making the world a happier, healthier, richer, and more caring place.

Very well said, except that earlier in the post insists that his heart is in the right place not because he is a libertarian but because he “cares”; for example:

Of course libertarians value liberty. But a great many of us, myself included, value caring very highly too. In fact, the reason I shifted from being a progressive to a libertarian was not because my moral foundations changed but because I came to realize that genuine caring means making an effort to actually help people—and that government programs intended to help have a rather poor track record.

Which means that Powell does not value liberty, or thinks of it as a secondary value. In his heart he is still a “progressive” — just one who is looking for the best way to maximize the mythical social-welfare function. Powell is right about the fruits of liberty, but it seems that if he were convinced that liberty did not have beneficial consequences he would revert to statism.

I do not care why anyone is a libertarian, just as long as he is not a left-statist in libertarian clothing.

On that point I turn to David Henderson (with whom I sometimes disagree).  Henderson makes an excellent point in the video embedded here. Free markets (i.e., libertarian institutions) foster ethical behavior because producers compete by striving to do things that benefit consumers. The same is not true of governments and NGOs.

The teaching of ethical behavior is not to be scorned. But scoundrels will always be with us, in all walks of life. There is nothing about business that attracts or breeds a disproportionate number of scoundrels. In fact, I would say that politics and bureaucracies attract and breed more than their share of scoundrels. But even if that is not the case, the scoundrels who are drawn to  “public service” are less constrained in their behavior toward others than the scoundrels who are drawn to business.

Related posts:
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists

Not-So-Random Thoughts (III)

This is the third of a series of occasional posts that link to and discuss writings on matters that have been treated by this blog. The first edition is here; the second, here; the fourth, here; the fifth, here; and the sixth, here.

Apropos Science

In the vein of “Something from Nothing?” there is this:

[Stephen] Meyer also argued [in a a recent talk at the University Club in D.C.] that biological evolutionary theory, which “attempts to explain how new forms of life evolved from simpler pre-existing forms,” faces formidable difficulties. In particular, the modern version of Darwin’s theory, neo-Darwinism, also has an information problem.

Mutations, or copying errors in the DNA, are analogous to copying errors in digital code, and they supposedly provide the grist for natural selection. But, Meyer said: “What we know from all codes and languages is that when specificity of sequence is a condition of function, random changes degrade function much faster than they come up with something new.”…

The problem is comparable to opening a big combination lock. He asked the audience to imagine a bike lock with ten dials and ten digits per dial. Such a lock would have 10 billion possibilities with only one that works. But the protein alphabet has 20 possibilities at each site, and the average protein has about 300 amino acids in sequence….

Remember: Not just any old jumble of amino acids makes a protein. Chimps typing at keyboards will have to type for a very long time before they get an error-free, meaningful sentence of 150 characters. “We have a small needle in a huge haystack.” Neo-Darwinism has not solved this problem, Meyer said. “There’s a mathematical rigor to this which has not been a part of the so-called evolution-creation debate.”…

“[L]eading U.S. biologists, including evolutionary biologists, are saying we need a new theory of evolution,” Meyer said. Many increasingly criticize Darwinism, even if they don’t accept design. One is the cell biologist James Shapiro of the University of Chicago. His new book is Evolution: A View From the 21st Century. He’s “looking for a new evolutionary theory.” David Depew (Iowa) and Bruce Weber (Cal State) recently wrote in Biological Theory that Darwinism “can no longer serve as a general framework for evolutionary theory.” Such criticisms have mounted in the technical literature. (Tom Bethell, “Intelligent Design at the University Club,” American Spectator, May 2012)

And this:

[I]t is startling to realize that the entire brief for demoting human beings, and organisms in general, to meaningless scraps of molecular machinery — a demotion that fuels the long-running science-religion wars and that, as “shocking” revelation, supposedly stands on a par with Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal — rests on the vague conjunction of two scarcely creditable concepts: the randomness of mutations and the fitness of organisms. And, strangely, this shocking revelation has been sold to us in the context of a descriptive biological literature that, from the molecular level on up, remains almost nothing buta documentation of the meaningfully organized, goal-directed stories of living creatures.

Here, then, is what the advocates of evolutionary mindlessness and meaninglessness would have us overlook. We must overlook, first of all, the fact that organisms are masterful participants in, and revisers of, their own genomes, taking a leading position in the most intricate, subtle, and intentional genomic “dance” one could possibly imagine. And then we must overlook the way the organism responds intelligently, and in accord with its own purposes, to whatever it encounters in its environment, including the environment of its own body, and including what we may prefer to view as “accidents.” Then, too, we are asked to ignore not only the living, reproducing creatures whose intensely directed lives provide the only basis we have ever known for the dynamic processes of evolution, but also all the meaning of the larger environment in which these creatures participate — an environment compounded of all the infinitely complex ecological interactions that play out in significant balances, imbalances, competition, cooperation, symbioses, and all the rest, yielding the marvelously varied and interwoven living communities we find in savannah and rainforest, desert and meadow, stream and ocean, mountain and valley. And then, finally, we must be sure to pay no heed to the fact that the fitness, against which we have assumed our notion of randomness could be defined, is one of the most obscure, ill-formed concepts in all of science.

Overlooking all this, we are supposed to see — somewhere — blind, mindless, random, purposeless automatisms at the ultimate explanatory root of all genetic variation leading to evolutionary change. (Stephen L. Talbott, “Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness,” The New Atlantis, Fall 2011)

My point is not to suggest that that the writers are correct in their conjectures. Rather, the force of their conjectures shows that supposedly “settled” science is (a) always far from settled (on big questions, at least) and (b) necessarily incomplete because it can never reach ultimate truths.

Trayvon, George, and Barack

Recent revelations about the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman suggest the following:

  • Martin was acting suspiciously and smelled of marijuana.
  • Zimmerman was rightly concerned about Martin’s behavior, given the history of break-ins in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.
  • Martin attacked Zimmerman, had him on the ground, was punching his face, and had broken his nose.
  • Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense.

Whether the encounter was “ultimately avoidable,” as a police report asserts, is beside the point.  Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and the case against him should be dismissed. The special prosecutor should be admonished by the court for having succumbed to media and mob pressure in bringing a charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman.

What we have here is the same old story: Black “victim”–>media frenzy to blame whites (or a “white Hispanic”), without benefit of all relevant facts–>facts exonerate whites. To paraphrase Shakespeare: The first thing we should do after the revolution is kill all the pundits (along with the lawyers).

Obama famously said, “”If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Given the thuggish similarity between Trayvon and Obama (small sample here), it is more accurate to say that if Obama had a son, he would be like Trayvon.

Creepy People

Exhibit A is Richard Thaler, a self-proclaimed libertarian who is nothing of the kind. Thaler defends the individual mandate that is at the heart of Obamacare (by implication, at least), when he attacks the “slippery slope” argument against it. Annon Simon nails Thaler:

Richard Thaler’s NYT piece from a few days ago, Slippery-Slope Logic, Applied to Health Care, takes conservatives to task for relying on a “slippery slope” fallacy to argue that Obamacare’s individual mandate should be invalidated. Thaler believes that the hypothetical broccoli mandate — used by opponents of Obamacare to show that upholding the mandate would require the Court to acknowledge congressional authority to do all sorts of other things — would never be adopted by Congress or upheld by a federal court. This simplistic view of the Obamacare litigation obscures legitimate concerns over the amount of power that the Obama administration is claiming for the federal government. It also ignores the way creative judges can use previous cases as building blocks to justify outcomes that were perhaps unimaginable when those building blocks were initially formed….

[N]ot all slippery-slope claims are fallacious. The Supreme Court’s decisions are often informed by precedent, and, as every law student learned when studying the Court’s privacy cases, a decision today could be used by a judge ten years from now to justify outcomes no one had in mind.

In 1965, the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, referencing penumbras and emanations, recognized a right to privacy in marriage that mandated striking down an anti-contraception law.

Seven years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, this right expanded to individual privacy, because after all, a marriage is made of individuals, and “[i]f the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual . . . to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

By 1973 in Roe v. Wade, this precedent, which had started out as a right recognized in marriage, had mutated into a right to abortion that no one could really trace to any specific textual provision in the Constitution. Slippery slope anyone?

This also happened in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, where the Supreme Court struck down an anti-sodomy law. The Court explained that the case did not involve gay marriage, and Justice O’Connor’s concurrence went further, distinguishing gay marriage from the case at hand. Despite those pronouncements, later decisions enshrining gay marriage as a constitutionally protected right have relied upon Lawrence. For instance, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (Mass. 2003) cited Lawrence 9 times, Varnum v. Brien (Iowa 2009) cited Lawrence 4 times, and Perry v. Brown (N.D. Cal, 2010) cited Lawrence 9 times.

However the Court ultimately rules, there is no question that this case will serve as a major inflection point in our nation’s debate about the size and scope of the federal government. I hope it serves to clarify the limits on congressional power, and not as another stepping stone on the path away from limited, constitutional government. (“The Supreme Court’s Slippery Slope,” National Review Online, May 17, 2012)

Simon could have mentioned Wickard v. Filburn (1942), in which the Supreme Court brought purely private, intrastate activity within the reach of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. The downward slope from Wickard v. Filburn to today’s intrusive regulatory regime has been been not merely slippery but precipitous.

Then there is Brian Leiter, some of whose statist musings I have addressed in the past. It seems that Leiter has taken to defending the idiotic Elizabeth Warren for her convenient adoption of a Native American identity. Todd Zywicki tears a new one for Leiter:

I was out of town most of last week and I wasn’t planning on blogging any more on the increasingly bizarre saga of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry, which as of the current moment appears to be entirely unsubstantiated.  But I was surprised to see Brian Leiter’s post doubling-down in his defense of Warren–and calling me a “Stalinist” to boot (although I confess it is not clear why or how he is using that term).  So I hope you will indulge me while I respond.

First, let me say again what I expressed at the outset–I have known from highly-credible sources for a decade that in the past Warren identified herself as a Native American in order to put herself in a position to benefit from hiring preferences (I am certain that Brian knows this now too).  She was quite outspoken about it at times in the past and, as her current defenses have suggested, she believed that she was entitled to claim it.  So there would have been no reason for her to not identify as such and in fact she was apparently quite unapologetic about it at the time….

Second, Brian seems to believe for some reason that the issue here is whether Warren actually benefited from a hiring preference.  Of course it is not (as my post makes eminently clear).  The issue I raised is whether Warren made assertions as part of the law school hiring process in order to put herself in a position to benefit from a hiring preference for which she had no foundation….

Third, regardless of why she did it, Warren herself actually had no verifiable basis for her self-identification as Native American.  At the very least her initial claim was grossly reckless and with no objective foundation–it appears that she herself has never had any foundation for the claim beyond “family lore” and her “high cheekbones.”… Now it turns out that the New England Historical Genealogical Society, which had been the source for the widely-reported claim that she might be 1/32 Cherokee, has rescinded its earlier conclusion and now says “We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great great great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent.”  The story adds, “Their announcement came in the wake of an official report from an Oklahoma county clerk that said a document purporting to prove Warren’s Cherokee roots — her great great great grandmother’s marriage license application — does not exist.”  A Cherokee genealogist has similarly stated that she can find no evidence to support Warren’s claim.  At this point her claim appears to be entirely unsupported as an objective matter and it appears that she herself had no basis for it originally.

Fourth, Brian’s post also states the obvious–that there is plenty of bad blood between Elizabeth and myself.  But, of course, the only reason that this issue is interesting and relevant today is because Warren is running for the U.S. Senate and is the most prominent law professor in America at this moment.

So, I guess I’ll conclude by asking the obvious question: if a very prominent conservative law professor (say, for example, John Yoo) had misrepresented himself throughout his professorial career in the manner that Elizabeth Warren has would Brian still consider it to be “the non-issue du jour“?  Really?

I’m not sure what a “Stalinist” is.  But I would think that ignoring a prominent person’s misdeeds just because you like her politics, and attacking the messenger instead, just might fit the bill. (“New England Genealogical Historical Society Rescinds Conclusion that Elizabeth Warren Might Be Cherokee,” The Volokh Conspiracy, May 17, 2012)

For another insight into Leiter’s character, read this and weep not for him.

Tea Party Sell-Outs

Business as usual in Washington:

This week the Club for Growth released a study of votes cast in 2011 by the 87 Republicans elected to the House in November 2010. The Club found that “In many cases, the rhetoric of the so-called “Tea Party” freshmen simply didn’t match their records.” Particularly disconcerting is the fact that so many GOP newcomers cast votes against spending cuts.

The study comes on the heels of three telling votes taken last week in the House that should have been slam-dunks for members who possess the slightest regard for limited government and free markets. Alas, only 26 of the 87 members of the “Tea Party class” voted to defund both the Economic Development Administration and the president’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program (see my previous discussion of these votes here) and against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank (see my colleague Sallie James’s excoriation of that vote here).

I assembled the following table, which shows how each of the 87 freshman voted. The 26 who voted for liberty in all three cases are highlighted. Only 49 percent voted to defund the EDA. Only 56 percent voted to defund a new corporate welfare program requested by the Obama administration. And only a dismal 44 percent voted against reauthorizing “Boeing’s bank.” That’s pathetic. (Tad DeHaven, “Freshman Republicans Switch from Tea to Kool-Aid,” Cato@Liberty, May 17, 2012)

Lesson: Never trust a politician who seeks a position of power, unless that person earns trust by divesting the position of power.

PCness

Just a few of the recent outbreaks of PCness that enraged me:

Michigan Mayor Calls Pro-Lifers ‘Forces of Darkness’” (reported by LifeNews.com on May 11, 2012)

US Class Suspended for Its View on Islam” (reported by CourierMail.com.au, May 11, 2012)

House Democrats Politicize Trayvon Martin” (posted at Powerline, May 8, 2012)

Chronicle of Higher Education Fires Blogger for Questioning Seriousness of Black Studies Depts.” (posted at Reason.com/hit & run, May 8, 2012)

Technocracy, Externalities, and Statism

From a review of Robert Frank’s The Darwin Economy:

In many ways, economics is the discipline best suited to the technocratic mindset. This has nothing to do with its traditional subject matter. It is not about debating how to produce goods and services or how to distribute them. Instead, it relates to how economics has emerged as an approach that distances itself from democratic politics and provides little room for human agency.

Anyone who has done a high-school course in economics is likely to have learned the basics of its technocratic approach from the start. Students have long been taught that economics is a ‘positive science’ – one based on facts rather than values. Politicians are entitled to their preferences, so the argument went, but economists are supposed to give them impartial advice based on an objective examination of the facts.

More recently this approach has been taken even further. The supposedly objective role of the technocrat-economist has become supreme, while the role of politics has been sidelined….

The starting point of The Darwin Economy is what economists call the collective action problem: the divergence between individual and collective interests. A simple example is a fishermen fishing in a lake. For each individual, it might be rational to catch as many fish as possible, but if all fishermen follow the same path the lake will eventually be empty. It is therefore deemed necessary to find ways to negotiate this tension between individual and group interests.

Those who have followed the discussion of behavioural economics will recognise that this is an alternative way of viewing humans as irrational. Behavioural economists focus on individuals behaving in supposedly irrational ways. For example, they argue that people often do not invest enough to secure themselves a reasonable pension. For Frank, in contrast, individuals may behave rationally but the net result of group behaviour can still be irrational….

…From Frank’s premises, any activity considered harmful by experts could be deemed illegitimate and subjected to punitive measures….

…[I]t is … wrong to assume that there is no more scope for economic growth to be beneficial. Even in the West, there is a long way to go before scarcity is limited. This is not just a question of individuals having as many consumer goods as they desire – although that has a role. It also means having the resources to provide as many airports, art galleries, hospitals, power stations, roads, schools, universities and other facilities as are needed. There is still ample scope for absolute improvements in living standards…. (Daniel Ben-ami, “Delving into the Mind of the Technocrat,” The Spiked Review of Books, February 2012)

There is much to disagree with in the review, but the quoted material is right on. It leads me to quote myself:

…[L]ife is full of externalities — positive and negative. They often emanate from the same event, and cannot be separated. State action that attempts to undo negative externalities usually results in the negation or curtailment of positive ones. In terms of the preceding example, state action often is aimed at forcing the attractive woman to be less attractive, thus depriving quietly appreciative men of a positive externality, rather than penalizing the crude man if his actions cross the line from mere rudeness to assault.

The main argument against externalities is that they somehow result in something other than a “social optimum.” This argument is pure, economistic hokum. It rests on the unsupportable belief in a social-welfare function, which requires the balancing (by an omniscient being, I suppose) of the happiness and unhappiness that results from every action that affects another person, either directly or indirectly….

A believer in externalities might respond by saying that they are of “economic” importance only as they are imposed on bystanders as a spillover from economic transactions, as in the case of emissions from a power plant that can cause lung damage in susceptible persons. Such a reply is of a kind that only an omniscient being could make with impunity. What privileges an economistic thinker to say that the line of demarcation between relevant and irrelevant acts should be drawn in a certain place? The authors of campus speech codes evidently prefer to draw the line in such a way as to penalize the behavior of the crude man in the above example. Who is the economistic thinker to say that the authors of campus speech codes have it wrong? And who is the legalistic thinker to say that speech should be regulated by deferring to the “feelings” that it arouses in persons who may hear or read it?

Despite the intricacies that I have sketched, negative externalities are singled out for attention and rectification, to the detriment of social and economic intercourse. Remove the negative externalities of electric-power generation and you make more costly (and even inaccessible) a (perhaps the) key factor in America’s economic growth in the past century. Try to limit the supposed negative externality of human activity known as “greenhouse gases” and you limit the ability of humans to cope with that externality (if it exists) through invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Limit the supposed negative externality of “offensive” speech and you quickly limit the range of ideas that may be expressed in political discourse. Limit the supposed externalities of suburban sprawl and you, in effect, sentence people to suffer the crime, filth, crowding, contentiousness, heat-island effects, and other externalities of urban living.

The real problem is not externalities but economistic and legalistic reactions to them….

The main result of rationalistic thinking — because it yields vote-worthy slogans and empty promises to fix this and that “problem” — is the aggrandizement of the state, to the detriment of civil society.

The fundamental error of rationalists is to believe that “problems” call for collective action, and to identify collective action with state action. They lack the insight and imagination to understand that the social beings whose voluntary, cooperative efforts are responsible for mankind’s vast material progress are perfectly capable of adapting to and solving “problems,” and that the intrusions of the state simply complicate matters, when not making them worse. True collective action is found in voluntary social and economic intercourse, the complex, information-rich content of which rationalists cannot fathom. They are as useless as a blind man who is shouting directions to an Indy 500 driver….

Theodore Dalrymple

If you do not know of Theodore Dalrymple, you should. His book, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, inspired  “On Liberty,” the first post at this blog. Without further ado, I commend these recent items by and about Dalrymple:

Rotting from the Head Down” (an article by Dalrymple about the social collapse of Britain, City Journal, March 8, 2012)

Symposium: Why Do Progressives Love Criminals?” (Dalrymple and others, FrontPageMag.com, March 9, 2012)

Doctors Should Not Vote for Industrial Action,” a strike, in American parlance (a post by Dalrymple, The Social Affairs Unit, March 22, 2012)

The third item ends with this:

The fact is that there has never been, is never, and never will be any industrial action over the manifold failures of the public service to provide what it is supposed to provide. Whoever heard of teachers going on strike because a fifth of our children emerge from 11 years of compulsory education unable to read fluently, despite large increases in expenditure on education?

If the doctors vote for industrial action, they will enter a downward spiral of public mistrust of their motives. They should think twice before doing so.

Amen.

The Higher-Eduction Bubble

The title of a post at The Right Coast tells the tale: “Under 25 College Educated More Unemployed than Non-college Educated for First Time.” As I wrote here,

When I entered college [in 1958], I was among the 28 percent of high-school graduates then attending college. It was evident to me that about half of my college classmates didn’t belong in an institution of higher learning. Despite that, the college-enrollment rate among high-school graduates has since doubled.

(Also see this.)

American taxpayers should be up in arms over the subsidization of an industry that wastes their money on the useless education of masses of indeducable persons. Then there is the fact that taxpayers are forced to subsidize the enemies of liberty who populate university faculties.

The news about unemployment among college grads may hasten the bursting of the higher-ed bubble. It cannot happen too soon.

Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists

A welcome to the readers of Jason Brennan’s “We Are Statists in Classical Liberal Clothing.” I have posted a response to Brennan (here). Thank you for visiting this blog.

I have been amused and somewhat bemused by the ongoing verbal war about bleeding-heart libertarians and bleeding-heart libertarianism (both BHL hereinafter). The main point of contention is the love of BHLs for “social justice.” The main  battlefields are the April 2012 issue of Cato Unbound* and most of the recent posts at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

I have assayed BHL elsewhere. Here are relevant excerpts of my earlier assessment:

Matt Zwolinski asks [What Is Bleeding Heart Libertarianism?] in a post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and answers it by positing three types of bleeding-heart libertarian:

Contingent BHLs – This group has what might be described as standard right-libertarian views for standard right-libertarian reasons.  They believe that the state should more-or-less be constrained to the protection of negative liberty….  However, the fact that a libertarian state is good for the poor and vulnerable does not play an essential justificatory role for this group.  Libertarian institutions are justified independently and sufficiently on the basis of rights and/or consequences, and would still be justified even if they were not good for the poor and vulnerable….

Anarchist Left BHLs – …I sometimes have a bit of a hard time pinning this position down.  At times, it seems to be little more than right-anarchist-libertarianism combined with some distinctive empirical beliefs about the effects and characteristic functioning of markets and the state.  Morally, anarchist Left BHLs seem to have pretty standard libertarian views about self-ownership and the ownership of external property and, like Rothbard but unlike Nozick or Rand, conclude from these premises that all states are morally unjustifiable.  What sets them apart from right-Rothbardians seems mainly to be empirical beliefs about the extent to which contemporary capitalism is the product of and dependent on unjust government support, and about the extent to which the poor and working classes would be made especially better off in a stateless society….

Strong BHLs – Finally, there is my own preferred view…. The most important aspect of this view, and the aspect that distinguishes it from both the positions above,  is that it holds that libertarian institutions depend in part for their moral justification on the extent to which they serve the interests of the poor and vulnerable….

…Here is how Zwolinski explains [the strong BHL position], in an interview to which he links:

So to see if you kind of qualify as a bleeding heart libertarian in that strong sense, try a thought experiment. Suppose that all the critics of libertarianism were right about the empirical claims that they make: that markets are rife with failures, they tend to cause the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, that this leads to the exploitation of workers by capitalists. If all those claims were really true, and libertarians don’t believe that they are, but suppose they were. Would you then still be a hardcore libertarian? If the answer to that is no, then I think you might be a bleeding heart libertarian….

Note the circular reasoning: Libertarian institutions depend in part for their moral justification on the extent to which they serve the interests of the poor and vulnerable, but the libertarian institution of free markets “fails” because one result of free markets is that some persons make less than others, that is, they are necessarily “poor” by the usual, relative measure of “poorness” in the United States.

That most “poor” Americans are vastly better off than the abjectly impoverished denizens of much of Africa seems not to weigh on BHLs, who stand ready to exact “social justice” on behalf of their “poor” countrymen. That another libertarian institution — private charity (both organized and spontaneous) — can and does alleviate poverty (and other sufferings) seems to to missing from what is in fact a summary judgment against libertarianism. Libertarianism — advocacy of voluntary social and economic arrangements — is tainted, in the view of BHLs, if it does not also yield “social justice.”

The tension between liberty and “social justice” is the subject of the recently published  Free Market Fairness, written by John Tomasi. According to one review, Tomasi’s thesis is that the proverbial “we”

have been forced … to choose between social justice and economic freedom, often in reductive forms governed by moralistic absolutes. On one side is a frequently “bullying (and morally condescending)” left-liberalism; on the other an often “cold and heartless” libertarianism. It is widely thought, Mr. Tomasi says, that there can be “no common ground” between the two sides. The antagonists enter the fray believing that “when the dust settles, one side will win and the other will lose.”

Mr. Tomasi, a political theorist at Brown University, is unhappy with this stark choice. He confesses that he is attracted to the ideals of both camps. He also observes that much has changed since the 1970s. As we move into a postindustrial, Internet economy, it becomes increasingly clear that people of all income levels value the right to make economic choices. Yet most people also believe in something like social justice, supporting programs that adjust for inequalities.

With “Free Market Fairness,” Mr. Tomasi proposes an alternative to both points of view. He christens it “market democracy,” a mix of economic liberty and social justice that, in his view, supports a morally superior ideal than either the minimal state or welfare-state liberalism. Market democracy is not meant to be a mushy compromise or mere middle way, he says, but a “hybrid” that stands on its own merits.

Mr. Tomasi’s idea of a market democracy breaks with key ideas on both sides of the debate. First, he argues—against the socialist ethic of Rawls—that economic liberty is among the basic rights of individuals, as fundamental as the right to free speech. That is, we value economic liberty not merely for reasons of utility but for the ways in which it enables us to be the authors of our own lives. As Mr. Tomasi eloquently explains: “Restrictions of economic liberty, no matter how lofty the social goal, impose conformity on the life stories that free citizens might otherwise compose.”

Second, market democracy breaks with modern libertarian thinking by taking the claims of social justice seriously. Unlike Hayek, Mr. Tomasi does not believe that social justice is a mere will-o’-the-wisp. Nor does he believe that society is little more than the sum of private transactions. For Mr. Tomasi, society is “a public thing,” and thus all citizens should be able to affirm that its arrangements are fair. “A set of institutions is just,” he writes, reworking Rawls, “only if it works over time to improve the condition of the least well-off citizens.”

Market democracy recognizes that the question of social justice is a real one but without assuming that ordinary people don’t value economic liberty. Thus Mr. Tomasi believes that health care is a matter of social justice, but he prefers market-based approaches (with a safety net). “In seeking to benefit the least well off,” he says, “we must take care to do so in ways that respect the autonomy and dignity of those citizens.”

But he notes that economic liberty, as a triumphant principle, can lead to repellent results. To take a classic example, a person has no right to sell himself into slavery. Nor, Mr. Tomasi suggests, should the state sit idly by while sectors of society fall into grinding poverty and social dysfunction. The state has an obligation, he argues, to intrude upon laissez-faire arrangements so that “the exercise of responsible self-authorship” is possible.

It isn’t entirely clear how market democracy would function in the policy debates of the moment. Mr. Tomasi’s book is emphatically a work of political theory, not a blueprint for political action, much less a catalog of policy solutions. He does believe though that market democracy offers a way out of our either-or political debate, which at its extremes pits the Tea Party against the Occupy Wall Street movement. Market democracy would make the welfare of the very poor a top concern but would find little justice in mere wealth redistribution….

There is more specificity in Zwolinski and Tomasi’s lead essay for the April 2012 issue of Cato Unbound. Here are some relevant excerpts:

During the Progressive era, [Ludwig von] Mises complained that advocates of the New Liberalism [i.e., modern "liberals"] “arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to call their own program the program of welfare.” Mises regarded this as “a cheap logical trick.” The fact that classical liberals do not rely upon direct, state-based programs to distribute benefits does not mean that they are any less concerned for the poor.[15] Defending his preferred system of economic liberty, Mises wrote: “Any increase in total capital raises the income of capitalists and landowners absolutely and that of workers both absolutely and relatively. . . The interests of entrepreneurs can never diverge from those of consumers.”[16] If capitalism benefits the poor not just in real terms but also relatively to the wealthy, then capitalism is especially beneficial to the poor.

Mises’s critics (and some of his defenders) read Mises as whitewashing an uncompromising system of economic liberty with the idle hope that such a system maximizes productivity. On this reading, it is overall productivity that Mises cared about, and the distributional pattern that results is something about which Mises cared not one jot. However, notice what Mises did not say. He did not say: “The institutions of commercial society generate the greatest aggregate wealth and so, even though such institutions predictably deposit 20 percent of the population in a position of hereditary inferiority, this is A-OK.” Instead, Mises thought capitalist institutions justified, at least in part, because he believed a society-wide system of voluntary exchange will be materially beneficial for all citizens. Inequalities are justified, Mises seems to have argued, at least in part because they work to the material benefit of the least well off.

Indeed, Mises was explicit about the normative role he saw such claims playing within his defense of the free society. Thus: “In seeking to demonstrate the social function and necessity of private ownership of the means of production and of the concomitant inequality in the distribution of income and wealth, we are at the same time providing proof of the moral justification for private property and for the capitalist social order based upon it.”[17] The social function of inequalities—the benefits they provide to all, especially the poor—is an essential element in their moral justification.

It is no surprise, therefore, that when describing man’s role as a member of a (properly) liberal social order, Mises declared that each person “must adjust his conduct to the requirements of social cooperation and look upon his fellow men’s success as an indispensable condition of his own.”[18] Society, according to Mises, is a cooperative venture for mutual gain. In a good and just social order, people look upon the special talents of the fellow citizens not as weapons to be feared but as in some sense a common bounty. Economic competition is a morally praiseworthy form of social cooperation at least in part because it channels the talents of each towards the production of benefits for all….

[F]ree marketers should not be afraid to express a principled concern for the poor, or even to commit themselves to an ideal of social or distributive justice. First, in its philosophically most sophisticated formulations, such as that of left liberal paragon John Rawls, social justice concerns the material condition of the lowest paid workers—not that of idle surfers, coffeehouse Marxists, the unemployable, or even the temporarily unemployed. Second, social justice is not a property of the particular distributions that emerge in a society but of social and economic institutions viewed as integrated wholes. Thus a commitment to social justice in no way commits one to advocating liberty-limiting “corrections” of emergent distributions on an ongoing basis…. [A]s a consequence, a commitment to social justice does not require that one advocate “big state” welfare programs or anything even close. A set of institutions might well satisfy the requirements of social justice without including any state-based “redistributive” apparatus whatsoever.[24] After all, what are these requirements of social justice? According to Rawls, social justice allows for material inequalities, even extremely large and growing inequalities, provided only that the overall system works in a way that is beneficial to the lowest paid workers (that is, if the lowest paid workers in capitalist societies, over time, tend to earn more than the lowest paid workers in any noncapitalist alternative, then capitalist societies are better from the perspective of social justice)….

If that still leaves you puzzled about the relationship between “social justice” and libertarianism, perhaps this later entry by Zwolinski and Tomasi will make it clear:

…[S]ocial justice is a moral standard by which the institutions of a society can be evaluated on the basis of how well they serve the interests of the poor and least advantaged [whatever they might be]. This broad concept can be fleshed out in a number of different ways by different particular conceptions of social justice. And a full conception would say, among other things, what counts as “advantage” (Wealth? Primary goods? Utility?), what the scope of social justice is (The nation? Humankind? All sentient beings?), how this standard of moral evaluation fits alongside others (nobody – not even Rawls – believes that the fate of the poor is the only important criterion for judging the morality of a society’s institutions), and so on. Again, we have not attempted to articulate or defend such a conception here. But it is not as though bleeding heart libertarians have been silent on this issue. For several serious scholarly treatments, see John’s book here, or this essay by Jason Brennan and John Tomasi. And see also the numerous blog posts from Jason (here, here, and here), Kevin Vallier (here and here) and me (here, here, here and here).

Our historical thesis is not that earlier classical liberals endorsed any particular conception of social justice. Indeed, we do not even claim that they were explicitly and self-consciously committed to even the broad concept of social justice. But they did, over and over again, suggest that they saw the fate of the working poor as an important element in assessing the justice of liberal institutions….

One of Zwolinski and Tomasi’s blog partners, Jason Brennan, puts it this way:

…All theorists who advocate social justice believe something like this:

  • If under favorable conditions, an political-economic regime systematically causes many innocent people, through no fault of their own, to live in poverty, without much opportunity, and without much ability to enjoy their freedom, and if there is some alternative regime that, under those same conditions, would eliminate these problems, this provides a strong presumption in favor of that alternative regime.
  • If our basic institutions systematically fail to benefit innocent people, or systematically tend to harm them, then it is unreasonable to ask them to observe those institutions. For instance, if through no fault of my own, some property rights regime causes me to starve, and if this isn’t just a result of bad luck but is a systematic effect of that regime, then the rest of you can’t demand I play along with the regime.

In other words, if a regime of liberty has consequences that, in the view of a BHL (or a left-statist), cause “many innocent people, through no fault of their own, to live in poverty,” it is legitimate to curtail the liberties of some so that others might enjoy unearned benefits.

Kevin Vallier, another BHL, puts it this way:

…[S]ocial justice is justice with regard to the arrangement of a society’s basic structure. Let’s take the second term first. Rawls defines a society’s basic structure as follows:

By the basic structure I mean a society’s main political, social, and economic institutions, and how they fit together into one unified system of social cooperation from one generation to the next (PL, 11).

Rawls’s theory in Political Liberalism is meant to apply to modern constitutional democracy, such that the subject of social justice is the structure of the modern constitutional democratic state and the institutions it governs. For Rawls the basic structure is “the first subject of justice” (257). He states again that,

The basic structure is understood as they way in which the major social institutions fit together into one system, and how they assign fundamental rights and duties and shape the division of advantages that arises through social cooperation. Thus the political constitution, the legally recognized forms of property, and the organization of the economic, and the nature of the family, all belong to the basic structure (258).

So the basic structure is one great big social thing and serves as a subject of evaluation. A basic structure is socially unjust when it is not arranged in accord with principles that can be justified to each reasonable comprehensive doctrine (kind of like my discussion of public reason, but not the same)….

But modern constitutional democracy is not a voluntary social order. It is a statist order that is superimposed on and destructive of voluntary social institutions, not only free markets but also the other institutions of civil society: family, church, club, and so on. To suggest that the dictates of constitutional democracy somehow define “social justice” and legitimately override the workings of voluntary social institutions — free markets among them — is either naive or cynical.

I believe that it is cynical. The BHL proponents of “social justice” are intelligent and clever persons. They know what they are doing by wrapping their statist agenda in the banner of libertarianism. But their game is given away when one of their number dares, at last, to give operational meaning to “social justice.” I refer to the following utterances by another BHL, Jessica Flanagan:

I support a Universal Basic Income (UBI), and I think that other libertarians ought to as well….

When I say ‘social justice,’ I mean UBI. Below are several arguments for a basic income. I don’t endorse them all, but I’m including them all to show that there are many libertarian paths to this kind of ‘social justice’ conclusion.

First, I think that a UBI is morally required, given the wrong of a state-enforced property system….

Second, the UBI is relatively market friendly.… [W]e ought to support things like childcare and education vouchers, or a UBI for kids. Such a system would help citizens access the services they need without forcing them to sign up with a crappy state program.

Third, consider libertarian types like John Tomasi, Loren Lomasky, and Gerald Gaus, who argue that a UBI makes state power justifiable. Tomasi thinks that impartial institutional designers would first choose to protect important liberties (including economic liberties like contract and ownership) but then they would endorse redistributive policies to benefit society’s worst off within the limits of said liberties.

Fourth, a UBI can be compatible in principle with ‘hard libertarian’ property rights. Even if you were entitled to your property holdings, you are not entitled to coercive public enforcement of those holdings. Just because we have negative rights doesn’t mean that those rights merit full public accommodation. Once libertarians start demanding that their property is protected and their rights are publicly enforced, we can think of taxes as the public fee for that enforcement. If the public is the guardian of your wealth, who are you to tell your security guard how to spend his paycheck? This isn’t how states work, but it does point to a possible justification for redistribution.

Alternatively, some libertarians believe that a UBI is good because it will promote overall well being….

These arguments for the UBI also explain why libertarianism at its best is aligned with the political left. The world is really unjust in part because states coercively enforce laws that make people really badly off. On this we agree. Sufficiency is on the path to priority or equality, so for a while, BHL’s and leftists can walk the path from here to social justice together.

PS: Matt Zwolinski wrote a great essay on the topic of Classical Liberalism and The Basic Income (see SSRN for a PDF) 

Thus Flanagan exposes the truth about BHL: It is left-statist and anti-libertarian. It is nothing more than utilitarianism. That is to say, it is based on the presumptive, pseudo-omniscient belief that resources should be diverted from their owners to other persons, on the ground that those others “deserve” the diverted resources more than the owners of those resources. One among many justifications for this presumption is the pseudo-economic claim that money, for any individual, has diminishing marginal utility. Therefore, those from whom resources are taken suffer little if any loss of utility, whereas those (poorer persons) to whom resources are given gain much utility. This assumes a social-welfare function, which does not exist. It also assumes, wrongly, that the marginal utility of money diminishes as one accumulates more and more of it, which would come as a surprise to Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, oil sheiks, and almost everyone who would love to become wealthier (which is most persons). It makes you wonder why millions of Americans buy lottery tickets every week, if not every day. (For more about utilitarianism and social welfare, see this, this, this, this, and this).

Flanagan, like many other BHLs (and most leftists) evidently believes that the owners of large claims on resources (e.g., “the 1%”) are undeserving of their claims because the “system” is rigged so that “the 1%” (and such-like) become rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. This is patent nonsense because it assumes that there is a possible “perfect” system that is not, in some way, rigged to benefit one set of elites or another.

The relevant questions, which go unanswered by BHLs (and leftists), are these:

  • Whether the current system of regulated capitalism, when enables some classes of individuals to piggy-back on others, is worse than the attainable alternatives (if there are any).
  • The extent to which those at the top actually cause deep poverty among those at the bottom.

I submit that because of the legal complexities of regulated capitalism it is impossible to know the extent to which those who benefit from the current system actually deprive others of the “just desserts.” Among the complexities are the many programs that work in favor of the “working poor” — and a vast cohort of sloths. Further, any regime — from libertarian to state-socialist — will generate a “1%.” And it is hard to say that the composition of America’s “1%” would not (for the most part) be the same under a regime of pure, anarchistic libertarianism or ironclad state-socialism. Ability, intelligence, guile, ambition, and ruthlessness rise to the top.

Flanagan’s point about the state’s right to spend its “paycheck” as it pleases is a bogus one. Those libertarians who accept the necessity of the state do so with the proviso that the state’s sole function is to protect property rights and negative rights. The state may spend its “paycheck” only for the purpose of protecting those rights — not for the purpose of spending the “paycheck” as it pleases. A state that goes beyond its remit to perform illegitimate functions does not collect a “paycheck” for its services. It steals.

As for UBI, it arrived on the scene a long time ago, in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, EITC, SNAP, AFDC, subsidized housing, subsidized mortgage loans, affirmative action, etc., etc., etc. It is pure naivete to suggest UBI as a politically feasible alternative to those programs, each of which has entrenched constituencies and powerful defenders. UBI would be an addition to the list, not a substitute for it.

Some final words for BHLs: If you know of persons who are poor and vulnerable, help them yourself. Give them your time and effort, give them money, or give money to a charity that actually does something to help. But do not presume to be my conscience, and take your hand out of my pocket.

Related reading:
The Top 0.1 Percent
Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism and “Social Justice”
Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, Utilitarianism, and Statism

Related posts:
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism

__________
* Here is a summary of the contributions to the April 2012 issue:

Lead Essay

  • A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism by Matt Zwolinski and John TomasiMatt Zwolinski and John Tomasi propose to refocus the libertarian movement. Although they agree that individual property rights are important, they propose to return libertarianism to its nineteenth-century intellectual roots. They argue that the classical liberals valued property rights for different reasons, perhaps, than we in the movement value them now: Property rights were intended to protect the least well-off workers in society. A “neoclassical liberal” would not advocate a welfare state, but would certainly value social justice; his means of attaining it would be through the institutions of property and contract.

Response Essays

  • In Praise of Bleeding Heart Absolutism by Roderick T. LongRoderick T. Long criticizes the sharp distinctions drawn by Zwolinski and Tomasi between nineteenth-century classical liberals and the “Unholy Trinity” of Mises, Rand, and Rothbard. He suggests many areas in which the earlier thinkers were not as Zwolinski and Tomasi characterize them, as well as several where Mises, Rand, and Rothbard don’t conform either. Long stresses the importance of class analysis in the thought of nineteenth-century classical liberals and points to its resurrection as a key aspect of Rothbard’s thought in particular. This, he suggests, points the way toward a “bleeding-heart absolutism” – an ideology critical of every form of state power, yet also prioritizing the moral claims of the poorest in society.
  • Natural Rights + ? by David D. FriedmanDavid Friedman argues that the pre-twentieth century classical liberals were motivated not by a concern for the poor per se, but by utilitarian reasoning. The “working poor” were a large majority of society in their time, and authors like Adam Smith must be read in their historical context. Doing so reveals Smith to be a progenitor of Jeremy Bentham, not John Rawls. Utilitarianism brings problems of its own, of course, but it should not be confused with social justice.
  • Let’s Reject the Purity Test by Alexander McCobinAlexander McCobin argues that libertarians often engage in unproductive debates about who or what is “more” libertarian. One thing lost in these debates is that, across the wide sweep of intellectual history, significant libertarian figures have usually felt free to draw from a wide array of justifications and policy approaches. Each was a product of a particular historical era, and there is no reason to find fault with any of them simply on that account. To advance liberty, we should think and write about libertarian principles in terms that unbiased observers will find persuasive today.

The Conversation

A Man for No Seasons

A Man for All Seasons, originally a play by Robert Bolt and later an acclaimed film, is about Sir Thomas More (or Saint Thomas More, if you prefer),

the 16th-century Chancellor of England, who refused to endorse King Henry VIII‘s wish to divorce his ageing wife Catherine of Aragon, who could not bear him a son, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress.

Thomas More

opposed Henry [VIII]‘s separation from the Catholic Church [because it forbade divorce] and refused to accept the King as Supreme Head of the Church of England…. In 1535, [More] was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony and beheaded.

The title of the play

reflects … Bolt’s portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience. As one who remains true to himself and his beliefs under all circumstances and at all times, despite external pressure or influence, More represents “a man for all seasons”.

More’s constancy to principle stands in high relief against the amorality and immorality of normal political practices, past and present. These range from opportunism, flip-flopping, and log-rolling to deceit and lying to theft (disguised as “compassion”) and back-stabbing (both figurative and literal).

More’s constancy to principle also stands in high relief against the practice of tailoring one’s principles to fit the data at hand — or the data that one selects to justify one’s prejudices. I have found economists to be especially prone to such tailoring. For example, too many economists justify free markets on utilitarian grounds, that is, because free markets produce more (i.e., are more efficient) than regulated markets. This happens to be true, but free markets can and should be justified mainly because they are free, that is, because they allow individuals to pursue otherwise lawful aims through voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges of products and services. Liberty is a principle, a deep value; economic efficiency is merely a byproduct of adherence to that value.

Economists are by no means the only practitioners of utilitarianism. It is rampant in the ranks of public intellectuals, and is exemplified in “Empiricism in politics: On opinions beyond the reach of data,” a piece by Will Wilkinson (hereinafter WW), which begins with this:

DAVID FRUM quotes the following passage of Charles Murray’s new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 – 2010″, in the midst of a long, scathing review (about which I here enter no opinion):

Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded on premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

I found this exceedingly odd. I can easily imagine what evidence would cause me to change my position on any of these issues. How about you? It’s a fun exercise, let’s try.

I will address, in turn, WW’s views on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, and the inheritance tax.

Abortion. This is far and away the hardest one. I favour legal abortion…. I would seriously weigh this moral benefit ]a “culture of life”, which pays off in terms of greater general humanity and diminished cruelty] against the moral cost of reducing women’s control over their bodies….

Clearly, WW is a man in search of a principle upon which to hang his preference to allow persons “control over their bodies.” This– as a principle — would justify many immoral acts. For if one’s use of one’s body is not to be interfered with, on what basis could WW condemn murder, for example? And yet he does condemn it, implicitly, when he quibbles about the death penalty as a punishment for murder.

WW (I strongly suspect) might respond that he is talking only about control over what one does to oneself, as in the use of marijuana (to which I will come). But WW is unconvincing with respect to abortion. He is willing to recognize “robust moral rights” for children at birth because that is “the convention.” But before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned long-standing State laws rooted in moral tradition, it was the convention (in most States) to recognize robust moral rights for children at conception. (By contrast, the convention of slavery, which was recognized and fostered by several States, stood on flimsy moral ground.)

The lack of a firm principle (e.g., abortion is murder) leads WW into sophistry and hair-splitting. These abound in the elided portions of the preceding quotation:

…I don’t think embryos or fetuses are persons, and I don’t think it’s wrong to kill them. I also don’t think infants are persons, but I do think laws that prohibit infanticide are wise. Birth is a metaphysically arbitrary line, but it’s a supremely salient socio-psychological one. A general abhorrence of the taking of human life is something any healthy culture will inculcate in its members. It’s easier to cultivate the appropriate moral sentiments within a society that has adopted the convention of conferring robust moral rights on infants upon birth than it would be in a society that had adopted the convention of conferring the same rights on children only after they’ve reached some significant developmental milestone, such as the onset of intelligible speech. The latter society, I suspect, would tend to be more generally cruel and less humane. This is just an empirical hunch, though I feel fairly confident about it. But I could be wrong. And I could be wrong in the other direction as well. If it were shown that societies which ban abortion, or which ban abortion beyond a certain point, exceed societies which don’t ban abortion in cultivating a “culture of life”, which pays off in terms of greater general humanity and diminished cruelty, I would seriously weigh this moral benefit against the moral cost of reducing women’s control over their bodies. Also, if it were shown that abortion tended to damage women’s mental and physical health more than forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, I would tend to look more favourably on restrictions on abortion, especially for minors.

Fetuses may not be persons, in WW’s view, but fetuses are human life. WW’s defense of abortion amounts to a defense of taking blameless, defenseless humans. He cannot bring himself to admit that, so he adopts the language of Roe v. Wade (a fetus is not “a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment”). But, as WW acknowledges, there is no specific point at which a human being becomes a “person.” The fetus-person distinction is an entirely arbitrary one, concocted for the purpose of justifying abortion.

If WW is willing to accept birth as the point at which the taking of innocent life becomes unacceptable, why not seven or eight months into a pregnancy, when the chances of survival outside the womb are high, especially given the life-sustaining technologies that are now available? And if a fetus is “viable” at seven or eight months, it is “viable” at earlier stages of development, as long its life is not ended artificially. The “logic” of abortion based on “viability” is circular because a fetus is (almost always) “viable” unless it is aborted.

And why is it not even “easier to cultivate the appropriate moral sentiments within a society that has adopted the convention of conferring robust moral rights on infants” upon conception? Such a society, I believe, would tend to be less cruel and more humane than the one that allows abortion at every stage of fetal development.

WW’s next suggestion is fatuous in the extreme. It need not be shown that societies which ban abortion, or which ban abortion beyond a certain point, exceed societies which do not ban abortion in cultivating a “culture of life.” Societies that ban abortion, ceteris paribus, have a culture of life, by definition. By the same token, societies that encourage or acquiesce in atrocities against humanity on a par with abortion (e.g., the Third Reich) have a culture of death. One very good reason for resisting the practice of abortion is to avert the next steps down the slippery slope toward that culture.

Looking unfavorably upon abortion if it tended to damage women’s mental and physical health is putting a possible side effect of abortion above its abhorrent moral status. But that should come as no surprise because, on this issue, WW clearly betrays a lack of moral sense.

This brings me to WW’s next moral test:

Death penalty. This is a lot easier. I oppose the death penalty. But if the death penalty were shown to be (1) a very effective deterrent of murder and violent crime, (2) non-prejudicially applied, and (3) very rarely applied to the innocent, I would support it in especially heinous cases of murder.

This is a lot easier for me, too. You are either for the death penalty as a matter of justice (taking its deterrent value as a bonus), or you are against it because, say, you cannot condone the taking of life by the state. WW, as an advocate of abortion, cannot take the latter position, so he dances around the death penalty — treating it entirely as an exercise in utilitarian calculation. In reality, he takes no position at all because he uses wiggle-words like “very effective,” “non-prejudicially,” “very rarely,” and “especially heinous.”

Thirdly:

Legalisation of marijuana. I support legal weed! If it were shown that marijuana is super-addictive, impossible to use responsibly, and that its users predictably harm others and/or egregiously harm themselves, I’d support something in the neighbourhood of status quo prohibition.

I have a strong suspicion that only a small fraction of the users of marijuana are detected and prosecuted for their use. That is to say, I view legalization as a bogus issue. But the purported harmlessness of marijuana allows libertarians to replay the pro-abortion theme: control over one’s body. However, WW (unlike most libertarians who write about drug use) seems willing to concede that the use of marijuana ought to be made illegal if it would “egregiously harm” the user. This suggests that control over one’s body is not sacrosanct.

But what is the deeper principle that determines where and when one has control over one’s body? I find no clue in WW’s article. There is no “moral there” there. Being pro-abortion, anti-death penalty, pro-marijuana, and pro-same-sex marriage are attitudes, the possession of which marks one as “liberal” and “open-minded.” But bottomless.

And so on:

Same-sex marriage. I’m so pro, I almost wish I were gay so I could have one. If compelling evidence were unearthed that showed that widespread same-sex marriage really would precipitate the unraveling of the traditional family and subsequently the stability of society and the ruin of us all, I suppose I’d settle for the right of same-sex couples to shack up.

“Compelling evidence” about the effects of same-sex “marriage” on society can be had only by the widespread legalization of same-sex “marriage” over a long period, by which time it would be impossible to undo the damage caused by same-sex “marriage.” Would it not be better to exercise one’s moral judgment about the effects of state action before that action is taken?

In the case of same-sex “marriage” the judgment goes like this: Marriage, as the union of a man and a woman, is a social-religious convention, which (until modern times) had a legitimacy and standing that did not depend on state action. State involvement in marriage — as in other social arrangements — undermines its significance as a deep and socially beneficial commitment. The undermining process began in earnest with state action that eased divorce. Widespread governmental recognition of same-sex “marriage” would accelerate the undermining process. The state would effectively convert marriage from a social-religious commitment to a licensed arrangement devoid of social-religious meaning. This would reinforce the trend toward cohabitation, with all that it implies: convenience rather than commitment, greater ease of breakup, temporary couplings where one partner (usually the man) has no stake in the proper upbringing of  the other partner’s children, psychologically and (all-too-often) physically damaged children who are more prone than their “traditional” counterparts to economically unproductive and socially destructive behaviors.

Why not think things through instead making a show of demanding “evidence” that can be obtained only when it is too late to do any good? Well, the answer to that question is obvious: WW wants same-sex “marriage” — the evidence be damned.

Finally:

Inheritance tax. I don’t have an especially strong opinion about this, other than that the “death tax” tends not to be very efficient and that large bequests aren’t an especially important source of inequality or the reproduction of class. So, I guess I’d need to learn that inheritance taxes don’t create a lot of wasteful, evasive resource shuffling, and do significantly contribute to class mobility if I were to develop a more favourable opinion of them.

That is about as clueless as it gets. Where is the right to do with one’s property as one likes, as long as the doing is not harmful to others? What a strange oversight by WW,  given his commitment to the control of one’s own body. If a person cannot control the legitimate produce of his bodily labors, he lacks effective control of his body.

If consequences were all, as they seem to be for WW, the ability to leave an inheritance is an incentive to do productive things, either directly or by making loans and investments that enable others to do productive things. For what earthly reason would anyone want to blunt or cancel that incentive? Out of a sense of “fairness”? What gives the likes of WW and Barack Obama the ability to reach into the minds and souls of millions of Americans and judge their relative worthiness to make and receive bequests? The inheritance tax is an exercise in social engineering that any self-respecting libertarian ought to reject categorically, not provisionally, as WW does.

WW often posts sensible things at his various outlets. But “Empiricism in politics” is a sign that WW should take a break from punditry, as he has said he might. On the basis of “Empiricism,” I would characterize WW as a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. He pays lip-service — but nothing more — to the value of social traditions. He stands ready to jettison them at the drop of a statistic. As I have said, he is far from the sole possessor of that trait. I single him out here because “Empiricism” is an exemplar of utilitarian amorality.

*   *   *

Related reading: Jay W. Richards, “Should Libertarians Be Conservatives?: The Tough Cases of Abortion and Marriage

Related posts (with many more linked therein):
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Crime, Explained
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Enough of “Social Welfare”
The Case of the Purblind Economist
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
What Is Justice?
Myopic Moaning about the War on Drugs
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
Burkean Libertarianism
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke
Why Conservatism Works
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather

The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism

Ted Levy makes some excellent points in “Is the Pool of Liberty Drying Up?“:

…[A] few years ago [David Boaz, executive vice president of Cato Institute] made a well received but, I think, incomplete analysis of liberty….

Boaz’s thoughts were well articulated in a 2010 piece, found here on Reason.com: Up From Slavery: There’s No Such Thing As A Golden Age of Lost Liberty.

… Boaz notes Cato pamphlets used to include as the Institute’s raison d’être, “Since [the American] revolution, civil and economic liberties have been eroded.” And then, Boaz notes, a visiting Clarence Thomas, prior to his ascension to the Supreme Court, pointed out black people didn’t look at matters quite that way.

And not only black people, of course, though the awfulness of slavery is hard to trump. But the political liberties, or lack thereof, of Jews, gays, and women were also not proud applications of individual liberty in America’s past.

Then there’s Brink Lindsey’s argument, quoted by Boaz, from Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance (2007): Looking at liberty’s gains in the last half-century, Lindsey writes: “Compare conditions now to how they were at the outset of the 1960s. Official governmental discrimination against blacks no longer exists. Censorship has beaten a wholesale retreat. The rights of the accused enjoy much better protection. Abortion, birth control, interracial marriage, and gay sex are legal. Divorce laws have been liberalized and rape laws strengthened. Pervasive price and entry controls in the transportation, energy, communications, and financial sectors are gone. Top income tax rates have been slashed. The pretensions of macroeconomic fine-tuning have been abandoned. Barriers to international trade are much lower. Unionization of the private sector work force has collapsed. …cultural expression, personal lifestyle choices, entrepreneurship, and the play of market forces all now enjoy much wider freedom of maneuver.”

Lindsey’s is a hopeful message, and makes points similar to those made by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch in their 2011 book The Declaration of Independents. Gillespie and Welch note that in all areas of life not touched by the mailed fist of government, things have improved dramatically in much less than a century. Save for the areas government controls–our educational system, our health care, our retirement plans–things are quite rosy.

But of course our educational system, health care, and retirement needs are not de minimis aspects of our lives…. The financial sector has undergone massive re-regulation since Lindsey wrote, and there is a resurgence of opposition to both international free trade and simple rules to limit the political power of public-sector unions. Finally, “the pretensions of macroeconomic fine tuning” have hardly, in the days of Obama, been “abandoned,” and Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney disagree only with Obama’s choices, not the principle of fine-tuning the economy from Washington.

…Things are better for blacks, for women, for a diverse and important subset of Americans. But this captures only part of the dynamic. We now, all of us, have our rights recognized equally. And we now, all of us, equally, have less rights than some of us did before. Is this a gain from a libertarian perspective?

Liberty is like the water in a swimming pool. You can dive in, and be surrounded by freedom. In the past, the pool was large and deep. Those who could dive in were engulfed in liberty. It was everywhere. There was so much liberty you could drown in it if you were not careful, but people exposed to liberty were buoyant, and liberty lifted you.

And entry into the pool, for many, was their birthright. It could not be taken away. The lifeguard at the pool was like a night watchman, seldom needed, helpful in emergencies.

Sadly, though, and wrongly, the pool was restricted. No blacks allowed, with only token exceptions. No Jews. No gays. No women. Property owners preferred. Yet despite all this, the pool and the opportunity to dive into it attracted millions from all over the world.

Over time, two things happened, one good, one bad. Rules were changed to allow more people to enter the pool. Over time first blacks, then Asians, Jews, women–now, though not yet fully, even gays–have been allowed to join the club and enter the pool. Sadly, at the same time, the pool has been shrinking. Once the pool was gigantic in size. As James Wilson might have said, “Measure the size of the pool? I am sure, sirs, that no gentleman in the late Convention would have attempted such a thing.”…

Blacks can now enter the pool. Women can now get their toes wet. Gays are now free to wear the most outrageous swimsuits poolside. But no one–white or black; gay or straight; male or female; young or old–NO ONE can now do high dives into the deep end. It is too shallow. It would be dangerous. It is prohibited for our own safety. The waters of liberty now engulf no one, equally….

We do, clearly, today have more liberty in the sense it is available to more people. More people are allowed into the pool. But it is hard to appreciate how much the pool has shrunk. The shrinkage takes place over time, and on any given day the shrinkage may be difficult to notice….

When we watch a race where some runners are shackled, we recognize it as unfair. We see the liberty of the shackled runners restricted if they are weighted down by the force of law. When we call out for greater equality, should we be satisfied if the laws are changed so as to shackle all runners equally, or should we remain unsatisfied until shackles are removed, and no one is weighted down?

On the March 8th episode of his eponymous Fox Business Network (FBN) show, John Stossel provided the second in a series on the huge expansion of laws under which we suffer in America, “Is Everything Illegal in America Today?” He noted in the last year alone the Federal government has generated 160,000 pages of NEW laws and regulations, restrictions on freedom, excuses to imprison citizens. These are not further descriptions and elaborations of rape and murder, robbery and home invasion. Stossel tells of the man who was imprisoned for SIX YEARS because he sold seafood in the wrong containers, lobsters that, while not mislabeled to consumers, were nonetheless smaller than the legal salable size. Opening a lemonade stand in your front yard requires, in NYC, preliminary attendance at a 15 hour Food Protection class, and filling out many legal forms….

We are now, in the words of Proudhon, watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded. We are all in the pool now. And our feet are all equally barely wet. And while there was no Golden Age of Liberty, Americans today seem oblivious to a real and tragic loss, seem unaware they can no longer immerse themselves in liberty, can no longer swim unimpeded. Can no longer be everywhere surrounded by freedom.

Contrast Levy’s analysis with that of Jim Peron, writing in “The Disaster of Me Libertarianism.” Peron begins by repeating some “critiques of libertarianism”:

Libertarians are just conservatives who like drugs!

Libertarians are only concerned about themselves!

Libertarians don’t care what happens to other people?

Libertarians are selfish!

He then piles on:

I just spent a couple days at a libertarian conference. It was an experience that I find increasingly dismaying and disappointing because there has been a clear rightward shift in the libertarian movement….

But, what is interesting is listening to libertarians dismiss issues that are important to people who aren’t like them. Let us be truthful: the typical libertarian, and certainly the typical attendee at this conference, is a middle-aged, white, straight male. And, they seem utterly incapable of seeing freedom through the eyes of anyone who isn’t the same.

Mention equal marriage rights for gay people and they simply dismiss it as unimportant. If they aren’t actively opposed—and some were—they see it as inconsequential. If you talk about guns they often are interested since so many of them own firearms. If you talk about pornography they are interested. But when it comes to the barriers to immigration they don’t give a damn since they aren’t immigrants. They hate tax laws, but then they pay taxes. [Ed. note: The last is a fatuous observation. Of course they pay taxes, given the alternative of imprisonment and/or hefty fines.]

They really are libertarians who only see liberty as an issue as it applies to white, middle-aged, straight men (WMASM).

David Boaz wrote about the same thing by implication….

The piece by Boaz is the one mentioned by Levy. But Peron, unlike Levy, seems unaware that the pool of liberty is drying up, so focused is Peron on those “libertarians” who (according to him) do not share his (verbal) compassion for all creatures great and small. He recites some examples of un-libertarian attitudes, and summarizes them in this way:

All of this is what I call “me” libertarianism. That is the tendency of individual libertarians to interpret political trends only through their own experiences, without caring what the broader reality happens to be.

What is that “broader reality”?

We have millions of our fellow citizens who are freer today than they would have been had they lived in the golden age of liberty—whenever you think that might be. We have to be aware of their concerns as well. “Me” libertarianism references liberty only as it effects [sic] the speaker, without consideration of the freedom of others. It does send the message that libertarianism is selfish and about protecting privilege for white males only.

Others, who were not so privileged in the past, have trouble seeing how liberty will help them because so many advocates of liberty simply don’t care about how others are oppressed today. These libertarians do care about the issues that impact their own lives, but everyone else is inconsequential. Is it any wonder that so many African-Americans don’t see libertarians as interested in them? Is it really a surprise that libertarian meetings are so overwhelmingly male? Why is anyone surprised when the LBGT community ignores libertarianism, after libertarians have spent decades ignoring them?

The “libertarians” to whom Peron refers bear no resemblance to the libertarians who dominate the blogosphere. The latter are — almost to a white, middle-aged, straight man — very much pro-black, pro-illegal immigration, pro-LBGT (especially pro-homosexual “marriage”), pro “choice,” and so on.

But that contradiction is not the most serious flaw in Peron’s rant. This is:

[W]e should … fight for issues like marriage equality, the rights of immigrants, and reproductive rights for women…. We need to listen to people who are not like us.

In other words, Peron believes that liberty can be attained by destroying marriage (the bulwark of civil society); allowing illegal immigrants to pick the pockets of working Americans and vote for Democrats (world-class pickpockets themselves); and enabling state-sponsored murder, which encourages other eugenic practices.

Peron seems not to have noticed that the gains made by blacks, by women (in the workplace), by immigrants, and by homosexuals often have been proximate causes of the shrinkage of the pool of liberty. Those gains have been made by mainly through the agency of the state, by such techniques as restricting freedom of speech, punishing “incorrect” thoughts, redistributing income,, denying property rights, suppressing freedom of conscience, forbidding freedom of association, and granting admissions, jobs, and promotions to favored groups. (I must note that Levy slides by these specifics when he gives his reasons for the shrinkage of the pool of liberty.)

Finally, Peron wants us to believe that “freedom is indivisible.” Actually, it is divisible, as a mere glance at the outside world would tell hm. Some enjoy a lot of freedom; others enjoy less, very little, or none. But it is not libertarian to take freedom away from those who enjoy it, for the sake of “liberating” others — especially when those acts of “liberation” cause the pool of liberty to shrink.

I am all for the expansion of freedom, but not if it comes at the expense of my freedom. If that is “me” libertarianism, so be it.

Related posts:
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Law and Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
An Encounter with a Marxist
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
Our Enemy, the State
The Golden Rule and the State
A Not-So-Fine Whine
Social Justice
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works

Why (Libertarian) Conservatism Works

Liberalism,” overt statism, and pseudo-libertarianism are contrivances, based (respectively) on state-imposed “rationality” (often nothing more than whims wrapped in pseudo-intellectual language); unapologetic brute force; and an unrealistic, anti-social view of humans as arms-length negotiators. “Liberalism” and overt statism impose the preferences of powerful elites and individuals on everyone, regardless of the effects of those impositions on the well-being of everyone. That the impositions are advertised as beneficial does not make them so; such claims are delusional and self-serving. Pseudo-libertarianism can be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe-dream; “liberalism” and overt statism are the true enemies of liberty and prosperity.

True libertarianism (libertarian conservatism) rests on six principles:

  1. Belief that political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and egalitarian and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires order.
  4. Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.
  5. Faith in traditional mores and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.” Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse.
  6. Recognition that change and reform are not identical.

These principles, taken together, set libertarian conservatism apart from “liberalism,” overt statism, and pseudo-libertarianism. Unlike those “systems,” libertarian conservatism relies on evolved social norms to regulate interpersonal relations and to channel them in mutually beneficial directions. That is to say, libertarian consevatism “works” because it is consistent with human needs and human nature; it incorporates the lessons of experience into everyday rules of conduct.

Related reading:
The 20th  Anniversary of Hayek’s Death,” by Mike Rappaport
Why I Am Not a Libertarian,” by Nathan Schlueter

Related posts:
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
Corporations, Unions, and the State
Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
Don’t Just Stand There, “Do Something”
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)

Not-So-Random Thoughts

This is the first of a series of occasional posts that link to and discuss writings on matters that have been treated by this blog. The second edition is here; the third, here; the fourth, here; the fifth, here; and the sixth, here.

Secession

Ilya Somin, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, on secession:

The US Constitution, of course, is one of many where secession is neither explicitly banned or explicitly permitted. As a result, both critics and defenders of a constitutional right of secession have good arguments for their respective positions. Unlike the preceding Articles of Confederation, the Constitution does not include a Clause stating that the federal union is “perpetual.” While the Articles clearly banned secession, the Constitution is ambiguous on the subject.

Even if state secession is constitutionally permissible, the Confederate secession of 1861 was deeply reprehensible because it was undertaken for the profoundly evil purpose of perpetuating and extending slavery. But not all secession movements have such motives. Some are undertaken for good or at least defensible reasons. In any event, there is nothing inherently contradictory about the idea of a legal secession.

Of course, whether or not a secession is legal, it may be morally justified. Conversely, a legal secession may be morally unjustified, as was the case with the Southern secession. But the history of the Southern secession does not taint the legal and moral grounds for secession. As I say here,

The constitutional contract is a limited grant of power to the central government, for the following main purposes: keeping peace among the States, ensuring uniformity in the rules of inter-State and international commerce, facing the world with a single foreign policy and a national armed force, and assuring the even-handed application of the Constitution and of constitutional laws. That is all.

It is clear that the constitutional contract has been breached. It is clear that the Constitution’s promise to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”  has been blighted.

Desperate times require desperate measures. I suggest that we begin at the beginning, with a new Declaration of Independence, and proceed from there to a new Constitution.

Obamacare

In a post at The American, John F. Gaski writes:

On the central issue of ObamaCare’s notorious mandate—i.e., whether it is constitutional for the federal government to compel a consumer purchase—everything hinges on the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. That element of the Constitution gives the federal government authority to regulate interstate commerce or activities affecting it. So far, so reasonable.

But the crux of the issue is whether forcing Americans to buy healthcare is regulation of commerce in the first place. Opponents note that non-purchase of healthcare should not be considered commerce or commerce-related activity. ObamaCare apologists, including some federal judges, make the remarkable claim that a decision not to purchase qualifies as interstate commerce or activity affecting interstate commerce, the same as a decision to purchase or a purchase itself. But even the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, in its 2009 assessment of likely PPACA constitutionality, acknowledged that Commerce Clause-based federal regulatory authority targets genuine activities that affect interstate commerce, not inactivity.

How to resolve this disagreement? The answer is staring us in the face, but has remained obscure to some lawyers and jurists who cannot quite see the forest for the trees. All you really need to know is what the word “commerce” means. To wit, commerce is “exchange of goods, products, or property . . . ; extended trade” (Britannica World Language Dictionary, 1959); “the buying and selling of goods . . .; trade” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1964); “the buying and selling of commodities; trade” (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 1974); “interchange of goods or commodities, especially on a large scale . . . ; trade; business” (Dictionary.com, 2012). Uniformly, we see, the definition of commerce involves activity, not just a decision to act, and certainly not a decision to not act. The meaning of the concept of commerce presumes action, and always has. Moreover, even casual philology will confirm that the accepted meaning of “commerce” at the time of the Constitution’s drafting referenced activity, not inactivity, at least as much then as it does now (see C. H. Johnson, William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, October 2004). In the same way, the Commerce Clause has long been construed to apply to action in or affecting commerce, from the 1824 Gibbons v. Ogden Supreme Court case onward.

I am in complete agreement:

[T]he real issue … comes down to this: Does Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce extend to “health care” generally, just because some aspects of it involve interstate commerce? In particular, can Congress constitutionally impose the individual mandate under the rubric of the Commerce Clause or the Necessary and Proper Clause?…

It is safe to say that a proper reading of the Constitution, as exemplified in the authoritative opinions excerpted above, yields no authority for Obamacare. That monstrosity — the official, Orwellian title of which is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — attempts to reach an aggregation known as “health care,” without any differentiation between interstate commerce, intrastate commerce, and activities that are part of neither, namely, the choices of individuals with respect to health insurance.

It may be a valid exercise of Congress’s power to regulate actual interstate commerce that touches on the provision of health care. It is not a valid exercise to aggregate everything called “health care” and to regulate it as if it were all within the reach of Congress. When that happens, there is no room left — in “health care” nor, by extension, any other loose aggregation of activities — for State action or individual choice.

In sum, Obamacare is neither a valid regulation of interstate commerce nor necessary and proper to a valid regulation of interstate commerce. It is a governmental seizure of 1/9th of the economy. The individual mandate — which is a central feature of that seizure — is nothing more than coercion. It is no less peremptory than the military draft.

Freedom of Conscience

Yes, Virginia, there is freedom of conscience in Virginia:

A bill that ensures that faith-based adoption agencies in the state of Virginia won’t be forced to place children in households led by same-sex couples has passed both houses of the General Assembly and is heading to the desk of Gov. Robert McDonnell, a supporter of the legislation, who is expected to sign it soon.

Gov. McDonnell and the majorities in the Virginia legislature are standing up for freedom of conscience, which is among the negative rights that is trampled by grants of  “positive rights” (i.e., privileges). These

are the products of presumption — judgments about who is “needy” and “deserving” — and they are bestowed on some by coercing others. These coercions extend not only to the seizure of income and wealth but also to denials of employment (e.g., affirmative action), free speech (e.g., campaign-finance “reform”), freedom of contract (e.g., mandatory recognition of unions), freedom of association (e.g., forced admission of certain groups to private organizations), freedom of conscience (e.g., forced participation in abortions), and on and on.

Income Inequality

Thomas A. Garrett, a sensible economist, says good things about income inequality:

The apparent increase in U.S. income inequality has not escaped the attention of policymakers and social activists who support public policies aimed at reducing income inequality. However, the common measures of income inequality that are derived from the census statistics exaggerate the degree of income inequality in the United States for several reasons. Furthermore, although income inequality is seen as a social ill by many people, it is important to understand that income inequality has many economic benefits and is the result of, and not a detriment to, a well-functioning economy….

…[O]ver time, a significant number of households move to higher positions along the income distribution and a significant number move to lower positions along the income distribution. Common reference to “classes” of people (e.g., the lowest 20 percent, the richest 10 percent) is very misleading because income classes do not contain the same households and people over time….

The unconstrained opportunity for individuals to create value for society, which is reflected by their income, encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. Economic research has documented a positive correlation between entrepreneurship/innovation and overall economic growth.9 A wary eye should be cast on policies that aim to shrink the income distribution by redistributing income from the more productive to the less productive simply for the sake of “fairness.” 10 Redistribution of wealth would increase the costs of entrepreneurship and innovation, with the result being lower overall economic growth for everyone.

I am losing track of the posts in which I have made the same points. See this one and this one, and the posts linked in each of them.

The Left-Libertarian (“Liberal”) Personality vs. Morality

Will Wilkinson, a left-libertarian (i.e., modern “liberal”) if ever there was one, writes about his score on the Big-Five Personality Test:

I score very high in “openness to experience” and worryingly low in “conscientiousness”.

A true libertarian (i.e., a Burkean) would score high on “openness to experience” and high on “conscientiousness” — as I do.

As I have said, differences

between various libertarian camps and between libertarians, Burkean conservatives, yahoo conservatives, “liberals,” and so on — are due as much to differences of temperament as they are to differences in knowledge and intelligence.

But temperament is a reason for political error, not an excuse for it:

[T]he desirability or undesirability of state action has nothing to do with the views of “liberals,” “libertarians,” or any set of pundits, “intellectuals,” “activists,” and seekers of “social justice.” As such, they have no moral standing, which one acquires only by being — and acting as — a member of a cohesive social group with a socially evolved moral code that reflects the lessons of long coexistence. The influence of “intellectuals,” etc., derives not from the quality of their thought or their moral standing but from the influence of their ideas on powerful operatives of the state.

See also:
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote

Conservatives vs. “Liberals”

David Brooks occasionally writes something with which I agree. For example, in “Hey Mets! I Just Can’t Quit You” (The New York Times, March 8, 2012) he says:

There’s a core American debate between [Jack Kerouac's] “On the Road” and [Frank Capra’s}“It’s a Wonderful Life.” “On the Road” suggests that happiness is to be found through freedom, wandering and autonomy. “It’s a Wonderful Life” suggests that happiness is found in the lifelong attachments that precede choice. It suggests that restraints can actually be blessings because they lead to connections that are deeper than temporary self-interest.

What Brooks didn’t say, but probably thought, is that “On the Road” is “liberal” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” is “conservative.” For, as Brooks observes in the next paragraph, “happiness research suggests that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is correct and ‘On the Road’ is an illusion.” That’s consistent with a point I make in “Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness,” namely, that persons of the right (which includes most libertarians) are happier than “liberals.”

But the happiness of persons of the right — and therefore most of the happiness that’s in the air — is threatened by the “liberal” agenda. And most conservatives are hard put to refute that agenda with reasoned argument. Maverick Philosopher explains, in “Why Are Conservatives Inarticulate?“:

Conservatives, by and large, are doers not thinkers, builders,  not scribblers.  They are at home on the terra firma of the concrete particular but at sea in the realm of abstraction.  The know in their dumb inarticulate way that killing infants is a moral outrage but they cannot argue it out with sophistication and nuance in a manner to command the respect of their opponents.  And that’s a serious problem.

To beat the Left we must out-argue them in the ivory towers and out-slug them in the trenches.  Since by Converse Clausewitz  politics is war conducted by other means, the trench-fighters need to employ the same tactics that lefties do: slanders, lies, smears, name-calling, shout-downs, pie-throwing, mockery, derision….

Politics is war and war is ugly.  We could avoid a lot of this nastiness if we adopted federalism and voluntary Balkanization.  But that is not likely to happen: the totalitarian Left won’t allow it.  So I predict things are going to get hot in the coming years.

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, inarticulateness in the defense of liberty is no virtue.

The intelligentsia of the right — a select group that includes George Will and does not include the likes of O’Reilly and Hannity — must arm themselves to do battle on the left’s terms. I would avoid slanders, lies, and smears, but name-calling, shout-downs, pie-throwing, mockery, and derision are certainly in order — as is the truth about the baneful effects of leftism on its supposed beneficiaries: the poor and (mostly imaginary) downtrodden. Their raison d’être, in the left’s scheme of things, has been to supply the votes that have enabled the left to exert its totalitarian will on all of us.

Related posts:
The Price of Government
Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
The Left
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Undermining the Free Society
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
The Left’s Agenda
The Public-School Swindle
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Society and the State
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
Are You in the Bubble?
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down

Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke

If you follow the libertarian sector of the blogosphere, as I do, you will have noted the recent dominance of two controversies: the future of Cato Institute and the subsidization of contraceptives. In the matter of Cato, it seems that the Koch brothers want to take control of Cato for the purpose of making it more “relevant” to current political issues, much to the universal dismay of the libertarians commentators whose opinions I have read. In the matter of contraceptives, it seems that the testimony of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, has fostered libertarian-conservative agreement in opposition to Ms. Fluke’s whining plea for mandated insurance coverage of contraception (e.g., here and here).

I will not bother to recite the history of the controversies, nor will I try to summarize what various writers have said about them. If you are unfamiliar with either or both of them, start here and here, then follow the links therein. My modest aim is to show how the controversies reveal a link between left-libertarianism and the subsidization of contraceptives.

I therefore turn to Will Wilkinson, a former denizen of Cato who has described himself as a “liberaltarian.” What is a “liberaltarian”? I refer to myself:

In “More Pseudo-Libertarianism,” I say that I must come up with a new name for left-libertarians, inasmuch as they are not really libertarians. Some of them have tried “liberaltarian,” an amalgam of (modern) “liberal” and “libertarian.” To be a “liberaltarian” (with a straight face), one must believe that leftists are willing to abandon their pursuit of all-encompassing government and join left-libertarians in their pursuit of absolute fairness (by whose standards?) in economic and social outcomes. Leftists seek the latter objective, but will never be persuaded to drop the former one.

All of which suggests that  a left-libertarian is really a (witting or unwitting) collaborationist: an intellectual Vichyite or, in the parlance of the 1950s, a fellow traveler or comsymp (communist sympathizer).

Comsymp has a certain ring. Perhaps “libsymp” is what I’m looking for. I’ll give it a try.

Anyhow, the libsymp named Will Wilkinson seems to have a (libsymp-related) grievance against Cato, which is evident in his commentary about the Cato-Koch affair; for example:

Suppose Cato, without changing anything at all about its ideological orientation, were to focus more energy on some issues currently of interest to both groups like AFP [Americans for Prosperity] and groups like, say, the ACLU or Amnesty International? I think there’s a plausible argument that this would lead Cato to deliver greater libertarian bang for its donors’ bucks, while possibly even improving its non-partisan reputation.

Now, I’m not sure I buy this argument. I tend to think that a greater focus on practical political relevance would tend to exert a subtle pressure on Cato’s analysts to take it relatively easy on perceived allies when they do and say things harmful to liberty. Indeed, this pressure already exists, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to increase it, since it’s already biased toward the right. The legacy of right-fusionism has been to desensitize many libertarians to the inherently liberty-limiting aspects of social conservativism, and to reduce many self-described libertarians to acting primarily as cheerleaders for the economic agenda of “free-market” reactionaries….

For folks outside the Beltway, for whom the Cato staff are complete strangers, Cato looks like part of the right, if an odd one. There’s a reason David Boaz [Cato's executive VP] is always complaining about newspapers identifying Cato as a “conservative” think tank, and it’s not just that David Boaz likes to complain. Just ask yourself how Cato’s work could have been more congenial to the GOP during George W. Bush’s failed attempt to reform Social Security, or during the failed attempt to block Obamacare? Cato obviously already is in the politically-relevant intellectual ammo business. And in actual large-stakes political fights in Washington, Cato is generally on the Republican side. It would not be strange to spot a Catoite at Grover Norquist’s infamous Wednesday morning meetings. Because Cato functions as part of the right.

It’s tempting to think that Cato almost never does anything to help the Democrats largely because it’s just too far to the left of the Democratic Party on foreign policy and civil liberties. Yet Cato is equally far to the “right” of the Republican Party on economic policy, welfare policy, education policy, and lots more. Social Security privatization is a forced savings program. School vouchers and/or education tax credits are taxpayer-funded education. Lower income-tax rates concede the income tax. Again and again Cato finds a way to settle on non-ideal, “second-best” economic, welfare, and education policies, and argue for them in away that provides “ammo” to the right. But it very rarely develops compromising second-best policies on foreign policy or civil liberties that would be of any practical use to dovish or civil-libertarian Democrats. Why not? Why was coming out in favor of gay marriage more controversial at Cato (the state shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all!) than coming out in favor of school vouchers (the state shouldn’t be involved in education at all!)? Why not a bigger institutional push for medical marijuana as a second-best, nose-under-the-tent alternative to outright legalization? The fact is that Cato has so deeply internalized the ethos of the venerable right-fusionist alliance that there is almost no hope of it functioning on the whole in a truly non-partisan way. I think its status-quo reputation reflects that.

I reproduced that much of Wilkinson’s post just to give you an idea of the depth of his animus toward the Cato of Ed Crane‘s making. A particular aspect of Wilkinson’s “indictment” bears on the thesis of this post. It does not take much reading between the lines to detect Wilkinson’s embrace of “positive liberty,” which is the antithesis of liberty. He spells it out more explicitly here:

[F]reedom has a number of meanings, and one of them is “ability to do stuff.”… Persons, natural or legal, are either coerced or they aren’t. Mugged people with fat wallets aren’t coerced or wrongly interfered with more than mugged people with thin wallets. They just lose more money. That conservatives and libertarians always ultimately do treat tax increases as losses of freedom suggests to me that they’re really proponents of positive liberty after all, but haven’t thought the implications through. In that case, they’re right to see growth as a matter of freedom. But then they’re also are quite wrong to think that a well-functioning welfare state isn’t a matter of freedom.

There you have it. Wilkinson — like other left-libertarians — hews to a key tenet of modern “liberalism,” which is that people are not really free unless they have a certain measure of economic wherewithal. The taking of income by taxation, in Wilkinson’s view, is morally equivalent to a lack of income.

This left-libertarian (and “liberal”) view of the world depends on the slippery use of the term “coercion.” The taking of something from a person by force or the threat of force is coercion. Taxation is coercion, and resistance to taxation is not a plea for “positive liberty.” On the other hand, there is no coercion when a person is “forced” to accept a standard of living that is arbitrarily deemed sub-standard simply because that person does not earn enough “to do stuff,” according to the arbiter’s standards of what “stuff” a person needs “to do.”

There is, in sum, no moral distance between the left-libertarian and “liberal” worldviews, both of which favor “positive liberty.” What kind of and how much “positive liberty” should be doled out are merely matters of taste. The likeness of left-libertarianism and “liberalism” reminds me of this famous anecdote:

A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:

She: What kind of woman do you think I am?

He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

Which brings me, at last, to Sandra Fluke, who has established what kind of person she is, and is just haggling over the price.

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
A Short Course in Economics
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
The Case of the Purblind Economist
Youthful Wisdom
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Social Justice
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Nature Is Unfair
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%

Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts

Liberty rights are represented in the Founders’ trinity of “unalienable Rights“: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These really constitute a unitary right, which I simply call liberty. The liberty right is unitary because liberty (as a separate right) is meaningless without life, and liberty implies the latitude to pursue happiness.

Libertarians, for the most part, think of liberty as the enjoyment of the negative right to be left alone in one’s peaceful pursuits, that is, the right not to be robbed, attacked, murdered, and so on. But in a society or polity that values and enables liberty, the right to be left alone is only half the story.

The right to be left alone is the negative sub-rule of the Golden Rule, a good formulation of which is “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” That formulation implies a positive sub-rule, which could be stated as “Be kind and charitable to others, and they (or most of them) will be kind and charitable to you.”

The positive sub-rule is prudential, not mandatory. But that does not lessen its importance, for liberty cannot prevail absent widespread observance of the positive sub-rule. Such observance creates the conditions of mutual trust and respect that foster mutual forbearance, that is, leaving others alone in their peaceful pursuits. (For more in this vein, see Richard Epstein’s refutation of the view that libertarianism is all about “me” in “No ‘Sachs Appeal’,” Defining Ideas (a Hoover Institution journal), January 24, 2012.)

Let me be clear about the applicability of the Golden Rule in an ideal libertarian society or polity: Both sub-rules — negative and positive — are to be observed voluntarily. But one of them — the negative sub-rule — may be defended by force. Observance of the positive sub-rule may not be coerced, however, because that would violate the negative sub-rule.

The negative sub-rule must be defended because negative rights will not always be respected, human nature being what it is. On the issue of how to defend negative rights, libertarians split into two camps: anarchists and minarchists. These two camps differ about the necessity of the state, which is an independent entity and not an agent of particular members (or groups of members) of a society or polity.

Anarchistic libertarians maintain that negative rights can and should be defended without the intervention of a state. In the anarchistic view, individuals and groups of individuals can contract with each other about rules of interpersonal behavior, and can empower agents to enforce the rules.

Minarchistic libertarians (or this one, at least) maintain that the existence of agents who are empowered by various members of a society or polity is nothing more than warlordism, wherein might makes right. To say that no one would use force to do more than defend one’s negative rights is to make a patently false claim about human nature. (Anarchists, after all, acknowledge the necessity of self-defense.) Minarchists therefore believe that a state should be created and empowered specifically, and exclusively, for the purpose of defending negative rights. Such a state must be generally accountable to the populace, and it must have no power other than to protect the populace from harm. (For more about anarchists, minarchists, and the inevitability of the state, go here.)

Minarchists, nevertheless, tend toward a superficial view of the state’s minimal role, namely, that the job of the state is to see that everyone is left alone, as long as his pursuits are peaceful. That is, the job of the state is to enforce the negative sub-rule of the Golden Rule. So far, so good. Even an anarchist might go along with the idea of such a state.

But here is the rub. What are peaceful pursuits, that is, pursuits which do not harm others?  Who defines them? It cannot be everyone for himself; A’s peaceful pursuit may be a nuisance (or worse) to B.

In sum, harm cannot be defined willy-nilly by individuals, nor is it the abstraction that most libertarians make it out to be with their simplistic invocation of the “harm principle.” Rather, the definition of harm must reflect broad agreement about the rules of interpersonal behavior: social norms. Those norms are not mere abstractions; they are specific rules about permissible and impermissible acts. (Caution to readers: Do not mistake state-imposed rules for social norms, though some state-imposed rules may reflect social norms.)

Like it or not, evolved social norms constitute the foundation of a libertarian society based on mutual trust and respect. And if those evolved social norms specifically proscribe such “libertarian” causes as abortion and homosexual “marriage,” where does that leave the typical “libertarian”? It leaves him wanting to repudiate or overturn social norms, without regard for the effects of doing so on social comity. (See this and this, for example.)

But the ranks of “libertarians” also number a strange breed, often self-described as left-libertarian.  These “libertarians” actively root for the violation of negative rights in the cause of “social justice.” What is “social justice”? The short answer is that it is whatever anyone wants it to be, but it is never restricted to the enforcement of negative rights. The term “social justice” may be taken confidently as code for the enforcement of positive rights by a coercive state.

Left-libertarians will jump through hoops, turn somersaults, and stand on their heads to deny that they favor the enforcement of positive rights by a coercive state. But they do. A post by Kevin Vallier (one of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians) exemplifies their acrobatics:

Libertarians Great and Small (LGS): At some point in the future a group of committed libertarians establish a libertarian free zone called Libertarian Paradise. In LP, all property is acquired and transferred in line with traditional self-ownership political theory. Deviations from these norms are quickly corrected by private and non-profit legal organizations (call them the Cops).

…Due to LP’s unbridled capitalism, its economy booms, making its inhabitants spectacularly wealthy, so much so that charity easily provides for its poorest citizens.

However, through no one person or group’s deliberate action, prosperity ebbs. Perhaps because of resource depletion, climate change or natural disaster, a class of individuals becomes systematically deprived of basic resources (call them the Small). But while they are regularly hungry, they do not starve. And while they cannot secure many basic health resources, they do not die from easily preventable diseases. However, their poverty substantially sets back their well-being.

But the trouble in LP strikes the best-off as well (call them the Great). They too grow poorer, though they remain very well-off, more than wealthy enough to maintain a high standard of living. Yet they no longer feel secure enough to donate to charity. While the Great continue to donate to charity, LP’s charitable institutions no longer have sufficient resources to adequately provide for the Small….

At first the Small petition the Cops to require the Great to pay higher service fees and to use the proceeds to provide a social safety net. But the Cops reject the Small’s petitions for fear of offending their Great clientele.

Eventually the Small grow tired of petitions and begin to occupy local banks, demanding that a small portion of the fortunes of the Great be used to provide the Small with enough food and medical care to be able to get on with their lives. The Small do so non-aggressively, organizing a poor people’s campaign to nonviolently resist LP’s property regime.

But the Great are frustrated. After all, they still give to charity and they too have grown poorer. So the Great demand that the Cops coercively remove the Small from their local banks on the grounds that the Small are violating the self-ownership principle. The Cops comply.

The Small resent the coercion and complain that it is unjustified because they are merely trying to secure basic resources for them and their children. The Cops, acting on behalf of the Great, violently prevent the Small from securing a minimally decent future for themselves and their offspring.

Vallier maintains that

Traditional libertarianism solidly endorses the coercive actions of the Cops. The Cops and their Great clients may be insufficiently benevolent but they act justly.

But social justice libertarians (Strong BHLs) have a different reaction. On their view, the Small are not criminals. In fact, their demands are justified. First, the Small have only occupied local banks after petitioning the Cops to charge higher fees. Second, by occupying local banks, the Small are merely asking the Great to provide them with a very mild safety net that, if institutionalized, would in no way prevent the Great from leading excellent lives.

The social justice libertarian can go further and argue that the property claims of the Great are illegitimate. Their claims are illegitimate because the coercion required to maintain them cannot be justified to the Small given that their well-being is substantially set back by a lack of basic food and healthcare. On the social justice view, the Small’s complaints provide legitimate grounds to revise the property rights recognized in LP to permit (and perhaps require) the Cops to provide a safety net out of the proceeds of legal fees paid by the Great.

…In this case, I’m with the Small. How about you?

And, in an effort to seal his case, Vallier adds

Pre-emptive Remarks:

(1) Please don’t respond with “That will never happen.” The purpose of LGS is to draw out your intuitions about what makes coercion and property regimes morally legitimate. That is why it is a thought experiment.

(2) Please don’t respond with “You’re a statist.” Nothing in LGS assumes that a state controls LP or that the Small want a state. These disputes are possible in a market anarchist social order and can be remedied in the name of justice through polycentric legal organizations.

(3) Please don’t respond that the Small aren’t really being coerced. Many libertarians want to determine what counts as coercion entirely by whether property claims are made in line with the self-ownership principle. But that’s implausible. Even private police forces have to use coercion to protect legitimately held property. Just because a piece of property is rightfully yours doesn’t mean your security forces don’t use coercion to protect it.

(4) Please don’t respond with a slippery slope argument. I was extremely circumspect about the sort of justification the Small employ. They reject as unjustified the coercion used against them because it requires that they remain impoverished through no fault of their own when the Great can easily aid them without any significant risk to their life prospects. To side with the Small, you don’t have to adopt any strongly prioritarian or egalitarian distributive principle.

Remark (1) is unexceptionable; I take LGS as a thought experiment, though a failed one.

As for (2), Vallier should read what he has written. When the Small petition the Cops to force the Great to come across with more money for the Small, it is evident that the Small consider the Cops to have state-like power. That is, the Small want the Cops to act like agents of the state by taking up against their own “clients,” the Great. Further, it is clear that Vallier wants the Cops to assume state-like power when he says that “the Small’s complaints provide legitimate grounds to revise the property rights recognized in LP to permit (and perhaps require) the Cops to provide a safety net out of the proceeds of legal fees paid by the Great.”

Vallier resorts to doublespeak in (3) when he says that “the Cops coercively remove the Small from their local banks.” The Cops (as agents for the Great) are employing force in defense of property rights — rights that the Small had acknowledged by virtue of their membership in the Libertarian Paradise. If there is any coercion in the scenario painted by Vallier, it is committed by the Small, when they occupy the banks in an effort to compel the Great to cough up more money.  Vallier’s use of “coercively” is gratuitous and does not belong in the phrase quoted above.

Remark (4) is slipperiness itself. Having misapplied “coercively” to the Cops defensive actions (as agents for the Great), Vallier recycles it in the statement that the Small “reject as unjustified the coercion used against them.” (As Lenin said, “A lie told often enough becomes truth.”) The Small may “reject as unjustified” their removal from private property, but that does not make their removal unjustified. (See my comments about (3).) Moreover, it is clear that Vallier adopts some kind of “distributive principle,” other than the libertarian principle upon which LP was founded, when he writes that the Small will “remain impoverished through no fault of their own.” The implied principle is that those who are better off owe something to those who are worse off. How much they owe, and under what circumstances is, of course, determined arbitrarily by “social justice” libertarians like Vallier and out-and-out statist redistributionists like Barack Obama. Their principles are the same, they just articulate them differently.

It is understandable the Vallier roots for the “little guy,” most people do; but the “little guy” is not necessarily the “good guy.” In any event, a libertarian society is impossible if the fundamental tenets of libertarianism can be overthrown simply because the “little guy” wants more than the “big guy” is willing to give. It is not as if the Greats have insisted on a narrow, “leave me alone,” kind of libertarianism; their embrace of the positive sub-rule of the Golden Rule is evident (and realistic). Vallier — like any statist — simply wants to enforce his preconceived notion of how the positive sub-rule should be applied. But the enforcement of any such notion, however well intended, is incompatible with liberty. Moreover, as I have shown, the end result of confiscation through taxation and regulation is general impoverishment; the “have nots” suffer, along with the “haves.”

Left-libertarianism is not libertarianism. And its unintended consequences are dire because slippery slopes are real. State power erodes the societal bonds upon which liberty depends, because — as subjects of the state — individual develop the habit of looking to the state for guidance about proper behavior, instead of consulting their consciences and their fellow men. One misuse of state power leads to another, eventually destroying the fragile bonds of mutual respect and forbearance that undergird liberty. (Regarding the reality of slippery slopes, consider how much the contemporary interpretation of the Constitution diverges from its real, original meaning because of accretion of wrongful interpretations; see especially “Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution,” by Michael Stokes Paulsen, University of St. Thomas School of Law.)

For proof of this, one need look no farther than America. America’s slide into statism began in earnest with with Teddy Roosevelt’s “Square Deal,” accelerated with Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” and has been compounded since through the steady accretion of power by the central government.

All in the name of “social justice.”

Related posts:
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
The Price of Government
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
The Real Burden of Government
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Price of Government Redux
The Near-Victory of Communism
The Mega-Depression
Abortion and Crime
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Unreality of Objectivism
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Rahn Curve at Work
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
Undermining the Free Society
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Bowles-Simpson Report
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
The Stagnation Thesis
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
Government Failure: An Example
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
Understanding Hayek
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
About Democracy
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Externalities and Statism
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Don’t Just Stand There, “Do Something”
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
Society and the State
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
In Defense of the 1%
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”

In Defense of the 1%

“Liberalism,” its adherents claim, is about things like “fairness” and “social justice.” Where “fairness” and “social justice” are lacking — as they usually are in the “liberal” worldview — the state must intervene and penalize the “privileged” so that the “less privileged” may enjoy “fairness” and “social justice.” (I call it blaming the blameless.) This kind of retributive governance cannot stand logical or empirical scrutiny, but it pleases the masses and feeds the power-lust of “liberal” politicians.

Who are the “privileged”? These days they are those who have (temporarily, at least) scaled the  heights of the income distribution. They are the so-called 1%, who (in the “liberal” and left-libertarian view) are there because they are able to “game the system” better than the 99%. Will Wilkinson has a good answer to that allegation:

I think anti-1% rhetoric is misguided and perhaps politically self-defeating. By failing to distinguish between those who became wealthy primarily by creating wealth and those who became wealthy by appropriating wealth, 1%-er/anti-oligarchy language implicitly sets itself in opposition to the kind of inventive, productive people many of us nobly aspire to become. As Kinsley says, a lot of folks really resent this, and they’re not wrong.

Making more money than 99% of one’s countrymen is, by itself, no more morally objectionable than scoring in the 99th percentile of the SAT. Indeed, generally, it’s much more morally praiseworthy; creating wealth benefits people other than oneself. Of course, some people cheat on the SAT. Cheating is wrong. But high-scorers generally aren’t screwing anyone over. Likewise, some people do get rich by cheating and screwing people over. But most people who get rich do it playing by the rules. It’s a mistake to base a protest movement on the refusal to acknowledge this….

If we’re all embedded in a fundamentally unjust, exploitative global economic structure, it’s hard to see why the American 1% should be especially salient. Why not the global 1%, or the global 10 or 20%, which would include pretty much the whole American population. If it is morally imperative to confiscate exceptional wealth and use it to meet human needs, then it is imperative to confiscate most of the wealth in all wealthy countries, not just the wealth of the wealthiest of the wealthy, and transfer it to the world‘s poor, not to the relatively well-to-do poor of the wealthiest countries.

If it’s not possible to bring in $600,000 in a year without therefore being guilty of complicity in a exploitative global system, which invalidates one’s moral claim to one’s income, it’s probably not possible to bring in an untainted, secure $60,000 either.

Of course, most complaints about the American 1% are not grounded on the view that the global political economy is a comprehensive web of exploitation. It’s based on the supposition that the domestic 1% is guilty of something or other the domestic 10 or 30 or 50% isn’t, and therefore deserves to be a target of scorn in a way the 10 or 30 or 50% does not. But, however you slice it, it’s going to be true that a lot of people in the top 1% got there in pretty much the same way a lot of people in the top 30 or 50% got there. If there’s nothing wrong with a way of making money at the 50th percentile, there’s nothing wrong with it at the 99th. And if there’s something wrong with it at the 99th, there’s something wrong with at the 50th. The unwillingness to identify specific mechanisms of unjust income acquisition, and the insistence on treating income-earners above a arbitrary cut-off point as a unified class deserving special contempt, strike me as symptoms of intellectually laziness and a less than thoroughgoing interest in justice.

There is a further, crucial criticism of the anti-1% mentality. The 1%, for the most part, consists of individuals who are smart and ambitious enough to do quite well without the unspecified mechanisms that supposedly favor them. Even with a hypothetically appealing but practically unattainable “level playing field,” I would not expect the composition of the 1% to change markedly.

In any event, there will always be a 1% of one kind or another, the left’s penchant for Nirvana fallacies to the contrary. The real-world choice is not between equality and inequality, it is between liberty and tyranny. Liberty allows a 1% consisting of an (ever-changing) economic “elite”; tyranny allows a 1% consisting of a tyrant’s henchmen and courtiers. The futile flight from economic inequality has delivered America into the hands of rabble-rousing petty tyrants — “soft” despots, if you will — who have badly damaged our economic and social liberties without quite extinguishing them.

These rabble-rousers — who are exemplified by the Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, and BHO — have been enabled by the decline of constitutional republicanism and the rise of interest-group democracy. The rabble-rousers have exploited the masses’ envy and fear. But, unbeknownst to the masses, the rabble-rousers have failed to deliver prosperity and have instead delivered impoverishment.* Why? Because the rabble-rousers’ essential program is to penalize the productive through progressive taxation, affirmative action, and restrictive regulations. But the rabble-rousers seem not to know or care that their schemes also penalize the less-productive and unproductive by hindering economic growth and job creation.

If anything, the 1% is to be applauded for having succeeded against great odds. And for delivering value.

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
A Short Course in Economics
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
The Case of the Purblind Economist
Youthful Wisdom
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Social Justice
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Nature Is Unfair
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property

* For more about the impoverishing effects of government, see the preceding post and follow the links at the bottom of that post.

The Equal-Protection Scam and Same-Sex Marriage

Steven Horwitz, writing at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, opines that

In the world that exists, where the state is involved in marriage, I believe that….

Libertarianism requires  [federal recognition of same-sex marriage], as we often forget that the classical liberal tradition was built on two pillars: the rights of the individual against the state and equality before the law. The state may not discriminate. If it offers a benefit to some, it must offer it to all who are equally situated….

Suppose we had a Social Security system in which all residents of the US paid FICA but only white ones received the benefits. Would you argue that the libertarian position is to continue to deny people of color access to Social Security benefits on the grounds that giving the benefits to them would “extend federal power?” Would you continue to insist that the only libertarian position is to argue for the elimination of Social Security even though it continues to benefit only whites?

Double hogwash!

First, homosexuals are not “equally situated” with respect to heterosexuals. They want to call “marriage” something that cannot be marriage, as marriage has been understood for thousands of years: the union of a man and a woman in a lifelong commitment to each other. Homosexuals may choose to enter into private relationships that they call “marriage” — and no one can stop them — but those relationships are not manifestations of the time-honored social institution known as marriage.

Second, the analogy with Social Security is inapt. The recognition of marriage by the state is not a “benefit” in the same way as Social Security; that is, it is not a form of remuneration based on “contributions” to a (fictional) insurance pool. Social Security benefits are a quid pro quo; the recognition of marriage is a grant of status, in the same way that naturalization is a grant of status — the status of citizen. The state may make and change the qualifications for citizenship, because the power to do so is inherently a function of the state. But the state may not make and change the essential nature of marriage, which is a social phenomenon.

Where the state chooses to call a homosexual “marriage” a marriage, it simply indulges in legal fiction. But it is not harmless legal fiction — a crucial point that eludes “libertarians” like Horwitz; thus:

The recognition of homosexual “marriage” by the state — though innocuous to many, and an article of faith among most libertarians and liberals — is another step down the slippery slope of societal disintegration. The disintegration began in earnest in the 1930s, when Americans began to place their trust in chimerical, one-size-fits-all “solutions” offered by power-hungry, economically illiterate politicians and their “intellectual” enablers and apologists. In this instance, the state will recognize homosexual “marriage,” then bestow equal  benefits on homosexual “partners,”  and then require private entities (businesses, churches, etc.) to grant equal benefits to homosexual “partnerships.” Individuals and businesses who demur will be brought to heel through the use of affirmative action and hate-crime legislation to penalize those who dare to speak against homosexual “marriage,” the privileges that flow from it, and the economic damage wrought by those privileges.

It should be evident to anyone who has watched American politics that even-handedness is not a matter of observing constitutional limits on government’s reach, regardless of who asks for an exception; it is, rather, a matter of expanding the privileges bestowed by government so that no one is excluded. It follows that the recognition and punitive enforcement of same-sex “marriage” would be followed by the recognition and bestowal of benefits on other arrangements, including transient “partnerships” of convenience. And that surely will weaken heterosexual marriage, which is the axis around which the family revolves. The state will be saying, in effect, “Anything goes. Do your thing. The courts, the welfare system, and the taxpayer — above all — will pick up the pieces.” And so it will go….

Given the signals being sent by the state, the rate of formation of traditional, heterosexual marriages will continue to decline. (According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of adult males who are married dropped steadily from 71.1 percent in the 1960 census to 58.6 percent in the 2000 census; for females, the percentage dropped from 67.4 to 54.6. (The latest available figures, for 2009, show no significant change since 2000.) About half of each drop is explained by a rise in the percentage of adults who never marry, the other half by a rise in the percentage of divorced adults. Those statistics are what one should expect when the state signals — as it began to do increasingly after 1960 — that traditional marriage is no special thing by making it easier for couples to divorce, by subsidizing single mothers, and by encouraging women to work outside the home.

The well-known effects of such policies include higher rates of crime and lower levels of educational and economic achievement. (See this and this, for example.) Same-sex marriage would multiply these effects for the sake of mollifying a small minority of the populace.

A “libertarian” like Horwitz will assert that all such considerations are beside the point — as if the only point of liberty is “self-actualization” or similar clap-trap. I do wish that these self-styled “libertarians” would grow up and shut up.

Related posts:
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